The Elysee Palace
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE official residence—one could scarcely call it home—of the Presidents of France is not shown to the public. Even Baedeker, the sight-seer's help in time of trouble, suggests no day when it may be visited. The soldiers on duty in front of the palace sternly refuse admittance to everyone and, unlike other royal abodes, there is no opportunity to see the inside unless one receives an invitation to some of the festivities. It is one of the oldest buildings in Paris and now stands proudly aloof from the finer palaces of the day, as though its past traditions more than counterbalanced its present deficiencies.
Built by Count d'Evreux in 1718, it was later bought by Mme. de Pompadour, who lived in it as often as Louis XV. would permit. In her day the most magnificent entertainments of Paris were given there. Watteau shepherdesses being in vogue, the Marquise gave a "fete bergere," when a flock of little lambs, nicely combed and beribboned, were led in the great salon by fair shepherdesses in satins and lace. Unfortunately these little lambs saw other little lambs in the mirrors, and belying the proverbial meekness 'of their disposition, they attacked their supposed rivals with such vehemence that the evening ended abruptly amid broken glass, wounded lambkins and fainting women.
The Marquise left the palace to a son of Louis XV., but it soon changed owners again, and Louis XVI. bought it, with all its costly furnishings, for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Later, during the occupancy of the Duchess cle Bourbon, she beautified it so greatly it was given its name at that time of Elysee—Bourbon.
During the Revolution it degenerated into a public garden, where balls, fireworks and balloon ascensions were given on the grounds, while gamblers reveled in their sport in the gorgeous apartments.
The next owner was Murat who, with his wife, Napoleon's sister Caroline, lived here in a style that quite eclipsed the splendor-loving Emperor. They left it for their kingdom in Naples, but the Salon Murat remains today quite as when they used it. It is a long, narrow room, poorly lighted by two windows, with a painting by Vcrnet that represents Murat's triumphal entrance into Naples. Poor Murat, his reign was soon over, and though dead these many years it was only a short time ago that Naples decided he was among her other kings.
Napoleon occasionally sought fatigue, and Josephine spent the month before her divorce in its seclusion, while Queen Hortense stayed here months at a time. The chess-table of Napoleon stands just as he left it, and after the great Emperor himself was checkmated at Waterloo, he went back to the Elysee for a few hours repose. On this spot the second abdication was signed, resigning the crown he said he had picked from the gutter on the point of his sword! He left the palace for the last time by a side way, but the crowd outside the wall saw a state carriage drive out through the main entrance, and gazing eagerly worthy to be laid to rest refuge here from Court after it, they did not know until later they had been tricked again.
Next came Wellington to take up his abode in the rooms of his vanquished enemy, and later the Elysee fell to the lot of Charles X.'s son, the Duc de Berry, who was brought back here dead after being murdered one night at the Opera. During Louis Philippe's reign it was given up to the accommodation of different people, who from
some service done the King in his days of need, expected shelter in his hour of triumph.
When Louis Napoleon was elected President, he chose the Elysee for his official residence, and he waited one long anxious night to hear the result of his Coup d'Etat in the room where President Loubet now holds his ministerial councils. Of course after he became Em peror, Napoleon III. moved to more regal apartments in the Tuileries and gave the
Elysee over to his fiancee, Mlle. Eugenie de Montijo. It was her home until she drove to Notre Dame to be married. In the following year Napoleon and Eugenie made many improvements in the palace, and the Empress' bathroom still looks very attractive with its walls of mirrors, painted with vines and flowers, a copy of one of Marie Antoinette's. But, alas, they could not stay in Paris to enjoy the result of their efforts—'`sufficient unto the day is the leader thereof" in France. The old guard who showed me through the building had been in the service of Eugenie at the Tuileries and never tired of talking of her charms.
When he came to an old cheval glass of the Empress, he said—with the gallantry of a courtier—that he regretted he could not in looking into it see, as she used to; her own beautiful face.
During the Exposition of '67, Alexander of Russia sojourned here, followed by the Sultan and the Emperor of Austria. The King of Sweden and Sophie of Holland attended many balls held in the palace, and last but not least, with oriental splendor, came the Viceroy of Egypt. With such a record of guests, is it surprising the Elysee is proud of its past?
The old tapestries are undoubtedly its chief treasures. In the Salon of Cleopatra one represents the banquet given by the Egyptian Queen in honor of Mark Antony, when for dessert a priceless pearl was 'passed to the conquering hero. In the room that was Eugenie's bedroom, used as a study by some of the Presidents, hangs the original gobelin of Marie Antoinette. It has been copied for the French Republic to give the Czarina of Russia, a gift exhibited in 1900 at the Exposition, and the marvelous sheen of the red velvet gown aroused exclamations of delight from the admiring.crowds that gazed daily upon it.
In the study here is a modern revolving book-stand and a common office-chair, but the desk of Louis 1V. is so richly decorated with gold bronze that some of the simple-hearted Presidents have thought it too fine for daily use.
Napoleon I.'s bedchamber contains the famous tapestry of the "Judgment of Paris," in which Mme. de Maintenon had objected so strongly to the nudity of the three goddesses that she wished the gobelin workers to clothe them! After his assassination, President Carnot's body lay in state in that room, and for four days the French oeople filed by in tearful homage.
One of the choicest little rooms is the Gray Salon, where the hangings and furniture, in the style of the Empire, are in pearl satin, embroidered with silver thread. It is now part of the suite belonging to one of M. Loubet's sons.
The Council Room, with its long table and leather chairs, contains the portraits repainted under Napoleon III. of his contemporary sovereigns, among others the late Queen Victoria, at the age of twenty, and Pope Pius IX. M. Loubet presides at the meetings in a chair of Napoleon, with many electric buttons near at hand to summon instantly his various messengers.
The state dining-room, with its red hangings embroidered in gold, is a dark, dismal place in the daytime and can only be used with electric lights. It opens on a winter garden, entirely of glass, with. green hangings, palms, and beautiful statues. Dinner guests are expected to promenade through this garden, but its erection was a grave mistake, as it has made all the other rooms on the ground floor too dark to be habitable. The Salon Murat is often used as an additional dining-room, but during the siege of Paris it was turned into an emergency hospital for dressing the wounds of the victims.
The Salle des Fetes has a finely-painted ceiling and the walls are hung with old tapestries
representing scenes in the life of Jason and Medea. The gobelin portieres are doubly precious for their groundwork of gold thread. The most conspicuous object in the room is a large marble statue called '"Fwilight" that is marvelously lovely. This room, in which' the President receives his guests, is not half large enough, and the lack of suitable accommodations for the crowds that flock to the Elysee balls is as perplexing a problem as the inadequate size of our White House.
The Loubet family usually spend their evenings, when at home, in the comfortable billiard-room, or in the salon on the first floor. In the latter the carpets and chairs are of exquisite tapestry, but it lacks what Herrick called "sweet disorder," as its stiffness .suggests the old fashioned best parlor, where comfort was overcome by would-be grandeur.
On entering the President's dining-room, just as the cloth was being laid for his luncheon, it was noticeable how like the simple little Sevres centerpiece, holding a few growing flowers, was to those used daily on less pretentious American tables, and many other little things show his democratic taste. From the window one has a fine view of the gardens that ex-tend to the Champs Elysees, and the President's garden-parties are notable features of the summer season in Paris.
The entrance to the palace is en-closed in a peculiar glass cage, draped with crimson velvet hangings on which are embroidered the familiar letters " R. F.," the initials, of course, of the French Republic, but often jestingly spoken of as the trade-mark of the Rothschild Freres, whose increasing wealth has made them owners of half of Paris.
There are some celebrated paintings in the palace, and most of the bric-a-brac is well chosen, but here and there, along side a rare work of art, will stand a hideous ornament in impossible taste, with as great a difference between it and its neighbors as there has been between the various royal and bourgeois occupants of the palace. Yet, in spite of its incongruities and discomforts, the old l;lysee challenges ones interest still. It has seen so many changes and sheltered such illustrious personages that as one walks now through the rooms one cannot be insensible of a fragrance that still lingers about it of the splendor of its past.