The palace of Versailles has been turned into a bricabrac shop of late years, and its time-honored walls have been covered with many thousand yards of the worst pictures that eye ever looked on. I don’t know how many leagues of battles and sieges the unhappy visitor is now obliged to march through, amidst a crowd of chattering Paris cockneys, who are never tired of looking at the glories of the Grenadier Français; to the chronicling of whose deeds this old palace of the old kings is now altogether devoted. A whizzing, screaming steam-engine rushes hither from Paris, bringing shoals of badauds in its wake. The old coucous are all gone, and their place knows them no longer. Smooth asphaltum terraces, tawdry lamps, and great hideous Egyptian obelisks, have frightened them away from the pleasant station they used to occupy under the trees of the Champs Elysées; and though the old coucous were just the most uncomfortable vehicles that human ingenuity ever constructed, one can’t help looking back to the days of their existence with a tender regret; for there was pleasure then in the little trip of three leagues: and who ever had pleasure in a railway journey? Does any reader of this venture to say that, on such a voyage, he ever dared to be pleasant? Do the most hardened stokers joke with one another? I don’t believe it. Look into every single car of the train, and you will see that every single face is solemn. They take their seats gravely, and are silent, for the most part, during the journey; they dare not look out of window, for fear of being blinded by the smoke that comes whizzing by, or of losing their heads in one of the windows of the down train; they ride for miles in utter damp and darkness: through awful pipes of brick, that have been run pitilessly through the bowels of gentle mother earth, the cast-iron Frankenstein of an engine gallops on, puffing and screaming. Does any man pretend to say that he ENJOYS the journey? — he might as well say that he enjoyed having his hair cut; he bears it, but that is all: he will not allow the world to laugh at him, for any exhibition of slavish fear; and pretends, therefore, to be at his ease; but he IS afraid: nay, ought to be, under the circumstances. I am sure Hannibal or Napoleon would, were they locked suddenly into a car; there kept close prisoners for a certain number of hours, and whirled along at this dizzy pace. You can’t stop, if you would:— you may die, but you can’t stop; the engine may explode upon the road, and up you go along with it; or, may be a bolter and take a fancy to go down a hill, or into a river: all this you must bear, for the privilege of travelling twenty miles an hour.
This little journey, then, from Paris to Versailles, that used to be so merry of old, has lost its pleasures since the disappearance of the coucous; and I would as lief have for companions the statues that lately took a coach from the bridge opposite the Chamber of Deputies, and stepped out in the court of Versailles, as the most part of the people who now travel on the railroad. The stone figures are not a whit more cold and silent than these persons, who used to be, in the old coucous, so talkative and merry. The prattling grisette and her swain from the Ecole de Droit; the huge Alsacian carabineer, grimly smiling under his sandy moustaches and glittering brass helmet; the jolly nurse, in red calico, who had been to Paris to show mamma her darling Lolo, or Auguste; — what merry companions used one to find squeezed into the crazy old vehicles that formerly performed the journey! But the age of horseflesh is gone — that of engineers, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the pleasure of coucoudom is extinguished for ever. Why not mourn over it, as Mr. Burke did over his cheap defence of nations and unbought grace of life; that age of chivalry, which he lamented, àpropos of a trip to Versailles, some half a century back?
Without stopping to discuss (as might be done, in rather a neat and successful manner) whether the age of chivalry was cheap or dear, and whether, in the time of the unbought grace of life, there was not more bribery, robbery, villainy, tyranny, and corruption, than exists even in our own happy days — let us make a few moral and historical remarks upon the town of Versailles; where, between railroad and coucou, we are surely arrived by this time.
The town is, certainly, the most moral of towns. You pass from the railroad station through a long, lonely suburb, with dusty rows of stunted trees on either side, and some few miserable beggars, idle boys, and ragged old women under them. Behind the trees are gaunt, mouldy houses; palaces once, where (in the days of the unbought grace of life) the cheap defence of nations gambled, ogled, swindled, intrigued; whence high-born duchesses used to issue, in old times, to act as chambermaids to lovely Du Barri; and mighty princes rolled away, in gilt caroches, hot for the honor of lighting his Majesty to bed, or of presenting his stockings when he rose, or of holding his napkin when he dined. Tailors, chandlers, tinmen, wretched hucksters, and greengrocers, are now established in the mansions of the old peers; small children are yelling at the doors, with mouths besmeared with bread and treacle; damp rags are hanging out of every one of the windows, steaming in the sun; oyster-shells, cabbage-stalks, broken crockery, old papers, lie basking in the same cheerful light. A solitary water-cart goes jingling down the wide pavement, and spirts a feeble refreshment over the dusty, thirsty stones.
After pacing for some time through such dismal streets, we deboucher on the grande place; and before us lies the palace dedicated to all the glories of France. In the midst of the great lonely plain this famous residence of King Louis looks low and mean. — Honored pile! Time was when tall musketeers and gilded body-guards allowed none to pass the gate. Fifty years ago, ten thousand drunken women from Paris broke through the charm; and now a tattered commissioner will conduct you through it for a penny, and lead you up to the sacred entrance of the palace.
We will not examine all the glories of France, as here they are portrayed in pictures and marble: catalogues are written about these miles of canvas, representing all the revolutionary battles, from Valmy to Waterloo — all the triumphs of Louis XIV. — all the mistresses of his successor — and all the great men who have flourished since the French empire began. Military heroes are most of these — fierce constables in shining steel, marshals in voluminous wigs, and brave grenadiers in bearskin caps; some dozens of whom gained crowns, principalities, dukedoms; some hundreds, plunder and epaulets; some millions, death in African sands, or in icy Russian plains, under the guidance, and for the good, of that arch-hero, Napoleon. By far the greater part of “all the glories” of France (as of most other countries) is made up of these military men: and a fine satire it is on the cowardice of mankind, that they pay such an extraordinary homage to the virtue called courage; filling their history-books with tales about it, and nothing but it.
Let them disguise the place, however, as they will, and plaster the walls with bad pictures as they please, it will be hard to think of any family but one, as one traverses this vast gloomy edifice. It has not been humbled to the ground, as a certain palace of Babel was of yore; but it is a monument of fallen pride, not less awful, and would afford matter for a whole library of sermons. The cheap defence of nations expended a thousand millions in the erection of this magnificent dwelling-place. Armies were employed, in the intervals of their warlike labors, to level hills, or pile them up; to turn rivers, and to build aqueducts, and transplant woods, and construct smooth terraces, and long canals. A vast garden grew up in a wilderness, and a stupendous palace in the garden, and a stately city round the palace: the city was peopled with parasites, who daily came to do worship before the creator of these wonders — the Great King. “Dieu seul est grand,” said courtly Massillon; but next to him, as the prelate thought, was certainly Louis, his vicegerent here upon earth — God’s lieutenant-governor of the world — before whom courtiers used to fall on their knees, and shade their eyes, as if the light of his countenance, like the sun, which shone supreme in heaven, the type of him, was too dazzling to bear.
Did ever the sun shine upon such a king before, in such a palace? — or, rather, did such a king ever shine upon the sun? When Majesty came out of his chamber, in the midst of his superhuman splendors, viz, in his cinnamon-colored coat, embroidered with diamonds; his pyramid of a wig,13 his red-heeled shoes, that lifted him four inches from the ground, “that he scarcely seemed to touch;” when he came out, blazing upon the dukes and duchesses that waited his rising — what could the latter do, but cover their eyes, and wink, and tremble? And did he not himself believe, as he stood there, on his high heels, under his ambrosial periwig, that there was something in him more than man — something above Fate?
13 It is fine to think that, in the days of his youth, his Majesty Louis XIV. used to POWDER HIS WIG WITH GOLD-DUST.
This, doubtless, was he fain to believe; and if, on very fine days, from his terrace before his gloomy palace of Saint Germains, he could catch a glimpse, in the distance, of a certain white spire of St. Denis, where his race lay buried, he would say to his courtiers, with a sublime condescension, “Gentlemen, you must remember that I, too, am mortal.” Surely the lords in waiting could hardly think him serious, and vowed that his Majesty always loved a joke. However, mortal or not, the sight of that sharp spire wounded his Majesty’s eyes; and is said, by the legend, to have caused the building of the palace of Babel-Versailles.
In the year 1681, then, the great king, with bag and baggage — with guards, cooks, chamberlains, mistresses, Jesuits, gentlemen, lackeys, Fénélons, Molières, Lauzuns, Bossuets, Villars, Villeroys, Louvois, Colberts — transported himself to his new palace: the old one being left for James of England and Jaquette his wife, when their time should come. And when the time did come, and James sought his brother’s kingdom, it is on record that Louis hastened to receive and console him, and promised to restore, incontinently, those islands from which the canaille had turned him. Between brothers such a gift was a trifle; and the courtiers said to one another reverently:14 “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” There was no blasphemy in the speech: on the contrary, it was gravely said, by a faithful believing man, who thought it no shame to the latter, to compare his Majesty with God Almighty. Indeed, the books of the time will give one a strong idea how general was this Louis-worship. I have just been looking at one, which was written by an honest Jesuit and Protégé of Père la Chaise, who dedicates a book of medals to the august Infants of France, which does, indeed, go almost as far in print. He calls our famous monarch “Louis le Grand:— 1, l’invincible; 2, le sage; 3, le conquérant; 4, la merveille de son siècle; 5, la terreur de ses ennemis; 6, l’amour de ses peuples; 7, l’arbitre de la paix et de la guerre; 8, l’admiration de l’univers; 9, et digne d’en être le maître; 10, le modèle d’un héros achevé; 11, digne de l’immortalité, et de la vénération de tous les siècles!”
14 I think it is in the amusing “Memoirs of Madame de Crequi” (a forgery, but a work remarkable for its learning and accuracy) that the above anecdote is related.
A pretty Jesuit declaration, truly, and a good honest judgment upon the great king! In thirty years more — 1. The invincible had been beaten a vast number of times. 2. The sage was the puppet of an artful old woman, who was the puppet of more artful priests. 3. The conqueror had quite forgotten his early knack of conquering. 5. The terror of his enemies (for 4, the marvel of his age, we pretermit, it being a loose term, that may apply to any person or thing) was now terrified by his enemies in turn. 6. The love of his people was as heartily detested by them as scarcely any other monarch, not even his great-grandson, has been, before or since. 7. The arbiter of peace and war was fain to send superb ambassadors to kick their heels in Dutch shopkeepers’ ante-chambers. 8, is again a general term. 9. The man fit to be master of the universe, was scarcely master of his own kingdom. 10. The finished hero was all but finished, in a very commonplace and vulgar way. And 11. The man worthy of immortality was just at the point of death, without a friend to soothe or deplore him; only withered old Maintenon to utter prayers at his bedside, and croaking Jesuits to prepare him,15 with heaven knows what wretched tricks and mummeries, for his appearance in that Great Republic that lies on the other side of the grave. In the course of his fourscore splendid miserable years, he never had but one friend, and he ruined and left her. Poor La Vallière, what a sad tale is yours! “Look at this Galerie des Glaces,” cries Monsieur Vatout, staggering with surprise at the appearance of the room, two hundred and forty-two feet long, and forty high. “Here it was that Louis displayed all the grandeur of royalty; and such was the splendor of his court, and the luxury of the times, that this immense room could hardly contain the crowd of courtiers that pressed around the monarch.” Wonderful! wonderful! Eight thousand four hundred and sixty square feet of courtiers! Give a square yard to each, and you have a matter of three thousand of them. Think of three thousand courtiers per day, and all the chopping and changing of them for near forty years: some of them dying, some getting their wishes, and retiring to their provinces to enjoy their plunder; some disgraced, and going home to pine away out of the light of the sun;16 new ones perpetually arriving — pushing, squeezing, for their place, in the crowded Galerie des Glaces. A quarter of a million of noble countenances, at the very least, must those glasses have reflected. Rouge, diamonds, ribbons, patches, upon the faces of smiling ladies: towering periwigs, sleek shaven crowns, tufted moustaches, scars, and grizzled whiskers, worn by ministers, priests, dandies, and grim old commanders. — So many faces, O ye gods! and every one of them lies! So many tongues, vowing devotion and respectful love to the great king in his six-inch wig; and only poor La Vallière’s amongst them all which had a word of truth for the dull ears of Louis of Bourbon.
15 They made a Jesuit of him on his death-bed.
16 Saint Simon’s account of Lauzun, in disgrace, is admirably facetious and pathetic; Lauzun’s regrets are as monstrous as those of Raleigh when deprived of the sight of his adorable Queen and Mistress, Elizabeth.
“Quand j’aurai de la peine aux Carmélites,” says unhappy Louise, about to retire from these magnificent courtiers and their grand Galerie des Glaces, “je me souviendrai de ce que ces gens là m’ont fait souffrir!”— A troop of Bossuets inveighing against the vanities of courts could not preach such an affecting sermon. What years of anguish and wrong had the poor thing suffered, before these sad words came from her gentle lips! How these courtiers have bowed and flattered, kissed the ground on which she trod, fought to have the honor of riding by her carriage, written sonnets, and called her goddess; who, in the days of her prosperity, was kind and beneficent, gentle and compassionate to all; then (on a certain day, when it is whispered that his Majesty hath cast the eyes of his gracious affection upon another) behold three thousand courtiers are at the feet of the new divinity. —“O divine Athenais! what blockheads have we been to worship any but you. — THAT a goddess? — a pretty goddess forsooth; — a witch, rather, who, for a while, kept our gracious monarch blind! Look at her: the woman limps as she walks; and, by sacred Venus, her mouth stretches almost to her diamond ear-rings?”17 The same tale may be told of many more deserted mistresses; and fair Athenais de Montespan was to hear it of herself one day. Meantime, while La Vallière’s heart is breaking, the model of a finished hero is yawning; as, on such paltry occasions, a finished hero should. LET her heart break: a plague upon her tears and repentance; what right has she to repent? Away with her to her convent. She goes, and the finished hero never sheds a tear. What a noble pitch of stoicism to have reached! Our Louis was so great, that the little woes of mean people were beyond him: his friends died, his mistresses left him; his children, one by one, were cut off before his eyes, and great Louis is not moved in the slightest degree! As how, indeed, should a god be moved?
17 A pair of diamond ear-rings, given by the King to La Vallière, caused much scandal; and some lampoons are extant, which impugn the taste of Louis XIV. for loving a lady with such an enormous mouth.
I have often liked to think about this strange character in the world, who moved in it, bearing about a full belief in his own infallibility; teaching his generals the art of war, his ministers the science of government, his wits taste, his courtiers dress; ordering deserts to become gardens, turning villages into palaces at a breath; and indeed the august figure of the man, as he towers upon his throne, cannot fail to inspire one with respect and awe:— how grand those flowing locks appear; how awful that sceptre; how magnificent those flowing robes! In Louis, surely, if in any one, the majesty of kinghood is represented.
But a king is not every inch a king, for all the poet may say; and it is curious to see how much precise majesty there is in that majestic figure of Ludovicus Rex. In the Frontispiece, we have endeavored to make the exact calculation. The idea of kingly dignity is equally strong in the two outer figures; and you see, at once, that majesty is made out of the wig, the high-heeled shoes, and cloak, all fleurs-de-lis bespangled. As for the little lean, shrivelled, paunchy old man, of five feet two, in a jacket and breeches, there is no majesty in HIM at any rate; and yet he has just stepped out of that very suit of clothes. Put the wig and shoes on him, and he is six feet high; — the other fripperies, and he stands before you majestic, imperial, and heroic! Thus do barbers and cobblers make the gods that we worship: for do we not all worship him? Yes; though we all know him to be stupid, heartless, short, of doubtful personal courage, worship and admire him we must; and have set up, in our hearts, a grand image of him, endowed with wit, magnanimity, valor, and enormous heroical stature.
And what magnanimous acts are attributed to him! or, rather, how differently do we view the actions of heroes and common men, and find that the same thing shall be a wonderful virtue in the former, which, in the latter, is only an ordinary act of duty. Look at yonder window of the king’s chamber; — one morning a royal cane was seen whirling out of it, and plumped among the courtiers and guard of honor below. King Louis had absolutely, and with his own hand, flung his own cane out of the window, “because,” said he, “I won’t demean myself by striking a gentleman!” O miracle of magnanimity! Lauzun was not caned, because he besought majesty to keep his promise — only imprisoned for ten years in Pignerol, along with banished Fouquet; — and a pretty story is Fouquet’s too.
Out of the window the king’s august head was one day thrust, when old Condé was painfully toiling up the steps of the court below. “Don’t hurry yourself, my cousin,” cries magnanimity, “one who has to carry so many laurels cannot walk fast.” At which all the courtiers, lackeys, mistresses, chamberlains, Jesuits, and scullions, clasp their hands and burst into tears. Men are affected by the tale to this very day. For a century and three-quarters, have not all the books that speak of Versailles, or Louis Quatorze, told the story? —“Don’t hurry yourself, my cousin!” O admirable king and Christian! what a pitch of condescension is here, that the greatest king of all the world should go for to say anything so kind, and really tell a tottering old gentleman, worn out with gout, age, and wounds, not to walk too fast!
What a proper fund of slavishness is there in the composition of mankind, that histories like these should be found to interest and awe them. Till the world’s end, most likely, this story will have its place in the history-books; and unborn generations will read it, and tenderly be moved by it. I am sure that Magnanimity went to bed that night, pleased and happy, intimately convinced that he had done an action of sublime virtue, and had easy slumbers and sweet dreams — especially if he had taken a light supper, and not too vehemently attacked his en cas de nuit.
That famous adventure, in which the en cas de nuit was brought into use, for the sake of one Poquelin alias Molière; — how often has it been described and admired? This Poquelin, though king’s valet-de-chambre, was by profession a vagrant; and as such, looked coldly on by the great lords of the palace, who refused to eat with him. Majesty hearing of this, ordered his en cas de nuit to be placed on the table, and positively cut off a wing with his own knife and fork for Poquelin’s use. O thrice happy Jean Baptiste! The king has actually sat down with him cheek by jowl, had the liver-wing of a fowl, and given Molière the gizzard; put his imperial legs under the same mahogany (sub iisdem trabibus). A man, after such an honor, can look for little else in this world: he has tasted the utmost conceivable earthly happiness, and has nothing to do now but to fold his arms, look up to heaven, and sing “Nunc dimittis” and die.
Do not let us abuse poor old Louis on account of this monstrous pride; but only lay it to the charge of the fools who believed and worshipped it. If, honest man, he believed himself to be almost a god, it was only because thousands of people had told him so — people only half liars, too; who did, in the depths of their slavish respect, admire the man almost as much as they said they did. If, when he appeared in his five-hundred-million coat, as he is said to have done, before the Siamese ambassadors, the courtiers began to shade their eyes and long for parasols, as if this Bourbonic sun was too hot for them; indeed, it is no wonder that he should believe that there was something dazzling about his person: he had half a million of eager testimonies to this idea. Who was to tell him the truth? — Only in the last years of his life did trembling courtiers dare whisper to him, after much circumlocution, that a certain battle had been fought at a place called Blenheim, and that Eugene and Marlborough had stopped his long career of triumphs.
“On n’est plus heureux à notre âge,” says the old man, to one of his old generals, welcoming Tallard after his defeat; and he rewards him with honors, as if he had come from a victory. There is, if you will, something magnanimous in this welcome to his conquered general, this stout protest against Fate. Disaster succeeds disaster; armies after armies march out to meet fiery Eugene and that dogged, fatal Englishman, and disappear in the smoke of the enemies’ cannon. Even at Versailles you may almost hear it roaring at last; but when courtiers, who have forgotten their god, now talk of quitting this grand temple of his, old Louis plucks up heart and will never hear of surrender. All the gold and silver at Versailles he melts, to find bread for his armies: all the jewels on his five-hundred-million coat he pawns resolutely; and, bidding Villars go and make the last struggle but one, promises, if his general is defeated, to place himself at the head of his nobles, and die King of France. Indeed, after a man, for sixty years, has been performing the part of a hero, some of the real heroic stuff must have entered into his composition, whether he would or not. When the great Elliston was enacting the part of King George the Fourth, in the play of “The Coronation,” at Drury Lane, the galleries applauded very loudly his suavity and majestic demeanor, at which Elliston, inflamed by the popular loyalty (and by some fermented liquor in which, it is said, he was in the habit of indulging), burst into tears, and spreading out his arms, exclaimed: “Bless ye, bless ye, my people!” Don’t let us laugh at his Ellistonian majesty, nor at the people who clapped hands and yelled “bravo!” in praise of him. The tipsy old manager did really feel that he was a hero at that moment; and the people, wild with delight and attachment for a magnificent coat and breeches, surely were uttering the true sentiments of loyalty: which consists in reverencing these and other articles of costume. In this fifth act, then, of his long royal drama, old Louis performed his part excellently; and when the curtain drops upon him, he lies, dressed majestically, in a becoming kingly attitude, as a king should.
The king his successor has not left, at Versailles, half so much occasion for moralizing; perhaps the neighboring Parc aux Cerfs would afford better illustrations of his reign. The life of his great grandsire, the Grand Llama of France, seems to have frightened Louis the well-beloved; who understood that loneliness is one of the necessary conditions of divinity, and being of a jovial, companionable turn, aspired not beyond manhood. Only in the matter of ladies did he surpass his predecessor, as Solomon did David. War he eschewed, as his grandfather bade him; and his simple taste found little in this world to enjoy beyond the mulling of chocolate and the frying of pancakes. Look, here is the room called Laboratoire du Roi, where, with his own hands, he made his mistress’s breakfast:— here is the little door through which, from her apartments in the upper story, the chaste Du Barri came stealing down to the arms of the weary, feeble, gloomy old man. But of women he was tired long since, and even pancake-frying had palled upon him. What had he to do, after forty years of reign; — after having exhausted everything? Every pleasure that Dubois could invent for his hot youth, or cunning Lebel could minister to his old age, was flat and stale; used up to the very dregs: every shilling in the national purse had been squeezed out, by Pompadour and Du Barri and such brilliant ministers of state. He had found out the vanity of pleasure, as his ancestor had discovered the vanity of glory: indeed it was high time that he should die. And die he did; and round his tomb, as round that of his grandfather before him, the starving people sang a dreadful chorus of curses, which were the only epitaphs for good or for evil that were raised to his memory.
As for the courtiers — the knights and nobles, the unbought grace of life — they, of course, forgot him in one minute after his death, as the way is. When the king dies, the officer appointed opens his chamber window, and calling out into the court below, Le Roi est mort, breaks his cane, takes another and waves it, exclaiming, vive le Roi! Straightway all the loyal nobles begin yelling vive le Roi! and the officer goes round solemnly and sets yonder great clock in the Cour de Marbre to the hour of the king’s death. This old Louis had solemnly ordained; but the Versailles clock was only set twice: there was no shouting of Vive le Roi when the successor of Louis XV. mounted to heaven to join his sainted family.
Strange stories of the deaths of kings have always been very recreating and profitable to us: what a fine one is that of the death of Louis XV., as Madame Campan tells it. One night the gracious monarch came back ill from Trianon; the disease turned out to be the small-pox; so violent that ten people of those who had to enter his chamber caught the infection and died. The whole court flies from him; only poor old fat Mesdames the King’s daughters persist in remaining at his bedside, and praying for his soul’s welfare.
On the 10th May, 1774, the whole court had assembled at the château; the oeil de Boeuf was full. The Dauphin had determined to depart as soon as the king had breathed his last. And it was agreed by the people of the stables, with those who watched in the king’s room, that a lighted candle should be placed in a window, and should be extinguished as soon as he had ceased to live. The candle was put out. At that signal, guards, pages, and squires mounted on horseback, and everything was made ready for departure. The Dauphin was with the Dauphiness, waiting together for the news of the king’s demise. AN IMMENSE NOISE, AS IF OF THUNDER, WAS HEARD IN THE NEXT ROOM; it was the crowd of courtiers, who were deserting the dead king’s apartment, in order to pay their court to the new power of Louis XVI. Madame de Noailles entered, and was the first to salute the queen by her title of Queen of France, and begged their Majesties to quit their apartments, to receive the princes and great lords of the court desirous to pay their homage to the new sovereigns. Leaning on her husband’s arm, a handkerchief to her eyes, in the most touching attitude, Marie Antoinette received these first visits. On quitting the chamber where the dead king lay, the Duc de Villequier bade M. Anderville, first surgeon of the king, to open and embalm the body: it would have been certain death to the surgeon. “I am ready, sir,” said he; “but whilst I am operating, you must hold the head of the corpse: your charge demands it.” The Duke went away without a word, and the body was neither opened nor embalmed. A few humble domestics and poor workmen watched by the remains, and performed the last offices to their master. The surgeons ordered spirits of wine to be poured into the coffin.
They huddled the king’s body into a post-chaise; and in this deplorable equipage, with an escort of about forty men, Louis the well-beloved was carried, in the dead of night, from Versailles to St. Denis, and then thrown into the tomb of the kings of France!
If any man is curious, and can get permission, he may mount to the roof of the palace, and see where Louis XVI. used royally to amuse himself, by gazing upon the doings of all the townspeople below with a telescope. Behold that balcony, where, one morning, he, his queen, and the little Dauphin stood, with Cromwell Grandison Lafayette by their side, who kissed her Majesty’s hand, and protected her; and then, lovingly surrounded by his people, the king got into a coach and came to Paris: nor did his Majesty ride much in coaches after that.
There is a portrait of the king, in the upper galleries, clothed in red and gold, riding a fat horse, brandishing a sword, on which the word “Justice” is inscribed, and looking remarkably stupid and uncomfortable. You see that the horse will throw him at the very first fling; and as for the sword, it never was made for such hands as his, which were good at holding a corkscrew or a carving-knife, but not clever at the management of weapons of war. Let those pity him who will: call him saint and martyr if you please; but a martyr to what principle was he? Did he frankly support either party in his kingdom, or cheat and tamper with both? He might have escaped; but he must have his supper: and so his family was butchered and his kingdom lost, and he had his bottle of Burgundy in comfort at Varennes. A single charge upon the fatal 10th of August, and the monarchy might have been his once more; but he is so tender-hearted, that he lets his friends be murdered before his eyes almost: or, at least, when he has turned his back upon his duty and his kingdom, and has skulked for safety into the reporters’ box, at the National Assembly. There were hundreds of brave men who died that day, and were martyrs, if you will; poor neglected tenth-rate courtiers, for the most part, who had forgotten old slights and disappointments, and left their places of safety to come and die, if need were, sharing in the supreme hour of the monarchy. Monarchy was a great deal too humane to fight along with these, and so left them to the pikes of Santerre and the mercy of the men of the Sections. But we are wandering a good ten miles from Versailles, and from the deeds which Louis XVI. performed there.
He is said to have been such a smart journeyman blacksmith, that he might, if Fate had not perversely placed a crown on his head, have earned a couple of louis every week by the making of locks and keys. Those who will may see the workshop where he employed many useful hours: Madame Elizabeth was at prayers meanwhile; the queen was making pleasant parties with her ladies. Monsieur the Count d’Artois was learning to dance on the tight-rope; and Monsieur de Provence was cultivating l’eloquence du billet and studying his favorite Horace. It is said that each member of the august family succeeded remarkably well in his or her pursuits; big Monsieur’s little notes are still cited. At a minuet or syllabub, poor Antoinette was unrivalled; and Charles, on the tight-rope, was so graceful and so gentil, that Madame Saqui might envy him. The time only was out of joint. O cursed spite, that ever such harmless creatures as these were bidden to right it!
A walk to the little Trianon is both pleasing and moral: no doubt the reader has seen the pretty fantastical gardens which environ it; the groves and temples; the streams and caverns (whither, as the guide tells you, during the heat of summer, it was the custom of Marie Antoinette to retire, with her favorite, Madame de Lamballe): the lake and Swiss village are pretty little toys, moreover; and the cicerone of the place does not fail to point out the different cottages which surround the piece of water, and tell the names of the royal masqueraders who inhabited each. In the long cottage, close upon the lake, dwelt the Seigneur du Village, no less a personage than Louis XV.; Louis XVI., the Dauphin, was the Bailli; near his cottage is that of Monseigneur the Count d’Artois, who was the Miller; opposite lived the Prince de Condé, who enacted the part of Gamekeeper (or, indeed, any other rôle, for it does not signify much); near him was the Prince de Rohan, who was the Aumônier; and yonder is the pretty little dairy, which was under the charge of the fair Marie Antoinette herself.
I forget whether Monsieur the fat Count of Provence took any share of this royal masquerading; but look at the names of the other six actors of the comedy, and it will be hard to find any person for whom Fate had such dreadful visitations in store. Fancy the party, in the days of their prosperity, here gathered at Trianon, and seated under the tall poplars by the lake, discoursing familiarly together: suppose of a sudden some conjuring Cagliostro of the time is introduced among them, and foretells to them the woes that are about to come. “You, Monsieur l’Aumônier, the descendant of a long line of princes, the passionate admirer of that fair queen who sits by your side, shall be the cause of her ruin and your own,18 and shall die in disgrace and exile. You, son of the Condés, shall live long enough to see your royal race overthrown, and shall die by the hands of a hangman.19 You, oldest son of Saint Louis, shall perish by the executioner’s axe; that beautiful head, O Antoinette, the same ruthless blade shall sever.” “They shall kill me first,” says Lamballe, at the queen’s side. “Yes, truly,” replies the soothsayer, “for Fate prescribes ruin for your mistress and all who love her.”20 “And,” cries Monsieur d’Artois, “do I not love my sister, too? I pray you not to omit me in your prophecies.”
18 In the diamond-necklace affair.
19 He was found hanging in his own bedroom.
20 Among the many lovers that rumor gave to the queen, poor Ferscu is the most remarkable. He seems to have entertained for her a high and perfectly pure devotion. He was the chief agent in the luckless escape to Varennes; was lurking in Paris during the time of her captivity; and was concerned in the many fruitless plots that were made for her rescue. Ferscu lived to be an old man, but died a dreadful and violent death. He was dragged from his carriage by the mob, in Stockholm, and murdered by them.
To whom Monsieur Cagliostro says, scornfully, “You may look forward to fifty years of life, after most of these are laid in the grave. You shall be a king, but not die one; and shall leave the crown only; not the worthless head that shall wear it. Thrice shall you go into exile: you shall fly from the people, first, who would have no more of you and your race; and you shall return home over half a million of human corpses, that have been made for the sake of you, and of a tyrant as great as the greatest of your family. Again driven away, your bitterest enemy shall bring you back. But the strong limbs of France are not to be chained by such a paltry yoke as you can put on her: you shall be a tyrant, but in will only; and shall have a sceptre, but to see it robbed from your hand.”
“And pray, Sir Conjurer, who shall be the robber?” asked Monsieur the Count d’Artois.
This I cannot say, for here my dream ended. The fact is, I had fallen asleep on one of the stone benches in the Avenue de Paris, and at this instant was awakened by a whirling of carriages and a great clattering of national guards, lancers and outriders, in red. His MAJESTY LOUIS PHILIPPE was going to pay a visit to the palace; which contains several pictures of his own glorious actions, and which has been dedicated, by him, to all the glories of France.
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