Paris – The Bastille, Père Lachaise And The End

THE Place des Vosges is close to the Place de la Bastille, which lies to the east of it along the Rue St. Antoine. The prison has gone for ever, but one is assisted by a thoughtful municipality to reconstruct it, a task of no difficulty at all if one remembers with any vividness the models in the Carnavalet or the Archives, or buys a pictorial postcard at any neighboring shop. The contribution of the pious city fathers is a map on the facade of No. 36 Place de la Bastille, and a permanent outline of the walls of the dreadful building in-laid in the road and pavement, which one may follow step by step to the satisfaction of one’s imagination and the derangement of the traffic until it disappears into cafes and shops. One has to remember, however, that the surface of the ground was much lower, the prison being surrounded by a moat and gained only by bridges.

For the actual stones one must go to the Pont de la Concorde, the upper part of which was built of them in 1790.

The Bastille’s end came in 1789, at the beginning of the Revolution, on the day after the National Guard was established, when the people of Paris rose under Camille Desmoulins and captured it, thus not only displaying but discovering their strength. Carlyle was never more scornful, never more cruelly vivid, than in his description of this event. I must quote a little, it is so horribly splendid : ” To describe this Siege of the Bastille (thought to be one of the most important in History) perhaps transcends the talent of mortals. Could one but, after infinite reading, get to understand so much as the plan of the building ! But there is open Esplanade, at the end of the Rue Saint-Antoine; there are such Forecourts, Cour Avancé, Cour de l’Orme, arched Gateway (where Louis Tournay now fights) ; then new drawbridges, dormant-bridges, rampart-bastions, and the grim Eight Towers : a labyrinthic Mass, high-frowning there, of all ages from twenty years to four hundred and twenty ; — beleaguered, in this its last hour, as we said, by mere Chaos come again ! Ordnance of all calibres; throats of all capacities; men of all plans, every man his own engineer : seldom since the war of Pygmies and Cranes was there seen so anomalous a thing. Half-pay Elie is home for a suit of regimentals ; no one would heed him in coloured clothes : half-pay Hulin is haranguing Gardes Françaises in the Place de Grève. Frantic Patriots pick up the grape. shots; bear them, still hot (or seemingly so), to the Hôtel de Ville:— Paris, you perceive, is to be burnt ! Flesselles is ` pale to the very lips’ ; for the roar of the multitude grows deep. Paris wholly has got to the acme of its frenzy; whirled, all ways, by panic madness. At every street-barricade, there whirls simmering a minor whirlpool, — strengthening the barricade, since God knows what is coming; and all minor whirlpools play distractedly into that grand Fire-Maelstrom which is lashing round the Bastille.

“And so it lashes and it roars. Cholat the wine-merchant has become an impromptu cannoneer. See Georget, of the Marine Service, fresh from Brest, ply the King of Siam’s cannon. Singular (if we were not used to the like) : Georget lay, last night, taking his ease at his inn ; the King of Siam’s cannon also lay, knowing nothing of him,, for a hundred years. Yet now, at the right instant, they have got together, and discourse eloquent music. For, hearing what was to-ward, Georget sprang from the Brest Diligence, and ran. Gardes Françaises also will be here, with real artillery : were not the walls so thick ! — Upwards from the Esplanade, horizontally from all neighbouring roofs and windows, flashes one irregular deluge of musketry, without effect. The Invalides lie flat, firing comparatively at their ease from behind stone; hardly through portholes show the tip of a nose. We fall, shot; and make no impression !

“Let conflagration rage; of whatsoever is combustible ! Guard-rooms are burnt, Invalides mess-rooms. A distracted `Perukemaker with two fiery torches’ is for burning `the saltpetres of the Arsenal'; — had not a woman run screaming ; had not a Patriot, with some tincture of Natural Philosophy, instantly struck the wind out of him (butt of musket on pit of stomach), overturned barrels, and stayed the devouring element. A young beautiful lady, seized escaping in these Outer Courts, and thought falsely to be De Launay’s daughter, shall be burnt in De Launay’s sight; she lies swooned on a paillasse : but again a Patriot, it is brave Aubin Bonnemère, the old soldier, dashes in and rescues her. Straw is burnt; three cartloads of it, hauled thither, go up in white smoke : almost to the choking of Patriotism itself ; so that Elie had, with singed brows, to drag back one cart; and Réole the `gigantic haberdasher’ another. Smoke as of Tophet; confusion as of Babel; noise as of the Crack of Doom !

“Blood flows ; the aliment of new madness. The wounded are carried into houses of the Rue Cerisaie; the dying leave their last mandate not to yield till the accursed Stronghold fall. And yet, alas, how fall ? The walls are so thick ! Deputations, three in number, arrive from the Hôtel de Ville; Abbé Fauchet (who was of one) can say, with what almost superhuman courage of benevolence. These wave their Town-flag in the arched Gateway; and stand, rolling their drum; but to no purpose. In such Crack of Doom De Launay cannot hear them, dare not believe them: they return, with justified rage, the whew of lead still singing in their ears. What to do? The Firemen are here, squirting with their fire-pumps on the Invalides cannon, to wet the touchholes; they unfortunately cannot squirt so high; but produce only clouds of spray. Individuals of classical knowledge propose catapults. Santerre, the sonorous Brewer of the Suburb Saint-Antoine, advises rather that the place be fired, by a `mixture of phosphorus and of oil-of-turpentine spouted up through forcing-pumps': O Spinola-Santerre, hast thou the mixture ready? Every man his own engineer ! And still the fire-deluge abates not : even women are firing, and Turks ; at least one woman (with her sweetheart), and one Turk. Gardes Françaises have come : real can-non, real cannoneers. Usher Maillard is busy; half-pay Elie, half-pay Hulin rage in the midst of thousands.

” How the great Bastille Clock ticks (inaudible) in its Inner Court there, at its ease, hour after hour; as if nothing special, for it or the world, were passing! It tolled One when the firing began; and is now pointing towards Five, and still the firing slakes not. — Far down, in their vaults, the seven Prisoners hear muffled din as of earthquakes; their Turnkeys answer vaguely.

“Wo to thee, De Launay, with thy poor hundred Invalides ! Broglie is distant, and his ears heavy: Besenval hears, but can send no help. One poor troop of Hussars has crept, reconnoitering, cautiously along the Quais, as far as the Pont Neuf. ‘We are come to join you,’ said the Captain ; for the crowd seem shoreless. A large-headed dwarfish individual, of smoke-bleared aspect, shambles forward, opening his blue lips, for there is sense in him; and croaks: `Alight then, and give up your arms !’ The Hussar-Captain is too happy to be escorted to the Barriers, and dismissed on parole. Who the squat individual was ? Men answer, It is M. Marat, author of the excellent pacific Avis au Peuple ! Great truly, O thou remarkable Dogleech, is this thy day of emergence and new-birth : and yet this same day come four years — ! — But let the curtains of the Future hang.”

After some hours the deed is done and Paris re-echoes to the cries “La Bastille est prise!” “In the Court, all is mystery, not without whisperings of terror; though ye dream of lemonade and epaulettes, ye foolish women ! His Majesty, kept in happy ignorance, perhaps dreams of double-barrels and the Woods of Meudon. Late at night, the Duke de Liancourt, having official right of entrance, gains access to the Royal Apartments ; unfolds, with earnest clearness, in his constitutional way, the Job’s-news. `Mais,’ said poor Louis, `c’est une révolte, Why, that is a revolt !’ — ` Sire,’ answered Liancourt, ` it is not a revolt, — it is a revolution.’ ”

That was July 14th, 1789; but it is not the July that the Colonne de Juillet in the centre of the Place celebrates. That July was forty-one years later, not so late but that many Parisians could remember both events: July 27th to 29th, 1830, the Second Revolution, which overturned the Bourbons and set Louis-Philippe of Orleans in the siège périlleux of France. Louis-Philippe himself erected this monument in memory of the six hundred and fifteen citizens who fell in his interests and who are buried beneath. Their names are cut in the bronze of the column, on the summit of which is the beautiful winged figure of Liberty.

Beneath the vault of the Colonne, and immediately beneath the Colonne itself, runs the great canal which brings merchandise into Paris from the east, entering the Seine between the Pont Sully and the Pont d’Austerlitz. At this point it is not very interesting, but from the Avenue de la République, where it re-emerges again into the light of day, and thence right away to the Abattoirs de Villette, it is very amusing to stroll by. The Paris Daily Mail, which in its eager paternal way has taken English and American visitors completely under its wing, is diurnally anxious that its readers should make a tour of these abattoirs. But not I. That a holiday in Paris should include the examination of a slaughter-house strikes me as a joyless proposition, putting thoroughness far before pleasure. But the Daily Mail is like that; it also does its best on the second and fourth Wednesdays in every month to get its compatriots down the Paris sewers. And I suppose they go. Strange heart of the tourist ! We never think of penetrating either to the sewers or the slaughter-houses of our native land; we have no theories of sewers, no data for comparison ; we love the upper air and the sun.

But being in a foreign city we cheerfully give the second or fourth Wednesday to such delights.

Having taken the Daily Mail’s advice and visited the abattoirs (which I have not done), one cannot do better than return to Paris by way of the canal, sauntering beside it all the way to the Rue Faubourg du Temple, where one passes into the Place de la République and the stir of the city once more. The canal descends from the heights of La Villette in a series of long steps, as it were (or, to take the most dissonant simile possible to devise, like the lakes at Wootton), built up by locks. Idling by this canal one sees many agreeable phases of human toil. Many commodities and materials reach Paris by barge, and it is on these quais and in the Villette basin that the unloading is done; while the barges themselves are pleasant spectacles — so long and clean and broad — very Mauretanias beside the barges of Holland — with spacious deck-houses that are often perfect villas, the wife and children watering the flowers at the door.

One quai is given up wholly to lime. This arrives in thousands of little solid sacks which stevedores whiter than millers transfer to the carts, that, in their turn, creak off to disorganise the traffic of a hundred streets and provoke the contempt of a thousand drivers before they reach their destined building, on which the work-men have already been engaged for two years and will be engaged for two years more. There is no hurry in constructional work in Paris — except of course on Exhibitions, which spring up in a night. The same piece of road that was up in the Rue Lafayette for some surface trouble in a recent April, I found still up in October. But they have the grace, when rebuilding a house in the city, to hide their deliberate processes behind a wooden screen — such a screen as was opposite the Café de la Paix, at the south-east corner of the Boulevard des Capucines, for, it seems to me, years.

If, however, one is walking beside the canal in the other direction, up the hill instead of down, one will soon be nearer the Victoria Park of Paris, the park of the east end, than at any other time, and this should be visited as surely as the abattoirs should be avoided : unless, of course, one is a well-informed or thoughtful butcher. We have seen the Parc Monceau; well, the antithesis of the Parc Monceau, which has no counter-part in London, is the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Both are children’s paradises, the only difference in the children being social position. The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is sixty acres of trees and walks and perpendicular rocks and water, the special charm of which is its diversified character, rising in the midst to an immense height made easy for carriages and perambulators by a winding road. It has a deep gorge crossed by a sus-pension bridge, a lake for boats, a cascade, and thousands of chairs side by side, touching, lining the roads, on which the maids and matrons of La Villette and Belleville sew and gossip, while the children play around. The parc was made in the sixties : before then it had been a waste ground and gypsum quarry — hence its attractive irregularities. How wonderful the heights and cathedral of Montmartre can appear from one of the peaks of the Buttes-Chaumont, Mr. Dexter’s drawing shows.

The Buttes-Chaumont is the most easterly point we have yet reached ; but there is another parc more easterly still awaiting us, not unlike the Buttes-Chaumont in its acclivities, but unlike it in this particular, that it is a parc not of the living but the dead. I mean Père Lachaise. Père Lachaise ! What kind of an old man do you think gave his name to this cemetery ? Most persons, I imagine, see him as white-haired and venerable : not twinkling, like Papa Gontier, but serene and noble and sad. As a matter of fact he was a père only by profession and courtesy. Père Laohaise was Louis XIV.’s fashionable confessor (Landor has a diverting imaginary conversation between these two), and the cemetery took its name from his house, which chanced to occupy the site of the present chapel. The ground was enclosed as a burial ground as recently as 1804, which means of course that the famous tomb of Abélard and Héloise, to which all travellers find their way, is a modern reconstruction. The remains of La Fontaine and Molière and other illustrious men who died before 1804 were transferred here, just as Zola’s were recently transferred from the cemetery of Montmartre to the Panthéon, but with less excitement.

Père Lachaise cannot be taken lightly. The French live very thoroughly, but when they die they die thoroughly too, and their cemeteries confess the scythe. There may be, to our thinking, too much architecture ; but it is serious. There is no mountebanking (as at Genoa), nor is there any whining, as in some of our own churchyards. Death to a Frenchman is a fact and a mystery, to be faced when the time comes, if not before, and to be honoured. On certain festivals of the year there are a thousand mourners to every acre of Père Lachaise.

The natural entrance is by the Rue de la Roquette, but it is less fatiguing to enter at the top, at the new gate in the Avenue du Père Lachaise, and walk down-hill ; for the paths are steep and the cemetery covers a hundred acres and more. The objection to this course is that one loses some of the sublimity of Bartholomé’s Monument aux Morts at the foot of the mountain on which the chapel stands. This monument faces the principal entrance with the careful design of impressing the visitor, and its impact can be tremendous. We approach it by the Avenue Principale, in which lies Alfred de Musset, with the willow waving over his tomb and his own lines upon it.

And then one enters seriously upon this strange pilgrimage among names and memories. Chopin lies here, his music stilled, and Talma the tragedian; Beau-marchais and Maréchal Ney; Cherubini and Alphonse Daudet; Balzac, his pen for ever idle, and Delacroix; Béranger who made the nation’s ballads, and Brillat-Savarin, all his dinners eaten ; Michelet, the historian, and Planchette, the composer of Les Cloches de Corneville; Daumier, the great artist who saw to the heart of things, and Corot, who befriended Daumier’s last years; Daubigny and Rosa Bonheur, Thiers and Scribe; Rachel, once so very living, and many Rothschilds now poorer than I.

Paris has other cemeteries, as we know, for we have walked through that of Montmartre; but there is also the Cimetière de Montparnasse, where lie Sainte-Beuve and Leconte de Lisle, Théodore de Banville, master of vers de société, and Fantin-Latour, Baudelaire (lying beneath a figure of the Genius of Evil), and Barby d’Aurévilly, the dandy-novelist. There are also the cemeteries of Passy and Picpus, but into these I have never wandered. Lafayette lies at Picpus, which is at Vincennes and costs fifty centimes to see, and there also were buried many victims of the guillotine besides those whose bodies were flung into the earth behind the Madeleine.

All the space at my disposal has been required by Paris itself ; and such is the human interest that at any rate in the older parts clings to every stone and saturates the soil, that I do not know that I have had any temptation to rove beyond the fortifications. But that of course is not right. No one really knows the Parisians until he sees them in happy summer mood in one of the pleasure resorts on the Seine, or winning money at Enghien, or lunching in one of the tree-top restaurants at Robinson. We have indeed been curiously unenterprising, and it is all owing to the fascination of Paris her-self and the narrow dimensions of this book. We have not even been to St. Denis, to stand among the ashes of the French kings; we have not descended the formal slopes of St. Cloud ; we have not peeped into Corot’s little chapel at Ville d’Avray; we have not seen the home of Sèvres porcelain ; we have not scaled Mont Valérien ; we have not taken boat for Marly le Roi; we have not wandered marvelling but weary amid the battle scenes of Versailles, or smiled at the pretty fopperies of the hamlet of the Petit Trianon. We have not known the shade either of the Bois de Vincennes or the Bois de Meudon.

Much less have we fed those guzzling gourmands, the carp of Chantilly, or lost ourselves before the little Raphael there, or the curious Leonardo sketch for La Joconde, or the sweet simplicities of the pretty Jean Fouquet illuminations, particularly the domestic solicitude of the ladies attending upon the birth of John the Baptist; less still have we forgotten the restlessness and urgency of Paris amid the allées and rochers of the Forest of Fontainebleau, and the still white streets of Barbizon, or even on the steps of the château where the Great Emperor, thoughts of whom are never very distant — are indeed too near — bade farewell to his Old Guard in 1814.

Greater Paris, it will be gathered, is hardly less interesting than Paris herself ; and indeed how pleasant it would be to write about it ! But not here.

Of Paris within the fortifications have I, I wonder, conveyed any of the fascination, the variety, the colour, the self-containment? I hope so. I hope too that at any rate these pages have implanted in a few readers the desire to see this beautiful and efficient city for themselves, and even more should I value the know-ledge that they had excited in others who are not strangers to Paris the wish to be there again. To do justice to such a city, with such a history, is of course an impossibility. What, however, should not be impossible is to create a goût.