( Originally Published 1918 )
The Tour d'Argent — Frédéric's Homage to America — A Marquis Poet — The Halle des Vins — A Free Zoo — Peacocks in Love — A Reminiscence — The Museums of the Jardin des Plantes — A Lifeless Zoo — Babies in Bottles — The Jardin d'Acclimatation — The Cheerful Gallas — A Pretty Stable — Dogs on Velvet — A Canine Père Lachaise — The Sunday Sportsmen — Panic at the Zoos — The Besieged Resident — The Humours of Famine.
ON the day of one of my visits to the Jardin des Plantes. I lunched at the Tour d'Argent, a restaurant on the Quai de la Tournelle, famous among many dishes for its delicious canard à la presse. No bird on this occasion passed through that luxurious mill for me: but the engines were at work all around distilling essential duck with which to enrich those slices from the breast that are all that the epicure eats. Over a simpler repast I studied a bewildering catalogue of the " Créations of Frédéric" — Frédéric being M. Frédéric Delair, a venerable cordon bleu with a head like that of a culinary Ibsen, stored with strange lore of sauces.
By what means one commends oneself to Frédéric I cannot say, but certain it is that if he loves you he will immortalise you in a dish. Americans would seem to have a short cut to his heart, for I find the Canapé Clarence Mackay, the Filet de Sole Loi€ Fuller, the Filet de Sole Gibbs, the Fondu de Merlan Peploe, the Poulet de Madame J. W. Mackay, and the Poire Wana make-. None of these joys tempted me, but I am sorry now that I did not partake of the Potage Georges Cain, because M. Georges Cain knows more about old Paris than any man living; and who knows but that a few spoonfuls of his Potage might not have immensely enriched this book ! The Noisette de Pré-Salé Bodley again should have been nourishing, for Mr. Bodley is the author of one of the best of all the many studies of France. Instead, however, I ate very simply, of ordinary dishes — foundlings, so to speak, named after no one — and amused myself over my coffee in examining the Marquis Lauzières de Thémines' poésie sur les Créations de Frédéric (to the air of "La Gorde Sensible"). Two stanzas and two choruses will illustrate the noble poet's range : —
Que filets de sole on y consomme!
Ce que je fais n'est pas une réclame,
Ami lecteur, pour faire bonne chère,
(Odd work for Marquises !)
On the way to the Jardin des Plantes from this restaurant it is not unamusing to turn aside to the Halles des Vins and loiter a while in these genial catacombs. Here you may see barrels as the sands of the sea-shore for multitude, and raw wine of a colour that never yet astonished in a bottle, and I hope, so far as I am concerned, never will: unearthly aniline juices that are to pass through many dark processes before they emerge smilingly as vins, to lend cheerfulness to the windows of the épicier and gaiety to the French heart.
Even with the most elementary knowledge of French one would take the Jardin des Plantes to be the Parisian Kew, and so to some small extent it is; but ninety-nine per cent. of its visitors go not to see the flora but the fauna. It is in reality the Zoo of the Paris proletariat. Paris, unlike London, has two Zoos, both of which hide beneath names that easily conceal their zoological character from the foreigner — the Jardin des Plantes, where we now find ourselves, which is free to all, and the Jardin d'Acclimatation, on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, near the Porte Maillot, which costs money — a franc to enter and a ridiculous supplément to your cabman for the privilege of passing the fortifications in his vehicle: one of Paris's little mistakes. To the Jardin d'Acclimatation we shall come anon : just now let us loiter among the wild animals of the Jardin des Plantes, which is as a matter of fact a far more thorough Zoo than that selecter other, where frivolity ranks before zoology. Our own Zoo contains a finer collection than either, and our animals are better housed and ordered, but this Parisian people's Zoo has a great advantage over ours in that it is free. All zoological gardens should of course be free.
The Jardin des Plantes has another and a dazzling superiority in the matter of peacocks. I never saw so many. They occur wonderfully in the most unexpected places, not only in the enclosures of all the other open-air animals, but in trees and on roofs and amid the bushes — burning with their deep and lustrous blue. But on the warm day of spring on which I saw them first they were not so quiescent. Regardless of the proprieties they were most of them engaged in recommending them-selves to the notice of their ladies. On all sides were spreading tails bearing down upon the beloved with the steady determination of a three-masted schooner, and now and then caught like that vessel in a shattering breeze (of emotion) which stirred every sail. In England one might feel uncomfortable in the midst of so naked a display of the old Adam, but in Paris one be-comes more reconciled to facts and (like the new cat in the adage) ceases to allow " I am ashamed " to wait upon "I would." The peahens, however, behaved with a stolid circumspection that was beyond praise. These vestals never lifted their heads from the ground, but pecked on and on, mistresses of the scene and incident-ally the best friends of the crowds of ouvriers and ouvrières (" V'là le paon ! Vite ! Vite ! ") at every railing. But the Parisian peacock is not easily daunted. In spite of these rebuffs the batteries of glorious eyes continued firing, and wider and wider the tails spread, with a corresponding increase of disreputable déshabille behind; and so I left them, recalling as I walked away a comic occurrence at school too many years ago, when a travel-ling elocutionist, who had induced our headmaster to allow him to recite to the boys, was noticed to be discharging all his guns of tragedy and humour (some of which I remember distinctly at the moment) with a broadside effect that while it assisted the ear had a limiting influence on gesture and by-play, and completely eliminated many of the nuances of conversational give and take. Never throughout the evening did we lose sight of the full expanse of his shirt front ; never did he turn round. Never, do I say ? But I am wrong. Better for him had it been never: for the poor fellow, his task over and his badly needed guinea earned, forgot under our salvoes of applause the need of caution, and turning from one side of the platform to the other in stooping acknowledgement, disclosed a rent precisely where no man would have a rent to be.
My advice to the visitor to the Jardin des Plantes is to be satisfied with the living animals — with the seals and sea-lions, the bears and peacocks, the storks and tigers ; and, in fair weather, with the flowers, although the conditions under which these are to be observed are not ideal, so formally arranged on the flat as they are, with traffic so visibly adjacent. But to the glutton for museums such advice is idle. Here, however, even he is like to have his fill.
Let him then ask at the Administration for a ticket, which will be handed to him with the most charming smile by an official who is probably of all the bureaucrats of Paris the least deserving of a tip, since zoological and botanical gardens exist for the people, and these tickets (the need for which is, by the way, non-existent) are free and are never withheld — but who is also of all the bureaucrats of Paris the most determined to get one, even, as I observed, from his own countrymen. Thus supplied you must walk some quarter of a mile to a huge building in which are collected all the creatures of the earth in their skins as God made them, but lifeless and staring from the hands of taxidermic man. It is as though the ark had been overwhelmed by some such fine dust as fell from Vesuvius, and was now exhumed. One does not get the same effect from the Natural History Museum in the Cromwell Road ; it is, I suppose, the massing that does it here.
Having walked several furlongs amid this travesty of wild and dangerous life, one passes to the next museum, which is devoted to mineralogy and botany, and here again are endless avenues of joy for the muséephile and tedium for others. Lastly, after another quarter of a mile's walk, the palatial museum of anatomy is reached, the ingenious art of M. Frémiet once more providing a hors d'oeuvre. At the Arts Décoratifs we find on the threshold a man dragging a bear cub into captivity; at the Petit Palais St. George is killing the dragon just inside the turnstile; and here, near the umbrella-stand, is a man being strangled by an ourang-outang. Thus cheered we enter, and are at once amid a very grove of babies in bottles : babies unready for the world, babies with two heads, babies with no heads at all, babies, in short, without any merit save for the biologist, the distiller, and the sightseer with strong nerves. From the babies we pass to cases containing examples of every organ of the human form divine, and such approximations as have been accomplished by elephants and mice and monkeys — all either genuine, in spirits, or counterfeited with horrible minuteness in wax. Also there are skeletons of every known creature, from whales to frogs, and I noticed a case illustrating the daily progress of the chicken in the egg.
And now for the other Zoo, the Zoo of the classes. Perhaps the best description is to call it a playground with animals in it. For there are children everywhere, and everything is done for their amusement — as is only natural in a land where children persist through life and no one ever tires. In the centre of the gardens is an enclosure in which in the summer of 1908 were encamped a colony of Gallas, an intelligent and attractive black people from the border of Abyssinia, who flung spears at a target, and fought duels, and danced dances of joy and sorrow, and rounded up zebras, and in the intervals sold curiosities and photographs of them-selves with ingratiating tenacity. It was a strange bizarre entertainment with greedy ostriches darting their beaks among the spectators, and these shock-headed savages screaming through their diversions, and now and again a refined slip of a black girl imploring one mutely to give a franc for a five centimes picture postcard, or murmuring incoherent rhapsodies over the texture of a European dress.
All around the enclosure the Parisian children were playing, some riding elephants, others camels, some driving an ostrich cart, and all happy. But the gem of the Jardin is the Ecurie, on one side for ponies — scores of little ponies, all named — the other for horses ; on one side a riding school for children, on the other side a riding school for grown-up pupils, perhaps the cavalry officers of the future. The ponies are charming: Bibiche, jument landais, Volubilité, cheval landais, Céramon, cheval finlandais, Farceur, from the same country, Columbine, née de Ratibor, and so forth.
There they wait, alert and patient too, in the manner of small ponies, and by-and-by one is led off to the Petit manège for a little Monsieur Paul or Etienne to bestride. The Ecurie is a model of its kind, with its central courtyard and offices for the various servants, sellier, piqueur and so forth.
Near by is a castellated fortress which might belong to a dwarf of blood but is really a rabbit house. Every kind of rabbit is here, with this difference from the rabbit house in our Zoo, that the animals are for sale; and there is a fragrant vacherie where you may learn to milk; and in another part is a collection of dogs — tou-tous and lou-lous and all the rest of it — and these are for sale too. This is as popular a department as any in the Jardin. The expressions of delight and even ecstasy which were being uttered before some of the cages I seem still to hear.
The Parisians may be kind fathers and devoted mothers: I am sure that they are; but to the observer in the streets and restaurants their finest shades of protective affection would seem to be reserved for dogs. One sees their children with bonnes; their dogs are their own care. The ibis of Egypt is hardly more sacred. An English friend who has lived in the heart of Paris for some time in the company of a fox terrier tells me that on their walks abroad in the evening the number of strangers who stop him to pass friendly remarks upon his pet or ask to be allowed to pat it — or who make overtures to it without permission — is all the opéra bouffe insignia of the chase — the leggings and the belt and the great satchel and the gun. For the Frenchman who is going to shoot likes the world to know what a lucky devil he is : he has none of our furtive English unwillingness to be known for what we are. I have seen them start, and I have waited about in the station towards dinner time just to see them return, with their bags bulging, and their steps springing with the pride and elation of success, and the faithful pointers trotting behind.
Everything is happy at the Jardins des Plantes and d'Acclimatation to-day: but it was not always so. During a critical period of 1870 and 1871 the cages were in a state of panic over the regular arrival of the butcher — not to bring food but to make it. Mr. Labouchere, the "Besieged Resident," writing on December 5th, 1870, says: "Almost all the animals in the Jardin d'Acclimatation have been eaten. They have averaged about 7 f. a lb. Kangaroo has been sold for 12 f. the lb. Yesterday I dined with the correspondent of a London paper. He had managed to get a large piece of mufflon, and nothing else, an animal which is, I believe, only found in Corsica. I can only describe it by saying that it tasted of mufflon, and nothing else. Without being absolutely bad, I do not think that I shall take up my residence in Corsica, in order habitually to feed upon it."
On December 18th Mr. Labouchere was at Voisin's. The bill of fare, he says, was ass, horse and English wolf from the Zoological Gardens. According to a Scotch friend, the English wolf was Scotch fox. Mr.Labouchere could not manage it and fell back on the patient ass. Voisin's, by the way, was the only restaurant which never failed to supply its patrons with a meal. If you ask Paul, the head waiter, he will give you one of the siege menus as a souvenir.
Mr. Labouchere's description of typical life during the siege may be quoted here as offering material for reflection as we loiter about this city so notable to-day for pleasure and plenty. "Here is my day. In the morning the boots comes to call me. He announces the number of deaths which have taken place in the hotel during the night. If there are many, he is pleased, as he considers it creditable to the establishment. He then relieves his feelings by shaking his fist in the direction of Versailles, and exit growling `Canaille de Bismarck.' I get up. I have breakfast — horse, café au lait — the lait chalk and water — the portion of horse about two square inches of the noble quadruped. Then I buy a dozen newspapers, and after having read them discover that they contain nothing new. This brings me to about eleven o'clock. Friends drop in, or I drop in on friends. We discuss how long it is to last — if friends are French we agree that we are sublime. At one o'clock get into the circular railroad, and go to one or other of the city gates. After a discussion with the National Guards on duty, pass through. Potter about for a couple of hours at the outposts; try with glass to make out Prussians; look at bombs bursting; creep along the trenches ; and wade knee-deep in mud through the fields. The Prussians, who have grown of late malevolent even towards civilians, occasionally send a ball far over one's head. They always fire too high. French soldiers are generally cooking food. They are anxious for news, and know nothing about what is going on. As a rule they relate the episode of some combat d'avant-poste which took place the day before. The episodes never vary. 5 P.M. — Get back home; talk to doctors about interesting surgical operations ; then drop in upon some official to interview him about what he is doing. Official usually first mysterious, then communicative, not to say loquacious, and abuses most people except himself. 7 P.M. — Dinner at a restaurant, conversation general ; almost everyone in uniform. Still the old subjects — How long will it last? Why does not Gambetta write more clearly ? How sublime we are; what a fool everyone else is. Food scanty, but peculiar. . . . After dinner, potter on the Boulevards under the dispiriting gloom of petroleum; go home and read a book. 12 P.M. — Bed. They nail up the coffins in the room just over mine every night, and the tap, tap, tap, as they drive in the nails, is the pleasing music which lulls me to sleep."
Here is another extract illustrating the pass to which a hungry city had come : " Until the weather set in so bitter cold, elderly sportsmen, who did not care to stalk the human game outside, were to be seen from morning to night pursuing the exciting sport of gudgeon fishing along the banks of the Seine. Each one was always surrounded by a crowd deeply interested in the chase. Whenever a fish was hooked, there was as much excitement as when a whale is harpooned in more northern latitudes. The fisherman would play it for some five minutes, and then, in the midst of the solemn silence of the lookers-on, the precious capture would be landed. Once safe on the bank, the happy possessor would be patted on the back, and there would be cries of ' Bravo !' The times being out of joint for fishing in the Seine, the disciples of Izaak Walton have fallen back on the sewers. The Paris Journal gives them the following directions how to pursue their new game: `Take a long strong line, and a large hook, bait with tallow, and gently agitate the rod. In a few minutes a rat will come and smell the savoury morsel. It will be some time before he decides to swallow it, for his nature is cunning. When he does, leave him five minutes to meditate over it; then pull strongly and steadily. He will make convulsive jumps; but be calm, and do not let his excitement gain on you, draw him up, et voila votre diner.' "
There is still hardly less excitement when a fish is landed by a quai fisherman, but the emotion is now purely artistic.