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the President of the Republic, not stood in his way, for
during the Marshal's occupancy of the mansion in the
Faubourg St. Honor6, ''good society" had not alto-
gether deserted the salons ; and whether they liked it
or not, the Republicans had to He low — more or less —
conversationally, terpsichorically, and otherwise.

With the advent of M. Gr6vy all this changed, and
M. MoUard, as the organiser of the presidential balls,
receptions, fetes, and dinners, had it all his own way.
There was no one to call his decisions in matters of eti-
quette into question. The President himself was not
absolutely ignorant of the ways of polite society ; there
was a fatherly dignity about him with men which in-
spired a kind of respect, and an insinuating grace with
women which could not faU to please when he chose
to exert it ; but he did not always choose ; he was
making his pile, and that, if the truth must be told,
seemed all sufficient for him. During the five years of
my last permanent stay in Paris as the correspondent
of a London paper, I frequently went to the presidential
soirees ; at three distinct times I found M. Gr6vy dozing
in a capacious arm-chair in a small apartment adjoining
the grand reception room. But even when he put his
best foot forward, there was a striking dift'erence between
M. Grevy and his two predecessors. One evening, in
the presence of about two score of people, myself among
the number, Princess Hohenlohe said, "I can assure
you that M. Gr^vy makes an excellent President of the



My Paris Note-Book. 299

Republic. Among all but the best lawyers at Dresden or
Stuttgart you would look in vain for his equal, let alone
for his superior. ' ' It was a left-handed compliment, and
I have no reason to suppose that it was intended as other
than such. I am afraid it was not altogether the right
thing to say, whatever the princess may have thought,
considering her position in France. At the same time,
I have an idea that, for the nonce, the princess allowed
her liking for M. de Freycinet to run away with her dis-
cretion. I have already alluded to the friendship exist-
ing at one time between the family of the German Am-
bassador and that of the sometime Minister for Foreign
Affairs ; and it is an open secret that the latter aimed at
succeeding M, Grevy in the Presidential chair. Never-
theless, the truth underlying the ambassadress' remark
is almost incontestable : M. Gr6vy took his honours and
the duties involved in them * ' un peu trop a la bonne
franquette." From personal observation I feel con-
vinced that Jules Grevy might have been an almost
matchless talon rouge, if he had not been so inordi-
nately wedded to felt slippers, metally, morally, and
sumptuarily. '*Do whatsoever you like, but do not
let's have any fuss," was his stereotyped remark at the
termination of every ministerial council. It was this
constant craving for the schlafrock, the besetting sin of
the middle-class, professional German, that provoked
Princess Hohenlohe's criticism. The first and foremost
result of this love of ease was M. Mollard's omnipotence
at the Elys6e in all ceremonial matters, for, I repeat,
there was no one to contest his decisions, and least of
all Mme. Grevy, who, worthy woman as she may have
been, was not fitted by previous training to set M. Mol-
lard right. The home she had occupied from 1848 to
1870, in the Rue de Richelieu, had been conducted on



30O My Paris Note-Book.

the narrowest bourgeois principles. Her enforced re-
moval to a more luxurious apartment in the Rue Volney
frightened her, and notwithstanding her husband's in-
creased income, she was for ever trying to keep down
expenses. M. Grevy was an admirable judge of good
wine, and his partial restocking of the cellars of the
presidency at the Palais-Bourbon and Versailles almost
drove her out of her wits. She would fain have put
aside the 81,000 francs per annum her husband received
as President of the Chamber and Deputy (72,000 francs
and 9000 francs), without spending a penny of these ;
and the desire to hoard grew stronger as the emolu-
ments increased from 81,000 to 1,200,000 francs. Be-
tween the two they had raised a daughter, whose ideal
of magnificent manhood was M. Capoul, the tenor, and
who ended up by marrying M. Daniel Wilson, the brother
of her father's ''bosom friend." Madame Daniel Wil-
son was scarcely calculated to imbue M. Mollard with
great respect for her authority on questions of ele-
gance.

Of M. Daniel Wilson himself I would say as little as
possible. One early summer's morning, while living at
Ferney, Voltaire took it into his head to see the sun rise.
He climbed one of the hills hard by, followed by his
man-servant. At the sight of the glorious spectacle,
the philosopher lifted up his hands in ecstasy. His en-
thusiasm got the better of his scepticism. ' ' Seigneur
Dieu, tu es grand, beau et tout-puissant !' ' he exclaimed.
" Mais quant au Seigneur ton fils . . ."he continued ;
then looked round and noticed the valet listening atten-
tively. " Quant au Seigneur ton fils . . . je pr6fere ne
pas le discuter."

Even so, I prefer not to discuss M. Grevy' s son-in-
law. I said just now that M. Gr^vy might have become



My Paris Note-Book. 301

an almost matchless talon rouge, but for his inveterate
love of felt slippers. In virtue of his association with
the Due de Gramont-Caderousse — the same who killed
the journalist Dillon in a duel, and provided for his
widow — and other young bloods of the Empire, M.
Daniel Wilson was supposed to be tres talon rouge.
Those who had the opportunity of watching him very
closely could not but come to the conclusion that the
heel, however red it might be, was fastened to a very
ordinary boot indeed, not to say to a * * godillot. " *
Enough of M. Daniel Wilson, who was not the man
to worry about the dignity attaching to the office of the
chief magistrate of France ; hence M. Mollard did not
meet with any opposition from him, as long as the bills
for the entertainments were kept within small limits.

M. Mollard was shrewd enough to perceive that, with
such a family around him, he had to assert his authority
now and then or else lose his footing altogether. Of
course his most convenient victim was the President
himself, and the blunders he made him commit defy
description. Here is one, however : the rest may be
imagined from that. On the occasion of the distribu-
tion of new colours to the army in July 1880, there was
a grand State performance at the Opera. There could
be no doubt about the significance of that ceremony ;
it had a military significance or none at all. The Presi-
dent of the RepubHc, with his sound sense, felt this
well enough, and in default of a uniform to don, he in-
tended to display the only outward sign that linked him
with the military institutions of the country, namely, the

* A "godillot" is the nickname for the infantry soldier's boot.
The Godillots were the army contractors who supphed the shoe
leather (?) of the French army during the last war. Godillot him-
self started life, I believe, as a banker's clerk.

26



302 My Paris Note-Book.

Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honour. M. Mollard
put his foot down, and the President of the RepubHc
made his appearance without his insignia of Grand
Master of the Order.

I called M. Mollard a butler, and as a butler he had
an eye to his perquisites. A crystal vase, nearly a yard
high, and filled with attar of roses — a present from the
Sultan of Zanzibar to the Introdudeur des Ambassa-
deurs — found its way to a perfumer's in exchange for
2500 francs. A mission from the Emperor of Morocco
brought ten horses for M. Grevy : M. Mollard managed
to work the oracle so well, although vicariously — for, as
an English journalist who knows French excellently
well, said of him, " He speaks no foreign language but
his own" — that only nine of the animals found their
way to M. Grevy' s stables, the tenth was sold at the
French Tattersall's in the Faubourg St. Honor6.

Is it necessary, after all this, to insist on the truth of
the remark I made at the beginning of this chapter, that
an invitation to the Elysee-Bourbon does not enhance a
man's social standing ? I think not. Nor does it en-
hance a man's opinion of himself to know that he is
going to an entertainment where detectives are posted
at the entrances to the card-rooms in order to warn the
more innocent guests of the presence of cheats and
blacklegs. This is a fact for which I can give my au-
thority if necessary. And yet a visit to the Elys6e-
Bourbon on one of those grand nights was not without
its compensations. It brought a man in contact with a
section of society, a good many components of which
— I mean of the section — he had no opportunity of
studying elsewhere, unless he himself happened to
belong to that section. I am not speaking of myself
in this instance : the force of circumstances has brought



My Paris Note-Book. 303

me in contact with all classes of French society, from
the highest to the lowest. I take no credit to myself
for this somewhat wide experience, and I trust there is
no disgrace attached to it. At various periods of my
life I have been obliged to write in order to live : the
habit of writing has become so strong that I would not
care, perhaps, to live without writing ; but throughout
evil and good, my eyes have been the faithful allies of
my pen, and I fear that I have led my allies into places
where angels would have hesitated to tread. When I
said just now that a visit to the Elysee-Bourbon on a
grand night brought a man in contact with a section of
society a good many members of which section he had
no opportunity of studying elsewhere, unless he hap-
pened to belong to that section, I was not thinking of
myself I was thinking of men who have had neither
the difficulties I have had to contend with, nor the sorry
facilities I have enjoyed ; who have felt neither the in-
clination to play voluntarily the part of a minor Haroun-
Al-Raschid, nor the spur of want to goad them into
doing so. I was thinking of men who, in virtue of
their birth and position, are debarred from seeing les
nouvelles couches in their habit as they live, and who
therefore must have enjoyed the sight of them at the
Elys6e, albeit that neither their attire nor their de-
meanour was absolutely normal on such occasions.
*'Me permettrez-vous de vous dire, milord, que vous
ne connaissez pas Paris?" said M. de Fourtoul to a late
English ambassador. ' ' Dans vos visites a mes com-
patriotes, vous n'^tes jamais mont6 plus haut qu'au
premier ou au second etage au-dessus de V entresol ; et
le vrai Paris ne demeure ni au premier, ni au second."
The majority of the guests at the Elys^e-Bourbon dur-
ing M. Gr6vy's time decidedly did not live on the first



304 My Paris Note-Book.

or second floor, and that was what ought to have made
them interesting to those who did not merely come to
sneer. They were decidedly more interesting than the
immediate entourage of M. le President ; the Floquets,
the Ferrys, the Andrieux, the Koechlins, and the rest
of the gros bonnets of the Third Republic, who are
connected (by marriage mainly) with the great indus-
trial families of Alsace-Lorraine, with la noblesse repub-
licaine, as Mme. Floquet termed them recently. They
are about as interesting as the majority of the pros-
perous commercial and industrial elements elsewhere —
with this difference, that they are, if possible, a little
more pompous than the English or German aristocracy
of commerce ; and, what is more surprising, especially
in France, their womankind are too resplendent for
words. One-Speech Hamiltons every man and woman,
for I have never heard them talk of anything else but
the "crime" of the 2nd December 1851, the subse-
quent misdoings of the Empire, and the punishment of
the * ' Highest ' ' thereon. They are all Protestants, un-
less they are freethinkers, and the French Protestant is
almost as calmly and impertinently confident of being
able to assign the decrees of Providence to their true
cause as the most ranting English Dissenter. Of the
benefits the Empire conferred upon them by opening
English markets to their products, this Republican
nobility never breathes a syllable.

What afforded one a little more amusement was the
group which called itself the ** proscribed, " though, at
that particular moment, the ** proscribed " had come
back in shoals, and were coming back in greater num-
bers still. But they would not allow Jules Valles the
monopoly of coining chapter-headings for the future
martyrology of France. He had called himself le de-



My Paris Note-Book. 305

pute des fusilles ; they would call themselves the ''pro-
scribed." They did not say much : they strolled
through the rooms in silence, stroking their long
beards and scowling at every one, but especially at the
Imperial monogram, which in those days had not been
effaced from the walls of the Elysee. They did not ex-
press it in so many words, but their looks betokened that
they meant to see to this. Unlike that of M. Maxime
Lisbonne later on, their dress-coats did not smell of
benzine.

The interesting part of the guests at the Elysee were
the young men and girls who had come to enjoy them-
selves ; the wives and daughters of the minor Govern-
ment employes and their friends, to whom the balls at
the Elysee were and still are an event in their lives.
Neither the Comte d'Ormesson nor the Comte de Bour-
queney would have done half as well with them as M.
MoUard, who now and then checked their exuberance
as he would have checked it at Lemardelay's, V6four's,
or the Elys^e-Menilmontant — by teUing their young men
to take their companions to the refreshment rooms,
where, all things considered, and the many tempta-
tions in the shape of dehcacies the very name of which
they did not know, they behaved a good deal better
than the guests that I have seen at balls of far greater
pretensions. The young officers who stood smiling at
them — somewhat superciliously — ought to have remem-
bered that famous episode in the life of the late M. Henri
de Pene, when all the threats of their (the officers' ) pre-
decessors failed to make him retract what he had written
about their gorging. My barber, in the Avenue Tru-
daine, confided to me one day that he had an invitation
to the Elysee. The morning after the entertainment he
told me all about it. At supper he came upon an old
u 26*



3o6 My Paris Note-Book.

crony of his, an erstwhile waiter of Chevet's, who looked
after his creature comforts. " The only thing I object
to," he said, ''is the way in which most of the male
guests fill their pockets with cigars. I smoked one in
the smoking-room, and took a second to smoke on my
way home."

I greatly approved of my tonsor's moderation, and,
but for the fear of meddUng with what did not concern
me, would have written to M. Mollard to invite him
again and again, for I considered and still consider him
an ornament to Republican society. When the reader
has cast his eye over the following lines with which I
must conclude these notes, he will agree with me on
that point, however much he may disagree with me on
others.

At a reception given by Gambetta in 1880, at the
Palais-Bourbon, 10,000 cigars disappeared in less than
half-an-hour.

At the inauguration of the H6tel-de-Ville, on the 13th
July 1882, to which ceremony I have already referred
in connection with the admirable speech of M. Grevy on
that occasion, I happened to be in a small drawing-room
whither M. Floquet, then Prefect of the Seine, had taken
some of his more distinguished guests after dinner, in
order to guard them somewhat from the surging crowd
merely invited to the reception following the dinner.
Lest I should be suspected of wishing to class myself
among the distinguished guests, I hasten to add that I
was taken thither by the late Lord Lyons, in order to
be presented to the Burgomaster of Amsterdam. All at
once a French 'Arry entered the room, his hat jauntily
poised on his head, his thumbs in the armholes of his
waistcoat, the remaining eight fingers drumming a tattoo
on his manly chest. M. Floquet turned very pale ; but



My Paris Note-Book/ 307

the fellow meant no harm, he had merely come to have
a closer look at the "swells." In another moment he
strolled out again. A message was sent immediately to
the usher, who stood at the top of the staircase, to re-
mind the new-comers to take off their hats, a reminder
not generally necessary in France. The contre-temps
did not occur again. In a little while, perhaps half-an-
hour in all after the removal of the cloth, the air had
become very close, and the Burgomaster, seeing that
smoking was going on everywhere, asked M. Floquet
for a cigar. They were all gone. The late M. Alphand
told me that the regie had sent 25,000. I think I was
right in wishing to recommend my barber to the notice
of M. Mollard as an ornament to his soirees. I feel
confident that his modesty would have proved an
example.



THE END.




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Online LibraryAlbert D. (Albert Dresden) VandamMy Paris note-book → online text (page 23 of 24)