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TRAVELS-FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
LETTERS FROM GENEVA AND FRANCE,
Written during a residence of between two and three years in different parts of those
countries, and addressed to a lady in Virginia.
In the parts of Paris we are now speaking of, the streets are narrow and dirty, and crowded with carts and carriages, and persons on foot, who all seem intent on some business or other:the houses are nearly of one appearance, and there are now and then small shops and stalls, with broken victuals for sale, and of sorts which suppose very humble appetites and very great poverty, in those who can be purchasers of them. Beggars are to be met in every part of the city; some of them keep changing to and from different paris of a street, while others have their stations, which they take as regularly as a sentinel mounts guard; stories are told of their meetings of an evening, and of their carousals, but I generally considered such relations as evasions by which an uncharitable disposition conceals itself. How these beggars really subsist is a mystery, for whatever private chariiy there may be, there is no place on earth where charity shows itself less in public, or where the government is less solicitous about the maintenance of the poor. There are many other distressing objects in the streets who are seen raking in obscure corners for rags and scraps of paper, and bones and pieces of broken glass, which they sell by weight at certain manufactories ; they are generally women and frequently advanced in life; I have seen one put a piece of bread into her mouth which she had uncovered in ihe collected sweepings of the street, and receive a few sous which were put into her hand with all the gratitude of a mind that felt the merciful inter: ference of Providence to protect her from starving. Our present course will conduct us, if you follow the thread, 10 the head of the Rue de la Monnoie, which leads up from the Pont Neuf, where the Rue Betizi enters it at right angles; it was in this street, and two doors from the north corner, where it joins the Rue de la Monnoie, that Admiral Coligny resided at the time of the St. Barthelemy. To judge from what the present inhabitants assert, and indeed from the appearance of the house, not the least alteration
has taken place there. I entered the court yard, and stood under what had been the admiral's chamber window, and probably on the spot on which this gallant gentleman once lay extended: he was a man of exalted merit, a stranger in a very corrupt age to every base and selfish motive, and having embraced the protestant religion, which others made a pretext of, from reflection and conviction, he was determined to adhere to it at every risk; in times of peace his mind was fertile in expedients for the good of the people, nor was he less distinguished in war. Above all the commanders of his time he could rise terrible to his enemies after a defeat; he knew how to preserve an army unbroken, though defeated, and could infuse his own unconquerable courage into the breasts of others. It is melancholy that the genius and spirit of this distinguished character should have found their principal employment in the horrors of a civil war, and that the remains of such a hero should have been treated with indignity by such a man as the Duke of Guise, who was himself one of the most distinguished characters of the age he lived in; men like those two with about half a dozen of their friends and followers united, might have fixe ed the prosperity of their country upon a basis not easily to be shaken. The president, Henault, whom I have made great use of in all I have said to you about France, observes, that we are apt to complain of the dearth of great men, and to regret those times when a number of illustrious names were conspicuous at the same period; great and important events prepared with genius, promoted by all the arts of human ingenuity, and executed with courage, are sure to attract our attention most powerfully; but it frequently happens that the people are far from being rendered happier by a circumstance so agreeable to our imagination. When several individuals, men of high abilities and of great power lay claim at the same time to an equal share in the administration of the government, they generally begin by weakening and by subverting the supreme authority. The Duke of Guise supported by his four aspiring brothers, all equally valiant with himself and possessing the greatest influence by means of their splendid connexions, bore down everything before him. There are many interesting anec. dotes related of those times to be found only in books which are very little read, that might amuse you ; but I have already too often wandered from my purpose, and must conduct you down the Rue de la Monnoie to the extremity of the Pont Neuf, where the torrent of human life seems rolling along without intermission. Hundreds are to be seen here moving in all directions, and amid a constant noise of carriages; there are pedlers offering sometimes a variety of little articles at the same price for each, and hawkers holding out the last bulletin for sale, or reading it to a large circle, and sellers of oranges, and of ready made clothes, and of articles to eat all hot from the frying-pan, and of old books, or of pieces of carpeting, or of prints, strung upon a twine, and there are signs very neatly painted in which you are told that the citizen such a one is ready to run of a message for you, and that he or his wife will shear a lap-dog, or crop his ears, or cure him of the mange ; and to make up the group there are beggars at their stands, and the keepers of movable gaming-tables, and musicians, conjurers, and mountebanks selling physic, and lemonadiers, and fortunes tellers. The lemonadier is a man very neatly and rather fantasti. cally dressed, who has a large urn upon bis back, from which he offers liquorice and water, and sometimes lemonade to all that pass. Some of these highway musicians perform upon a variety of instruments at the same time, but I could not perceive that they made anything. As the celebrated Elvion of the Feydeau Theatre was passing here once with his wife, they were struck with the distress of a poor musician who was doing his best to attract attention upon an ordinary piano forte, which he accompanied with his voice, and determined both of them to indulge the frolic of doing a good action. Elvion sat down to the piano and played some favourite air; the lady held a hat out, and half a dozen louis were soon collected for one who perhaps hardly in his life before had ever seen so much money. It must have been some anecdote of this sort that gave rise to what we are told by the poets, of the powers of the celebrated Amphion, who was able by the sounds of his harp to move stocks and stones at the building of Thebes. I have been more than once amused in the midst of all this uproar without confusion, to perceive the grave and silent demeanor of the soldier upon guard, who sometimes interferes with a monosyllable as he walks backwards and forwards upon the pavement, but who is generally as calm and as serene as the angel in Addison's famous simile ; by the way I cannot help thinking my application of this figure a better one than the poet's, the hero of the campaign was certainly a very great man, but with all his genius for war, his courage and experience, he is said never to have heard the whistling of a cannon ball without dodging. I have walked frequenuy for half an hour together in the neighbourhood of the Pont Neuf, and have always observed that the fortunetellers seemed most attended to. Their usual mode of proceeding is by a pack of cards, which they shuffle, and then gravely examine, revealing as they happen to be paid, no doubt, and from a glimpse of the truth which they are expert in catching, the future intentions and dispensation of Providence: I have seen some welllooking young women listening with attention to these seers, and heard one of them tell a young man, in whose countenance there was a great deal of anxiety expressed, the nine of hearts shows me that you have been extremely agitated of late, but I see by the ace of spades that you are about to take a litile journey, which will set all to rights again. It is said by those who know Paris, that there are at least fifty fortune-tellers upon the Boulevards between the Vieille rue du Temple and the rue St. Honore ; some have tables before them covered with hieroglyphics and magical figures, and frequently a wheel with different compartments; the person who consults, having mentioned his question, accepts a piece of paper to appearance blank, and places it in a compartment of the wheel, a wbirl is then given to the wheel, and the slip of paper is drawn out with a sentence written on it, which the consultor applies as he can to his own circumstances, and the object of his curiosity: a little chymical knowledge and some acquaintance with mankind enables the fortune teller to have by him a great variety of what may serve as answers, written with a composition which requires the addition of a certain powder to render the characters that are formed by it legible; and this powder is, as you may suppose, communicated in the wheel. Robberies were formerly committed at night on the Pont Neuf and there was a time when a passenger who crossed the Pont de Change after dark was in danger of being thrown into the river; but the police first set on foot by Louis xiv, and since so materially improved, has long ago put an end to such acts of violence. 'It protects the meanest as well as the greatest individual, he is safe from everything but the government, but their infcrior agents are sometimes capricious as well as their great master, and know how to convert
an idle and accidental expression, or a ludicrous epigram into an outrage upon the dignity of the sovereign: in those cases the public know nothing about the mode of proceeding, or degree of punishment, which is frequently extended to banishment, sometimes to a remote part of France, and at others to Cayenne, and in certain cases even to death itself. The individual disappears and is no more spoken of. In proceeding along the key as you must now suppose yourself, you have the gallery of the Louvre, and afterwards that of the Thuilleries on the right and the river on the left, On the opposite side at the corner of the rue de Beaune and the Key Voltaire stands the house once the Marquis de Villette's, and where Voltaire resided on his last visit to Paris; it was there and at the theatre that he enjoyed more of that adoration which is sometimes paid to the illustrious dead, than was ever paid to any man living. He had chosen his apartment in an upper story, and Monsieur de Villette to save him the fatigue of the ascent, had contrived a chair to be raised by a pulley, which conveyed him to it at pleasure, while the adjoining room, which served him as a parlour, was decorated and furnished in imitation of a flower-garden. I am convinced, that the return to Paris after so long an exile of this great patriarch of literature, this apostle of infidelity, and the triumph of his party contributed extremely to that fermentation of the mind which ended in the revolution ; one of his favourites was Condorcet, who, with all the distinction that wit and science could give him, was yet desirous but a year or two before the revolution of being thought a marquis; and of being one of the teachers of the dauphin. He is the same Condorcet whose speeches against the privileged orders and against that very dauphin were afterwards so bitter: but his end was such as must still excite compassion. At the fall of the Girondist party he had been able to conceal himself for six months in Paris, but fearful at length of being discovered, and perhaps tired of confinement he left the city, but was not able to pass the guards, who were posted a little beyond the suburbs, and yet afraid to return : thus situated, he wandered about the adjoining fields, till absolute want of nourishment drove him to enter a public house, where he was immediately suspected, seized, and sent to prison, and as the magistrates who committed him, were mechanics, new to their office, and who had other cares, he was forgotten in the dungeon for twice four-and-twenty hours, and died of hunger. The houses immediately preceding that, once