Treasures Of Historic Interest, Wallace Collections
( Originally Published 1908 )
As we have been round Hertford House together I have mentioned some of the belongings of kings and queens, to these I shall not refer again. In this chapter I want to gather together many of the exhibits in different rooms, which have this special claim to our notice. I wonder if kings can ever know the joy of possession as it is felt by their poorer subjects, who week by week put aside a few pennies to buy a long-coveted clock for the parlour mantelpiece. At last they count up their hoard and find that they have saved enough. The clock, which they have set their hearts on is still in the shop window. How often have they looked at it as they did their daily marketing, dreading that some customer should have carried it off, They bring it home in triumph and place it in the middle of the shelf. Two brilliant vases filled with artificial flowers bear it company on either side, They wind it up and it ticks loudly, and they come again and again into the room to note the effect. We cannot imagine a great king feeling much happier because he had added another timepiece to his many belongings.
But what treasures are his ! The pick of the market comes to the monarch. I wonder if Catherine of Russia, when she paid twenty-five thousand pounds for the dinner service of Sevrès porcelain, was capable of a thrill of intense excitement and delight, when she looked at it and felt ` This is mine. There is no set like it in the world.'
We go back to the early ages of faith when we look at the ` Bell of St. Mura ' (Gallery III, Case J, 498). I must tell you of its origin, though it is but a legend. Indeed the assertion is made that this may be only the outside case of the bell. Some time in the seventh century the good people of Innishowen were ploughing in the fields and about their daily business, when far away as though it came from the clouds they heard a faint tinkling. They gathered together and listened and listened. Gradually the ringing became clearer, and gazing skywards, they saw a tiny bell descending. Louder and louder it rang, larger and larger it grew as it came to earth. It was ringing out to tell the people to build an abbey on the spot where it fell.
Just near by is the mystical Horn of St. Hubert (499), who was the patron saint of the chase about twelve hundred years ago. He blew many a loud blast on it we feel sure, though the carving and metal work on the case belong to a later date, still the horn itself has for centuries been associated with his name.
Those of you who are matter-of-fact will doubt these tales. We had better pass on to look at Queen Elizabeth's shoes (Gallery III, Case K, 567) which are of embroidered silk--a dainty pair. If she had as many shoes as she had dresses she will not have worn these often, but still perhaps in them she tripped lightly over Sir Walter Raleigh's gorgeous cloak as he with courtly grace laid it in the mud.
The shade of another Queen of less happy destinies, Marie Antoinette, lays claim to the small bénitier or holy water fount (Gallery IV, Case A, 13) of repoussé silver, which has engraved on it the Baptism of Christ. The beautiful queen would cross herself in this little fount ere she went to mass, dipping in her dainty fingers ; and perhaps before she started, give a glance in the hand-mirror (23) which reflected back her lovely face. What a contrast to think of her at this time and a few years later, when, as ` la Citoyenne Marie Antoinette,' she was driven in a cart to the place of execution.
No doubt Louis XIV wrote many an important communication of which his writing case (Gallery IV Case C, 103) could tell the secret, papers of state, letters to his favourites, what could not this velvet case, with the royal coat of arms embroidered on it, have held ?
Our own Charles II's despatch box, too; might tell the story of all it had contained, many queer episodes in the life of the gay monarch,—state intrigues, understandings with foreign countries, secret service, who knows what ? The despatch box is decorated with acanthus leaves, the royal crown and cypher woven in.
Marie Antoinette is brought to our mind again when we go upstairs and look at her Candlesticks (Gallery XVIII, 5), decorated with the Austrian eagle and her cypher. She was, as you know, the daughter of the famous Empress Maria Theresa, who. did so much for Austria. The mother's strong and resolute character was not inherited by poor Marie Antoinette. We have the latter's cypher and the royal crown on a Secrétaire (12) which is designed by Riesener. It seems to have belonged to some little private room in the palace for it is marked at the back, ` Store-room of the Queen.' Did she sit at that desk sometimes and write to her mother of the doings of the day—masques and balls and picnics ? Did she sometimes say how she hated court etiquette, and tell of how she scandalised Versailles ?
We think of war and famine when we see the innocent - looking vases and covets of red jasper (Gallery XVIII, 39, and 47). They were acquired by Sir Richard Wallace by balloon post during the siege of Paris. Sir Richard, as I have told you, was spending his money at this time in the relief of the French soldiers, but he did not forget his collection. Perhaps the difîculties of communicating with the outside world gave an added zest to his desire to add to his treasures.
We have seen Catherine of Russia's vases, we have looked at her miniature. Here is a cartonnier of hers, a box for papers, by Dubois (Gallery XX, i5), and a writing table (i7).
The fate of nations was settled at this table, when, in 1807, three great European monarchs sat round it, and the treaty of Tilsit was signed. Napoleon I was there, and as he wrote his name he restored to King William of Prussia one half of his dominions, Alexander of Russia took up the pen, and by his signature recognised Napoleon's brothers as Kings of Naples, Holland, and Westphalia. Because of this treaty Louis XVIII was compelled to flee from the continent and seek shelter in England. More was arranged by the treaty of Tilsit than I could tell you without going into a great deal of the history of the time.
The supports of this table of destiny are sea nymphs and sirens, with cushions for their heads, dreaming away the endless years.
Three years before this time Napoleon had arranged to be crowned at Fontainebleau. He was very anxious to have Pope Pius VII to grace the ceremony. The Pope was not at all willing to come, but he did. He asked as a reward for his services that certain laws which had been passed against the clergy should be altered. Napoleon may have given an evasive promise, but he did not fulfil it. He had already prepared a gift for the Pope and he did not think it necessary to do more. It is an inkstand (Gallery I, 35) of red and grey porphyry, with the arms of Pius emblazoned on it. But, as they quarrelled, Bonaparte never gave the present. I mention this here, but you might wait till you go downstairs to look at it.
Before you go there is a knife, fork, and spoon (Gallery XX, 37, 39), with handles in blood stone and designs in gold, that belonged to Cardinal Mazarin, Louis XIV's powerful minister. I wonder if he used them, if he cut up his dinner, and sipped his soup with their help.