« AnteriorContinuar »
The public buildings at present carrying on in this capital, are fully calculated to support its architectural reputation. After having been for some time unforwarded, the new Exchange is now in active progress towards completion, and will unquestionably be the noblest in Europe. Perfectly simple in its design and decorations, it has an air of the most impressive grandeur and majesty from its vastness and fine proportions, being encircled by a cluster of sixty-four lofty columns worthy of the ancient Romans, though their effect be somewhat frittered down by the smallness of the blocks of which they are constituted. It is not easy to account for this blemish, which we also observed in other buildings, as the quarries seem to supply masses of every dimension. The new church of La Madeleine, which Napoleon had destined for a Temple of Glory, seems to have been begun upon too gigantic a plan to encourage hopes of its completion. Churches and temples of glory, indeed, can hardly expect to take a bond of fate in these days of evanescent dynasties and popular instability; and the beginnings of this stupendous edifice, as well as of the Triumphal Arch beyond the Barrier of Neuilly, are unnoticed except by foreigners, who, estimating the Hercules by his foot, or the Mammoth from his skeleton, cannot help respecting the gigantic conceptions in which they originated. Amusement, however, is a goddess to whose worship even the fickle Parisians are constant; and no changes have for a moment impeded the completion of the new French Opera House, which forms at present their paramount object of attention, and has sprung rapidly up in the Street Lepelletier. It is a light and elegant building, surmounted by handsome statues of eight Muses, the architect having unaccountably not left space enough for the ninth. I inquired of a grave elder, who was contemplating the façade, the cause of this omission :-" Monsieur, c'est que l'autre est occupée avec Apollon," was the truly Parisian reply.
Versailles. I have said that France, in some of its departments, bears the impress of a long despotism which had exhausted the provinces for the embellishment of the capital, in which latter term the contiguous parks and palaces must be included. These are of the most grand and sumptuous character; and he who in one day has visited Versailles when the great water-works play, the two Trianons, and St. Cloud, all adjoining to each other, will probably have witnessed a rarer display of architectural and hortulan splendour-a more surpassing union of natural and artificial beauties, than could be any where paralleled within the same compass; and may form some notion of the splendour of the old French Court, as well as of the wild profusion which lavished the revenues of an empire on the freaks of a profligate monarch and his weak and wanton mistresses.
The Palace of Versailles forms a superb front of 800 yards extent, when viewed from the gardens; and accords, both externally and internally, with our preconceived notions of the vain and ostentatious Louis XIV., who, at an expense of between eighty and ninety millions of francs, completed this enormous mass of pompous extravagance. Here, however, there are at least some durable evidences of taste; some permanent monuments of art;-something which the French, for many ages to come, will have to shew for their money: it has not been fribbled
away upon thatched cottages, Chinese pagodas, and sprawling green dragons, of which the present age would be still more ashamed, but for the consoling reflection that in a few years such fantastical gewgaws will have tumbled to pieces, and be no more remembered than the tin and tinsel palaces in the last scene of one of Astley's pantomimes. Speaking individually, I would rather contribute half my substance to the embellishment of a Versailles, than a tithe of the sum to unnecessary wars (and unnecessary most wars are); yet what a trifle is the cost of this stupendous piece of extravagance, when compared with that of a few campaigns! Unfortunately Louis XIV. united both modes of expenditure. Going over a palace is generally a great drudgery; they have all a strong family-likeness :-from the ceilings, "where sprawl the saints of Verrio and La Guerre," down to the tesselated marble under foot, where "half the platform just reflects the other," they are alike apt to be very fine and very tiresome. Servants in rich old-fashioned liveries led us from room to room, exclaiming, "Salon de Mars!"-"Salon d'Apollon!"--"Salon de Mercure!" and "Salon de Diane!" till we began to speculate with some pleasure on the exhaustion of the Heathen Deities; but alas! they were succeeded by the divinities of legitimacy, and the officers of their almost interminable household. The want of furniture, all of which disappeared in the Revolution, adds to the monotony of the chambers, which seem to be astonished at their own forlorn finery, as they glitter in the gorgeousness of the new gilding with which they have been lately decorated. Here and there an obnoxious pannel torn out, attested the political change which had so unexpectedly restored its old masters, which was also evidenced by the sedulous restoration of the fleur de lis, perhaps destined at no distant period to be again supplanted. With the exception of the Chapel, which, in spite of Voltaire's lampoon, is very elegant, though somewhat too gaudy-and the great gallery, 222 feet in length, with its mirrors reflecting the gardens and waters,-we encountered nothing very striking, till, on passing through some gloomy and shabby passages, we groped our way into the once magnificent Amphitheatre, or Salle des Spectacles, now dismantled, silent, and abandoned to dust, darkness, and desolation. Every thing that was royal, joyous, and festive, conspired to give splendour and eclat to this masterpiece of luxury, which was completed in 1770, on the marriage of the unfortunate Louis XVI. The Amours of the Gods, painted by Du Rameau, on the ceiling, could hardly suggest to the imagination scenes of more voluptuous enchantment than were once realized on the floor below, when, on the removal of a portion of the gilded columns, which were made hollow for that purpose, the whole arena was converted into a sumptuous ball-room; and the most splendid Court in Europe, in the height of its lustre, headed by Marie Antoinette in the zenith of her fascinations, mingling in the graceful dance, dazzled the spectator with the sight of beautiful and laughing faces, and sparkling diamonds, and nodding plumes, and gay colours, all reflected and multiplied a thousand times by the innumerable mirrors with which every box and every wall was completely pannelled. We sat in the very box which had been so often graced by Royalty ;--we stood on the boards
where they had danced;-here had the music poured its exhilarating strains; here had the laugh resounded amid the encounter of bright eyes, and the sparkling coruscations of wit. Gracious God! what a frightful change did a few years present!-That lovely Queen, with her ill-fated husband, and a great portion of the beauty and chivalry of their court, all miserably slaughtered; the rest in exile, penury, and wretchedness; the palace devastated by an infuriate mob; and this glorious temple of their festivity left as we now beheld it—denuded of all its gildings, and trappings, and costly mirrors; the paintings crumbling to decay; the boards creaking beneath the foot; and spiders weaving their webs, amid gloom and silence, athwart the trellis-work of that box, over which the beautiful arm of Marie Antoinette had so often been suspended!
A superannuated domestic, harmonizing well with this affecting picture of human instability, conducted us over the dilapidated grandeur. There are men in humble station whom one involuntarily respects for the appalling changes they have witnessed, and the consequent feelings of which their bosoms must be the depositories:-and this was such a person. Taken when a boy into the service of royalty, he had been present at the marriage of Louis XVI., when there were ten thousand people lodged in the palace, and every one of its rooms rang with mirth and music he had seen the Queen address the raving mob of Paris from the balcony of the Old Court, when they came here to seek her: he had trembled with horror and dismay when the same couple, whom he had seen united at the altar amid prayers, blessings, and festivities, were savagely hurried to the guillotine: and, finally, at the sacking of Versailles, he had fled into concealment, but not until he and some faithful fellow-servants had hidden the portraits of the royal family beneath the floor of the Sacristy, at a time when a discovery of such treason to the new order of things would infallibly have cost him his head. After a long interment these pictures had, upon the restoration of the Bourbons, emerged into light, if that can be called light, which in the blaze of a summer noon diffused little more than a darkness visible around the stage part of this tattered theatre, where they stood without frames, as if still afraid of venturing into the haunts of men. Our venerable Cicerone led us from queen to king, and from monarch to mistress, detailing, with profound respect, the marriages and relationships of each, until we came to one which he passed unnoticed; and on inquiring the reason, he replied, with a careless toss of his head, that it was only a church picture. Those persons are assuredly very wrong who connect the ancient order of things with a necessary respect for religion respect for an earthly divinity it may indeed have inculcated, and here, where a loose monarch is every where seen deified in marble in the midst of his mistresses, such devotion was probably as fervent as it was prevalent; but this is directly opposed to that pure religion which, bidding us disclaim the lusts of the flesh and all earthly pomps, has morality for its basis, and Heaven for its reward. Here, as well as upon several other occasions, we observed that, amid various classes in France, Christianity was considered with indifference, and in some instances with contempt.
Passing by the Grand Reservoir, an enormous and lofty mound of stone, constructed for the supply of a single water-work, we advanced into the gardens, laid out in the usual formal style of parterres, green vistas, and alleys; but magnificently decorated with 150 marble statues of rare workmanship, besides numerous figures, vases, and groups, of bronze, all of which we commanded from the elevated terrace where we stood; while, in whatever direction we turned our eyes, columns and various combinations of water were thrown aloft into the air, some immediately surrounding us, some from the successive terraces beneath us: some having the nodding plumage of their summits relieved by the verdant alleys and niches in which they were embowered; while others shooting up against the bright blue sky turned over their foaming capitals, like Corinthian pillars; or, as the wind gently agitated them, scattered their silver spray in the last gleams of the setting sun. It was a scene of enchantment-a dream,—an attempt to embody some of the descriptions in the " Arabian Nights Entertainments," of which we only beheld the perfect realization when we reached the Bosquet de la Colonnade, a circular enclosure of thirty-two marble columns decorated with Naiads, Sylvans, and Genii, holding the attributes of love, surrounding a central bason, and noble group of the Rape of Proserpine, every one of the numerous figures keeping up a perpetual discharge of water, until the whole enclosure was enveloped in a cloud of foam. If these sparkling exhibitions and beautiful baubles had recalled to us the fantastic fables of our infancy, not without some passing impressions of their puerility, or at least of their trivial value in the eye of genuine taste, we had a treat in store for us, infinitely more exquisite in itself, and unalloyed by any of these drawbacks upon our delight. This, too, was a scene calculated to revive the visions of our early reading, but of those more classical fictions of Grecian story, which transport the imagination to the Vale of Tempe, or the hallowed precincts of Mount Parnassus and Delphi. Quitting the planned parterres and radiated walks of the gardens, we passed through a gate into an unfrequented enclosure, left in the wild luxuriance of Nature, when, after winding a little while among shady walks, we came abruptly upon a sloping grassplot, shelving down to the Baths of Apollo. An enormous rock, o'ercanopied by lofty trees and umbrageous shrubs, is hollowed out into three grottos, representing the entrance into the Palace of Thetis, in the centre one of which is Apollo seated, surrounded by six nymphs attiring him after the bath: in the two side grottos are Tritons watering the horses of the tuneful god; at their feet is the bath from which he is supposed to have just emerged, not circumscribed by marble or cut into squares, but hiding its edges in the grass and rushes; while the whole, shut in by a surrounding grove, has the exact aspect of such a nook in Arcady or Thessaly, as we may imagine the deity to have selected for the purpose. The sculptures, universally admitted to be the chefs-d'œuvre of Girardon, are most exquisite; and the scenic accompaniments and embellishments imparted to them such an air of reality, that we contemplated them in an ecstasy of silent reverence, half inclined to shrink behind the trees, lest we should be considered as in
truding upon the haunts of the Immortals. It appears strange that advantage has not been taken of this species of illusion to enhance the attractions of other celebrated statues, by surrounding them with correspondent associations. Connoisseurs, it may be said, experience too intense a delight in the prodigies of art to require any stimulus to their admiration; but the most vivid imaginations cannot embody all the picturesque of a subject at one moment; and if they could, they should. recollect that men of more sluggish faculties, or less cultivated taste, cannot indulge in such delicious reveries without the aid of ocular excitement. The Baths of Apollo form also an extensive play of waters; but fortunately they were not working at the time we beheld them :-I say fortunately, for I should have been sorry indeed had their noisy spouting banished the impressive, heartfelt silence of the spot; or substituted for those delicious visions which wafted us back through nymphs and fauns, and Thessalian woods, to the banks of the Peneus, any reminiscences connected with Louis Quatorze, the Bois de Boulogne, and the banks of the Seine.
Yet such a revulsion were we doomed to experience; for we found that the group before us was in fact a species of apotheosis of Louis the Fourteenth, represented under the figure of Apollo, while the attendant nymphs drying his feet, anointing his hair, and performing other menial offices, were portraits of his six mistresses! One knows not which is most fulsome and revolting-the weak and unmanly vanity of the monarch, or the crawling profligacy of the women who could suffer themselves to be handed down to posterity in such mutually disgraceful characters; yet this shameless and boastful trifling is perpetually thrust into the face of the world as if it were a virtue, almost every nymph in the gardens being the bust of a mistress, and almost every god a likeness of the monarch. This is legitimacy with a vengeance; and the advocates of that doctrine who are of opinion that, after impoverishing his people by boundless extravagance, a rectilinear king may corrupt them by publishing his seraglio in marble, and that he may not only be despotic himself, but put lettres de cachet in the power of his numerous concubines, should certainly make a point of visiting Versailles. Could we trace that hidden relationship which sows in one age the seeds of the events that are to grow up in another, we might probably establish an unbroken connexion between the building of this palace and the destruction of the Bastille. These occurrences are action and re-action; cause and effect: and when certain writers lament (as they may well do) the outrages of the Revolution, it would be but fair to extend their sympathy a little farther back, and bewail those long-existing outrages of despotism by which it was generated.
The Trianons present nothing particularly deserving notice after the splendours of Versailles; although the greater one, built for Madame de Maintenon, has the same pretension to pomp, saloons, and picturegalleries, all at a humble distance from the gorgeous prototype. The celebrity of the little Trianon arises from its delightful gardens, assuming to be laid out in the English style, and, with certain exceptions, not undeserving that proud distinction. Delille, however, the poet of the