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PARIS IN THE SEVENTEENTH
of Louis the Fourteenth is one of he was courteous; towards women chivalrous. the most brilliant in history ; illustrious by its He never passed even a chambermaid without reign of seventy-two years and its hundred au touching his hat; and always stood uncovered thors known to fame. The government of this in the presence of a lady. When the disapmonarch has been called “a satire upon des pointed Duke of Lauzun insulted him by potism.” His vanity was boundless : his mag breaking his sword in his presence, he raised nificence equally so. The palaces of Marly the window, and threw his cane into the courtand Versailles are monuments of his royal yard, saying, "I never should have forgiven pride : equestrian statues, and his figure on one myself if I had struck a gentleman." of the gates of Paris, represented as a naked He seems, indeed, to have been a strange Hercules, with a club in his hand and a flow mixture of magnanimity and littleness ; his ing wig on his head, are monuments of his gallantries veiled always in a show of decency; vanity and self-esteem.
severe ; capricious ; fond of pleasure; hardly His court was the home of etiquette and the less fond of labor. One day we find him dashmodel of all courts. " It seemed," says Vol. ing from Vincennes to Paris in his huntingtaire, “that Nature at that time took delight dress, and standing in his great boots, with a in producing in France the greatest men in all whip in his hand, dismissing his Parliament as the arts; and of assembling at court the most he would a pack of hounds. The next he is beautiful men and women that had ever ex dancing in the ballet of his private theatre, in isted. But the king bore the palm away from the character of a gypsy, and whistling or singall his courtiers by the grace of his figure and ing scraps of opera-songs; and then parading the majestic beauty of his countenance; the at a military review, or galloping at full speed noble and winning sound of his voice gained through the park of Fontainebleau, huntingover the hearts that his presence intimidated. the deer, in a calash drawn by four ponies. His carriage was such as became him and his Towards the close of his life he became a devrank only, and would have been ridiculous in otee. " It is a very remarkable thing," says any other. The embarrassment he inspired in Voltaire, “ that the public, who forgave him those who spoke with him flattered in secret all his mistresses, could not forgive him his fathe self-complacency with which he recognized ther confessor.” He outlived the respect of his own superiority. The old officer, who be his subjects. When he lay on his death-bed, came agitated and stammered in asking a fa those godlike eyes that had overawed the world vor from him, and not being able to finish his now grown dim and lustreless,
- all his courdiscourse, exclaimed, Sire, I do not tremble tiers left him to die alone, and thronged about so before your enemies !' had no difficulty in his successor, the Duke of Orleans. An emobtaining the favor he asked."
piric gave him an elixir, which suddenly reAll about him was pomp and theatrical vived him. He ate once more, and it was said show. He invented a kind of livery, which he could recover.
The crowd about the Duke it was held the greatest honor to wear; a blue
of Orleans diminished very fast. · If the king waistcoat embroidered with gold and silver; eats a second time, I shall be left all alone,” - a mark of royal favor. To all around him said he. But the king ate no more. He die
like a philosopher. To Madame de Maintenon he said, “I thought it was more difficult to die!” and to his domestics, Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal ? "
Of course the character of the monarch stamped itself upon the society about him. The licentious court made a licentious city. Yet everywhere external decency and decorum prevailed. The courtesy of the old school held sway. Society, moreover, was pompous and artificial. There were pedantic scholars about town; and learned women; and Précieuses Ridicules, and Euphuism. With all its greatness, it was an effeminate
age. The old city of Paris, which lies in the Marais, was once the court end of the town. It is now entirely deserted by wealth and fashion. Travellers even seldom find their way into its broad and silent streets. But sightly mansions and garden walls, over which tall, shadowy trees wave to and fro, speak of a more splendid age, when proud and courtly ladies dwelt there, and the frequent wheels of gay equipages chafed the now grass-grown pavements.
In the centre of this part of Paris, within pistol-shot of the Boulevard St Antoine, stands the Place Royale. Old palaces of a quaint and uniform style, with a low arcade in front, run quite round the square. In its centre is a public walk, with trees, an iron railing, and an equestrian statue of Louis the Thirteenth. It was here that monarch held his court. But there is no sign of a court now. Under the arcade are shops and fruit-stalls; and in one cor ner sits a cobbler, seemingly as old and deaf as the walls around him. Occasionally you get a glimpse through a grated gate into spacious gardens; and a large flight of steps leads up into what was once a royal palace, and is now a tavern. In the public walk, old gentlemen sit under the trees on benches, and enjoy the evening air. Others walk up and down, buttoned in long frock-coats. They have all a provincial look. Indeed, for a time you imagine yourself in a small French town, not in Paris ; so different is everything there from the Paris you live in. You are in a quarter where people retire to live genteelly on small incomes. The gentlemen in long frock-coats are no courtiers, but retired tradesmen.
Not far off is the Rue des Tournelles; and the house is still standing in which lived and loved that Aspasia of the seventeenth century,
the celebrated Ninon de l'Enclos. From the Boulevard you look down into the garden, where her illegal and ill-fated son, on discovering that the object of his passion was his own mother, put an end to his miserable life. Not very remote from this is the house once occupied by Madame de Sévigné. You are shown the very cabinet where she composed those letters which beautified her native tongue, and “ make us love the very ink that wrote them.” In a word, you are here in the centre of the Paris of the seventeenth century; the gay, the witty, the licentious city, which in Louis the Fourteenth's time was like Athens in the age of Pericles. And now all is changed to solitude and silence. The witty age, with its brightness and licentious heat, all burnt out, puffed into darkness by the breath of time. Thus passes an age of libertinism and sedition, and bloody, frivolous wars, and fighting bishops, and devout prostitutes, and “factious beaux esprits improvising epigrams in the midst of seditions, and madrigals on the field of battle."
Westward from this quarter, near the Seine and the Louvre, stood the ever famous Hôtel de Rambouillet, the court of Euphuism and false taste. Here Catherine de Vivonne, Marchioness of Rambouillet, gave her æsthetical soirées in her bedchamber, and she herself in bed, among the curtains and mirrors of a gay alcove. The master of ceremonies bore the title of the Alcoviste. He did the honors of the house and directed the conversation, and such was the fashion of the day, that, impossible as it may seem to us, no evil tongue soiled with malignant whisper the fair fame of the Précieuses, as the ladies of the society were called. Into this bedchamber came all the most noted literary personages of the day ; — Corneille, Malherbe, Bossuet, Fléchier, La Rochefoucault, Balzac, Bussy-Rabutin, Madame de Sévigné, Mademoiselle de Scudéri, and others of less note, though hardly less pretension. They paid their homage to the Marchioness, under the title of Arthénice, Éracinthe, and Corinthée, anagrams of the name of Catherine. There, as in the Courts of Love of a still ear
lier age, were held grave dissertations on frivolous themes: and all the metaphysics of love, and the subtilties of exaggerated passion, were discussed with most puerile conceits and a vapid sentimentality. “ We saw, not long since," says La Bruyère, “a circle of persons of the two sexes, united by conversation and mental sympathy. They left to the vulgar the art of speaking intelligibly. One obscure expression brought on another still more obscure, which in turn was capped by something truly enigmatical, attended with vast applause. With all this so-called delicacy, feeling, and refinement of expression, they at length went so far that they were neither understood by others nor could understand themselves. For these conversations one needed neither good sense, nor memory, nor the least capacity ; only
esprit, and that not of the best, but a counterfeit kind, made up chiefly of imagination."
Looking back from the present age, how very absurd all these things seem to us! Nevertheless, the minds of some excellent men were seriously impressed with their worth ; and the pulpit-orator, Fléchier, in his funeral oration upon the death of Madame de Montausier, exclaimed, in pious enthusiasm : “Remember, my brethren, those cabinets which are still regarded with so much veneration, where the mind was purified, where virtue was revered under the name of the incomparable Arthénice, where were gathered toyether so many personages of quality and merit, forming a select court, nuimerous without confusion, modest without constraint, learned without pride, polished without affectation."
Authors, in their Prefaces, generally speak The Laws of Nature are just, but terrible. in a conciliatory, deprecating tone of the critics, There is no weak mercy in them. Cause and whom they hate and fear; as of old the Greeks consequence are inseparable and inevitable. spake of the Furies as the Eumenides, the be The elements have no forbearance. The fire nign Goddesses.
burns, the water drowns, the air consumes, the
earth buries. And perhaps it would be well Doubtless criticism was originally benignant, for our race if the punishment of crimes against pointing out the beauties of a work, rather than the Laws of Man were as inevitable as the its defects. The passions of men have made punishment of crimes against the Laws of Nait malignant, as the bad heart of Procrustes ture, — were Man as unerring in his judgments turned the bed, the symbol of repose, into an as Nature. instrument of torture.
Round about what is, lies a whole mysteriPopularity is only, in legal phrase, the “in ous world of might be, - a psychological rostantaneous seisin ” of fame.
mance of possibilities and things that do not
happen. By going out a few minutes sooner The Mormons make the marriage ring, like or later, by stopping to speak with a friend the ring of Saturn, fluid, not solid, and keep at a corner, by meeting this man or that, or it in its place by numerous satellites.
by turning down this street instead of the
other, we may let slip some great occasion of In the mouths of many men soft words are good, or avoid some impending evil, by which like roses that soldiers put into the muzzles of the whole current of our lives would have their muskets on holidays.
been changed. There is no possible solution
to the dark enigma but the one word, “ ProviWe often excuse our own want of philan dence."