Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 online

. (page 9 of 20)
Online LibraryVariousLippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 → online text (page 9 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

pious and dignified elderly man, this prelate is not too grave to be
sometimes amusing as well as instructive. In his youth he had the
privilege of being intimate with Cardinal Mezzofanti, who apparently
took a fancy to the young Locatelli - "Tommassino" he called him, which
is a musical way of saying Tommy. At length he offered to give him
lessons in Greek. Full of proud delight at such a privilege, the
student went with his books for the first lesson, and was most kindly

"Listen, Tommassino!" the cardinal said, turning over the leaves of a
great folio. "Here is a magnificent passage of St. Chrysostom's;" and
he read it out enthusiastically in fine, sonorous Greek.

"But I do not understand what it means," said the pupil.

"To be sure;" and the savant at once translated the passage into
musical Italian, and pointed out its beauties of thought and
expression. And so on, passage after passage, but never a word of

Another time it was another of the Fathers or a heathen poet or a
chapter from the Bible read, translated and commented upon; but never
from first to last did Tommassino learn to conjugate a verb or form a
sentence from his learned professor.

"Mezzofanti," the prior said, "was as good as he was learned. He lived
simply, would not have been known from a common priest by his dress in
the street, and visited the sick like a parish priest."

Just at the foot of the hill on which Asisi is built a farm-school was
established a few years ago, the first director being the Benedictine
abate Lisi, a nobleman by birth and a farmer-monk by choice. His death
a year or two ago was deeply regretted. To this establishment boys are
sent, instead of to prison, after their first conviction for an offence
against the law. We saw this school on a former visit to Asisi, and
were much amused to see the tall, raw-boned abate stride about in his
long black robe, which some of his motions threatened to rend from top
to bottom. Clergymen habituated to the wearing of the long robe
acquire, little by little, a restrained step and carriage, somewhat
like a woman's, so that in ordinary masculine dress they may be
discovered by their walk: one would say that they walk like women
dressed in men's garments. The free stride in a narrow petticoat is
almost comical.

On this occasion we had a new exemplification of the almost incredible
riches of Italy, for the abate Lisi's house was crowded with objects
dug up in digging cellars and drains and in cultivating the farm,
though there had been no intention to excavate and the owner was rather
embarrassed than otherwise by the riches he had acquired. Ancient coins
of many different nations, fragments of exquisite architectural
carving, statuary and household utensils, loaded shelves, tables and
drawers. Italy would seem to be wrought of such like a coral-reef, down
to its very foundations in the deep.

The abate had no utopian ideas concerning his work, though he heartily
devoted his life to it. "These boys," he said, "will go out
contadini - still thieves, if you will - but they will limit themselves
to stealing a third out of their master's portion of the produce."

In Asisi we learned to understand what we may call atmospheric
politics, and it confirmed our former opinion that the Italian people
do not care a fig who governs them if only they are well fed. When they
are hungry they rebel, and the only freedom they covet is freedom from
the pangs of hunger. They are equally well pleased with the pope or
with "Vittorio," as they called him, if their simple meal is always
within reach; and if on feast-days they can have a chicken, red wine
instead of white, and a _dolce_, their contentment rises to enthusiasm.

A drought or a destructive rain is therefore to be feared by any
government, especially if there be malcontents to make use of it. There
was quite a severe drought in Asisi last summer, and loud and deep were
the imprecations we heard against the government. As the vines withered
and the corn shrank, so withered and shrank the king and his ministers
in the esteem of these poor people. Count Bindangoli told me that they
very much feared some democratic demonstration, and that they were
anxiously looking forward to the winter. In vain for weeks we looked
over to Perugia for rain (rain comes to Asisi only from that
direction). In vain were prayers in the churches, processions and
promises. We saw the gray showers sail around the horizon, heard their
far-off thunders, saw the lightning zigzag down through the slanting
torrents, and almost saw the hills grow green under them. The only
tempests we had were those we saw brooding on the brows of scowling
contadini. They talked openly of a republic, they were sick of the
devouring taxes, they regretted the papacy: there was certainly danger
of some "scompiglio," my padrone di casa assured me.

At length, after long weeks of waiting, Perugia disappeared in a gray
deluge: the rain came marching like an army across the plain toward us;
its first scattered drops printed the dust, its sheets of water
drenched the windows, its small torrents rushed down the steep streets.
The mountains grew dim and almost disappeared: we were shut in with
hope and a fresh delight. Then the deluge settled into a gentle rain,
under which the grapes swelled out their globes, the corn rustled with
a fuller growth and the hearts of men grew content. The king and his
ministers also budded out into new beauty, and flourished in popular
esteem like the green bay tree, and the republic was quenched - till the
next drought.

_The Author of "Signor Monaldini's Niece._"




The passion for horse-racing, which for more than two centuries has
made the sport a national one in England, cannot be said to exist in
France, and the introduction of this "pastime of princes" into the
latter country has been of comparatively recent date. Mention, it is
true, has been found of races on the plain of Les Sablons as early as
1776, and in the next year a sweepstakes of forty horses, followed by
one of as many asses, was run at Fontainebleau in the presence of the
court. But it is not until 1783 that one meets with the semblance of an
organization, and this as a mere caprice of certain grandees, who
affected an English style in everything, and who thought to introduce
the customs of the English turf along with the _chapeau Anglais_ and
the riding-coat. It was notably the comte d'Artois (afterward Charles
X.), the duc de Chartres (Philippe Égalité), the marquis de Conflans
and the prince de Guéménée who fancied themselves obliged, in their
character of Anglomaniacs, to patronize the race-course; but the public
of that time, to whom this imitation of English manners was not only an
absurdity, but almost a treason against the state, gave but a cold
reception to the attempted innovation. Racing, too, from its very
nature, found itself in direct conflict with all the traditions of the
ancient school of equitation, and it encountered from the beginning the
severe censure and opposition of horsemen accustomed to the measured
paces of the _manége_, whose highest art consisted in consuming a whole
hour in achieving at a gallop the length of the terrace of St. Germain.
The professors of this equestrian minuet, as solemn and formal in the
saddle as was the dancer Dupré in the ballets of the period, predicted
the speedy decay of the old system of horsemanship and the extinction
of the native breed of horses if France should allow her soil to be
invaded by foreign thoroughbreds with their English jockeys and
trainers. The first French sportsmen - to use the word in its limited
sense - thus found themselves not only unsupported by public opinion,
but alone in the midst of an actively-hostile community, and no one can
say how the unequal contest might have ended had not the graver events
of the Revolution intervened to put an end, for a time at least, not
only to the luxurious pleasures, but to all the hopes and ambitions, of
the noble class of idlers.

The wars with England that followed retarded for a quarter of a century
the introduction of racing into France. The first ministerial ordinance
in which the words _pur sang_ occur is that of the 3d of March, 1833,
signed by Louis Philippe and countersigned by Adolphe Thiers,
establishing a register of the thoroughbreds existing in France - in
other words, a national _stud-book_, by which name it is universally
known. The following year witnessed the foundation of the celebrated
Society for the Encouragement of the Improvement of Breeds of French
Horses, more easily recognized under the familiar title of the "Jockey
Club." The first report of this society exposed the deplorable
condition of all the races of horses in the country, exhausted as they
had been by the frightful draughts made upon them in the imperial wars,
and concluded by urging the necessity of the creation of a pure native
stock, of which the best individuals, to be selected by trial of their
qualities of speed and endurance upon the track, should be devoted to
reproduction. This was the doctrine which had been practically applied
in England, and which had there produced in less than a century the
most important and valuable results. France had but to follow the
example of her neighbor, and, borrowing from the English stock of
thoroughbreds, to establish a regular system of races as the means of
developing and improving the breed of horses upon her own soil.

This reasoning seemed logical enough, but the administration of the
_Haras_, or breeding-stables - which is in France a branch of the civil
service - opposed this innovation, and contended that the only pure type
of horse was the primitive Arab, and that every departure from this
resulted in the production of an animal more or less degenerate and
debased. The reply of the Jockey Club was, that the English
thoroughbred is, in fact, nothing else than a pure Arab, modified only
by the influences of climate and treatment, and that it would be much
wiser and easier to profit by a result already obtained than to
undertake to retrace, with all its difficulties and delays, the same
road that England had taken a century to travel.

The experience gained since 1833 has shown that the conclusions of the
Jockey Club were right, but the evidence of facts and of the results
obtained has not yet brought the discussion to a close. The
administration of the Haras still keeps up its opposition to the
raising of thoroughbreds, and will no doubt continue to do so for some
time to come, so tenacious is the hold of routine - or, as the
Englishman might say, of red tape - upon the official mind in France,
whether the question be one of finance, of war or of the breeding of

But it is not only against the ill-will of the administration that the
Jockey Club has had to struggle during all these years: it has had also
to contend with the still more disheartening indifference of the public
in the matter of racing. There is no disputing the fact that the
genuine lover of the horse, the _homme de cheval_ - or, if I may be
forgiven a bit of slang for the sake of its expressiveness, the
_horsey_ man, whether he be coachman or groom, jockey or trainer - is
not in France a genuine product of the soil, as he seems to be in
England. Look at the difference between the cabman of London and his
brother of Paris, if there be enough affinity between them to justify
this term of relationship. The one drives his horse, the other seems to
be driven by his. In London the driver of an omnibus has the air of a
gentleman managing a four-in-hand: in Paris the imbecile who holds the
reins looks like a workman who has been hired by the day to do a job
that he doesn't understand. So pronounced is this antipathy - for it is
more than indifference - of the genuine man of the people toward all
things pertaining to the horse that, notwithstanding all the
encouragements that for nearly half a century have been lavishly
offered for the purpose of developing a public taste in this direction,
not a single jockey or trainer who can properly be called a Frenchman
has thus far made his appearance. All the men and boys employed in the
racing-stables are of English origin, though many, perhaps most, of
them have been born in France; but the purity of their English blood,
so important in their profession, is as jealously preserved by
consanguineous marriages as is that of the noble animals in their
charge. It was an absolute necessity for the early turfmen of France to
import the Anglo-Saxon man with the Anglo-Arabian horse if they would
bring to a creditable conclusion the programme of 1833. And during all
the long period that has since elapsed what courage and patience, what
determined will, to say nothing of the prodigious expenditure of money,
have been shown by the founders of the race-course in France and by
their successors! Their perseverance has had its reward, indeed, in the
brilliancy of the results obtained, but there is still due to them an
ampler tribute of recognition than they have yet received, and it will
be a grateful duty to dwell for a while upon the history of the Jockey

Of its fourteen original members but two survive, the duc de Nemours
and M. Ernest Leroy. The other twelve were His Royal Highness the duc
d'Orléans, M. Rieussec, who was killed by the infernal machine of
Fieschi, the comte de Cambis, equerry to the duc d'Orléans, Count
Demidoff, Fasquel, the chevalier de Machado, the prince de la Moskowa,
M. de Normandie, Lord Henry Seymour, Achille Delamarre, Charles Lafitte
and Caccia. To these fourteen gentlemen were soon added others of the
highest rank or of the first position in the aristocratic world of
Paris. People began to talk with bated breath of the Jockey Club and of
its doings, and strange stories were whispered of the habits of some of
its distinguished members. The eccentricities of Count Demidoff and of
Major Frazer, the obstreperous fooleries of Lord Henry Seymour, the
studied extravagances of Comte d'Alton-Shee, created in the public mind
the impression that the club was nothing less than a sort of infernal
pit, peopled by wicked dandies like Balzac's De Marsay, Maxime de
Trailles, Rastignac, etc. Even the box of the club at the opera was
dubbed with the uncanny nickname _loge infernale_, and the talk of the
town ran upon the frightful sums lost and won every night at the tables
of the exclusive _cercle_, while the nocturnal passer-by pointed with a
shudder to the windows of the first floor at the corner of the Rue de
Grammont and the Boulevard, glimmering until morning dawn with a light
altogether satanic. The truth must be confessed that _jeunesse dorée_
of the period affected a style somewhat "loud." There was exaggeration
in everything - in literature - for it was the epoch of the great
romantic impulse - in art, in politics: what wonder, then, that the
distractions of high life should over-pass the boundaries of good
taste, and even of propriety? The Jockey Club in the time of Louis
Philippe did but recall the good old days of Brookes's and of White's,
of the two Foxes, of George Selwyn and of Sheridan. But how changed is
all this! There is not to-day in Paris, perhaps in the world, a more
sedate, reputable and in every sense temperate club than the "Jockey."
It concerns itself only with racing, the legitimate object of its
foundation, and nothing else is discussed in its salons, if we except
one room, which under the Empire was baptized "The Camp of Châlons,"
for the reason that it had come to be reserved for the use of the old
soldiers, who met there to talk over incidents of army life. Baccarat,
that scourge of Parisian clubs, is forbidden, and lovers of play are
obliged to content themselves with a harmless rubber of whist. As one
black ball in six is sufficient to exclude a candidate - or, to use the
official euphemism, to cause his "postponement" - it is not difficult
for the coterie that controls the club to keep it clear of all noisy,
or even of merely too conspicuous, individuality. Lord Henry Seymour
would be "pilled" to-day by a probably unanimous vote. A candidate may
enjoy all the advantages of wealth and position, he may have the entrée
to all the salons, and may even be a member of clubs as exclusive as
the Union and the Pommes-de-Terre, and yet he may find himself unable
to gain admission to the Jockey. Any excess of notoriety, any marked
personal eccentricity, would surely place him under the ban. Scions of
ancient families, who have had the wisdom to spend in the country and
with their parents the three or four years succeeding their college
life, would have a much better chance of admission than a leader of
fashion such as I have described. The illustrious General de Charette;
M. Soubeyran, at that time governor of the _Crédit foncier_ of France;
the young Henry Say, brother-in-law of the prince A. de Broglie, rich
and accomplished, and the owner, moreover, of a fine racing-stable;
together with many other gentlemen whose private lives were above
suspicion, - have been blackballed for the simple reason that they were
too widely known. As to foreigners, let them avoid the mortification of
certain defeat by abstaining from offering themselves, unless indeed
they should happen to be the possessors of a great historic name or
should occupy in their own country a position out of the reach of
ordinary mortals. This careful exclusion of all originality and
diversity has, by degrees, communicated to the club a complexion
somewhat negative and colorless, but at the same time, it must be
admitted, of the most perfect distinction. The most influential
members, although generally very wealthy, live in Paris with but few of
the external signs of luxury, and devote their incomes to home comforts
and to the improvement of their estates. If one should happen to meet
on the Champs Élysées a mail-coach or a _daumont_ [an open carriage,
the French name of which has been adopted by the English, like
_landau_, etc. It is drawn by two horses driven abreast, and each
mounted by a postilion. The nearest English equivalent is a
"victoria."] that makes the promenaders turn and look back, or if there
be an _avant-scène_ at the Variétés or the Palais Royal that serves as
a point of attraction for all the lorgnettes of the theatre, one may be
quite sure that the owners of these brilliant turnouts and the
occupants of this envied box are not members of the club - "_the_ Club,"
_par excellence_, for thus is it spoken of in Paris. It is considered
quite correct at the club to devote one's self to the raising of cattle
and sheep, as the comtes de Bouvillé, de Béhague, de Hauteserre and
others have done with such success, and one may even follow the example
of the comte de Falloux, the eloquent Academician, in emblazoning with
one's arms a pen of fat pigs at a competitive show, without in the
least derogating from one's dignity. One may also sell the wine from
one's vineyards and the iron from one's furnaces - for the iron industry
is in France looked upon as a sort of heritage of the nobility - but to
get money by any other means than those I have indicated would be
considered in the worst possible taste. On the other hand, it is
permitted to any member of the club to lose as much money as he pleases
without loss of the respect of his fellows, and the surest way to
arrive at this result is to undertake the breeding and running of

As to the external appearance and bearing of the perfect clubman, it is
very much that of Disraeli's hero, "who could hardly be called a dandy
or a beau. There was nothing in his dress, though some mysterious
arrangement in his costume - some rare simplicity, some curious
happiness - always made him distinguished: there was nothing, however,
in his dress, which could account for the influence that he exercised
over the manners of his contemporaries;" and it is probably a fact that
a member of the club is never noticed by passers on the street on
account of anything in his dress or appearance. In short, the club
seems to have adopted for its motto _Sancta simplicitas_, and the
descendants of the old nobility of France, excluded as they practically
are to-day from all public employment save that of the army, seem
determined to live amongst themselves, in tranquillity and retirement,
in such a way as to attract the least possible notice from the press or
from the crowd. Their portraits never find their way into the
illustrated papers, and no penny-a-liner ventures to make them the
subject of a biographical sketch: indeed, any one rash enough to seek
to tread upon this forbidden ground would find himself met at the
threshold by a dignified but very decided refusal of all information
and material necessary to his undertaking.

As an illustration of the care taken by the ruling spirits of the club
to preserve the attitude which they have assumed toward the public, it
may be worth mentioning that Isabelle, who for a long time enjoyed the
distinction of serving the club as its accredited flower-girl, and who
in that capacity used to hold herself in readiness every evening in her
velvet tub at the foot of the staircase of the splendid apartments at
the corner of the Boulevard and the Rue Scribe - the present location of
the club - was dismissed for no other reason than that she had become
too extensively known to the gay world of Paris. Excluded from the
sacred paddock on the race-course, she is to-day compelled to content
herself on great occasions with selling her flowers on the public turf
from a pretty basket-wagon drawn by a pair of coquettish black ponies,
or "toy" ponies in the language of the day.

Notwithstanding the magnificence of the present quarters of the club to
which I have referred, one cannot help regretting that, unlike the
Agricultural Society and the Club of the Champs Élysés, it is obliged
to confine itself to one story of the building - the first floor,
according to continental enumeration - though the rental of this floor
alone amounts to some three hundred thousand francs a year.

The committee on races, composed of fifteen members (founders) and
fifteen associate members - the latter elected every year by the
founders - represents the club in all that concerns its finances and
property, votes the budget, the programme of all races and the
conditions of the prizes, and not only legislates in making the laws
that govern the course, but acts also as judge in deciding questions
that may arise under the code that it has established. And as a
legislative body it has its hands almost as full as that of the state,
for the budget of the society grows from year to year as rapidly as the
nation's, and there are now forty-nine turfs for which it is
responsible or to which it has extended its protection. The presidency
of the committee, after having been held for many years by the lamented
Vicomte Daru, passed on his death last year to M. Auguste Lupin, the
oldest proprietor of race-horses in France. To M. Lupin, moreover,
belongs the honor of being the first breeder in France who has beaten
the English in their own country by gaining the Goodwood Cup in 1855
with Jouvence - success that was renewed by his horse Dollar in 1864. M.
Lupin, who had six times won the Jockey Club Purse (the French Derby)
and twice the Grand Prix de Paris, occupies very much the same position
in France that Lord Falmouth holds in England, and, like him, he never
bets. His colors, black jacket and red cap, are exceedingly popular,
and received even more than their wonted share of applause in the year
1875, the most brilliant season in the history of his stables, when he
carried off all the best prizes with St. Cyr, Salvator and Almanza. His
stud, which has numbered amongst its stallions the Baron, Dollar and
the Flying Dutchman, is at Vaucresson, near Versailles. His
training-stables are at La Croix, St. Ouen.

Of the remaining members of the committee on races, the best known are
the prince de la Moskowa, the comte A. de Noailles, Henry Delamarre,
Comte Frédéric de Lagrange, Comte A. des Cars, J. Mackenzie-Grieves,
Comte H. de Turtot, the duc de Fitz-James, Baron Shickler, the prince
A. d'Aremberg, Prince Joachim Murat, Comte Roederer, the marquis de
Lauriston, Baron Gustave de Rothschild, E. Fould and the comtes de St.
Sauveur, de Kergorlay and de Juigné. Most of these gentlemen run their
horses, or have done so, and the list will be found to comprise, with

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryVariousLippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 → online text (page 9 of 20)