« AnteriorContinuar »
might order the perpetration of such a deed. It is certain, however, (I have it from such good authority that I may venture to assert jt;) it is certain that his nephew and another young man, who were trans; ferred with him to the Temple, when he was taken, were threatened with the torture, to make them confess some circumstance which the government was desirous of being able to prove ; they were re, solute, however, in their refusal, and afterwards sent to Verdun. If you stretch a thread from the corner of the Rue Corderie, near the Temple, to the centre of the Place Royale, which is not far from the Bastile, you will pass through the middle of the Pont of Paris, which is called the Marais; in Madame de Sevignė's time, it was fashionable to reside there, and La Bruyere mentions its being the ton to go to mass in the Marais. It is at present the peaceful retreat of persons of small fortune, or of such as have become moderately rich elsewhere, and wish to pass the rest of their days in tranquil obscurity. There are few or no equipages in the streets, and not many people; and they, as well as the shops, have an air of belonging to a different age, or a different nation, from every thing that one sees in the Rue St. Honori, or at the Palais Royale. The hours of these quiet people too, are entirely different from those of the other end of the town; they dine at twelve, as their ancestors used to do, and are in bed before the gayer part of Paris have taken their tea. If you follow the thread which I have placed in your hands, it will lead you across the Vieille Rue du Temple, not far from the former Convent of St. Gervais, and near the spot where the Duke of Orleans was assassinated, by the orders of that Duke of Burgundy who was afterwards assassinated himself, at Montereau: he was a handsome, gay and good-humoured man, but indiscreet in his avowed admiration of every face that pleased him, and careless in the recital of his adventures ; it was a circumstance of this sort, that drew down upon him the vengeance of the Duke of Burgundy. The same direction will immediately afterwards, carry you to the Rue Culture Saint Catherine, at the corner of which, and the Rue Franc Bourgeois, stands the Hotel de Carnevalet, where Madame de Sevişnè resided: it is a large and handsome house, with a court-yard in front; it remains precisely as it was in her time, and is let out to a variety of lodgers, who know by tradition, that Madame de Sevignė's apart. ments were on the first floor in front. We entered the court for a moment, and could not but think of Mi. de la Rochefoucault and
Gourville, and Madame de la Fayette, and the amiable and spritely Madame de Coulanges, and the little round man her husband, and of the numbers of high rank, of distinguished beauty, of great abilities, and of singular character, who had entered the same gateway, and gone up the same steps before us, and have since been carried down the stream of time: I am too much indebted for amusement, at various moments of my life, to Madame de Sevignè, not to have paid this mark of respect to her memory; I even regret, that I did not visit the ruins of the Castle of Grignan, notwithstanding the outrages that had taken place there. If ever there was a book for all hours, and for all situations, it is Madame de Sevignè's letters. With hardly any greater effort of the mind, than the lazy exercise of smoaking would require, we enjoy the conversation of an amiable and well-informed woman ; and whether she is sitting by the fire with the Chevalier, and talking of their common interests and of the ways of Providence, or at a supper at Gourville's, or in conversation with Louis XIV, after the play at St. Cyr, or going to visit a sick friend, or going to prayers, or on a journey, we feel ourselves by her side, and make one of the company-here are few people, there are none perhaps, so situated as not to benefit by her advice on a variety of important subjects; and there are few opinions decidedly useful for the regulation of ordinary life, which she has not recommended, and in a very impressive style. It may seem singular, but I hardly ever met with a frenchman or even a Genevan, who was 'acquainted with these letters in any other way, than as a book which had been put into his hands when young, from its affording a good model for letter-writing; there are other books far more important on the government of life, which never acquire their proper weight in our estimation, and from this very circumstance perhaps, of their having been, in some measure, made school-books.
I might now conduct you to the Place Royale, where all is solitude and silence, and to the place the Bastile stood, or to the Arsenal, where an assemblage of gloomy buildings, and some remains of an. cient fortifications are rendered interesting by the name of Sully, or we might visit the great looking-glass manufactory in the Fauxbourg St. Antoine ; but I must refer you for an idea of these, to some printed account, and conduct you to the Quinze Vingt, which is in this quarter of Paris ; it was originally a hospital for the reception of 300 blind people, and liable, as all hospitals are, to very great abuses,
to such as you will see alluded to in Montesquieu's Persian Letters, but is now appropriated to a master and assistants, who have the care and instruction of blind people, who are here taught several useful arts, and soon cease to be a burthen to society. That they should make purses and sticks, and different toys for children, did not surprise me, and I was prepared to find among them some good musicians, and others who were well grounded in the principles of moral and natural philosophy, and in all the usual branches of education. Providence, which has not thought proper that the organs of our senses should be reproduced in case of accident, as happens to some of the reptile and insect race, has bestowed a capability of improvement, that enables the senses, which remain, to supply, in great measure, the loss of those we may be deprived of; the ears, and even the sense of smelling, acquire in cases of blindness, a degree of increased sensibility, but it is the touch which appears most wonder. fully improved; it becomes so delicately sensible of every modification of form, that the blind may be said to see by their fingers; geography is taught by maps in relief; and I saw a little girl of twelve years of age, do a sum in the Rule of Three, with the utmost accuracy; it was proposed by one of the audience, and contained some fractions; the figures she made use of were at the extremity of pieces of metal, larger and longer than printers' types; these she selected from a heap before her, as they were proper for stating the question, and then added others in the same manner, confining them in a moveable frame, as she proceeded, and feeling their extremities from time to time, with the action of a person who plays upon a piano forte. In one corner of the room was a printing-press, and a compositor and workmen busily employed, nor would it have been possible to have judged, either from their manner of working, or their work, that they were blind, except that the compositor had a person who read to him : they have another mode of printing, peculiarly adapted 10 the use of the institution; the characters being deeply impressed on the surface of the paper, appear in projection on the other side, and the blind musician who wishes to study an air, or any one of them who is desirous of consoling himself with some treatise of devotion, or has perhaps received a letter from a friend, for the same mode is applied to writing, turns over the paper, and reads backwards with his fingers. But if sight can almost be dispensed with in the usual
course of ordinary life, if a person may become as good a scholar, and as good a mechanick without sight as with, it must yet be confessed, to the disadvantage of the Quinze Vingt, that the loss of the organ itself is a sad defect to the human face. I never, I thought, at the time, had seen so many ugly and ill-looking people brought together before: their manner of carrying their heads is ungraceful, it is merely adapted to the sense of hearing, and there is something extremely awkward in the walk of a person, who goes groping his way, or runs up against every door-post. The conductors of this in. stitution deserve a great deal of credit, nor should the Emperor be without his share of praise ; he allows a yearly sum and the use of the buildings, and seems really desirous of promoting the prosperity of the establishment. You must now stretch your thread from the center of the Place Royale to the northern corner of the Place de Greve, and again thence to the northern extremity of the Palace of the Thuilleries. The first course will carry you across the Rue de la Tesseranderie. It was in the second story of a house about mid. way of this street that Madame de Maintenon lived with her first hus. band, Scarron, whose gayety and good humour were proof against the most trying calamities. Scarron is an author not sufficiently known perhaps: when he means to be burlesque, he is ridiculous to oxcess, but his Comical Romance contains some interesting and many laughable scenes, and led the way to that humour, those well. described incidents of village manners, those scenes of midnight confusion and of fighting in country taverns for which Fielding and Smollet have been since so conspicuous. From being the wife of Scarron, to whose table the guests brought each a dish when they were invited to supper, from soliciting a pension of 251 a year, and being glad to get a bed at the house of Ninon de l'Enclos, to residing in the Royal apartments of Versailles as wife of Louis xiv, the change was greater than any thing known of in France before the Revolution. But Madame de Maintenon's letters convince us that this wonderful transition by no means contributed to her happiness; and such also would probably be the result, if we could know the secret history of the Thuilleries, and of St. Cloud. The principal ornament of the Place de Greve, is the Maison de Ville, or Town House; it is a large and heavy building, in a style of ancient architecture, and such in every respect, as would attract but little attention, were it not for the interesting events which the view of it is attended with the recotlection of. It was from the balcony of the Maison de Ville, that the King heard what seemed the joyful and affectionate shouts of the people, for the last time in his life ; it was here that Mr. Necker showed himself, after his second return from exile, when he made so humane a use of his influence; and it was in the porch below, that the heroines of the Fronde were placed, dressed out for the occasion to the greatest advantage, with their ladies in attendance, and their knights and gentlemen, amid trumpets, violins, and warlike instruments, and the shouts of the populace, when a convoy of provisions, originally intended for the royal army, but which had been intercepted, passed in a sort of triumph across the Greve. The first executions which gave the mob of Paris a taste for blood, took place at the corner of a neighbouring street, and it was at the Maison de Ville, that the party of Robespierre made their last stand in 1794. He had been rescued by some of his adherents, and carried there as to the strong hold of the Commune, which had for sometime ex. ercised a species of sovereignty in Paris, and consequently, over the whole republic. I have been told by a person who was in the crowd when the committee from the convention passed through, that it was by no means decided what was to be the cry, whether for or against the Convention or the Commune, till one of the gens d'armes, who had followed the committee without any particular orders, levelled a pistol at Robespierre as he entered the hall, and shot the tyrant in the face. It is easier to describe the person of Robespierre from the accounts which have been transmitted of him, than to conceive'what his motives could have been for so much cruelty and injustice. He was small, not ill made, pale, with a face expressive of talents, blended with malignity, and was always neatly dressed and powdered : one great source of his popularity originally and the foundation of his power afterwards, was an idea very generally prevalent, that he was of incorruptible integrity in money-matters ; it appears however, that without any salary or any known resources, he sometimes gave expensive entertainments, and that he had lodged a sum of money in a foreign country ; he must have been ever internally miserable, for hatred and envy were the ruling passions of his soul, he knew himself to be execrated, and sometimes received anonymous letters, which must have struck him with horror. I know nothing so frightfully eloquent as one or two of them which were found among his papers and published after his death. The Greve had served