From the Lakes of Killarney to the Golden Horn
But four years have passed, and what do we see? The last foreign soldier has disappeared from the soil of France, the enormous indemnity is PAID, and the country is apparently as rich and prosperous, and Paris as bright and gay, as ever.
This seems a miracle, but the age of miracles is past, and such great results do not come without cause. The French are a very rich people – not by the accumulation of a few colossal fortunes, but by the almost infinite number of small ones. They are at once the most industrious and the most economical people in the world. They will live on almost nothing. Even the Chinese hardly keep soul and body together on less than these French ouvriers whom we see going about in their blouses, and who form the laboring population of Paris. So all the petty farmers in the provinces save something, and have a little against a rainy day; and when the time comes that the Government wants a loan, out from old stockings, and from chimney corners, come the hoarded napoleons, which, flowing together like thousands of little rivulets, make the mighty stream of national wealth.
But for a nation to pay its debts, especially when they have grown to be so great, it is necessary not only to have money, but to know how to use it. And here the interests of France have been managed with consummate ability. In spite of the constant drain caused by the heavy payment of the war indemnity to Germany, the finances of the country have not been much disturbed, and to-day the bills of the Bank of France are at par. I feel ashamed for my country when the cable reports to us from America, that our national currency is so depreciated that to purchase gold in New York one must pay a premium of seventeen per cent.! I wish some of our political financiers would come to Paris for a few months, to take lessons from the far more successful financiers of France.
What delights me especially in this great achievement is that it has all been done under the Republic! It has not required a monarchy to maintain public order, and to give that security which is necessary to restore the full confidence of the commercial world. It is only by a succession of events so singular as to seem indeed providential, that France has been saved from being given over once more into the hands of the old dynasty. From this it has been preserved by the rivalship of different parties; so that the Republic has been saved by the blunders of its enemies. The Lord has confounded them, and the very devices intended for its destruction – such as putting Marshal MacMahon in power for seven years – have had the effect to prevent a restoration. Thus the Republic has had a longer life, and has established its title to the confidence of the nation. No doubt if the Legitimists and the Orleanists and Imperialists could all unite, they might have a sovereign to-morrow; but each party prefers a Republic to any sovereign except its own, and is willing that it should stand for a few years, in the hope that some turn of events will then give the succession to them. So, amid all this division of parties, the Republic "still lives," and gains strength from year to year. The country is prosperous under it; order is perfectly maintained; and order with liberty: why should it not remain the permanent government of France?
If only the country could be contented, and willing to let well enough alone, it might enjoy many long years of prosperity. But unfortunately there is a cloud in the sky. The last war has left the seeds of another war. Its disastrous issue was so unexpected and so galling to the most proud and sensitive people in Europe, that they will never rest satisfied till its terrible humiliation is redressed. The resentment might not be so bitter but for the taking of its two provinces. The defeats in the field of battle might be borne as the fate of war (for the French have an ingenious way, whenever they lose a battle, of making out that they were not defeated, but betrayed); even the payment of the enormous indemnity they might turn into an occasion of boasting, as they now do, as a proof of the vast resources of the country; but the loss of Alsace and Lorraine is a standing monument of their disgrace. They cannot wipe it off from the map of Europe. There it is, with the hated German flag flying from the fortress of Metz and the Cathedral of Strasburg. This is a humiliation to which they will never submit contentedly, and herein lies the probability – nay almost the certainty – of coming war. I have not met a Frenchman of any position, or any political views, Republican or Monarchical, Bonapartist or Legitimist, Catholic or Protestant, whose blood did not boil at the mention of Alsace and Lorraine, and who did not look forward to a fresh conflict with Germany as inevitable. When I hear a Protestant pastor say, "I will give all my sons to fight for Alsace and Lorraine," I cannot but think the prospects of the Peace Society not very encouraging in Europe.
In the exhibition of the Doré gallery, in London, there is a very striking picture by that great artist (who is himself an Alsatian, and yet an intense Frenchman), intended to represent Alsace. It is a figure of a young woman, tall and beautiful, with eyes downcast, yet with pride and dignity in her sadness, as the French flag, which she holds, droops to her feet. Beside her is a mother sitting in a chair nursing a child. The two figures tell the story in an instant. That mother is nursing her child to avenge the wrongs of his country. It is sad indeed to see a child thus born to a destiny of war and blood; to see the shadow of carnage and destruction hovering over his very cradle. Yet such is the prospect now, which fills every Christian heart with sadness. Thus will the next generation pay in blood and tears, for the follies and the crimes of this.
THE FRENCH NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
We have been to Versailles. Of course our first visit was to the great palace built by Louis XIV., which is over a quarter of a mile long, and which stands, like some of the remains of antiquity, as a monument of royal pride and ambition. It was built, as the kings of Egypt built the Pyramids, to tell to after ages of the greatness of his kingdom and the splendor of his reign. A gallant sight it must have been when this vast pile, with its endless suites of apartments, was filled with the most brilliant court in Europe; when statesmen and courtiers and warriors, "fair women and brave men," crowded the immense saloons, and these terraces and gardens. It was a display of royal magnificence such as the world has seldom seen. The cost is estimated at not less than two hundred millions of dollars – a sum which considering the greater value of money two centuries ago, was equal to five times that amount at the present day, or a thousand millions, as much as the whole indemnity paid to Germany. It was a costly legacy to his successors – costly in treasure and costly in blood. The building of Versailles, with the ruinous and inglorious wars of Louis XIV., drained the resources of France for a generation, and by the burdens they imposed on the people, prepared the way for the Revolution. I could not but recall this with a bitter feeling as I stood in the gilded chamber where the great king slept, and saw the very bed on which he died. That was the end of all his glory, but not the end of the evil that he wrought:
"The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones."
The extravagance of this monarch was paid for by the blood of his descendants. If he had not lifted his head so high, the head of Louis XVI. might not have fallen on the scaffold. It is good for France that she has no longer any use for such gigantic follies; and that the day is past when a whole nation can be sacrificed to the vanity and selfishness of one man. In this case the very magnitude of the structure defeated its object, for it was so great that no government since the Revolution has known what to do with it. It required such an enormous expenditure to keep it up, that the prudent old King Louis Philippe could not afford to live in it, and at last turned it into a kind of museum or historical gallery, filled with pictures of French battles, and dedicated in pompous phrase, To all the Glories of France.
But it was not to see the palace of Louis XIV. that I had most interest in revisiting Versailles, but to see the National Assembly sitting in it, which is at present the ruling power in France. If Louis XIV. ever revisits the scene of his former magnificence, he must shake his kingly head at the strange events which it has witnessed. How he must have shuddered to see his royal house invaded by a mob, as it was in the time of the first Revolution; to see the faithful Swiss guards butchered in his very palace, and the Queen, Marie Antoinette, escaping with her life; to see the grounds sacred to Majesty trampled by the "fierce democracie" of France; and then by the iron heel of the Corsican usurper; and by the feet of the allied armies under Wellington. His soul may have had peace for a time when, under Louis Philippe and Louis Napoleon, Versailles was comparatively silent and deserted. But what would he have said at seeing, only four winters ago, the Emperor of Germany and his army encamped here and beleaguering the capital? Yet perhaps even that would not so have offended his royal dignity as to see a National Assembly sitting in a part of this very palace in the name of a French Republic!
Strange overturning indeed; but if strange, still true. They have a proverb in France that "it is always the improbable which happens," and so indeed it seems to be in French history; it is full of surprises, but few greater than that which now appears. France has drifted into a Republic, when both statesmen and people meant not so. It was not the first choice of the nation. Whatever may have been true of the populace of Paris, the immense majority of the French people were sincerely attached to monarchy in some form, whether under a king or an emperor; and yet the country has neither, so that, as has been wittily said, France has been "a Republic without Republicans." But for all that the Republic is here, and here it is likely to remain.
When the present Assembly first met, a little more than four years since, it was at Bordeaux – for to that corner of France was the government driven; and when the treaty was signed, and it came north, it met at Versailles rather than at Paris, as a matter of necessity. Paris was in a state of insurrection. It was in the hands of the Commune, and could only be taken after a second siege, and many bloody combats around the walls and in the streets. This, and the experience so frequent in French history of a government being overthrown by the mob of Paris invading the legislative halls, decided the National Assembly to remain at Versailles, even after the rebellion was subdued; and so there it is to this day, even though the greater part of the deputies go out from Paris twelve miles every morning, and return every night; and in the programme which has been drawn up for the definite establishment of the Republic, it is made an article of the Constitution that the National Assembly shall always meet at Versailles.
The place of meeting is the former theatre of the palace, which answers the purpose very well – the space below, in what was the pit, sufficing for the deputies, while the galleries are reserved for spectators. We found the approaches crowded with persons seeking admission, which can only be by ticket. But we had no difficulty. Among the deputies is the well-known Protestant pastor of Paris, Edouard de Pressensé, who was chosen to the Assembly in the stormy scenes of 1871, and who has shown himself as eloquent in the tribune as in the pulpit. I sent him my card, and he came out immediately with two tickets in his hand, and directed one of the attendants to show us into the best seats in the house, who, thus instructed, conducted us to the diplomatic box (which, from its position in the centre of the first balcony, must have been once the royal box), from which we looked down upon the heads of the National Assembly of France.
And what a spectacle it was! The Assembly consists of over seven hundred men, who may be considered as fair representatives of what is most eminent in France. Of course, as in all such bodies, there are many elected from the provinces on account of some local influence, as landed proprietors, or as sons of noble families, who count only by their votes. But with these are many who have "come to the front" in this great national crisis, by the natural ascendancy which great ability always gives, and who by their talents have justly acquired a commanding influence in the country.
The President of the Assembly is the Duke d'Audiffret Pasquier, whose elevated seat is at the other end of the hall. In front of him is "the tribune," from which the speakers address the Assembly: it not being the custom here, as in our Congress or in the English Parliament, for a member to speak from his place in the house. This French custom has been criticized in England, as betraying this talkative people into more words, for a Frenchman does not wish to "mount the tribune" for nothing, and once there the temptation is very strong to make "a speech." But we did not find that the speeches were much longer than in the House of Commons, though they were certainly more violent.
Looking down upon the Assembly, we see how it is divided between the two great parties – the Royalists and the Republicans. Those sitting on the benches to the right of the President comprise the former of every shade – Legitimists, Orleanists, and Imperialists, while those on the left are the Republicans. Besides these two grand divisions of the Right and the Left there are minor divisions, such as the Right Centre and the Left Centre, the former wishing a Constitutional Monarchy, and the latter a Conservative Republic.
Looking over this sea of heads, one sees some that bear great names. One indeed, and that the greatest, is not here, and is the more conspicuous by his absence. M. Thiers, to whom France owes more than to any other living man, since he retired from the Presidency, driven thereto by the factious opposition of some of the deputies, and perhaps now still more since the death of his life-long friend, De Remusat, has withdrawn pretty much from public life, and devotes himself to literary pursuits. But other notable men are here. That giant with a shaggy mane, walking up the aisle, is Jules Favre – a man who has been distinguished in Paris for a generation, both for his eloquence at the bar, and for his inflexible Republicanism, which was never shaken, even in the corrupting times of the Empire, and who in the dark days of 1870, when the Empire fell, was called by acclamation to become a member of the Provisional Government. He is the man who, when Bismarck first talked of peace on the terms of a cession of territory, proudly answered to what he thought the insulting proposal, "Not a foot of our soil, not a stone of our fortresses!" but who, some months after, had to sign with his own hand, but with a bitter heart, a treaty ceding Alsace and Lorraine, and agreeing to pay an indemnity of one thousand millions of dollars! Ah well! he made mistakes, as everybody does, but we can still admire his lion heart, even though we admit that his oratorical fervor was greater than his political sagacity. And yonder, on the left, is another shaggy head, which has appeared in the history of France, and may appear again. That is Leon Gambetta! who, shut up in Paris by the siege, and impatient for activity, escaped in a balloon, and sailing high over the camps of the German army, alighted near Amiens, and was made Minister of War, and began with his fiery eloquence, like another Peter the Hermit, to arouse the population of the provinces to a holy crusade for the extermination of the invader. This desperate energy seemed at first as if it might turn the fortunes of the war. Thousands of volunteers rushed forward to fill the ranks of the independent corps known as the Franc-tireurs. But though he rallied such numbers, he could not improvise an army; these recruits, though personally brave enough – for Frenchmen are never wanting in courage – had not the discipline which inspires confidence and wins victory. As soon as these raw levies were hurled against the German veterans, they were dashed to pieces like waves against a rock. The attempt was so daring and patriotic that it deserved success; but it was too late. Gambetta's work, however, is not ended in France. Since the war he has surprised both his friends and his enemies by taking a very conciliatory course. He does not flaunt the red flag in the eyes of the nation. So cautious and prudent is he that some of the extreme radicals, like Louis Blanc, oppose him earnestly, as seeking to found a government which is republican only in name. But he judges more wisely that the only Republic which France, with its monarchical traditions, will accept, is a conservative one, which shall not frighten capital by its wild theories of a division of property, but which, while it secures liberty, secures order also. In urging this policy, he has exercised a restraining influence over the more violent members of his own party, and thus done much toward conciliating opposition and rendering possible a French Republic.
On the same side of the house, yet nearer the middle, thus occupying a position in the Left Centre, is another man, of whom much is hoped at this time, M. Laboulaye, a scholar and author, who by his prudence and moderation has won the confidence of the Assembly and the country. He is one of the wise and safe men, to whom France looks in this crisis of her political history.
But let us suspend our observation of members to listen to the discussions. As we entered, the Assembly appeared to be in confusion. The talking in all parts of the house was incessant, and could not be repressed. The officers shouted "Silence!" which had the effect to produce quiet for about one minute, when the buzz of voices rose as loud as ever. The French are irrepressible. And this general talking was not the result of indifference: on the contrary, the more the Assembly became interested, the more tumultuous it grew. Yet there was no question of importance before it, but simply one about the tariff on railways! But a Frenchman will get excited on anything, and in a few minutes the Assembly became as much agitated as if it were discussing some vital question of peace or war, of a Monarchy or a Republic. Speaker after speaker rushed to the tribune, and with loud voices and excited looks demanded to be heard. The whole Assembly took part in the debate – those who agreed with each speaker cheering him on, while those who opposed answered with loud cries of dissent. No college chapel, filled with a thousand students, was ever a scene of more wild uproar. The President tried to control them, but in vain. In vain he struck his gavel, and rang his bell, and at length in despair arose and stood with folded arms, waiting for the storm to subside. But he might as well have appealed to a hurricane. The storm had to blow itself out. After awhile the Assembly itself grew impatient of further debate, and shouted "Aux voix! aux voix!" and the question was taken; but how anybody could deliberate or vote in such a roaring tempest, I could not conceive.
This disposed of, a deputy presented some personal matter involving the right of a member to his seat, for whom he demanded justice, accusing some committee or other of having suppressed evidence in his favor. Then the tumult rose again. His charge provoked instant and bitter replies. Members left their seats, and crowded around the tribune as if they would have assailed the obnoxious speaker with violence. From one quarter came cries, "C'est vrai; C'est vrai!" (It is true; it is true), while in another quarter a deputy sprang to his feet and rushed forward with angry gesture, shouting, "You are not an honest man!" So the tumult "loud and louder grew." It seemed a perfect Bedlam. I confess the impression was not pleasant, and I could not but ask myself, Is this the way in which a great nation is to be governed, or free institutions are to be constituted? It was such a contrast to the dignified demeanor of the Parliament of England, or the Congress of the United States. We have sometimes exciting scenes in our House of Representatives, when members forget themselves; but anything like this I think could not be witnessed in any other great National Assembly, unless it were in the Spanish Cortes. I did not wonder that sober and thoughtful men in France doubt the possibility of popular institutions, when they see a deliberative body, managing grave affairs of State, so little capable of self-control.
And yet we must not make out things worse than they are, or attach too much importance to these lively demonstrations. Some who look on philosophically, would say that this mere talk amounts to nothing; that every question of real importance is deliberated upon and really decided in private, in the councils of the different parties, before it is brought into the arena of public debate; and that this discussion is merely a safety-valve for the irrepressible Frenchman, a way of letting off steam, a process which involves no danger, although accompanied with a frightful hissing and roaring. This is a kindly as well as a philosophical way of putting the matter, and perhaps is a just one.
Some, too, will add that there is another special cause for excitement, viz., that this legislative body is at this moment in the article of death, and that these scenes are but the throes and pangs of dissolution. This National Assembly has been in existence now more than four years, and it is time for it to die. Indeed it has had no right to live so long. It was elected for a specific purpose at the close of the war – to make peace with the Germans, and that duty discharged, its functions were ended, and it had no legal right to live another day, or to perform another act of sovereignty. But necessity knows no law. At that moment France was without a head. The Emperor was gone, the old Senate was gone, the Legislative Body was gone, and the country was actually without a government, and so, as a matter of self-preservation, the National Assembly held on. It elected M. Thiers President of the State, and he performed his duties with such consummate ability that France had never been so well governed before. Then in an evil hour, finding that he was an obstacle to the plans of the Legitimists to restore the Monarchy, they combined to force him to resign, and put Marshal MacMahon in his place, a man who may be a good soldier (although he never did anything very great, and blundered fearfully in the German war, having his whole army captured at Sedan), but who never pretended to be a statesman. He was selected as a convenient tool in the hands of the intriguers. But even in him they find they have more than they bargained for; for in a moment of confidence they voted him the executive power for seven years, and now he will not give up, even to make way for a Legitimate sovereign, for the Comte de Chambord, or for the son of his late Emperor, Napoleon III. All this time the Assembly has been acting without any legal authority; but as power is sweet, it held on, and is holding on still. But now, as order is fully restored, all excuse is taken away for surviving longer. The only thing it has to do is to die gracefully, that is, to dissolve, and leave it to the country to elect a new Assembly which, being fresh from the people, shall more truly represent the will of the nation. And yet these men are very reluctant to go, knowing as many of them do, that they will not return. Hence the great question now is that of dissolution– "to be or not to be"; and it is not strange that many postpone as long as they can "the inevitable hour." It is for this reason, it is said, because of its relation to the question of its own existence, that the Assembly wrangles over unimportant matters, hoping by such discussions to cause delay, and so to throw over the elections till another year.
But as time and tide wait for no man, so death comes on with stealthy step, and this National Assembly must soon go the way of all the earth. What will come after it? Another Assembly – so it seems now – more Republican still. That is the fear of the Monarchists. But the cause of the Republic has gained greatly in these four years, as it is seen to be not incompatible with order. It is no longer the Red Republic, which inspired such terror; it is not communism, nor socialism, nor war against property. It is combined order and liberty. As this conviction penetrates the mass of the people, they are converted to the new political faith, and so the Republic begins to settle itself on sure foundations. It is all the more likely to be permanent, because it was not adopted in a burst of popular enthusiasm, but very slowly, and from necessity. It is accepted because no other government is possible in France, at least for any length of time. If the Comte de Chambord were proclaimed king to-morrow, he might reign for a few years —till the next revolution. It is this conviction which has brought many conservative men to the side of the Republic. M. Thiers, the most sagacious of French statesmen, has always been in favor of monarchy. He was the Minister of Louis Philippe, and one of his sayings used to be quoted: "A constitutional monarchy is the best of republics." Perhaps he would still prefer a government like that of England. But he sees that to be impossible in France, and, like a wise man that he is, he takes the next best thing – which is a Conservative Republic, based on a written constitution, like that of the United States, and girt round by every check on the exercise of power – a government in which there is the greatest possible degree of personal freedom consistent with public order. To this, as the final result of all her revolutions, France seems to be steadily gravitating now, as her settled form of government. That this last experiment of political regeneration may be successful, must be the hope of all friends of liberty, not only in America, but all over the world.
THE LIGHTS AND SHADOWS OF PARIS
I have written of the startling contrasts of London; what shall I say of those of Paris? It is the gayest city in the world, yet the one in which there are more suicides than in any other. It is the city of pleasure, yet where pleasure often turns to pain, and the dance of dissipation, whirling faster and faster, becomes the dance of death. It is a city which seems devoted to amusement, to which the rich and the idle flock from all countries to spend life in an endless round of enjoyment; with which some of our countrymen have become so infatuated that their real feeling is pretty well expressed in the familiar saying – half witty and half wicked – that "all good Americans go to Paris when they die." Certainly many of them do not dream of any higher Paradise.
And yet it is a city in which there are many sad and mournful scenes, and in which he who observes closely, who looks a little under the surface, will often walk the streets in profound melancholy. In short, it is a city of such infinite variety, so many-colored, that the laughing and the weeping philosopher may find abundant material for his peculiar vein. Eugene Sue, in his "Mysteries of Paris," has made us familiar with certain tragic aspects of Parisian life hidden from the common eye. With all its gayety, there is a great deal of concealed misery which keeps certain quarters in a chronic state of discontent, which often breaks out in bloody insurrections; so that the city which boasts that it is "the centre of civilization," is at the same time the focus of revolution, of most of the plots and conspiracies which trouble the peace of Europe. As the capital of a great nation, the centre of its intellectual, its literary, and its artistic life, it has a peculiar fascination for those who delight in the most elevated social intercourse. Its salons are the most brilliant in the world, so that we can understand the feeling of Madame de Staël, the woman of society, who considered her banishment from Paris by the first Napoleon as the greatest punishment, and who "would rather see the stones of the Rue du Bac than all the mountains of Switzerland"; and yet this very brilliancy sometimes wearies to satiety, so that we can understand equally the feeling of poor, morbid Jean Jacques Rousseau, who more than a hundred years ago turned his back upon it with disgust, saying, "Farewell, Paris! city of noise, and dust, and strife! He who values peace of mind can never be far enough from thee!"
If we are quite just, we shall not go to either of these extremes. We shall see the good and the evil, and frankly acknowledge both. Paris is generally supposed to be a sinner above all other cities; to have a kind of bad eminence for its immorality. It is thought to be a centre of vice and demoralization, and some innocent young preachers who have never crossed the sea, would no doubt feel justified in denouncing it as the wickedest city in the world. As to the extent to which immorality of any kind prevails, I have no means of judging, except such as every stranger has; but certainly as to intemperance, there is nothing here to compare with that in London, or Glasgow, or Edinburgh; and as to the other form of vice we can only judge by its public display, and there is nothing half so gross, which so outrages all decency, as that which shocks and disgusts every foreigner in the streets of London. No doubt here, as in every great capital which draws to itself the life of a whole nation, there is a concentration of the bad as well as the good elements of society, and we must expect to find much that is depraved and vicious; but that in these respects Paris is worse than London, or Berlin, or Vienna, or even New York, I see no reason to believe.
Without taking, therefore, a lofty attitude of denunciation on the one hand, or going into sudden raptures on the other, there are certain aspects of Paris which lie on the surface, and which any one may observe without claiming to be either wiser or better than his neighbors.
I have tried to see the city both in its brighter lights and its darker shadows. I have lived in Paris, first and last, a good deal. I was here six months in 1847-8, and saw the Revolution which overthrew Louis Philippe, and have been here often since. I confess I am fond of it, and always return with pleasure. That which strikes the stranger at once is its bright, sunny aspect; there is something inspiring in the very look of the people; one feels a change in the very air. Since we came here now, we have been riding about from morning to night. Our favorite drive is along the Boulevards just at evening, when the lamps are lighted, and all Paris seems to be sitting out of doors. The work of the day is over, and the people have nothing to do but to enjoy themselves. By hundreds and thousands they are sitting on the wide pavements, sipping their coffee, and talking with indescribable animation. Then we extend our ride to the Champs Elysées, where the broad avenue is one blaze of light, and places of amusement are open on every side, from which comes the sound of music. It is all a fairy scene, such as one reads of in the Arabian Nights. Thousands are sitting under the trees, enjoying the cool evening air, or coming in from a ride to the Bois de Boulogne.
But it may be thought that these are the pleasures of the rich. On the contrary, they are the pleasures of all classes; and that is the charming thing about it. That which pleases me most in Paris is the general cheerfulness. I do not observe such wide extremes of condition as in London, such painful contrasts between the rich and the poor. Indeed, I do not find here such abject poverty, nor see such dark, sullen, scowling faces, which indicate such brutal degradation, as I saw in the low quarters of London. Here everybody seems to be, at least in a small way, comfortable and contented. I have spoken once before of the industry of the people (no city in the world is such a hive of busy bees) and of their economy, which shows itself even in their pleasures, of which they are fond, but which they get very cheap. No people will get so much out of so little. What an English workman would spend in a single drunken debauch, a Frenchman will spread over a week, and get a little enjoyment out of it every day. It delights me to see how they take their pleasures. Everybody seems to be happy in his own way, and not to be envious of his neighbor. If a man cannot ride with two horses, he will go with one, and even if that one be a sorry hack, with ribs sticking out of his sides, and that seems just ready for the crows, no matter, he will pile his wife and children into the little, low carriage, and off they go, not at great speed, to be sure, but as gay and merry as if they were the Emperor and his court, with outriders going before, and a body of cavalry clattering at their heels. When I have seen a whole family at Versailles or St. Cloud dining on five francs (oh no, that is too magnificent; they carry their dinner with them, and it probably does not cost them two francs), I admire the simple tastes which are so easily satisfied, and the miracle-working art which extracts honey from every daisy by the roadside.
Such simple and universal enjoyment would not be possible, but for one trait which is peculiar to the French – an entire absence of mauvaise honte, or false shame; the foolish pride, which is so common in England and America, of wishing to be thought as rich or as great as others. In London no one would dare, even if he were allowed, to show himself in Hyde Park in such unpretentious turnouts as those in which half Paris will go to the Bois de Boulogne. But here everybody jogs along at his own gait, not troubling himself about his neighbor. "Live and let live" seems to be, if not the law of the country, at least the universal habit of the people. Whatever other faults the French have, I believe they are freer than most nations from "envy, malice, and all uncharitableness."
With this there is a feeling of self-respect, even among the common people, that is very pleasing. If you speak to a French servant, or to a workman in a blouse, he does not sink into the earth as if he were an inferior being, or take a tone of servility, but answers politely, yet self-respectingly, as one conscious that he too is a man. The most painful thing that I found in England was the way in which the distinctions of rank, which seem to be as rigid as the castes of India, have eaten into the manhood and self-respect of our great Anglo-Saxon race. But here "a man's a man," and especially if he is a Frenchman, he is as good as anybody.
From this absence of false pride and false shame comes the readiness of the people to talk about their private affairs. How quickly they take you into their confidence, and tell you all their little personal histories! The other day we went to the Salpêtrière, the great hospital for aged women, which Mrs. Field describes in her "Home Sketches in France," where are five thousand poor creatures cared for by the charity of Paris. Hundreds of these were seated under the trees, or walking about the grounds. As I went to find one of the officials, I left C – standing under an arch. Seeing her there, one of the old women, with that politeness which is instinctive with the French, invited her into her little room. When I came back, I found they had struck up a friendship. The good mother – poor, dear, old soul! – had told all her little story: who she was, and how she came there, and how she lived. She made her own soup, she said, and had put up some pretty muslin curtains, and had a tiny bit of a stove, and so got along very nicely. This communicativeness is not confined to the inmates of hospitals. It is a national trait, which makes us love a people that give us their confidence so freely.
I might add many other amiable traits, which give a great charm to the social life of the French, and fill their homes with brightness and sunshine.
But of course there is another side to the picture. There is lightning in the beautiful cloud, and sometimes the thunder breaks fearfully over this devoted city. I do not refer to great public calamities, such as war and siege, bringing "battle, and murder, and sudden death," but to those daily tragedies, which are enacted in a great city, which the world never hears of, where men and women drop out of existence, as one and disappear from view, and the ocean rolls over them, burying the story of their unhappy lives and their wretched end. Something of this darker shading to bright and gay Paris, one may discover who is curious in such matters. There is a kind of fascination which sometimes lures me to search out that which is sombre and tragic in human life and in history. So I have been to the Prison de la Roquette, over which is an inscription which might be written over the gates of hell: Depôt des Condamnés. Here the condemned are placed before they are led to death, and in the open space in front take place all the executions in Paris. Look you at those five stones deep set in the pavement, on which are planted the posts of the Guillotine! Over that in the centre hangs the fatal knife, which descends on the neck of the victim, whose head rolls into the basket below.
"Sinks into the waves with bubbling groan,"
But prisons are not peculiar to Paris, and probably quite as many executions have been witnessed in front of Newgate, in London. But that which gives a peculiar and sadder interest to this spot, is that here took place one of the most terrible tragedies even in French history – the massacre of the hostages in the days of the Commune. In that prison yard the venerable Archbishop of Paris was shot, with others who bore honored names. No greater atrocity was enacted even in the Reign of Terror. There fiends in human shape, with hearts as hard as the stones of the street, butchered old age. In another quarter of Paris, on the heights of Montmartre, the enraged populace shot down two brave generals – Lecompte and Clement-Thomas. I put my hand into the very holes made in the wall of a house by the murderous balls. Such cowardly assassinations, occurring more than once in French history, reveal a trait of character not quite so amiable as some that I have noticed. They show that the polite and polished Frenchman may be so aroused as to be turned into a wild beast, and give a color of reason to the savage remark of Voltaire – himself one of the race – that "a Frenchman was half monkey and half tiger."
I will present but one other dark picture. I went one day, to the horror of my companion, to visit the Morgue, the receptacle of all the suicides in Paris, where their bodies are exposed that they may be recognized by friends. Of course some are brought here who die suddenly in the streets, and whose names are unknown. But the number of suicides is fearfully great. Bodies are constantly fished out of the Seine, of those who throw themselves from the numerous bridges. Others climb to the top of the Column in the Place Vendôme, or of that on the Place of the Bastille, or to the towers of Nôtre Dame, and throw themselves over the parapet, and their mangled bodies are picked up on the pavement below. Others find the fumes of charcoal an easier way to fall into "an eternal sleep." But thus, by one means or other, by pistol or by poison, by the tower or the river, almost every day has its victim. I think the exact statistics show more than one suicide a day throughout the year. When I was at the Morgue there were two bodies stretched out stark and cold – a man and a woman, both young. I looked at them with very sad reflections. If those poor lips could but speak, what tragedies they might tell! Who knows what hard battle of life they had to fight – what struggles wrung that manly breast, or what sorrow broke that woman's heart? Who was she?
"Had she a father? had she a mother?
Had she a sister? had she a brother?
Or one dearer still than all other?"
Perhaps she had led a life of shame, but all trace of passion was gone now:
"Death had left on her
Only the beautiful."
And as I marked the rich tresses which hung down over her shoulders, I thought Jesus would not have disdained her if she had come to him as a penitent Magdalen, and with that flowing hair had wiped His sacred feet.
I do not draw these sad pictures to point a moral against the French, as if they were sinners above all others, but I think this great number of suicides may be ascribed, in part at least, to the mercurial and excitable character of the people. They are easily elated and easily depressed; now rising to the height of joyous excitement, and now sinking to the depths of despair. And when these darker moods come on, what so natural as that those who have not a strong religious feeling to restrain them, or to give them patience to bear their trials, should seek a quick relief in that calm rest which no rude waking shall ever disturb? If they had that faith in God, and a life to come, which is the only true consolation in all time of our trouble, in all time of our adversity, they would not so often rush to the grave, thinking to bury their sorrows in the silence of the tomb.
Thus musing on the lights and shadows of Paris, I turn away half in admiration and half in pity, but all in love. With all its shadows, it is a wonderful city, by far the greatest, except London, in the modern world, and the French are a wonderful people; and while I am not blind to their weaknesses, their vanity, their childish passion for military glory, yet "with all their faults I love them still." And I have written thus, not only from a feeling of love for Paris from personal associations, but from a sense of justice, believing that the harsh judgment often pronounced upon it is hasty and mistaken. All such sweeping declarations are sure to be wrong. No doubt the elements of good and evil are mingled here in large proportions, and act with great intensity, and sometimes with terrific results. But Frenchmen are not worse than other men, nor Paris worse than other cities. If it has some dark spots, it has many bright ones, in its ancient seats of learning and its noble institutions of charity. Taking them all together, they form a basis for a very kindly judgment. And I believe that He who from His throne in Heaven looks down upon all the dwellers upon earth, seeing that in the judgment of truth and of history this city is not utterly condemned, would say "Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more."