Page images
PDF
EPUB

general harmony of the toilette. During this operation the new Eve in course of formation, motionless and resigned, silently lets the creator complete his creation.

The elegant dames of Paris, amazed by the grand manner of these milliners in trousers, have ended by believing that the man who could make a dress so well was the right one to put it on. Hence, on the night of any grand ball, there is a regular row of carriages drawn up before his door, and the ladies are admitted one by one to the professor to hear his. verdict. We are bound to add that he is polite enough to offer his fair customers refreshments; and while they are waiting for an audience, the ethereal petites maîtresses of the Parisian salons lay in a stock of strength for the polka by eating any amount of pâté de foie gras, and washing it down with Malvoisie. Still, this son of Albion, like all great artists, has his caprices. He certainly dresses all ladies, but he prefers abundant females, previously padded by nature. He finds that they do more honour to his talent, and bring him more in evidence; hence he reserves for them all the attentions and ingenious flatteries of his profession. As for the light-baggaged beauties, reduced to the volume rigorously indispensable not to be a pure spirit, he consents to dress them, it is true, but feels no heart in it, and only does it as a conscientious duty.

Heaven guard me from trying to throw any discredit on the talent of the English artist, and still less on his person. He has a profession, and exercises it honourably; he keeps a commercial establishment, and seeks to attract customers. That is bis right, his duty, for it is a question with him of prosperity or ruin. But what are we to think of his clientèle, the aristocracy of the Stock Exchange-virtuous, I will allow, and perhaps steeped in devotion, but, after all, so forgetful of themselves and their husbands, as to go at night to settle, tête-à-tête with a man-milliner, the perilous problem of the gaping of a corsage, and abandon to this vintager the power of arbitrarily deeming to what degree the leaf shall cover the cluster of grapes. And after that, people say that the Englishman shall never reign in France! why, he reigns over the fine fleur of France, and does so at the base of the Vendôme column.

After all, though, there would be no great harm in the wealthy classes squandering their money in finery, if they did not afford such a pernicious example to the middle classes. Now-a-days, the twenty-thousandfrancs-a-year man must ape his betters by giving a set dinner. No longer, as in olden times, does he invite his equals to a neat dinner of soup, an entrée, a joint, salad, a pudding, cheese, and dessert; he must have a bouquet of Cape heaths blended with gardenias ; half a dozen glasses of all sizes, arranged by height, like organ pipes, for all the wines, more or less apocryphal of Christendom. The bill of fare is religiously deposited on each napkin, so that the guest, duly warned beforehand of the culinary contingent, may save his energies for his favourite dish. As a rule the dinner must be composed of fish; game, Russian caviare, York ham, Pithiviers pâté, truffled pheasant, &c. But the dish of dishes is a guest who has an order, a celebrated name, or eminent functionary, in order to excite the envy of the other guests. After all, though, this failing is common to all human nature, and Mr. Thackeray has shown it up, perhaps usque ad nauseam, when describing the feasts given in Russell and Bloomsbury squares. Then, again, M. Pelletan complains that the old-fashioned soirée has been knocked on the head; once on a time people used to meet for a general gossip round the fire, but now the bourgeois would consider himself disgraced if he had not a body of opera-singers to deafen his guests. The result of all this is a sheaf of writs, and a sale by order of the sheriff. It seems to us that Paris has only just reached that stage of ostentation and living beyond one's means which has been the curse of England during the last thirty years, and has now attained unexampled proportions.

When the broker is put in, the victim has two resources to fly to: he either seeks a government appointment, or else turns his attention to time-bargains on the Stock Exchange. M. Pelletan is ashamed to say it of his country, that a portion of France regards the state as a universal uncle from America, whom destiny holds in reserve, to set on his legs every man who has devoured his patrimony:

The solicitor for a place is neither a will nor a person, but a defaced coin, withdrawn from circulation; he is the man of another man--the man of a protector and a protector's wife; he takes madame's letter to the post; he looks after her sick dog. Madame has passed her sixtieth year, but to him she is only twenty, like the sexagenarian duchess of the Regency. He accepts the fiction, and has neither opinion, nor human respect, nor any sort of prejudice. A valet condemned to crawl before another valet, who has one aiguillette more ; he receives a rebuff and smiles; he is answered no, and he smiles; he is kicked out of the ante-room, and still smiles; he has, in short, a smile stereotyped on his face. When he begins to be doubtful of himself, he orders his wife to take his place, and she, still young and pretty, tries to soften by hier suppliant tender glance the bronze forehead of bureaucracy. The Arab has an admirable proverb: “If a man, of whom you want anything, is mounted on a donkey, say to him, What a fine horse you have there, monseigneur !"" This proverb, from the first to the last word, contains the whole art of making one's way. In the world of protection, you must always take the ass for a horse ; you must always scent the wind of the moment; go to confession under the Restoration ; enter the National Guard under the July monarchy; be president of a club during the Republic; and always have a flexible back, and walk with your body forming a hoop.

We certainly recommend that admirable interpreter of Sir Pertinax Mac Sycophant, Mr. Phelps, to migrate to Paris, and give lectures in the art of booing, for we have not the slightest doubt but that he would make a rapid fortune.

If we turn to the literature of the Second Empire, we find our writer shaking his head worse than ever. He allows, it is true, that the French are not fond of reading, but adds, in their excuse, that everything has been done to discourage them from reading. As he says, “ Take the four or five hundred laws relating to printing, publishing, and book-hawking, and you will see that a sanitary cordon has been carefully established, so as to prevent intellect communicating with intellect without the permission of the state." Still, the French are very backward, and the upper classes are quite as bad as the lower. M. Pelletan describes an enormously rich marquis living in the country, whose entire library consisted of one dog'seared volume of the Waverley novels, which he kept for those visitors accustomed to take a portion of reading before going to sleep. Not that he despised intellect, but he could not believe that a book was an article of consumption, any more than the river that passed under his windows, or the wind that whistled through his trees. Even in the heart of Parisian aristocracy, the woman most anxious to pass as witty has no library; if she wants to read, she will have a book from a circulating library. Here is a case in point:

You know, by reputation at least, that little duchess, that pretty, wearied face, that wife of a duke, in a word? Hers was a vaporous, ethereal nature, lost in a cloud of muslin. She lived between heaven and earth, walked hardly an hour a day, and did so with a languishing undulation of the body and the graceful awkwardness of a swan upon land. The rest of the time she reclined in an Asiatic attitude, with her head on her elbow, and read and dreamed, and what she dreamed at night the star repeated to the rose. Well, this elegant patrician, who with her ermine delicacy and sensitive epidermis would have shuddered at the thought of receiving a letter otherwise than on a silver waiter and from the gloved land of her major-domo, busily turned over with her sylphlike fingers the pages of a hired romance, still impregnated with all the perfumes of the masked ball, and annotated by drunken hands in the style of the guardroom. And she did not do so through meanness, for she thought nothing of spending a bank-note on a new dress.

From such considerations M. Pelletan is led to declare that the present age resembles the Roman who had the following epitaph inscribed on his tomb: “Staberius rests here; he was born in poverty; he left three hundred million sesterces; he never consented to listen to a philosopher ; keep your health and imitate him." The present French generation has only one remark on its lips: “Let us amuse ourselves and laugh at ourselves: crus enim moriemur;" which means, being interpreted, “After us, the deluge.”

The present form of literature has produced, in the first place, the romance of Bohemia. Of this style M. Pelletan declares that it drags youth into the sewer, describes an irregular life, and poetises vice for the sake of vice, first simple vice and then experienced vice ; it lives at the cook-shop, sleeps on a street bench, dies in the hospital, and receives on the road the cross of honour. And yet, our author adds, “ Peace to its memory, for it was perhaps worth more than its destiny.” Next we have the cavalier romance, which cocks its hat on one ear and goes straight to the point. What does it care for invention, conception, poetry, truth, or analysis of character ? Its only anxiety is to show that it can produce four hundred pages of wit without breaking down. It is a number of the Charivari in a volume. It is read without fatigue, it is laid down without regret, it is begun again at any page with equal pleasure, for at every page you find the same whipped cream and the same way of humbugging the reader. Lastly, we have the realistic romance, that is to say, the romance has been vulgarised under the pretext of realism. Still, if art has a reason for being realistic, it is to say, perhaps, something that differs from the reality. In that case, what is the use of writing or reading it? You need only put yourself in the care of a detective and take a turn down Whitechapel way. Here is a bit in which M, Pelletan speaks the truth, careless whom he may offend :

A school in the likeness of the age seeks talent in scandal. A disgusting romance has reached its fourteentb edition in less than a year, and are you aware through what inspiration of genius? Through a night-scene shown the reader by the aid of a keyhole. If my wife (N.B. the notary is speaking) had dared to read this romance during my absence from home, I should demand, on my return, the re-establishment of divorce. The romance of the alcove no longer even satisfies the excited imagination of our generation. Progressing from

debauch to debauch in literature, the idle classes bave come to consume a little fermented literature, printed on fine paper and delicately bound in pink : the history of love, the history of the Montespan, the Pompadour, and the Dubarry: the courtesan on the throne, the royalty of the courtesan. Madame Mogador employs the leisure hours of marriage to describe to us her public life, while Madame Rigolboche surrenders her person to us with a photograph in support, as a justificative document. What can we say after this of the personal romance, that literary monster, half chimera, half reality, called “Elle et lui,” or “Lui et elle," or " Elle," quite short. “I had a friend," a physician used to say ; "he died, and I dissected him.” A woman has loved a man : the man dies, she dissects the dead man's heart under the pretext of a romance, and casts it as food to the public. Next comes a second woman, who asserts that she triumphantly drove out with the same man in a fiacre on the Place de Carrousel, without even taking the trouble to let down the blinds. By what name can we call such a literature, which is a sort of pleading for a judicial separation between two lovers ?

Painting fares no better than literature at the hands of M, Pelletan, and the misfortune is that what he says is incontrovertible. According to him, the artist no longer tries to display idealism, what he cares for above all is the “coup de brosse," called in the slang of the studio the “ ragoût.” The painter, now-a-days, only invokes the muse of inspiration in order to produce exaggerated details--the infinitely little-such as a grain of dust, a coat-button, å table-leg, a shoe-buckle, or a flash of sunshine falling through the vine of an arbour on the forehead of a toper. As for the subject he cares little, provided that it serves as an excuse for all this: it may be a man smoking, or drinking, or gambling, or looking, or telling a story. Now, as men of course did all these things more picturesquely in the eighteenth century than at present, the subject in. variably wears a peruke, a frill, knee-buckles, and powder on his coatcollar. Sometimes, however, the artist wishes to prove that he has imagination, and will paint, for instance, a picture called “ Une Confidence.” On this head our author is extra satirical :

The dessert is on the table, the servant has left the room, the door is shut, the bottle is empty, and the last peach is forgotten in the Japanese plate. It is the hour of the bottom of the glass, of jollity, of the unbuttoned waistcoat, of the secret on the lips, and the heart on the sleeve. A young man fair as youth, dressed in pink, the pink of thought, the pink of hope, is reading to his bottle companion à love-letter, and in the candour of his happiness he bends his body over the table, and stretches his neck across the table, as if to dart the sacred fluid into his friend's ear. But the other, impassive, cold, with a forehead of bronze, his hand under his chin, and a finger on his eyelid, listens to the perusal of the burning page with the accumulated phlegm of experience. He seems to be saying to himself: “I, too, have received a prodigious quantity of these protestations and these oaths on musked paper. The marchioness wrote so; and the duchess wrote even better, for she had a great lady's incorrigible hatred of orthography. I, alas! believed in the marchioness in my salad days, and then I pretended to believe the duchess; and, lastly, the flower-girl at the corner, but the flower-girl alone kept her word; it is true that she died of that act of heroism. Now, I only believe in all the thrusts I have given or received on account of these fickle fidelities.”

Even more severe is M. Pelletan on the Ledas, in the abbreviated attire of the swimming-school. Unfortunately, his outspokenness forbids any quotation, but we quite agree in his strictures upon Alcibiades in the house of Aspasia or Phryne in the presence of the Areopagus.

Alluding to the latter picture, he remarks': “After the orgies of youth we have the debauchery of old age: what will painting leave us henceforth to respect?” But photography is even worse than painting in Paris, where, it appears, that Lord Campbell's act is invalid; but M. Pelletan warns you, as a friend, never to look into any stereoscope you come across, for you can never tell into what improper society you may drift.

What we have quoted is tolerably strong, but is nothing as compared with M. Pelletan’s onslaught on the “caboulot." This mysterious word signifies an establishment in which are sold plums preserved in brandy, and lemons in a state of fætus kept in spirits of wine, the whole crowned by an almost-dressed female, beautiful with the diabolical beauty of Astarte. “She likes to laugh, she likes to drink like a song of Béranger; she has a plump arm and a well-turned leg, still like a song of Béranger" (whom, by the way, our author holds in special disgust); “and she laughs and she sings, and she serves and she clinks glasses; and the caboulot has multiplied like Abraham's race, so that the prefect of police has been good enough to remark that it depraves youth.”

Another horror of M. Pelletan's is tobacco, and he denounces it with even greater virulence than did James I. If Michelet says that “tobacco has killed the kiss," M. Pelletan is careful to add that it has closed the salon. Formerly, the guests, male and female, used to sit round the table, after dinner was over, and have a witty conversation; but now-a-days the gentlemen are anxious to rival the herring or Hamburg smoked beef. No sooner is dinner over than the guest grows melancholy, for he is longing for a smoke. The consequence is, that, as no respectable lady can convert her drawing-room into an estaminet, the young men soon make an excuse for leaving, and find their way to more indulgent society. The result, according to M. Pelletan, is, that “the . jeunesse dorée take, every night, in some equivocal apartments, a practical lesson in cynicism, and, with a trabuco between their lips, learn contempt of self and disgust for women.” Here is our author's concluding passage, which we especially recommend to the notice of the Anti-Smoking and Souffing Society, or what be the name of the movement which boasts Dean Close at its head, whenever they require an agreeable variation in their stock arguments :

It is not only physically that tobacco affects a nuan, but also morally : it destroys thought and paralyses action. Germany smokes and dreams; Spain smokes and sleeps; Turkey has been smoking for the last three hundred years, and has no longer the strength to stand upright: it remains the whole day lying on a divan. Now, Toussenel says somewhere, “A vertical people will always conquer a horizontal people.” Youths, take care of yourselves : if you do not throw away your cigars, France may disappear in smoke.

We must glide discreetly over the chapter which our author devotes to the Lorettes : he certainly gives some fabulous reports of their luxury and ostentation, but he has only obtained them at second-hand, and we are inclined to doubt their authenticity. He describes Pompeian villas, which cast that of Prince Napoleon into the shade. As a rule, we accept these stories always with a pinch of salt, for we believe that they are merely spread abroad to heighten the value of the article. Here is an anecdote, however, which we may quote without offence:

« EelmineJätka »