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( Originally Published 1963 )
There are probably four times as many tourists who come to Paris who will never see the gardens of the Palais-Royal as there are tourists who will. This is all the more surprising because every tourist who comes to Paris for more than two or three days will ultimately walk right by its entrance near the lower end of the Avenue de l'Opera. This is not, of course, the only entrance, but the others are even less conspicuous. Nevertheless, I have never come to Paris without visiting these gardens, if only briefly, and in this article I would like to tell you why.
No doubt, one of the biggest surprises a tourist who should accidentally walk into these gardens would get would be their unexpected location, for these gardens are completely surrounded by houses, and are not, therefore, visible until the moment one steps into them. And yet, these gardens are right in the heart of the city, are a full city block wide, and every bit of three old city blocks long. But due to the fact that all the entrances to this park, except one, are located on the narrow old streets that surroimd it, no one would ever expect to find a garden of this size in this location. As this garden does not run parallel to the Avenue de l'Opera, only one of its corners comes near to this avenue, and that is right behind the Theatre Fran~.ais, which is part of the Comedie= Fran;aise, the other one being at the Odeon, and it is at this point that you will find its main entrance. However, before we walk around the side of this theater to it, let me first give you a brief history of these gardens and the associated palace. As this is probably as historical a spot in Paris as any, and as both Richelieu and the Orleans family were closely associated with both the gardens and the palace, we are going to jump with both feet right into history once again. In 1624-and that is an important year in French history-Cardinal Richelieu became Minister to Louis XIII, a position he held until his death in 1642. When Richelieu was made Minister, Marie de Medici, who was the mother of Louis XIII, was still alive. She had been, as you will remember, the second wife of Henry IV, and Louis XIII was their issue. However, as Marie de Medici was somewhat of a political schemer herself, her relations with the Cardinal had never been friendly; and this feuding lasted, with few interruptions, until both of them died in the same year, she at Cologne on July 3, and he in Paris on December 4. So, it seems that in the end the Cardinal won by a few months. However, he won by a lot more than that, for in his History of France Guizot says of him that he was "one of the greatest, the most effective and the boldest as well as the most prudent servant that France ever had." And I don't think that there are many historians who would want to disagree with that. However, I am only mentioning this here to give you some background to the history of this palace, especially since we will meet some of these same people again later. Anyway, shortly after Richelieu was made Minister,he decided to build himself a palace near the Louvre in order to be nearer to the King. This palace consisted of eight courts and ran along the Rue de Rivoli, where it occupied all the land between what is now the Rue de Richelieu and the Rue des Bons-Enfants. As Richelieu Evas also very fond of the theater, and he himself occasionally wrote a play, this palace also included a theatre, and there has been a theatre in that vicinity ever since. That, briefly, was the beginning of the Palais-Royal, although in those days it was known as the Palais-Cardinal. When the Cardinal died, he left this palace to the King and it was then that it became known as the Palais-Royal. From that time on this palace was almost always occupied, either by a member of the Royal Family, or by their friends. When Louis XIII died-he had outlived the Cardinal only a little less than five months-his widow, Anne of Austria, occupied the palace for a short time with her son, the future "Sun King," Louis XIV, who was then only about five years of age. When Louis became King he continued to live there for a while longer, but when Charles I of England was executed in 1649, Louis turned the palace over to Charles I's widow, Henrietta-Marie, known in French as Ilenriette of France, who was his aunt, and he himself went to live at the Louvre. This was the Henriette-Marie, Marie de Medici had by Henry IV, as I already mentioned to you when I described the Tuileries Gardens. She had married Charles when he was still Prince of Wales. After the restoration of the Stuarts, she had gone back to England, but finding that she had no longer a place in royal society, she returned to France, where she died on August 31, 1669. After the death of Henriette-Marie, the palace came into possession of her daughter who was known as Henriette-Ann of France, and was the daughter HenrietteMarie had by Charles I. This daughter was born at Exeter in 1644, and was, therefore, only about five years of age when her father was sent to the scaffold. And now we are going to get a little closer to the next owners of the Palais-Royal. In 1661 Henriette-Ann was married to Philip, Duke of Orleans, the only brother of Louis XIV. About nine years after this marriage Louis XIV sent Henriette Ann to England in order to negotiate the socalled Treaty of Dover, which had to do with some finaglings by which Charles II was to be converted to Catholicism, and Holland, then under Spanish rule, was to be divided as amicably as possible between England and France. Unfortunately, poor Henriette-Ann never got any reward for her pains. She died at Versailles an July 30, 1670, a few months after her return and, as she died in great pains, there were ugly rumors that she had been poisoned. Her funeral oration, as well as that of her mother, was delivered by Bossuet, the greatest preacher of his time, and if you care to do so, you can find a short extract from both in the Outline of Great Books edited by Sir J. A. Hammerton. (Wise & Co., N. Y. 1936) Well, all this sounds like going into an unnecessary amount of history, especially as there is very little left of the original palace today. But as you can see, all these people were in some way or other rather intimately connected with the old palace, and if I wanted to tell you anything at all about it, I could not very well have left them out. About a hundred years after poor Henriette-Ann's death, the palace came into the hands of another descendant of the Orleans Family, namely, Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans, who is also known as Philippe-Egalit6 (17471793) the gentleman we will meet again at the Chapelle Expiatoire tomorrow, minus his head. However, by that time the palace built by Richelieu had been mostly replaced by a new one, but the long colonnade you see around the garden had still not been built. That was to be the work of Phil ippe-Egalite. Through his marriage in 1769 to the daughter and heiress of the Duke of Penthievre, Philippe had become one of the wealthiest men in France; but as he was a high liver, and money that comes easy generally has wings, he always seemed to be broke. So, about ten years after this marriage, after he had spent most of his wife's money, Philippe hit upon the bright idea that his income could be increased considerably if he could rent out part of his palace grounds. To do that, lie built a colonnade around the entire circumference of the grounds with stores below and apartments above, and all of these he let out. And that is the colonnade you still see there today. And strangest of all, there are apartments above these stores today. But that, of course, does not mean that the place is still the same. To picture what that looked like in Philippe's time and for many, many years after, we will have to use just a little imagination, for most of the apartments were occupied by gambling dens and the lairs of the filles de joie, whereas the ground floors were occupied by other places of so-called amusements. It was he also who built the Theatre Francais on one end and the Theatre Palais-Royal on the other. At the same time these apartments were built, the streets which run around the outside of them were renamed Rue de Valois, Rue de Montpensier and Rue de Beaujolais, after titles in the Orleans family. The last one, of course, is today also the name of a famous French wine. Well, one might have thought that Philippe wouldn't have cared to live so close to such worldly surroundings, but Philippe was an extrovert if there ever was one, and during the Revolution he did his best to curry favor with the populace. I will tell you a little more about him in a little while. Today, the main building of this palace, that is to say, the palace which faces the Rue de Rivoli, is occupied by the French Council of State, but for many years the arcades around the garden were the meeting place of Parisians from every walk of life, and also not too safe at night. As a result of the general. reputation of the area, most of the stores on the ground floors were devoted to the pleasures of the senses, as I already hinted. There were wax museums, little shadow theaters, trinket shops and, no doubt, any number of cafes. Even the famous magician Houdin, from whom our modern Houdini took his name, is said to have made his start under these arcades, and so, it may surprise you to know, did Madame Tussaud of London fame. Madame Tussaud was born Marie Grosholtz in Bern, Switzerland, in 1760. After having come to Paris to work for her uncle Dr. Curtius, she married a Frenchman by name of Tussaud, and after separating from him, she went to London, where she established her famous wax museum, though it wasn't where it is now, but on the Strand. Of course, we also ought not forget to mention that it was in one of the cafes under these arcades-the Cafe Foy-that Camille Desmoulins leapt on a table on that fateful Sunday afternoon of July 12, 1789, to harangue the motley crowd with the speech that started the French Revolution. It was the day on which Louis XVI had dismissed Necker, his Swiss Minister of Finance, whom the Parisians had considered their savior. The crowd then broke into Madame Tussaud's wax museum, then, of course, still owned by her uncle, confiscated the busts of Necker, Voltaire, and Phil ippe-Egalite-that was how popular this Philippe was-and carried them in triumph through the streets. That afternoon and the following day, the temper of the Paris mob-how quiet it is here this afternoon-turned to fever heat, and two days later, on Tuesday, July 14-France's Independence Day~they stormed the Bastille. But more about that when we get to the Place de la Bastille. Well, all the jolly life in the Gardens of the Palais-Royal came to an abrupt end in 1838, when all the gambling dens in Paris were closed under the reign of Louis-Philippe. Since then, of course, a number of other places have been closed also. In closing this period of the history of the Palais-Royal, we might, here, add just one more thing-history's appraisal of Philippe-Egalite, who started the whole thing. In spite of the fact that he was debauched, we are told that he was "never rude or cruel, full of gentle consideration for all about him, but selfish in the pursuit of pleasure." However, I am sure that Marie-Antoinette, who disliked him as much as he disliked her, would not have shared this opinion. Had she not borne Louis XVI as son, Philippe-Egalite would have been next in line for the throne, and that was probably as good a reason for disliking her as any other. Also, before I go on to describe the gardens, I might just mention in passing, that the palace built by the Cardinal is not the only palace that is no longer in existence, but that the palace built by the Orleans family also is no longer the same. Like the Tuileries and the Hotel de Ville, this palace was set afire by the pyromaniacs of the Revolution of 1871 and had to be completely rebuilt, and that is the reason why I did not tell you too much about what it looked like originally. However, the colonnades which surround the gardens are still the original apartments put up by Philippe-Egalite, and some parts of the buildings at the end of the garden still date from the time of the Cardinal. Before we step into the garden, it is only fair to say that if you expect to step into a garden of posies, you will be in for a big disappointment, for like so many =other gardens in Paris, this garden is strictly in the French classical style. There are four rows of trimmed linden trees running the length of it, and a planted ,center area. During the summer months, the lawn areas are bordered by many-colored bedding plants, but that is the extent of the planting. In the center of the garden there is a large fountain, and scattered around here and there are a number of statues, but not the undressed kind. At the Louvre end of the garden are two magnificent ,cross colonnades with a tiled pool between them. It is the size, the symmetry and the quietness of this garden ,that will impress one most. Under the arcades today, you will find mostly stores .dealing in highly specialized merchandise. There are a few antique shops, several print shops, two or three book stores, a few stamp dealers, and if 1 remember correctly, even a small printing establishment. And, in this case, not strange to say, not one single cafe, for all those gay crowds of the eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth century have long since vanished. Today these gardens are mostly visited by nursemaids and their charges, a few elderly gentlemen who no doubt come here to think of former times, and now and then an inquisitive tourist who comes here to see if he might not accidentally meet with the ghosts of some of the many famous men who must have trod these grounds in the past. When Benjamin Franklin became America's first Ambassador to France, it was in this palace that he was received. And so was America's naval hero, John Paul Jones. As you may remember, it was through the. efforts of Franklin that Jones was able to obtain an old French ship to raid British trade; he renamed this ship the "Bon Holnme Richard" in honor of the author of - Poor Richard's Almanac. I shall have a little more to tell you about him when we get to the Left Bank of the Seine. Napoleon I, too, is said to have come here frequently when he was still a student at the Ecole Militaire. There. was, no doubt, more life here than there was on the parade grounds of the Champ-de-Mars. As you may remember, he was only fifteen years of age when he arrived at this school with a recommendation from his, former teacher at Brienne that he would make a good sailor. But maybe that is only a story. We are also told that during his stay in Paris in 1822, Charles Lamb lived at a little hotel which was then located right on the Rue de Valois. However, I doubt whether the gentle author of The Essays of Elia ever visited any of the gambling dens. But now, this article is already getting much too long, and as I also want to tell you something about the Rue de Richelieu, it. is high time that we moved on. Having traversed the garden, we shall now leave it by one of the two entrances that will bring us into the Rue de Beaujolais. This is a very narrow street, and to leave it, we will have to go up a few steps at our left that look as. though they might be the entrance to the adjacent building. But keep right on walking bravely, and when you come out of the short passage, you will be right on the Rue de Richelieu. I think every tourist who comes to, Paris ought to walk down a few of its old streets, if forno other reason than to see what old Paris used to look like. And since the Rue de Richelieu is one of these old.streets, and is also alive with history, we are going to start with that. This street starts a little to the side of the Theatre Francais and runs in what you could not very well call a straight line, though it looks straight on your map, to a point where the Boulevard des Italiens meets the Boulevard Montrnartre. It was cut through by the Cardinal in 1638, no doubt to provide an easier access to his palace, and though it is not very wide, it was probably a lot wider than most of the Paris streets were in those days. It runs at a considerable angle away from the Avenue de l'Opera, so that the farther you walk along it, the farther away you will get from the Opera. However, if you don't want to walk its entire length, you can always turn off to your left, either at the Rue des Petits-Champs, which will lead you back into the Avenus de l'Opera, or a little farther up the way, on the Rue de 4 Septembre, which will lead you right into the Opera. Both of these are interesting streets in themselves. As you may have read, it was at number 57 Rue des Petits-Champs that Rousseau first set up house with Therese Lavasseur, who could neither read nor write nor tell the time, and therefore never argued with him about his books. Besides the name of the cardinal, there are three other names which will come to our mind as we walk up this street. The first one is, of course, that of Moliere, who lived at what is now number 40, and that is where he ,died, on February 17, 1673, at the age of only fifty-one. He had been ill for some months, but had insisted on attending one of his plays, in which he also acted. All these plays were perforrned in the theater originally built by Richelieu. He was able to hold out to the end, but had then to be carried home. He died two hours later. He was supposed to have been buried in the Church of Saint Eustache, but nobody knows where his grave is today. However, you will find a monument to him on this street, but since it is at the corner where the Rue Moliere meets the Rue de Richelieu, you will have passed it by the time we come out of the gardens. However, there is no reason why you should not walk the short distance back to it. And now, we come to another great name in French literature, that of Diderot, the great encyclopedist. He died in a house at what is now number 39, on July 30, 1784, after having devoted twenty years to the immense task of compiling the first French encyclopedia. However, the story of this encyclopedia-there were other men that worked on it too-is much too long to relate here, though it might interest you to know that he is. buried in the Church of Saint Roch, that old church on the Rue St. Honore, a little ways off the Avenue de l'Opera. Not too far from the house where Diderot lived, at what is now number 50, was the house in which Jeanne Antoinette Poisson lived before she got married to a young man at the age of fifteen. If this name means nothing to you, I am sure it will when I tell you that this, little girl afterwards became Madame de Pompadour.. In this connection it might also interest you to know that it was Madame de Pompadour who sided with Diderotin the violent dispute which later arose at court over the propriety of parts of his work; a fact from which one might possibly conclude that in order to be the mistress of a king, at least in those days, one had to have something in addition to looks. And now we come to the last of the important residents who formerly lived on this street, and that is Voltaire, though he lived here only briefly. When Voltaire returned to Paris in 1778 from his twenty-eight years' exile in Switzerland and elsewhere, he purchased a house near the boulevard end of this street. On March 30 of that year he attended a performance at the Theatre Francais of his last play, Irene, which might sound like a musical comedy, but was a tragedy which he had started to write when he was still living at Ferney. It was during this rerformance his apotheosis that Benjamin Franklin, who had been American Ambassador to France since 1776, crowned his bust with a wreath of laurel in the presence of the author. It was Voltaire's last public appearance. He had come back to France only to die. He died two months later, on May 30, 1778. But more about him when we get to the Pantheon. So much then, for the Gardens of the Palais-Royal and the Rue de Richelieu. If you are not too tired now, you can walk back to the Opera, but just before you get there, you can stop at the Rue Daunou, which runs off to your left as you walk up the avenue, one very short block this side of the square. A few doors in on this street, at number 5, you will find an oasis known as Harry's New York Bar, with old-fashioned swinging doors, hot dogs, your favorite American drink, and, naturally, your countrymen. Tomorrow, I propose to take you to the Chapelle Expiatoire, and after that to that children's paradise, known to all lovers of Paris as the Parc Monceau.