Walter F Lonergan.

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eccentricity which made her talk Paris slang and
imitate the music-hall singer Theresa. It was even
doubtful if she did this, but her eccentricity, according
to the German writer, was pardonable, as she had an
admixture of insanity in her composition. So at least
appears from the following story of a living picture


display. The Empress once desired that her ladies
should sit around in one of the garden nooks at
Compiegne arranged in a Watteau group of living
pictures. The Duchesse de Persigny, a great beauty
of the blonde division, objected to powder her fair
hair, whereupon Princess Metternich complained to
the Empress. The latter said, " Oh, let her have
her own way, the poor thing. Her mother is in a
madhouse." "Well," said Princess Metternich, whose
name before marriage was Pauline Von Sandor,
** I have the same claim to your Majesty's con-
sideration, as my father is also in a madhouse."
The matter was compromised by the injunction of
the Empress that the Duchesse de Persigny was
to take part in another and a non-Watteau com-
bination of living pictures. The husband of the
fair-haired Duchess has left a most valuable volume
of reminiscences. He died at Nice in 1872, but
his memoirs, prepared for publication by his friend
and secretary, Comte d'Espagny, did not appear until
1896. Persigny was one of the most interesting
figures of the Second Empire. He was born in
1800, was a military student at the Saumur Cavalry
School, whence he passed into a Hussar regiment,
and on leaving the army he went to Germany.
While at Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart, where he
had an appointment of an amorous character with
an unknown fair one, Persigny saw Louis Napoleon
for the first time. The Prince was out driving, and
his coachman was shouting " Vive Napoleon ! "
Persigny joined the Prince's set and became devo-
tedly attached to him. The Republicans go so far
as to make Persigny the most prominent of those


who helped to bring about the coup cTStat of
the 2nd of December, 1851. They call him the
policeman, or gendarme, of the Second Empire,
as the Due de Morny was its diplomatist, and they
bracket him with General Saint Arnaud and
M. de Maupas. In his memoirs Persigny glides
over the coup cT^tat. A little before my first visit
to Paris, Persigny was in bad odour at the Tuileries.
He saw the clouds gathering, opposed Rouher and
the new advisers of the Emperor, and objected to the
interference of the Empress in matters of State. He
wrote on this delicate subject to Napoleon the Third ;
the letter fell into the hands of the Empress, who at
once informed Persigny that she would not attend
Cabinet Councils any more. The Duke was never
pardoned for his frankness.


Republicans and the Empire — Ollivier, Rochefort, Rouher — The
Empress a matchmaker — The Victor Noir affair — In
Normandy with the Germans — The Prussian deserter —
In the Latin Quarter — Recollections of Renan — His view
of Christianity — Taine on London — His descriptions of
Somerset House, the Strand, and Trafalgar Square — Max
O'Rell and Taine — Debates and discussions in the Latin

TOWARDS the year 1869 some of the Repub-
Hcans, whom I was afterwards to see and hear
in the height of their popularity and success, began
to make their influence felt. Emile Ollivier, the man
who went to war with a " light heart," had been
directed by the Emperor to form a Cabinet and to
succeed M. Rouher. The events of the time brought
to the front the founders of the Third Republic, such
as Ldon Gambetta, Jules Grevy, Jules Ferry, and, it
may well be added, Henri Rochefort. It is not widely
known that M. Ollivier himself was at that period
designated a renegade Republican. His father,
Demosthenes Ollivier, had been a man of the moun-
tain, and what is termed "a victim of the 2nd of
December" — that is to say, of the coup d'etat of
December, 1851. He himself had been associated

with Ledru Rollin, who long lived in exile in St.



John's Wood. In 1857 M. Ollivier was put forward
on the Republican — or rather the Democratic — ticket,
and he wrote that the Republican party supported
him by reason of the devotedness of his father to the
cause, and out of respect to the memory of his brother,
Aristides Ollivier, who was killed in a political duel.
Towards the end of 1869 M. Ollivier publicly declared
that all good men should rally around the Dynasty.
He cut himself adrift from his old friends of the Left
Centre, and set to work to form the " Empire Liberal."
This is the title of the voluminous work on which M.
Ollivier was long engaged in his retirement at Saint
Tropez, in the South of France, where he resides
during the winter months. The venerable academi-
cian varies this historical work by writing occasional
leading articles, and by defending the Empress
Eugenie from the recurring attacks of Republicans who
insist that the war of 1870-71 was "her war." Quite
recently — in July, 1906 — there was some flutter at the
French Academy when M. Thureau-Dangin wanted
to award the Gobert prize to M. de la Gorsse for
his history of the Second Empire. The flutter was
caused by M. Ollivier, who contested M. de la Gorsse's
account of the events leading up to the war of 1870,
and stated that Prussia alone was responsible for that
Titanic conflict. The upshot was that M. de la
Gorsse did not obtain the Gobert prize, and that
M. Ollivier received a raking fire from the Republi-
can press. One of the Republican writers began by
stating that the Imperial policy in the Hohenzollern
affair admirably served the politique de derriere la tete
of Bismarck. The French Cabinet was exacting in
its demands, continued this writer, and that was


simply and solely because the Empress, who had
planned a marriage between the Murats and the
Hohenzollerns, insisted absolutely that Prince
Frederick of Hohenzollern, brother of Prince Leo-
pold, should after his marriage with Princess Anna
Murat come to live in Paris, and form part of the
Court of the Tuileries. The Prince's father ob-
jected, saying that his son's place was at the Court
of Prussia. We are told that the Empress then did
her utmost to thwart the Prussians and the Hohen-
zollerns, and later on made her husband demand
from King William the promise that, after the refusal
of Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern to take the throne
of Spain, no member of the Royal Family should be
put forward as a candidate for the same throne. ^

This brief excursion into the domain of history is
necessary for the purpose of leading up to the Repub-
licans who belong to the period with which the author
is most familiar. Emile Ollivier, as we have seen,
was charged to form the Cabinet of the " Empire
Liberal," and he did so in January, 1870. He was
President as well as Minister of Justice and of Public
Worship, M. de Valdrome being at the Interior,
M. Napoleon Daru at the Foreign Office, M. Buffet
at the Treasury, General Leboeuf head of the War
Office, and Admiral Rigault de Genouilly, Marine or
Admiralty. The other Ministers were nonentities
from the political and popular point of view.

^ M. Ollivier also vigorously defends the Empire in his
recent work or magnum opus. He tries to make Napoleon
the Third irresponsible for the crushing of France, but careful
readers of history will not forget that the Emperor was badly
advised in the matter of the Danish Duchies in 1864, and did
not see the danger ahead after Sadowa in 1866.


M. Olllvier had hardly formed his Cabinet when
the uproar caused by the shooting of Victor Noir
arose, and brought to the front the Republicans who
were the bitterest enemies of the Empire, with Henri
Rochefort at their head. Rochefort was then, as I
have seen him so often in later years, the active and
daring journalist ever tossing like a stormy petrel on
the waters of agitation. Whenever there is anything
lively taking place in Paris under the Third Republic,
Rochefort is as prominent in it as he was at the time
when he branded Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte as a
bandit, and asserted that the Prince in question was
one of the red-handed ruffians of the Empire who, not
content with blowing Republicans to pieces in the
streets, lured them into traps and murdered them. The
Prince who shot Victor Noir had previously referred
to Rochefort as the "" porte-drapeau de la crapuW —
" the banner-bearer of blackguardism." Rochefort,
as is well known, vehemently attacked the Empire in
the Lanterne of that day. It is interesting to note
that M. de Villemessant, the provincial draper who
founded the successful Figaro^ and was a friend of
the Imperial Government and of the Conservatives,
actually financed the Lanterne on its foundation. The
fact is guaranteed by M. Taxile Delord, who published
a history of the Second Empire in 1874. It was as if
M. Arthur Meyer, the chief champion of the Church
and the Conservatives of the present day, backed on
the sly the modern Lanterne or the Petite Rdpublique,
while conducting the Gaulois to suit the tastes and
the inclinations of the aristocratic residents of the
Faubourg Saint Germain. This double-dealing has
not been uncommon in French journalism, and not


a few experts in it who thrive in the present day
could be mentioned.

From the agitation over the Victor Noir affair to
the outbreak of the war is not a far cry. That
momentous time from July, 1870, to September 4th in
the same year has been too much and too ably treated
to need any repetition here. Historians both brilliant
and industrious, historiographers picturesque and
practical have in France, England, and Germany
narrated and commented upon the war, the fall of
the Empire, the flight of the Empress, the imprison-
ment of Napoleon the Third, his death in England,
until there is nothing left to be said on these subjects.

Away from Paris during the heavy fighting of 1870
I saw on my return to France in 1871 the Prussians
occupying Normandy. While staying at Dieppe I met
a young Prussian who asked me to help him to get to
England. He had deserted from the German troops
occupying Rouen and its vicinity, the same district in
which Guy de Maupassant placed the scenes of his
remarkable story adapted for the stage as " Made-
moiselle Fifine." In those days I passed through
Normandy like many a British tourist, unmindful of
the memories of the place which, from the literary side
alone, and independently of its historic associations,
is full of interest, for it is the country of the two
Corneilles, as well as of the more intensely modern
Gustave Flaubert, and the author who was his faithful
pupil — the unlucky Guy de Maupassant. I once saw
Maupassant at Cannes, where he was staying with his
mother, before the disaster which necessitated his
removal to the private asylum, where his principal
recreation was chasing butterflies, until he died.


The young Prussian to whom I have referred had
managed somehow to secure a baggy suit of clothes at
Rouen, and came to Dieppe thinking that he would
be able to cross unnoticed to England. His masters
were too previous for him. They had telegraphed a
full description of the man to the ports, and as he wore
spectacles, like many of the German soldiers, especially
those of the Landwehr, he was soon pulled up at
Dieppe by the Prussian detectives, who were aided,
willingly or unwillingly, by the French police and

What became of the poor Prussian was a mystery
to me then. We drank cider together, and devoured
fat bacon and bread, and then smoked for some hours
in a Dieppe tavern, he talking of his prospects of
finding employment in England and I trying to
impress upon him the danger that he was incurring in
leaving Rouen. The man was arrested as he left the
tavern, and I was for years under the painful im-
pression that he was shot for desertion before the
enemy, although the war was then over. To my
surprise, about 1885, or thereabouts, I met my old
Prussian friend in a Paris cafe. He recognised me
and came up to me saying, " Don't you remember
Dieppe and the fat bacon and cider ? " The question
staggered me at first, but I soon remembered. He
told me that he was taken before a French sub-prefect
after his arrest by the German military detectives, and
was sent back to his corps. His **Oberst,"he said, gave
him a severe lecturing, told him that he deserved to
be not shot, but drowned like a diseased dog, and
finally condemned him to a short imprisonment.
When peace was proclaimed my former fellow-


adventurer at Dieppe obtained lucrative employment
in Berlin.

Leaving Normandy for Paris soon after my meeting
with the Prussian deserter, I settled in the Latin
Quarter — a place which has always been most interest-
ing to me even in these later days when antique land-
marks have disappeared, and when the venerable
Sorbonne of the past is represented by a modern
edifice which resembles a German railway station.

My old abode in the Latin Quarter was in a street
near the College of Saint Sulpice, a barrack-looking
building but nevertheless memorable to me as a seat
of ecclesiastical tradition and learning. The ordinary
tourist looks at Saint Sulpice with apathy. The un-
learned Protestant regards it as a home of benighted
bigotry and narrow-minded intolerance. The modern
French atheist, utterly oblivious or ignorant of history,
would have it destroyed as a stronghold of powerful
priestcraft and clerical domination.

To me it was associated with its founder, M. Olier,
with the traditions of the old regime, and with Renan
whose writings at one time had a strong influence over
me, and whose magical style I still enjoy, although I
have learned to take a more critical view of the manner
in which he handles history, theology, and philosophy.

This remarkable man's "Souvenirs de Jeunesse "
fascinated me, for they were like my own. He was a
Breton, I am a Celt. He was placed under ecclesi-
astical care at an early age, and so was L He went
away from Saint Sulpice, and I also left my college to
face the world and to study in the great university of

Accordingly, when in the Latin Quarter I lived near


the old seminary of the Sulpicians, which is not the
original one of M. Olier's time. I never pass it now
without thinking of the founder, his successors and
their famous renegade pupil who wrote the" Vie de
Jesus." In my keen recollection is always Renan's
early experience. He went there from the smaller
Seminary at Issy. Previously he had been at the
little Seminary of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet under
Abbe Dupanloup, afterwards Bishop of Orleans,
where he was taught chiefly rhetoric, "as if I were to
be a poet, an orator, or an author." The teacher did
not trouble in the least about German criticisms of
the texts, &c., and regarded the Bible "as good for
quotations in ornate sermons."

Renan's renunciation always recurs to me as I pass
the great building, and I revert often in memory to
his progress from the ascetic atmosphere of faith to
that of gilded doubt and disbelief. I frequently think
of his introduction through his sister to that German
criticism which blurred his original views, of his
struggles for five years, after which he became like
the "gamin de Paris who brushes aside beliefs which
the reason of a Pascal cannot escape from," and of that
serious pronouncement, " in reality, few people have a
right to disbelieve Christianity."

I learned a good deal in the Latin Quarter. I
obtained employment at a library, gave occasional
lessons, like many greater men, and had time to
attend free lectures at the old Sorbonne and the
College of France. My principal instructors, however,
were the students who lodged with me in a little hotel.
These youths, some of whom had fought at Sedan, at
Le Mans, at Bougival, and elsewhere, were literary



to their finger-tips. Whether studying law, medicine,
or letters, they were all crammed with literature.
They argued every evening on literary subjects, and
some recited long passages from Corneille, Lamartine,
and Alfred de Musset, the latter being an especial
favourite. We had discussions on " Volther Scott,"
who showed the way to the French romantic writers,
on Dickens and on Thackeray, as well as on Octave
Feuillet, then a favourite, but classed long since in the
namby-pamby school, on the more serious writers such
as Taine, and on Pascal. A prime favourite, too, was
Prosper Merimee, of whom Walter Pater said "he
could detect almost everywhere the hollow ring of the
fundamental nothingness of things," and whose
" Colomba," according to the same distinguished
authority, "showed intellectual depth of motive, firmly
conceived structure, faultlessness of execution, vindi-
cating the function of the novel as no tawdry light
literature, but in very deed a fine art."

Other writers we discussed were Hugo, Michelet,
J. J. Weiss, a long obsolete essayist and critic, and,
notably, Taine. Michelet was strongly objected to
by Royalist students and by the more serious readers,
who preferred, or pretended to prefer, Henri Martin,
although criticism has shaken the basis of some of his
work, notably that dealing with Gaul before Csesar,
and the Merovingian and Carlovingian epochs.
Others referred grandly in discussions to the "pro-
found philosophy" of Guizot, the " diplomatic elegance"
of Mignet, the " military verve " of Thiers, the " epic
imagination " of Thierry ; but all the Romanticists to a
man voted for Michelet, and I was among the number.

Taine was most frequently to the front in those


Latin Quarter days, and I must say I heard less there
about minor authors such as Henri Murger and his
Bohemians, than when I removed to the other side
of the Seine, where I found men in cafes whose
knowledge of Hterature was confined to the " Vie de
Boheme," and the fiction of funny Paul de Kock, the
Frenchman of Dutch origin, whose work was the
*' vin d! Argenteuil de la litUrature,'' as somebody
wrote, thus making his position that of a small beer
man before such big brewers of letters as Balzac.

Some years before the time about which I am
writing Taine had published his " Notes on England."
These were translated by W. F. Rae, and published
in London in 1872, the author being described as
H. Taine, D.C.L. Oxon. In France this sounded
strange, and just as at the present day Frenchmen,
and also Englishmen who have long lived in France,
smile when M. Camille Saint Saens, the composer, is
carefully referred to as ** Doctor," so we in the Latin
Quarter of old were humorous over Taine's honorary
Oxford degree. In France he was simply M. Taine.
The great writer's famous method of investigating
the social condition, environment, antecedents of the
individual, so as to arrive at his basic quality, the
'' faculU maitresse," and thus to formulate a definite
critical judgment of his work, has long been depreciated
in England and America. Individuality is too subtle
and complicated for Taine's analysis, able and
apparently effective as it seemed to be. The man,
in any case, remains one of the giants of French
literature, and his imitators have not eclipsed him.

In my later years I have compared Taine's
" Notes" with *' John Bull and His Island " by Max


O'Rell, and I do not hesitate to declare that M. Paul
Blouet must have diligently read the impressions of
England written by his greater fellow countryman. I
cannot in this connection resist quoting a few extracts
from the " Notes," just to enable the reader to judge
for himself how far Taine's criticisms of English life
and character held good when M. Blouet wrote, and
hold good still. Referring to the ideal of happiness
in England, he says that "it is to be home at six in
the evening, with a pleasing attached wife, having
four or five children on their knees, and respectful
domestics." Again, " Sunday in London in the rain :
the shops are shut, the streets almost deserted; the
aspect is that of an immense and a well-ordered
cemetery. It is appalling. After an hour's walk in
the Strand especially one has the spleen, one
meditates suicide." And the monuments! "Somer-
set House is a frightful thing. Nelson stuck on his
column, with a coil of rope in the form of a pigtail, is
like a rat impaled on the top of a pole. A swamp
like this is a place of exile for the arts of antiquity.
When the Romans came here they must have thought
themselves in Homer's Hell, in the land of the
Cimmerians." That was Taine's comment on a wet
Sunday among London monuments.

Adverting to English beggars, Taine says that a
poor person is not wretched in the South of Europe,
but in England poverty is hideous, horrible. "Nothing
can be more terrible than the coat, the lodging, the
shirt, the form of an English beggar. Possess ^20,000
in the Funds here, or else cut your throat; such is the
idea which constantly haunts me, and the omnibus
advertisements suggest it still more in informing one


that 'Mappin's celebrated razors cost only one
shilling.' " I

And this of journalists : "According to what my
friends tell me, the position of journalists is lower
than with us. The able journalists who write masterly
leading articles three or four times monthly do not
sign their work and are unknown to the public.
Properly speaking, they are literary hacks. Their
article is read at breakfast as one swallows the bread
and butter which is eaten with tea. One no more
asks who wrote the article than one asks who made
the butter."

Of the '' esprit Anglais'' \i& wrote that "the interior
of an English head may not inaptly be likened to one
of Murray's hand-books, which contains many facts
and few ideas." The analogy between these sly
touches of Taine and those of the now vanished Max
O'Rell, alias Blouet, has always appeared to me in a
most forcible light. One might imagine, in fact, that
it was M. Blouet who wrote the " Notes." It is the
same light and airy French touch — the touch rather
of the clever, superficial journalist than of the
philosophic man of letters. But M. Blouet could
not have written " Les Origines de la France
Contemporaine," nor the study of Jacobinism which
it includes.

As in the case of Renan, so I and many of my
friends in the Latin Quarter loved to roam near places

* A man may have impressions such as Taine had when he
was in the capital of England, in Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid,
and Vienna, but they will not be so deep and enduring as those
brought home to him by the soHd opulence displayed in the
West End of London.


associated with Taine. I once lived for a few weeks
in the house in the Rue Madame where Taine resided
in his dreary days. By a strange coincidence years
after, in 1883, I found myself in the same street in
peculiar circumstances. I went there to witness the
signing of the will of Lord Falkland, an uncle of the
present holder of the title. Lord Falkland lived for
a few months every year in a fine first-floor flat at
No. I, Rue Madame. The street partly belongs to
the Faubourg Saint Germain Quarter. At that time
Lord Falkland, whom I knew in a general way, was
ailing, and I went with his Paris lawyer, Mr. R. O.
Maugham, and Mr. Willoughby, British Vice Consul,
to witness the nobleman's will. Lord Falkland, Mr.
Maugham and Mr. Willoughby died not long after the
first mentioned had made his will in his bedroom in
the Rue Madame. The street is thus familiar for
many reasons to me.

In 1853 Hippolyte, or, as he was also known,
Henri Taine lived in this Rue Madame. He received
four francs an hour for his lessons and was in daily
fear of being reduced to a lower salary by his employer,
one Jauffret. He was also persecuted by his official
superiors of the University, and was liable to a fine,
as a normal school man, for teaching in a private
establishment. Taine was succeeded at Jauffret's
college by Edmond About, a man for whom I never
had any enthusiasm. He was one of the Normalians
of the time of Taine, Prevost Paradol, Francisque
Sarcey, and Cardinal Perraud. I read some of
About s novels, his ''Roman Question" also, and
his leading articles in the newspapers, for he was
always a journalist, but he never gave me the


intellectual satisfaction which I obtained from reading

Online LibraryWalter F LonerganForty years of Paris → online text (page 2 of 25)