The Latin Quarter
( Originally Published 1918 )
Old Prints — Procope, Tortoni, and Le Père Lunette—The Luxembourg Palace — Rodin — Modern Paintings — A Sinister Crypt — A Garden of Sculpture — The Students of the Latin Quarter — The Sorbonne — A Beautiful Museum — The Cluny's Treasures — Marat and Danton — Old Streets and Dirty — The River Bièvre — Inspired Topography — Dante in Paris.
THE high road from the centre of Paris to the Latin Quarter is across the Pont du Carrousel and up the narrow Rue Mazarin, which skirts the Institut; and the Rue Mazarin we may now take if only for its old print shops, not the least interesting department of which is the portfolios containing students' sketches, some of them very good. (I might equally have said some of them very bad.) We have seen on the Quai des Célestins the site of one of Molière's theatres : here, at Nos. 12-14, is the house in which he established his first theatre, on the last day of 1643. The Rue Mazarin runs into the Rue de l'Ancienne Comédie Française, at No. 14 in which was that theatre, whose successor stands at the foot of the Rue Richelieu.
Crossing the Boulevard St. Germain we climb what is now the Rue de l'Odéon to the Place and theatre of that name, with the statue of Augier the dramatist before it. The Place de l'Odéon demands some attention, for at No. 1, now the Café Voltaire, was once the famous Café Procope, very significant in the eighteenth century, the resort of Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists, and later of the Revolutionaries. Camille Desmoulins indeed made it his home. You may see within portraits of these old famous habitués. Procopio, a Sicilian who founded his establishment for the shelter of poor actors and students (whom Paris then loathed in private life), was the father of all the Paris cafés.
The Café Procope was to men of intellect what some few years later Tortoni's was to men of fashion. The Café Tortoni was in the Boulevard des Italiens. Let Captain Gronow tell its history : "About the commencement of the present [nineteenth] century, Tortoni's, the centre of pleasure, gallantry and entertainment, was opened by a Neapolitan, who came to Paris to supply the Parisians with good ice. The founder of this celebrated café was by name Veloni, an Italian, whose father lived with Napoleon from the period he invaded Italy, when First Consul, down to his fall. Young Veloni brought with him his friend Tortoni, an industrious and intelligent man. Veloni died of an affection of the lungs, shortly after the café was opened, and left the business to Tortoni; who, by dint of care, economy and perseverance, made his café renowned all over Europe. Towards the end of the first Empire, and during the return of the Bourbons, and Louis Philippe's reign, this establishment was so much in vogue that it was difficult to get an ice there; after the opera and theatres were over, the Boulevards were literally choked up by the carriages of the great people of the court and the Faubourg St. Germain bringing guests to Tortoni's.
"In those days clubs did not exist in Paris, consequently the gay world met there. The Duchess of Berri, with her suite, came nearly every night incognito; the most beautiful women Paris could boast of, old maids, dowagers, and old and young men, pouring out their sentimental twaddle, and holding up to scorn their betters, congregated here. In fact, Tortoni's became a sort of club for fashionable people; the saloons were completely monopolised by them, and became the rendezvous of all that was gay, and I regret to add, immoral.
" Gunter, the eldest son of the founder of the house in Berkeley Square, arrived in Paris about this period, to learn the art of making ice; for prior to the peace, our London ices and creams were acknowledged, by the English as well as foreigners, to be detestable. In the early part of the day, Tortoni's became the rendezvous of duellists and retired officers, who congregated in great numbers to breakfast; which consisted of cold pâtés, game, fowl, fish, eggs, broiled kidneys, iced champagne, and liqueurs from every part of the globe.
"Though Tortoni succeeded in amassing a large fortune, he suddenly became morose, and showed evident signs of insanity : in fact, he was the most unhappy man on earth. On going to bed one night, he said to the lady who superintended the management of his café, ` It is time for me to have done with the world.' The lady thought lightly of what he said, but upon quitting her apartment on the following morning, she was told by one of the waiters that Tortoni had hanged himself."
Someone should write a book — but perhaps it has been done — on the great restaurateurs. Paris would, of course, provide the lion's share ; but there would be plenty of material to collect in other capitals. The life of our own Nicol of the Café Royal, for example, would not be without interest ; and what of Sherry and Delmonico ?
While on the subject of meeting-places of remark-able persons, I might say that a latter-day resort of intellectuals who have allowed the world and its temptations to be too much for them is not so very far away from us at this point — the cabaret of Le Père Lunette at No. 4 Rue des Anglais. I do not say that this is a modern Procope, but it has some of the same characteristics : men of genius have met here and illustrious portraits are on the wall ; but they are not frescoes such as could be included in this book, for old Father Spectacles puts satire before propriety.
In the colonnade round the Odéon theatre are book-stalls, chiefly offering new books at very low rates. We emerge on the south side in the Rue Vaugiraud, with the Médicis fountain of the Luxembourg just across the road. The Luxembourg Palace was built by Marie de Médicis, the widow of Henri IV., and it fulfilled the functions of a palace until the Revolution, when, prisons being more important than palaces, it became a prison. Among those conveyed hither were the Vicomte de Beauharnais and his wife Joséphine, who was destined one day to be anything but a prisoner. After the Revolution the Luxembourg became the Palace of the Directoire and then the Palace of the First Consul. In 1800 Napoleon moved to the Tuileries, and a little while afterwards he established the Senate here, and here it is still. I cannot describe the Palace, for I have never been in it, but the Musée I know well.
The Luxembourg galleries are dedicated to modern art. They have nothing earlier than the nineteenth century, and may be said to carry on the history of French painting from the point where it is left in Room VIII. at the Louvre, while little is quite so modern as the permanent portion of the Petit Palais. One plunges from the street directly into a hall of very white sculpture, which for the moment affects the sight almost like the beating wings of gulls. The difference between French and English sculpture, which is largely the difference between nakedness and nudity, literally assaults the eye for the moment; and then the more beautiful work quietly begins to assert itself — Rodin's " Pensée," on the left, holding the attention first and gently soothing the bewildered vision. Rodin indeed dominates this room, for here are not only his "Pensée" (the "Penseur" is not so very far away, two hundred yards or so, at the Panthéon), but his " John the Baptist," gaunt and urgent in the wilderness (with Dubois' " John the Baptist as a boy" near by, to show from what material prophets are evolved) and the exquisite "Danaïdes" and the "Age d'Arain," and the giant heads of Hugo and Rochefort, and the little delicate sensitive Don Quixotic head of Dalou the sculptor, which has just been added, and the George Wyndham and the G.B.S. and other recent portraits; while through the doorway to the next room one sees the "Baiser," immense and passionate. I reproduce here the "Baiser" and the "Pensée," opposite page 46.
Other work here that one recalls is the charming group by Frémiet, "Pan and the Bear Cubs," Dubois' fascinating "Florentine Singing-boy of the Fifteenth Century," a peasant by Dalou, a great Dane and puppies by Le Courtier, and the very beautiful head in the doorway to Room I. — "Femme de Marin," by Cazin the painter. But other visitors, other tastes, of course.
Before entering Room I. there are two small rooms on the right of the sculpture gallery which should be entered, one given up to the more famous Impressionists and one to foreign work. The chief Impressionists are Dégas, Renoir, Monet, Sisley and their companions, al-most all of whom seem to me to have painted better else-where than here. Monet's "Yachts in the River" rise before me as I write with the warm sun upon them, and I still see in the mind's eye the torso of a young woman by Legros : but this room always depresses me, the effect largely I believe of the antipathetic Renoir. The other room has a floating population. Recently the painters have been Belgian: but at another time they may be German or English, when the Belgians will re-cede to the cellars or be lent to provincial galleries.
The pictures in the Luxembourg are many, but the arresting hand is too seldom extended. Cleverness, the bane of French art, dominates. In the first room Rodin's "Baiser" is greater than any painting ; but Harpignies' "Léver de Lune" is here, and here also is one of Pointelin's sombre desolate moorlands. In a glass case some delicate bowls by Dammouse are worth attention; but I think his work at the Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre is better. The second room is notable for the Fantin-Latour drawings in the middle, with others by Flandrin and Meissonier; the third for Carolus-Duran's "Vieux Lithographe" and a case of drawings by modern black and white masters, including Legros and Steinlen; here also is another Pointelin. In Room IV. is a coast scene — "Les Falaises de Sotteville, in a lovely evening light, by Bouland, which falls short of perfection but is very grateful to the eyes. In Room V. is a portrait group by Fantin-Latour recalling the "Hommage à Delacroix," which we saw in the Collection Moreau, but less interesting. The studio is that of Manet at Batignolles. Here also is a beautiful snow scene by Cazin — an oasis indeed. In Room VI. we find Cazin again with "Ishmael," and two sweet and misty Carrières, a powerful if hard Legros, Carolus-Duran's portrait of the ruddy Papa Français the painter, Blanche's vivid group of the Thaulow family, with the gigantic Fritz bringing the strength of a bull-fighter to the execution of one of his tender landscapes, and finally Whistler's portrait of his mother, which I repro-duce opposite page 294 — one of the most restful and gentlest deeds of his restless, irritable life.
Room VII. is remarkable for Rodin's "Bellona" and Tissot's curious exercises in the genre of W. P. Frith — the story of the Prodigal Son. But the picture which I remember most clearly and with most pleasure is Victor Mottez's " Portrait of Madame M.," which has a deep quiet beauty that is very rare in this gallery. In the same room, placed opposite each other, although probably not with any conscious ironical intention, are a large scene in the Franco-Prussian War by De Neu-ville, and Carrière's " Christ on the Cross." In Room VIII. are a number of meretricious Moreaus, Caro-Delvalle's light and, to me, oddly attractive, group, " Ma Femme et ses Soeurs," and the portrait of Mlle. Moréno of the Comédie Française by Granié, which is reproduced opposite page 308, a picture with fascination rather than genius.
In the doorway between Room VIII. and Room IX. hangs a small water-colour by Harpignies, but in Room IX. itself is nothing that I can recollect. Room X. has Picard's charming " Femme qui passe," Harpignies' Coliseum, very like a Moreau Corot and a Flandrin; and in Room XI. are Bastien Lepage's "Portrait of M. Franck," Le Sidaner's "Dessert," Vollon's "Port of Antwerp," very beautiful, and Carolus-Duran's famous portrait of "Madame G. E. and her children."
On leaving the Musée it is worth while to take a few steps more to the left, for they bring us to another sinister souvenir of the Reign of Terror — to St. Joseph des Carmes, the Chapel of the Carmelite monastery in which, in September, 1792, the Abbé Sicard and other priests who had refused to take the oath of the Constitution were imprisoned and massacred, as described by Carlyle in Book L, Chapters IV. and V. of "The Guillotine," with the assistance of the narrative of one of the survivors, Mon Agonie de Trent-Huit Heures, by Jourgniac Saint-Méard. In the crypt one is shown not only the tombs but traces of the massacre.
A walk in the Luxembourg gardens would, if one had been nowhere else, quickly satisfy the stranger as to the interest of the French in the more remarkable children of their country. In these gardens alone are statues, among many others, in honour of Chopin, Watteau, Delacroix, Sainte Beuve, Le Play the economist, Fabre the poet, Georges Sand, Henri Murger, the novelist of the adjacent Latin Quarter, and Théodore de Banville, the modern maker of ballades and prime instigator of some of the most charming work in French form by Mr. Lang and Mr. Dobson and W. E. Henley. There are countless other statues of mythological and allegorical figures, some of them very striking. One of the most interesting of all is the "Marchand de Masques" by Astruc, among the masks offered for sale being those of Corot, Dumas, Berlioz and Balzac.
The Luxembourg gardens lead to the Avenue de l'Observatoire, a broad and verdant pleasaunce with a noble fountain at the head, in the midst of which an armillary sphere is held up by four undraped female figures representing the four quarters of the globe, at whom a circle of tortoises spout water from the surface of the basin. Beneath the upholders of the sphere are eight spirited sea horses by Frémiet, the sculptor who de-signed "Pan and the Bear Cubs" in the Luxembourg.
A few yards to the west of this fountain is one of the simplest and most satisfying of Parisian sculptured memorials, at the corner of the Rue d'Assas and the Boulevard de l'Observatoire — the bas-relief on the Tarnier maternity hospital, representing the benevolent Tarnier in his merciful work.
Let us now descend the Boulevard St. Michel to the Sorbonne, which is the heart of the Latin Quarter (or perhaps the brain would be the better word), disregarding for the moment the Panthéon, and turning our backs on the Observatoire and the Lion de Belfort, in the streets around which, every September, the noisiest of the Parisian fairs rages, and on the Bal Bullier, where the shop assistants of this neighbourhood grasp each other in the dance every Thursday and Sunday night. Not that this high Southern district of Paris is not interesting; but it is far less interesting than certain parts nearer the Seine, and this book may not be too long.
The Sorbonne is not exciting, but it is not unamusing to watch young France gaining knowledge. I have called it the heart of the Latin Quarter, although when one thinks of the necessitous, irresponsible youthful populace of these slopes, it is rather in a studio than in a lecture centre that one would fix its cardiac energy. That, however, is the fault of Du Maurier and Murger; for I suppose that for every artist that the Latin Quarter fosters it has scores of other students. But here I am in unknown territory. This book, which describes (as I warned you) Paris wholly from without, is never so external as among the young bloods who are to be met at night in the Café Harcourt, or who dance at the annual ball of the Quatz Arts, or plunge themselves into congenial riots when unpopular professors mount the platform. I know them not; I merely rejoice in their existence, admire their long hair and high spirits and happy indigence, and wish I could join them among Jullien's models, or in the disreputable cabaret of Le Père Lunette, or at a solemn disputation, such as that famous one in which the sophist Buridan, after being thrown into the Seine in a sack and rescued," maintained for a whole day the thesis that it was lawful to slay a Queen of France."
The Sorbonne takes its name from Robert de Sorbon, the confessor of St. Louis, who had suffered much as a theological student and wished others to suffer less ; for students in his day existed absolutely on charity. St. Louis threw himself into his confessor's scheme, and the Sorbonne, richly endowed, was opened in 1253, in its original form occupying a site in a street with the de-pressing name of Coupe-Gueule. From a hostel it soon became the Church's intellect, and for five and a half centuries it thus existed, almost continually, I regret to say, pursuing what Gibbon calls "the exquisite rancour of theological hatred." Its hostility to Joan of Arc and the Reformation were alike intense. Richelieu built the second Sorbonne, on the site of the present one. The Revolution in its short sharp way put an end to it as a defender of the faith, and in 1808, under Napoleon, it sprang to life again with a broader and humaner programme as the Université de France.
Although arriving on the wrong day (a very easy thing to do in Paris) I induced the concierge to show me Puvis de Chavannes' vast and beautiful fresco in the Sorbonne's amphitheatre, entitled "La Source" — which is, I take it, the spring of wisdom. Thursday is the right day. In the chapel is the tomb of Richelieu, a florid monument with the dying cardinal and some very ostentatious grief upon it. Near by stands an elderly gentleman who charges twice as much for postcards as the dealers outside; but one must not mind that. The church is not impressive, nor has a recent meretricious work by Weerts, representing the Love of Humanity and the Love of Country — the crucified Christ and a dead soldier — done it much good. Before it is a monument to Auguste Comte.
And now let us descend the hill and cheer and enrich our eyes in one of the most remarkable museums in the world — the Cluny. Paris is too fortunate. To have the Louvre were enough for any city, but Paris also has the Carnavalet. To have the Carnavalet were enough, but Paris also has the Cluny. The Musée de Cluny is devoted chiefly to applied art and is a treasury of medieval taste. It is an ancient building, standing on the site of a Roman palace, the ruins of whose baths still remain. The present mansion was built by a Benedictine abbot in the fifteenth century: it became a storehouse of beautiful and rare objects in 1833, when the collector Alphonse du Sommerard bought it; and on his death the nation acquired both the house and its treasures, which have been steadily increasing ever since. Without, the Cluny is a romantic blend of late Gothic and Renaissance architecture : within, it is like the heaven of a good arts-and-craftsman; or, to put it another way, like an old curiosity shop carried out to the highest power. I do not say that we have not as good collections at South Kensington; but it is beyond doubt that the Cluny has a more attractive setting for them.
To particularise would merely be to convert these pages into an incomplete catalogue (and what is duller than that ?), but I may say that one passes among sculpture and painting, altar pieces and knockers, pottery and tapestry, Spanish leather and lace, gold work and glass, enamel and musical instruments, furniture (the state bed of Francis I.) and ivories (note those by Van Opstal), ironwork and jewels, fireplaces and exquisite slippers. The old keys alone are worth hours : some of them might almost be called jewels ; be sure to look at Nos. 6001 and 6022. Everything is remarkable. Writing in London, in a thick fog, at some distance of time since I saw the Cluny last, I remember most vividly those keys and a banc d'orfèvre near them; a chimney-piece, beautiful and vast, from an old house at Châlons-sur-Marne ; certain carvings in wood in the great room next the Thermes : the " Quatre Pleurants" of Claus de Worde; a dainty Marie Madeleine by a Fleming, about 1500 (there is another Marie Madeleine, in stone, in an adjacent room, kneeling with her alabaster box of ointment, but by no means penitent) ; and the Jesus on the Mount of Olives with the sleeping disciples. I remember also, in one of the faience galleries, two delightful groups by Clodion — a "Satyre male" with two baby goat-feet playing by him, and a "Satyre femelle," very charming, also with two little shaggy mites at her knees. The "Fils de Rubens," in his little chair, is also a pleas-ant memory; and there is one of those remarkable Neapolitan reconstructions of the Nativity, of which the museum at Munich has such an amazing collection — perhaps the prettiest toys ever made.
But as I have said, the Cluny is wonderful through-out, and it is almost ridiculous to particularise. It is also too small for every taste. For the lover of the hues that burn in Rhodian ware it is most memorable for its pottery ; while of the many Parisians who visit it in holiday mood a large percentage make first for the glass case that contains its two famous ceintures.
The Curator of the Carnavalet, as we have seen, is a topographer and antiquary of distinction ; the Director of the Cluny, M. Haraucourt, is a poet, one of whose ballads will be found in English form in a later chapter. He is in a happy environment, although his Muse does not look back quite as, say, Mr. Dobson's loves to do. The singer of the "Pompadour's Fan" and the "Old Sedan Chair" would be continually inspired at the Cluny.
In the Gardens of the Musée we can feel ourselves in very early times ; for the baths are the ruins of a Roman palace built in 306, the home for a while of Julian the Apostate; a temple of Mercury stood on the hill where the Panthéon now is; and a Roman road ran on the site of the Rue St. Jacques, just at the east of the Cluny, leading out of Paris southwards to Italy.
On leaving the Cluny let us take a few steps westward along the Rue de l'Ecole de Médicine, and stop at No. 15, where the Cordeliers' Club was held, whither Marat's body was brought to lie in state. His house, in which Charlotte Corday stabbed him, was close by, where the statue of Broca now stands. In the Boulevard St. Germain, at the end of the street, we come to Danton's statue and more memories of the Revolution. What souvenirs of the past," says Sardou, "does the statue of Danton cast his shadow upon. At No. 87 Boulevard St. Germain—where the woman Simon keeps house ! it was the 31st March, 1793 — at six o'clock in the morning, the rattling of the butt ends of muskets was heard on the pavement in the midst of wild cries and protestations of the crowd, they had dared to arrest Danton, the Titan of the Revolution, the man of the 10th of August ! — at the same time on the Place de l'Odéon, at the corner of the Rue Crébillon, Camille Desmoulins had been arrested. An hour later they were both in the Luxembourg prison, and it was there Camille heard of the death of his mother.
"The Passage du Commerce still exists. It is a most picturesque old quarter, rarely visited by Parisians. At No. 9 is Durel's library, where Guillotin in 1790 practised cutting off sheep's heads with `his philanthropic be-heading machine.' It is generally given out that he was guillotined himself, but `Lemprière' says he died quietly in his bed, of grief at the infamous abuse his instrument was put to. In the shop close by was the printing office of the l'Ami du Peuple, and Marat in his dressing-gown (lined with imitation panther skin) used to come and ' correct the proofs of his bloody journal."
Between the Cluny and the river is a network of very old, squalid and interesting streets. Here the students of the middle ages found both their schools and their lodgings : among them Dante himself, who refers to the Rue de Fouarre (or straw, on which, following the instructions of Pope Urban V., the students sat) as the Vico degli Strami. It has now been demolished. The two churches here are worth a visit — St. Severin and St. Julien-le-Pauvre, but the reader is warned that the surroundings are not too agreeable. In the court ad-joining St. Julien's are traces of the wall of Philip Augustus, of which we saw something at the Mont de Piété.
All these streets, as I say, are picturesque and dirty, but I think the best is the Rue de Bièvre, which runs up the hill of St. Etienne from the Quai de Montebello, opposite the Morgue, and can be gained from St. Julien's by the dirty Rue de la Boucherie, of which this street and its westward continuation, the Rue de la Huchette, Huysmans, the French novelist and mystic, writes — as of all this curious district — in his book, La Bièvre et Saint Severin, one of the best examples of imaginative topography that I know. Let us see what he says of the Bièvre, the little river which gives the street its name and which once tumbled down into the Seine at this point, but is now buried underground like the New River at Islington.
" The Bièvre," he writes, " represents to-day one of the most perfect symbols of feminine misery exploited by a big city. Originating in the lake or pond of St. Quentin near de Trappes, it runs quietly and slowly through the valley that bears its name. Like many young girls from the country, directly it arrives in Paris the Bièvre falls a victim to the cunning wide-awake industry of a catcher of men. To follow all her windings, it is necessary to ascend the Rue du Moulin des Prés and enter the Rue de Gentilly, and then the most extraordinary and unsuspected journey begins. In the middle of this street a square door opens on a prison corridor black as a sooty chimney and not wide enough for two abreast : this is the alley of the Reculettes, an old lane of ancient Paris. It ends in the Rue Croulebarbe, in a delightful landscape where one of the arms, remaining nearly free, of the Bièvre appears. Then under a little tunnel the Bièvre disappears again. . . .
"To find the mournful river once more you must pass in front of the tapestry manufactory in the Rue des Gobelins.
"The Rue des Gobelins leads to a little bridge bordered with a fence ; this little bridge stretches across the Bièvre, which loses itself on one side under the Boulevards Arago and Port Royal and the other under the Alley of the Gobelins, which is the most surprising corner of concealed contemporary Paris. It is a crooked alley or lane, built on the left of houses that are cracked, bulging out and falling."
Inspired by this passage I set out one day to trace the Bièvre to daylight, but it was a cheerless enterprise, for the Rue Monge is a dreary street, and the new Boulevards hereabouts are even drearier because they are wider. I found her at last, by peeping through a hoarding in the Boulevard Arago, with tanneries on each side of her; and then I gave it up.
At the Cluny we saw the Thermes, a visible sign of Roman occupation ; in the Rue Monge is another, the amphitheatre, still in very good condition, with the grass growing between the crevices of the great stone seats. Returning to the Rue de Bièvre, of which Mr. Dexter has made so alluring a picture, let us remember that Dante in exile wrote part of the Divine Comedy in one of its houses.
And now for the Panthéon, which rises above us.