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monsieur quant il vous plera que lon me pay la capitenery de Monsaux
monsieur vous asseurant que vous mobligeres fort sansiblement monsieur
comme ausy de me croire avec toute sorte de respec, etc." This beats
Jack Cade out and out. The great connétable Anne de Montmorency could
not write his name, and as his signature became necessary, his secretary
stood over his shoulder to tell him when he had made enough _piès de
mouche_ to answer the purpose.]

The village of St. Ouen, small, dirty, crowded and unsavoury as it is,
has a _place_, like every other French village. When we drove into it,
to look at the house, I confess to having laughed outright, at the idea
of inhabiting such a hole. Two large _portes-cochères_, however, opened
from the square, and we were admitted, through the best-looking of the
two, into a spacious and an extremely neat court. On one side of the
gate was a lodge for a porter, and on the other, a building to contain
gardeners' tools, plants, etc. The walls that separate it from the square
and the adjoining gardens are twelve or fourteen feet high, and once
within them, the world is completely excluded. The width of the grounds
does not exceed a hundred and fifty feet; the length, the form being
that of a parallelogram, may be three hundred, or a little more; and yet
in these narrow limits, which are planted _à l'Anglaise_, so well is
everything contrived, that we appear to have abundance of room. The
garden terminates in a terrace that overhangs the river, and, from this
point, the eye ranges over a wide extent of beautiful plain, that is
bounded by fine bold hills which are teeming with gray villages and
_bourgs_.

The house is of stone, and not without elegance. It may be ninety feet
in length, by some forty in width. The entrance is into a vestibule,
which has the offices on the right, and the great staircase on the left.
The principal _salon_ is in front. This is a good room, near thirty feet
long, fifteen or sixteen high, and has three good windows, that open on
the garden. The billiard-room communicates on one side, and the _salle à
manger_ on the other; next the latter come the offices again, and next
the billiard-room is a very pretty little boudoir. Up stairs, are suites
of bed-rooms and dressing-rooms; every thing is neat, and the house is
in excellent order, and well furnished for a country residence. Now, all
this I get at a hundred dollars a month, for the five summer months.
There are also a carriage-house, and stabling for three horses. The
gardener and porter are paid by the proprietor. The village, however, is
not in much request, and the rent is thought to be low.

Among the great advantages enjoyed by a residence in Europe, are the
facilities of this nature. Furnished apartments, or furnished houses,
can be had in almost every town of any size; and, owning your own linen
and plate, nearly every other necessary is found you. It is true, that
one sometimes misses comforts to which he has been accustomed in his own
house; but, in France, many little things are found, it is not usual to
meet with elsewhere. Thus, no principal bedroom is considered properly
furnished in a good house, without a handsome secretary, and a bureau.
These two articles are as much matters of course, as are the eternal two
rooms and folding doors, in New York.

This, then, has been our Tusculum since June. M. Ternaux enlivens the
scene, occasionally, by a dinner; and he has politely granted us
permission to walk in his grounds, which are extensive and well laid
out, for the old French style. We have a neighbour on our left, name
unknown, who gives suppers in his garden, and concerts that really are
worthy of the grand opera. Occasionally, we get a song, in a female
voice, that rivals the best of Madame Malibran's. On our right lives a
staid widow, whose establishment is as tranquil as our own.

One of our great amusements is to watch the _living_ life on the river,
- there is no _still_ life in France. All the washerwomen of the village
assemble, three days in the week, beneath our terrace, and a merrier set
of _grisettes_ is not to be found in the neighbourhood of Paris. They
chat, and joke, and splash, and scream from morning to night, lightening
the toil by never-ceasing good humour. Occasionally an enormous
scow-like barge is hauled up against the current, by stout horses,
loaded to the water's edge, or one, without freight, comes dropping down
the stream, nearly filling the whole river as it floats broad-side to.
There are three or four islands opposite, and, now and then, a small
boat is seen paddling among them. We have even tried _punting_
ourselves, but the amusement was soon exhausted.

Sunday is a great day with us, for then the shore is lined with
Parisians, as thoroughly cockney as if Bow-bells could be heard in the
Quartier Montmartre! These good people visit us, in all sorts of ways;
some on donkeys, some in cabriolets, some in fiacres, and by far the
larger portion on foot. They are perfectly inoffensive and unobtrusive,
being, in this respect, just as unlike an American inroad from a town as
can well be. These crowds pass vineyards on their way to us, unprotected
by any fences. This point in the French character, however, about which
so much has been said to our disadvantage, as well as to that of the
English, is subject to some explanation. The statues, promenades,
gardens, etc. etc. are, almost without exception, guarded by sentinels;
and then there are agents of the police, in common clothes, scattered
through the towns, in such numbers as to make depredations hazardous. In
the country each _commune_ has one, or more, _gardes champêtres_, whose
sole business it is to detect and arrest trespassers. When to these are
added the _gendarmes à pied_ and _à cheval_, who are constantly in
motion, one sees that the risk of breaking the laws is attended with
more hazard here than with us. There is no doubt, on the other hand,
that the training and habits, produced by such a system of watchfulness,
enter so far into the character of the people, that they cease to think
of doing that which is so strenuously denied them.

Some of our visitors make their appearance in a very quaint style. I met
a party the other day, among whom the following family arrangement had
obtained: - The man was mounted on a donkey, with his feet just clear of
the ground. The wife, a buxom brunette, was trudging afoot in the rear,
accompanied by the two younger children, a boy and girl, between twelve
and fourteen, led by a small dog, fastened to a string like the guide of
a blind mendicant; while the eldest daughter was mounted on the crupper,
maintaining her equilibrium by a masculine disposition of her lower
limbs. She was a fine, rosy-cheeked _grisette_, of about seventeen; and,
as they ambled along, just fast enough to keep the cur on a slow trot,
her cap flared in the wind, her black eyes flashed with pleasure, and
her dark ringlets streamed behind her, like so many silken pennants. She
had a ready laugh for every one she met, and a sort of malicious
pleasure in asking, by her countenance, if they did not wish they too
had a donkey? As the seat was none of the most commodious, she had
contrived to make a pair of stirrups of her petticoats. The gown was
pinned up about her waist, leaving her knees, instead of her feet, as
the _points d'appui_. The well-turned legs, and the ankles, with such a
_chaussure_ as at once marks a Parisienne, were exposed to the
admiration of a _parterre_ of some hundreds of idle wayfarers. Truly, it
is no wonder that sculptors abound in this country, for capital models
are to be found, even in the highways. The donkey was the only one who
appeared displeased with this _monture_, and he only manifested
dissatisfaction by lifting his hinder extremities a little, as the man
occasionally touched his flanks with a nettle, that the ass would much
rather have been eating.

Not long since I passed half an hour on the terrace, an amused witness
of the perils of a voyage across the Seine in a punt. The adventurers
were a _bourgeois_, his wife, sister, and child. Honest Pierre, the
waterman, had conditioned to take the whole party to the island opposite
and to return them safe to the main for the modicum of five sous. The
old fox invariably charged me a franc for the same service. There was
much demurring, and many doubts about encountering the risk; and more
than once the women would have receded, had not the man treated the
matter as a trifle. He affirmed _parole d'honneur_ that his father had
crossed the Maine a dozen times, and no harm had come of it! This
encouraged them, and, with many pretty screams, _mes fois_, and _oh,
Dieu_, they finally embarked. The punt was a narrow scow that a ton
weight would not have disturbed, the river was so low and sluggish that
it might have been forded two-thirds of the distance, and the width was
not three hundred feet. Pierre protested that the danger was certainly
not worth mentioning, and away he went, as philosophical in appearance
as his punt. The voyage was made in safety, and the bows of the boat had
actually touched the shore on its return, before any of the passengers
ventured to smile. The excursion, like most travelling, was likely to be
most productive of happiness by the recollections. But the women were no
sooner landed, than that rash adventurer, the husband, brother, and
father, seized an oar, and began to ply it with all his force. He merely
wished to tell his _confrères_ of the Rue Montmartre how a punt might be
rowed. Pierre had gallantly landed to assist the ladies, and the boat,
relieved of its weight, slowly yielded to the impulse of the oar, and
inclined its bows from the land. "Oh! Edouard! mon mari! mon frère! - que
fais-tu?" exclaimed the ladies. "Ce n'est rien," returned the man,
puffing, and giving another lusty sweep, by which he succeeded in
forcing the punt fully twenty feet from the shore. "Edouard! cher
Edouard!" "Laisse-moi m'amuser, - je m'amuse, je m'amuse," cried the
husband in a tone of indignant remonstrance. But Edouard, a tight, sleek
little _épicier_, of about five-and-thirty, had never heard that an oar
on each side was necessary in a boat, and the harder he pulled the less
likely was he to regain the shore. Of this he began to be convinced, as
he whirled more into the centre of the current; and his efforts now
really became frantic, for his imagination probably painted the horrors
of a distant voyage in an unknown bark to an unknown land, and all
without food or compass. The women screamed, and the louder they cried,
the more strenuously he persevered in saying, "Laisse-moi m'amuser - je
m'amuse, je m'amuse." By this time the perspiration poured from the face
of Edouard, and I called to the imperturbable Pierre, who stood in
silent admiration of his punt while playing such antics, and desired him
to tell the man to put his oar on the bottom, and to push the boat
ashore. "Oui, Monsieur," said the rogue, with a leer, for he remembered
the francs, and we soon had our adventurer safe on _terra firma_ again.
Then began the tender expostulations, the affectionate reproaches, and
the kind injunctions for the truant to remember that he was a husband
and a father. Edouard, secretly cursing the punt and all rivers in his
heart, made light of the matter, however, protesting to the last that he
had only been enjoying himself.

We have had a fête too; for every village in the vicinity of Paris has
its fête. The square was filled with whirligigs and flying-horses, and
all the ingenious contrivances of the French to make and to spend a sou
pleasantly. There was service in the parish church, at which our
neighbours sang in a style fit for St. Peter's, and the villagers danced
quadrilles on the green with an air that would be thought fine in many a
country drawing-room.

I enjoy all this greatly; for, to own the truth, the crowds and mannered
sameness of Paris began to weary me. Our friends occasionally come from
town to see us, and we make good use of the cabriolet. As we are near
neighbours to St. Denis, we have paid several visits to the tombs of the
French kings, and returned each time less pleased with most of the
unmeaning obsequies that are observed in their vaults. There was a
ceremony, not long since, at which the royal family and many of the
great officers of the court assisted, and among others M. de Talleyrand.
The latter was in the body of the church, when a man rushed upon him and
actually struck him, or shoved him to the earth, using at the same time
language that left no doubt of the nature of the assault. There are
strange rumours connected with the affair. The assailant was a Marquis
de - - , and it is reported that his wrongs, real or imaginary, are
connected with a plot to rob one of the dethroned family of her jewels,
or of some crown jewels, I cannot say which, at the epoch of the
restoration. The journals said a good deal about it at the time, but
events occur so fast here that a quarrel of this sort produces little
sensation. I pretend to no knowledge of the merits of this affair, and
only give a general outline of what was current in the public prints at
the time.

We have also visited Enghien, and Montmorency. The latter, as you know
already, stands on the side of a low mountain, in plain view of Paris.
It is a town of some size, with very uneven streets, some of them being
actually sharp acclivities, and a Gothic church that is seen from afar
and that is well worth viewing near by. These quaint edifices afford us
deep delight, by their antiquity, architecture, size, and pious
histories. What matters it to us how much or how little superstition may
blend with the rites, when we know and feel that we are standing in a
nave that has echoed with orisons to God, for a thousand years! This of
Montmorency is not quite so old, however, having been rebuilt only three
centuries since.

Dulaure, a severe judge of aristocracy, denounces the pretension of the
Montmorencies to be the _Premiers Barons Chrétiens_, affirming that they
were neither the first barons, nor the first Christians, by a great
many. He says, that the extravagant title has most probably been a
war-cry, in the time of the crusaders. According to his account of the
family it originated, about the year 1008, in a certain Borchard, who,
proving a bad neighbour to the Abbey of St. Denis, the vassals of which
he was in the habit of robbing, besides, now and then, despoiling a
monk, the king caused his fortress in the Isle St. Denis to be razed;
after which, by a treaty, he was put in possession of the mountain hard
by, with permission to erect another hold near a fountain, at a place
called in the charters, Montmorenciacum. Hence the name, and the family.
This writer thinks that the first castle must have been built of wood!

We took a road that led us up to a bluff on the mountain, behind the
town, where we obtained a new and very peculiar view of Paris and its
environs. I have said that the French towns have no straggling suburbs.
A few winehouses (to save the _octroi_) are built near the gates,
compactly, as in the town itself, and there the buildings cease as
suddenly as if pared down by a knife. The fields touch the walls, in
many places, and between St. Ouen and the guinguettes and winehouses, at
the Barrière de Clichy, a distance of two miles, there is but a solitary
building. A wide plain separates Paris, on this side, from the
mountains, and of course our view extended across it. The number of
villages was absolutely astounding. Although I did not attempt counting
them, I should think not fewer than a hundred were in sight, all grey,
picturesque, and clustering round the high nave and church tower, like
chickens gathering beneath the wing. The day was clouded, and the
hamlets rose from their beds of verdure, sombre but distinct, with their
faces of wall, now in subdued light, and now quite shaded, resembling
the glorious _darks_ of Rembrandt's pictures.




LETTER XVII.

Rural Drives. - French Peasantry. - View of Montmartre. - The Boulevards.
- The Abattoirs. - Search for Lodgings. - A queer Breakfast. - Royal
Progresses and Magnificence. - French Carriages and Horses. - Modes of
Conveyance. - Drunkenness. - French Criminal Justice. - Marvellous Stories
of the Police.


To CAPT. M. PERRY, U.S.N.

I am often in the saddle since our removal to St. Ouen. I first
commenced the business of exploring in the cabriolet, with my wife for a
companion, during which time, several very pretty drives, of whose
existence one journeying along the great roads would form no idea, were
discovered. At last, as these became exhausted, I mounted, and pricked
into the fields. The result has been a better knowledge of the details
of ordinary rural life, in this country, than a stranger would get by a
residence, after the ordinary fashion, of years.

I found the vast plain intersected by roads as intricate as the veins of
the human body. The comparison is not unapt, by the way, and may be even
carried out much further; for the _grandes routes_ can be compared to
the arteries, the _chemins vicinaux_, or cross-roads, to the veins, and
the innumerable paths that intersect the fields, in all directions, to
the more minute blood-vessels, circulation being the object common to
all.

I mount my horse and gallop into the fields at random, merely taking
care not to quit the paths. By the latter, one can go in almost any
direction; and as they are very winding there is a certain pleasure in
following their sinuosities, doubtful whither they tend. Much of the
plain is in vegetables, for the use of Paris; though there is
occasionally a vineyard, or a field of grain. The weather has become
settled and autumnal, and is equally without the chilling moisture of
the winter, or the fickleness of the spring. The kind-hearted peasants
see me pass among them without distrust, and my salutations are answered
with cheerfulness and civility. Even at this trifling distance from the
capital, I miss the brusque ferocity that is so apt to characterise the
deportment of its lower classes, who are truly the people that Voltaire
has described as "ou singes, ou tigres." Nothing, I think, strikes an
American more than the marked difference between the town and country of
France. With us, the towns are less town-like, and the country less
country-like, than is usually the case. Our towns are provincial from
the want of tone that can only be acquired by time, while it is a fault
with our country to wish to imitate the towns. I now allude to habits
only, for nature at home, owing to the great abundance of wood, is more
strikingly rural than in any other country I know. The inhabitant of
Paris can quit his own door in the centre of the place, and after
walking an hour he finds himself truly in the country, both as to the
air of external objects, and as to the manners of the people. The
influence of the capital doubtless has some little effect on the latter,
but not enough to raise them above the ordinary rusticity, for the
French peasants are as rustic in their appearance and habits as the
upper classes are refined.

One of my rides is through the plain that lies between St. Ouen and
Montmartre, ascending the latter by its rear to the windmills that,
night and day, are whirling their ragged arms over the capital of
France. Thence I descend into the town by the carriage road. A view from
this height is like a glimpse into the pages of history; for every foot
of land that it commands, and more than half the artificial accessories,
are pregnant of the past. Looking down into the fissures between the
houses, men appear the mites they are; and one gets to have a
philosophical indifference to human vanities by obtaining these
bird's-eye views of them in the mass. It was a happy thought that first
suggested the summits of mountains for religious contemplation; nor do I
think the father of evil discovered his usual sagacity when he resorted
to such a place for the purposes of selfish temptation: perhaps,
however, it would be better to say, he betrayed the grovelling
propensities of his own nature. The cathedral of Notre Dame should have
been reared on this noble and isolated height, that the airs of heaven
might whisper through its fane, breathing the chaunts in honour of God.

Dismounting manfully, I have lately undertaken a far more serious
enterprise - that of making the entire circuit of Paris on foot. My
companion was our old friend Captain - - . We met by appointment at
eleven o'clock, just without the Barrière de Clichy, and ordering the
carriage to come for us at five, off we started, taking the direction of
the eastern side of the town. You probably know that what are commonly
called the _boulevards_ of Paris, are no more than a circular line of
wide streets through the very heart of the place, which obtain their
common appellation from the fact that they occupy the sites of the
ancient walls. Thus the street within this circuit is called by its
name, whatever it may happen to be, and if continued without the
circuit, the term of _faubourg_ or suburb is added; as in the case of
the Rue St. Honoré and the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, the latter being
strictly a continuation of the former, but lying without the site of the
ancient walls. As the town has increased, it has been found necessary to
enlarge its _enceinte_, and the walls are now encircled with wide
avenues that are called the outer _boulevards_. There are avenues within
and without the walls, and immediately beneath them; and in many places
both are planted. Our route was on the exterior.

We began the march in good spirits, and by twelve we had handsomely done
our four miles and a half. Of course we passed the different
_barrières_, and the gate of Père Lachaise. The captain commenced with
great vigour, and for near two hours, as he expressed himself, he had me
a little on his lee quarter; not more, however, he thought, than was due
to his superior rank, for he had once been my senior as a midshipman. At
the Barrière du Trône we were compelled to diverge a little from the
wall, in order to get across the river by the Pont d'Austerlitz. By this
time I had ranged up abeam of the commodore, and I proposed that we
should follow the river up as far as the wall again, in order to do our
work honestly; but to this he objected that he had no wish to puzzle
himself with spherical trigonometry; that plane sailing was his humour
at the moment; and that he had, moreover, just discovered that one of
his boots pinched his foot. Accordingly we proceeded straight from the
bridge, not meeting the wall again until we were beyond the _abattoir_.
These _abattoirs_ are slaughter-houses, that Napoleon caused to be built
near the walls, in some places within, and in others without them,
according to the different localities. There are five or six of them,
that of Montmartre being the most considerable. They are kept in
excellent order, and the regulations respecting them appear to be
generally good. The butchers sell their meats, in shops, all over the
town, a general custom in Europe, and one that has more advantages than
disadvantages, as it enables the inhabitant to order a meal at any
moment. This independence in the mode of living distinguishes all the
large towns of this part of the world from our own; for I greatly
question if there be any civilized people among whom the individual is
as much obliged to consult the habits and tastes of _all_, in gratifying
his own, as in free and independent America. A part of this
uncomfortable feature in our domestic economy is no doubt the result of
circumstances unavoidably connected with the condition of a young
country; but a great deal is to be ascribed to the practice of referring
everything to the public, and not a little to those religious sects who
extended their supervision to all the affairs of life, that had a chief
concern in settling the country, and who have entailed so much that is
inconvenient and ungraceful (I might almost say, in some instances,
_disgraceful_) on the nation, blended with so much that forms its purest
sources of pride. Men are always an inconsistent medley of good and bad.

The captain and myself had visited the _abattoir_ of Montmartre only a
few days previously to this excursion, and we had both been much
gratified with its order and neatness. But an unfortunate pile of hocks,
hoofs, tallow, and nameless fragments of carcasses, had caught my
companion's eye. I found him musing over this _omnium gatherum_, which



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 21 of 29)