The Crayon Papers/Paris at the Restoration

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Paris at the Restoration[edit]

Paris presented a singular aspect just after the downfall of Napoleon, and the restoration of the Bourbons. It was filled with a restless, roaming population; a dark, sallow race, with fierce mustaches, black cravats, and feverish, menacing looks; men suddenly thrown out of employ by the return of peace; officers cut short in their career, and cast loose with scanty means, many of them in utter indigence, upon the world; the broken elements of armies. They haunted the places of public resort, like restless, unhappy spirits, taking no pleasure; hanging about, like lowering clouds that linger after a storm, and giving a singular air of gloom to this otherwise gay metropolis.

The vaunted courtesy of the old school, the smooth urbanity that prevailed in former days of settled government and long-established aristocracy, had disappeared amid the savage republicanism of the revolution and the military furor of the empire; recent reverses had stung the national vanity to the quick; and English travelers, who crowded to Paris on the return of peace, expecting to meet with a gay, good-humored, complaisant populace, such as existed in the time of the "Sentimental Journey," were surprised at finding them irritable and fractious, quick at fancying affronts, and not unapt to offer insults. They accordingly inveighed with heat and bitterness at the rudeness they experienced in the French metropolis; yet what better had they to expect? Had Charles II. been reinstated in his kingdom by the valor of French troops; had he been wheeled triumphantly to London over the trampled bodies and trampled standards of England's bravest sons; had a French general dictated to the English capital, and a French army been quartered in Hyde Park; had Paris poured forth its motley population, and the wealthy bourgeoise of every French trading town swarmed to London; crowding its squares; filling its streets with their equipages; thronging its fashionable hotels, and places of amusements; elbowing its impoverished nobility out of their palaces and opera-boxes, and looking down on the humiliated inhabitants as a conquered people; in such a reverse of the case, what degree of courtesy would the populace of London have been apt to exercise toward their visitors? [Footnote: The above remarks were suggested by a conversation with the late Mr. Canning, whom the author met in Paris, and who expressed himself in the most liberal way concerning the magnanimity of the French on the occupation of their capital by strangers.]

On the contrary, I have always admired the degree of magnanimity exhibited by the French on the occupation of their capital by the English. When we consider the military ambition of this nation, its love of glory; the splendid height to which its renown in arms had recently been carried, and with these, the tremendous reverses it had just undergone; its armies shattered, annihilated; its capital captured, garrisoned, and overrun, and that too by its ancient rival, the English, toward whom it had cherished for centuries a jealous and almost religious hostility; could we have wondered if the tiger spirit of this fiery people had broken out in bloody feuds and deadly quarrels; and that they had sought to rid themselves in any way of their invaders? But it is cowardly nations only, those who dare not wield the sword, that revenge themselves with the lurking dagger. There were no assassinations in Paris. The French had fought valiantly, desperately, in the field; but, when valor was no longer of avail, they submitted like gallant men to a fate they could not withstand. Some instances of insult from the populace were experienced by their English visitors; some personal rencontres, which led to duels, did take place; but these smacked of open and honorable hostility. No instances of lurking and perfidious revenge occurred, and the British soldier patroled the streets of Paris safe from treacherous assault.

If the English met with harshness and repulse in social intercourse, it was in some degree a proof that the people are more sincere than has been represented. The emigrants who had just returned were not yet reinstated. Society was constituted of those who had flourished under the late regime; the newly ennobled, the recently enriched, who felt their prosperity and their consequence endangered by this change of things. The broken-down officer, who saw his glory tarnished, his fortune ruined, his occupation gone, could not be expected to look with complacency upon the authors of his downfall. The English visitor, flushed with health, and wealth, and victory, could little enter into the feelings of the blighted warrior, scarred with a hundred battles, an exile from the camp, broken in constitution by the wars, impoverished by the peace, and cast back, a needy stranger in the splendid but captured metropolis of his country.

  "Oh! who can tell what heroes feel,
   When all but life and honor's lost!"

And here let me notice the conduct of the French soldiery on the dismemberment of the army of the Loire, when two hundred thousand men were suddenly thrown out of employ; men who had been brought up to the camp, and scarce knew any other home. Few in civil, peaceful life, are aware of the severe trial to the feelings that takes place on the dissolution of a regiment. There is a fraternity in arms. The community of dangers, hardships, enjoyments; the participation in battles and victories; the companionship in adventures, at a time of life when men's feelings are most fresh, susceptible, and ardent, all these bind the members of a regiment strongly together. To them the regiment is friends, family, home. They identify themselves with its fortunes, its glories, its disgraces. Imagine this romantic tie suddenly dissolved; the regiment broken up; the occupation of its members gone; their military pride mortified; the career of glory closed behind them; that of obscurity, dependence, want, neglect, perhaps beggary, before them. Such was the case with the soldiers of the army of the Loire. They were sent off in squads, with officers, to the principal towns where they were to be disarmed and discharged. In this way they passed through the country with arms in their hands, often exposed to slights and scoffs, to hunger and various hardships and privations; but they conducted themselves magnanimously, without any of those outbreaks of violence and wrong that so often attend the dismemberment of armies.

       * * * * *

The few years that have elapsed since the time above alluded to, have already had their effect. The proud and angry spirits which then roamed about Paris unemployed begins to recover its old channels, though worn deeper by recent torrents. The natural urbanity of the French begins to find its way, like oil, to the surface, though there still remains a degree of roughness and bluntness of manner, partly real, and partly affected, by such as imagine it to indicate force and frankness. The events of the last thirty years have rendered the French a more reflecting people. They have acquired greater independence of mind and strength of judgment, together with a portion of that prudence which results from experiencing the dangerous consequences of excesses. However that period may have been stained by crimes, and filled with extravagances, the French have certainly come out of it a greater nation than before. One of their own philosophers observes that in one or two generations the nation will probably combine the ease and elegance of the old character with force and solidity. They were light, he says, before the revolution; then wild and savage; they have become more thoughtful and reflective. It is only old Frenchmen, nowadays, that are gay and trivial; the young are very serious personages.

       * * * * *

P.S.--In the course of a morning's walk, about the time the above remarks were written, I observed the Duke of Wellington, who was on a brief visit to Paris. He was alone, simply attired in a blue frock; with an umbrella under his arm, and his hat drawn over his eyes, and sauntering across the Place Vendome, close by the Column of Napoleon. He gave a glance up at the column as he passed, and continued his loitering way up the Rue de la Paix; stopping occasionally to gaze in at the shop-windows; elbowed now and then by other gazers, who little suspected that the quiet, lounging individual they were jostling so unceremoniously was the conqueror who had twice entered their capital victoriously; had controlled the destinies of the nation, and eclipsed the glory of the military idol, at the base of whose column he was thus negligently sauntering.

Some years afterward I was at an evening's entertainment given by the duke at Apsley House, to William IV. The duke had manifested his admiration of his great adversary, by having portraits of him in different parts of the house. At the bottom of the grand staircase stood the colossal statue of the emperor, by Canova. It was of marble, in the antique style, with one arm partly extended, holding a figure of victory. Over this arm the ladies, in tripping upstairs to the ball, had thrown their shawls. It was a singular office for the statue of Napoleon to perform in the mansion of the Duke of Wellington!

  "Imperial Caesar dead, and turned to clay," etc., etc.