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( Originally Published 1936 )
The joy of Paris in the summer is the woods that surround it. It is indeed not a city set upon a hill, but a city set, as it were, in the middle of a forest. Of all the woods of Paris the Bois de Boulogne is the best known, though it is by no means the most beautiful. It contains admirable and most expensive restaurants, two race-courses where it is possible to see racing cheaply and without being deafened by the shouting of Hebraic bookmakers, two lakes, a waterfall, and innumerable shady walks. Here of a morning Parisian " hig lif " disports itself on horseback and in motors, and here, a far more interesting sight, M. Jacques Bonhomme comes on a Sunday afternoon with his wife and family, a tremendous figure of enthusiasm. Jacques Bonhomme is generally well in the forties, for he belongs to a prudent tribe that deprecates early ill-considered marriages. He is immensely good-humoured, and he plays with his small children with an abandon that few Englishmen could imitate. There is still a curious legend in England that in French there is no word for home. Not so many years ago a distinguished English novelist declared in one of his stories that every man you meet in the Paris streets is either going to his mistress or coming from her. The truth is that the French are an intensely domestic people, respecting family ties and family obligations in a way hardly realised in England. Let the Bois de Boulogne on a Sunday afternoon witness if I lie.
It is through the Bois de Boulogne, if haply one has a motor, or can hire one, that one makes one's way to St. Cloud, lunching may be at the Pavillon Bleu, built by the side of the river, and walking afterwards into the park.
It was at St. Cloud on August 1, 1589, that Henri III., the last and worst of the Valois, was stabbed to death by a crazy monk called Clement. Henri had been compelled to leave Paris by the plots of the League and was camping at St. Cloud, waiting for the arrival of Henri of Navarre to attempt the recapture of the city. Hatred was the main factor of his life. He hated the Guises and he hated his mother, Catherine de Medicis, and it was his hatred of her which caused him with his last breath to name Navarre as his successor.
In those days what afterwards became the famous Chateau of St. Cloud was the country-house of the Archbishop of Paris. In the middle of the seventeenth century it was bought by the Due d'Orleans, the brother of Louis XIV., and it was the home of his second wife, the Madame of the de Maintenon period, a stumpy, red-faced little German princess who had an intense love for her dogs and a senseless hatred of the King's mentor. The Due d'Orleans died at St. Cloud fourteen years before his brother, and it was in the palace that his son, the Regent, received Peter the Great when he came to western Europe to astonish and be astonished.
At the coup d'Etat of the 18th Brumaire (I'799) Napoleon insisted that the Council of Ancients should adjourn from the Tuileries to the Chateau of St. Cloud, the plot being ingeniously carried through by his brother, Lucien, who called various members of the Assembly to meet at different times. The resignation of Barras, the chief member of the Directoire, was announced, but the majority of the deputes was unwilling to accept the new dictator. When Napoleon arrived with a body of grenadiers he was greeted with loud cries of " Long live the Republic, down with the Dictator," whereupon Murat rushed into the hall like another Cromwell and drove out the representatives. At ten o'clock that night a rump of the body met again and created the Consulate, and as Bourrienne records : " By three o'clock in the morning the palace of St. Cloud had resumed its accustomed calm."
The Concordat which re-established the Catholic religion in France was signed on July 15, 180I, and became law in the following April. For a long time his advisers vainly urged Napoleon himself to hear mass, and at last he consented, and mass was said in a small room at St. Cloud opening out of his study. " The apartment," says Bourrienne, " was used during the week as a bathroom, and on Sunday a portable altar was fixed up, the door of communication was opened and mass, which never took more than twelve minutes, was said while Napoleon was reading memoranda at his desk." Napoleon was first addressed as " Sire " at St. Cloud and begged by Cambaceres to proclaim himself Emperor. His reply was characteristic of a man, on occasion, colossal in hypocrisy: " All that can contribute to the welfare of the country is essential to my happiness. I accept the title which you believe to be useful for the glory of the nation. I submit to the sanction of the people the law of hereditary succession. I hope that France will never repent the honour with which she may surround my family, but at all events my spirit will not be with my posterity when they cease to merit the love and confidence of a great nation."
Charles X., the last of the Bourbons, less able than any of them either to learn or forget, issued the ordinances that cost him his throne from St. Cloud. He had himself crowned at Rheims on the death of his brother, Louis XVIII., and from the beginning of his reign he made it clear that there was to be no compromise with a Liberalism detestable to Bourbon traditions. " I would rather hew wood," he said, " than be a king like the King of England." The Government that he set up was scornfully described by the Duke of Wellington as " a Government by priests, through priests, for priests." Early in 1830 news came to France of the capture of Algiers by the French fleet, and this seemed to Charles to be the moment for dissolving the Chamber, suppressing the free press and generally curbing " the turbulent Democracy which has invaded even our laws and tends to displace legitimate power." Charles was an old gentleman of seventy-three, and he appears to have been considerably astonished when Paris rose and he was obliged hurriedly to depart from St. Cloud, first to Versailles, and then to England, the home of so many rois francais en exil.
St. Cloud was an imperial residence during the Second Empire, a quiet country-house where Napoleon and Eugenie stayed in comparative privacy impossible at the Tuileries or at Compiegne, where most of their theatrical parties were given. Here of an evening, so Augustin Filon relates, Prosper Merimee, the author of Carmen, who had been a friend of Eugenie and her mother in Spain, would sit and read his latest manuscript to the Empress and her ladies.
In 1855, when Queen Victoria paid her visit to Paris, rooms were prepared for her and the Prince Consort and their children in the Palace of St. Cloud, and one wonders whether, installed in an apartment arranged to resemble the domesticity of Windsor, Victoria dreamed of the other great historical personages, so extraordinarily unlike her, who had slept in the palace in other days.
It was at St. Cloud on the morning of July 15, 1870, that the Council was held which decided on war with Germany, Leboeuf assuring the Emperor that the French army was ready to the buttons on its gaiters and that victory was certain. Emile Ollivier, the Prime Minister, drove straight from St. Cloud to the Chamber to make his famous declaration : " De ce jour commence pour les Ministres, mes collegues, et pour moi une grande responsabilite. Nous l'acceptons le coeur leger." That evening the streets of Paris were filled with a mob shouting " A Berlin, a Berlin."
It was a dull grey morning when Napoleon left St. Cloud for the last time. He had a short consultation with his ministers, gravely said good-bye to all the suite and drove to the station with his wife and son. As the train started the Empress called out to the Prince Imperial, who accompanied his father, " Louis, fais bien ton devoir." That was on July 29. On August z a telegram came to St. Cloud from the Emperor announcing what proved to be the inconsiderable victory at Saarbruck. It ran : " Louis has just received his baptism of fire, his coolness was admirable, he was as unconcerned as if he had been strolling in the Bois de Boulogne." And then followed news of disaster after disaster. " Our troops," ran one telegram, " are in full retreat, nothing must be thought of now beyond the defence of the capital." The Empress was told the fatal news at half-past eleven at night, and for once rising to something like greatness, she said : " The Dynasty is lost, we must think only of France " ; adding to a lady who offered her sympathy, " No sentiment, I implore you, I need all my courage." At half-past two in the morning she left St. Cloud for the Tuileries.
On October 18, William, the old King of Prussia, stood in the gardens of St. Cloud with Bismarck and Von Moltke, looking over Paris, picking out the Invalides, Notre-Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and perhaps thinking, like another Blucher, what a city it was to sack. During the bombardment the palace was set on fire and totally destroyed, the French say by the Germans, the Germans by the French, one German writer sententiously exclaiming as he records the loss. " How the French rage against their own flesh ! "
I have pleasant recollections of St. Germain-en-Laye, its chateau and its forest. I have stood many times on the famous terrasse looking over the valley of the Seine with the spires of Paris in the distance. I have drunk most admirable Vouvray tete in a restaurant on the cobbled square opposite the chateau. I was present in the chateau itself, now a museum, when the Peace Treaty terms were handed to the Austrian delegates, and a very moving speech of protest from one of them was interrupted by a photographer falling through one of the specimen cases fixed against the wall.
The first Chateau of St. Germain was built on the site of an ancient monastery in the twelfth century, and entirely rebuilt by Francois I. During the reigns of the Valois kings the Court was frequently at St. Germain, and Henri IV. finished what is called the New Chateau, where Louis XIV. spent a great deal of his time before Versailles became his principal residence. At St. Germain James II. of England found shelter when he fled from London with his queen, Mary of Modena, and his baby son, the unlucky prince who lives in history as the " Old Pretender." They lived at St. Germain until James's death in 1701. There is nothing finer in all the long reign of Louis XIV. than his kindness to his exiled brother of England. His reign had passed its zenith, William of Orange was a formidable enemy with whom it had become good policy for France to be at peace, but no question of political expediency could tempt the French king to desert his friend, and he showed amazing patience with the futilities of the exiled Stuart.
When Queen Mary of England died in 1694 a request came from St. Germain to Versailles that the French Court should wear no mourning. The order was obeyed, says Saint-Simon, but people thought this kind of revenge rather petty. In 1697 the Duke of Portland was sent to France to endeavour to arrange an understanding, and particularly to suggest that William's friendship could be secured if King James and his family were removed from St. Germain. But the Ambassador was warned not to mention the subject to Louis. I quote Saint-Simon :
" The King would not only refuse positively to change his decision, but would be highly offended if he heard a word on the subject. He assured Portland that the King was ready to reciprocate the friendly advances of the King of England, but a single word about St. Germain would spoil everything."
The constant kindness and consideration are the more remarkable since Louis had no illusions about James's capacity or his chances of recovering his throne. Writing in 1694 he said : " The best thing King James can do is to forget that he has ever been King of England."
St. Germain was the scene of constant Jacobite intrigues in the last ten years of the seventeenth century. There was hardly a politician in England who had sworn fealty to William who was not negotiating with James, making the best of both kings, if not of both worlds. In the town of St. Germain itself there lived an army of spies in William's employ, watching the visitors who entered the chateau. They, when they were cautious, were carried inside the gates in curtained sedan-chairs to avoid " the curious persons and knaves and spies, and the former as dangerous as the latter, but not designedly."
James had a paralytic seizure in April 1701, and Louis at once ordered that he should take the waters at Bourbon. " The King was very liberal in providing everything they wanted, and, though they used to travel without ceremony, gave orders that they should be treated everywhere with the same honours as were given to himself." The visit to Bourbon had no beneficial effect, and in September James had another stroke which left no hope of his recovery. The King, Mme. de Maintenon and all the French royal family frequently drove from Versailles to St. Germain to see the dying King, and on September 13 Louis assured him that he would recognise his son as King of England, Scotland and Ireland, another generous action which Saint-Simon properly says was extremely bad politics. Before he died, James gave his last admonition to his son : " Be a good Catholic, fear God, obey your mother next after God. Be entirely dependent on the King of France." This last piece of advice was hardly likely to make the prince popular in England.
Immediately after his father's death the young prince received the homage of the St. Germain courtiers and was proclaimed James III., King of England, Scotland and Ireland, at the palace gates. Saint-Simon was not alone in his criticisms of this procedure, which was recognised by every one who was not a sentimentalist as calculated vastly to strengthen the position of William of Orange. In 1708 the Old Pretender left St. Germain to join the abortive expedition for the invasion of Scotland. When he arrived at Dunkirk it was discovered that he was suffering from measles and this delayed the start. When at last he was well enough to embark a furious storm was raging off Ostend and the expedition was obliged to return. Before he left France, Louis had given him a sealed packet which contained his patent as a Marshal of France. " It would be difficult," says Saint-Simon, " to become one on easier terms." It was on this occasion that the prince used for the first time the title Chevalier de St. Georges. SaintSimon says of' him : " He showed plenty of courage and determination, but they were rendered fruitless by the effects of his bad education, which had been narrow and austere. The Queen, his mother, had brought him up in this manner, partly from a mistaken view of religion, partly to keep him in subjection and dependence on herself for, with all her piety, she was fond of domineering."
Fenelon, certainly no sycophant, described him as having " a quick apprehension of truth, a sincere love of it, a perfect relish of that divine fortitude which is founded upon submission to Providence." It was pitiful that a prince of such good parts should have been fated to a life so ineffective and so full of failure.
After the death of Louis XIV. the position of the exiles in St. Germain became much more uncomfortable. The Regent's policy was to be on good terms with the English Government, and the presence of Mary of Modena and her children at St. Germain was a considerable nuisance. After the tragic failure of 1715, thanks to the Jacobite loyalty that never failed, the prince contrived to return to France, and went to St. Germain to say good-bye to his mother, and four years afterwards he took up his residence in Rome, where he lived for fifty years, and where his son, the Young Pretender, was born. James has been badly maligned by Thackeray, who frequently spoke evil of dignitaries without due cause. He may have been in his old age, as a witty Frenchman described him un devot a l'exces, but he was high-principled and dignified. He lies in St. Peter's under a magnificent monument, the work of Canova, which many a successful dead king might envy. With the death of Mary of Modena in 1718 the connection of the Stuarts with the Chateau of St. Germain came to an end.
There are frequent references to St. Germain-en-Laye in the Dumas romances, particularly in Marguerite de Tlalois and hingt Ans apres. The novelist's description of the flight of Anne of Austria and her son Louis XIV. from Paris to the Chateau of St. Germain, thanks to the fidelity of d'Artagnan, will be particularly remembered. Near St. Germain Dumas built his Chatelet du Monte Cristo, and for a short time lived a life of gorgeous extravagance. So popular was he that it is said that the receipts of the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer de l'Ouest, then in its infancy, increased by twenty thousand francs a year owing to the number of people who were curious to see the great novelist's royal residence. He brought down the Company from the Comedie-Frangaise to play his pieces in the local theatre for the benefit of the poor, and afterwards had firework displays on the terrasse and supper-parties in all the hotels. Louis-Philippe rejoiced at the prosperity of St. Germain and wished that Versailles might also become gay and popular. " Well, Sire," said one of his ministers, " Alexandre Dumas has lately been sentenced to a fortnight's imprisonment for neglecting his duty in the National Guards; make an order for him to spend the fortnight in Versailles, and I guarantee your Majesty that Versailles will be lively enough."
Oddly enough Dumas had Parliamentary ambitions and stood as candidate for St. Germain, but the electors rejected him because they did not consider him sufficiently moral to be their representative. His generosity was unbounded, and although he spent every penny he earned, he spent little of it on himself. " My biographer," he once said, " will not fail to point out that I was a basket with holes in it, forgetting, of course, to mention that, as a rule, it was not I who made the holes."