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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 17
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    VERSAILLES! It is wonderfully beautiful! You gaze and stare and try to
    understand that it is real, that it is on the earth, that it is not the
    Garden of Eden--but your brain grows giddy, stupefied by the world of
    beauty around you, and you half believe you are the dupe of an exquisite
    dream. The scene thrills one like military music! A noble palace,
    stretching its ornamented front, block upon block away, till it seemed
    that it would never end; a grand promenade before it, whereon the armies
    of an empire might parade; all about it rainbows of flowers, and colossal
    statues that were almost numberless and yet seemed only scattered over
    the ample space; broad flights of stone steps leading down from the
    promenade to lower grounds of the park--stairways that whole regiments
    might stand to arms upon and have room to spare; vast fountains whose
    great bronze effigies discharged rivers of sparkling water into the air
    and mingled a hundred curving jets together in forms of matchless beauty;
    wide grass-carpeted avenues that branched hither and thither in every
    direction and wandered to seemingly interminable distances, walled all
    the way on either side with compact ranks of leafy trees whose branches
    met above and formed arches as faultless and as symmetrical as ever were
    carved in stone; and here and there were glimpses of sylvan lakes with
    miniature ships glassed in their surfaces. And every where--on the
    palace steps, and the great promenade, around the fountains, among the
    trees, and far under the arches of the endless avenues--hundreds and
    hundreds of people in gay costumes walked or ran or danced, and gave to
    the fairy picture the life and animation which was all of perfection it
    could have lacked.

    It was worth a pilgrimage to see. Everything is on so gigantic a scale.
    Nothing is small--nothing is cheap. The statues are all large; the
    palace is grand; the park covers a fair-sized county; the avenues are
    interminable. All the distances and all the dimensions about Versailles
    are vast. I used to think the pictures exaggerated these distances and
    these dimensions beyond all reason, and that they made Versailles more
    beautiful than it was possible for any place in the world to be. I know
    now that the pictures never came up to the subject in any respect, and
    that no painter could represent Versailles on canvas as beautiful as it
    is in reality. I used to abuse Louis XIV for spending two hundred
    millions of dollars in creating this marvelous park, when bread was so
    scarce with some of his subjects; but I have forgiven him now. He took a
    tract of land sixty miles in circumference and set to work to make this
    park and build this palace and a road to it from Paris. He kept 36,000
    men employed daily on it, and the labor was so unhealthy that they used
    to die and be hauled off by cartloads every night. The wife of a
    nobleman of the time speaks of this as an "inconvenience," but naively
    remarks that "it does not seem worthy of attention in the happy state of
    tranquillity we now enjoy."

    I always thought ill of people at home who trimmed their shrubbery into
    pyramids and squares and spires and all manner of unnatural shapes, and
    when I saw the same thing being practiced in this great park I began to
    feel dissatisfied. But I soon saw the idea of the thing and the wisdom
    of it. They seek the general effect. We distort a dozen sickly trees
    into unaccustomed shapes in a little yard no bigger than a dining room,
    and then surely they look absurd enough. But here they take two hundred
    thousand tall forest trees and set them in a double row; allow no sign of
    leaf or branch to grow on the trunk lower down than six feet above the
    ground; from that point the boughs begin to project, and very gradually
    they extend outward further and further till they meet overhead, and a
    faultless tunnel of foliage is formed. The arch is mathematically
    precise. The effect is then very fine. They make trees take fifty
    different shapes, and so these quaint effects are infinitely varied and
    picturesque. The trees in no two avenues are shaped alike, and
    consequently the eye is not fatigued with anything in the nature of
    monotonous uniformity. I will drop this subject now, leaving it to
    others to determine how these people manage to make endless ranks of
    lofty forest trees grow to just a certain thickness of trunk (say a foot
    and two-thirds); how they make them spring to precisely the same height
    for miles; how they make them grow so close together; how they compel one
    huge limb to spring from the same identical spot on each tree and form
    the main sweep of the arch; and how all these things are kept exactly in
    the same condition and in the same exquisite shapeliness and symmetry
    month after month and year after year--for I have tried to reason out the
    problem and have failed.

    We walked through the great hall of sculpture and the one hundred and
    fifty galleries of paintings in the palace of Versailles, and felt that
    to be in such a place was useless unless one had a whole year at his
    disposal. These pictures are all battle scenes, and only one solitary
    little canvas among them all treats of anything but great French
    victories. We wandered, also, through the Grand Trianon and the Petit
    Trianon, those monuments of royal prodigality, and with histories so
    mournful--filled, as it is, with souvenirs of Napoleon the First, and
    three dead kings and as many queens. In one sumptuous bed they had all
    slept in succession, but no one occupies it now. In a large dining room
    stood the table at which Louis XIV and his mistress Madame Maintenon, and
    after them Louis XV, and Pompadour, had sat at their meals naked and
    unattended--for the table stood upon a trapdoor, which descended with it
    to regions below when it was necessary to replenish its dishes. In a
    room of the Petit Trianon stood the furniture, just as poor Marie
    Antoinette left it when the mob came and dragged her and the King to
    Paris, never to return. Near at hand, in the stables, were prodigious
    carriages that showed no color but gold--carriages used by former kings
    of France on state occasions, and never used now save when a kingly head
    is to be crowned or an imperial infant christened. And with them were
    some curious sleighs, whose bodies were shaped like lions, swans, tigers,
    etc.--vehicles that had once been handsome with pictured designs and
    fine workmanship, but were dusty and decaying now. They had their
    history. When Louis XIV had finished the Grand Trianon, he told
    Maintenon he had created a Paradise for her, and asked if she could think
    of anything now to wish for. He said he wished the Trianon to be
    perfection--nothing less. She said she could think of but one thing--it
    was summer, and it was balmy France--yet she would like well to sleigh
    ride in the leafy avenues of Versailles! The next morning found miles
    and miles of grassy avenues spread thick with snowy salt and sugar, and a
    procession of those quaint sleighs waiting to receive the chief concubine
    of the gaiest and most unprincipled court that France has ever seen!

    From sumptuous Versailles, with its palaces, its statues, its gardens,
    and its fountains, we journeyed back to Paris and sought its antipodes
    --the Faubourg St. Antoine. Little, narrow streets; dirty children
    blockading them; greasy, slovenly women capturing and spanking them;
    filthy dens on first floors, with rag stores in them (the heaviest
    business in the Faubourg is the chiffonier's); other filthy dens where
    whole suits of second and third-hand clothing are sold at prices that
    would ruin any proprietor who did not steal his stock; still other filthy
    dens where they sold groceries--sold them by the half-pennyworth--five
    dollars would buy the man out, goodwill and all. Up these little crooked
    streets they will murder a man for seven dollars and dump the body in the
    Seine. And up some other of these streets--most of them, I should say
    --live lorettes.

    All through this Faubourg St. Antoine, misery, poverty, vice, and crime
    go hand in hand, and the evidences of it stare one in the face from every
    side. Here the people live who begin the revolutions. Whenever there is
    anything of that kind to be done, they are always ready. They take as
    much genuine pleasure in building a barricade as they do in cutting a
    throat or shoving a friend into the Seine. It is these savage-looking
    ruffians who storm the splendid halls of the Tuileries occasionally, and
    swarm into Versailles when a king is to be called to account.

    But they will build no more barricades, they will break no more soldiers'
    heads with paving-stones. Louis Napoleon has taken care of all that. He
    is annihilating the crooked streets and building in their stead noble
    boulevards as straight as an arrow--avenues which a cannon ball could
    traverse from end to end without meeting an obstruction more irresistible
    than the flesh and bones of men--boulevards whose stately edifices will
    never afford refuges and plotting places for starving, discontented
    revolution breeders. Five of these great thoroughfares radiate from one
    ample centre--a centre which is exceedingly well adapted to the
    accommodation of heavy artillery. The mobs used to riot there, but they
    must seek another rallying-place in future. And this ingenious Napoleon
    paves the streets of his great cities with a smooth, compact composition
    of asphaltum and sand. No more barricades of flagstones--no more
    assaulting his Majesty's troops with cobbles. I cannot feel friendly
    toward my quondam fellow-American, Napoleon III., especially at this
    time,--[July, 1867.]--when in fancy I see his credulous victim,
    Maximilian, lying stark and stiff in Mexico, and his maniac widow
    watching eagerly from her French asylum for the form that will never
    come--but I do admire his nerve, his calm self-reliance, his shrewd good
    sense.
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