WHITEHERST'S SIEGE OF PARIS.*
THERE are numerous records of life within Paris during the siege, but none more original than this entertaining book. Many persons, doubtless, who readily quote Raikes and Gronow as authorities on the history of their time, at least in regard to some subjects, will not extend like patronage to Mr. Whitehurst; yet he was far less inaccurate than Gronow, and not more prejudiced: against political opponents than the solemn exquisite who flourished amid the Dandies of the Regency, while he exceeded both in a quaint originality alike of observation and expression. In his Court and Social Life in France under Napoleon the Third, Mr. Whitehurst described, with a somewhat cynical equanimity, not only the strength and splendour, but the weak- ness, vices, and follies which marked the Imperial regime ; and the same qualities of mind which characterised his productions as a newspaper correspondent appear in his Private Diary of the Siege of Paris. Whether he ever took life seriously, in any sense,, except as a bon vircur, or had any principles, is more than doubt- ful ; but he certainly possessed a peculiarly observing faculty, and a strong sense of the ludicrous ; and he has preserved a picture of one of the greatest events recorded in modern history which effaces, or rather does not produce, the outlines of its grandeur_ One merit he assuredly has,—he never complains. The existence of terrible suffering is implied by a multitude of painful details, often grotesquely, never plaintively narrated, and although in. the very centre of privation, he never sheds inky tears on his own account. Indeed a certain gay fortitude, a not ill-natured, ban- tering malice, are evident throughout. As to grave affairs, if he loved the Imperial cause and Court, it was because so many, pleasant, worldly sins, furnishing scandal, bon mots, and excite- ment, relieved the tedium, if they did not, from his point of view,. make up the substance of life. If he hated the Republic, it was. because there was no Court, no splendour, no high-flying folly, or vice made venial by the approval of fashion. Nevertheless,.
' My Private Diary during the Siege of Parts. By the Isle Felix M.. Whitehurst- 2 vols. London: Tinsley Brothers. under a Mocking, satirical, and-frequently frivo/ous-exterior, it is evident that there lurked not only a kind nature, but some power of seeing and judging things and men as they were, and predicting, often most accurately, proximate events. Occurring, as the evidence of this faculty does, amid pages of lively description, in- tertersed with edd illustrations and droll turns of phraseology, the glimpses of Mr. Whitehurst's serious side come upon us by surprise. But he had lived a wild, adventurous life, had seen closely stupendous European changes, had associated, more or leas intimately, with men of every rank in the social hierarchy, and only a dull man or a fool could have gone through such varied experiences without acquiring some insight into character and the current of political events.
Whatever may have been his defects, since he is now dead and burled, gone beyond the reach of criticism, we must take him for what he is worth. He has, at least; written a readable diary, and his entries serve as a fair illustration of the sunny side of Imperialism, and of the disagreeable aspects of French character. That he Was not quite blind to facts is evident from an entry under date August 31, when recent known events had caused "evident deep depression," although few anticipated the awful catastrophe of Sedan. "If there is a French defeat," says the diarist, "the dynasty is lost, and the war will rage stronger than ever under the Orleanists, if they get their innings, and still fiercer under the Republic, if that system holds, and we have even the fainting Rochefort as our ruler. It is a war of hatred and vengeance." Just following this serious note, we come upon a sentence showing how incapable the writer was, even in the gravest moments, when the "depression was perfectly awful," to overlook a little grotesque detail. "Last effect of the war.—The Grand Hotel is 'concentrating' its visitors, and reducing its staff. The lift' ceased to lift last night, and the legs of the few re- maining Americans are crying aloud in consequence,—that is, if legs can cry." Indeed, throughout, although the realities around him are so grim, he is perpetually attracted by the tragi-comic incidents occurring under his eyes. Of course he is scornfully in- dignant at the arrival of the Republic whose advent he foresaw, and at the absence of order, cleanliness, state, and pleasure in Paris. Visiting the West End early in September, he grows as nearly pathetic as possible when he sees the desolation about the Porte Maillot. But what is "the horror of horrors ?" What shocks him the most? " We went to the entrance of the Bois. Many of our set," he characteristically writes, " will remember the jolly drive from the races through it, and its great beauties. The gates are closed, the beautiful Swiss chalets (the lodges) were piles of brick, dust, and the debris of decoration. The trees are cleared along the military zone, and even the avenue is not spared." Just a month later he heard that the Chateau of St. Cloud had been destroyed,—by French artillery. Whereupon he writes, " I shall not easily forget the last time I saw St. Cloud. It was in July of last year. The Emperor gave a private party, at which he discussed the coming Constitution, (con- found it!) We walked about under avenues, lighted ' a giorno ' by electric lights ; talked about everything, from the constitution of a government to the construction of a crino- line. Later the thoughtless danced and the heedless of to-morrow
supped. I do not like the tone of this senatorial society,' said the friend who drove me down. ' Most of the people should have been outside the grille.' " Wherever he goes, what fills him with deep sorrow is the vanished comfort, splendour, and pleasure of the Empire. After walking, on another occasion, in the Bois de Boulogne—not so much destroyed as he fancied—he is astounded at the lines of defence,'which had cut up his earthly paradise, and looking round asks, " Is is possible that this can be the spot where we have often waited half an hour to cross, and is this the road down which really splendid 'turns-out' reached four-mile deep ?" A propos of the Bois, he tells a good story of the late Lord Hertford, who owned Bagatelle, a pretty villa seized for de- fence. " Not long before [Lord Hertford's death] I met — at the races, and he said, ' By Jove, old fellow, I have lunched at
Bagatelle Nonsense.'—' True. Three years ago my lord promised me a mutton chop. I was determined to have it, so I went there to-day, and got—'—' A capital de:feline'', of course,' some one interrupted. ' Oh no ! the mutton chop !' " On the 16th of November he writes :—" We assisted at a strange spectacle to-day, which could only be seen in Paris besieged. There was a crowd of about fifty people, all the men in the same kind of uniform, in front of the Café Durant, gazing with intense interest on a street-juggler, who was balancing bricks, bolting bullets, and swallowing swords, like Ramo-Samee, and who was also in full National-Guard uniform!" It is for these quaint
things that he-has an eye. " Imagine,' he writes the next day, 'a regiment of the National Guards of France marching to the air of "Twas in Trafalgar's bay !' It is a fact." Again, in the middle of the investment, " We know nothing," he says, "not even what horse has the Cambridgeshire ! " All the talk turned on the kitchen, he says, and tells this ghastly anecdote:—" There was a conversation about food at the — Club to night. ' You
have eaten dog!' said the Vicomte de — Yes,' said Dr. Blanc de Cormier, and very good it is ; almost as good as man.' Then he went on to say how he and two confreres had eaten a biftek d'homme, cut from the corpse of Uhlman, the well-remembered murderer." Pleasanter reading is the following, dated Novem- ber 24 :—
"In the Rue Auber we met Auber. Now, Daniel Francois-Esprit Auber was born on January 29, 1782, and will have a fair chance of being eighty-nine, or, perhaps, ninety years of age, before the siege is over. He said, hear you are keeping a diary. How amusing it will be to read a hundred years hence I could not help saying that he seemed to have got into the habit of growing younger, but that I feared I should be engaged elsewhere ! His power of living is wonderful. When Meyerbeer died he said, 'Poor fellow ! cut off! ' When the swan of Pesaro sang his last note, he exclaimed, Ah, qua care Rossini morto giovane ! it will be the turn of Ambroise Thomas next.' "
During the fighting about Champigny he was on the ramparts, and he describes both the lay and military element :—
" What struck me as very odd was, that although we were standing on some high place in a most populous quarter, with a battle raging within sight from the Bois de Vincennes to Maisons-Alfort, not one of the natives knew where any point was, nor could agree with his or her neighbour as to what it was probable to be or be near. Look,' cries a lady who is drinking coffee at a stall to her husband, a National Guard, who is consuming a ' grog' at his canteen, 'look, dear, there is the little Charles ;' and as a train rushee by on the circular railway, innumerable good wishes and kisses were sent to the passengers by those above whose heads they were passing. Every train, that is to say four an hour, was crowded like the boxes at the Porte St. Martin ; numerous family carriages, and one or two real Greenwich-Fair vans were driven and plied up to the' fighting quarter.' A great trade was done in sweet cakes and sirops (it was freezing). At the end of every street was a man with a telescope, cry- ing out with all his might, 'Who'll see the Prussians ? Prussians in position, two sons the division.' All was joy, harmony, noise, and reminded one chiefly of a 15th of August under the Empire. So much for the civilians ; now for the soldiers. In the first place, I should say that never before had so many soldiers in uniform, but unarmed, and quite as amateurs, looked on at a great battle. That part of Paris is, I should say, impregnable, and the men actually on sentry looked like work, as did the rifles ready by every loop-hole, and the big guns which are now in position. Every now and then, too, an orderly or an aide-de-camp galloped past, looking in a hurry, and one or two superior officers, with anxiety, if not care on their brow. One was a naval commander, going to the front in a brougham, and having a marine aide-de-camp on horseback,—an odd sight to see in Paris. All this made us reflect on the position we were in, and the solemn question then being decided before us. But turn our eyes inside the bastions, and we could but look and wonder. Gaiety in danger is excellent, and a sailor or soldier down on his luck' daring an action would never do; but there is a limit to all things. These men were actually a reserve, and an action was raging under the walls of their capitaL They were drinking a good deal, singing a little, talking immensely, and smoking like furriaces. Every vivandiere had her reception, and at one, two Mobiles favoured the society with a little dance. Fancy two men on guard taking off their side arms and having a turn at the polka, not in a barrack-yard even, but in the street! That is what it was. I do not wish 'to turn Nature out with a pitchfork,' and I believe that the Parisians will fight to the death ; but I see it is in a stage-effect manner, and that death or a bad wound is covered by a grand tableau. I was walking with a clever man, and certainly as quick an observer as you will meet in a month's march, and he said,' Do you wish to see bold frivolity? Then look here.' So it really was, though I, who like the good people, hate to say it. A French translation of Greenwich Fair was going off with great rapidity, and at the same moment the city, about which they make so much noise—the most splendid in Europe—was shaking under the condensed fire of French and Prussian artillery, and every five minutes came the harsh, tearing noise of the mitraillenses. It is enough for to-day, and there is a theatre to-night, voila!' and a man and his wife turn from the true to the mimic tragedy."
Mr. Whitehurst seems angry because, according to him, the English were hated in Paris. It may have been so, and for other reasons, but the hated Imperialism he ever paraded before them was alone enough to make the Parisians hate Englishmen. He says, "No Frenchman can truly say that France was ever so materially prosperous as during the Second Empire ;" but French- men can now point to trade returns, which show a total of exports and imports far exceeding anything under the Empire. Another point we may mention. Mr. Whitehurst, like so many more, was never tired of sneering at the lawyers who held power under the Republic, forgetting apparently that the Third Napoleon did not disdain the help of a Baroche, a Rouher, a Billault, or even an 011ivier. The diarist is small game, but on this subject he represents a host of Bonapartas. ts. " What is Paris," he writes. " And a year ago it was the happiest capital in Europe I" Yes, for cocottes, gamblers, pigeon-shooters, horse-racers, and the
sons of Bela! generally. The jarring note throughout the pages we have noticed is this everlasting worship of what is lowest'and worst, not only in Bonapartism; but, doubtless, it finds a fitting place in the diary of such a place'of"Paris in a tilde of siege.