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Chapter 7

LETTER VII.

Public Dinner.—Inconsiderate Impulses of Americans.—Rambles in Paris.—The Churches of Paris.—View from the leads or Notre Dame.—The Place Royale.—The Bridges.—Progress of the Public Works.—The Palaces of the Louvre and the Tuileries.—Royal Enclosures in the Gardens of the Tuileries.—Public Edifices.—Private Hotels and Gardens. My Apartments in the house of the Montmorencies.—Our other Residences.—Noble Abodes in Paris.—Comparative Expense of Living in Paris and New York.—American Shopkeepers, and those of Europe.

Dear ——

The time between the revolt of the two days, and the 17th July, passed in the usual manner. The court-martial had made considerable progress in condemning men to be shot, but appeals were made to the Carlist Court of Cassation, which finally adjudged the whole proceedings to be illegal. In the mean time we got up the dinner for the 4th, Lafayette coming from La Grange expressly to make one among us. As for this dinner, I have only to say that one of its incidents went to prove how completely a body of Americans are subject to common and inconsiderate impulses, let the motive be right or wrong,—of how low estimate character is getting to be among us, and to determine me never to be present at another. It is a painful confession, but truth compels me to say, that, I believe, for the want of a condensed class, that are accustomed to sustain each other in a high tone of feeling and thinking, and perhaps from ignorance of the world, no other people, above the illiterate and downright debased, are so easily practised on and cajoled, as the great mass of our own. I hope I have never been addicted to the vice of winning golden opinions by a sacrifice of sentiments or principles; but this dinner has given me a surfeit of what is called "popularity," among a people who, while affecting to reduce everything to a standard of their own creating, do not give themselves time or opportunity to ascertain facts, or weigh consequences.

The weather was pleasant and warm for several weeks, about the close of June and the commencement of July, and, although a slight shade has been cast over our enjoyments by the re-appearance of the cholera, in a greatly diminished degree however, I do not remember to have passed the same period of time in Paris with so much satisfaction to myself. The town has been empty, in the usual signification of the term, and the world has left us entirely to ourselves. After completing the morning's task, I have strolled in the gardens, visited the churches, loitered on the quays, rummaged the shops of the dealers in old furniture and other similar objects. The number of these shops is great, and their stores of curious things incredible. It appears to me that all France has poured her relics of the old system into the warehouses of the capital. The plunder of the chateaux and hotels has enriched them to a degree that must be witnessed to be understood, and to me it is matter of surprise that some of our wealthy travellers do not transfer many of these treasures to the other side of the Atlantic.

I usually spend an our or two with M——, in the gallery of the Louvre, from two to four: he returns home with me to dinner; and at seven, which, at this season in this latitude, is still broad day, we issue forth for a promenade. Paris, I have often told you, is a picturesque town, and offers endless sources of satisfaction, beyond its living throngs, its society, its theatres, and its boulevards. The public displays at the Academy, and its meetings of science, taste, and philanthropy are little to my taste, being too artificial and affected, and I have found most enjoyment in parts of this little world that I believe travellers usually overlook.

The churches of Paris want the odour, the genial and ecclesiastical atmosphere and the devout superstition that rendered those of Italy so strikingly soothing and pleasant; but they are huge piles, and can always be visited with pleasure. Notre Dame de Paris is a noble monument, and now that the place of the archbishop is destroyed, one is likely to get better views of it, than is apt to be the case with these venerable edifices. A few evenings since M——, and myself ascended the towers, and seating ourselves on the leads, looked down, for near an hour, on the extraordinary picture beneath. The maze of roofs, out-topped, here and there, by black lacquered-looking towers, domes, pavilions of palaces, and, as is the case with the Tuileries and Louvre, literally by a mile of continuous structures; the fissures of streets, resembling gaping crevices in rocks; the river meandering through the centre of all, and spanned by bridges thronged by mites of men and pigmy carriages; the crowds of images of the past; the historical eminences that surround the valley of the capital; the knowledge of its interior; our acquaintance with the past and the present, together with conjectures for the future, contributed to render this a most impressive evening. The distant landscape was lost, and even quarters of the town itself were getting to be obscure before we descended, helping singularly to increase the effect produced by our speculations on those ages in which Paris had been the scene of so many momentous events.

We have also wandered among the other relics of antiquity, for the present structure of Notre Dame is said to have already stood seven centuries. The Place Royale is one of the most singular quarters of the town, and although often visited before, we have again examined it, for we are beginning to regard objects with the interest that one is apt to feel on leaving a favourite spot, perhaps for ever. This square, unique in its kind, occupies the site of the ancient residences of the kings of France, who abandoned it in consequence of the death of Henri II, in a tournament. Henri IV caused the present area to be enclosed by hotels, which are all of brick, a novelty in Paris, and built in the style of his reign. Fashion has, however, been stronger than the royal will; and noble ranges of rooms are to be hired here at a fourth of the prices that are paid for small and crowded apartments near the Tuileries. The celebrated arsenal, where Sully so often received his royal master, is near this place, and the Bastile stood at no great distance. In short, the world has moved, within the last two centuries, directly across the town.

I can never tire of speaking of the bridges of Paris. By day and by night have I paused on them to gaze at their views; the word not being too comprehensive for the crowds and groupings of objects that are visible from their arches. They are less stupendous and magnificent, as public works, than the bridges of London, Florence, Dresden, Bordeaux, and many other European towns, the stream they have to span being inconsiderable; but their number, the variety of their models, even the very quaintness of some among them, render them, as a whole, I think, more interesting than any others that I know. The Pont de Jena is as near perfection in all respects, perhaps, as a bridge well can be. I greatly prefer it to the celebrated Ponte della Trinità, at Florence. Some enormous statues are about to be placed on the Pont Louis XVI, which, if they do not escape criticism, will, at least, I think, help the picturesque.

I have now known Paris a sufficient time to watch, with interest, the progress of the public works. The arch at the Barrière de Neuilly has, within my observation, risen several feet, and approaches its completion. The wing, a counterpart of the gallery, that is to enclose the Carrousel, and finally to convert the Louvre and the Tuileries into a single edifice, has advanced a long distance, and preparations are making to clear the area of the few buildings that still remain. When this design shall be executed, the Palace of the Kings of France will contain considerably more than a mile of continuous buildings, which will be erected around a large vacant area. The single room of the picture-gallery is of itself a quarter of a mile in length!

During the heat of the late finance discussion, all sorts of unpleasant things were said of America, for the money-power acts here as it does everywhere else, proving too strong even for French bon ton, and, failing of facts and logic, some of the government writers had recourse to the old weapon of the trader, abuse and vituperation. Among other bold assertions, one of them affirmed, with a view to disparage the vaunted enterprise of the Americans, that while they attempted so much in the way of public works, nothing was ever finished. He cited the Capitol, a building commenced in 1800, and which had been once destroyed by fire in the interval, as an example.

As one of the controversionalists, on this occasion, I certainly had no disposition to debase my mind, or to descend from the level of a gentleman who was compelled to bow before no political master, in order to retort in kind; but as is apt to be the case under provocations of this sort, the charge induced me to look about, in order to see what advantages the subjects of a monarchy possess over us in this particular. The result has made several of my French friends laugh, and acknowledge that they who "live in glass houses should not throw stones."

The new palace of the Louvre was erected more than two centuries since. It is a magnificent pile, surrounding a court of more than a quarter of a mile in circumference, possessing many good statues, fine bas-reliefs, and a noble colonnade. In some respects, it is one of the finest palaces in Europe. The interior is, however, unfinished, though in the course of slow embellishment. Now a principal and very conspicuous window, in the pavilion that caps the entrance to the Carrousel, is unglazed, the weather being actually excluded by the use of coarse unplaned boards, precisely in the manner in which one is apt to see a shingle palace embellished at home. One hundred francs would conceal this deformity.

The palace of the Tuileries was built by Catherine di Medici, who was dead before the present United States were first peopled. It is a lantern-like, tasteless edifice, composed of different pavilions, connected by corps de bâtimens of different sizes, but of pretty uniform ugliness. The stone of this vicinity is so easily wrought, that it is usual to set it up, in blocks, and to work out the capitals and other ornaments in the wall. On a principal portion of this palace, these unwrought blocks still remain, just enough being finished to tell the observer that the design has never been completed. I shall not go beyond the palaces to make out our case, though all Europe abounds with these discrepancies in taste, and with similar neglect. As a rule, I believe we more uniformly push through our public undertakings than any other people, though they are not always executed with the same taste, on the same scale, or as permanently, perhaps, as the public works that are undertaken here. When they yield profit, however, we need turn our backs on no nation.

It is a curious commentary on the change in the times, that Louis-Philippe has dared to do that which Napoleon, with all his power, did not deem it expedient to undertake, though it is known that he chafed under the inconvenience, which it was desirable to both to be rid of. Until quite lately, the public could approach as near the palace windows, as one usually gets to those of any considerable dwelling that stands on a common street. The Emperor complained that he could not look out of a window, into his own gardens, without attracting a crowd: under this evil, however, he reigned, as consul and emperor, fourteen years, for there was no obvious way of remedying it, but by taking possession of a part of that garden, which so long had been thrown open to the public, that it now considered it as its own. Sustained by the congregated wealth of France, and secretly by those nations with whom his predecessor had to contend, Louis-Philippe has boldly broken ground, by forming two little gardens beneath the palace windows, which he has separated from the public promenade by ditches and low railings, but which serves effectually to take possession, to keep the tiger at a distance, and to open the way for farther improvement. In the end there will probably be a wing of the palace thrown forward into the garden, unless, indeed, the whole of the present structure should be destroyed, to make place for one more convenient and of purer architecture.

Paris enjoys a high reputation for the style of its public edifices, and, while there is a very great deal to condemn, compared with other capitals, I think it is entitled to a distinguished place in this particular. The church of the Magdalen (Napoleon's Temple de la Gloire, on which the names of distinguished Frenchmen were to be embossed in letters of bronze), is one of the finest modern edifices of Europe. It is steadily advancing to completion, having been raised from beneath the cornices during my visit. It is now roofed, and they are chiseling the bas-reliefs on the pediment. The Gardes-Meubles, two buildings, which line one entire side of the Place Louis Seize, or de la Concorde, as it is now termed, and which are separated by the Rue Royale, are among the best structures of the town. Some of their ornaments are a little meretricious, but the prevalent French features of their architecture are more happy than common. Only one of these edifices belongs to the public, and is now the hotel of the Admiralty, the other having been erected for symmetry, though occupied as private dwellings, and actually private property. The Bourse, or Exchange, is another modern building that has an admirable general effect.

Of the private hotels and private gardens of Paris, a stranger can scarcely give a just account. Although it is now six years since I have been acquainted with the place, they occasion surprise daily, by their number, beauty, and magnificence. Relatively, Rome, and Florence, and Venice, and Genoa, may surpass it, in the richness and vastness of some of their private residences; but, Rome excepted, none of them enjoy such gardens, nor does Rome even, in absolute connection with the town abodes of her nobles. The Roman villas[15] are almost always detached from the palaces, and half of them are without the walls, as I have already described to you. The private gardens of Paris certainly cannot compare with these villas, nor, indeed, can those which belong to the public; but then there is a luxury, and a quiet, and a beauty, about the five or six acres that are so often enclosed and planted in the rear of the hotels here, that I do not think any other Christian city can show in equal affluence. The mode of living, which places the house between court and garden, as it is termed here, is justly esteemed the perfection of a town residence; for while it offers security, by means of the gate, and withdraws the building from the street—a desideratum with all above the vulgar—it gives space and room for exercise and beauty, by means of the verdure, shrubbery, trees, and walks. It is no unusual thing for the French to take their repasts, in summer, within the retirement of their gardens, and this in the heart of one of the most populous and crowded towns of Europe. The miserable and minute subdivisions of our own towns preclude the possibility of our ever enjoying a luxury as great, and yet as reasonable as this; and if, by chance, some lucky individual should find the means to embellish his own abode and his neighbourhood, in this way, some speculation, half a league off, would compel him to admit an avenue through his laurels and roses, in order to fill the pockets of a club of projectors. In America, everybody sympathises with him who makes money, for it is a common pursuit, and touches a chord that vibrates through the whole community; but few, indeed, are they who can enter into the pleasures of him who would spend it elegantly, rationally, and with good taste. If this were the result of simplicity, it would, at least, be respectable; but every one knows that the passion at home is for display—finery, at the expense of comfort and fitness, being a prevalent evil.

The private hotels are even more numerous than the private gardens, land not always having been attainable. Of course these buildings vary in size and magnificence, according to the rank and fortune of those who caused them to be constructed, but the very smallest are usually of greater dimensions than our largest town-houses, and infinitely better disposed; though we have a finish in many of the minor articles, such as the hinges, locks, and the wood-work in general, and latterly, in marbles, that is somewhat uncommon, even in the best houses of France; when the question, however, is of magnificence, we can lay no claim to it, for want of arrangement, magnitude, and space.

Many American travellers will render you a different account of these things, but few of our people stay long enough to get accurate notions of what they see, and fewer still have free access to the sort of dwellings of which I now speak.

These hotels bear the names of their several owners. In the instances of the high nobility, it was usual to build a smaller hotel, near the principal structure, which was inhabited by the inferior branches of the family, and sometimes by favoured dependants (for the French, unlike ourselves, are fond of maintaining the domestic relations to the last, several generations frequently dwelling under the same roof), and which it is the fashion to call the petit hôtel.

Our first apartments were in one of these petits hôtels, which had once belonged to the family of Montmorency.[16] The great hotel, which joined it, was inhabited, and I believe owned, by an American, who had reversed the usual order of things by coming to Europe to seek his fortune. Our next abode was the Hôtel Jumilliac, in a small garden of a remote part of the Faubourg St. Germain. This was a hotel of the smaller size, and our apartments were chiefly on the second floor, or in what is called the third story in America, where we had six rooms besides the offices. Our saloon, dining-room, &c. had formerly been the bed-chamber, dressing-room, and ante-chamber of Madame la Marquise, and gave one a very respectful opinion of the state of a woman of quality, of a secondary class, though I believe that this family too was highly allied. From the Rue St. Maur, we went into a small country-house on the bank of the Seine, about a league from the gates of Paris, which, a century since, was inhabited by a Prince de Soubise, as grand veneur of Louis XV, who used to go there occasionally, and eat his dinner, in a very good apartment, that served us for a drawing-room. Here we were well lodged, having some two or three-and-twenty well-furnished rooms, offices included. From this place we went into the Rue des Champs-Elysées, where we had a few rooms in a hotel of some size. Oddly enough, our predecessor in a portion of these rooms was the Prince Polignac, and our successor Marshal Marmont, two men who are now proscribed in France. We have been in one or two apartments in nameless edifices since our return from Germany, and we are now in a small hotel in the Rue St. Dominique, where in some respects we are better lodged than ever, though compelled to occupy three floors. Here the salon is near thirty feet in length, and seventeen high. It is panelled in wood, and above all the doors, of which, real and false, there are six, are allegories painted on canvass, and enclosed in wrought gilded frames. Four large mirrors are fixtures, and the windows are vast and descend to the floor. The dining-room, which opens on a garden, is of the same size, but even loftier. This hotel formerly had much interior gilding, but it has chiefly been painted over. It was built by the physician of the Duc d'Orléans, who married Madame de Montesson, and from this fact you may form some idea of the style maintained by the nobles of the period; a physician, at that time, being but a very inferior personage in Europe.

In describing these residences, which have necessarily been suited to very moderate means, I have thought you might form some idea of the greater habitations. First and last, I may have been in a hundred, and, while the Italian towns do certainly possess a few private dwellings of greater size and magnificence, I believe Paris contains, in proportion, more noble abodes than any other place in Europe. London, in this particular, will not compare with it. I have been in some of the best houses in the British capital, but very few of them rise to the level of these hotels in magnificence and state, though nearly all surpass them in comfort. I was at a ball given by the Count ——, when thirteen rooms en suite were opened. The Duke of Devonshire can hardly exceed this. Prince Borghese used, on great occasions, to open twenty, if I remember right, at Florence, one of which was as large as six or eight of our ordinary drawing-rooms. Although, as a whole, nothing can be more inconvenient or irrational than an ordinary town-house in New York, even we excel the inhabitants of these stately abodes, in many of the minor points of domestic economy, particularly in the offices, and in the sleeping-rooms of the second class.

Your question, as to the comparative expense of living at home and of living in Europe, is too comprehensive to be easily answered, for the prices vary so materially, that it is difficult to make intelligent comparisons. As between Paris and New York, so long as one keeps within the usual limits of American life, or is disposed to dispense with a multitude of little elegancies, the advantage is essentially with the latter. While no money will lodge a family in anything like style, or with suites of rooms, ante-chambers, &c. in New York, for the simple reason, that buildings which possess these elegancies, or indeed with fine apartments at all, have never yet been erected in the country; a family can be better lodged in a genteel part of the town for less money, than it can be lodged, with equal room and equal comforts, in a genteel quarter of Paris; always excepting the inferior distribution of the rooms, and other little advantages, such as the convenience of a porter, &c. all of which are in favour of the latter place.[17] Food of all kinds is much the cheapest with us, bread alone excepted. Wines can be had, as a whole, better and cheaper in New York, if obtained from the wine-merchant, than in any European town we have yet inhabited. Even French wines can be had as cheap as they can be bought here, for the entrance-duty into the country is actually much less than the charges at the gates of Paris. The transportation from Bordeaux or Champagne, or Burgundy, is not, as a whole, essentially less than that to New York, if indeed it be any less. All the minor articles of table luxuries, unless they happen to be of French growth, or French fabrications, are immeasurably cheaper in America than here. Clothes are nominally much cheaper here than with us; but neither the French nor the English use habitually as good clothes as we; nor are the clothes generally as well made. You are not, however, to suppose from this that the Americans are a well-dressed people; on the contrary, we are greatly behind the English in this particular, nor are our men, usually, as well attired as those of Paris. This is a consequence of a want of servants, negligent habits, greediness of gain, which monopolizes so much of our time as to leave little for relaxation, and the high prices of articles, which prevent our making as frequent calls on the tailor, as is the practice here. My clothes have cost me more in Europe, however, than they did at home, for I am compelled to have a greater variety, and to change them oftener.

Our women do not know what high dress is, and consequently they escape many demands on the purse, to which those of Paris are compelled to submit. It would not do, moreover, for a French belle to appear every other night for a whole season in the same robe, and that too looking bedraggled, and as jaded as its pretty wearer. Silks and the commoner articles of female attire are perhaps as cheap in our own shops, as in those of Paris: but when it comes to the multitude of little elegances that ornament the person, the salon, or the boudoir, in this country, they are either wholly unknown in America, or are only to be obtained by paying treble and quadruple the prices at which they may be had here. We absolutely want the caste of shopkeepers as it exists in Europe. By shopkeepers, I mean that humble class of traders who are content with moderate profits, looking forward to little more than a respectable livelihood, and the means of placing their children in situations as comfortable as their own. This is a consequence of the upward tendency of things in a young and vigorous community, in which society has no artificial restrictions, or as few as will at all comport with civilization, and the buoyancy of hope that is its concomitant. The want of the class, notwithstanding, deprives the Americans of many elegancies and some comforts, which would be offered to them at as low rates as they are sold in the countries in which they are made, were it not for the principle of speculative value, which enters into nearly all of our transactions. In Paris the man or woman who sells a duchess an elegant bauble, is half the time content to eat his humble dinner in a small room adjoining his shop, to sleep in an entresol over it, and to limit his profits by his wants. The pressure of society reduces him to this level. With us the thing is reversed, and the consumer is highly taxed, as a necessary result. As we become more familiar with the habits of European life, the demand will gradually reduce the value of these minor articles, and we shall obtain them at the same relative prices, as ordinary silks and shawls are now to be had. At present it must be confessed that our shops make but indifferent figures compared with those of London and Paris. I question if the best of them would pass for more than fourth-rate in London, or for more than third-rate here; though the silk-mercers at home might possibly be an exception to the rule.

The amount of all my experience, on this point, is to convince me, that so long as one is willing to be satisfied with the habits of American life, which include a great abundance, many comforts, and even some few elegancies, that are not known here, such as the general use of carpets, and that of many foreign articles which are excluded from the European markets by the different protective systems, but which, also, do not know a great many embellishments of living that are common all over Europe, he can get along with a good deal less money in New York, than in Paris; certainly, with less, if he mix much with the world.




James Fenimore Cooper

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