Page:Once a Week Volume V.djvu/493

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486
[Oct. 26, 1861.
ONCE A WEEK.

“But nature,” says Lord Stanhope, who visited Chantilly with a reverent enthusiasm, “does not yield so readily to the violence of man who knows how to repair his ravages. Not long ago (in September, 1841), I could still find scope to admire the wild recesses of that unpruned forest; those limpid and gushing streams, those light-green poplars which have taken root among the ruins of the Grand Château, and which now surround it with their quivering shade; those mossy paths and those hawthorn bowers; those gardens restored with care, and where the most beautiful orange-trees and the most brilliant flowers are once more shedding their fragrance.”[1]

In the midst of this luxuriant beauty stood formerly two palaces, the Grand Château and the Petit Château, as they were called. The indiscriminating ravages of the Revolution were fatal to the former. Its useless splendour, and the accumulations of art which it contained, found no favour in the sight of the republicans of ’92. Its destruction was complete; a palace once, and now a ruin: such is its short history. But though its greatness is gone, the associations that surround its decaying walls, are neither few nor insignificant. It was here that an heroic career attained the summit of its grandeur in that calm retirement, which is the crown of a successful life.

After thirty-five years of action and renown, it was here that Condé, in the enjoyment of kind companionship, the recollections of an eventful life, and the practice of congenial pursuits, solaced and enlivened his old age. On his death, which happened on the 11th of December, 1686, Chantilly passed to his son, the Duke d’Enghien. The new proprietor enlarged and embellished the Petit Château, which stood at a little distance from the Grand Château, and which still remains. It is by no means insignificant in its proportions, not withstanding its appellation, which was given only to distinguish it from its larger neighbour. It is surrounded by the waters of a little lake, in whose clear depths, its quaint, elaborate architecture is fancifully reflected. The old state-rooms in the interior look rather dingy and desolate; but there are many souvenirs of Condé still remaining to give them an interest, apart from their carving and gilding and Louis Quatorze furniture. Of these the most conspicuous is the ivory-hilted sword of the hero, a weapon of most formidable dimensions, a silent memento, not only of the courage of Condé, but of the daring and chivalry of centuries.

Chantilly became, on the death of the Duke de Bourbon, in 1830, the property of the Duke d’Aumale, third son of Louis Philippe.[2] How this souvenir, with all its greatness, its precious heirlooms of more than royal worth, came to pass into the hands of a younger son of an accidental king, forms a dark enigma difficult to solve—perhaps never to be solved; and a story of calamity— perhaps of crime—whose sombre details and minutiæ of certain horror, and conjectural guilt, fit it to be told in the deepest recesses of the tangled forest, which, within sight of the Grand Château, lifts its dark crest against the sky.

Louis Joseph Henri de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, and Duke de Bourbon, was born in Paris, on the 13th of April, 1756. His father, a zealous supporter of the throne, still survived when the Revolution of 1789 made a prisoner of the king and many of the noblesse.

Both father and son emigrated. The latter fought on the side of legitimacy, and during the campaign of 1793, was wounded at the attack of Berscheim. In 1800 he went to England and there awaited the Restoration. During this interval of exile, he received, in 1804, the news of the cruel condemnation and execution of his only son, the Duke d’Enghien, that unfortunate youth, the memory of whose tragic fate hangs like a curse over the dark walls and ramparts of Vincennes. It was thus that this unhappy man witnessed the extinction of his race, and foresaw in his own death the end of the most illustrious branch of the Bourbons. On returning to France his estates and rank were restored, and the aged prince divided his residence between his hotel at Paris, and his château at St. Leu, and Chantilly, living quiet and retired, taking no part in the politics of the day, or in public affairs of any sort.

Upon this life of tranquillity and repose broke the storm of the Revolution of 1830. The old man, a royalist at heart, and whose whole career had borne witness to his loyalty, was unequal at this time even to an avowal of his opinions. But not entirely owing to the feebleness of age, or the listlessness of ennui, was his irresolution. The last of the Condés, whose place in the moment of danger was at the side of the king, was chained to a spiritless inaction, through the artful intrigues of a cunning and unscrupulous woman.

For a long time the old Prince de Condé had been governed by that absolute and tyrannical sway which commences in the abandonment of passion, and is fixed by the force of habit. The Baroness de Feuchères, a woman of rare beauty, ready wit, and a resolute spirit, had obtained this empire over his will and affections. Of English parents, but of obscure and doubtful origin, she had risen from being a second or third-rate actress at Covent Garden to this position of fortune and influence. Such instances are not rare. In our own day we have seen a ballet-dancer hissed from the boards of the Opera House to reappear the reigning star of the most refined of continental courts. The Baroness de Feuchères was one of the most successful, and wiser than most of her class. Not unmindful of the fickleness of passion, and the caprices of fortune, she had turned to the best account the complaisance of her lover. A legacy of the domains of St. Leu and Bassy, in 1824, and of various sums in the next year, amounting in the whole to a million of francs, were the substantial proofs of his regard. But the limit of the Baroness’s expectations were not reached by this princely munificence. The revenues of the Forest of Enghien, besides other estates of greater or less value, were then demanded from the resources and good-nature of her lover. But in the midst of this successful career a small but threatening cloud appeared on the horizon of
  1. Life of the Great Condé.
  2. After the last coup-d’-état it was, in conformity with the confiscation decree of Louis Napoleon, sold to the London bankers, Coutts & Co., for eleven million francs.