Major W. E Frye.

After Waterloo: Reminiscences of European Travel 1815-1819 online

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is a god. One is lost, and one's imagination is bewildered when one enters
into the halls of sculpture of this unparalleled collection, amidst the
statues of Gods, Demi-Gods, Heroes, Philosophers, Poets, Roman Emperors,
Statesmen and all the illustrious worthies that adorned the Greek and Roman
page. What subjects for contemplation! A chill of awe and veneration
pervaded my whole frame when I first entered into that glorious temple of
the Arts. I felt as I should were I admitted among supernatural beings, or
as if I had "shuffled off this mortal coil" and were suddenly ushered into
the presence of the illustrious tenants of another world; in fact, I felt
as if Olympus and the whole Court of Immortals were open to my view. No! I
cannot describe these things, I can only feel them; I throw down the pen
and call upon expressive silence to muse their praise.

Of the Picture Gallery too what can I say that can possibly give you an
idea of its variety and extent? Here are the finest works of the Italian,
Flemish, and French schools, and you are as much embarrassed to single out
the favourite object, as the Grand Signor would be, among six or seven
hundred of the most beautiful women in the world, to make his choice. The
only fault I find in this collection is that there were rather too many
Scripture pieces, Crucifixions, Martyrdoms and allegorical pictures, and
too few from historical or mythological subjects. Yet perhaps I am wrong in
classing the Scripture pieces with Martyrdoms, Crucifixions, Grillings of
Saints and Madonnas; there are very many beautiful episodes in the
Scriptures which would furnish admirable subjects for painters. Why then
have they chosen disgusting subjects such as Judith sawing off Holofernes'
head, Siserah's head nailed to the bedpost, John the Baptist's on a
trencher, etc.? But the pictures representing Martyrdoms are too revolting
to the eye and should not be placed in this Museum.

It is reported that the Allies mean to strip this Museum [of sculpture and
painting]. No! it cannot be, they never surely can be guilty of such an act
of Vandalism and contemptible spite. I am aware that there is a great
clamour amongst a certain description of English for restoring these
statues and pictures to the countries from whence they came, and that it is
the fashion to term the translation of them to Paris a revolutionary
robbery; but let us bring these gentlemen to a calm reasoning on the
subject.

The statues and paintings in question belonged either to Governments at war
with France, or to individuals inhabiting those countries; now, with
respect to individuals, I will venture to affirm, on the best authority,
that the property of no individual was taken from him without an
equivalent. Those who had statues and pictures of value and wished to sell
them, received their full value from the French Government, but there was
no force used on the occasion; in fact, many who were in want of money were
rejoiced at the opportunity of selling, as they could never have otherwise
disposed of those valuable articles to individuals at the same price that
the French Government gave. I recollect a day or two ago being in
conversation with a Milanese on this subject and others connected with the
occupation of Italy by the French. I happened to mention that the conquest
of Italy by the Republican armies must have been attended with confiscation
of property; he assured me that no such thing as confiscation of property
took place; that so far from being the losers by the French invasion and
the establishment of their system, they had on the contrary been
considerable gainers, for that the country flourished under their
domination in a manner before unknown, and that one of the greatest
advantages attendant on the occupation was the establishment of an equality
of weight and measures, the decimal division of the coin, the introduction
of an admirable code of laws free'd from all barbarisms - legal, political
and theological - and intelligible to all classes, so that there was no
occasion to cite old authors and go back for three or four hundred years to
hunt out authorities and precedents for what men of sense could determine
at once by following the dictates of their own judgment.

With respect to the statues and pictures belonging to the different
governments of Italy, it must never be forgotten that these governments
made war against the French Revolution either openly or insidiously, and
did their utmost to aid the coalition to crush the infant liberties of
France. Those who did not act openly did so covertly and indirectly; in
short, from their tergiversations and intrigues, they had no claim whatever
on the mercy of the conquerors, who treated them with a great deal of
clemency. The destruction of these governments was loudly called for by the
people themselves, who looked on the French as their deliverers.

It will be admitted, I believe, that it is and has been the custom on the
continent, in all wars, for all parties to levy war contributions on the
conquered or occupied countries; but Buonoparte thought it more glorious
for the French name to take works of art instead of money; and not a statue
or picture was taken from the vanquished governments except by a solemn
treaty of cession, or given in lieu of contributions at the option of the
owners, and the Princes were very glad to give up their pictures and
statues, which the most of them did not know how to appreciate, in lieu of
money which they were all anxious to keep; and on these articles a fair
value was fixed by competent judges. In this manner did the French become
the possessors of these valuable objects of art, and in this manner was the
noble Museum in Paris filled up, and surely nothing could be more generous
and liberal than the use made of the Museum by the French Government;
foreigners were indeed more favoured than the inhabitants themselves. To
the inhabitants of Paris this Museum is open twice a week; but to
foreigners on producing their passports, it is open every day in the week
all the year round; artists of all nations are allowed, during a certain
number of hours each day, to come to copy the statues and pictures which
suit their taste; and stoves are lighted for their accommodation during
winter, and all this gratis. - Now, before these objects of art were
collected here, they were distributed, some in churches, and some in
Government palaces. To see the first, required a specific introduction to
the owner; to see the second, application to the attendants of the churches
became necessary, and for both these you were required to pay fees to the
servants and church-attendants, who are always impatient to take your fee
and hurry you through the apartments or chapels, scarcely giving you time
to examine anything. To be admitted into the Government palaces was a
matter of favour, and here also fees were required.[32] Here in the Louvre
there is no introduction required; no court to be paid to _major-domos_, no
favour; it is open to all classes, high and low, without exception, and no
money is allowed to be given.

But there are some people, in their ridiculous fury against the French
Revolution, who would fain persuade us that before that epoch there was a
golden age on the earth, that there were no acts of violence committed, no
frauds practised, no property injured, no individuals ill-used; that every
Prince governed like Numa; that every noble was a Bayard, and every priest
like a primitive apostle. Why I need go no further than the Seven Years'
war to show that in that war, during the height of European civilisation,
and carried on between the most polished nations in Europe, there were much
more acts of violence and rapine carried on than ever were done by the
French republicans. I by no means wish to excuse or even palliate the acts
of ferocity which took place at that epoch of the French Revolution called
the reign of Terror, which were executed by a people wrought up to frenzy
by a recollection of their wrongs; and I know too well that many virtuous
individuals fell victims to their indiscriminating fury; but I do believe
and aver that much more clamour was made at the execution of a handful of
corrupt courtiers, intriguing and profligate women of quality and worthless
priests, than all the rest put together.

To return to the Seven Years' war (I may be permitted to take this
retrospect, I hope, since it is the fashion, and those who differ with me
in opinions go much farther back than I do), let the French royalists and
emigrants recollect the confiscation of property and barbarity exercised by
Marshall Richelieu in Hanover, where many families were reduced to beggary.
They may not chuse to recollect this; but the Hanoverians do and they have
not forgotten the _Pavillon de Hanovre_, so called by the wits of the time
from its having been built by the Marshall with money arising from the
spoils of Hanover; will they recollect also the harsh treatment inflicted
on the burghers and citizens of a town in Germany, who were shut up in a
room and kept without food or drink for nearly three days because they
would not consent to fix a heavy and unwarrantable contribution on their
fellow citizens; when these unhappy but virtuous men were only allowed to
go out for the necessities of nature attended by sentries, and on the third
day, when fainting with hunger, a little bread and water was given to them,
with an assurance that in future they were not to expect such luxuries.
Have they forgot the devastation committed in Berlin by the Austrians in
the Seven Years' war, when they pillaged, burned or destroyed all the
valuable property of the royal Palaces, the most valuable works of art,
vases, statues of antiquity, the loss of which could never be replaced;
when they lopped off the heads, arms and legs of the statues? Have they
forgot the conduct of the belligerent powers at the siege of Dresden at the
same epoch, when whole families, among whom were helpless old men and women
with children at the breast, were compelled to leave Dresden in the middle
of a most rigorous winter and were driven to take refuge in the fields
where the most of them perished with hunger and cold; and where many
individuals lost their reason and became insane from the treatment they
received? Have they forgotten the merciless barbarities inflicted by the
Russians in the same war on the inhabitants of the Prussian territory?
their ripping up and burning men, women, and children? and the dreadful
retaliation inflicted on them at the battle of Zorndorff, when the
Prussians, exasperated at the idea of those horrors so fresh in their
memory, on being ordered to bury the Russian dead, threw the wounded men
also belonging to that nation into the graves dug for the dead, to be thus
buried alive, and hastily filled them up with earth, as if fearful that
they might relent, did they give themselves time for reflection? These are
not exaggerations; they are given by an author celebrated for his
impartiality and deep research and who was an eye-witness of many of these
proceedings; I mean Archenholz in his admirable history of the Seven Years'
war.[33]

Then again in the war of American Independence (and here my countrymen must
excuse me if I point out the acts of injustice committed by them, when
acting in obedience to an unprincipled and arbitrary government and in a
cause hostile to freedom), who does not recollect the private property
wantonly destroyed and confiscated by the English? their employing the
Indian tribes, those merciless savages of the forest, to scalp, etc., which
called forth the indignation of a Chatham? and the grossly unjust pillage
and confiscation of property which took place at St Eustatius by the
commanders of a _religious and gracious King_?[34] Again, who does not
recollect the gentle but deep reproof given by the American General
Schuyler to the English General Burgoyne, when the latter was made prisoner
by the Americans under Gates? General Schuyler's valuable house, barns,
etc., had been burned by the express order of Burgoyne. Nevertheless,
Schuyler received him with dignified politeness, magnanimously stifled the
recollection of the injury he had received, and obtained for him a good
quarter, merely remarking, "General, had my house and farms not been
burned, I could have offered you a more comfortable abode." How Burgoyne
must have felt this reproof! yet he was not by nature a harsh man, but he
had the orders of his government to exercise severities; he was educated in
Tory principles, and passive obedience is their motto.

Can one forget likewise even, in the late war, Nelson's conduct to
Caraccioli at Naples, whom he caused to be hanged on board of an English
ship of war, together with a number of other patriots, in violation of a
solemn capitulation, by which it had been stipulated that they should be
considered as prisoners of war and sent to France? Then again the wanton
destruction of the Capitol and other public buildings at Washington not
devoted to military purposes, which it is not usual to destroy or deface;
and the valuable public library too which was burned? What excuse can be
offered for this? Were the times of Omar returned? It is fair and allowed
by the laws of war to blow up and destroy arsenals, magazines, containing
warlike stores and engines of destruction, but to destroy with Gothic
barbarity buildings of great symmetry and beauty, and a library too - O fie!

Why I will defy any man to point out a single instance where the French
republican armies or Napoleon ever injured or wantonly destroyed a single
national edifice, a single work of art, a single book belonging to any
other country! On the contrary, they invariably extended their protection
to the Arts and Sciences. Why at Vienna, where there is, I understand, a
most splendid museum, and many most valuable works of art and antiquity,
tho' this city fell twice into their possession, they never destroyed or
took away a single article; but, on the contrary, there, as well as in
Berlin, they invited the inhabitants to form a civic guard for the
protection of their property. As to the Vandalism shewn during the reign of
Terror, and I by no means seek to palliate it, that was of short duration,
it was madness, if you will, but it was disinterested - and other nations
who talk a great deal about their superior morality would do well to look
at home. They would there observe, in their own historic page, that the
atrocities of the French Revolution have not only been equalled but
surpassed perhaps by more dreadful scenes committed at Wexford in 1798,
under the auspices of the Government then ruling Ireland and which the
noble and virtuous - - [35] disdained to serve.

Excuse this long digression, but I feel it my duty to open the eyes of my
countrymen and prevent them from supporting on all occasions the unjust
acts of their Government, which reflect dishonour on a great and
enlightened nation; which can boast, among its annals, of some of the most
heroic, splendid, and disinterested characters that ever the world
produced.

All that I need add on the subject of the statues and pictures is, that
putting out of the question the justice or injustice of the restitution, it
will be a great loss to England and to English artists in particular,
should they be removed: many an artist can afford to make a trip to Paris,
who would find it beyond his means to make a journey to Florence or Rome.

If these objects of art are to be taken away, it should be stipulated so in
the treaty of peace; and then everybody would understand it. This would be
putting it on the fairest footing. You then say to France: "You gained
these things by conquest; you lose them by defeat"; but for God's sake let
us have no more of that _cant_ about revolutionary robberies!


PARIS, - -

I went for the first time to the Grand Opera, or, as it is here called, the
Académie Royale de Musique, which is in the Rue de Richelieu. _Armida_ was
the piece performed, the music by Glück. The decorations were splendid and
the dancing beyond all praise. The scenes representing the garden of Armida
and the nymphs dancing fully expressed in the mimic art those beautiful
lines of Tasso:

Cogliam d'amor la rosa! amiamo or, quando
Esser si puote riamato amando![36]

The effect of the dissolution of the palace and gardens by the waving of
Armida's wand is astonishing; it appears completely to be the work of
inchantment, from the rapidity of execution which follows the _potentissime
parole_. The French recitative however does not please me. The serious
opera is an exotic and does not seem to thrive on the soil of France. The
language does not possess sufficient intonation to give effect to the
recitative.

On the contrary, the comic operas are excellent; and here the national
music and singing appear to great advantage. It never degenerates to the
grotesque or absurd _buffo_ of the Italians, but is always exquisitely
graceful, simple, touching and natural.

Among the ballets, I have seen perhaps three of the best, viz., _Achille à
Scyros, Flore et Zéphire_ and _La folle par amour_. In the ballet of Flore
and Zéphire, the dancers who did these two parts appeared more aerian than
earthly. To use a phrase of Burke's, I never beheld so _beautiful a vision.
Nina_, or _la folle par amour_, is a ballet from private life. The title
sufficiently explains its purport; it is exquisitely touching and pathetic.
O what a divine creature is Bigottini! what symmetry of form! what innate
grace, what a captivating expression of countenance; and then the manner in
which she did the mad scenes and her return to reason! Oh! I was moved even
to tears. Never had any performance such an effect upon me. What a
magnificent _tout ensemble_ is the Grand Opera at Paris! Whenever I feel
chagrined or melancholy I shall come here; I feel as if I were in a new
world; the fiction appears reality; my senses are ravished, and I forget
all my cares.

I have very little pleasure in visiting royal Palaces, unless they have
been the residence of some transcendent, person like Napoleon or Frederick
II of Prussia, as the sight of splendid furniture and royal pomp affords me
no gratification; and I would rather visit Washington's or Lafayette's
farms in company with these distinguished men than dine with all the
monarchs of Europe. After a hasty glance at the furniture of the Tuileries,
what fixed my attention for a considerable time was "La Salle des
Maréchaux," where are the portraits of all the modern French Marshalls.
They are all full length portraits and are striking resemblances; some are
in the Marshall's undress uniform and others in the full court costume
which is very elegant, being the costume of the time of Francis I with the
Spanish hat and plumes. I did not observe Ney's or Soult's portraits among
them.

In front of the great square of the Tuileries where the troops exercise,
stands the Arch of Triumph erected by Napoleon, commonly called _l'Arc du
Carrousel_. It is a beautiful piece of architecture, but is far too small
to tally with such a vast mass of buildings as the Palace and offices of
the Tuileries. By the side of them it appears almost Lilliputian. It would
have been better to have made it in the style of the triumphal arch of the
Porte St Denis. On this arc of the Carrousel are _bas-reliefs_ both outside
and inside, representing various actions of Napoleon's life. He is always
represented in the Roman costume, with the imperial laurel on his brows,
with kings kneeling, and presenting the keys of conquered cities. On the
outside are statues, large as life, in modern military costume,
representing the different _armes_ which compose the French army.[37] On
the top of this Arc du Carrousel is an antique car of triumph, to which are
harnessed the four bronze horses which were taken from the façade of the
Church of San Marco in Venice. They are of beautiful workmanship and of
great antiquity. What various and mighty revolutions have these horses
witnessed! Cast in Corinth in the time of the glories of the Grecian
commonwealths and removed by conquest to Rome, they witnessed the
successive fall of the Grecian and Roman states; transferred to
Constantinople in the time of Constantine, and from thence removed to
Venice when Constantinople fell into the hands of the French and Venetians;
transferred from thence to Paris in 1798, they have witnessed the
successive falls of the Eastern and Western Empires, of the Republic of
Venice and the Napoleonic dynasty and Empire. Report says they are to be
restored to Venice; and who knows whether they may not be destined one day
to return to their original country, Greece, under perhaps Russian
auspices?

The Gardens of the Tuileries which lie at the back part of the palace are
very spacious, well laid out in walks and lined with trees. Large basins
inlaid with stone, fountains and statues add to the grandeur of these
gardens; they extend from the Tuileries as far as the Place Louis XV
parallel to the Seine, and are separated by a wall and parapet and a
beautiful cast iron railing from the Quai, and on the other side from the
Rue de Rivoli, one of the new streets, and the best in Paris for
pedestrians. On the side opposite the palace itself is the _Place Louis
XV_, called in the time of the republic _Place de la Révolution_, and where
the unfortunate Louis XVI suffered decapitation. The _Place Louis XV_ is by
far the most magnificent thing of the kind I have ever seen and far exceeds
the handsomest of our squares in London. On one side of it is the _Hótel du
Garde Meuble_, a superb edifice. On the other the Quai, the river; and on
the other side of the river is the _Palais du Corps législatif_, now the
place where the Chamber of Deputies hold their sitting, and which has a
magnificent façade. In front of this place are the Champs Elysées and
avenue of Neuilly and behind the gardens and palace of the Tuileries.

My next visit was to the _Place Vendôme_, where stands the majestic column
of the Grand Army. To me this column is the most striking thing of its kind
that I have hitherto seen. It is of bronze and of the most beautiful
workmanship, cast from the cannon taken from the Austrians in the war of
1805, and on it are figured in bas-relief the various battles and
achievements, winding round and round from the base to the capital. It is
constructed after the model of the Column of Trajan in Rome.

The next place I visited was the Chamber of Deputies. It is a fine building
with a Doric façade and columns; it is peculiarly striking from its noble
simplicity. On the façade are bas-reliefs representing actions in
Napoleon's life. The flight of steps leading to the façade is very grand,
and there are colossal figures representing Prudence, Justice, Fortitude
and other legislative virtues. The Chamber itself where the Deputies hold
their sittings is in the form of a Greek theatre; the arch of the
semi-circle forms the gallery appropriated to the audience, and comprehends
in its enclosure the seats of the deputies like the seats in a Greek
theatre; on the chord of the semi-circle where the _proscenium_ should be,
is the tribune and President's seat. The whole is exceedingly elegant. The
Orator whose turn it is to speak leaves his seat, ascends the tribune and
faces the Deputies. The anti-rooms adjoining this Chamber are fitted up
with long tables and fauteuils and are appropriated to the sittings of the
various committees. These antichambers are hung round with pictures
representing the victories of the French armies; but they are covered with
green baize and carefully concealed from the public eye in order to stifle
recollections and prevent comparisons.


PARIS, August.

I mounted on horseback and rode out to St Cloud to breakfast, passing
through the Champs Elysées, the Bois de Boulogne and the little town of
Passy, and returned by the Quai, as far as the bridge of Jéna, which I
passed and went to visit the _Hôtel des Invalides, le Champ de Mars_, the
_Pantheon_ or Church of St Geneviève and the Palace of the Luxembourg. This
was pretty good work for one day; and as you will expect some little
account of my ideas thereon, I shall give you a _précis_ of what most
interested me.

In the Champs Elysées are quartered several English regiments who are
encamped there, and this adds to the liveliness of the scene; our soldiers
seem to enjoy themselves very much. They are in the midst of places of
recreation of all kinds, such as guinguettes, tennis-courts, dancing salons



Online LibraryMajor W. E FryeAfter Waterloo: Reminiscences of European Travel 1815-1819 → online text (page 7 of 36)