Literary Paris Twenty Years Ago
I REACHED Paris, from London, on the morning of May 30, 1878, arriving just in time for admission to the Théâtre des Folies Dramatiques, where the Voltaire centenary celebration was to be held that day, with Victor Hugo for the orator. As I drove up, the surrounding streets were full of people going toward the theatre ; while the other streets were so empty as to recall that fine passage in Landor’s Imaginary Conversations where Demosthenes describes the depopulation of all other spots in Athens except that where he is speaking to the people. The neighborhood of the theatre was placarded with announcements stating that every seat was sold ; and it was not until I had explained to a policeman that I was an American who had crossed from London expressly for this celebration, that he left his post and hunted up a speculator from whom I could buy seats. They were twin seats, which I shared with a young Frenchman, who led me in through a crowd so great that the old women who, in Parisian theatres, guide you to your place and take your umbrella found their occupation almost gone.
It was my first experience of French public oratory ; and while I was aware of the resources of the language and the sympathetic power of the race, I was not prepared to see these so superbly conspicuous in public meetings. The ordinary appreciation of eloquence among the French seemed pitched in the key of our greatest enthusiasm, with the difference that their applause was given to the form as well as to the substance, and was given with the hands only, never with the feet. Even in its aspect the audience was the most noticeable I ever saw : the platform and the five galleries were filled almost wholly with men, and these of singularly thoughtful and distinguished bearing, — an assembly certainly superior to Parliament and Congress in its look of intellect, A very few were in the blouse of the ouvrier, and there was all over the house an amount of talking that sounded like vehement quarreling, though it was merely good-natured chatter. There were only French people and French words around me, and though my immediate companion was from the provinces and knew nobody, yet there was on the other side a very handsome man, full of zeal and replete with information. When I asked him whether Victor Hugo was yet upon the platform, he smiled, and said that I would not ask such a question if I knew the shout that would go up from the crowd when he came in.
Applaud they certainly did when a white head was seen advancing through the throng upon the stage ; and the five galleries and the parquet seemed to rock with excitement as he took his seat. I should have known Victor Hugo anywhere from the resemblance to his pictures, except that his hair and beard, cropped short, were not quite so rough and hirsute as they are often depicted. He bowed his strong leonine head to the audience, and then seated himself, the two other speakers sitting on either side of him ; while the bust of the smiling Voltaire with a wreath of laurel and flowers rose behind and above their heads. The bust was imposing, and the smile was kindly and genial, — a smile such as one seldom sees attributed to Voltaire. The first speaker, M. Speller, was a fine-looking man. large, fair, and of rather English bearing; he rested one hand on the table, and made the other hand do duty for two, and I might almost say for a dozen, after the manner of his race. Speaking without notes, he explained the plan of the celebration, and did it so well that sentence after Sentence was received with ” Bravo ! ” or “Admirable!” or “ Oh-h-h I ” in a sort of profound literary enjoyment.
These plaudits were greater still in case of the next speaker, M. Emile Deschanel, the author of a book on Aristophanes, and well known as a politician. He also was a large man of distinguished bearing. In his speech he drew a parallel between the careers of Victor Hugo and Voltaire, but dwelt especially upon that of the latter. One of the most skillful portions of the address touched on that dangerous ground, Voltaire’s outrageous poem of La Pucelle, founded on the career of Jeanne d’Arc. M. Deschanel claimed that Voltaire had at least set her before the world as the saviour of France. He admitted that the book bore the marks of the period, that it was licencieux et coupable; yet he retorted fiercely on the clerical party for their efforts to protest against Voltaire on this account. When he said, at last, with a sudden flash of parting contempt, “And who was it that burned her ? ” (Qui est-ce qui l’a brûlée ?) he dismissed the clergy and the subject with a wave of the hand that was like the flashing of the scimiter of Saladin. Then followed a perfect tempest of applause, and Victor Hugo took the stage.
His oration on Voltaire —since translated by Mr. James Parton — was delivered from notes, written in an immense hand on sheets twice as large as any foolscap paper I had ever seen ; and he read from these without glasses. He was at this time seventy-six, but looked ten years younger. He stood behind two great sconces, each holding six candles ; above these appeared his strong white-bearded face, and above him rose Voltaire and his laurel wreath. He used much gesture, and in impassioned moments waved his arm above his head, the fingers apart and trembling with emotion. Sometimes he clapped one hand to his head as if to tear out some of his white hairs, though this hardly seemed, at the moment, melodramatic. His voice was vigorous, and yet, from some defect of utterance, I lost more of what he said than in case of the other speakers. Others around me made the same complaint. His delivery, however, was as characteristic as his literary style, and quite in keeping with it, being a series of brilliant detached points. It must be a stimulating thing, indeed, to speak to a French audience, —to men who give sighs of delight over a fine phrase, and shouts of enthusiasm over a great thought. The most striking part of Hugo’s address, in my opinion, was his defense of the smile of Voltaire, and his turning of the enthusiasm for the pending Exposition into an appeal for international peace. Never was there a more powerful picture than his sketch of “ that terrific International Exposition called a field of battle.”
After the address the meeting ended, — there was no music, which surprised me, — and every one on the platform rushed headlong at Victor Hugo. Never before had I quite comprehended the French effervescence as seen in the Chambre des Députés ; but here it did not seem childish, — only natural ; as where Desclianel, during his own speech, had once turned and taken Victor Hugo’s hand and clapped him caressingly on the shoulder. The crowd dispersed more easily than I expected; for I had said to my French neighbor that there would be little chance for us in case of a fire, and he had shrugged his shoulders, looked up to heaven, and said, “ Adieu ! ” I went out through a side entrance, where Hugo was just before me : it was hardly possible to get him into his carriage ; the surrounding windows were crammed with people, and he drove away amid shouts. There was a larger and more popular demonstration that day at the Cirque Américain ; but the eloquence was with us. To add to the general picturesqueness it was Ascension Day, and occasionally one met groups of little white-robed girls, who were still being trained, perhaps, to shudder at the very name of Voltaire, or even of Victor Hugo.
I dined one day with M. Talandier, a member of the “ Extreme Left ” in the Chambre des Députés, — a gentleman to whom my friend Conway had introduced me, they having become acquainted during our host’s long exile in England. Louis Blanc, the historian, was present, with Mr. and Mrs. Conway and a few Frenchmen who spoke no English ; and as there was also a pretty young girl who was born in England of French parents, there was some confusion of tongues, though the Talandier family and Louis Blanc were at home in both languages. I was delighted to meet this last-named man, whose career had been familiar to me since the revolution of 1848. He was very short, yet square in person, and not insignificant; his French was clear and unusually deliberate, and I never missed a word, even when he was not addressing me. His small size and endless vivacity made him look like a French Tom Moore. He told many stories about the revolution, — one of an occasion where flags were to be presented by the provincial government to the regiments, and he was assigned to the very tallest colonel, a giant in size, who at once lifted Louis Blanc in his arms and hugged him to his breast. The narrator acted this all out inimitably, and told other stories, at one of which Carlyle had once laughed so that he threw himself down and rolled on the floor, and Louis Blanc very nearly acted this out, also.
He seemed wonderfully gentle and sweet for one who had lived through so much; and confirmed, without bitterness, the report I had heard that he had never fully believed in the National Workshops which failed under his charge in 1848, but that they were put into his hands by a rival who wished them and him to fail. Everything at the meal was simple, as our hosts lived in honorable poverty after their exile. We sat at table for a while after dinner, and then both sexes withdrew together. Through the open windows we heard the music from a students’ dance-garden below, and could catch a glimpse of young girls, dressed modestly enough, and of their partners, dancing with that wonderful grace and agility which is possible only to young Frenchmen. All spheres of French life intermingle so closely that there seemed nothing really incongruous in all this exuberant gayety beneath the windows, while the two veteran radicals — who had very likely taken their share in such amusements while young — were fighting over again their battles of reform. Both now have passed away. Louis Blanc’s Ten Years still finds readers, and some may remember the political papers written a few years later by Talandier for the International Review.
By invitation of M. Talandier I spent a day (June 3) at Versailles, where the Chambre des Députés was then sitting, and discovered in the anteroom, or salle d’attente, that, by a curious rule, foreigners were excluded until four p. M.; yet the name of my host brought me in after a little delay. The hall was full of people waiting, each having to send his card to some member, naming on it the precise hour of arrival. The member usually appeared promptly, when an immense usher called in a stentorian voice for “ la personne qui a fait demander M. Constant”— or whosoever it might be. Then the constituent — for such it commonly was — advanced toward the smiling member, who never looked bored; the mask of hospitality being probably the same, in this respect, throughout the legislative halls of the world. At last M. Talandier appeared, and found me a place among the Corps Diplomatique. The Chamber itself was more like the House of Representatives at Washington than like the House of Commons; the members had little locked desks, and some were writing letters, like our Representatives, though I saw no newspapers. The ordinary amount of noise was like that in our Congress, though there was, happily, no clapping of hands for pages ; but when the members became especially excited, which indeed happened very often, it was like a cage of lions. For instance, I entered just as somebody bad questioned the minister of war, General Borel, about an alleged interference with elections; and his defiant reply had enraged the " Lefts,” or radicals, who constituted the majority of the assembly. They shouted and gesticulated, throwing up their hands and then slapping them on their knees very angrily, until the president rang his great bell, and they quieted down, lest he might put on his hat and adjourn the meeting. In each ease the member speaking took his stand in the desk, or tribune, below the president; and the speeches were sometimes read, sometimes given without notes. The war minister, a stout, red-faced man, — always, the radicals said, half intoxicated, — stood with folded arms, and looked ready for a coup d’état ; yet I heard it said about me that he would be compelled either to retreat or to resign. One saw at a glance how much profounder political differences must be in France than with us, since in that country they avowedly concern the very existence of the republic.
I saw no women at the Chambre des Députés, even as spectators, though they may have been concealed somewhere, as in the Ladies’ Gallery of the House of Commons. An American was surprised, twenty years ago, with all the associations of the French revolutions in his mind, to see in Paris so much less exhibition of interest in public affairs, or indeed of general knowledge, on the part of women than among men. For instance, on my going one day into a crémerie in a distant part of Paris, and partaking of a bowl of bouillon bourgeois at twenty-five centimes (live cents), the woman in charge was interested to hear that I was from America, and asked if they spoke German there. Her husband laughed at her ignorance, and said that America was discovered by Christophe Colon ; going on to give a graphic and correct account of the early struggles of Columbus, of his voyage and his discouragement, of the mutiny of his men, of his seeing the light on the shore, and so on. Then he talked about Spain, the Italian republic, and other matters, saying that he had read it all in the school-books of the children and in other books. It was delightful to find a plain Frenchman in a blouse who, although coarse and rough-looking, could talk so intelligently; and his manners also had perfect courtesy. I could not but contrast him with the refined Italian youth who once asked a friend of mine in Florence what became of that young Genoese who sailed westward in 1492 to discover a new continent, and whether he had ever been heard of again.
On another day I dined with Louis Blanc in bachelor quarters, with the Talandiers, Conways, and one or two others. He was less gay than before, yet talked much of the condition and prospect of affairs. France, he said, was not a real republic, but a nominal one ; having monarchical institutions and traditions, with a constitution well framed to make them perpetual. All the guests at his house seemed alike anxious for the future. Tire minister of war, whom I had heard virtually defying the people a few days before, was so well entrenched in power, they said, as to be practically beyond reach ; and though the republicans controlled the Chambre des Députés, that was all, for the three other parties hated the republic more than one another. I asked Louis Blanc about Lamartine, whom he thought not a great man, and even injurious to the republic through his deference for the bourgeoisie. He described the famous speech in which Lamartine insisted on the tricolored flag instead of the red flag, and said it was quite wrong and ridiculous. The red flag did not mean blood at all, but order and unity ; it was the old oriflamme, the flag of Jeanne d’Arc. The tricolor had represented the three orders of the state, which were united into one by the revolution of 1848 ; and the demand for the red flag was resisted only by the bourgeoisie. The red flag, moreover, had always been the summons to order, — when it was raised a mob had notice to disperse (as on the reading of the riot act) ; and it was absurd in Lamartine to represent it to the contrary, — he knew better. The other gentlemen all agreed with this, and with the estimate of Lamartine. After dinner M. Talandier played for us on the piano the Marseillaise, which is always thrilling, and then the Carmagnole, which is as formidable and dolorous as the guillotine itself. It was strange, in view of this beautiful city, constantly made more beautiful by opening new great avenues, some not yet finished, to recall these memories of all it had been through, and to see those who had been actors in its past scenes.
On leaving home I had been appointed a delegate to the Prison Discipline Congress, to be held that year at Stockholm ; and though I never got so far, I attended several preliminary meetings of delegates in London and Paris, and was especially pleased, in the latter place, to see the high deference yielded by French experts to our American leader, the late Dr. E. C. Wines, and also the familiar knowledge shown by these gentlemen in regard to American methods and experiments. Less satisfactory was our national showing at another assemblage, where we should have been represented by a far larger and abler body of delegates. This was the Association Littéraire Internationale, which was appointed to assemble under the presidency of Victor Hugo, on June 11. I had gone to a few of the committee meetings at the rooms of the Société des Gens de Lettres, and, after my wonted fashion, had made an effort to have women admitted to the Association Littéraire ; this attempt having especial reference to Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, who was then in Paris, and whose unusual command of the French language would have made her a much better delegate than most of the actual American representatives. In this effort I failed, although my judgment was afterwards vindicated when she gave great delight by a speech in French at a woman’s convention, where I heard her introduced by the courteous and delicately articulating chairman as “ Meesses Ouardow.”
As to the more literary convention, the early meetings were as indeterminate and unsatisfying as such things are wont to be, so that I was quite unprepared for the number and character of those who finally assembled. The main meeting was in some masonic hall, whose walls were covered with emblems and Hebrew inscriptions ; and although the men were nearly all strangers to me, it was something to know that they represented the most cultivated literary traditions of the world. When the roll was called, there proved to be eighty-five Frenchmen present, and only thirty-five from all other nations put together ; five of this minority being Americans. I was the only one of these who had ever published a book, I think. Mr. W. H. Bishop was another delegate, but his first volume, Detmold, had not yet reached completion in The Atlantic ; while the three remaining delegates were an Irishman, an Englishman, and an American, all correspondents of American newspapers, the last of them being the late Edward King, since well known in literature. It is proper to add that several dentists, whose names had been duly entered as delegates, had not yet arrived ; and that at later sessions there appeared, as more substantial literary factors, President A. D. White and Mr. George W. Smalley. On that first day, however, the English delegation was only a little move weighty than ours, including Blanchard Jerrold and Tom Taylor, with our own well-known fellow countryman “ Hans Breitmann ” (Charles G. Leland), who did not know that there was to be an American delegation, and was naturally claimed by the citizens of both his homes. Edmond About presided, a cheery, middle-aged Frenchman, short and square, with broad head and grayish beard ; and I have often regretted that I took no list of the others of his nationality, since it would have doubtless included many who have since become known to fame. It is my impression that Adolphe Belot, Jules Claretie, and Hector Malot were there, and I am inclined to think that Max Nordau also was present.
The discussions were in French, and therefore of course animated ; but they turned at first on unimportant subjects, and the whole thing would have been rather a disappointment to me—since Victor Hugo’s opening address was to be postponed — had it not been rumored about that Tourguéneff was a delegate to the convention. Wishing more to see him than to behold all living Frenchmen, I begged the ever kind secretary, M. Zaccone, to introduce me to him after the adjournment. He led me to a man of magnificent bearing, who towered above all the Frenchmen, and was, on the whole, the noblest and most attractive literary man whom I have ever encountered. I can think of no better way to describe him than by saying that he united the fine benignant head of Longfellow with the figure of Thackeray; not that Tourguéneff was as tall as the English novelist, but he had as distinctly the effect of height, and afterwards, when he, Leland, and I stood together, we were undoubtedly the tallest men in the room. But the especial characteristic of Tourguéneff was a winning sweetness of manner, which surpassed even Longfellow’s, and impressed one as being “ kind nature’s,” to adopt Tennyson’s distinction, and not merely those “next to best ” manners which the poet attributes to the great.
Tourguéneff greeted us heartily as Americans, — Mr. Bishop also forming one of the group,— and spoke warmly of those of our compatriots whom he had known, as Emma Lazarus and Professor Boyesen. He seemed much gratified when I told him that the types of reformers in his latest book, Virgin Soil, — which may be read to more advantage in its French form as Terres Vierges,— appeared to me universal, not local, and that I was constantly reminded by them of men and women whom I had known in America. This pleased him, he explained, because the book had been very ill received in Russia, in spite of its having told the truth, as later events showed. All this he said in English, which he continued to use with us, although he did not speak it with entire ease and correctness, and although we begged him to speak in French. Afterwards, when he was named as one of the vice-presidents of the new association, the announcement was received with applause, which was renewed when he went upon the platform ; and it was noticeable that no other man was so honored. This showed his standing with French authors ; but later I sought in vain for his photograph in the shops, and his name proved wholly unfamiliar. He was about to leave Paris, and I lost the opportunity of further acquaintance. Since then his fame has been temporarily obscured by the commanding figure of Tolstoi, but I fancy that it is now beginning to resume its prestige ; and certainly there is in his books a more wholly sympathetic quality than in Tolstoi’s, with almost equal power. In his Poems in Prose — little known among us, I fear, in spite of the admirable translation made by Mrs. Perry — there is something nearer to the peculiar Hawthornesque quality of imagination than in any other book I know.
As to the Association Littéraire Internationale, it had the usual provoking habit of French conventions, and met only at intervals of several days, — as if to give its delegates plenty of leisure to see Paris, — and I could attend no later meeting, although I was placed on the Executive Committee for America ; but it has since held regular annual conventions in different capitals, and has doubtless helped the general agitation for better copyright laws.
I went again to the apartments of Louis Blanc on July 14, with a young American friend, to get tickets for the Rousseau centenary, which was also to be, after the convenient French habit of combination, a celebration of the capture of the Bastille. Rousseau died July 2, 1778, and the Bastille was taken on July 14, 1789, so that neither date was strictly centennial, but nobody ever minds that in Paris ; and if it had been proposed that our Declaration of Independence or the Landing of the Pilgrims should also be included in the festival, there would have been no trouble in any mind on account of the dates. Committee men were busy in Louis Blanc’s little parlor, and this as noisily and eagerly as if the Bastille were again to be taken: they talked and gesticulated as only Latin races can ; in fact, the smallest committee meeting in France is as full of excitement as a monster convention. It is a wonder that these people do not wear themselves out in youth ; and yet old Frenchmen have usually such an unabated fire in their eyes, set off by gray hair and often black eyebrows, that they make Anglo-Saxons of the same age look heavy and dull in comparison. French emotion does not exhaust itself, but accumulates strength indefinitely, needing only a touch of flame, at any age, to go off like a rocket.
Little Louis Blanc came in and went out, in a flowered dressing-gown ; and he really seemed, after his long English residence, to be an element of calmness in the eager crowd. We obtained tickets for the evening banquet (Bastille celebration) at three and a half francs each, and also received cards for the afternoon (Rousseau celebration) free and with reserved seats. To prepare the mind for both occasions, I attended a very exclusive and aristocratic mass at the Chapelle Expiatoire, and, later, went by omnibus to the Cirque Américain. then existing in the Place du Château d’Eau. This was the place where the popular demonstration had been held on the Voltaire day ; but I had not seen that, and it was, in case of Rousseau, the scene of the only daylight celebration. Crowds of people were passing in, all seemingly French; we did not hear a syllable of any other language. We were piloted to good seats, and found ourselves in the middle of enthusiastic groups, jumping up, sitting down, calling, beckoning, gesticulating, and talking aloud. There were soon more than six thousand persons in a hall which seated but four thousand, and the noise of this multitude was something to make one deaf. Every one seemed either looking for a friend or making signals to one. Most of those present were neatly dressed, even those who wore blue blouses and white caps ; and all was good nature, except that now and then some man would make himself obnoxious and be put out, usually under the charge of being a Bonapartist sent there purposely to make trouble. At such times there would be a sudden roar, a waving of arms and sticks, amid which one could discern a human figure being passed along rapidly from hand to hand, and at last dropped, gently but firmly, over the stairway; his hat being considerately jammed down upon his head during the process. Yet all was done as good-naturedly as such a summary process permits ; there was nothing that looked like rioting. Opposite the high tribune, or speaker’s stand, was placed a bust of Rousseau, looking very white against a crimson velvet background; five Freneh flags were above it, and wreaths of violets and immortelles below, with this inscription, “Consacra sa vie à la vérité. ” Beside this were panels inscribed with the chief events of Rousseau’s life.
When at last Louis Blanc came in with others — all towering above him — there was a great clapping of hands, and shouts of “ Vive l’amnistie ! Vive la Republique ! Vive Louis Blanc ! ” The demand for amnesty referred to the pardon of political prisoners, and was then one of the chief war-cries of the radical party of France. After the group of speakers there appeared a larger group of singers, — there had been a band present even earlier, — and then all said “ Sh ! sh ! sh ! ” and there was absolute silence for the Marseillaise. Nothing of the kind in this world can be more impressive than the way in which an audience of six thousand French radicals receives that wonderful air. I observed that the group of young men who led the singing never once looked at the notes, and few even had any, so familiar was it to all. There was a perfect hush in that vast audience while the softer parts were sung; and no one joined even in the chorus at first, for everybody was listening. The instant, however, that the strain closed, the applause broke like a tropical storm, and the clapping of hands was like the taking flight of a thousand doves all over the vast arena. Behind those twinkling hands the light dresses of ladies and the blue blouses of workingmen seemed themselves to shimmer in the air; there was no coarse noise of pounding on the floor or drumming on the seats, but there was a vast cry of “Bis! Bis!” sent up from the whole multitude. demanding a repetition. When this was given, several thousand voices joined in the chorus ; then the applause was redoubled, as if the hearers had gathered new sympathy from one another; after which there was still one more great applauding gust, and then an absolute quiet as Louis Blanc arose.
It all brought home to me that brief and thrilling passage in ErckmannChatrian’s story of Madame Thérèse, where a regiment of French soldiers, having formed square, is being crushed in by assaults on all sides, when the colonel, sitting on his horse in the middle, takes off his chapeau and elevates it on the point of his sword, and then begins in a steady voice to chant a song. Instantly a new life appears to run through those bleeding and despairing ranks; one voice after another swells the chant, and the crushed sides of the square gradually straighten out under the strong inspiration, until it is all in shape again, and the regiment is saved. I could perfectly picture to myself that scene, while listening to this performance of the Marseillaise. Afterwards another air of the French Revolution was played by the band, the Chant da Départ, and this was received with almost equal ecstasy, and was indeed fine and stirring. There was also music of Rousseau’s own composition, the first I had ever heard, and unexpectedly good. This was finely sung by two vocalists from the Théâatre Lyrique. and I was told that they were risking their appointments at that theatre by singing in an assembly so radical.
The speaking was eloquent and impressive, being by Louis Blanc, M. Marcou, and M. Hamel. All read their speeches, yet each so gesticulated with the hand and accompanied the action with the whole movement of the body that it seemed less like reading than like conversation. The orators were not so distinguished as at the Voltaire celebration, yet it was impossible to see and hear Louis Blanc without liking and trusting him, while he escaped wholly from that air of posing which was almost inseparable from Victor Hugo, and was, perhaps. made inevitable by the pedestal on which France had placed him so long. The audience on this occasion was three times as large as at Hugo’s address, but the attention was as close and the appreciation almost as delicate. It seems impossible to bring together a French audience that has not an artistic sense. The applause, like the speaking, had always a certain intellectual quality about it; the things said might be extravagant or even truculent, yet they must be passed through the fine medium of the French tongue, and they were heard by French ears. Whenever there was the long swell of a sonorous sentence, the audience listened with hushed breath ; and if any one interrupted the cadence by premature applause, there came an almost angry “Sh! sh ! ” to postpone it. Once when this interruption was persistently made, my next neighbor exclaimed with fury, “ C’est tr-r-rop de précipitation ! ” throwing himself forward and glaring at the unhappy marplot with an expression suggestive of guillotines; but when the interruption subsided and the sentence stood fulfilled, the reserved applause broke with accumulated power, like a breaking wave. The enthusiasm of a French radical audience is as wonderful as the self-control of its stillness, or as the sudden burst of vivacity let loose during all the intervals between the speeches. The whole affair lasted from two o’clock until nearly six, and during the last hour or two of the time I found myself steadily losing that disentangling power which one must use in comprehending the sentences of a foreign language ; the faculty became, as it were, benumbed in me, and the torrent of speech simply flowed by without reaching the brain ; it was much the same, I found, with my two young companions. Yet Louis Blanc was of all Frenchmen I had ever met the easiest to follow, — a thing the more remarkable as his brother, Charles Blanc, the well-known art critic, was one of the most difficult.
The evening banquet in memory of the destruction of the Bastille was to take place at half past seven in a café in the Rue de Belleville, near the city barriers. As we went toward the place, we found ourselves in an absolutely French region. I here was no more “ English spoken ” in the shop windows ; the people around us were natives or residents, not lookerson ; there was an air of holiday; and there were children not a few, including even babies tightly swathed. As we toiled up the long hill, we found ourselves approaching the very outskirts of Paris; and when we entered the hall, there must have been five hundred persons already seated, among whom we were, perhaps, the only Anglo-Saxons. The men and women around us were about equal in number, and were all neatly, sometimes fashionably dressed. Two men opposite us had an especially cultivated look, and soon encouraged some conversation. At first they took us for English, but were obviously pleased to hear that we were Americans, and then as visibly disappointed at learning, on inquiry, that neither of us belonged to the masonic order, with which European radicals claim a certain affinity. They drank their claret to the République Américaine, but when I proposed the République Française they shook their heads quite sadly, and pronounced that to be a widely different thing. This, it must be remembered, was nearly twenty years ago, when the sense of uncertainty was far greater than it is now, and when the policy of the administration was thought very reactionary.
There was a surprisingly good banquet for the money, —when it comes to cooking, Frenchmen of all parties make much the same demands,—but there were too few waiters and the courses came very slowly, so that when we left the hall, at ten o’clock, the guests had got no farther than chicken. Perhaps it was one result of this that the speaking took place as the dinner went on, instead of waiting for the cigars, as with us. I cannot recall the names of the orators, except General Wimpffen, a man of veteran and soldierly appearance, who was received with great enthusiasm, the French army, since the Commune, being regarded as on the conservative side. A peculiarly cordial greeting was given to a lady who read extracts from letters; such a spectacle being then rare, I was told, at French public meetings. The speakers captured and destroyed the Bastille with great repetition and unanimously. and some of the talk was entirely without notes and quite eloquent. At intervals the band would strike in with tremendous force, especially in the direction of the Marseillaise, the guests all joining in the chorus, with their mouths full and with a great thumping of knifehandles on the table. One of my young companions pointed out that the gleam of the blades during this last performance was the only thing which made a red republic seem a possibility.
The nearest approach to a disturbance was provoked by a man who utterly refused to keep still during the speeches, and gave forth awful vociferations. At first all thought him a Bonapartist who had come in to make trouble, and they were going to put him out by main force. He succeeded, however, in explaining that he did not aim at a revolution, but at his dinner ; the waiters having repeatedly passed him by, he said, so that he had had nothing to eat. Then all sympathy turned at once eagerly in his favor, for he had touched a national chord, and one appealing to radical and conservative alike the world over ; so he was fed profusely at last, and all was peace.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson.