The hill of Montmartre is reached from the Boulevard by way of the Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin, and thence by the Rue Blanche or the Rue Pigalle, or by way of the Rue Laffitte and the Rue des Martyrs. Mme. Recamier, whom Napoleon hated and who nursed Chateaubriand in his old age, lived in the Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin ; so did Mme. Roland, the beautiful Girondist, ” serene and queenly,” and Mme. Necker, the mother of Mme. de Stael, and Gibbon of The Decline and Fall, who nearly married Mme. Necker. The world may rejoice that the plan was frustrated, for had it matured, there would certainly have been no Mme. de Stael. It is impossible to conceive such a woman with Gibbon as father. In the Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin there lived an even more famous person, Baron Danglars, one of the villains of Monte Cristo, the banker whom Monte Cristo contrived to ruin, and near by in a parallel street, the Rue du Helder, was ” the large and fashionable dwelling ” of Fernand Mondego and his wife, the beautiful Mercedes, to whom Monte Cristo, then Edmond Dantes, was affianced when he was arrested and taken to the Chateau d’If. Mirabeau died in the Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin in 1791, already grown fearful of the Revolution which he had done so much to bring about. The spring sun shone into his room on the day of his death, and almost his last words were, ” Si ce n’est pas la Dieu c’est du moins son cousin germain.” At a house in this street Napoleon met Josephine de Beauharnais for the first time.
The Rue Meyerbeer, a comparatively new street, now runs from the Rue Chaussee d’Antin to the Opera House. Meyerbeer, a German Jew, born in Berlin, was one of the many foreign artists to whom Paris has given fortune and fame. His Robert le Diable was produced in the thirties of last century when the Opera House was in the Rue Le Peletier. It is said that the composer could never quite believe that he had made a great success, and that he went every morning to look at the bills outside the Opera House, to see whether Robert le Diable was to be performed. When it was, in sheer joy he emptied his pockets to the loafers in the street. The consequence was that whenever a Meyerbeer opera was played in the evening, the Rue Le Peletier was simply swarming with beggars in the morning.
At the top of the Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin is the Place de la Trinite, from which three streets run northward to the Boulevard de Clichy and Montmartre. On the left hand of these three streets is the Rue de Clichy. Turning off it on the right is the Rue de Bruxelles where Zola died. In common with many of the great French writers of the nineteenth century Zola was a sad, sombre figure of a man. In his youth the de Goncourts described him as ” restless, anxious, profound, complicated, reserved and not easily understood.” He worked almost as hard as Daudet to earn a living, declaring in his early days that his one compensation was good food. ” When I have not something good at dinner I am unhappy, quite unhappy. It is the only thing : other things do not exist as far as I am concerned.” He was sometimes so impecunious that he had to pawn his coat and trousers and stay at home working in his shirt. Zola was the disciple of Flaubert, and. like Flaubert he was by nature a romanticist who complled himself to be a realist. Emile Faguet says that he had a ” coarsening vision which made him remember things seen not exactly as they were, but larger, more highly coloured, more formidable.” He was a great collector of facts, and when he had his facts he was as romantic in coarsening them as other writers are in sentimentalising them. It is amusing in thinking of Zola as a hunter of the realities-if possible the unpleasant realities-to recall a description of him in the de Goncourt Journal :
” Zola’s nose is quite peculiar ; it is a nose which interrogates, approves, condemns ; a nose which is sad or gay ; a nose which is inhabited by its master’s physiognomy: a real hunting-dog’s nose, which impressions, sensations and desires divide at the end into two little lobes which seem to twitch at moments.”
Zola has been described by Sir Edmund Gosse as ” a thunderer or bellower on the trumpet,” but, as Sir Edmund has pointed out, he ” can sometimes breathe through silver, particularly in his short stories, which are very little known in England.” That he was a man of splendid courage and fine sympathy was shown in his fight for Dreyfus, the not very attractive victim of what is still to foreigners an incomprehensible political plot.
The streets on the way to Montmartre are peopled with literary, artistic, musical and theatrical ghosts. Eastward of the Rue de Bruxelles at the junction of the Avenue Trudaine and the Rue des Martyrs is the restaurant in which Fragson, the famous Anglo-Ii rench comedian, dined before going back to his flat to be murdered by his father, and a little south in the Rue St. Georges, the composer Auber died. Auber never, if he could possibly help with took off his hat. He composed with his hat on, he ate mth his hat on, and if he went to the theatre he insisted on having a box in order that he need not take his hat off. Indeed, although he was not a Jew, he went to the Synagogue for the same reason, and would never go into a church.
In the Rue de Douai the great Russian novelist, Turgenev, lived during his long stay in France. Edmond de Goncourt met him one night at dinner at Gustave Flaubert’s, Theophile Gautier being the other guest. The wise adventurer in Paris always, by the way, has a copy of the journal in his pocket. De Goncourt says :
`Turgenev, the delightful giant, the lovable barbarian, whose white hairs fall down on to his eyes, with a deep fold that runs across his forehead from one temple to the other like a furrow, with his infantile speech, charms us from the soup onwards by that mixture of simplicity and depth which makes the Slav race so seductive-emphasised in his case by the originality of his mind and by his immense and cosmopolitan knowledge.
” He told us about the month he spent in prison after the publication of A Sportsmara’s Sketches ; of that month when he had, for his cell, the archives of the police of his district, of which he read through the secret files. He described to us, with the detail of a painter and a novelist, the police inspector who one day, intoxicated by Turgenev’s champagne, said to him, touching his elbow and lifting his glass into the air : ` To Robespierre.’ ” Then he stopped for a moment, lost in his reflections, and began again : ” If I took pride in these things, I should ask that on my tombstone should be carved what my book did for the emancipation of the serfs – and nothing more. Yes, I should only ask that. . . . The Emperor Alexander had me informed that the reading of my book was one of the principal motives of his determination.”
In the early part of his life Gounod lived in this Quartier, in the Rue Rochechouart. As might be supposed of a man who composed masses as well as operas, Gounod had intermittent spasms of religious enthusiasm. During one of them he became very anxious to secure the conversion of Sarah Bernhardt. He went, so it is said, to her flat in the Boulevard Pereire, near the Porte Maillot, and implored, persuaded and wept. The great Sarah remained silent until the composer had finished, and then very decisively remarked, Non, moi je reste atheiste.
The Boulevard de Clichy and the streets reaching to it from the south are the home of the night restaurant and the cabaret. The night restaurants of Montmartre, together with such bizarre vulgarities as le Ciel, l’Enfer, and the rest, largely exist on foreign custom, for, as I have said, the real Paris is early to bed and early to rise. Some of the cabarets, too, openly cater for the Puritan’s craving for the nasty when he once gets out of his own country. But none the less there is very genuine and distinctive art in the Montmartre cabaret. The songs would hardly meet with the approval of the Bradford Watch Committee, but they have wit, they are often ironic and they are sometimes most admirable satire. Fashion in cabarets changes almost from month to month. The best of them was once the Chat Noir. More recently the best was unquestionably La Lune Rousse where my friend, Lucien Boyer, a most admirable poet, used to appear every night. M. Boyer’s quality may be judged from his ” Gerbe de Tommy,” taken from his Chansons des Poilus.
I have a delightful memory of Lucien Boyer in a Montmartre restaurant lunching on eggs and bacon as a delicate compliment to my nationality, and writing a poem on the back of the menu while he ate and talked.
North of the Boulevard de Clichy the streets are uncomfortably steep till one reaches the hill-top and the Sacre Coeur, and the elderly and the wise complete the journey on the funicular railway. For the Sacre Coeur I have no affection, but for the small restaurants, or at least one or two of them near by, where one eats in the open air to be enthralled by a panorama of Paris in the valley below, I have a deep love. I am not indeed sure that an evening so spent is not the best that Paris has to offer. Did not one famous Montmartrois say : ” Maintenant en guise d’aperitif, je vais vous offrir une vue splendide sur Paris. C’est tout que je possede.”
The Sacre Coeur is size and very little else. It was built after the war of 1800 by France, thanks to defeat, humiliee et repentance, and unattractive as it is, it is a church dominating a great city. The Sacre Coeur stands for a rather sentimental Catholicism which is a striking contrast to the intellectual Catholicism of such a church as St. Sulpice.
On the west slope of the hill of Montmartre is the Cimetiere du Nord where Heine is buried and Henri Murger, the author of La Vie de Boheme, and the two uncomfortable brothers de Goncourt, and Theophile Gautier, and Renan, the ex-monk.
Montmartre has played its part in all the revolutions. Just before the Commune it was said that at Montmartre ” insurrection held its guns and its drums always ready,” and it was the seizing of the cannons at Montmartre that began the outbreak of 1871. M. Clemenceau was Mayor of Montmartre in those days, and being a realistic politician was opposed to the sentimental adventure of the Communists. ” Half accomplice, half dupe of M. Thiers,” is a Communist description of Clemenceau then.