Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

reach an interruption in the navigation, they are taken from the water and carried to the next point of embarkation, across the intervening country. I had come down the Mississippi in one of these shells, paddled by a crew of voyageurs, a race of men of tried fidelity, of wonderful muscular strength, and with powers of abstinence and repletion alternately tried by periods of want and abundance, which are at once the effect and the accompaniment of nomadic life. No Frenchman exceeds them in animal spirits, and no Dutchman in love of tobacco; and their intervals of exertion and repose are called pipes and pauses; and during the former, they paddle with the utmost force of their tawny arms, keeping time to their songs, which break upon the silence of the forest, while the period of relaxation is passed in cheerful conversation.

One of those excitements, almost periodical, which make their appearance among our Indian tribes, and which spread alarm

upon

the frontiers, had suddenly manifested itself upon the upper regions of the Mississippi; and I had descended the river with a rapidity till then unknown; travelling day and night, with short intervals of repose

for my willing but weary crew. Under ordinary circumstances, I should have sought the first good place of encampment which presented itself toward the decline of day, and landing, should have taken from the water and brought to shore my canoe and luggage; and pitching my tent, and lighting a good fire, should have disposed myself for a comfortable supper and a quiet night. But I was obliged to forego these luxuries of interior western travelling, and the night had already commenced, when I passed the mouth of the Illinois, and was advanced, when the gradual relaxation of the current warned us that we were approaching the point of junction of those great arteries of the continent, where the Missouri precipitates itself, with the force of its tremendous stream, into the Mississippi, and sending its current almost to the opposite bank, checks for many miles the power of its rival; a rival which usurps its name, but whose changed characteristics from here to the sea, sufficiently indicate its inferiority. The peculiar features of these great rivers, seeking their origin in regions so distant, and mingling in a common mass, to pour their joint floods into the ocean, presents one of the most interesting subjects of consideration which the study of our geology offers to the inquirer.

The current of the Missouri is prodigious; boiling, whirling, eddying, as though confined within too narrow a space, and striving to escape from it: it is perpetually undermining its banks, which are thrown into the stream, almost with the noise of an avalanche, and its water is exceedingly turbid, mixed with the earth, of which it takes possession, and exhibiting a whitish, clayey appearance, so dense and impenetrable to the light, that it is impossible to discern an object below the surface of the river. The Mississippi, on the contrary, is a quiet, placid stream, with a gentle current, and transparent water, where the traveller leaves few traces of its ravages behind him, and apprehends no danger before him. We had no moon, but the stars shone brightly, and danced in the clear water of the river, revealing the dark foliage of the forests, which seemed like walls to enclose us as we swept along, but still opening a passage to us as we advanced. Our Canadians had been merry, sending their songs along the water,

breaking the stillness of the night, alternately by the clear voice of the favorite singer, and then by the loud chorus, in which each joined, with equal alacrity and strength of lungs. But as the night closed around us, their gayety disappeared; and the song and the chorus gradually died away, leaving us in the silence of the food and forest, which seemed to be our world; alive only with the little band whose destiny was committed to as frail a bark as ever tempted danger.

There seemed to be something sacred in the place and circumstances. There was indeed no holy ground, nor was there near a burning bush, nor warning voice to proclaim the duty of adoration. But we all felt that we had reached one of those impressive spots in the creation of God, which speak his power in living characters; and we had reached it, covered by the shadows of night, whose obscurity, while it shrouded the minuter features of the scene, could not conceal its great outlines, though it added to the deep and breathless emotions with which we gazed around us, seeking to penetrate the narrow, gloomy barrier that shut us in. We felt the very moment when we touched the waters of the Missouri. We heard the boiling of its mighty stream around us. We were launched upon our course almost like a race-horse in the lists, Our light canoe was whirled about by the boiling flood, and the thick, muddy water sent us back no friendly stars to guide and enliven us. The slightest obstacle we might have encountered, a tree projecting from the bank, a “sawyer,' or a floating log, would have torn off the frail material which was alone between us and the stream, and left not one of us to tell the story of our fate. And it was impossible to distinguish the danger, or to take any measures to avert it. But we reached Saint Louis in safety; and I look back to the impressions of that night, as among the most powerful which a life not void of adventures has made upon me.

But I must not be diverted from the valley of the Seine to the great basin of the Mississippi by these reminiscences of western life and scenery, and of the stirring events with which I have mingled. The French river is after all a very respectable stream, and invaluable for the purposes of communication, of fertility, and of salubrity. It enters Paris at the south-eastern corner, between the Garden of Plants and the open square where formerly rose the Bastile, but where the Column of July, surmounted by the gilt statue of Liberty, now marks the site of the inhumation of the citizens who fell in the great struggle of 1830 against the expiring effort of power. It divides the city into two unequal portions, having the Faubourg St. Germain, the residence of the old nobility, and the last refuge of the old ideas, upon the left, and the modern world upon the right. After passing many a spot consecrated by history, and bathing the walls of many a splendid monument, it leaves this great Babylon, and enters the open country at the Champs de Mars, seat of French

power

and turbulence in the olden times. Here it sweeps through a beautiful region, approaching the foot of the declivity, which gradually rises into the elevated barrier that shuts in upon the south its wide valley, and which forms a deep curvilinear indentation, of many miles' extent, which the river follows, and by whose course it is again brought near the city, at its northern barrier. Here the hill of Montmartre is the promi

nent object in the landscape, and it presents a far more agreeable spectacle, with its heavy but still picturesque wind-mills, than it will do when covered with bastions, and bristling with cannon, agreeably to the project now in execution for securing the capital of France against foreign invasion, and perhaps against domestic violence, by extensive fortifications.

This great curve of the Seine, which in some portions of our country would be expressively indicated by the term ox-bow, to the natural beauties which adorn it joins all the embellishments which taste, wealth, and time, can give. It contains the villages of Passy, remarkable for its extensive and beautiful prospects, for its medicinal waters, and for having been the residence of d'Estaing, of the Abbé Raynal, and above all, of Franklin : Auteuil, where Boileau, Molière, Helvetius, Condorcet, and Rumford, and many other men whose names belong to universal literature, sought refuge from the tumult of the capital: of Neuilly, whose superb avenue is a prolongation of the great route which traverses the Champs Elyseés to the Tuilleries, and which, situated upon the banks of the Seine, finds in its juxtaposition to the Royal Chateau, and to the Bois de Boulogne, attractions which render it an agreeable residence during the warm season of the year, though the principal occupation of its inhabitants, who are • blanchisseuses,' Anglice, washerwomen, is any thing but romantic, and of Boulogne, another pretty refuge from Paris, when Paris becomes intolerable. This is an ancient village, going back to the first race of French kings; and it was to its church that a crowd from Paris flocked to hear le frère Richard, a renowned preacher of the fifteenth century. An old chronicle, while describing the effect produced by the apostolic fervor of this holy man, gives us incidentally some curious information respecting the fashions adopted by the ladies of that period. "The men,' says this quaint historian, 'burnt their gambling tables and chessboards, their cards, their balls, and billiards; their nurelis, and all such things; and the ladies all the ornaments of their heads, as bourneaux, truffeaux, pieces of leather and whale-bone, which they put in their head-dresses, to make them stiff. They burnt also their horns and their tails, and a great heap of their finery.' The village of Clichy is also found within this circuit. It contains many pleasant country houses, and was a royal seat in the reign of Dagobert, in the seventh century. Here is also Neuilly, a beautiful summer residence of the King of the French, and Boulogne, a residence not so magnificent, but not less beautiful, of Rothschild, the King of the Bankers. In their neighborhood, but on the opposite side of the river, is Surenne, where our countryman Mr. Wells possesses a very pretty place, and where his accomplished lady dispenses her hospitalities to a numerous circle of friends. The Bois de Boulogne, which covers perhaps one half of this extensive sweep of the Seine, is a favored resort of the Parisians. Its walks and alleys, laid out with great taste, and maintained with great care, its green sward and its pretty trees, render it a charming excursion for the crowd, who, on foot, on horseback, and in carriages, seek relaxation in its solitude and shade. The contrast too is striking, for one passes instantaneously from the coufusion of this great city to all the quiet of distant seclusion. When an American, however, hears these small trimmed

and cultivated trees, planted with mathematical precision, and divided by nice, clean gravel walks, called a forest, he involuntarily thinks of the interior region of his own continent, covered with the growth of the primitive ages, and extending to the shores of the Pacific; filled with the giants of vegetation, who rear their heads aloft, and stretch their mighty limbs over the surface of the earth, relics of the olden time, and witnesses of many an event forever lost to human knowledge.

The inclined plane which bounds this amphitheatre on the opposite side of the Seine, is studded with villages, country seats, and cultivated fields; and in the distance, through a cleft in the high grounds, Versailles rises into view, with its chateau and its parks; that splendid monument, the seat of the selfish magnificence of Louis XIV., of the shameless license of Louis XV., and of the virtues and imbecility of Louis XVI.; and where Louis Philippe has displayed his taste and patriotism, by forming a national temple, whose inscription, To all the Glories of France, proclaims to the visitor, whether native or foreigner, that genius and merit here find their appropriate reward. It is indeed a superb collection, commemorative of the fastes and names which constitute the pride of France, and which adorn the brightest pages of French history. A character is sometimes illustrated by a simple fact; and the selfish isolation of Louis XIV., that predominant feeling, which led him to consider himself as every thing, and the kingdom and people as nothing; a feeling originating in his temperament, but nourished and strengthened by the abject flattery of which through life he was the object; is strikingly displayed by the numerous original portraits he left of himself, and by the neglect he showed to the memory of his grand-father, Henry the Fourth, the very personification of a patriot king. I was told by one, who best knew, and whose common descent from these two celebrated men left his feelings without partiality between them, that the Chateau of Versailles contained sixty portraits of Louis XIV. at the time of his decease, and not one of the Conqueror of the League.

Standing on the elevated plateau of St. Cloud, the eye wanders over this delightful valley, strewed with palaces, chateaux, temples, villages, groves, and cottages, and then rests on the great city which lies before it in the distance. The nearest and most prominent object is the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most splendid efforts of modern architecture, and well worthy to form the portal of such a capital. Beyond it rise the dome of the “Invalides,' the towers of Notre Dame, the Column of the Place Vendome, the granitic Obelisk of Sesostris, and many other structures which embellish the French metropolis, and break the uniformity of its world of houses. And then comes the mass of buildings which bound the view in this direction, and which, burnished by the setting sun, seem like a rampart of light guarding the eastern horizon.

The history of St. Cloud can be traced back to the period of the Roman domination in Gaul, when the contests between the oppressors and the oppressed drove some of the unfortunate inhabitants to seek refuge in the thick forests which then covered all this elevated region, and extended to the very border of the river. But it owes its present name and its first celebrity to its choice, as a retreat from the cares of

the world, by Clodoalde, the grand-son of Clovis, whose romantic history, and escape from the fury of his uncles, is told by Gregory of Tours, and who in the sixth century exchanged a crown for a cowl, and finished his life in a hermitage, which he established here. From this time, it has been the theatre of many interesting events in French history, and it was the seat of the coup d'etat which transferred the sovereign power of France from the feeble hands of the Directory, to the fortunate General who so long guided her destiny. Sieyes, so fertile in constitutional projects, was the author of the lucky thought which removed the legislative body from the power of the turbulent Parisians to the silence of St. Cloud, where the military force could be brought to act without danger upon the disaffected représentatives. When the plan of operations for placing Bonaparte at the head of the state had been well concocted, Regnier, upon the suggestion of Sieyes, taking advantage of a provision of the constitution which gave to the Council of Ancients the right to fix the place of session of the legislative body, proposed a decree, which was immediately passed, transferring the place of meeting to St. Cloud, and giving to General Bonaparte the command of the armed force. The night which succeeded the passage of this decree, and which preceded its execution, was employed as the vigils of revolution have always been employed in Paris, in consultation and preparation, in securing friends and in gaining or intimidating enemies, and in circulating mysterious rumors, which, like the first breathings of the tempest, foretell the coming storm. The next day found the actors of the great drama at their posts, assembled in the halls of the chateau of St. Cloud, when the principal performer made his entry upon the scene, surrounded by a brilliant état-major, and disclaiming the character of a Cæsar or a Cromwell, and professing a most republican abnegation of all ambitious views, broke out into that theatrical apostrophe which forms so characteristic an incident in his career. After various reproaches, and answering or silencing the remarks of some of his adversaries, he left the Hall of the Ancients, where this scene passed, and repaired to the more numerous and more tumultuous branch of the legislature, the Council of Five Hundred, which held its session in an adjacent apartment. The events which passed here are well known: the firmness of his brother Lucien, and the attachment of the armed force, rescued the man, as his partisans love to call him, from his perilous position, and enabled him to consummate the revolution, and to render himself Master of France.

The chateau and park of St. Cloud were purchased by Louis XIV. in 1658, and presented to his brother the Duke of Orleans, the head of the reigning dynasty of France. Great improvements in the buildings and grounds were made by the first possessor, under the direction of the most celebrated artists; and the embellishments were continued during the period of its occupation by the Orleans family, which was down to the year 1782. At this time, the Queen, Marie Antoinette, the unfortunate wife of Louis XVI., struck with the beauty of its situation, and with what Brown, the English picturesque gardener, would call its capability, a word, by the by, which became his own soubriquet, prevailed upon the grand father of the king, Louis Philippe, to cede it to her, in exchange for Neuilly, which she held in her own

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »