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or to manifest his contempt for principles, the author of "Figaro" had
caused a large copper pen to do the duty of a weathercock; and there it
stands to this day, a curious memorial equally of his wit and of his

At the Barrière du Trône the General pointed out to me the spot where
two of his female connexions suffered under the guillotine during the
Reign of Terror. On one occasion, in passing, we entered the Castle of
Vincennes, which is a sort of citadel for Paris, and which has served
for a state prison since the destruction of the Bastille. Almost all of
these strong old places were formerly the residences of the kings, or of
great nobles, the times requiring that they should live constantly
protected by ditches and walls.

Vincennes, like the Tower of London, is a collection of old buildings,
enclosed within a wall, and surrounded by a ditch. The latter, however,
is dry. The most curious of the structures, and the one which gives the
place its picturesque appearance, in the distance, is a cluster of
exceedingly slender, tall, round towers, in which the prisoners are
usually confined, and which is the _donjon_ of the hold. This building,
which contains many vaulted rooms piled on each other, was formerly the
royal abode; and it has, even now, a ditch of its own, though it stands
within the outer walls of the place. There are many other high towers on
the walls; and, until the reign of Napoleon, there were still more; but
he caused them to be razed to the level of the walls, which of
themselves are sufficiently high.

The chapel is a fine building, being Gothic. It was constructed in the
time of Charles V. There are also two or three vast _corps de bâtimens_,
which are almost palaces in extent and design, though they are now used
only as quarters for officers, etc. etc. The _donjon_ dates from the
same reign. The first room in this building is called the "salle de la
question," a name which sufficiently denotes its infernal use. That of
the upper story is the room in which the kings of France formerly held
their councils. The walls are sixteen feet thick, and the rooms are
thirty feet high. As there are five stories, this _donjon_ cannot be
less than a hundred and forty or fifty feet in elevation. The view from
the summit is very extensive; though it is said that, in the time of
Napoleon, a screen was built around the battlement, to prevent the
prisoners, when they took the air, from enjoying it. As this conqueror
was cruel from policy alone, it is probable this was merely a precaution
against signals; for it is quite apparent, if he desired, to torment his
captives, France has places better adapted to the object than even the
_donjon_ of Vincennes. I am not his apologist, however; for, while I
shall not go quite as far as the Englishman who maintained, in a
laboured treatise, that Napoleon was the beast of the Revelations, I
believe he was anything but a god.

Vincennes was a favourite residence of St. Louis, and there is a
tradition that he used to take his seat under a particular oak, in the
adjoining forest, where, all who pleased were permitted to come before
him, and receive justice from himself. Henry V. of England, died in the
_donjon_ of Vincennes; and I believe his successor, Henry VI. was born
in the same building. One gets a better notion of the state of things in
the ages of feudality, by passing an hour in examining such a hold, than
in a week's reading. After going through this habitation, and studying
its barbarous magnificence, I feel much more disposed to believe that
Shakspeare has not outraged probability in his dialogue between Henry
and Catharine, than if I had never seen it, bad as that celebrated
love-scene is.

Shortly after quitting Vincennes the road crosses the Marne, and
stretches away across a broad bottom. There is little of interest
between Paris and Rosay. The principal house is that of Grosbois, which
once belonged to Moreau, I believe, but is now the property of the
Prince de Wagram, the young son of Berthier. The grounds are extensive,
and the house is large, though I think neither in very good taste, at
least, so far as one could judge in passing.

There are two or three ruins on this road of some historical interest,
but not of much beauty. There is usually a nakedness, unrelieved by
trees or other picturesque accessories, about the French ruins, which
robs them of half their beauty, and dirty, squalid hamlets and villages
half the time come in to render the picture still less interesting.

At Rosay another route is taken, and Lagrange is approached by the rear,
after turning a small bit of wood. It is possible to see the tops of the
towers for an instant, on the great road, before reaching the town.

It is not certainly known in what age the chateau was built; but, from
its form, and a few facts connected with its origin, whose dates are
ascertained, it is thought to be about five hundred years old. It never
was more than a second-rate building of its class, though it was clearly
intended for a baronial hold. Originally, the name was Lagrange en Brie;
but by passing into a new family, it got the appellation of Lagrange
Bléneau, by which it is known at present. You are sufficiently familiar
with French to understand that _grange_ means barn or granary, and that
a liberal translation would make it Bléneau Farm.

In 1399 a marriage took place between the son of the lord of Lagrange en
Brie with a daughter of a branch of the very ancient and great family of
Courtenay, which had extensive possessions, at that time, in Brie. It
was this marriage which gave the new name to the castle, the estate in
consequence passing into the line of Courtenay-Bléneau. In 1595, the
property, by another marriage with an heiress, passed into the
well-known family D'Aubussons, Comtes de la Feuillade. The first
proprietor of this name was the grandfather of the Mareschal de la
Feuillade, the courtier who caused the Place des Victoires to be
constructed at Paris; and he appropriated the revenues of the estate,
which, in 1686, were valued at nine thousand francs, to the support and
completion of his work of flattery. The property at that time was,
however, much more extensive than it is at present. The son of this
courtier dying without issue, in 1726, the estate was purchased by M.
Dupré, one of the judges of France.

With this magistrate commences, I believe, the connexion of the
ancestors of the Lafayettes with the property. The only daughter married
M. d'Aguesseau; and her daughter, again, married the Duc de
Noailles-d'Ayen, [29] carrying with her, as a marriage portion, the lands
of Fontenay, Lagrange, etc. etc., or, in other words, the ancient
possessions of M. de Lafeuillade. The Marquis de Lafayette married one
of the Mesdemoiselles de Noailles, while he was still a youth, and when
the estate, after a short sequestration, was restored to the family,
General Lafayette received the chateau of Lagrange, with some six or
eight hundred acres of land around it, as his wife's portion.

[Footnote 29: Mr. Adams, in his Eulogy on Lafayette, has called the Duc
de Noailles, the first peer of France. The fact is of no great moment,
but accuracy is always better than error. I believe the Duc de Noailles
was the youngest of the old _ducs et pairs_ of France. The Duc d'Uzès, I
have always understood, was the oldest.]

Although the house is not very spacious for a chateau of the region in
which it stands, it is a considerable edifice, and one of the most
picturesque I have seen in this country. The buildings stand on three
sides of an irregular square. The fourth side must have been either a
high wall or a range of low offices formerly, to complete the court and
the defences, but every vestige of them has long since been removed. The
ditch, too, which originally encircled the whole castle, has been filled
in, on two sides, though still remaining on the two others, and greatly
contributing to the beauty of the place, as the water is living, and is
made to serve the purposes of a fishpond. We had carp from it, for
breakfast, the day after our arrival.

Lagrange is constructed of hewn stone, of a good greyish colour, and in
parts of it there are some respectable pretensions to architecture. I
think it probable that one of its fronts has been rebuilt, the style
being so much better than the rest of the structure. There are five
towers, all of which are round, and have the plain, high, pyramidal
roof, so common in France. They are without cornices, battlements of any
sort, or, indeed, any relief to the circular masonry. One, however, has
a roof of a square form, though the exterior of the lower itself is, at
least in part, round. All the roofs are of slate.

The approach to the castle is circuitous, until quite near it, when the
road enters a little thicket of evergreens, crosses a bridge, and passes
beneath an arch to the court, which is paved. The bridge is now
permanent, though there was once a draw, and the grooves of a portcullis
are still visible beneath the arch. The shortest side of the square is
next the bridge, the building offering here but little more than the two
towers, and the room above the gateway. One of these towers forms the
end of this front of the castle, and the other is, of course, at an
angle. On the exterior, they are both buried in ivy, as well as the
building which connects them. This ivy was planted by Charles Fox, who,
in company with General Fitzpatrick, visited Lagrange, after the peace
of Amiens. The windows, which are small and irregular on this side, open
beautifully through the thick foliage, and as this is the part of the
structure that is occupied by the children of the family, their blooming
faces thrust through the leafy apertures have a singularly pleasing
effect. The other three towers stand, one near the centre of the
principal _corps de bâtiment_, one at the other angle, and the third at
the end of the wing opposite that of the gate. The towers vary in size,
and are all more or less buried in the walls, though still so distinct
as greatly to relieve the latter, and everywhere to rise above them. On
the open side of the court there is no ditch, but the ground, which is
altogether park-like, and beautifully arranged, falls away, dotted with
trees and copses, towards a distant thicket.

Besides the _rez-de-chaussée_, which is but little above the ground,
there are two good stories all round the building, and even more in the
towers. The dining-room and offices are below, and there is also a small
oratory, or chapel, though I believe none of the family live there. The
entrance to the principal apartments is opposite the gate, and there is
also here an exterior door which communicates directly with the lawn,
the ditch running behind the other wing, and in front of the gate only.
The great staircase is quite good, being spacious, easy of ascent, and
of marble, with a handsome iron railing. It was put there by the mother
of Madame Lafayette, I believe, and the General told me, it was nearly
the only thing of value that he found among the fixtures, on taking
possession. It had escaped injury.

I should think the length of the house on the side of the square which
contains the staircase might be ninety feet, including the tower at the
end, and the tower at the angle; and perhaps the side which contains the
offices may be even a little longer; though this will also include the
same tower in the same angle, as well as the one at the opposite corner;
while the side in which is the gateway can scarcely exceed sixty feet.
If my estimates, which are merely made by the eye, are correct,
including the towers, this would give an outside wall of two hundred and
fifty feet, in circuit. Like most French buildings, the depth is
comparatively much less. I question if the outer drawing-room is more
than eighteen feet wide, though it is near thirty long. This room has
windows on the court and on the lawn, and is the first apartment one
enters after ascending the stairs. It communicates with the inner
drawing-room, which is in the end tower of this side of the chateau, is
quite round, of course, and may be twenty feet in diameter.

The General's apartments are on the second floor. They consist of his
bed-room, a large cabinet, and the library. The latter is in the tower
at the angle, on the side of the staircase. It is circular, and from its
windows overlooks the moat, which is beautifully shaded by willows and
other trees. It contains a respectable collection of books, besides
divers curiosities.

The only bed-rooms I have occupied are, one in the tower, immediately
beneath the library, and the other in the side tower, or the only one
which does not stand at an angle, or at an end of the building. I
believe, however, that the entire edifice, with the exception of the
oratory, the offices, the dining-room, which is a large apartment on the
_rez-de-chaussée_, the two drawing-rooms, two or three cabinets, and the
library, and perhaps a family-room or two, such as a school-room,
painting-room, etc., is subdivided into sleeping apartments, with the
necessary cabinets and dressing-rooms. Including the family, I have
known thirty people to be lodged in the house, besides servants, and I
should think it might even lodge more. Indeed its hospitality seems to
know no limits, for every newcomer appears to be just as welcome as all
the others.

The cabinet of Lafayette communicates with the library, and I passed
much of the time during our visit, alone with him, in these two rooms. I
may say that this was the commencement of a confidence with which he has
since continued to treat me, and of a more intimate knowledge of the
amiable features and simple integrity of his character, that has greatly
added to my respect. No one can be pleasanter in private, and he is full
of historical anecdotes, that he tells with great simplicity, and
frequently with great humour. The cabinet contains many portraits, and,
among others, one of Madame de Staël, and one of his own father. The
former I am assured is exceedingly like; it is not the resemblance of a
very fascinating woman. In the latter I find more resemblance to some of
the grandchildren than to the son, although there is something about the
shape of the head that is not unlike that of Lafayette's.

General Lafayette never knew his father, who was killed, when he was
quite an infant, at the battle of Minden. I believe the general was an
only child, for I have never heard him speak of any brother or sister,
nor indeed of any relative at all, as I can remember, on his own side,
though he often alludes to the connexions he made by his marriage. I
asked him how his father happened to be styled the _Comte_ de Lafayette,
and he to be called the _Marquis_. He could not tell me: his grandfather
was the _Marquis_ de Lafayette, his father the _Comte_, and he again was
termed the _Marquis_. "I know very little about it," said be, "beyond
this: I found myself a little _Marquis_, as I grew to know anything, and
boys trouble themselves very little about such matters; and then I soon
got tired of the name after I went to America. I cannot explain all the
foolish distinctions of the feudal times, but I very well remember that
when I was quite a boy, I had the honour to go through the ceremony of
appointing the _curé_ of a very considerable town in Auvergne, of which
I was the Seigneur. My conscience has been quite easy about the
nomination, however, as my guardians must answer for the sin, if there
be any."

I was at a small dinner given by the Comte de Ségur, just before we went
to Lagrange, and at which General Lafayette and M. Alexander de Lameth
were also guests. The three had served in America, all of them having
been colonels while little more than boys. In the course of the
conversation, M. de Lameth jokingly observed that the Americans paid the
greater deference to General Lafayette because he was a _Marquis_. For a
long time there had been but one Marquis in England (Lord Rockingham),
and the colonist appreciating all other Marquises by this standard, had
at once thought they would do no less than make the Marquis de Lafayette
a general. "As for myself, though I was the senior colonel, and (as I
understood him to say) his superior in personal rank, I passed for
nobody, because I was only a _chevalier._" This sally was laughed at, at
the time, though there is something very unsettled in the use of those
arbitrary personal distinctions on which the French formerly laid so
much stress. I shall not attempt to explain them. I contented myself by
whispering to M. de Lameth, that we certainly knew very little of such
matters in America, but I questioned if we were ever so ignorant as to
suppose there was only one _Marquis_ in France. On the contrary, we are
little too apt to fancy every Frenchman a _Marquis_.

There was formerly a regular parish church attached to the chateau,
which is still standing. It is very small, and is within a short
distance of the gateway. The congregation was composed solely of the
inhabitants of the chateau, and the people of the farm. The church
contains epitaphs and inscriptions in memory of three of the D'Aubussons
whose hearts were buried here, viz. Leon, Comte de Lafeuillade, a
lieutenant-general; Gabriel, Marquis de Montargis; and Paul D'Aubussons,
a Knight of Malta; all of whom were killed young, in battle.

The General has about three hundred and fifty acres in cultivation, and
more than two in wood, pasture, and meadow. The place is in very
excellent condition, and seems to be well attended to. I have galloped
all over it, on a little filly belonging to one of the young gentlemen,
and have found beauty and utility as nicely blended, as is often to be
met with, even in England, the true country of _fermes ornées_, though
the name is imported.

The third day of our visit, we all drove three or four leagues across
the country, to see an old ruin of a royal castle called Vivier. This
name implies a pond, and sure enough we found the remains of the
buildings in the midst of two or three pools of water. This has been a
considerable house, the ruins being still quite extensive and rather
pretty. It was originally the property of a great noble, but the kings
of France were in possession of it, as early as the year 1300. Charles
V. had a great affection for Vivier, and very materially increased its
establishment. His son, Charles VI. who was at times deranged, was often
confined here, and it was after his reign, and by means of the long wars
that ravaged France, that the place came to be finally abandoned as a
royal abode. Indeed, it is not easy to see why a king should ever have
chosen this spot at all for his residence, unless it might be for the
purpose of hunting, for even now it is in a retired, tame, and far from
pleasant part of the country.

There are the ruins of a fine chapel and of two towers of considerable
interest, beside extensive fragments of more vulgar buildings. One of
these towers, being very high and very slender, is a striking object;
but, from its form and position, it was one of those narrow wells that
were attached to larger towers, and which contained nothing but the
stairs. They are commonly to be seen in the ruins of edifices built in
the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, in France; and what is worthy
of remark, in several instances, notwithstanding their slender forms, I
have met with them standing, although their principals have nearly
disappeared. I can only account for it, by supposing that their use and
delicacy of form have required more than ordinary care in the

The ruins of Vivier belong to M. Parquin, a distinguished lawyer of
Paris. This gentleman has a small country-house near by, and General
Lafayette took us all to see him. We found him at home, and met, quite
as a matter of course, with a polite reception. M. Parquin gave us much
curious information about the ruin, and took us to see some of the
subterraneous passages that he has caused to be opened.

It is thought that some of these artificial caverns were prisons, and
that others were intended merely as places for depositing stores. The
one we entered was of beautiful masonry, vaulted with the nicest art,
and seemed to communicate with the ruins although the outlet was in the
open field, and some distance from the walls. It might have been
intended for the double purpose of a store-house and an outlet; for it
is rare to meet with a palace, or a castle, that has out, more or less,
of these private means of entrance and retreat. The Tuileries is said to
abound with them, and I have been shown the line of an under-ground
passage, between that palace and one of the public hotels, which must be
fully a quarter of a mile in length.

Dulaure gives an extract from a report of the state of the Chateau of
Vivier, made about the year 1700, with a view to know whether its
conditions were such as to entitle the place to preserve certain of its
privileges. In this document, the castle is described as standing in the
centre of a marsh, surrounded by forest, and as so remote from all
civilization, as to be nearly forgotten. This, it will be remembered, is
the account of a royal abode, that stands within thirty miles of Paris.

In the very heart of the French capital, are the remains of an extensive
palace of one of the Roman Emperors, and yet it may be questioned if one
in a thousand, of those who live within a mile of the spot, have the
least idea of the origin of the buildings. I have inquired about it, in
its immediate neighbourhood, and it was with considerable difficulty I
could discover any one who even knew that there was such a ruin at all,
in the street. The great number of similar objects, and the habit of
seeing them daily, has some such effect on one, as the movement of a
crowd in a public thoroughfare, where images pass so incessantly before
the eye, as to leave no impression of their peculiarities. Were a
solitary bison to scamper through the Rue St. Honoré, the worthy
Parisians would transmit an account of his exploits to their children's
children, while the wayfarer on the prairies takes little heed of the
flight of a herd.

As we went to Lagrange, we stopped at a tavern, opposite to which was
the iron gate of a small chateau. I asked the girl who was preparing our
_goûter_, to whom the house belonged. "I am sorry I cannot tell you,
sir," she answered; and then seeing suspicion in my face, she promptly
added - "for, do you see, sir, I have only been here _six weeks_." Figure
to yourself an American girl, set down opposite an iron gate, in the
country, and how long do you imagine she would be ignorant of the
owner's name? If the blood of those pious inquisitors, the puritans,
were in her veins, she would know more, not only of the gate, but of its
owner, his wife, his children, his means, his hopes, wishes, intentions
and thoughts, than he ever knew himself, or would be likely to know. But
if this prominent love of meddling must of necessity in its very nature
lead to what is worse than contented ignorance, gossiping error, and a
wrong estimate of our fellow-creatures, it has, at least, the advantage
of keeping a people from falling asleep over their everyday facts. There
is no question that the vulgar and low-bred propensity of conjecturing,
meddling, combining, with their unavoidable companion, _inventing_,
exist to a vice, among a portion of our people; but, on the other hand,
it is extremely inconvenient when one is travelling, and wishes to know
the points of the compass, as has happened to myself, if he should ask a
full-grown woman whereabouts the sun rises in that neighbourhood, he is
repulsed with the answer, that - "Monsieur ought to know that better than
a poor garden-woman like me!"

We returned to Paris, after a pleasant visit of three days at Lagrange,
during which we had delightful weather, and altogether a most agreeable
time. The habits of the family are very regular and simple, but the
intercourse has the freedom and independence of a country-house. We were
all in the circular drawing-room a little before ten, breakfast being
served between ten and eleven. The table was French, the morning repast
consisting of light dishes of meat, _compotes_, fruits, and sometimes
_soupe au lait_, one of the simplest and best things for such a meal
than can be imagined. As a compliment to us Americans, we had fish fried
and broiled, but I rather think this was an innovation. Wine, to drink
with water, as a matter of course, was on the table. The whole ended

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 26 of 29)