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all the northern provincial towns of France. It gives a place a
singular, and not altogether an unpicturesque air; the short dark studs
that time has imbrowned, forming a sort of visible ribs to the houses.

When we reached the little square in front of the cathedral, verily
Henry the Seventh's chapel sunk into insignificance. I can only compare
the effect of the chiselling on the quaint Gothic of this edifice, to
that of an enormous skreen of dark lace, thrown into the form of a
church. This was the first building of the kind that my companions had
ever seen; and they had, insomuch, the advantage over me, as I had, in a
degree, taken off the edge of wonder by the visit already mentioned to
Westminster. The first look at this pile was one of inextricable
details. It was not difficult to distinguish the vast and magnificent
doors, and the beautiful oriel windows, buried as they were in ornament;
but an examination was absolutely necessary to trace the little towers,
pinnacles, and the crowds of pointed arches, amid such a scene of
architectural confusion. "It is worth crossing the Atlantic, were it
only to see this!" was the common feeling among us.

It was some time before we discovered that divers dwellings had actually
been built between the buttresses of the church, for their comparative
diminutiveness, quaint style, and close incorporation with the pile,
caused us to think them, at first, a part of the edifice itself. This
desecration of the Gothic is of very frequent occurrence on the
continent of Europe, taking its rise in the straitened limits of
fortified towns, the cupidity of churchmen, and the general indifference
to knowledge, and, consequently, to taste, which depressed the ages that
immediately followed the construction of most of these cathedrals.

We were less struck by the interior, than by the exterior of this
building. It is vast, has some fine windows, and is purely Gothic; but
after the richness of the external details, the aisles and the choir
appeared rather plain. It possessed, however, in some of its monuments,
subjects of great interest to those who had never stood over a grave of
more than two centuries, and rarely even over one of half that age. Among
other objects of this nature, is the heart of Coeur de Lion, for the
church was commenced in the reign of one of his predecessors; Normandy at
that time belonging to the English kings, and claiming to be the
depository of the "lion heart."

Rouen has many more memorials of the past. We visited the square in
which Joan of Arc was burned; a small irregular area in front of her
prison; the prison itself, and the hall in which she had been condemned.
All these edifices are Gothic, quaint, and some of them sufficiently
dilapidated.

I had forgotten to relate, in its place, a fact, as an offset to the
truculent garrulity of the porters. We were shown round the cathedral by
a respectable-looking old man in a red scarf, a cocked hat, and a
livery, one of the officers of the place. He was respectful, modest, and
well instructed in his tale. The tone of this good old cicerone was so
much superior to anything I had seen in England - in America such a
functionary is nearly unknown - that, under the influence of our national
manners, I had awkward doubts as to the propriety of offering him money.
At length the five francs rescued from the cupidity of the
half-civilized peasants of _la basse Normandie_ were put into his hand.
A look of indecision caused me to repent the indiscretion. I thought his
feelings had been wounded. "Est-ce que monsieur compte me présenter tout
ceci?" I told him I hoped he would do me the favour to accept it. I had
only given _more_ than was usual, and the honesty of the worthy cicerone
hesitated about taking it. To know when to pay, and what to pay, is a
useful attainment of the experienced traveller.

Paris lay before us, and, although Rouen is a venerable and historical
town, we were impatient to reach the French capital. A carriage was
procured, and, on the afternoon of the second day, we proceeded.

After quitting Rouen the road runs, for several miles, at the foot of
high hills, and immediately on the banks of the Seine. At length we were
compelled to climb the mountain which terminates near the city, and
offers one of the noblest views in France, from a point called St.
Catherine's Hill. We did not obtain so fine a prospect from the road,
but the view far surpassed anything we had yet seen in Europe. Putting
my head out of the window, when about half way up the ascent, I saw an
object booming down upon us, at the rate of six or eight miles the hour,
that resembled in magnitude at least a moving house. It was a diligence,
and being the first we had met, it caused a general sensation in our
party. Our heads were in each other's way, and finding it impossible to
get a good view in any other manner, we fairly alighted in the highway,
old and young, to look at the monster unincumbered. Our admiration and
eagerness caused as much amusement to the travellers it held, as their
extraordinary equipage gave rise to among us; and two merrier parties
did not encounter each other on the public road that day.

A proper diligence is formed of a chariot-body, and two coach-bodies
placed one before the other, the first in front. These are all on a
large scale, and the wheels and train are in proportion. On the roof
(the three bodies are closely united) is a cabriolet, or covered seat,
and baggage is frequently piled there, many feet in height. A large
leathern apron covers the latter. An ordinary load of hay, though wider,
is scarcely of more bulk than one of these vehicles, which sometimes
carries twenty-five or thirty passengers, and two or three tons of
luggage. The usual team is composed of five horses, two of which go on
the pole, and three on the lead, the latter turning their heads
outwards, as W - - remarked, so as to resemble a spread eagle.
Notwithstanding the weight, these carriages usually go down a hill
faster than when travelling on the plain. A bar of wood is brought, by
means of a winch that is controlled by a person called the _conducteur_,
one who has charge of both ship and cargo, to bear on the hind wheels,
with a greater or less force, according to circumstances, so that all
the pressure is taken off the wheel horses. A similar invention has
latterly been applied to railroad cars. I have since gone over this
very road with ten horses, two on the wheel, and eight in two lines on
the lead. On that occasion, we came down this very hill, at the rate of
nine miles the hour.

After amusing ourselves with the spectacle of the diligence, we found the
scenery too beautiful to re-enter the carriage immediately, and we walked
to the top of the mountain. The view from the summit was truly admirable.
The Seine comes winding its way through a broad rich valley, from the
southward, having just before run east, and, a league or two beyond due
west, our own Susquehanna being less crooked. The stream was not broad,
but its numerous isles, willowy banks, and verdant meadows, formed a line
for the eye to follow. Rouen in the distance, with its ebony towers,
fantastic roofs, and straggling suburbs, lines its shores, at a curvature
where the stream swept away west again, bearing craft of the sea on its
bosom. These dark old towers have a sombre, mysterious air, which
harmonizes admirably with the recollections that crowd the mind at such a
moment! Scarce an isolated dwelling was to be seen, but the dense
population is compressed into villages and _bourgs_, that dot the view,
looking brown and teeming, like the nests of wasps. Some of these places
have still remains of walls, and most of them are so compact and well
defined that they appear more like vast castles than like the villages of
England or America. All are grey, sombre, and without glare, rising from
the background of pale verdure, so many appropriate _bas reliefs_.

The road was strewed with peasants of both sexes, wending their way
homeward, from the market of Rouen. One, a tawny woman, with no other
protection for her head than a high but perfectly clean cap, was going
past us, driving an ass, with the panniers loaded with manure. We were
about six miles from the town, and the poor beast, after staggering some
eight or ten miles to the market in the morning, was staggering back
with this heavy freight, at even. I asked the woman, who, under the
circumstances, could not be a resident of one of the neighbouring
villages, the name of a considerable _bourg_ that lay about a gun-shot
distant, in plain view, on the other side of the river. "Monsieur, je ne
saurais pas vous dire, parce que, voyez-vous, je ne suis pas de ce
pays-là," was the answer!

Knowledge is the parent of knowledge. He who possesses most of the
information of his age will not quietly submit to neglect its current
acquisitions, but will go on improving as long as means and
opportunities offer; while he who finds himself ignorant of most things,
is only too apt to shrink from a labour which becomes Herculean. In this
manner ambition is stifled, the mind gets to be inactive, and finally
sinks into unresisting apathy. Such is the case with a large portion of
the European peasantry. The multitude of objects that surround them
becomes a reason of indifference; and they pass, from day to day, for a
whole life, in full view of a town, without sufficient curiosity in its
history to inquire its name, or, if told by accident, sufficient
interest to remember it. We see this principle exemplified daily in
cities. One seldom thinks of asking the name of a passer-by, though he
may be seen constantly; whereas, in the country, such objects being
comparatively rare, the stranger is not often permitted to appear
without some question touching his character.[3]

[Footnote 3: When in London, two years later, I saw a gentleman of rather
striking appearance pass my door for two months, five or six times of a
morning. Remembering the apathy of the Norman peasant, I at length asked
who it was - "Sir Francis Burdett," was the answer.]

I once inquired of a servant girl, at a French inn, who might be the
owner of a chateau near by, the gate of which was within a hundred feet
of the house we were in. She was unable to say, urging, as an apology,
that she had only been six weeks in her present place! This, too, was in
a small country hamlet. I think every one must have remarked, _coeteris
paribus_, how much more activity and curiosity of mind is displayed by a
countryman who first visits a town, than by the dweller in a city who
first visits the country. The first wishes to learn everything, since be
has been accustomed to understand everything he has hitherto seen; while
the last, accustomed to a crowd of objects, usually regards most of the
novel things he now sees for the first time with indifference.

The road, for the rest of the afternoon, led us over hills and plains,
from one reach of the river to another, for we crossed the latter
repeatedly before reaching Paris. The appearance of the country was
extraordinary in our eyes. Isolated houses were rare, but villages
dotted the whole expanse. No obtrusive colours; but the eye had
frequently to search against the hill-side, or in the valley, and, first
detecting a mass, it gradually took in the picturesque angles, roofs,
towers, and walls of the little _bourg_. Not a fence, or visible
boundary of any sort, to mark the limits of possessions. Not a hoof in
the fields grazing, and occasionally, a sweep of mountain-land resembled
a pattern-card, with its stripes of green and yellow, and other hues,
the narrow fields of the small proprietors. The play of light and shade
on these gay upland patches though not strictly in conformity with the
laws of taste, certainly was attractive. When they fell entirely into
shadow, the harvest being over, and their gaudy colours lessened, they
resembled the melancholy and wasted vestiges of a festival.

At Louviers we dined, and there we found a new object of wonder in the
church. It was of the Gothic of the _bourgs_, less elaborated and more
rudely wrought than that of the larger towns, but quaint, and, the
population considered, vast. Ugly dragons thrust out their grinning
heads at us from the buttresses. The most agreeable monstrosities
imaginable were crawling along the grey old stones. After passing this
place, the scenery lost a good deal of the pastoral appearance which
renders Normandy rather remarkable in France, and took still more of the
starched pattern-card look, just mentioned. Still it was sombre, the
villages were to be extracted by the eye from their setting of fields,
and here and there one of those "silent fingers pointing to the skies"
raised itself into the air, like a needle, to prick the consciences of
the thoughtless. The dusky hues of all the villages contrasted oddly,
and not unpleasantly, with the carnival colours of the grains.

We slept at Vernon, and, before retiring for the night, passed half an
hour in a fruitless attempt to carry by storm a large old circular tower,
that is imputed to the inexhaustible industry of Caesar. This was the
third of his reputed works that we had seen since landing in France. In
this part of Europe, Caesar has the credit of everything for which no one
else is willing to apply, as is the case with Virgil at Naples.

It was a sensation to rise in the morning with the rational prospect of
seeing Paris, for the first time in one's life, before night. In my
catalogue it stands numbered as sensation the 5th; Westminster, the
night arrival in France, and the Cathedral of Rouen, giving birth to
numbers 1, 2, and 4. Though accustomed to the tattoo, and the evening
bugle of a man-of-war, the drums of Havre had the honour of number 3.
Alas! how soon we cease to feel those agreeable excitements at all, even
a drum coming in time to pall on the ear!

Near Vernon we passed a village, which gave us the first idea of one
feature in the old _régime_. The place was grey, sombre, and
picturesque, as usual, in the distance; but crowded, dirty,
inconvenient, and mean, when the eye got too near. Just without the
limits of its nuisances stood the chateau, a regular pile of hewn stone,
with formal _allées_, abundance of windows, extensive stables, and
broken vases. The ancient _seigneur_ probably retained no more of this
ancient possession than its name, while some Monsieur Le Blanc, or
Monsieur Le Noir, filled his place in the house, and "personne dans la
seigneurie."

A few leagues farther brought us to an eminence, whence we got a
beautiful glimpse of the sweeping river, and of a wide expanse of
fertile country less formally striped and more picturesque than the
preceding. Another grey castellated town lay on the verge of the river,
with towers that seemed even darker than ever. How different was all
this from the glare of our own objects! As we wound round the brow of
the height, extensive park-grounds, a village more modern, less
picturesque, and less dirty than common, with a large chateau in red
bricks, was brought in sight, in the valley. This was Rosny, the place
that gave his hereditary title to the celebrated Sully, as Baron and
Marquis de Rosny; Sully, a man, who, like Bacon, almost deserves the
character so justly given of the latter by Pope, that of "The wisest,
greatest, _meanest_, of mankind." The house and grounds were now the
property of Madame, as it is the etiquette to term the Duchesse de
Berri. The town in the distance, with the dark towers, was Mantes, a
place well known in the history of Normandy. We breakfasted at Le Cheval
Blanc. The church drew us all out, but it was less monstrous than that
of Louviers, and, as a cathedral, unworthy to be named with those of the
larger places.

The next stage brought us to St. Germain-en-Laye, or to the verge of the
circle of low mountains that surround the plains of Paris. Here we got
within the influence of royal magnificence and the capital. The
Bourbons, down to the period of the revolution, were indeed kings, and
they have left physical and moral impressions of their dynasty of seven
hundred years, that will require as long a period to eradicate. Nearly
every foot of the entire semi-circle of hills to the west of Paris is
historical, and garnished by palaces, pavilions, forests, parks,
aqueducts, gardens, or chases. A carriage terrace, of a mile in length,
and on a most magnificent scale in other respects, overlooks the river,
at an elevation of several hundred feet above its bed. The palace
itself, a quaint old edifice of the time of Francis I, who seems to have
had an architecture not unlike that of Elizabeth of England, has long
been abandoned as a royal abode. I believe its last royal occupant was
the dethroned James II. It is said to have been deserted by its owners,
because it commands a distant view of that silent monitor, the sombre
beautiful spire of St. Denis, whose walls shadow the vaults of the
Bourbons; they who sat on a throne not choosing to be thus constantly
reminded of the time when they must descend to the common fate and
crumbling equality of the grave.

An aqueduct, worthy of the Romans, gave an imposing idea of the scale on
which these royal works were conducted. It appeared, at the distance of
a league or two, a vast succession of arches, displaying a broader range
of masonry than I had ever before seen. So many years had passed since I
was last in Europe, that I gazed in wonder at its vastness.

From St. Germain we plunged into the valley, and took our way towards
Paris, by a broad paved avenue, that was bordered with trees. The road
now began to show an approach to a capital, being crowded with all sorts
of uncouth-looking vehicles, used as public conveyances. Still it was on
a Lilliputian scale as compared to London, and semi-barbarous even as
compared to one of our towns. Marly-la-Machine was passed; an hydraulic
invention to force water up the mountains to supply the different
princely dwellings of the neighbourhood. Then came a house of no great
pretension, buried in trees, at the foot of the bill. This was the
celebrated consular abode, Malmaison. After this we mounted to a hamlet,
and the road stretched away before us, with the river between, to the
unfinished Arc de l'Étoile, or the barrier of the capital. The evening
was soft, and there had been a passing shower. As the mist drove away, a
mass rose like a glittering beacon, beyond the nearest hill, proclaiming
Paris. It was the dome of the Hotel of the Invalids!

Though Paris possesses better points of view from its immediate vicinity
than most capitals, it is little seen from any of its ordinary
approaches until fairly entered. We descended to the river by a gentle
declivity. The chateau and grounds of Neuilly, a private possession of
the Duke of Orleans, lay on our left; the Bois de Boulogne, the carriage
promenade of the capital, on our right. We passed one of those
abortions, a _magnificent_ village, (Neuilly,) and ascended gently
towards the unfinished Arch of the Star. Bending around this imposing
memorial of - Heaven knows what! for it has had as many destinations as
France has had governors - we entered the iron gate of the barrier, and
found ourselves within the walls of Paris.

We were in the Avenue de Neuilly. The Champs Elysées, without verdure, a
grove divided by the broad approach, and moderately peopled by a
well-dressed crowd, lay on each side. In front, at the distance of a
mile, was a mass of foliage that looked more like a rich copse in park
than an embellishment of a town garden; and above this, again, peered
the pointed roofs of two or three large and high members of some vast
structure, sombre in colour and quaint in form. They were the pavilions
of the Tuileries.[4] A line of hotels became visible through trees and
shrubbery on the left, and on the right we soon got evidence that we
were again near the river. We had just left it behind us, and after a
_détour_ of several leagues, here it was again flowing in our front,
cutting in twain the capital.

[Footnote 4: Tuileries is derived from _Tuile_, or tile; the site of the
present gardens having been a tile-yard.]

Objects now grew confused, for they came fast. We entered and crossed a
paved area, that lay between the Seine, the Champs Elysées, the garden
of the Tuileries, and two little palaces of extraordinary beauty of
architecture. This was the place where Louis XVI. and his unfortunate
wife were beheaded. Passing between the two edifices last named, we came
upon the Boulevards, and plunged at once into the street-gaiety and
movement of this remarkable town.




LETTER V.

Paris in August 1826. - Montmartre. - The Octroi. - View of Paris.
- Montmorency. - Royal Residences. - Duke of Bordeaux. - Horse-racing.
- The Dauphine. - Popular feeling in Paris. - Royal Equipage. - Gardes du
Corps. - Policy of Napoleon. - Centralization.


To R COOPER, ESQ., COOPERSTOWN.

We were not a fortnight in Paris before we were quietly established, _en
bourgeois_, in the Faubourg St. Germain. Then followed the long and
wearying toil of sight-seeing. Happily, our time was not limited, and we
took months for that which is usually performed in a few days. This
labour is connected with objects that description has already rendered
familiar, and I shall say nothing of them, except as they may
incidentally belong to such parts of my subject as I believe worthy to
be noticed.

Paris was empty in the month of August 1826. The court was at St. Cloud;
the Duchesse de Berri at her favourite Dieppe; and the fashionable world
was scattered abroad over the face of Europe. Our own minister was at
the baths of Aix, in Savoy.

One of the first things was to obtain precise and accurate ideas of the
position and _entourage_ of the place. In addition to those enjoyed from
its towers, there are noble views of Paris from Montmartre and Père
Lachaise. The former has the best look-out, and thither we proceeded.
This little mountain is entirely isolated, forming no part of the
exterior circle of heights which environ the town. It lies north of the
walls, which cross its base. The ascent is so steep as to require a
winding road, and the summit, a table of a hundred acres, is crowned by
a crowded village, a church, and divers windmills. There was formerly a
convent or two, and small country-houses still cling to its sides,
buried in the shrubbery that clothe their terraces.

We were fortunate in our sky, which was well veiled in clouds, and
occasionally darkened by mists. A bright sun may suit particular scenes,
and peculiar moods of the mind, but every connoisseur in the beauties of
nature will allow that, as a rule, clouds, and very frequently a partial
obscurity, greatly aid a landscape. This is yet more true of a
bird's-eye view of a grey old mass of walls, which give up their
confused and dusky objects all the better for the absence of glare. I
love to study a place teeming with historical recollections, under this
light; leaving the sites of memorable scenes to issue, one by one, out
of the grey mass of gloom, as time gives up its facts from the obscurity
of ages.

Unlike English and American towns, Paris has scarcely any suburbs. Those
parts which are called its Faubourgs are, in truth, integral parts of
the city; and, with the exception of a few clusters of winehouses and
_guinguettes_, which have collected near its gates to escape the city
duties, the continuity of houses ceases suddenly with the _barrières_,
and, at the distance of half a mile from the latter, one is as
effectually in the country, so far as the eye is concerned, as if a
hundred leagues in the provinces. The unfenced meadows, vineyards,
lucerne, oats, wheat, and vegetables, in many places, literally reach
the walls. These walls are not intended for defence, but are merely a
financial _enceinte_, created for offensive operations against the
pockets of the inhabitants. Every town in France that has two thousand
inhabitants is entitled to set up an _octroi_ on its articles of
consumption, and something like four millions of dollars are taken
annually at the gates of Paris, in duties on this internal trade. It is
merely the old expedient to tax the poor, by laying impositions on food
and necessaries.

From the windmills of Montmartre, the day we ascended, the eye took in
the whole vast capital at a glance. The domes sprung up through the
mist, like starling balloons; and here and there the meandering stream
threw back a gleam of silvery light. Enormous roofs denoted the sites of
the palaces, churches, or theatres. The summits of columns, the crosses



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 7 of 29)