THE STARLING. ROAD TO VERSAILLES.
I got into my remise the hour I proposed: La Fleur got up behind, and I bid the coachman make the best of his way to Versailles.
As there was nothing in this road, or rather nothing which I look for in travelling, I cannot fill up the blank better than with a short history of this self-same bird, which became the subject of the last chapter.
Whilst the Honourable Mr. - was waiting for a wind at Dover, it had been caught upon the cliffs, before it could well fly, by an English lad who was his groom; who, not caring to destroy it, had taken it in his breast into the packet; - and, by course of feeding it, and taking it once under his protection, in a day or two grew fond of it, and got it safe along with him to Paris.
At Paris the lad had laid out a livre in a little cage for the starling, and as he had little to do better the five months his master staid there, he taught it, in his mother's tongue, the four simple words - (and no more) - to which I own'd myself so much its debtor.
Upon his master's going on for Italy, the lad had given it to the master of the hotel. But his little song for liberty being in an UNKNOWN language at Paris, the bird had little or no store set by him: so La Fleur bought both him and his cage for me for a bottle of Burgundy.
In my return from Italy I brought him with me to the country in whose language he had learned his notes; and telling the story of him to Lord A-, Lord A- begg'd the bird of me; - in a week Lord A- gave him to Lord B-; Lord B- made a present of him to Lord C-; and Lord C-'s gentleman sold him to Lord D-'s for a shilling; Lord D- gave him to Lord E-; and so on - half round the alphabet. From that rank he pass'd into the lower house, and pass'd the hands of as many commoners. But as all these wanted to GET IN, and my bird wanted to GET OUT, he had almost as little store set by him in London as in Paris.
It is impossible but many of my readers must have heard of him; and if any by mere chance have ever seen him, I beg leave to inform them, that that bird was my bird, or some vile copy set up to represent him.
I have nothing farther to add upon him, but that from that time to this I have borne this poor starling as the crest to my arms. - Thus:
[Picture which cannot be reproduced]
- And let the herald's officers twist his neck about if they dare.
THE ADDRESS. VERSAILLES.
I should not like to have my enemy take a view of my mind when I am going to ask protection of any man; for which reason I generally endeavour to protect myself; but this going to Monsieur le Duc de C- was an act of compulsion; had it been an act of choice, I should have done it, I suppose, like other people.
How many mean plans of dirty address, as I went along, did my servile heart form! I deserved the Bastile for every one of them.
Then nothing would serve me when I got within sight of Versailles, but putting words and sentences together, and conceiving attitudes and tones to wreath myself into Monsieur le Duc de C-'s good graces. - This will do, said I. - Just as well, retorted I again, as a coat carried up to him by an adventurous tailor, without taking his measure. Fool! continued I, - see Monsieur le Duc's face first; - observe what character is written in it; - take notice in what posture he stands to hear you; - mark the turns and expressions of his body and limbs; - and for the tone, - the first sound which comes from his lips will give it you; and from all these together you'll compound an address at once upon the spot, which cannot disgust the Duke; - the ingredients are his own, and most likely to go down.
Well! said I, I wish it well over. - Coward again! as if man to man was not equal throughout the whole surface of the globe; and if in the field - why not face to face in the cabinet too? And trust me, Yorick, whenever it is not so, man is false to himself and betrays his own succours ten times where nature does it once. Go to the Duc de C- with the Bastile in thy looks; - my life for it, thou wilt be sent back to Paris in half an hour with an escort.
I believe so, said I. - Then I'll go to the Duke, by heaven! with all the gaiety and debonairness in the world. -
- And there you are wrong again, replied I. - A heart at ease, Yorick, flies into no extremes - 'tis ever on its centre. - Well! well! cried I, as the coachman turn'd in at the gates, I find I shall do very well: and by the time he had wheel'd round the court, and brought me up to the door, I found myself so much the better for my own lecture, that I neither ascended the steps like a victim to justice, who was to part with life upon the top most, - nor did I mount them with a skip and a couple of strides, as I do when I fly up, Eliza! to thee to meet it.
As I entered the door of the saloon I was met by a person, who possibly might be the maitre d'hotel, but had more the air of one of the under secretaries, who told me the Duc de C- was busy. - I am utterly ignorant, said I, of the forms of obtaining an audience, being an absolute stranger, and what is worse in the present conjuncture of affairs, being an Englishman too. - He replied, that did not increase the difficulty. - I made him a slight bow, and told him, I had something of importance to say to Monsieur le Duc. The secretary look'd towards the stairs, as if he was about to leave me to carry up this account to some one. - But I must not mislead you, said I, - for what I have to say is of no manner of importance to Monsieur le Duc de C - -but of great importance to myself. - C'est une autre affaire, replied he. - Not at all, said I, to a man of gallantry. - But pray, good sir, continued I, when can a stranger hope to have access? - In not less than two hours, said he, looking at his watch. The number of equipages in the court-yard seemed to justify the calculation, that I could have no nearer a prospect; - and as walking backwards and forwards in the saloon, without a soul to commune with, was for the time as bad as being in the Bastile itself, I instantly went back to my remise, and bid the coachman drive me to the Cordon Bleu, which was the nearest hotel.
I think there is a fatality in it; - I seldom go to the place I set out for.
LE PATISSIER. VERSAILLES.
Before I had got half way down the street I changed my mind: as I am at Versailles, thought I, I might as well take a view of the town; so I pull'd the cord, and ordered the coachman to drive round some of the principal streets. - I suppose the town is not very large, said I. - The coachman begg'd pardon for setting me right, and told me it was very superb, and that numbers of the first dukes and marquises and counts had hotels. - The Count de B-, of whom the bookseller at the Quai de Conti had spoke so handsomely the night before, came instantly into my mind. - And why should I not go, thought I, to the Count de B-, who has so high an idea of English books and English men - and tell him my story? so I changed my mind a second time. - In truth it was the third; for I had intended that day for Madame de R-, in the Rue St. Pierre, and had devoutly sent her word by her fille de chambre that I would assuredly wait upon her; - but I am governed by circumstances; - I cannot govern them: so seeing a man standing with a basket on the other side of the street, as if he had something to sell, I bid La Fleur go up to him, and enquire for the Count's hotel.
La Fleur returned a little pale; and told me it was a Chevalier de St. Louis selling pates. - It is impossible, La Fleur, said I. - La Fleur could no more account for the phenomenon than myself; but persisted in his story: he had seen the croix set in gold, with its red riband, he said, tied to his buttonhole - and had looked into the basket and seen the pates which the Chevalier was selling; so could not be mistaken in that.
Such a reverse in man's life awakens a better principle than curiosity: I could not help looking for some time at him as I sat in the remise: - the more I look'd at him, his croix, and his basket, the stronger they wove themselves into my brain. - I got out of the remise, and went towards him.
He was begirt with a clean linen apron which fell below his knees, and with a sort of a bib that went half way up his breast; upon the top of this, but a little below the hem, hung his croix. His basket of little pates was covered over with a white damask napkin; another of the same kind was spread at the bottom; and there was a look of proprete and neatness throughout, that one might have bought his pates of him, as much from appetite as sentiment.
He made an offer of them to neither; but stood still with them at the corner of an hotel, for those to buy who chose it without solicitation.
He was about forty-eight; - of a sedate look, something approaching to gravity. I did not wonder. - I went up rather to the basket than him, and having lifted up the napkin, and taking one of his pates into my hand, - I begg'd he would explain the appearance which affected me.
He told me in a few words, that the best part of his life had passed in the service, in which, after spending a small patrimony, he had obtained a company and the croix with it; but that, at the conclusion of the last peace, his regiment being reformed, and the whole corps, with those of some other regiments, left without any provision, he found himself in a wide world without friends, without a livre, - and indeed, said he, without anything but this, - (pointing, as he said it, to his croix). - The poor Chevalier won my pity, and he finished the scene with winning my esteem too.
The king, he said, was the most generous of princes, but his generosity could neither relieve nor reward everyone, and it was only his misfortune to be amongst the number. He had a little wife, he said, whom he loved, who did the patisserie; and added, he felt no dishonour in defending her and himself from want in this way - unless Providence had offer'd him a better.
It would be wicked to withhold a pleasure from the good, in passing over what happen'd to this poor Chevalier of St. Louis about nine months after.
It seems he usually took his stand near the iron gates which lead up to the palace, and as his croix had caught the eyes of numbers, numbers had made the same enquiry which I had done. - He had told them the same story, and always with so much modesty and good sense, that it had reach'd at last the king's ears; - who, hearing the Chevalier had been a gallant officer, and respected by the whole regiment as a man of honour and integrity, - he broke up his little trade by a pension of fifteen hundred livres a year.
As I have told this to please the reader, I beg he will allow me to relate another, out of its order, to please myself: - the two stories reflect light upon each other, - and 'tis a pity they should be parted.
THE SWORD. RENNES.
When states and empires have their periods of declension, and feel in their turns what distress and poverty is, - I stop not to tell the causes which gradually brought the house d'E-, in Brittany, into decay. The Marquis d'E- had fought up against his condition with great firmness; wishing to preserve, and still show to the world, some little fragments of what his ancestors had been; - their indiscretions had put it out of his power. There was enough left for the little exigencies of OBSCURITY. - But he had two boys who looked up to him for LIGHT; - he thought they deserved it. He had tried his sword - it could not open the way, - the MOUNTING was too expensive, - and simple economy was not a match for it: - there was no resource but commerce.
In any other province in France, save Brittany, this was smiting the root for ever of the little tree his pride and affection wish'd to see re-blossom. - But in Brittany, there being a provision for this, he avail'd himself of it; and, taking an occasion when the states were assembled at Rennes, the Marquis, attended with his two boys, entered the court; and having pleaded the right of an ancient law of the duchy, which, though seldom claim'd, he said, was no less in force, he took his sword from his side: - Here, said he, take it; and be trusty guardians of it, till better times put me in condition to reclaim it.
The president accepted the Marquis's sword: he staid a few minutes to see it deposited in the archives of his house - and departed.
The Marquis and his whole family embarked the next clay for Martinico, and in about nineteen or twenty years of successful application to business, with some unlook'd for bequests from distant branches of his house, return home to reclaim his nobility, and to support it.
It was an incident of good fortune which will never happen to any traveller but a Sentimental one, that I should be at Rennes at the very time of this solemn requisition: I call it solemn; - it was so to me.
The Marquis entered the court with his whole family: he supported his lady, - his eldest son supported his sister, and his youngest was at the other extreme of the line next his mother; - he put his handkerchief to his face twice. -
- There was a dead silence. When the Marquis had approached within six paces of the tribunal, he gave the Marchioness to his youngest son, and advancing three steps before his family, - he reclaim'd his sword. His sword was given him, and the moment he got it into his hand he drew it almost out of the scabbard: - 'twas the shining face of a friend he had once given up - he look'd attentively along it, beginning at the hilt, as if to see whether it was the same, - when, observing a little rust which it had contracted near the point, he brought it near his eye, and bending his head down over it, - I think - I saw a tear fall upon the place. I could not be deceived by what followed.
"I shall find," said he, "some OTHER WAY to get it off."
When the Marquis had said this, he returned his sword into its scabbard, made a bow to the guardians of it, - and, with his wife and daughter, and his two sons following him, walk'd out.
O, how I envied him his feelings!
THE PASSPORT. VERSAILLES.
I found no difficulty in getting admittance to Monsieur le Count de B-. The set of Shakespeares was laid upon the table, and he was tumbling them over. I walk'd up close to the table, and giving first such a look at the books as to make him conceive I knew what they were, - I told him I had come without any one to present me, knowing I should meet with a friend in his apartment, who, I trusted, would do it for me: - it is my countryman, the great Shakespeare, said I, pointing to his works - et ayez la boute, mon cher ami, apostrophizing his spirit, added I, de me faire cet honneur-la. -
The Count smiled at the singularity of the introduction; and seeing I look'd a little pale and sickly, insisted upon my taking an arm- chair; so I sat down; and to save him conjectures upon a visit so out of all rule, I told him simply of the incident in the bookseller's shop, and how that had impelled me rather to go to him with the story of a little embarrassment I was under, than to any other man in France. - And what is your embarrassment? let me hear it, said the Count. So I told him the story just as I have told it the reader.
- And the master of my hotel, said I, as I concluded it, will needs have it, Monsieur le Count, that I shall be sent to the Bastile; - but I have no apprehensions, continued I; - for, in falling into the hands of the most polish'd people in the world, and being conscious I was a true man, and not come to spy the nakedness of the land, I scarce thought I lay at their mercy. - It does not suit the gallantry of the French, Monsieur le Count, said I, to show it against invalids.
An animated blush came into the Count de B-'s cheeks as I spoke this. - Ne craignez rien - Don't fear, said he. - Indeed, I don't, replied I again. - Besides, continued I, a little sportingly, I have come laughing all the way from London to Paris, and I do not think Monsieur le Duc de Choiseul is such an enemy to mirth as to send me back crying for my pains.
- My application to you, Monsieur le Count de B- (making him a low bow), is to desire he will not.
The Count heard me with great good nature, or I had not said half as much, - and once or twice said, - C'est bien dit. So I rested my cause there - and determined to say no more about it.
The Count led the discourse: we talk'd of indifferent things, - of books, and politics, and men; - and then of women. - God bless them all! said I, after much discourse about them - there is not a man upon earth who loves them so much as I do: after all the foibles I have seen, and all the satires I have read against them, still I love them; being firmly persuaded that a man, who has not a sort of affection for the whole sex, is incapable of ever loving a single one as he ought.
Eh bien! Monsieur l'Anglois, said the Count, gaily; - you are not come to spy the nakedness of the land; - I believe you; - ni encore, I dare say, THAT of our women! - But permit me to conjecture, - if, par hazard, they fell into your way, that the prospect would not affect you.
I have something within me which cannot bear the shock of the least indecent insinuation: in the sportability of chit-chat I have often endeavoured to conquer it, and with infinite pain have hazarded a thousand things to a dozen of the sex together, - the least of which I could not venture to a single one to gain heaven.
Excuse me, Monsieur le Count, said I; - as for the nakedness of your land, if I saw it, I should cast my eyes over it with tears in them; - and for that of your women (blushing at the idea he had excited in me) I am so evangelical in this, and have such a fellow- feeling for whatever is weak about them, that I would cover it with a garment if I knew how to throw it on: - But I could wish, continued I, to spy the nakedness of their hearts, and through the different disguises of customs, climates, and religion, find out what is good in them to fashion my own by: - and therefore am I come.
It is for this reason, Monsieur le Count, continued I, that I have not seen the Palais Royal, - nor the Luxembourg, - nor the Facade of the Louvre, - nor have attempted to swell the catalogues we have of pictures, statues, and churches. - I conceive every fair being as a temple, and would rather enter in, and see the original drawings and loose sketches hung up in it, than the Transfiguration of Raphael itself.
The thirst of this, continued I, as impatient as that which inflames the breast of the connoisseur, has led me from my own home into France, - and from France will lead me through Italy; - 'tis a quiet journey of the heart in pursuit of Nature, and those affections which arise out of her, which make us love each other, - and the world, better than we do.
The Count said a great many civil things to me upon the occasion; and added very politely, how much he stood obliged to Shakespeare for making me known to him. - But a propos, said he; - Shakespeare is full of great things; - he forgot a small punctilio of announcing your name: - it puts you under a necessity of doing it yourself.
THE PASSPORT. VERSAILLES.
There is not a more perplexing affair in life to me, than to set about telling any one who I am, - for there is scarce any body I cannot give a better account of than myself; and I have often wished I could do it in a single word, - and have an end of it. It was the only time and occasion in my life I could accomplish this to any purpose; - for Shakespeare lying upon the table, and recollecting I was in his books, I took up Hamlet, and turning immediately to the grave-diggers' scene in the fifth act, I laid my finger upon Yorick, and advancing the book to the Count, with my finger all the way over the name, - Me voici! said I.
Now, whether the idea of poor Yorick's skull was put out of the Count's mind by the reality of my own, or by what magic he could drop a period of seven or eight hundred years, makes nothing in this account; - 'tis certain the French conceive better than they combine; - I wonder at nothing in this world, and the less at this; inasmuch as one of the first of our own Church, for whose candour and paternal sentiments I have the highest veneration, fell into the same mistake in the very same case: - "He could not bear," he said, "to look into the sermons wrote by the King of Denmark's jester." Good, my Lord said I; but there are two Yoricks. The Yorick your Lordship thinks of, has been dead and buried eight hundred years ago; he flourished in Horwendillus's court; - the other Yorick is myself, who have flourished, my Lord, in no court.- -He shook his head. Good God! said I, you might as well confound Alexander the Great with Alexander the Coppersmith, my lord! - "'Twas all one," he replied. -
- If Alexander, King of Macedon, could have translated your Lordship, said I, I'm sure your Lordship would not have said so.
The poor Count de B- fell but into the same ERROR.
- Et, Monsieur, est-il Yorick? cried the Count. - Je le suis, said I. - Vous? - Moi, - moi qui ai l'honneur de vous parler, Monsieur le Comte. - Mon Dieu! said he, embracing me, - Vous etes Yorick!
The Count instantly put the Shakespeare into his pocket, and left me alone in his room.
THE PASSPORT. VERSAILLES.
I could not conceive why the Count de B- had gone so abruptly out of the room, any more than I could conceive why he had put the Shakespeare into his pocket. -
Mysteries which must explain themselves are not worth the loss of time which a conjecture about them takes up: 'twas better to read Shakespeare; so taking up "Much Ado About Nothing," I transported myself instantly from the chair I sat in to Messina in Sicily, and got so busy with Don Pedro, and Benedict, and Beatrice, that I thought not of Versailles, the Count, or the passport.
Sweet pliability of man's spirit, that can at once surrender itself to illusions, which cheat expectation and sorrow of their weary moments! - Long, - long since had ye number'd out my days, had I not trod so great a part of them upon this enchanted ground. When my way is too rough for my feet, or too steep for my strength, I get off it, to some smooth velvet path, which Fancy has scattered over with rosebuds of delights; and having taken a few turns in it, come back strengthened and refresh'd. - When evils press sore upon me, and there is no retreat from them in this world, then I take a new course; - I leave it, - and as I have a clearer idea of the Elysian fields than I have of heaven, I force myself, like AEneas, into them. - I see him meet the pensive shade of his forsaken Dido, and wish to recognise it; - I see the injured spirit wave her head, and turn off silent from the author of her miseries and dishonours; - I lose the feelings for myself in hers, and in those affections which were wont to make me mourn for her when I was at school.
SURELY THIS IS NOT WALKING IN A VAIN SHADOW - NOR DOES MAN DISQUIET HIMSELF in vain BY IT: - he oftener does so in trusting the issue of his commotions to reason only. - I can safely say for myself, I was never able to conquer any one single bad sensation in my heart so decisively, as beating up as fast as I could for some kindly and gentle sensation to fight it upon its own ground
When I had got to the end of the third act the Count de B- entered, with my passport in his hand. Monsieur le Duc de C-, said the Count, is as good a prophet, I dare say, as he is a statesman. Un homme qui rit, said the Duke, ne sera jamais dangereux. - Had it been for any one but the king's jester, added the Count, I could not have got it these two hours. - Pardonnez moi, Monsieur le Count, said I - I am not the king's jester. - But you are Yorick? - Yes. - Et vous plaisantez? - I answered, Indeed I did jest, - but was not paid for it; - 'twas entirely at my own expense.
We have no jester at court, Monsieur le Count, said I; the last we had was in the licentious reign of Charles II.; - since which time our manners have been so gradually refining, that our court at present is so full of patriots, who wish for NOTHING but the honours and wealth of their country; - and our ladies are all so chaste, so spotless, so good, so devout, - there is nothing for a jester to make a jest of. -
Voila un persiflage! cried the Count.
THE PASSPORT. VERSAILLES.
As the passport was directed to all lieutenant-governors, governors, and commandants of cities, generals of armies, justiciaries, and all officers of justice, to let Mr. Yorick the king's jester, and his baggage, travel quietly along, I own the triumph of obtaining the passport was not a little tarnish'd by the figure I cut in it. - But there is nothing unmix'd in this world; and some of the gravest of our divines have carried it so far as to affirm, that enjoyment itself was attended even with a sigh, - and that the greatest THEY KNEW OF terminated, IN A GENERAL WAY, in little better than a convulsion.
I remember the grave and learned Bevoriskius, in his Commentary upon the Generations from Adam, very naturally breaks off in the middle of a note to give an account to the world of a couple of sparrows upon the out-edge of his window, which had incommoded him all the time he wrote, and at last had entirely taken him off from his genealogy.
- 'Tis strange! writes Bevoriskius; but the facts are certain, for I have had the curiosity to mark them down one by one with my pen;- -but the cock sparrow, during the little time that I could have finished the other half of this note, has actually interrupted me with the reiteration of his caresses three-and-twenty times and a half.
How merciful, adds Bevoriskius, is heaven to his creatures!
Ill fated Yorick! that the gravest of thy brethren should be able to write that to the world, which stains thy face with crimson to copy, even in thy study.
But this is nothing to my travels. - So I twice, - twice beg pardon for it.
And how do you find the French? said the Count de B-, after he had given me the passport.
The reader may suppose, that after so obliging a proof of courtesy, I could not be at a loss to say something handsome to the enquiry.
- Mais passe, pour cela. - Speak frankly, said he: do you find all the urbanity in the French which the world give us the honour of? - I had found every thing, I said, which confirmed it. - Vraiment, said the Count, les Francois sont polis. - To an excess, replied I.
The Count took notice of the word exces; and would have it I meant more than I said. I defended myself a long time as well as I could against it. - He insisted I had a reserve, and that I would speak my opinion frankly.
I believe, Monsieur le Count, said I, that man has a certain compass, as well as an instrument; and that the social and other calls have occasion by turns for every key in him; so that if you begin a note too high or too low, there must be a want either in the upper or under part, to fill up the system of harmony. - The Count de B- did not understand music, so desired me to explain it some other way. A polish'd nation, my dear Count, said I, makes every one its debtor: and besides, Urbanity itself, like the fair sex, has so many charms, it goes against the heart to say it can do ill; and yet, I believe, there is but a certain line of perfection, that man, take him altogether, is empower'd to arrive at: - if he gets beyond, he rather exchanges qualities than gets them. I must not presume to say how far this has affected the French in the subject we are speaking of; - but, should it ever be the case of the English, in the progress of their refinements, to arrive at the same polish which distinguishes the French, if we did not lose the politesse du coeur, which inclines men more to humane actions than courteous ones, - we should at least lose that distinct variety and originality of character, which distinguishes them, not only from each other, but from all the world besides.
I had a few of King William's shillings, as smooth as glass, in my pocket; and foreseeing they would be of use in the illustration of my hypothesis, I had got them into my hand when I had proceeded so far: -
See, Monsieur le Count, said I, rising up, and laying them before him upon the table, - by jingling and rubbing one against another for seventy years together in one body's pocket or another's, they are become so much alike, you can scarce distinguish one shilling from another.
The English, like ancient medals, kept more apart, and passing but few people's hands, preserve the first sharpnesses which the fine hand of Nature has given them; - they are not so pleasant to feel, - but in return the legend is so visible, that at the first look you see whose image and superscription they bear. - But the French, Monsieur le Count, added I (wishing to soften what I had said), have so many excellences, they can the better spare this; - they are a loyal, a gallant, a generous, an ingenious, and good temper'd people as is under heaven; - if they have a fault - they are too SERIOUS.
Mon Dieu! cried the Count, rising out of his chair.
Mais vous plaisantez, said he, correcting his exclamation. - I laid my hand upon my breast, and with earnest gravity assured him it was my most settled opinion.
The Count said he was mortified he could not stay to hear my reasons, being engaged to go that moment to dine with the Duc de C- .
But if it is not too far to come to Versailles to eat your soup with me, I beg, before you leave France, I may have the pleasure of knowing you retract your opinion, - or, in what manner you support it. - But, if you do support it, Monsieur Anglois, said he, you must do it with all your powers, because you have the whole world against you. - I promised the Count I would do myself the honour of dining with him before I set out for Italy; - so took my leave.