Most certainly that tourist could not have completely attained his object who had not visited some of the environs with which Paris surrounds itself in order to have a little air, and space, and sun. We arrived here through the barrier de l’Etoile, and could judge at once of the magnificence, the éclat, and the variety of the beautiful houses concealed in their gardens; but if you wish to estimate justly the luxury and diversity of the neighborhood of a great city, you must not fail to visit, if not all, at least some of the beautiful Parisian villages. Let us first follow the course of the river, as far as the Park de Saint Cloud, one of the masterpieces of Le Nôtre, gardener to Louis XIV. In this Park the oldest trees, the most admirably-placed waters, the mountain, the refreshing breezes, have a powerful effect upon the mind of the traveller and the artist. Look with respect at the spot here represented, for it was here, by the side of this marble vase, that the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, — conquered at last by that irresistible force which drew her into the abyss, — came at midnight to wait for the Count de Mirabeau, that fiery tribune of the people, whom the queen wished to make a tribune of the court. A great drama was here performed by the Queen of France and the unruly democrat. Here conquered royalty yielded its arms to triumphant popularity. Here the man, so long a prisoner in the dungeons of Vincennes, brought to the feet of the Queen of France the pardon for which she asked. But, alas! it was too late. Mirabeau, himself, was outstripped by the revolution which he had first urged onward; he was lost, as well as the King and the Queen of France, and poison awaited him on his return.
The rich Palais de St. Cloud — the favorite summer residence of Napoleon III. — was completely burned down, by the Germans, from "strategic considerations," in October, 1870, several days after the armistice had been concluded.
A little farther is the Bois du Vésinet, the ancient and ill-famed forest d’Echauffour. The part of the forest near the village Le Vésinet has been sold, and is now divided into a thousand little pieces; and in each of these slips of land Parisians have built small houses, composed of two rooms on the first floor, — the kitchen and the parlor, — and two bed-rooms on the second floor; add a garden, of some few feet, behind the house, and a little grass-plot in front, and you will have a Parisian as happy as a king. There he lives and reigns. He annually plants one or two rose trees; he owns a cherry tree, which each year promises to bear fruit the next. A modest home. But what does that signify? He is in the middle of the most smiling country; behind his house there are the immense woods which lead to St. Germain; and he is far away from noisy Paris. Our illustration represents the "Lac Superieur," a beautiful spot, and the fashionable walk of Le Vésinet.
Here is St. Germain-in-Laye, with its vast forest, and its old and gloomy château, which is here given. This building, to the erection of which a number of different monarchs have contributed, was once the favorite residence of Francis I., Henry IV.. and Louis XIII., and was the birthplace of Henry II., Charles IX., and Louis XIV. It has been lately restored, and is now converted into a Gallo-Roman Museum. The terrace and the beautiful and extensive forest constitute the great charm of St. Germain. The terrace extends for upwards of one mile along the east slope of the hill, at a considerable height above the Seine, and commands a magnificent survey of the valley, the winding river Seine, and the well-peopled plain. Paris itself is concealed by Mount Valerien, but farther up, when the sky is clear, you see the spire of the Cathedral of St. Denis — that terrible arrow, which, incessantly presenting to the kings of France the memento mori, sufficed to drive Louis XIV. from the Chateau de St. Germain.
On each side of the city you will find beautiful spots, filled in summer with old shade-trees, limpid waters, and poetical remembrances. The valley of Montmorenci, for instance, is the delight, the verdant and animated fête of the Parisians. It was J. J. Rousseau who discovered this Happy Valley. Before the "Confessions" the Parisian never suspected that there was round him a Forest of Montinorency. The Hermitage, in which he wrote his "Nouvelle Héloïse," has recently been much altered, and no longer contains memorials of him; but the garden, where he so often walked, still retains its former appearance.
Not far from Montmorency, when you have traversed a small wood of oak, and descended to the bottom of the valley, you will find yourself at St. Gratien, which was the retreat of the calmest and most sincere of heroes, the Marshal de Catinat. He was the guide of the armies of his majesty King Louis XIV.; the most serious and most amiable man of the great century. After having gained so many battles, he quitted the court, in order to retire to this beautiful mansion, where, from time to time, the respect amid praise of men came to seek the marshal, who had fallen into disgrace with the king. The shades of St. Gratien have preserved, we know not what imposing grandeur, which has an irresistible effect. The house of Catinat has been demolished, but not far from the place where it stood you will admire the beautiful mansion, shown here, which is the property of Princess Mathilde.
The Parisian country is so complete, that they have finished by discovering even mineral waters. At the present time, Baden-Baden, Weis-Baden, Vichy, Aix, Plombières, and all those fine rendezvous of amusement and enjoyment which the Pyrenees enclose, have been replaced by the waters of the Lake d’Enghien. The Parisian is naturally a person who will not quit the walls of the city within which he dwells; he has surrounded himself by railroads expressly for this purpose, — not that he may go and seek other nations, but that all nations may come and seek him. The Parisian sees all with one glance; he is everywhere; without having left Paris, he believes to know the whole world by heart. Why, then, do you wish him to disturb himself henceforth? He is resolved not to disturb himself; not even to go to a distance in search of health; health is at his gate; a journey of thirty minutes will place it within his reach. For the true Parisian, the Lake d’Enghien replaces the bleached and ancient wonders of Switzerland. Thanks to this valley of such easy poetry, even the Alps have nothing to attract him ; the voyage round the world appears to him a folly ; and, indeed, what is the use of going so far, in order to find the peaceful joys and the delightful freedom of the country, when you have them close at hand; above all, when these poor, delicate, fragile ladies can find, on the borders of this gently-agitated lake, the rest which is so necessary to them?
Ferrières is a charming village, surrounded with woods. There rises a princely château, the principal summer residence of the Rothschild family. (See page 97.) It was built for the Baron de Rothschild, — "the banker of kings, and king of bankers,"— by the English architect Paxton, on the site of an old castle, once belonging to the Montmorency family. This enormous and noble pile displays so much originality of invention, beauty, and gorgeous magnificence, that it would be hard to condemn it for exuberance in its adornments and want of purity. Besides large saloons, galleries, and the apartments reserved to members of the family, the Château de Ferrières contains eighty complete suits of apartments for as many guests, and stables richly fitted for one hundred horses. It is almost impossible to describe the splendor of this château and its dependencies. We shall merely mention the hall, of immense size, one hundred and twenty feet long and sixty feet high, which occupies all the middle part of the building, and has an open roof. It is splendidly decorated, and contains a library of eight thousand volumes, collections of precious stones and medals, antiquities, works of art, paintings from time most celebrated artists, &c. The park is a chef-d’œuvre of art, seconded by every natural elegance.
Not far from Ferrières, and near the same station of Ozouer-la-Ferrière, on the railroad from Paris to Muihausen, is seen the stately Château of Armainvilliers, which belongs to MM. Péreire, the rich bankers. It is built in the best style of the end of the seventeenth century. It is surrounded by a beautiful and extensive park, which is kept in admirable order, well stocked with game, and affords charming and shady walks in every direction.
Of the great houses of former days, under Louis XIV. and Louis XV., very few are now standing; it is with difficulty that you can trace the site and some few outlines of what formerly existed. The Château de Chantilly is no longer the place described by Mme. de Sévigné; the estate of Fouquet, the Château de Vaux, celebrated by La Fontaine, has become a farm; and of the Château de Sceaux, — the beloved abode of the witty and ambitious Duchess de Maine, — all that remains is a small pavilion, and the beautiful garden, now owned by the manager of a public ball.
Fontainebleau is not only the most ancient of all royal residences of France, but the most rich also in those historic remembrances that bestow an interest — almost a sentiment — upon every object around and within it. Whether this spot, so long the loved abode of royalty, derives its agreeably-sounding name from its limpid waters, or from a favorite dog named "Bleau," whose history, like that of Liewellyn’s greyhound, is entwined with the domestic annals of the Capets, remains involved in mystery; but so far as the year 1169, Fontainebleau was known by its present name, and was even then the seat of royalty, whence decrees were issued that controlled, without resistance, the action of the people. St. Louis was as fond of "his desert," as he styled the Forest of Fontainebleau, as any, of his predecessors; and he made large additions to the structure itself, one wing or pavilion of which, still preserved, is distinguished by his name. It was here that this monarch, laboring under a painful malady, called his son Philip to his bedside, and said, "I beseech you love your people; for I should prefer a Scot from Scotland, who would govern well and loyally, to you, if you ruled with obvious folly." The present edifice was almost entirely constructed and decorated by French and Italian architects, sculptors, and artists, under Francis I. Henry IV. afterwards made considerable additions to the building, but since that period it has undergone little change. It was a favorite residence of Napoleon I., and here, in 1814, he signed his abdication. Much neglected after the Restoration, Fontainebleau was magnificently repaired by Louis Philippe and Napoleon III.
Several historical associations attach to the Palace besides those already mentioned. In 1602, Henry IV. caused his companion-in-arms, Marshal Biron, to be arrested here on a charge of high treason, and a month later to be beheaded in the Bastille. Here, in 1654, Queen Christina of Sweden, the suspicious queen, the jealous woman, caused her unfortunate secretary and favorite, Count Monaldeschi, to be assassinated, to the great scandal of the Court of France, which was alarmed and indignant at such ungoverned fury. Here, also, in 1685, Louis XIV. signed the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, by which Henry IV. had granted toleration to the Protestants.
It is remarkable that the exterior designs of Fontainebleau and Versailles — the former especially — are wholly unworthy of the magnificence and lustre which their interiors display. Fontainebleau is a tasteless assemblage of low brick buildings, pierced with numerous windows, and surrounded by spacious old-fashioned pleasure grounds. It includes six regular squares: the first, through which is the principal entrance, is called the Court of the Cheval Blanc; the Court des Fontaines, the Oval Court, or Donjon, the Court of the Orangery, the Court of the Prince, and the Kitchen Court, follow in succession. Surrounding the Oval Court are seen the most ancient parts of the palace.
To penetrate into the palace of so many absolute kings, we must take care to have with us the thread of Ariadne; for once entered there, you will soon lose yourself. It is the most wonderful labyrinth that ever astonished human imagination. There is nothing but vast galleries, immense saloons, amphitheatres, giants’ staircases, mysterious passages, secret retreats concealed in the walls, balconies of marble and bronze. All times, all places, all arts, all monarchs are represented within these walls; to traverse the palace is a whole journey. The Gallery of Henry II., or “Salle des Fêtes," which is the finest apartment in the palace, is one hundred and one feet in length, and thirty-three feet in breadth. It was erected by Francis I., and magnificently decorated by Henry II. for Diane de Poitiers. Her emblem, a Half Moon, and the initials H and D, frequently occur. The mythological paintings were executed by Primaticcio, and afterwards retouched by Alaux. The chimney-piece, in white marble, is a fine work by Rondelet. The ceiling is composed of twenty-seven concave octagon caissons; they contain in bass-relief, upon a ground of gold and silver, in some, the arms of Henry II., in others, roses and crescents intermixed. An inlaid floor of mosaic work, composed of native woods of divers shades, contributes to make Henry II.’s saloon one of the handsomest that can be found in Europe; and it is yet more interesting from having preserved all the characters of the epoch in which it was constructed, and the impress of the artists who have labored to decorate and embellish it.
The artists, the poets, the romancers, the lovers, — those great poets, — have, from time immemorial, made the Forest of Fontainebleau the empire of their dreams. You ought to see it in the morning, at a very early hour, when the bird sings, when the sun shines, when all the points of view extend themselves to infinity before your delighted eyes; when all those stones, heaped beneath those aged trees, take a thousand fantastic forms, and give to the forest the appearance of the plain on which the Titans fought against Heaven. O, what terrible and touching histories, stories of hunting and of love, of treason and of vengeance, this aged forest has covered with its shadow, — an ancient, silent, profound shadow, — and which is reached by no other noise than the stag braying, the bird singing, the horn resounding through the woods!
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© 2001, by Lynn Waterman