TRAVELS IN FRANCE,
DURING THE YEARS
RESIDENCE AT PARIS DURING THE STAY OF THE ALLIED ARMIES,
AT THE PERIOD OF THE LANDING OF
IN TWO VOLUMES.
SECOND EDITION, CORRECTED AND ENLARGED.
PRINTED FOR MACREDIE, SKELLY, AND MUCKERSY, 52. PRINCE'S STREET;
LONGMAN, HURST. REES, ORME, AND BROWN; BLACK,
PARRY, AND CO. T. UNDERWOOD, LONDON;
AND J. CUMMING, DUBLIN.
[Transcriber's note: The original spellings have been maintained; the French spelling and accentuation have not been corrected, but left as they appear in the original.]
A Second Edition of the following Work having been demanded by the Booksellers, the Author has availed himself of the opportunity to correct many verbal inaccuracies, to add some general reflections, and to alter materially those parts of it which were most hastily prepared for the press, particularly the Journal in the Second Volume, by retrenching a number of particulars of partial interest, and substituting more general observations on the state of the country, supplied by his own recollection and that of his fellow-travellers.
He has only farther to repeat here, what he stated in the Advertisement to the first Edition, that the whole materials of the Publication were collected in France, partly by himself, during a residence which the state of his health had made adviseable in Provence, and partly by some friends who had preceded him in their visit to France, and were at Paris during the time when it was first occupied by the Allied Armies;—and that he has submitted it to the world, merely in the hope of adding somewhat to the general stock of information regarding the situation, character, and prospects of the French people, which it is so desirable that the English Public should possess.
CHAPTER I. Journey to Paris
II. Paris—The Allied Armies
III. Paris—Its Public Buildings
IV. Environs of Paris
V. Paris—The Louvre
VI. Paris—The French Character and Manners
VII. Paris—The Theatres
VIII. Paris—The French Army and Imperial Government
IX. Journey to Flanders
CHAPTER I. Journey to Aix
II. Residence at Aix, and Journey to Bourdeaux
III. State of France under Napoleon—Anecdotes of him
IV. State of France under Napoleon—continued
V. State of Society and Manners in France
Register of the Weather
JOURNEY TO PARIS.
We passed through Kent in our way to France, on Sunday the first of May 1814. This day's journey was very delightful. The whole scenery around us,—the richness of the fields and woods, then beginning to assume the first colours of spring; the extent and excellence of the cultivation; the thriving condition of the towns, and the smiling aspect of the neat and clean villages through which we passed; the luxuriant bloom of the fruit-trees surrounding them; the number of beautiful villas adapted to the accommodation of the middle ranks of society, the crowds of well-dressed peasantry going to and returning from church; the frank and cheerful countenances of the men, and beauty of the women—all presented a most pleasing spectacle. If we had not proposed to cross the channel, we should have compared all that we now saw with our recollections of Scotland; and the feeling of the difference, although it might have increased our admiration, would perhaps have made us less willing to acknowledge it. But when we were surveying England with a view to a comparison with France, the difference of its individual provinces was overlooked;—we took a pride in the apparent happiness and comfort of a people, of whom we knew nothing more, than that they were our countrymen; and we rejoiced, that the last impression left on our minds by the sight of our own country, was one which we already anticipated that no other could efface.
Our passage to Calais was rendered very interesting, by the number of Frenchmen who accompanied us. Some of these were emigrants, who had spent the best part of their lives in exile; the greater part were prisoners of various ranks, who had been taken at different periods of the war. There was evidently the greatest diversity of character, of prospects, of previous habits, and of political and moral sentiments among these men; the only bond that connected them was, the love of their common country; and at a moment for which they had been so long and anxiously looking, this was sufficient to repress all jealousy and discord, and to unite them cordially and sincerely in the sentiment which was expressed, with true French enthusiasm, by one of the party, as we left the harbour of Dover,—"Voila notre chere France,—A present nous sommes tous amis!"
As we proceeded, the expression of their emotions, in words, looks, and gestures, was sometimes extremely pleasing, at other times irresistibly ludicrous, but always characteristic of a people whose natural feelings are quick and lively, and who have no idea of there being any dignity or manliness in repressing, or concealing them. When the boat approached the French shore, a fine young officer, who had been one of the most amusing of our companions, leapt from the prow, and taking up a handful of sand, kissed it with an expression of ardent feeling and enthusiastic joy, which it was delightful to observe.
It is only on occasions of this kind, that the whole strength of the feeling of patriotism is made known. In the ordinary routine of civil life, this feeling is seldom awakened. In the moments of national enthusiasm and exultation, it is often mingled with others. But in witnessing the emotions of the French exiles and captives, on returning to their wasted and dishonoured country, we discerned the full force of those moral ties, by which, even in the most afflicting circumstances of national humiliation and disaster, the hearts of men are bound to the land of their fathers.
We landed, on the evening of the 2d, about three miles from Calais, and walked into the town. The appearance of the country about Calais does not differ materially from that in the immediate neighbourhood of Dover, which is much less fertile than the greater part of Kent; but the cottages are decidedly inferior to the English. The first peculiarity that struck us was the grotesque appearance of the Douaniers, who came to examine us on the coast; and when we had passed through the numerous guards, and been examined at the guard-houses, previously to our admission into the town, the gates of which had been shut, we had already observed, what subsequent observation confirmed, that the air and manner which we call military are in very little estimation among the French soldiers. The general appearance of the French soldiery cannot be better described than it has been by Mr Scott: "They seemed rather the fragments of broken-up gangs, than the remains of a force that had been steady, controlled, and lawful." They have almost uniformly, officers and men, much expression of intelligence, and often of ferocity, in their countenances, and much activity in their movements; but there are few of them whom an Englishman, judging from his recollection of English soldiers, would recognise to belong to a regular army.
The lower orders of inhabitants in Calais hailed the arrival of the English strangers with much pleasure, loudly proclaiming, however, the interested motives of their joy. A number of blackguard-looking men gathered round us, recommending their own services, and different hotels, with much vehemence, and violent altercations among themselves; and troops of children followed, crying, "Vivent les Anglois—Give me one sous." In our subsequent travels, we were often much amused by the importunities of the children, who seem to beg, in many places, without being in want, and are very ingenious in recommending themselves to travellers; crying first, Vive le Roi; if that does not succeed, Vive l'Empereur; that failing, Vive le Roi d'Angleterre; and professing loyalty to all the sovereigns of Europe, rather than give up the hopes of a sous.
Having reached the principal inn, we found that all the places in the diligence for Paris were taken for the ten following days. By this time, in consequence of the communication with France being opened, several new coaches had been established between London and Dover, but no such measure had been thought of on the road between Calais and Paris. There was no want of horses, as we afterwards found, belonging to the inns on the roads, but this seemed to indicate strongly want of ready money among the innkeepers. However, there were at Calais a number of "voitures" of different kinds, which had been little used for several years; one of which we hired from a "magasin des chaises," which reminded us of the Sentimental Journey, and set out at noon on the 3d, for Paris, accompanied by a French officer who had been a prisoner in Scotland, and to whose kindness and attentions we were much indebted.
We were much struck with the appearance of poverty and antiquity about Calais, which afforded a perfect contrast to the Kentish towns; and all the country towns, through which we afterwards passed in France, presented the same general character. The houses were larger than those of most English country towns, but they were all old; in few places out of repair, but nowhere newly built, or even newly embellished. There were no newly painted houses, windows, carriages, carts, or even sign-posts; the furniture, and all the interior arrangements of the inns, were much inferior to those we had left; their external appearance stately and old-fashioned; the horses in the carriages were caparisoned with white leather, and harnessed with ropes; the men who harnessed them were of mean appearance, and went about their work as if they had many other kinds of work to do. There were few carts, and hardly any four-wheeled carriages to be seen in the streets; and it was obvious that the internal communications of this part of the country were very limited. There appeared to be few houses fitted for the residence of persons of moderate incomes, and hardly any villas about the town to which they might retire after giving up business. All the lower ranks of people, besides being much worse looking than the English, were much more coarsely clothed, and they seemed utterly indifferent about the appearance of their dress. Very few of the men wore beaver hats, and hardly two had exactly the same kind of covering for their heads.
The dress of the women of better condition, particularly their high-crowned bonnets, and the ruffs about their necks, put us in mind of the pictures of old English fashions. The lower people appeared to bear a much stronger resemblance to some of the Highland clans, and to the Welch, than to any other inhabitants of Britain.
On the road between Calais and Boulogne, we began to perceive the peculiarities of the husbandry of this part of France. These are just what were described by Arthur Young; and although it is possible, as the natives uniformly affirm, that the agriculture has improved since the revolution, this improvement must be in the details of the operations, and in the extent of land under tillage, not in the principles of the art. The most striking to the eye of a stranger are the want of enclosures, the want of pasture lands and of green crops, and the consequent number of bare fallows, on many of which a few sheep and long-legged lean hogs are turned out to pick up a miserable subsistence. The common rotation appears to be a three year's one; fallow, wheat, and oats or barley. On this part of the road, the ground is almost all under tillage, but the soil is poor; there is very little wood, and the general appearance of the country is therefore very bleak. In the immediate neighbourhood of Boulogne, it is better clothed, and varied by some pasture fields and gardens. The ploughs go with wheels. They are drawn by only two horses, but are clumsily made, and evidently inferior to the Scotch ploughs. They, as well as the carts, are made generally of green unpeeled wood, like those in the Scotch Highlands, and are never painted. This absence of all attempt to give an air of neatness or smartness to any part of their property—this indifference as to its appearance, is a striking characteristic of the French people over a great part of the country.
It is likewise seen, as before observed, in the dress of the lower orders; but here it is often combined with a fantastic and ludicrous display of finery. An English dairy-maid or chamber-maid, ploughman or groom, shopkeeper or mechanic, has each a dress consistent in its parts, and adapted to the situation and employment of the wearer. But a country girl in France, whose bed-gown and petticoat are of the coarsest materials, and scantiest dimensions, has a pair of long dangling ear-rings, worth from 30 to 40 francs. A carter wears an opera hat, and a ballad-singer struts about in long military boots; and a blacksmith, whose features are obscured by the smoke and dirt which have been gathering on them for weeks, and whose clothes hang about him in tatters, has his hair newly frizzled and powdered, and his long queue plaited on each side, all down his back, with the most scrupulous nicety.
Akin to this shew of finery in some parts of their dress, utterly inconsistent with the other parts of it, and with their general condition, is the disposition of the lower orders in France, even in their intercourse with one another, to ape the manners of their superiors. "An English peasant," as Mr Scott has well remarked, "appears to spurn courtesy from him, in a bitter sense of its inapplicability to his condition." This feeling is unknown in France. A French soldier hands his "bien aimee" into a restaurateur's of the lowest order and supplies her with fruits and wine, with the grace and foppery of a Parisian "petit maitre," and with the gravity of a "philosophe."—"Madame," says a scavenger in the streets of Paris, laying his hand on his heart, and making a low bow to an old woman cleaning shoes at the door of an inn, "J'espere que vous vous portez bien."—"Monsieur," she replies, dropping a curtsey with an air of gratitude and profound respect, "Vous me faites d'honneur; je me porte a merveille."
This peculiarity of manner in the lower orders, will generally, it is believed, be found connected with their real degradation and insignificance in the eyes of their superiors. It is precisely because they are not accustomed to look with respect to those of their own condition, and because their condition is not respected by others, that they imitate the higher ranks. An English coachman or stable-boy is taught to believe, that a certain demeanour befits his situation; and he will certainly expose himself to more sneers and animadversions, by assuming the manners of the rank next above him in society, than the highest peer of the realm will by assuming his. But Frenchmen of the same rank are fain to seek that respectability from manner, which is denied to the lowness of their condition, and the vulgarity of their occupation; and they therefore assume the manner which is associated in their minds, and in the minds of their observers, with situations acknowledged to be respectable.
It is also to be observed, that the power of ridicule, which has so much influence in the formation of manner, is much less in France than in England. The French have probably more relish for true wit than any other people; but their perception of humour is certainly not nearly so strong as that of our countrymen. Their ridicule is seldom excited by the awkward attempts of a stranger to speak their language, and as seldom by the inconsistencies which appear to us ludicrous in the dress and behaviour of their countrymen.
These causes, operating gradually for a length of time, have probably produced that remarkable politeness of manners which is so pleasing to a stranger, in a number of the lower orders in France, and which appears so singular at the present time, as revolutionary ideas, military habits, and the example of a military court, have given a degree of roughness, and even ferocity, to the manners of many of the higher orders of Frenchmen, with which it forms a curious contrast. It is, however, in its relation to Englishmen at least, a fawning, cringing, interested politeness; less truly respectable than the obliging civility of the common people in England, and in substance, if not in appearance, still farther removed from the frank, independent, disinterested courtesy of the Scottish Highlanders.
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Our entry into Boulogne was connected with several striking circumstances. To an Englishman, who, for many years, had heard of the mighty preparations which were made by the French in the port of Boulogne for the invasion of this country, the first view of this town could not but be peculiarly interesting. We accordingly got out of our voiture as quickly as possible, and walked straight to the harbour. Here the first objects that presented themselves were, on one side, the last remains of the grand flotilla, consisting of a few hulks, dismantled and rotting in the harbour; on the other side, the Prussian soldiers drawn up in regiments on the beach. Nothing could have recalled to our minds more strongly the strength of that power which our country had so long opposed, nor the magnificent result which had at length attended her exertions. The forces destined for the invasion, and which were denominated by anticipation the army of England, had been encamped around the town. The characteristic arrogance—the undoubting anticipation of victory—the utter thoughtlessness—the unsinking vivacity of the French soldiery, were then at the highest pitch. Some little idea of the gay and light-hearted sentiments with which they contemplated the invasion of England, may be formed from the following song, which was sung to us with unrivalled spirit and gesticulation, as we came in sight of Boulogne, by our fellow-traveller, who had himself served in the army of England, and who informed us it was then commonly sung in the ranks.
Francais! le bal va se r'ouvrir, Et vous aimez la danse, L'Allemande vient de finir, Mais l'Anglaise commence.
D'y figurer tous nous Francais Seront parbleu bien aises, Car s'ils n'aiment pas les Anglais, Ils aiment les Anglaises.
D'abord par le pas de Calais Il faut entrer en danse, Le son des instrumens Francais Marquera la cadence;
Et comme les Anglais ne scanroient Que danser les Anglaises, Bonaparte leur montrera Les figures Francaises.
Allons mes amis de grand rond, En avant, face a face, Francais le bas, restez d'a plomb, Anglais changez les places.
Vous Monsieur Pitt vous balancez, Formez la chaine Anglaise, Pas de cote—croisez—chassez— C'est la danse Francaise!
The humour of this song depends on the happy application of the names of the French dances, and the terms employed in them, to the subjects on which it is written, the conclusion of the German campaigns, and the meditated invasion of England.
The Prussians who were quartered at Boulogne, and all the adjoining towns and villages, belonged to the corps of General Von York. Most of the infantry regiments were composed in part of young recruits, but the old soldiers, and all the cavalry, had a truly military appearance; and their swarthy weather-beaten countenances, their coarse and patched, but strong and serviceable dresses and accoutrements, the faded embroidery of their uniforms, and the insignia of orders of merit with which almost all the officers, and many of the men, were decorated, bore ample testimony to their participation in the labours and the honours of the celebrated army of Silesia.
Some of them who spoke French, when we enquired where they had been, told us, in a tone of exultation, rather than of arrogance, that they had entered Paris—"le sabre a la main."
The appearance of the country is considerably better in Picardy than in Artois, but the general features do not materially vary until you reach the Oise. The peasantry seem to live chiefly in villages, through which the road passes, and the cottages composing which resemble those of Scotland more than of England. They are generally built in rows; many of them are white-washed, but they are very dirty, and have generally no gardens attached to them; and a great number of the inhabitants seem oppressed with poverty to a degree unknown in any part of Britain. The old and infirm men and women who assembled round our carriage, when it stopped in any of these villages, to ask for alms, appeared in the most abject condition; and so far from observing, as one English traveller has done, that there are few beggars in France, it appeared to us that there are few inhabitants of many of these country villages who are ashamed to beg.
To this unfavourable account of the aspect of this part of France, there are, however, exceptions: We were struck with the beauty of the village of Nouvion, between Montreuil and Abbeville, which resembles strongly the villages in the finest counties of England: The houses here have all gardens surrounding them, which are the property of the villagers. In the neighbourhood of Abbeville, and of Beauvais, there are also some neat villages; and the country around these towns is rich, and well cultivated, and beautifully diversified with woods and vineyards; and, in general, in advancing southwards, the country, though still uninclosed, appears more fertile and better clothed. Many of the villages are surrounded with orchards, and long rows of fruit-trees extend from some of them for miles together along the sides of the roads; long regular rows of elms and Lombardy poplars are also very common, particularly on the road sides; and, in some places, chateaux are to be seen, the situation of which is generally delightful; but most of them are uninhabited, or inhabited by poor people, who do not keep them in repair; and their deserted appearance contributes even more than the straight avenues of trees, and gardens laid out in the Dutch taste, which surround them, to confirm the impression of antiquity which is made on the mind of an Englishman, by almost all that he sees in travelling through France.
The roads in this, as in many other parts of the country, are paved in the middle, straight, and very broad, and appear adapted to a much more extensive intercourse than now exists between the different provinces.
The country on the banks of the Oise, (which we crossed at Beaumont), and from thence to Paris, is one of the finest parts of France. The road passes, almost the whole way, through a majestic avenue of elm trees: Instead of the continual recurrence of corn fields and fallows, the eye is here occasionally relieved by the intervention of fields of lucerne and saintfoin, orchards and vineyards; the country is rich, well clothed with wood, and varied with rising grounds, and studded with chateaux; there are more carriages on the roads and bustle in the inns, and your approach to the capital is very obvious. Yet there are strong marks of poverty in the villages, which contain no houses adapted to the accommodation of the middling ranks of society; the soil is richer, but the implements of agriculture, and the system of husbandry, are very little better than in Picardy: the cultivation, every where tolerable, is nowhere excellent; there are no new farm-houses or farm-steadings; no signs of recent agricultural improvements; and the chateaux, in general, still bear the aspect of desertion and decay.
This last peculiarity of French scenery is chiefly owing to the great subdivision of property which has taken place in consequence of the confiscation of church lands, and properties of the noblesse and emigrants, and of the subsequent sale of the national domains, at very low or even nominal prices, to the lower orders of the peasantry. To such a degree has this subdivision extended, that in many parts of France there is no proprietor of land who does not labour with his own hands in the cultivation of his property. The influence of this state of property on the prosperity of France, and the gradual changes which it will undergo in the course of time, will form an interesting study for the political economist; but in the mean time, it will almost prevent the possibility of collecting an adequate number of independent and enlightened men to represent the landed interest of France in any system of national representation.
In travelling from Calais to Paris, we did not observe so great a want of men in the fields and villages as we had been led to expect. The men whom we saw, however, were almost all above the age of the conscription. In several places we saw women holding the plough; but in general, the proportion of women to men employed in the fields, appeared hardly greater than may be seen during most of the operations of husbandry in the best cultivated districts of Scotland. On inquiry among the peasants, we found the conscription, and the whole of Bonaparte's system of government, held in much abhorrence, particularly among the women; yet they did not appear to feel it so deeply as we had anticipated; and of him, individually, they were more disposed to speak in terms of ridicule than of indignation. "Il est parti pour l'ile d'Elbe (said they)—bon voyage!" It was obvious that public affairs, even in those critical moments, occupied much less of their attention than of persons of the same rank in England: their spirits are much less easily depressed; and it was easy to see that their domestic affections are less powerful. The men shewed much jealousy of the allied troops: said they were superior to the French only in numbers; and often repeated, that one French soldier was equal to two Russians.
Although the old men and women whom we saw in the villages were generally in the most abject condition, yet the labourers employed in the fields appeared nearly as well dressed as the corresponding class in England; their wages were stated to be, over most of the country, from one franc to 25 sous a-day, and in the immediate neighbourhood of Paris, to be as high as two, or even three francs. In some places, we saw them dining on bread, pork, and cyder; but the scarcity of live stock was such, that it was impossible to suppose that they usually enjoyed so good a fare. The interior of the cottages appeared, generally, to be ill furnished.
Every village and town through which we passed between Boulogne and Paris contained a number of the allied troops. At Beauvais, a town remarkable for its singular appearance, being almost entirely built of wood, and likewise for the beauty of its cathedral, the choir of which is reckoned the finest in France, we were first gratified with the sight of some hundreds of Russians, horse and foot, under arms. These troops were of the finest description, and belonged to the corps of the celebrated Wigtenstein.
We enquired of many of the lower people, in the towns and villages through which we passed, concerning the conduct of the allied troops in their quarters, and the answers were almost uniformly—from the men, "Ils se comportent bien;" (frequently with the addition, "mais ils mangent comme des diables:")—and from the women, "Ils sont de bons enfans." We had very frequent opportunities of remarking the truth of the observation, that "women have less bitterness against the enemies of their country than men." The Parisian ladies adopted fashions from the uniforms of almost all the allied troops whom they saw in Paris; many of them were exceedingly anxious for opportunities of seeing the Emperor of Russia, and the most distinguished leaders of the armies that had conquered France; and those who were acquainted with officers of rank belonging to these armies appeared, on all occasions, to be highly flattered with the attentions they received from them. The same was observable in the conduct of the lower ranks. In the suburbs of Paris, and in the neighbouring villages, where many of the allied troops were quartered, they appeared always on the best terms with the female inhabitants, and were often to be seen assisting them in their work, playing at the battledore and shuttlecock with them in the streets, or strolling in their company along the banks of the Seine, and through the woods of Belleville or St Cloud, evidently to the satisfaction of both parties. Much must be allowed for the national levity of the French; yet it may be doubted, whether the officers and soldiers of a victorious army are ever, in the first instance, very obnoxious to the females, even of a vanquished country.
PARIS—THE ALLIED ARMIES.
To those whose attention had been long fixed on the great political revulsion which had brought the wandering tribes of the Wolga and the Don into the heart of France, and whose minds had been incessantly occupied for many months previous to the time of which we speak, (as the minds of almost all Englishmen had been), with wishes for the success, and admiration of the exploits, of the brave troops who then occupied Paris, it may naturally be supposed, that even all the wonders of that capital were, in the first instance, objects of secondary consideration. It was not until our curiosity had been satisfied by the sight of the Emperor Alexander, the Duke of Wellington, Marshal Blucher, Count Platoff, and such numbers of the Russian and Prussian officers and soldiers, as we considered a fair specimen of the whole armies, that we could find time to appreciate the beauties even of the Apollo and the Venus.
The streets of Paris are always amusing and interesting, from the numbers and varieties of costumes and characters which they present; but at the time of which we speak, they might be considered as exhibiting an epitome of the greater part of Europe. Parties of Russian cuirassiers, Prussian lancers, and Hungarian hussars; Cossacks, old and young, from those whose beards were grey with age, to those who were yet beardless, cantering along after their singular fashion—their long lances poised on their stirrups, and loosely fastened to their right arms, vibrating over their heads; long files of Russian and Prussian foragers, and long trains of Austrian baggage waggons, winding slowly through the crowd; idle soldiers of all services, French as well as allied, lounging about in their loose great coats and trowsers, with long crooked pipes hanging from their mouths; patroles of infantry parading about under arms, composed half of Russian grenadiers, and half of Parisian national guards; Russian coaches and four, answering to the description of Dr Clarke, the postillions riding on the off-horses, and dressed almost like beggars; Russian carts drawn by four horses a-breast, and driven by peasants in the national costume; Polish Jews, with long black beards, dressed in black robes like the cassocks of English clergymen, with broad leathern belts—all mingled with the Parisian multitude upon the Boulevards: and in the midst of this indiscriminate assemblage, all the business, and all the amusements of Paris, went on with increased alacrity and fearless confidence. The Palais Royal was crowded, morning, noon, and night, with Russian and Prussian officers in full uniform, decorated with orders, whose noisy merriment, cordial manners, and careless profusion, were strikingly contrasted with the silence and sullenness of the French officers.
It is fortunately superfluous for us to enlarge on the appearance, or on the character of the Emperor Alexander. We were struck with the simplicity of the style in which he lived. He inhabited only one or two apartments in a wing of the splendid Elysee Bourbon—slept on a leather mattress, which he had used in the campaign—rose at four in the morning, to transact business—wore the uniform of a Russian General, with only the medal of 1812, (the same which is worn by every soldier who served in that campaign, with the inscription, in Russ, Non nobis sed tibi Domine); had a French guard at his door—went out in a chaise and pair, with a single servant and no guards, and was very regular in his attendance at a small chapel, where the service of the Greek church was performed. We had access to very good information concerning him, and the account which we received of his character even exceeded our anticipation. His well-known humanity was described to us as having undergone no change from the scenes of misery inseparable from extended warfare, to which his duties, rather than his inclinations, had so long habituated him. He repeatedly left behind him, in marching with the army, some of the medical men of his own staff, to dress the wounds of French soldiers whom he passed on the way; and it was a standing order of his to his hospital staff, to treat wounded Russians and French exactly alike.
His conduct at the battle of Fere Champenoise, a few days before the capture of Paris, of which we had an account from eye-witnesses, may give an idea of his conduct while with the armies. The French column, consisting of about 5000 infantry, with some artillery, was attacked by the advanced guard of the allies, consisting of cavalry, with some horse-artillery, under his immediate orders. It made a desperate resistance, and its capture being an object of great importance, he sent away all his guards, even the Cossacks, and exposed himself to the fire of musketry for a long time, directing the movements of the troops. When the French squares were at length broken by the repeated charges of cavalry and Cossacks, he threw himself into the middle of them, at a great personal risk, that he might restrain the fury of the soldiers, exasperated by the obstinacy of the resistance; and although he could not prevent the whole French officers and men from being completely pillaged, many of them owed their lives to his interference. The French commander was brought to him, and offered him his sword, which he refused to accept, saying, he had defended himself too well.
The wife and children of a General who had been with the French army, were brought to him, and he placed a guard over them, which was overpowered in the confusion. The unfortunate woman was never more heard of, but he succeeded in recovering the children, had a bed made for them in his own tent, and kept them with him, until he reached Paris, when he ordered enquiry to be made for some of her relations, to whose care he committed them.
He was uniformly represented to us as a man not merely of the most amiable dispositions, but of superior understanding, of uncommon activity, and of a firm decided turn of mind. Of the share which he individually had in directing the operations of the allied armies, we do not pretend to speak with absolute certainty; but we had reason to know, that the general opinion in the Russian army was, that the principal movements were not merely subjected to his control, but guided by his advice; and he was certainly looked upon, by officers who had long served under him, as one of the ablest commanders in the allied armies.
He was much disconcerted, it was said, by the loss of the battle of Austerlitz; but his subsequent experience in war had given him the true military obstinacy, and he bore the loss of the battles of Lutzen and Bautzen with perfect equanimity; often saying, the French can still beat us, but they will teach us how to beat them; and we will conquer them by our pertinacity. The attachment of the Russian army, and especially of the guards, to him, almost approaches to idolatry; and the effect of his presence on the exertions and conduct of his troops, was not more beneficial to Europe while the struggle was yet doubtful, than to France herself after her armies were overthrown, and her "sacred territory" invaded.
As a specimen of the general feeling in the Russian army at the time they invaded France, we may mention the substance of a conversation which an officer of the Russian staff told us he had held with a private of the Russian guard on the march, soon after the invasion. The soldier complained of the Emperor's proclamation, desiring them to consider as enemies only those whom they met in the field. "The French," said he, "came into our country, bringing hosts of Germans and Poles along with them;—they plundered our properties, burnt our houses, and murdered our families;—every Russian was their enemy. We have driven them out of Russia, we have followed them into Poland, into Germany, and into France; but wherever we go, we are allowed to find none but friends. This," he added, "is very well for us guards, who know that pillage is unworthy of us; but the common soldiers and Cossacks do not understand it; they remember how their friends and relations have been treated by the French, and that remembrance lies at their hearts."
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We visited with deep interest the projecting part of the heights of Belleville, immediately overlooking the Fauxbourg St Martin, which the Emperor Alexander reached, with the king of Prussia, the Prince Schwartzenburg, and the whole general staff, on the evening of the 30th of March. It was here that he received the deputation from Marshals Marmont and Mortier, who had fought all day against a vast superiority of force, and been fairly overpowered, recommending Paris to the generosity of the allies. Thirty howitzers were placed on this height, and a few shells were thrown into the town, one or two of which, we were assured, reached as far as the Eglise de St Eustace; it is allowed on all hands that they fell within the Boulevards. The heights of Montmartre were at the same time stormed by the Silesian army, and cannon were placed on it likewise,—Paris was then at his mercy. After a year and a half of arduous contest, it was at length in his power to take a bloody revenge for the miseries which his subjects had suffered during the unprovoked invasion of Russia.—He ordered the firing to cease; assured the French deputation of his intention to protect the city; and issued orders to his army to prepare to march in, the next morning, in parade order. He put himself at their head, in company with the King of Prussia, and all the generals of high rank. After passing along the Boulevards to the Champs Elysees, the sovereigns placed themselves under a tree, in front of the palace of the Thuilleries, within a few yards of the spot where Louis XVI. and many other victims of the revolution had perished; and they saw the last man of their armies defile past the town, and proceed to take a position beyond it, before they entered it themselves.
At this time, the recollection of the fate of Moscow was so strong in the Russian army, and the desire of revenge was so generally diffused, not merely among the soldiers, but even among the superior, officers, that they themselves said, nothing could have restrained them but the presence and positive commands of their Czar; nor could any other influence have maintained that admirable discipline in the Russian army, during its stay in France, which we have so often heard the theme of panegyric even among their most inveterate enemies.
It is not in the columns of newspapers, nor in the perishable pages of such a Journal as this, that the invincible determination, the splendid achievements, and the generous forbearance of the Emperor of Russia and his brave army, during the last war, can be duly recorded; but when they shall have passed into history, we think we shall but anticipate the sober judgment of posterity by saying, that the foreign annals of no other nation, ancient or modern, will present, in an equal period of time, a spectacle of equal moral grandeur.
* * *
The King of Prussia was often to be seen at the Parisian theatres, dressed in plain clothes, and accompanied only by his son and nephew. The first time we saw him there, he was making some enquiries of a manager of the Theatre de l'Odeon, whom he met in the lobby; and the modesty and embarrassment of his manner were finely contrasted with the confident loquacity and officious courtesy of the Frenchman. He is known to be exceedingly averse to public exhibitions, even in his own country. He had gone through all the hardships and privations of the campaigns, had exposed himself with a gallantry bordering on rashness in every engagement, his son and nephew always by his side; his coolness in action was the subject of universal admiration; and it was not without reason that he had acquired the name of the first soldier in his army. His brothers, who are fine looking men, took the command of brigades in the Silesian army, and did the duty of brigadiers to the satisfaction of the whole army.
* * *
We had the good fortune of seeing the Duke of Wellington at the opera, the first time that he appeared in public at Paris. He was received with loud applause, and the modesty of his demeanour, while it accorded with the impressions of his character derived from his whole conduct, and the style of his public writings, sufficiently shewed, that his time had been spent more in camps than in courts. We were much pleased to find, that full justice was done to his merits as an officer by all ranks of the allied armies. On the day that he entered Paris, the watch-word in the whole armies in the neighbourhood was Wellington, and the countersign Talavera. We have often heard Russian and Prussian officers say, "he is the hero of the war:—we have conquered the French by main force, but his triumphs are the result of superior skill."
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We found, as we had expected, that Marshal Blucher was held in the highest estimation in the allied army, chiefly on account of the promptitude and decision of his judgment, and the unconquerable determination of his character. We were assured, that notwithstanding the length and severity of the service in which he had been engaged during the campaign of 1814, he expressed the greatest regret at its abrupt termination; and was anxious to follow up his successes, until the remains of the French army should be wholly dispersed, and their leader unconditionally surrendered. An English gentleman who saw him at the time of the action in which a part of his troops were engaged at Soissons, a few days previous to the great battle at Laon, gave a striking account of his cool collected appearance on that occasion. He was lying in profound silence, wrapped up in his cloak, on the snow, on the side of a hill overlooking the town, smoking his pipe, and occasionally looking through a telescope at the scene of action. At length he rose up, saying, it was not worth looking at, and would come to nothing. In fact, the main body of the French army was marching on Rheims, and he was obliged to retire and concentrate his forces, first on Craon, and afterwards on Laon, before he could bring on a general action.
He bore the fatigues of the campaign without any inconvenience, but fell sick on the day after he entered Paris, and resigned his command, requesting only of General Sacken, the governor of the town, that he would allot him lodgings from which he could look out upon Montmartre, the scene of his last triumph. He never appeared in public at Paris; but we had the pleasure of seeing him in a very interesting situation. We had gone to visit the Hotel des Invalides, and on entering the church under the great dome, we found this great commander, accompanied only by his son and another officer, leaning on the rails which encircle the monument of Turenne. We followed him into a small apartment off the church, where the bodies of Marshals Bessieres and Duroc, and the hearts of Generals Laroboissiere and Barraguay D'Hilliers, lay embalmed under a rich canopy of black velvet, in magnificent coffins, which were strewed with flowers every morning by the Duchess of Istria, the widow of Bessieres, who came thither regularly after mass. This room was hung with black, and lighted only by a small lamp, which burnt under the canopy, and threw its light in the most striking manner on the grey hairs and expressive countenance of the old Marshal, as he stood over the remains of his late antagonists in arms. He heard the name of each with a slight inclination of his head, gazed on the coffins for some moments in silence, and then turned about, and, as if to shew that he was not to be moved by his recollections, he strode out of the chapel humming a tune.
He had vowed to recover possession of the sword of the great Frederic, which used to hang in the midst of the 10,000 standards of all nations that waved under the lofty dome of this building; but on the day that the allies entered Paris, the standards were taken down and burnt, and the sword was broken to pieces, by an order, as was said, from Maria Louisa.
It is right to notice here, that the famous Silesian army which he commanded, consisted originally of many more Russian troops than Prussians,—in the proportion, we were told, of four to one, although the proportion of the latter was afterwards increased. Indeed it was at first the intention of the Emperor of Russia to put himself at the head of this army; but he afterwards gave up that idea, saying, that he knew the Russians and Prussians would fight well, and act cordially together; but that the presence of the Sovereigns would be more useful in keeping together the heterogeneous materials composing the army then forming in Bohemia, which afterwards had the name of the grand army.
We have heard different opinions expressed as to the share which General Gneisenau, the chief of the staff of the Silesian army, had in directing the operations of that army. This General is universally looked on as an officer of first-rate merit, and many manoeuvres of great importance are believed to have been suggested by him; yet it was to the penetrating judgment and enthusiastic spirit of the old Marshal, that the officers whom we saw seemed most disposed to ascribe their successes.
* * *
We were much struck by the courteous and dignified manners of old Count Platoff. Even at that time, before he had experienced British hospitality, he professed high admiration for the British character, individual as well as national, saying, that he looked on every Englishman as his brother; and he was equally candid in expressing his detestation of the French, not even excepting the ladies. We, however, saw him receive one or two Frenchmen, who were presented to him by his friends, with his accustomed mildness. His countenance appeared to us expressive of considerable humour, and he addressed a few words to almost every Cossack of the guard whom he met in passing through the court of the Elysee Bourbon, which were always answered by a hearty laugh. During the two last campaigns of the war he had been almost constantly at head-quarters, and his advice, we were assured, was much respected.
On the night after the battle of Borodino, Count Platoff, we were told, bivouacked on the field, in front of the position originally occupied by the Russians, and on the next day he covered their retreat with his Cossacks. One of the Princes of Hesse Philipsthal, an uncommonly handsome young man, who had volunteered to act as an aid-de-camp of his, had his leg shot away close to his side. Amputation was immediately performed above the middle of his thigh; he was laid on a peasant's cart, and carried 350 versts almost without stopping. However, he recovered perfectly, and petitioned the Emperor to be allowed to wear ever after the Cossack uniform. We saw him in it at Paris, going on crutches, but regretting in strong terms that he was to see no more fighting.
On the day before the French entered Moscow, Count Platoff, and some other officers, from one of whom we had this anecdote, breakfasted with Count Rostapchin at his villa in the vicinity of the town, which it had been the delight of his life to cultivate and adorn. After breakfast, Count Rostapchin assembled his servants and retainers; and after saying that he hoped his son and latest descendants would always be willing to make a similar sacrifice for the good of their country, he took a torch, set fire to the building with his own hands, and waited until it was consumed. He then rode into the town to superintend the destruction of some warehouses full of clothes, of a number of carts, and of other things which might be useful to the enemy. But he did not, as we were assured by his son, whom we met at Paris, order the destruction of the town. The French, enraged at the loss of what was most valuable to them, according to the uniform account of the Russians, set fire in a deliberate and methodical manner to the different streets. It is but justice to say, however, that French officers, who had been at Moscow, denied the truth of the latter part of this statement.
* * *
The Russian troops in the neighbourhood of Paris were under the immediate command of General Count Miloradovitch, a man of large property, and unbounded generosity, and an enthusiast in his profession. He had been in the habit of always making the troops under his command some kind of present on his birth-day. During the retreat of the French from Moscow, this day came round when he was not quite prepared for it. "I have no money here," said he to his soldiers; "but yonder," pointing to a French column, "is a present worthy of you and of me." This address was a prelude to one of the most successful attacks, made during the pursuit, on the French rear-guard.
The other Russian commanders, whom we heard highly spoken of by the Russian officers whom we met, were, the Marshal commanding, Barclay de Tolly, in whose countenance we thought we could trace the indications of his Scotch origin;—he is an old man, and was commonly represented as "sage, prudent, tres savant dans la guerre."—Wigtenstein, who is much younger, and is designated as "ardent, impetueux, entreprenant," &c.—Benigsen, who is an old man, but very active, and represented to be as fond of fighting as Blucher himself;—Count Langeron, and Baron Sacken, the commanders of corps in the Silesian army. The former is a French emigrant, but has been long in the Russian service, and highly distinguished himself. The latter is an old man, but very spirited, and highly esteemed for his honourable character: in his capacity of Governor of Paris, he gave very general satisfaction.—Woronzoff, who, as is well known, was educated in England, and who distinguished himself at Borodino, and in the army of the north of Germany, and afterwards in France under Blucher—Winzingerode, one of the best cavalry officers, formerly in the Austrian service—Czernicheff, the famous partisan, a gallant gay young man, whose characteristic activity is strongly marked in his countenance—Diebzitch, a young staff officer of the first promise, since promoted to the important situation of Chef de l'etat major—Lambert (of French extraction), and Yermoloff: This last officer commanded the guards when we were at Paris, and was represented as a man of excellent abilities, and of a most determined character.
To shew the determined spirit of some of the Russian generals, we may mention an anecdote of one of them, which we repeatedly heard. On one occasion, the troops under the command of this general were directed to defile over a bridge, under a very heavy fire from the enemy. Observing some hesitation in their movements, he said, with perfect coolness, "If they don't go forward, I will take care they shall not come back;" and planted a battery of 12 pounders in their rear, pointing directly at the bridge, in view of which they forced the passage in the most gallant style.
The spirit of emulation which prevailed in all ranks of the Russian army, during the war, was worthy of the cause in which they were engaged. The following anecdote, we think, deserves commemoration. Two officers of rank had aspired to the same situation in the army, and exerted all their influence to obtain it. The successful candidate had the command of the famous redoubt at Borodino, when it was carried by the French. The other, who had a subordinate command just behind it, immediately came up to him, and asked leave to retake it for him. No, replied he; if you go there, I must be along with you. They collected what force they could, entered the redoubt together, and regained it at the point of the bayonet; but the officer who originally commanded in it was killed by the side of his rival. The latter, immediately after the battle, was promoted to the situation which he had so ardently desired; but his enjoyment of it was long and visibly embittered by the recollection of the event to which he owed his appointment.
The number of Russian prisoners taken by the French during the war was very trifling, and we were assured, that there was no instance in the whole course of it, of a single Russian battalion or squadron laying down its arms. The number of prisoners taken by the Cossacks alone, from the time when the French left Moscow until the passage of the Niemen, was 90,000, and the number of cannon 550. It is true that these were for the most part stragglers, and men unable to fight; but it must be remembered, that many of them could only have been overtaken in their flight by these hardy and enterprising troops. To prove the value of the service rendered by the Cossacks, it is only necessary to observe, that many of the officers who distinguished themselves most in all the campaigns, Platoff, Orloff Denizoff, Wasilchikoff, Czernicheff, Tettenborn, &c. commanded Cossacks almost exclusively, and attributed much of their success to the quality of their troops. Most of the Cossacks whom we saw appeared to be well disciplined, and had a truly military air; and we were told, that all the 83 regiments of Cossacks are at present in a state of tolerable discipline. We cannot go so far as Dr Clarke in praise of their cleanliness, but we often observed their native easy courtesy of manner; and there can be no doubt, as he observes, of their being a much handsomer race than the generality of Russians. Their figures are more graceful, and their features are higher, and approach often to the Roman style of countenance. One troop of the Cossacks of the guards, composed of those from the Black Sea, attracted our particular admiration; and the noble manly figures of the men, the elegant forms of the horses, and the picturesque appearance of the arms and uniforms of the whole body of Cossacks of the guard, were very striking. The hereditary Prince of Georgia was at Paris as one of the Colonels of this regiment, and his figure and countenance were such as might have rendered him remarkable even in his native country, in which the "human form divine" is understood to attain its highest perfection.
The Cossacks were kept in good order when under the inspection of their officers; but during the campaigns, they were often obliged to act in patroles, two or three together, at a distance from their officers; and in these situations, it may be supposed that they would commit many excesses. Immediately after a battle, they plundered all they met, and at all times, and in all places, they looked on horses as fair game, insomuch that it was often remarked in the allied armies, that they believed horses to have been created for none but Cossacks. It was said, that almost every Cossack of the corps of Czernicheff was worth from L. 300 to L. 400 in money and watches, which most of them spent much after the manner of British sailors.
* * *
Some idea of the expenditure of human life, during the campaign of 1812, may be formed from the following facts, which we had from unquestionable authority: The number of killed and wounded on both sides at the battle of Borodino, which did not extend from flank to flank more than three English miles, was ascertained to exceed 75,000 men. Eighteen thousand wounded Russians were dressed on the field, and sent off in carts. When the Russian army crossed the Niemen, in pursuit of the French, they left behind them 87,000 sick and wounded in hospitals, of which number 63,000 were wounded. The whole number of human bodies, Russian and French, men, women, and children, which were collected and buried or burnt, after the retreat from Moscow to the Niemen, exceeded 300,000.
The officers of the Russian medical staff spoke in terms of the utmost indignation of the conduct of the French medical staff, in deserting their charge on the approach of the Russian armies. A great part of the town of Wilna, and surrounding villages, had been converted into hospitals for the French army, and when the Russians arrived, they found these hospitals wholly deserted by the medical men. The sick (many of them labouring under infectious fevers), and the wounded, were huddled together, without provisions, attendants, or the slightest regard to their situation. The first step of the Russian officers who were entrusted with the care of these hospitals, was to employ a number of Jews to clear out the corpses, some of which had lain there for three weeks; and when these were collected and burnt, their number was found to exceed 16,000; the sick were then separated from the wounded; and as soon as order was re-established, the Emperor of Russia visited the hospitals himself, to be assured that every possible attention was paid to their surviving inmates.
During the whole of the winter of 1812 and the year 1813, a typhus fever was very prevalent in the French army, and in many places, particularly on the fortresses on the Elbe, and in Frankfort and Mentz, it made dreadful ravages; but it never extended, to any considerable degree, among the Russians. This was partly owing, no doubt, to the influence of exciting passions on the constitutions of the men; but much must certainly be ascribed to the admirable arrangements of the Russian hospital staff, which, under the superintendance of our countryman, Sir James Wyllie, have attained, in a few years, a surprising degree of excellence. The state of the Russian hospitals at Paris, under the direction of another countryman, Dr Crichton, was universally admired.
The Russian imperial guard is, we believe, the finest body of men in Europe; the whole number, when the regiments are all complete, is about 30,000; but the effective men at Paris did not exceed 20,000. These are made up from time to time, by picked men from the whole army. The charge of one of the regiments of cuirassiers, 1000 strong, upon the Champ de Mars, was one of the finest sights imaginable. The clattering of the horses feet on hard ground, and the rattling of the armour, increasing as they advanced, exceeded the sound of the loudest thunder.
Their horses are not so heavy as those of the English dragoons, but they have evidently more blood in them, and their power of bearing fatigues and privations is quite wonderful. We were told by the officer commanding one of these regiments, that almost all the horses we saw in Paris, in the finest possible condition, were on the Niemen when the French crossed it in 1812, and had borne the fatigues of the retreat to Moscow, and of the advance during the dreadful winter which had proved so fatal to the French army; as well as of the winter campaign of 1814 in France, which was carried on, almost entirely, during frost and snow. The Russian soldiers bore the extreme cold of the former winter in a manner hardly less wonderful; we were assured that they were not more warmly clothed than the French; but they were accustomed to the climate, were comparatively well fed, and were animated by victory, while their antagonists were depressed by famine and despair.
The equipment of the artillery of the guard is probably the completest in the world;—each gun of the horse artillery is followed by three tumbrils of ammunition, and the artillerymen being all mounted and armed, a battery of horse artillery is fitted to act in a double capacity. One of these batteries, of 12 pieces, on the march, with all its accompaniments, takes up fully half-a-mile of road.
The regiments of infantry are of various strength; all are composed of the finest men, in point of strength and military appearance, but they appeared to us rather inadequately officered. Of the physical powers of this body of men, no better proof can be given, than their having marched, within 24 hours, on the 22d and 23d of March, a distance of 18 leagues, or 54 miles, which they did at two marches, resting three hours, without any straggling. The occasion on which they most highly distinguished themselves was at Culm, where four regiments of them (about 8000 men) stopped, for two days, in the defiles of the Riesen Gebirge, the whole corps of Vandamme. The regiment Pavloffsky, who were made guards for their conduct at Borodino, attracted particular attention; they wear caps faced with brass, whence the French soldiers, who know them well, call them the Bonnets d'Or; and many of them preserve with much care the marks of the bullets by which these have been pierced.
The Russian soldiers, at least of the guard, have almost universally dark complexions, their features are generally low, and their faces broad. The officers and soldiers of the Prussian guard, which is about 8000 strong, and in an equally high state of discipline and equipment, are, on the whole, handsomer men, having generally fair hair, blue eyes, high features, and ruddy complexions.
A great number of the Prussian officers have a fine expression of romantic enterprise in their countenances; and it is well known, that the whole Prussian nation, long oppressed by the presence of French armies, entered into the war with France with a spirit of energy and union that never was surpassed. The formation of the legion of revenge,—the desertion of all seminaries of education, by teachers as well as pupils,—the substitution of ornaments in iron, for gold and jewellery, by the ladies of Berlin and other towns, are striking instances of this popular feeling. The war-song, composed by a young student from Konigsberg, which was sung in the heat of battle by the regiment of volunteer hussars to which he belonged, and the author of which was basely slain by a French prisoner whom he had neglected to disarm,—to judge of it by a version which appeared in the newspapers, and by the enthusiasm with which the Prussians speak of it, is worthy of being translated by one of our noblest poets.
All the nations of Germany have strong feelings of patriotism associated with the sight, and even with the name of the Rhine. When the Austrians, in one of the last actions of the campaign of 1813, carried the heights of Hockheim, in the neigbourhood of Mentz, and first came in sight of that river, they involuntarily halted, and stood for some minutes in silence; when the Prince Marshal coming up to know the cause of the delay, their feelings burst forth in peals of enthusiastic acclamation, as they again advanced to the charge. The Prussian corps of the army of Silesia, destined to force the passage of the river, assembled on the right bank on the evening of the 31st of December 1813, determined to begin the year with the conquest to which they had long aspired; and just at midnight the first boats pulled off from the shore, the oars keeping time to thousands of voices, who sung words adapted to a favourite national air by the celebrated Schlegel, the beginning of which is, literally translated, "The Rhine shall no longer be our boundary,—it is the great artery of Germany, and it shall flow through the heart of our empire."
The Austrians whom we saw at Paris, were in general strong heavy looking men. Their cavalry were universally admired; but the Russians and Prussians complained much of the general dilatoriness of their movements, and in particular, of the quantity of baggage waggons with which their march was encumbered. Upon one occasion, some hundreds of these fell into the hands of the French, to the great amusement of the Russians. The Bavarians and Wirtembergers had the character, both in Russia and France, of fighting very hard, and plundering freely. This last accomplishment, as well as their military arrangements, they had learnt from the French; and their conduct in this respect in France itself, might be said to be actuated by a kind of poetical justice.
* * *
We were highly gratified by this review of the whole Russian and Prussian guard which we saw in the Bois de Boulogne and road to St Germain, on the 30th of May. They were drawn up in a single line, extending at least six miles. The allied Sovereigns, followed by the Princes of Russia, Prussia and France, the French Marshals, and all the leading officers of the allied armies, rode at full speed along the line; and the loud huzzas of the soldiers, which died away among the long avenues of elm trees, as the cloud of dust which enveloped them receded from the view, were inexpressibly sublime.
The appearance of these troops on parade was such, that but for the traces which long exposure to all changes of weather had left on their countenances, it never could have been supposed that they had been engaged in long marches. They had always marched and fought in their great coats and small blue caps, carrying their uniforms in their knapsacks. On the night before they entered Paris, however, they put them on, and marched into the town in as fine parade order as that in which they had left Petersburg. The Parisians, who had been told that the allied armies were nearly annihilated, and only a wreck left, expressed their astonishment with their usual levity: "Au moins," said they, "C'est un beau debris."
While the uniforms, arms, and accoutrements of these troops were in the highest order, they seemed to take a pride in displaying the worn and faded standards, torn by the winds and pierced with bullets, under which they had served during the whole campaigns. Their services might also be judged of from the medals of the year 1812, which almost all the Russians bore, and to which all without distinction of rank are entitled, who were exposed to the enemy's fire during that campaign; and from the insignia of various orders, which in both the services extend to privates as well as officers. The effect of these honorary rewards on the minds of the men is certainly very great; and it is perhaps to be regretted that there is no institution of the same kind in the British service. The spirit of our soldiers, as all the world knows, needs no such stimulus; but if a measure of this kind could in any degree gratify their military feelings, surely their country owes them the gratification; and what can be more pleasing to a soldier than to see his officers and his Sovereign proud to display honours which he shares along with them? The Russians appear to set a value on these medals and decorations, which clearly shews the wisdom of the policy by which they were granted. Almost every wounded soldier wears them even when lying in hospital, and in the hour which teaches the insignificance of all the titles of kings, and all the treasures of the universe, he still rejoices, that he can lay these testimonies of his valour and fidelity beside the small crucifix which he brought with him from his home, and which, with a superstition that accords better with the true military spirit than the thoughtless infidelity of the French, he has carried in his bosom through all the chances of war.
PARIS—ITS PUBLIC BUILDINGS.
With whatever sentiments a stranger might enter Paris at the time we did, his feelings must have been the same with regard to the monuments of ancient magnificence, or of modern taste, which it contained. All that the vanity or patriotism of a long series of Sovereigns could effect for the embellishment of the capital in which they resided; all that the conquests of an ambitious and unprincipled Army could accumulate from the spoils of the nations whom they had subdued, were there presented to the eye of the stranger with a profusion which obliterated every former prejudice, and stifled the feelings of national emulation in exultation at the greatness of human genius.
The ordinary buildings of Paris, as every traveller has observed, and as all the world knows, are in general mean and uncomfortable. The height and gloomy aspect of the houses; the narrowness of the streets, and the want of pavement for foot passengers, convey an idea of antiquity, which ill accords with what the imagination had anticipated of the modern capital of the French empire. This circumstance renders the admiration of the spectator greater when he first comes in sight of its public edifices; when he is conducted to the Place Louis Quinze, or the Pont Neuf, from whence he has a general view of the principal buildings of this celebrated capital. With the single exception of the view of London from the terrace of the Adelphi, there is no point in our own country where the effect of architectural design is so great as in the situations which have now been mentioned. The view from the former of these combines many of the most striking objects which Paris has to present. To the east, the long front of the Thuilleries rises over the dark mass of foliage which covers its gardens; to the south, the picturesque aspect of the town is broken by the varied objects which the river presents, and the fine perspective of the Bridge of Peace, terminating in the noble front of the palace of the Legislative Body; to the west, the long avenues of the Elysian Fields are closed by the pillars of a triumphal arch which Napoleon had commenced; while to the north, the beautiful facade of the Palace itself, leaves the spectator only room to discover at a greater distance the foundation of the Temple of Glory, which he had commenced, and in the execution of which he was interrupted by those ambitious enterprises to which his subsequent downfall was owing. To a painter's eye, the effect of the whole scene is increased by the rich and varied foreground which everywhere presents itself, composed of the shrubs with which the skirts of the square are adorned, and the lofty poplars which rise amidst the splendour of architectural beauty; while recent events give a greater interest to the spot from which this beauty is surveyed, by the remembrance, that it was here that Louis XVI. fell a martyr to the revolutionary principles, and that it was here that the Emperor Alexander and the other princes of Europe took their station, when their armies passed in triumph through the walls of Paris.
The view from the Pont Neuf, though not so striking upon the whole, embraces objects of greater individual beauty. The gay and animated quays of the city covered with foot-passengers, and with all the varied exhibitions of industrious occupation, which, from the warmth of the climate, are carried on in the open air;—the long and splendid front of the Louvre and Thuilleries;—the bold projection of the Palais des Arts, of the Hotel de la Monnaie, and other public buildings on the opposite side of the river;—the beautiful perspective of the bridges, adorned by the magnificent colonnade which fronts the Palace of the Legislative Body;—and the lofty picturesque buildings of the centre of Paris surrounding the more elevated towers of Notre Dame, form a scene, which, though less perfect, is more striking, and more characteristic, than the scene from the centre of the Place Louis Quinze, which has been just described. It conveys at once a general idea of the French capital; of that mixture of poverty and splendour by which it is so remarkably distinguished; of that grandeur of national power, and that degradation of individual importance, which marked the ancient dynasty of the French nation. It marks too, in a historical view, the changes of the public feeling which the people of this country have undergone, from the distant period when the towers of Notre Dame rose amidst the austerity of Gothic taste, and were loaded with the riches of Catholic superstition, to that boasted aera, when the loyalty of the French people exhausted the wealth and the genius of the country, to decorate with classic taste the residence of their Sovereigns; and lastly, to those later days, when the names of religion and of loyalty have alike been forgotten; when the national exultation reposed only on the trophies of military greatness, and the iron yoke of imperial power was forgotten in the monuments which record the deeds of imperial glory.
To the general observation on the inferiority of the common buildings in Paris, there are some remarkable exceptions. The Boulevards, the remains of the ancient ramparts of the city, are in general beautiful, from their circular form, from their uniform breadth, from the magnificence of the detached palaces with which they abound, and from the rows of fine trees with which they are shaded. In the skirts of the town, and more especially in the Fauxbourg St Germain, the beauty of the streets is greatly increased by the detached hotels or villas, surrounded by gardens, which are everywhere to be met with, in which the lilac, the laburnum, the Bois de Judee, and the acacia, grow in the most luxuriant manner, and on the green foliage of which the eye reposes with singular delight amidst the bright and dazzling whiteness of the stone with which they are surrounded.
The Hotel des Invalides, the Chelsea Hospital of France, is one of the objects on which the Parisians principally pride themselves, and to which a stranger is conducted immediately after his arrival in that capital. The institution itself appears to be well conducted, and to give general satisfaction to the wounded men who have there found an asylum from the miseries of war. We were informed that these men live in habits of perfect harmony among each other; a state of things widely different from that of our veterans in Greenwich Hospital, and which is probably chiefly owing to the cheerfulness and equanimity of temper which form the best feature in the French character. There is something in the style of the architecture of this building, which accords well with the object to which it is devoted. The front is distinguished by a simple manly portico, and a dome of the finest proportion rises above its centre, which is visible from all parts of the city. This dome was gilded by order of Bonaparte: and however much a fastidious taste may regret the addition, it certainly gave an air of splendour to the whole, which was in perfect unison with the feelings of exultation which the sight of this monument of military glory was then fitted to awaken among the French people. The exterior of this edifice was formerly surrounded by cannon captured by the armies of France at different periods: and ten thousand standards, the trophies of victory during the wars of two centuries, waved under its splendid dome, and enveloped the sword of Frederic the Great, which hung from the centre, until the 31st of March 1814, when, as already observed, they were all burnt by order of Maria Louisa, to prevent their falling into the victorious hands of the allied powers.
If the character of the architecture of the Hotel des Invalides accords well with the object to which that building is destined, the character of the Louvre is not less in unison with the spirit of the fine arts, to which it is consecrated. It is impossible for language to convey any adequate idea of the impression which this exquisite building awakens in the mind of a stranger. The beautiful proportions, and the fine symmetry of the great facade, give an air of simplicity to the distant view of this edifice, which is not diminished, on nearer approach, by the unrivalled beauty of its ornaments and detail; but when you cross the threshold of the portico, and pass under its noble archway into the inner-court, all considerations are absorbed in the throb of admiration which is excited by the sudden display of all that is lovely and harmonious in Grecian architecture. You find yourself in the midst of the noblest and yet chastest display of architectural beauty, where every ornament possesses the character by which the whole is distinguished, and where the whole possesses the grace and elegance which every ornament presents:—You find yourself on the spot where all the monuments of ancient art are deposited;—where the greatest exertions of mortal genius are preserved—and where a palace has at last been raised worthy of being the depository of the collected genius of the human race.—It bears a higher character than that of being the residence of imperial power; it seems destined to loftier purposes than to be the abode of earthly greatness; and the only forms by which its halls would not be degraded, are those models of ideal perfection which the genius of ancient Greece created to exalt the character of a heathen world.
Placed in a more elevated spot, and destined to a still higher object, the Pantheon bears in its front the traces of the noble purpose for which it was intended.—It was intended to be the cemetery of all the great men who had deserved well of their country; and it bears the inscription, above its entrance, Aux grands Hommes La Patrie reconnoissante. The character of its architecture is well adapted to the impression it is intended to convey, and suits the simplicity of the inscription which its portico presents. Its situation has been selected with singular taste, to aid the effect which was thus intended. It is placed at the top of an eminence, which shelves in a declivity on every side; and the immediate approach is by an immense flight of steps, which form the base of the building, and increase the effect which its magnitude produces. Over the entrance is placed a portico of lofty pillars, finely proportioned, supporting a magnificent entablature of the simplest order; and the whole terminates in a dome of vast dimensions, forming the highest object in the whole city. The impression which every one must feel in crossing its threshold, is that of religious awe; the individual is lost in the greatness of the objects with which he is surrounded, and he dreads to enter what seems the abode of a greater Power, and to have been framed for the purposes of more elevated worship. The Louvre might have been fitted for the gay scenes of ancient sacrifice; it suits the brilliant conceptions of heathen mythology; and seems the fit abode of those ideal forms, in which the imagination of ancient times embodied their conception of divine perfection; but the Pantheon is adapted for a holier worship, and accords with the character of a purer belief; and the vastness and solitude of its untrodden chambers awaken those feelings of human weakness, and that sentiment of human immortality, which befit the temple of a spiritual faith.
We were involuntarily led, by the sight of this great monument of sacred architecture in the Grecian style, to compare it with the Gothic churches which we had seen, and in particular with the Cathedral of Beauvais, the interior of which is finished with greater delicacy, and in finer proportions, than any other edifice of a similar kind in France. The impression which the inimitable choir of Beauvais produced, was widely different from that which we felt on entering the lofty dome of the Pantheon at Paris. The light pinnacles, the fretted roof, the aspiring form of the Gothic edifice, seemed to have been framed by the hands of aerial beings, and produced, even from a distance, that impression of grace and airiness which it was the peculiar object of this species of Gothic architecture to excite. On passing the high archway which covers the western door, and entering the immense aisles of the Cathedral, the sanctity of the place produces a deeper impression, and the grandeur of the forms awakens profounder feelings. The light of the day is excluded, the rays of the sun come mellowed through the splendid colours with Which the windows are stained, and cast a religious light over the marble pavement which covers the floor; while the eye reposes on the harmonious forms of the lancet windows, or is bewildered in the profusion of ornament with which the roof is adorned. The impression which the whole produces, is that of religious emotion, singularly suited to the genius of Christianity; if is seen in that obscure light which fits the solemnity of religious duty, and awakens those feelings of intense delight, which prepare the mind for the high strain of religious praise. But it is not the deep feeling of humility and weakness which is produced by the dark chambers and massy pillars of the Pantheon at Paris; it is not in the mausoleum of the dead that you seem to wander, nor on the thoughts of the great that have gone before you that the mind revolves; it is in the scene of thanksgiving that your admiration is fixed; it is with the emblems of Hope that your devotion is awakened, and with the enthusiasm of gratitude that the mind is filled. Beneath the gloomy roof of the Grecian Temple, the spirit is concentrated within itself: it seeks the repose which solitude affords, and meditates on the fate of the immortal soul; but it loves to follow the multitude into the Gothic Cathedral, to join in the song of grateful praise which peals through its lengthened aisles, and to share in the enthusiasm which belongs to the exercise of common devotion.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame is the only Gothic building of note in Paris, and it is by no means equal to the expectations we had been led to form of it. The style of its architecture is not that of the finest Gothic; it has neither the exquisite lightness of ornament which distinguishes the summit of Gloucester Cathedral, nor the fine lancet windows which give so unrivalled a beauty to the interior of Beauvais, nor the richness of roof which covers the tombs of Westminster Abbey. Its character is that of massy greatness; its ornaments are rich rather than elegant, and its interior striking more from its immense size than the beauty of the proportion in which it is formed. In spite of all these circumstances, however, the Cathedral of Notre Dame produces a deep impression on the mind of the beholder; its towers rise to a stupendous height above all the buildings which surround them; while the stone of every other edifice is of a light colour, they alone are black with the smoke of centuries; and exhibit a venerable aspect of ancient greatness in the midst of the brilliancy of modern decoration with which the city abounds. Even the crowd of ornaments with which they are loaded, and the heavy proportion in which they are built, are forgotten in the effect which their magnitude produces; they suit the gloomy character of the building they adorn, and accord with the expression of antiquated power by which its aged forms are now distinguished.
To those who have been accustomed to the form of worship which is established in Protestant countries, there is nothing so striking in the Catholic churches as the complete oblivion of rank, or any of the distinctions of established society, which there universally prevails. There are no divisions of seats, nor any places fixed for any particular classes of society. All, of whatever rank or station, kneel alike upon the marble pavement; and the whole extent of the church is open for the devotion of all classes of the people. You frequently see the poorest citizens with their children kneeling on the stone close to those of the highest rank, or the most extensive fortunes. This custom may appear painful to those who have been habituated to the forms of devotion in the English churches; but it produces an impression on the mind of the spectator which nothing in our service is capable of effecting. To see the individual form lost in the immensity of the objects with which he is surrounded; to see all ranks and ages blended in the exercise of common devotion; to see all distinction forgotten in the sense of common infirmity, suits the spirit of that religion which was addressed to the poor as well as to the rich, and fits the presence of that Being before whom all ranks are equal.
Nor is it without a good effect upon the feelings of mankind, that this custom has formed a part of the Catholic service. Amidst that degradation of the great body of the people, which marks the greater part of the Catholic countries—amidst the insolence of aristocratic power, which the doctrines of the Catholic faith are so well suited to support, it is fitting that there should be some occasions on which the distinctions of the world should be forgotten; some moments in which the rich as well as the poor should be humbled before a greater power—in which they should be reminded of the common faith in which they have been baptized, of the common duties to which they are called, and the common hopes which they have been permitted to form.
We had the good fortune to see high mass performed in Notre Dame, with all the pomp of the Catholic service, for the souls of Louis XVI. Marie Antoinette, and the Dauphin, on May 16, 1814, soon after the King's arrival in Paris. The Cathedral was hung with black in every part; the brilliancy of day wholly excluded, and it was lighted only by double rows of wax tapers, which burned round the coffins, placed in the centre of the choir. It was crowded to excess in every part; all the Marshals, Peers, and dignitaries of France, were stationed with the Royal Family near the centre of the Cathedral, and all the principal officers of the allied armies attended at the celebration of the service. The King was present, though without being perceived by the vast assembly by whom he was surrounded; and the Duchess d'Angouleme exhibited, in this melancholy duty, that mixture of firmness and sensibility by which her character has always been distinguished.
It was said, that there were several persons present at this solemn service who had voted for the death of the King; and many of those assembled must doubtless have been conscious that they had been instrumental in the death of those for whose souls this solemn service was now performing. The greater part, however, of those whom we had an opportunity of observing, exhibited the symptoms of genuine sorrow, and seemed to participate in the solemnity with unfeigned devotion. The Catholic worship was here displayed in its utmost splendour; all the highest prelates of France were assembled to give dignity to the spectacle; and all that art could devise was exhausted to render the scene impressive in the eyes of the people. To us, however, who had been habituated to the simplicity of the English form, the variety of unmeaning ceremony, the endless gestures and unceasing bows of the clergy who officiated, destroyed the impression which the solemnity of the service would otherwise have produced. But though the service itself appeared ridiculous, the effect of the whole scene was sublime in the greatest degree. The black tapestry hung in heavy folds round the sides of the Cathedral, and magnified the impression which its vastness produced. The tapers which surrounded the coffins threw a red and gloomy light over the innumerable multitude which thronged the floor; their receding rays faintly illuminated the farther recesses, or strained to pierce the obscure gloom in which the summits of the pillars were lost; while the sacred music pealed through the distant aisles, and deepened the effect of the thousands of voices which joined in the strains of repentant prayer.
Among the exhibitions of art to which a stranger is conducted immediately after his arrival in the French metropolis, there is none which is more characteristic of the disposition of the people than the Musee des Monumens Francois, situated in the Rue des Petits Angustins. This is a collection of all the finest sepulchral monuments from different parts of France, particularly from the Cathedral of St Denis, where the cemetery of the royal family had, from time immemorial, been placed. It is said by the French, that the collection of these monuments into one museum was the only means of preserving them from the fury of the people during the revolution; and certainly nothing but absolute necessity could have justified the barbarous idea of bringing them from the graves they were intended to adorn, to one spot, where all associations connected with them are destroyed. It is not the mere survey of the monuments of the dead that is interesting,—not the examination of the specimens of art by which they may be adorned;—it is the remembrance of the deeds which they are intended to record,—of the virtues they are destined to perpetuate,—- of the pious gratitude of which they are now the only testimony—above all, of the dust they actually cover. They remind us of the great men who formerly filled the theatre of the world,—they carry us back to an age which, by a very natural illusion, we conceive to have been both wiser and happier than our own, and present the record of human greatness in that pleasing distance when the great features of character alone are remembered, when time has drawn its veil over the weaknesses of mortality, and its virtues are sanctified by the hand of death. It is a feeling fitted to elevate the soul; to mingle the thoughts of death with the recollection of the virtues by which life had been dignified, and renovate in every heart those high hopes of religion which spring from, the grave of former virtue.
All this delightful, this purifying illusion, is destroyed by the way in which the monuments are collected in the Museum at Paris. They are there brought together from all parts of France; severed from the ashes of the dead they were intended to cover; and arranged in systematic order to illustrate the history of the art whose progress they unfold. The tombs of all the Kings of France, of the Generals by whom its glory has been extended, of the statesmen by whom its power, and the writers by whom its fame has been established, are crowded together in one collection, and heaped upon each other, without any other connexion than that of the time in which they were originally raised. The Museum accordingly exhibits, in the most striking manner, the power of arrangement and classification which the French possess; it is valuable, as containing fine models of the greatest men whom France has produced, and exhibits a curious specimen of the progress of art, from its first commencement to the period of its greatest perfection; but it has wholly lost that deep and peculiar interest which belongs to the monuments of the dead in their original situation.
Adjoining to the Museum, is a garden planted with trees, in which many of the finest monuments are placed; but in which the depravity of the French taste appears in the most striking manner. It is surrounded with houses, and darkened by the shade of lofty buildings; yet, in this gloomy situation, they have placed the tomb of Fenelon, and the united monument of Abelard and Eloise: profaning thus, by the barbarous affectation of artificial taste, and the still more shocking imitation of ancient superstition, the remains of those whose names are enshrined in every heart which can feel the beauty of moral excellence, or share in the sympathy with youthful sorrow.
How different are the feelings with which an Englishman surveys the untouched monuments of English greatness!—and treads the floor of that venerable building which shrouds the remains of all who have dignified their native land—in which her patriots, her poets, and her philosophers, "sleep with her kings, and dignify the scene," which the rage of popular fury has never dared to profane, and the hand of victorious power has never been able to violate; where the ashes of the immortal dead still lie in undisturbed repose, under that splendid roof which covered the tombs of her earliest kings, and witnessed, from its first dawn, the infant glory of the English people.—Nor could the remembrance of the national monuments we have described, ever excite in the mind of a native of France, the same feeling of heroic devotion which inspired the sublime expression of Nelson, as he boarded the Spanish Admiral's ship at St Vincent's—"Westminster Abbey or Victory!"
Though the streets in Paris have an aged and uncomfortable appearance, the form of the houses is such, as, at a distance, to present a picturesque aspect. Their height, their sharp and irregular tops, the vast variety of forms which they assume when seen from different quarters, all combine to render a distant view of them move striking than the long rows of uniform houses of which London is composed. The domes and steeples of Paris, however, are greatly inferior, both in number and magnificence, to those of the English capital.
The gardens of the Thuilleries and the Luxembourg, of which the Parisians think so highly, and which are constantly filled with all ranks of citizens, are laid out with a singularity of taste, of which, in this country, we can scarcely form any conception. The straight walks—the clipt trees—the marble fountains—are fast wearing out in all parts of England; they are to be met with only round the mansions of ancient families, and even there are kept rather from the influence of ancient prejudice, or from the affection to hereditary forms, than from their coincidence with the present taste of the English people. They are seldom, accordingly, disagreeable, with us, to the eye of the most cultivated taste; their singularity forms a pleasing variety to the continued succession of lawns and shrubberies which is every where to be met with; and they are regarded rather as the venerable marks of ancient splendour, than as the barbarous affectation of modern distinction. In France, the native deformity of this taste appears in its real light, without the colouring of any such adventitious circumstances as conceal it in this country. It does not appear there under the softening veil of ancient manners; its avenues do not conduct to the decaying abode of hereditary greatness—its gardens do not mark the scenes of former festivity—its fountains are not covered with the moss which has grown for centuries. It appears as the model of present taste; it is considered as the indication of existing splendour; and sought after, as the form in which the beauty of Nature is now to be admired. All that association accordingly had blended in our minds with the style of ancient gardening in our own country, was instantly divested by its appearance in France; and we felt then the whole importance of that happy change in the national taste, whereby variety has been made to succeed to uniformity, and the imitation of nature to come in the place of the exhibition of art.