It is an interesting if somewhat protracted adventure to walk along the quays of the Seine from west to east on the right bank, returning from east to west along the left bank. The journey begins at the Quai d’Auteuil, a gloomy and depressing locality, and it has little interest until the Trocadero is passed and the traveler has arrived at the Pont d’Iena. Near the Trocadero, by the way, is the Rue Franklin where, in quite a humble apartment on the rez-de-chaussee, M. Clemenceau lived during the latter days of the War and during the Peace Conference, when he was the virtual dictator of France.
The Pont d’Iena was built in 1809. Its name, of course, is a reminder of Napoleon’s overwhelming defeat of the Prussians. Old Blucher, whose manners Wellington found it so hard to endure after Waterloo, declared when he arrived in Paris that it was his intention to blow up the bridge, since its existence was an insult to his nation. But for once Louis XVIII. forgot he was a Bourbon and remembered that he was a Frenchman. He wrote to the King of Prussia begging him to forbid the vandalism of his Marshal and added that, if his request was refused, he would ask to be told the time at which the bridge was to be destroyed that he might place himself on the middle of it. One does not associate heroism with Louis XVIII., and it is possible that, if Blucher had had his way and the King had been advised of the hour of destruction, he would have reconsidered the matter and failed to keep his appointment. But he made a beau geste which saved the bridge.
The walk becomes delightful after passing the Pont de l’_Alma, and Paris at its best with the tree-shaded quays, the river with its Seine boats, like nothing else on earth, and the dignified elegance of the passers-by. The Pont Alexandre III., a modern bridge built to celebrate the alliance with Russia without which perhaps there would have been no Great War, is the newest of the Paris bridges and is evidence that the modern Frenchman is as great a bridge-builder as his forbears.
The Pont de la Concorde, over which the parliamentarian hurries to the sittings of the Chambre des Deputes, was built in 1790 from the stones of the demolished Bastille. At the Pont des Arts the wanderer is in the very centre of historic Paris with the Louvre to his left, while across the river is the quartier of the poet and the artist. The Pont Neuf, despite its name, is the oldest bridge in Paris. It was begun in the reign of Henri III., the last of the Valois, and finished by Henri IV. Writing in his diary on Christmas Eve, 1643, John Evelyn says :
” Over the Seine is a stately bridge called Pont Neuf, begun by Henry III. in 1578, finished by Henry IV., his successor. It is all of hewn freestone found under the streets, but more plentifully at Montmartre, and consists of twelve arches, in the midst of which ends the point of an island, on which are built handsome artificers’ houses. There is one large passage for coaches, and two for footpassengers three or four feet higher, and of convenient breadth for eight or ten to go a-breast. On the middle of this stately bridge, on one side stands the famous statue of Henry the Great on horseback, exceeding the natural proportion by much ; and, on the four faces of a stately pedestal (which is composed of various sorts of polished marbles and rich mouldings), inscriptions of his victories and most signal actions are engraven in brass. The statue and horse are of copper, the work of the great John di Bologna, and sent from Florence by Ferdinand the First, and Cosmo the Second, uncle and cousin to Marie de Medicis, the wife of King Henry, whose statue it represents. The place where it is erected is inclosed with a strong and beautiful grate of iron, about which there are always mountebanks showing their feats to idle passengers.
” From hence is a rare prospect towards the Louvre and suburbs of St. Germain, the Isle du Palais, and NotreDame. At the foot of this bridge is a water-house, on the front whereof, at a great height, is the story of our Saviour and the woman of Samaria pouring water out of a bucket. Above is a very rare dial of several motions, with a chime, etc. The water is conveyed by huge wheels, pumps, and other engines, from the river beneath. The confluence of the people and multitude of coaches passing every moment over the bridge, to a new spectator is an agreeable diversion.”
The Place Dauphine, near the Pont Neuf, was named in honour of Louis XIII. by his father, Henri IV. Close to the Place was the famous Restaurant Magny where the famous literary dinners, of which Sainte-Beuve and the de Goncourts were the originators, were held in the middle of last century. Writing in their Journal of one of these dinners the de Goncourts record :
” An enormous discussion about God and religion, a discussion horn of a good meal and good brains. Taine explained the advantages and the convenience of Protestantism to men of intellect, of the elasticity of its dogma, and of the interpretation which every one, according to his temperament, may give to his faith. He ended up by saying: ` At the bottom of it all, I believe these things are matters of sentiment, and I have an idea that musical natures are inclined towards Protestantism and plastic natures towards Catholicism.’ ”
The Tour St. Jacques, which the wanderer cannot miss, was built in the reign of Franois I., and was part of an old church pulled down in the’ Second Empire when the Rue de Rivoli was constructed.
The next bridge, the Pont au Change, derives its name from the fact that in the days when bridges were busy streets, it was the home of the goldsmith and the money lender, and there is something suggestive in the fact that the bridge was burned down in 1621. Paris bridges, indeed, have had many casualties, the Pont Notre-Dame having bodily fallen into the river at the end of the fifteenth century. The Pont Neuf and the Pont au Change are frequently mentioned in the Dumas novels, and d’Artagnan and the three musketeers often swaggered across both of them. On the Quai du Louvre there still stands a cafe now called the Bouillon du Pont-Neuf, formerly known as the Cafe de Parnasse and the Cafe des Ecoles, which was a rendezvous for students and young barristers who had only to cross the Pont Neuf to reach the Palais de Justice, and which Danton frequented in pre-revolution days when he was making his way at the Bar. The proprietor was one Carpentier, and in 1787, when he was twenty-eight, Danton married the patron’s daughter Gabrielle, her father giving her a dowry of twenty thousand francs. Mr. Hilaire Belloc has written a vivid description of Danton at the time of his marriage :
” He was tall and stout, with the forward bearing of the orator, full of gesture and of animation. He carried a round French head upon a thick neck of energy. His face was generous, ugly, and determined. With wide eyes and calm brows, he yet had the quick glance which betrays the habit of appealing to an audience. His upper lip was injured, and so was his nose, and he had further been disfigured by the small-pox, with which disease that forerunner of his, Mirabeau, had also been disfigured.”
The rest of the journey on the right bank is without any great interest. Coming back westward, near the Pont d’Austerlitz, the wayfarer passes the Jardin des Plantes, the poor Parisians’ Zoo, where there is no charge for admission. It is not as interesting or complete as the London Zoo, but its peacocks have moved Mr. E. V. Lucas to admiration.
The Pont Sully joins the rive gauche to the smaller of the two Seine islands, the Ile St. Louis. Here, on the Quai de Bourbon, Meissonier had his studio. The painter of military subjects was himself no mean soldier, but he was never quite happy because he was not elected a deputy or appointed a professor at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. How quaint are men’s ambitions !
Near by on the Quai de Bourbon both Baudelaire and Theophile Gautier lived for a time. Charles Pierre Baude laire is as pathetic a figure as Villon or Verlaine. He was thirty-six when he published his famous Fleurs du Mal, and soon after he completed his translations of Edgar Allan Poe with whom he had so close affinity. He was always in pecuniary difficulties, and his debts compelled him to leave Paris for Belgium, where drink and opium led to his loss of reason. Like Guy de Maupassant, he died in a lunatic asylum. Baudelaire has been described as the first of the decadents, and he was the hero of the English decadent writers of the nineties of last century. He was, it has been well said, as afraid of life as was de Musset. But he was a very great poet, and it is good to remember his verse in this walk by the side of the Seine. There are memorable lines in Cyril Scott’s translation of the Fleurs du Mal :
A loudly echoing harbour, where my soul may hold
To quaff, the silver cup of colours, scents and sounds,
Wherein the vessels glide upon a sea of gold,
And stretch their mighty arms, the glory to enfold Of virgin skies, where never-ending heat abounds.
Victor Hugo had a great admiration for Baudelaire’s genius. He said in a letter to him : ” Tjous dotez le ciel de l’art d’un rayon macabre, vous creez un frisson nouveau.” Baudelaire, on the other hand, said of Hugo that the Almighty had taken in equal parts genius and silliness from which to compound the elder poet’s brain so that in all his writing there was to be found an inexhaustible supply de beaute et de betise. There is a charming story told of Baudelaire visiting the Hugos when they were living in Brussels in 1864. Victor Hugo talked and Baudelaire was bored : ” Il gardait ses levres pincees, son regard aigu, sa dedaigneuse politesse, soigne de sa personne, net et muet.” And then after a while he went to the piano and, despite Victor Hugo’s notorious hatred of music, played ” Tannhauser ” all through.
Swinburne’s ” Ave atque Vale,” written in memory of Baudelaire, is one of the supreme elegies in our language. In one stanza there is a marvellous summary of the qualities of the French poet :
Thou sawest, in thine old singing season, brother,
Secrets and sorrows unbeheld of us :
Fierce loves, and lovely leaf-buds poisonous,
Bare to thy subtler eye, but for none other
Blowing by night in some unbreathed-in clime ;
The hidden harvest of luxurious time,
Sin without shape, and pleasure without speech ;
And where strange dreams in a tumultuous sleep
Make the shut eyes of stricken spirits weep :
And with each face thou sawest the shadow on each,
Seeing as men sow men reap.
The de Goncourts wrote in 1857 :
” Baudelaire has been supping next to us to-night.
He wore neither tie nor collar, and his head was shaven, as if for the guillotine. In addition to this he has a studied elegance, little hands as carefully washed and trimmed as a woman’s-and, to crown it all, a maniac’s head, a voice that -cuts like steel, and a delivery that aims at a sort of ornate exactness. He argues fiercely, with a sharp anger, that he has not put anything improper into his poems.”