Part 10 out of 14
and universal. Throughout the house the most profound silence is
rigidly, but sympathetically enforced; so great is the apprehension
of losing a single monosyllable in these interesting moments, which
always appear too short. To this silence succeed shouts of
acclamation and bursts of applause. I never knew any performer
command the like but Mademoiselle SAINVAL the elder.
In no character which MOLE performs, does he ever fail to deserve
applause; but there is one, above all, which has infinitely added to
his reputation. It is that of the _Vieux Celibataire_ in the comedy
of the same name by COLIN D'HARLEVILLE, which he personates with a
good humoured frankness, an air of indolence and apathy, and at the
same time a grace that will drive to despair any one who shall
venture to take up this part after him. On seeing him in it, one can
scarcely believe that he is the same man who renders with such warmth
and feeling the part of _Alceste_ in the _Misanthrope_, and in the
_Suite de Moliere_; but MOLE, imbibing his talent from nature, is
diversified like her.
Caressed by the women, associating with the most amiable persons both
of the court and the town, and, in short, idolized by the public,
till the revolution, no performer led a more agreeable life than
MOLE. However, he was not proscribed through it, and this was his
fault. Not having been imprisoned like the other actors of the old
_Comedie Francaise_, he had no share in their triumph on their
reappearance, and it even required all his talent to maintain his
ground; but, as it appears that no serious error could be laid to his
charge, and as every thing is forgotten in the progress of events, he
resumed part of his ascendency. I shall terminate this article or
panegyric, call it which you please, by observing that whenever MOLE
shall retire from the _Theatre Francais_, and his age precludes a
contrary hope, the best stock-pieces can no longer be acted.
FLEURY. A man can no more be a comedian in spite of Thalia than a
poet in spite of Minerva. Of this FLEURY affords a proof. This actor
is indebted to the revolution for the reputation he now enjoys; but
what is singular, it is not for having shewn himself the friend of
that great political convulsion. Nature has done little for him. His
appearance is common; his countenance, stern; his voice, hoarse; and
his delivery, embarrassed; so much so that he speaks only by
splitting his syllables. A stammering lover! MOLE, it is true,
sometimes indulged in a sort of stammer, but it was suited to the
moment, and not when he had to express the ardour of love. A lover,
such as is represented to us in all French comedies, is a being
highly favoured by Nature, and FLEURY shews him only as much
neglected by her. A great deal of assurance and a habit of the stage,
a warmth which proceeds from the head only, and a sort of art to
disguise his defects, with him supply the place of talent. Although
naturally very heavy, he strives to appear light and airy in the
parts of _petits-maitres_, and his great means of success consist in
turning round on his heel. He was calculated for playing _grims_
(which I shall soon explain), and he proves this truth in the little
comedy of _Les Deux Pages_, taken from the life of the king of
Prussia, the great Frederic, of whose caricature he is the living
model. He wished to play capital parts, the parts of MOLE, and he
completely failed. He ventured to appear in the _Inconstant_, in
which MOLE is captivating, and it was only to his disgrace. Being
compelled to relinquish this absurd pretension, he now confines
himself to new or secondary parts, in the former of which he has to
dread no humiliating comparison, and the latter are not worthy to be
Friends within and without the theatre, and the spirit of party,
have, however, brought FLEURY into fashion. He will, doubtless,
preserve his vogue; for, in Paris, when a man has once got a name, he
may dispense with talent:
"_Des reputations; on ne sait pourquoi!"
says GRESSET, the poet, in his comedy of _Le Mechant_, speaking of
those which are acquired in the capital of France.
BAPTISTE the elder. But for the revolution, he too would, in all
probability, never have figured on the _Theatre Francais_. When all
privileges were abolished, a theatre was opened in the _Rue Culture
St. Catherine_ in Paris, and BAPTISTE was sent for from Rouen to
perform the first parts. In _Robert Chef des Brigands_ and _La Mere
Coupable_, two _drames_, the one almost as full of improbabilities as
the other, he had great success; but in _Le Glorieux_ he acquired a
reputation almost as gigantic as his stature, and as brilliant as his
coat covered with spangles. This was the part in which BELLECOURT
excelled, and which had been respected even by MOLE. The latter at
length appeared in it; but irony, which is the basis of this
character, was not his talent: yet MOLE having seen the court, and
knowing in what manner noblemen conducted themselves, BAPTISTE had an
opportunity of correcting himself by him in the part of _Le
The _Theatre Francais_ being in want of a performer for such
characters, BAPTISTE was called in. Figure to yourself the person of
Don Quixote, and you will have an idea of that of this actor, whose
countenance, however, is unmeaning, and whose voice seems to issue
from the mouth of a speaking-trumpet.
Jeunes premiers, _or young lovers, in Comedy_.
ST. FAL, DUPONT, DAMAS, and ARMAND.
One might assemble what is best in these four actors, without making
one perfect _lover_. I have already spoken of the first three, who,
in comedy, have nearly the same defects as in tragedy. As for the
fourth, he is young; but unfortunately for him, he has no other
_Characters of_ Grims, _or_ Roles a manteau.
GRANDMENIL and CAUMONT.
GRANDMENIL. This performer is, perhaps, the only one who has
preserved what the French critics call _la tradition_, that is, a
traditionary knowledge of the old school, or of the style in which
players formerly acted, and especially in the time of MOLIERE. This
would be an advantage for him, but for a defect which it is not in
his power to remedy; for what avails justness of diction when a
speaker can no longer make himself heard? And this is the case with
GRANDMENIL. However, I would advise you to see him in the character
of the _Avare_ (in MOLIERE'S comedy of that name) which suits him
perfectly. By placing yourself near the stage, you might lose nothing
of the truth and variety of his delivery, as well as of the play of
his countenance, which is facilitated by his excessive meagreness,
and to which his sharp black eyes give much vivacity.
GRANDMENIL is member of the National Institute.
CAUMONT. He possesses that in which his principal in this cast of
parts is deficient, and little more. One continually sees the efforts
he makes to be comic, which sufficiently announces that he is not
naturally so. However, he has a sort of art, which consists in
straining his acting a little without overcharging it.
_Parts of Valets_.
DUGAZON, DAZINCOURT, and LAROCHELLE.
DUGAZON. One may say much good and much ill of this actor, and yet be
perfectly correct. He has no small share of warmth and comic humour.
He plays sometimes as if by inspiration; but more frequently too he
charges his parts immoderately. PREVILLE, who is no common authority,
said of DUGAZON: "How well he can play, if he is in the humour!" He
is but seldom in the humour, and when he is requested not to
overcharge his parts, 'tis then that he charges them most. Not that
he is a spoiled child of the public; for they even treat him
sometimes with severity. True it is that he is reproached for his
conduct during the storms of the revolution. Although advanced in
years, he became Aide-de-camp to SANTERRE.----SANTERRE! An execrable
name, and almost generally execrated! Is then a mixture of horror and
ridicule one of the characteristics of the revolution? And must a
painful remembrance come to interrupt a recital which ought to recall
cheerful ideas only? In his quality of Aide-de-camp to the Commandant
of the national guard of Paris, DUGAZON was directed to superintend
the interment of the unfortunate Lewis XVI, and in order to consume
in an instant the body of that prince, whose pensioner he had been,
he caused it to be placed in a bed of quick lime. No doubt, DUGAZON
did no more than execute the orders he received; but he was to blame
in putting himself in a situation to receive them.
Not to return too abruptly to the tone which suits an article wherein
I am speaking of actors playing comic parts, I shall relate a
circumstance which had well nigh become tragic, in regard to DUGAZON,
and which paints the temper of the time when it took place. Being an
author as well as an actor, DUGAZON had written a little comedy,
entitled _Le Modere_. It was his intention to depress the quality
indicated by the title. However, he was thought to have treated his
subject ill, and, after all, to have made his _modere_ an honest man.
In consequence of this opinion, at the very moment when he was coming
off the stage, after having personated that character in his piece,
he was apprehended and taken to prison.
DAZINCOURT. In no respect can the same reproaches be addressed to him
as to DUGAZON; but as to what concerns the art, it may be said that
if DUGAZON goes beyond the mark, DAZINCOURT falls short of it.
PREVILLE said of the latter as a comedian: "Leaving pleasantry out of
the question, DAZINCOURT is well enough." Nothing can be added to the
opinion of that great master.
LAROCHELLE. He has warmth, truth, and much comic humour; but is
sometimes a little inclined to charge his parts. He has a good stage
face. It appears that he can only perform parts not overlong, as his
voice easily becomes hoarse. This is a misfortune both for himself
and the public; for he really might make a good comedian.
There are a few secondary actors in the comic line, such as BAPTISTE
the younger, who performs in much too silly a manner his parts of
simpletons, and one DUBLIN, who is the ostensible courier; not to
speak of some others, whose parts are of little importance.
_January 22, in continuation,_
_Principal female Characters, in Comedy._
Mesdemoiselles CONTAT, and MEZERAY.--Madame TALMA.
Mademoiselle CONTAT. This actress has really brought about a
revolution in the theatre. Before her time, the essential requisites
for the parts which she performs, were sensibility, decorum,
nobleness, and dignity, even in diction, as well as in gestures, and
deportment. Those qualities are not incompatible with the grace, the
elegance of manners, and the playfulness also required by those
characters, the principal object of which is to interest and please,
which ought only to touch lightly on comic humour, and not be
assimilated to that of chambermaids, as is done by Mademoiselle
CONTAT. A great coquette, for instance, like _Celimene_ in the
_Misanthrope_, ought not to be represented as a girl of the town, nor
_Madame de Clainville_, in the pretty little comedy of _La Gageure_,
as a shopkeeper's wife.
The innovation made by Mademoiselle CONTAT was not passed over
without remonstrance. Those strict judges, those conservators of
rules, those arbiters of taste, in short, who had been long in the
habit of frequenting the theatre, protested loudly against this new
manner of playing the principal characters. "That is not becoming!"
exclaimed they incessantly: which signified "that is not the truth!"
But what could the feeble remonstrances of the old against the warm
applause of the young?
Mademoiselle CONTAT had a charming person, of which you may still be
convinced. She was not then, as she is now, overloaded with
_embonpoint_, and, though rather inclined to stoop, could avail
herself of the advantages of an elevated stature. None of the
resources of the toilet were neglected by her, and for a long time
the most elegant women in Paris took the _ton_ for dress from
Mademoiselle CONTAT. Besides, she always had a delicacy of
discrimination in her delivery, and a varied sprightliness in the
_minutiae_ of her acting. Her voice, though sometimes rather shrill,
is not deficient in agreeableness, but is easily modulated, except
when it is necessary for her to express feeling. The inferiority of
Mademoiselle CONTAT on this head is particularly remarkable when she
plays with MOLE. In a very indifferent comedy, called _Le Jaloux sans
amour_, at the conclusion of which the husband entreats his wife to
pardon his faults, MOLE contrives to find accents so tender, so
affecting; he envelops his voice, as it were, with sounds so soft, so
mellow, and at the same time so delicate, that the audience, fearing
to lose the most trifling intonation, dare not draw their breath.
Mademoiselle CONTAT replies, and, although she has to express the
same degree of feeling, the charm is broken.
Being aware that the want of nobleness and sensibility was a great
obstacle to her success, this actress endeavoured to insure it by
performing characters which require not those two qualities. The
first she selected for her purpose was _Susanne_ in the _Mariage de
Figaro_. _Susanne_ is an elegant and artful chambermaid; and
Mademoiselle CONTAT possessed every requisite for representing well
the part. She had resigned the principal character in the piece to
Mademoiselle SAINVAL the younger, an actress who was celebrated in
tragedy, but had never before appeared in comedy. On this occasion, I
saw Mademoiselle SAINVAL play that ungracious part with a truth, a
grace, a nobleness, a dignity, a perfection in short, of which no
idea had yet been entertained in Paris.
Another part in which Mademoiselle CONTAT also rendered herself
famous, is that of _Madame Evrard_, in the _Vieux Celibataire_.
--_Madame Evrard_ is an imperious, cunning, and roguish housekeeper;
and this actress has no difficulty in seizing the _ton_ suitable to
such a character. This could not be done by one habituated to a more
noble manner. Mademoiselle CONTAT has not followed the impulse of
Nature, who intended her for the characters of _soubrettes_; but,
when she made her _debut_, there were in that cast of parts three or
four women not deficient in merit, and it would have taken her a long
time to make her way through them.
The parts which Mademoiselle CONTAT plays at present with the
greatest success are those in the pieces of MARIVAUX, which all bear
a strong resemblance, and the nature of which she alters; for it is
also one of her defects to change always the character drawn by the
author. The reputation enjoyed by this actress is prodigious; and
such a _critique_ as the one I am now writing would raise in Paris a
general clamour. Her defects, it is true, are less prominent at this
day, when hereditary rank is annihilated; and merit, more than
manners, raises men to the highest stations. Besides, it is a
presumption inherent in the Parisians to believe that they never can
be mistaken. To reason with them on taste is useless; it is
impossible to compel them to retract when they have once said "_Cela
Before I take leave of Mademoiselle CONTAT, I shall observe that
there exists in the _Theatre Francais_ a little league, of which she
is the head. Besides herself, it is composed of Mademoiselle
DEVIENNE, DAZINCOURT, and FLEURY. I am confidently assured that the
choice and reception of pieces, and the _debut_ of performers depend
entirely on them. As none of them possess all the requisites for
their several casts of parts, they take care to play no other than
pieces of an equivocal kind, in which neither _bon ton_, nor _vis
comica_ is to be found. They avoid, above all, those of MOLIERE and
REGNARD, and are extremely fond of the comedies of MARIVAUX, in which
masters and lackies express themselves and act much alike. The unison
is then perfect, and some people call this _de l'ensemble_, as if any
could result from such a confusion of parts of an opposite nature. As
for new pieces, the members of the league must have nothing but
_papillotage_ (as the French call it), interspersed with allusions to
their own talent, which the public never fail to applaud. When an
author has inserted such compliments in his piece, he is sure of its
being received, but not always of its being successful; for when the
ground is bad, the tissue is good for nothing.
Mademoiselle MEZERAY. She is of the school of Mademoiselle CONTAT,
whence have issued only feeble pupils. But she is very pretty, and
has the finest eyes imaginable. She plays the parts of young
coquettes, in which her principal dares no longer appear. Without
being vulgar in her manner, one cannot say that she has dignity. As
for sensibility, she expresses it still less than Mademoiselle
CONTAT. However, the absence of this sentiment is a defect which is
said to be now common among the French. Indeed, if it be true that
they are fickle, and this few will deny, the feeling they possess
cannot be lasting.
Madame TALMA. I have already spoken of her merits as a comic actress,
when I mentioned her as a tragedian.
_Parts of young Lovers._
Mesdemoiselles MARS, BOURGOIN, and GROS.
Mademoiselle MARS. She delivers in an ingenuous manner innocent
parts, and those of lovers. She has modest graces, an interesting
countenance, and appears exceedingly handsome on the stage. But she
will never be a true actress.
Mademoiselle BOURGOIN. She has some disposition for comedy, which she
neglects, and has none for tragedy, in which she is ambitious to
figure. I have already alluded to her beauty, which is that of a
Mademoiselle GROS. She is the pupil of DUGAZON, and made her _debut_
in tragedy. The newspaper-writers transformed her into Melpomene, yet
so rapid was her decline, that presently she was scarcely more than a
waiting woman to Thalia.
Characters, _or foolish Mothers_.
Mesdemoiselles LACHAISSAIGNE and THENARD.
The latter of these titles explains the former. In fact, this cast of
parts consists of _characters_, that is, foolish or crabbed old
women, antiquated dowagers in love, &c. Commonly, these parts are
taken up by actresses grown too old for playing _soubrettes_; but to
perform them well, requires no trifling share of comic humour; for,
in general, they are charged with it. At the present day, this
department may be considered as vacant. Mademoiselle LACHAISSAIGNE,
who is at the head of it, is very old, and never had the requisites
for performing in it to advantage. Mademoiselle THENARD begins to
_double_ her in this line of acting, but in a manner neither more
sprightly nor more captivating.
_Parts of_ Soubrettes _or Chambermaids_.
Mesdemoiselles DEVIENNE and DESBROSSES.
Mademoiselle DEVIENNE. If Mademoiselle CONTAT changes the principal
characters in comedy into those of chambermaids, Mademoiselle
DEVIENNE does the contrary, and from the same motive, namely, because
she is deficient in the requisites for her cast of parts, such as
warmth, comic truth, and vivacity. Yet, while she assumes the airs of
a fine lady, she takes care to dwell on the slightest _equivoque_; so
that what would be no more than gay in the mouth of another woman, in
hers becomes indecent. As she is a mannerist in her acting, some
think it perfect, and they say too that she is charming. However, she
must have been very handsome.
Mademoiselle DESBROSSES. The public say nothing of her, and I think
this is all she can wish for.
* * * * *
I have now passed in review before you those who are charged to
display to advantage the dramatic riches bequeathed to the French
nation by CORNEILLE, RACINE, MOLIERE, CREBILLON, VOLTAIRE, REGNARD,
&c. &c. &c. If it be impossible to squander them, at least they may
at present be considered as no more than a buried treasure. Although
the _chefs d'oeuvre_ of those masters of the stage are still
frequently represented, and the public even appear to see them with
greater pleasure than new pieces, they no longer communicate that
electric fire which inflames genius, and (if I may use the
expression) renders it productive. A great man can, it is true,
create every thing himself; but there are minds which require an
impulse to be set in motion. Without a CORNEILLE, perhaps the French
nation would not have had a RACINE.
Formerly, people went to the _Theatre Francais_ in order to hear, as
it were, a continual course of eloquence, elocution, and
pronunciation. It even had the advantage over the pulpit and the bar,
where vivacity of expression was prohibited or restricted. Many a
sacred or profane orator came hither, either privately or publicly,
to study the art by which great actors, at pleasure, worked on the
feelings of the audience, and charmed their very soul. It was, above
all, at the _Theatre Francais_ that foreigners might have learned to
pronounce well the French language. The audience shuddered at the
smallest fault of pronunciation committed by a performer, and a
thousand voices instantly corrected him. At the present day, the
comedians insist that it belongs to them alone to form rules on this
point, and they now and then seem to vie with each other in despising
those already established. The audience being perhaps too indulgent,
they stand uncorrected.
Whether or not the _Theatre Francais_ will recover its former fame,
is a question which Time alone can determine. Undoubtedly, many
persons of a true taste and an experienced ear have disappeared, and
no one now seems inclined to say to the performers: "That is the
point which you must attain, and at which you must stop, if you wish
not to appear deficient, or to overact your part." But the fact is,
they are without a good model, and the spectators, in general, are
strangers to the _minutiae/i> of dramatic excellence. In tragedy,
indeed, I am inclined to think that there never existed at the
_Theatre Francais_ such a deficiency of superior talents. When LEKAIN
rose into fame, there were not, I have been told, any male performers
who went as far as himself, though several possessed separately the
qualifications necessary for that line. However, there was
Mademoiselle DUMESNIL, a pupil of nature, from whom he might learn to
express all the passions; while from Mademoiselle CLAIRON he might
snatch all the secrets of art.
As for Comedy, it is almost in as desperate a situation. The _ton_ of
society and that of comedians may have a reciprocal influence, and
the revolution having tended to degrade the performance of the
latter, the consequences may recoil on the former. But here I must
stop.--I shall only add that it is not to the revolution that the
decline of the art, either in tragedy or comedy, is to be imputed. It
is, I understand, owing to intrigue, which has, for a long time past,
introduced pitiful performers on the stage of the _Theatre Francais_,
and to a multiplicity of other causes which it would be too tedious
to discuss, or even to mention. Notwithstanding the encomiums daily
lavished on the performers by the venal pen of newspaper writers, the
truth is well known here on this subject. Endeavours are made by the
government to repair the mischief by forming pupils; but how are they
to be formed without good masters or good models?
[Footnote 1: It must grieve every admirer of worth and talent to hear
that MOLE is now no more. Not long since he paid the debt of nature.
As an actor, it is more than probable that "we ne'er shall look on
his like again."]
[Footnote 2: The word _Grim_, in French theatrical language, is
probably derived from _grimace_, and the expression of _Roles a
manteau_ arises from the personages which they represent being old
men, who generally appear on the stage with a cloak.]
_Paris, January 24, 1802._
Among the customs introduced here since the revolution, that of women
appearing in public in male attire is very prevalent. The more the
Police endeavours to put a stop to this extravagant whim, the more
some females seek excuses for persisting in it: the one makes a
pretext of business which obliges her to travel frequently, and
thinks she is authorized to wear men's clothes as being more
convenient on a journey; another, of truly-elegant form, dresses
herself in this manner, because she wishes to attract more notice by
singularity, without reflecting that, in laying aside her proper
garb, she loses those feminine graces, the all-seductive
accompaniments of beauty. Formerly, indeed, nothing could tend more
to disguise the real shape of a woman than the
COSTUME OF THE FRENCH LADIES.
A head-dress, rising upwards of half a yard in height, seemed to
place her face near the middle of her body; her stomach was
compressed into a stiff case of whalebone, which checked respiration,
and deprived her almost of the power of eating; while a pair of
cumbersome hoops, placed on her hips, gave to her petticoats the
amplitude of a small elliptical, inflated balloon. Under these
strange accoutrements, it would, at first sight, almost have puzzled
BUFFON himself to decide in what species such a female animal should
be classed. However, this is no longer an enigma.
With the parade of a court, all etiquette of dress disappeared.
Divested of their uncouth and unbecoming habiliments, the women
presently adopted a style of toilet not only more advantageous to the
display of their charms, but also more analogous to modern manners.
No sooner was France proclaimed a republic, than the annals of
republican antiquity were ransacked for models of female attire: the
Roman tunic and Greek _cothurnus_ soon adorned the shoulders of the
Parisian _elegantes_; and every antique statue or picture, relating
to those periods of history, was, in some shape or another, rendered
tributary to the ornament of their person.
This revolution in their dress has evidently tended to strengthen
their constitution, and give them a pectoral _embonpoint_, very
agreeable, no doubt, to the amateur of female proportion, but the too
open exposure of which cannot, in a moral point of view, be
altogether approved. These treasures are, in consequence, now as
plentiful as they were before uncommon. You can scarcely move a step
in Paris without seeing something of this kind to exercise your
admiration. Many of those domains of love, which, under the
old-fashioned dress, would have been considered as a flat country,
now present, through a transparent crape, the perfect rotundity of
two sweetly-rising hillocks. As prisoners, wan and disfigured by
confinement, recover their health and fulness on being restored to
liberty, so has the bosom of the Parisian belles, released from the
busk and corset, experienced a salutary expansion.
In a political light, this must afford no small satisfaction to him
who takes an interest in the physical improvement of the human
species, as it tends to qualify them better for that maternal office,
dictated by Nature, and which, in this country, has too long and too
frequently been intrusted to the uncertain discharge of a mercenary
hireling. Another advantage too arises from the established fashion.
Thanks to the ease of their dress, the French ladies can now satisfy
all the capacity of their appetite. Nothing prevents the stomach from
performing its functions; nothing paralyzes the spring of that
essential organ. Nor, indeed, can they be reproached with
fastidiousness on that score. From the soup to the desert, they are
not one moment idle: they eat of every thing on the table, and drink
in due proportion. Not that I would by any means insinuate that they
drink more than is necessary or proper. On the contrary, no women on
earth are more temperate, in this respect, than the French; they, for
the most part, mix water even with their weakest wine; but they also
swallow two or three glasses of _vin de dessert_, without making an
affected grimace, and what is better, they eat at this rate without
any ill consequence, Now, a good appetite and good digestion must
strengthen health, and, in general, tend to produce pectoral
In this capital, you no longer find among the fair sex those
over-delicate constitutions, whose artificial existence could be
maintained only by salts, essences, and distilled waters. Charms as
fresh as those of Hebe, beauties which might rival the feminine
softness of those of Venus, while they bespeak the vigour of Diana,
and the bloom of Hygeia, are the advantages which distinguish many of
the Parisian belles of the present day, and for which they are, in a
great measure, indebted to the freedom they enjoy under the antique
In no part of the world, perhaps, do women pay a more rigid attention
to cleanliness in their person than in Paris. The frequent use of the
tepid bath, and of every thing tending to preserve the beauty of
their fine forms, employ their constant solicitude. So much care is
not thrown away. No where, I believe, are women now to be seen more
uniformly healthy, no where do they possess more the art of assisting
nature; no where, in a word, are they better skilled in concealing
and repairing the ravages of Time, not so much by the use of
cosmetics, as by the tasteful manner in which they vary the
decoration of their person.
_Paris, January 25, 1802._
I have already observed that the general effervescence to which the
revolution gave birth, soon extended to the seminaries of learning.
The alarm-bell resounded even in the most silent of those retreats.
Bands of insurgents, intermixed with women, children, and men of
every condition, came each moment to interrupt the studies, and,
forcing the students to range themselves under their filthy banner,
presented to them the spectacle of every excess. It required not all
this violence to disorganize institutions already become
antiquated, and few of which any longer enjoyed much consideration
in the public opinion. The colleges and universities were deserted,
and their exercises ceased. Not long after, they were suppressed. The
only establishment of this description which has survived the storms
of the revolution, and which is no less important from its utility
than extensive in its object, is the
COLLEGE DE FRANCE.
It neither owed this exemption to its ancient celebrity, nor to the
talents of its professors; but having no rich collections which could
attract notice, no particular estates which could tempt cupidity, it
was merely forgotten by the revolutionists, and their ignorance
insured its preservation.
The _College de France_ is, at the present day, in this country, and
perhaps in the rest of Europe, the only establishment where every
branch of human knowledge is taught in its fullest extent. The object
of this institution is to spread the most elevated notions of the
sciences, to maintain and pave the way to the progress of literature,
either by preserving the taste and purity of the ancient authors, or
by exhibiting the order, lustre, and richness of the modern. Its duty
is to be continually at the head of all the establishments of public
instruction, in order to guide them, lead them on, and, as it were,
light them with the torch of knowledge.
This college, which is situated in the _Place de Cambray_, _Rue St.
Jacques_, was founded by Francis I. That monarch, distinguished from
all cotemporaries by his genius, amiableness, and magnificence, saw
in literature the source of the glory of princes, and of the
civilization of the people. He loved and honoured it, not only in the
writings of the learned, but in the learned themselves, whom he
called about his person, at the same time loading them with
encouragement and favours. It is singular that those times, so rude
in many respects, were, nevertheless, productive of sentiments the
most delicate and noble.
Truth never shuns princes who welcome it. Francis I was not suffered
to remain ignorant of the deplorable state in which literature then
was in France, and, though very young, he disdained not this
information. Nothing, in fact, could approach nearer to barbarism.
The impulse Charlemagne had given to study was checked. The torches
he had lighted were on the point of being extinguished. That famous
university which he had created had fallen into decline. A prey to
all the cavils of pedantry, it substituted dispute and quibble to
Nothing was any longer talked of but the _five universals_,
_substance_, and _accident_. All the fury of argument was manifested
to know whether those were simple figures, or beings really existing,
all things equally useful to the revival of knowledge and the
happiness of mankind. The Hebrew and Greek tongues were scarcely, if
at all, known; the living languages, little cultivated; Latin itself,
then almost common, was taught in the most rude and imperfect manner.
In short, the most learned body of the State had fallen into the most
profound ignorance: a striking example of the necessity of renewing
continually and maintaining the life of those bodies employed in
I am not speaking of the sciences, then entirely unknown. The
languages were every thing at this period, on account of their
connexion with religion.
The small number of men of merit whom the bad taste of the age had
not reached, were striving to restore to literature its lustre, and
to men's minds their true direction; but, in order to revive the
taste for good studies, it was necessary to create a new
establishment for public instruction, which should be sufficiently
extensive for acquiring a great influence. It was necessary to
assemble men the most celebrated for their talent and reputation, in
order that, being thus placed in full view, and presented to public
attention, they might rectify the minds of men by their authority, as
well as enlighten them by their knowledge.
This undertaking, difficult in itself, became much less so through
the circumstances which then existed. Taste seemed to have taken
refuge at the court, and the king easily yielded to the reasons of
the learned who approached him; but no one took a greater share in
this project than the celebrated Erasmus. Remote from it as he was,
he accelerated its execution by the disinterested praises which he
lavished on it. The king sent to invite him, in the most flattering
terms, to take the direction of it and to settle in France; but
Erasmus, jealous of liberty, retained besides by the gratitude he
owed to Charles V, and by the care he bestowed on the College of
Louvain which he had founded, refused this task, equally honourable
and useful. He manifested not the less, in his letters, the joy he
felt to see studies re-established by the only means which could
reanimate them. It is pleasing to the true friends of the sciences to
find among those who cultivate them similar traits of generosity and
At length peace having restored to France repose and the means of
repairing her losses, the king gave himself up without reserve to the
desire he had of making the sciences flourish, and realized the grand
project of public instruction which had for a long time occupied his
mind. The new college took the name of _College Royal_. It had
professors for the Hebrew and Greek tongues, and some even for the
mathematics, philosophy, medicine, and the living languages.
The formation of the _College Royal_ gave great displeasure to the
University. After having held so long without a rival the sceptre of
the sciences and literature, it was grating to its members to
relinquish it. They could ill bear to see set above it an
establishment evidently intended to direct and guide it. Self-love
offended seldom forgives, especially when it is animated by the
_esprit de corps_. The University depreciated the new college, and
endeavoured to fetter it in a thousand ways. At last, those dark
intrigues being constantly smothered by the applause which the
professors received, the University finished by bringing them before
a court of justice. From, envy to persecution there is but one step,
and that step was soon taken.
Religion served as a pretext and a cloak for this accusation. It was
affirmed that the new professors could not, without danger to the
faith, explain the Hebrew and Greek tongues, if they had not been
presented to the University to be examined by it, and received from
it their mission. To this it was answered, that if the theologians of
the University understood Greek and Hebrew, it must be easy for them
to denounce the passages in which the new professors had erred, and
that if, on the contrary, they did not understand those languages,
they ought not to pretend to judge those who taught them. After long
debates, things were left in the state in which they were before the
trial. Each party continued quietly its lessons, and, as it almost
always happens in such cases, reason ended by having its due weight:
true it is that it was then supported by royal authority.
The _College de France_ has not since ceased to make an increasing
progress. It even had the valuable advantage of reforming itself
successively, and of following new ideas, the necessary result of its
constitution and of the lustre that has always surrounded it; two
causes which have occasioned its chairs to be sought by the most
celebrated men of every description. It is this successive reform
which constitutes the distinctive character of the _College de
France_, and which has always enabled it to fulfil its real object.
Thus, to quote but one example. The chair of Greek philosophy was, in
the beginning, intended to make known the writings of the ancient
philosophers on the nature of things and the organization of the
universe. These were, at that time, the only repositories of human
knowledge for mathematics and physics; but, in proportion as the
sciences, more advanced, substituted rational theories for hazardous
conjectures, the modern discoveries of astronomy were taught,
together with the writings of the ancients. The object of this chair,
which at the present day bears the name of general physics and
mathematics, is to disseminate the most elevated notions of mechanics
and the theory of the system of the world. The works taught by its
occupier are analytical mechanics and celestial mechanics, that is,
those works which form the limits of our knowledge for mathematical
analysis, and consequently those of which it is most important to
increase the very small number of readers.
By a consequence of that spirit of amelioration which animates this
College, some time before the revolution, a chair and a cabinet of
experimental physics were added to it.
As for the natural sciences, which are taught here with much depth
and detail in several establishments, they have, in the _College de
France_, a sort of regulator which directs them, as it were, by their
generalities. It is, in fact, to this only that an establishment
which, by its nature, contains no collection, ought to attach itself,
and the philosophy of the sciences, the result and completion of
their study, here constitutes the object of all the lectures.
Thus the improvements which the sciences have successively
experienced, have always been spread by the instruction of the
_College Royal_; and among the professors who have occupied its
chairs, none can be quoted who have been strangers to their progress.
The revolution, which overthrew in France the ancient universities,
suspended for some time the exercises of this establishment; but,
under the name of _College de France_, it has since resumed a new
lustre. It then found itself compelled to new efforts, in order to
maintain its place among the scientific institutions, which have
emulously risen in every branch of human knowledge. Nevertheless,
those different sciences, even natural history, and the curative art,
taught with so much perfection in private establishments, have hence
derived great advantages, and here it is that public instruction
comes at once to be resumed, investigated, and extended.
The present government appears to be perfectly sensible of the
importance of such an establishment. The enlightened men, the
celebrated _savans_, who approach it, have pointed out in the
_College de France_ a _normal_ school, completely formed, and which
unites to the extent of its object the ever-powerful ascendant of
seniority. The similarity between the circumstances in which this
institution is at the present day and those when it was founded,
affords the most certain hope of its progress being maintained and
This is what appears to me the most interesting in the history of
this ancient college. I say nothing of its present professors; their
zeal is proved by their assiduous and uninterrupted lessons; their
merit is before the judgment of the public; and as for their names,
these are indifferent to the results of their labours. If any other
motive than that of the interest of the sciences were blended with
the information I now communicate, I should not think that, in this
letter, I was fulfilling the object of your wishes.
P.S. It may not be useless to mention that no students are attached
to the _College de France_. The lectures are public; and every one
who is desirous of improving his mind in any branch of science, may
attend them free of expense or trouble. It is impossible for the
friend of learning to withhold his admiration from so noble an
institution. What, in fact, can be more liberal than this gratuitous
diffusion of knowledge?
[Footnote 1: Whatever sentiment may have been preserved respecting
the ancient University of Paris, every impartial person must
acknowledge that it was several centuries in arrear in regard to
every thing which concerns the Arts and Sciences. Peripatetic, when
the learned had, with Descartes, renounced the philosophy of
Aristotle, it became Cartesian, when they were Newtonians. Such is
the too general custom of bodies, engaged in instruction, who make no
discoveries. Invested at their formation with great influence over
scientific opinions, because they are composed of the best informed
men of the day, they wish constantly to preserve those advantages.
They with reluctance suffer that there should be formed, elsewhere
than in their own bosom, new opinions which might balance theirs; and
if the progress of the sciences at last obliges them to abandon their
doctrine, they never adopt the most modern theories, were they, in
other respects, preferable; but embrace those which existed for some
time anterior to them, and which they themselves had before combated.
This inertness of bodies, employed in instruction, is an unavoidable
evil; because it is the effect of self-love, the most invariable of
_Paris, January 17, 1802._
If we do not consider the _Opera Buffa_ as a national theatre, then
the next in rank, after the Grand French Opera and the _Theatre
Francais_, is the
THEATRE DE L'OPERA COMIQUE.
This house, which is situated in the _Rue Feydeau_, near the _Rue de
la Loi_, was opened for the first time in January 1791. The entrance
to it is by a circular vestibule, externally decorated with
caryatides, and sufficiently spacious for one carriage to enter while
another drives off by an adjoining outlet. At the end of this
vestibule is a long gallery, bordered by shops on both sides, which
forms a second entrance by the _Rue Filles St. Thomas_.
The interior form of this theatre is a semi-circle, extended in a
right line at its extremities, which places the orchestra in a
central position, and renders the house one of the fittest in Paris
for a concert. Two rows of Gothic pillars, one above the other,
occupy nearly all its height; and though it contains eight tiers of
boxes, five only are in sight. The same distribution repeated in
regard to the stage-boxes, presents a very projecting pavilion, which
seems to support a large triumphal arch. However grand this style of
architecture may be in appearance, in effect it renders the seats
very inconvenient to two-thirds of the spectators. The ornaments
consist of a strange mixture of the Greek, Gothic, and Oriental. The
house is said to contain two thousand persons.
In the beginning, this theatre united the performers of the original
_Opera Buffa_ and some of those belonging to the old French Comic
Opera, who played alternately. The former retiring from Paris in
1792, the latter for some time attracted full houses by the
excellence of their style of singing, tasteful decorations, and one
of the best composed orchestras in the capital.
Since then, it has experienced the changes and vicissitudes attendant
on the revolution. At present, the company is composed of a selection
from the performers of the _Opera Comique_ of the _Theatre Favart_
(formerly known by the name of _Theatre Italien_), and those of the
lyric theatre of which I am now speaking. This junction has not long
been effected. Previously to its taking place, the _Comedie
Italienne_, where French comic operas only were represented, was
still constituted as it was under the old _regime_, of which it was
remarked as being the sole remnant.
Formerly, the French Comic Opera was very rich in stock-pieces,
chiefly written by FAVART, SEDAINE, MARMONTEL, HELE, MONVEL,
MARSOLIER, HOFFMAN, and others. Their productions were set to music
by GRETRY, MONSIGNY, PHILIDOR, DESAIDES, DALEYRAC, &c. These pieces
are now seldom played, the music of them being antiquated; though for
energy and truth of expression some of it surpasses that of many of
the more modern compositions. The new authors are little known. The
composers of the music are MEHUL, DALEYRAC before-mentioned,
BOYELDIEU, TARCHI, &c. The modern pieces the most in vogue and most
attractive are _Le Prisonnier_, _l'Opera Comique_, a piece so called,
_Le Calife de Bagdad_, _Maison a vendre_, _D'Auberge en Auberge_, and
a few others of the same description. All these are really pleasing
The _Theatre Feydeau_ itself was also in possession of a great number
of stock-pieces, among which were some in the style of the Grand
French Opera. A considerable change seems to have taken place, as the
latter are now no longer represented.
In surveying the _Opera Comique_, one would imagine that, in lieu of
one company, two separate ones had been formed to play in the same
theatre. The former is the weaker in number, but the stronger in
talent. The latter, though weaker, has some good performers, in the
long list of those of whom it is composed; but, in general, they are
either no longer in their pristine lustre, or have not yet attained a
competent degree of perfection.
Seldom are the two companies mixed. Pieces in the style of the modern
_Opera Comique_, in which easy mirth is replaced by quaint jests, are
played exclusively by the former. They draw crowded houses, as the
public are extremely partial to them. Lyric _drames_ are abandoned to
the latter, and the old stock-pieces to such of the performers as
choose to act in them for a small number of spectators who are so
obliging as to enter the house with _orders_ or _free_ admission. OF
all the repositories of old pieces that of the _Comedie Italienne_ is
the one which is the most entirely neglected. This is rather the
fault of the actors than that of the public. There are many old
productions which would attract a crowd, were the best performers to
play them; but who likes to pay for seeing a master-piece murdered?
--We now come to speak of the qualifications of these performers.
_Principal Characters and parts of Lovers._
ELLEVIOU, GAVAUDAN, PHILIPPE, and GAVEAUX.
ELLEVIOU. He is the first singer at the _Opera Comique_. Nor will
this opinion be contradicted by any of the elegant and pretty women
who, slaves to the custom of shewing themselves at the first
representation of a new piece, never begin to applaud till ELLEVIOU
makes his appearance.
This performer is, in fact, gifted with a handsome person, an easy
manner, an expressive countenance, and a voice, which, when he
modulates it, is charming. His delivery is tolerably good, and in
some parts, he is not deficient in warmth and feeling. As a singer,
ELLEVIOU leaves behind all those destined to second him. After having
begun by singing bass, he has taken the parts of counter-tenor, for
which, however, his voice is not suited, but he makes up for this
deficiency by a very flexible tenor. He displays much art and a very
modern taste. His method too is good; he makes no improper use of his
facility by lavishing graces, but his manner is too uniform. This is
the greatest objection that can be made to him, in the double
capacity of singer and comedian.
GAVAUDAN. This young actor, with a well-proportioned stature and a
very agreeable countenance, ranks, at the _Opera Comique_, next in
merit to ELLEVIOU. His voice, as a counter-tenor, is not very
brilliant, nor his means extensive; but his taste is good, and his
method that of the modern school. As a player, he has a certain
repution in lyric _drames_, and especially in those melancholy parts,
the characteristic of which is a concentrated passion. He imitates
TALMA, and, like him, "outsteps the modesty of Nature."
PHILIPPE. His reputation was begun by the advantages of his person,
and he consolidated it by his performance in the line of
knight-errantry. _Richard, coeur de lion_, was the part which
secured him the public favour. His voice is still an agreeable
counter-tenor; but he declines through age. As an actor, he is
deficient in nobleness, and his gestures are not dignified; but,
being used to the stage, and possessing some feeling, he often
produces happy effects.
GAVEAUX. He has been a good singer in his youth, and is a very
agreeable composer. He always acquits himself of any part he
undertakes, if not in a brilliant manner, at least with credit. Two
of his musical productions are stock-pieces, and well worth seeing.
_L'Amour Filial_ is a happy imitation of the Italian school, and
_Sophie et Moncars_ is always heard with pleasure.
_Characters of Fathers, Valets, or Comic Parts_.
CHENARD, MARTIN, REZICOURT, JULIET, and MOREAU.
CHENARD. Owing to an advantageous person, this actor once stood as
high in the favour of the ladies as ELLEVIOU does at present. He
still possesses a fine voice, as a bass, but it is not very flexible.
In the part of _Monsieur de la France_, in _l'Epreuve Villageoise_,
he established his fame as a singer; yet his style is not
sufficiently modelled after the modern taste, which is the Italian.
As an actor, he is very useful; but, having always been treated by
the public like a spoiled child, he is too apt to introduce his own
sallies into his parts, which he sometimes charges with vulgarisms of
the lowest description.
MARTIN. In the parts of valets, MARTIN cannot be better placed than
near ELLEVIOU, whom he seconds with skill and taste. This has led the
composers here to an innovation. Formerly, duets in the graceful
style between men were seldom heard; but the voices of ELLEVIOU and
MARTIN being perfectly adapted to each other, almost all the
composers have written for them duets in which the _cantabile_
prevails, and concerted cadences are very conspicuous. This, I
understand, is unprecedented in Paris.
MARTIN made his _debut_ in 1783 at the _Theatre de Monsieur_ in the
company of Italian buffoons. In this school he acquired that taste
which he has since propagated with zeal, if not with success. At the
present day, he is accused of loading his singing with superfluous
embellishments, or of placing them without judgment in passages or
situations where they are ill-suited. However, in _morceaux
d'ensemble_ he is quite at home, and, of course, shews himself to
great advantage. As an actor, he is by no means remarkable, though he
sometimes displays intelligence.
REZICOURT. He may justly be called a good comedian, without examining
his merits as a singer.
JULIET. In the newspapers, this performer is called _inimitable_. His
manner is his own; yet, perhaps, it would be very dangerous to advise
any one to imitate it. He is not deficient in intelligence, and has
the habit of the stage; but his first quality is to be extremely
natural, particularly in the parts of Peasants, which he performs
with much truth. He seems to be born a player, and though he is not a
musician, he always sings in tune and in time.
MOREAU. An agreeable person, open countenance, animation, an
ingenuous manner, and an unerring memory. He is very well placed in
young Peasants, such as _Le Bon Andre_ and _Lubin_ of FAVART, as well
as in the parts of Valets.
_Mixed characters of every sort_.--Tenors.
SOLIE, and ST. AUBIN.
SOLIE. He first appeared in the parts of young lovers with a tall
stature and a handsome face, but neither of them being fashioned for
such characters, he met with no applause. His voice was not very
brilliant, but his method of singing was replete with grace and
taste. For this, however, he obtained no credit; the Parisian public
not being yet accustomed to the modern or Italian style. CLAIRVAL,
the first singer at the old _Opera Comique_, happening to be taken
suddenly ill one night, SOLIE undertook his part at a moment's
warning. Success crowned his temerity, and from that moment his merit
was appreciated. His best character is _Micheli_ in _Les deux
Savoyards_, in which he established his reputation. In the pieces of
which MEHUL has composed the music, he shines by the finished manner
in which he executes it; the _cantabile_ is his fort. As an actor,
his declamation is not natural, and his deportment is too much that
of a mannerist. However, these defects are compensated by his
singing. To the music of others, he does every justice, and that
which he composes himself is extremely agreeable.
ST. AUBIN. This performer once had a good voice as a counter-tenor;
but as he now plays no other than secondary parts, one might imagine
that he is retained at the theatre only in consideration of his
_Caricatures and Simpletons_.
DOZAINVILLE, and LESAGE.
DOZAINVILLE. The person of this actor is very favourable for
caricatures and the characters of simpletons, which he fills. The
meagreness of his countenance renders it very flexible; but not
unfrequently he carries this flexibility to grimace. As a singer, he
must not be mentioned.
LESAGE. He is a musician, but has little voice. He performs the parts
of simple peasants in a natural manner, but with too much uniformity.
This is is a general defect attached to those characters.--Let me
next introduce the female performers.
_First female Singers and Parts of Lovers_.
Mesdames ST. AUBIN, SCIO, LESAGE, CRETU,
PHILIS the elder, GAVAUDAN, and PINGENET.
Madame ST. AUBIN. She is a capital actress, though chiefly in the
parts of young girls; yet she is the main pillar of the _Opera
Comique_. She never has been handsome, at least when closely viewed,
and is now on the wane, being turned of forty-five; but her graceful
little figure and delicate features make her appear pretty on the
stage. Neatness and _naivete_ characterise her acting. She has
scarcely any voice, but no other songs than romances or ballads are
assigned to her. She formerly played at the Grand French Opera, where
she was applauded in noble and impassioned parts, though they are
not, in general, suited to her manner. But an actress, high in favour
with the public, is always applauded in whatever character she
appears. The pieces in which Madame ST. AUBIN excels are _Le
Prisonnier, Adolphe et Clara_, and _L'Opera Comique_, which is the
title of a piece, as I have already mentioned.
Madame SCIO. Although she is said not to be well versed in music, she
has a very extensive and powerful voice, but its tones have little
variety. As an actress, she is very indifferent. Without being mean,
she has no nobleness of manner. Like almost all the performers
belonging to the _Opera Comique_, she delivers ill the dialogue, or
such sentences as are not set to music. As she frequently strains her
acting, persons deficient in taste are pleased to bestow on her the
epithet of _great_ as an actress. However, she played _Medee_ in a
lyric tragedy of that name; but such a Medea was never seen! As a
singer, Madame Scio is a valuable acquisition to this theatre. In
point of person, she is neither ordinary nor handsome.
Mademoiselle LESAGE. Her singing is chaste, but destitute of that
musical energy which distinguishes great singers. She plays _les
ingenuites_ or innocent characters; but is rather a mannerist,
instead of being childish. She then employs a false voice, not at all
suited to this line of acting, in which every thing should be
Madame CRETU. This actress came to Paris from Bourdeaux, preceded by
a great reputation. She has been handsome: a clear voice, a good
method of singing, a becoming manner of acting, insured her success.
She is very useful at this theatre, in pieces where the _vis comica_
does not predominate.
Mademoiselle PHILIS the elder. This is a pretty pupil of the famous
GARAT. She has a clear pipe, a charming countenance, a quick eye, an
agreeable person, and some taste. She possesses as much merit as an
actress as a singer.
Madame GAVAUDAN. She is admired for her pretty person, pretty voice,
and pretty carriage. No wonder then that she has greatly contributed
to the success of the little pieces in the style of _Vaudeville_,
which have been performed at this theatre.
Mesdemoiselles PINGENET. These two sisters are nothing as actresses;
but seem to aspire to the title of singers, especially the elder, who
begins to distinguish herself.
_Noble Mothers and Duennas_.
Mesdames DUGAZON, PHILIPPE, and GONTHIER.
Madame DUGAZON. Twenty years ago she enjoyed a great name, for which
she was indebted to the bad taste that then prevailed. With large
prominent eyes, and a broad flat nose, she could not be really
handsome; but she had a very animated countenance. In lyric _drames_,
she personated country-girls, chambermaids, and princesses. In the
first-named cast of parts, she had an ingenuous, open, but rustic
manner. She played chambermaids in a style bordering on effrontery.
Lastly, she represented princesses, but without any dignity, and also
women bereft of their reason. The part in which she had the most
vogue was that of _Nina_ in _La Folle par amour_. Her madness,
however, appeared not to be occasioned by the sensibility of her
heart. It was too much inclined to the sentimental cast of Sterne's
Madame DUGAZON, who ought to have been in possession of a
considerable fortune, from the vast sums of money lavished on her by
Englishmen, is at this day reduced to perform the parts of mothers,
in which she acquits herself so as to deserve neither praise nor
Madame PHILIPPE. Under the name of DESFORGES, she shone formerly in
the part of _Marguerite_ in _Richard, coeur de lion_. Without being a
superior singer, she executes her songs with feeling.
Madame GONTHIER. This actress still enjoys the benefit of her former
reputation. She is excellent in a cast of parts become hacknied on
the stage; namely, gossips and nurses.
I have said nothing of the _doubles_ or duplicates of all these
ladies, as they are, in general, bad copies of the originals.
The choruses of the _Opera Comique_ are not very numerous, and have
not the strength and correctness which distinguish those of the Grand
French Opera. Nor could this be expected. The orchestra has been
lately recomposed, and at present consists of a selection of
excellent performers. The scenery, decorations, and dresses are
deserving of commendation.
[Footnote 1: Or HALE, an Englishman, who wrote _Le Jugement de
Midas_, _l'Amant Jaloux_, and _Les Evenemens Imprevus_, pretty lyric
comedies, especially the last. Notwithstanding the success of his
pieces, this author is said to have died in the greatest distress.]
[Footnote 2: Not long since she set off for Russia, without apprizing
any one of her intention.]
[Footnote 3: The commissioner, appointed by the government to
superintend the proceedings of this theatre, has since been replaced
by a _Prefect of the Palace_, whose authority is much the same as
that exercised when each of the principal theatres in Paris was under
the inspection of a _Lord of the Bedchamber_.]
_Paris, January 29, 1802._
Whenever the pen of an impartial writer shall trace the history of
the French revolution, through all its accompanying vicissitudes, it
will be seen that this country owed its salvation to the _savans_ or
men of science. The arts and sciences, which were revived by their
zeal and courage, united with unceasing activity to pave the way to
victories abroad, and repair mischiefs at home. Nor can it be denied,
that every thing which genius, labour, and perseverance could create,
in point of resources, was employed in such a manner that France was
enabled, by land, to make head against almost all Europe, and supply
her own wants, as long as the war lasted.
The _savans_ who had effected such great things, for some time
enjoyed unlimited influence. It was well known that to them the
Republic was indebted for its safety and very existence. They availed
themselves of this favourable moment for insuring to France that
superiority of knowledge which had caused her to triumph over her
enemies. Such was the origin of the
This establishment had a triple object; namely, to form engineers for
the different services; to spread in civil society enlightened men,
and to excite talents which might promote the sciences. Nothing was
neglected that could tend to the accomplishment of a destination so
It was, in fact, time to reorganize the instruction of corps destined
for public services, the greater part of which were wholly deficient
in this respect. Some of them, it is true, had particular schools;
but instruction there was feeble and incomplete. That for military
engineers at _Mezieres_, the best conducted of all, and which
admitted twenty pupils only, had suspended its exercises, in
consequence of the revolution. Necessity had occasioned the formation
of a provisionary school, where the pupils received rapidly the first
notions of the attack and defence of places, after which they were
sent to the armies.
Such institutions neither answered the exigencies of the State, nor
conduced to its glory. Their weakness was, above all, likely to be
felt by men habituated to general ideas, and whose minds were still
more exalted, and views enlarged, by the revolution. Those men wished
that the new _School for Public Works_ should be worthy of the
nation. Their plan was extensive in its object, but simple in its
execution, and certain in its results.
The first law concerning the _Central School for Public Works_, since
called the _Polytechnic School_, was made on the 20th of Ventose year
II. (10th of March 1794). From that moment, much zeal was manifested
in making the necessary arrangements for its formation. On the report
made to the National Convention respecting the measures taken on this
subject, on the 7th of Vendemiaire year III (28th of September 1794)
a decree was passed, directing a competition to be opened for the
admission of four hundred pupils into this school. The examination
was appointed to take place in twenty-two of the principal towns. The
candidates were to answer in arithmetic and the elements of algebra
and geometry. Those admitted received the allowance of military
officers for their travelling expenses to Paris. They were to have
annually twelve hundred francs, and to remain in the school three
years, after which they were to be called to the different Public
Services, when they were judged capable of performing them; and
priority was to depend on merit. These services were the duty of
military engineers, naval engineers, or ship-builders, artillerists,
both military and naval, engineers of bridges and highways,
geographical engineers, and engineers of mines, and to them were
added the service of the pupils of the school of aerostation, which
GUYTON MORVEAU had caused to be established at Meudon, for the
purpose of forming the aerostatic company destined for manoeuvring
air-balloons, applied to the art of war, as was seen at _Maubeuge_,
_Fleurus_, _Aix-la-Chapelle_, &c.
However, the conception of this project was far more easy than its
execution. It was doing little to choose professors from among the
first men of science in Europe, if their lessons were not fixed in
the mind of the pupils. Being unable to communicate them to each
pupil in private, they stood in need of agents who should transmit
them to this numerous assemblage of youth, and be, as it were, the
nerves of the body. To form these was the first object.
Among the young men who had presented themselves at the competition,
twenty of the most distinguished were selected. Philosophical
instruments and a chemical laboratory were provided for them, and
they were unremittingly exercised in every part of the plan which it
was resolved to execute. These pupils, the greater part of whom had
come from the schools for Public Service, felt the insufficiency of
the instruction which they had there received. Eager to learn, their
mind became inflamed by the presence of the celebrated men who were
incessantly with them. The days sufficed not for their zeal; and in
three months they were capable of discharging the functions for which
they were intended.
Nor was this all. At a time when opinion and power might change from
one moment to another, much risk was incurred if a definitive form
was not at once given to the _Polytechnic School_. The authors of
this vast project had seen the revolution too near not to be sensible
of that truth. But they wished first, by a trial made on a grand
scale, to insure their method, class the pupils, and shew what might
be expected from them. They therefore developed to them, in rapid
lectures, the general plan of instruction.
This plan had been drawn up agreeably to the views of men the best
informed, amongst whom MONGE must be particularly mentioned. He had
been professor at _Mezieres_, and had there given the first lessons
of descriptive geometry, that science so useful to the engineer. The
enumeration of the various parts of instruction was reduced to a
table, printed by order of the Committee of Public Safety. It
comprehends mathematics, analysis applied to descriptive geometry and
to the mechanism of solids and fluids, stereotomy, drawing, civil
architecture, fortification, general physics, chymistry, mineralogy,
and their application to the arts.
In three months, the work of three years was explained. A real
enthusiasm was excited in these youths on finding themselves occupied
by the sublimest ideas which had employed the mind of man. Amidst the
divisions and animosities of political party, it was an interesting
sight, to behold four hundred young men, full of confidence and
friendship, listening with profound attention to the lectures of the
celebrated _savans_ who had been spared by the guillotine.
The results of so great an experiment surpassed the most sanguine
expectations. After this preliminary instruction, the pupils were
divided into brigades, and education took the course it was intended
What particularly distinguishes this establishment, is that the
pupils not only receive oral lessons, but they must give in written
solutions, present drawings, models, or plans for the different
parts, and themselves operate in the laboratories.
On the 1st of Germinal year III (22d of March 1795) the annual
courses were commenced. They were then distributed for three years,
but at this day they last two only. At the same time a decree was
passed, regulating the number of professors, adjuncts, ushers, the
holding of the meetings of the council of instruction and
administration, the functions of the director, administrator,
inspector of the studies, secretary of the council, librarian,
keepers of the collection of drawings, models, &c.
Since that epoch, the _Polytechnic School_, often attacked, even in
the discussions of the _Legislative Body_, has maintained its ground
by the impression of the reputation of the men who act there as
professors, of the depth of the knowledge which makes the object of
their lessons, and of the youths of superior talent who issue from it
every year. The law which after many adjournments, has fixed its
existence is dated the 25th of Frimaire year VIII (16th of December
The most important changes introduced, are the determination of the
age to be received into this school, which is from sixteen to twenty,
the reduction of the pupils to the number of three hundred, the rank
which is given them of serjeant of artillery of the first class,
their pay fixed on the same footing, together with a fund of
assistance for those labouring under difficulties, the obligation to
wear a uniform, the establishment of a council of improvement,
composed of three members of the National Institute, of examiners, of
a general-officer or superior agent of each of the branches of the
Public Service, of the director, and four commissioners taken from
the council of instruction.
This council assembles every year, inquires into the state of the
school, proposes its views of amelioration, respecting every
department, and makes a report to the government. One of its
principal functions is to harmonise the instruction with that of the
Schools of Engineers, Artillery, &c. into which the pupils enter
after the final examination they undergo previously to their
After this, to judge of the advantages of the _Polytechnic School_,
it is sufficient to cast an eye on the printed reports, which present
an account of the persons it furnishes to the different services, of
those who have been taken from it for the expedition to Egypt, for
the corps of _aspirans de la marine_ or midshipmen, for entering into
the line vith the rank of officers, or into the department of
commissaries of war, (into which they are admitted after their
examination if no places are vacant in the Schools for Public
Service), of those who have been called on to profess the sciences in
the central schools (Lyceums) of the departments, some to fill the
first professors' chairs in Paris, such as at the _College de France_
and the _Ecole Polytechnique_, of those, in short, who have quitted
this school to introduce into the manufactories the knowledge which
they had acquired. The last-mentioned circumstance has always been a
consideration for carrying the number of pupils beyond the presumable
wants of the different Public Services.
You see that this is no more than a summary of what might be said
and collected from the journals of the _Polytechnic School_, (which
already form four volumes in 4to. independently of the classic works
published by the professors), for giving a complete history of this
interesting establishment, which attracts the notice of foreigners of
all nations. BONAPARTE takes no small interest in the labours of the
_Polytechnic School_, and has often said that it would be difficult
to calculate the effects of the impulse which it has given towards
the mathematical sciences, and of the aggregate of the knowledge
imparted to the pupils.
The _Polytechnic School_, which is under the authority of the
Minister of the Interior, occupies an extensive range of building,
formerly known by the name of _Le petit Palais Bourbon, contiguous to
the _Palais du Corps Legislatif_. The different apartments contain
every thing necessary for the elucidation of the arts and sciences
here taught; but the pupils reside not at the school: they lodge and
board with their friends, on the salary allowed them by the nation,
and repair thither only for the prosecution of their studies.
_Paris, January 30, 1802._
To judge from the records of the Old Bailey, one would conclude that,
in proportion to the number of its inhabitants, London must contain a
greater number of dishonest persons of both sexes than any metropolis
in Europe. But, though more notorious thieves and daring robbers may
perhaps, be found in London than in many other great cities, yet I
will venture to affirm that Paris contains more
PICKPOCKETS AND SHARPERS.
However superior too our rogues may be in boldness, I apprehend that,
in dexterity, they are far inferior to those to be met with among our
neighbours. To elude a more vigilant inspection, the latter are
compelled to exert more art and cunning. In this dissipated capital,
which is a grand theatre where they can display all their talent, and
find a greater number of dupes, adventurers and swindlers of every
description have long been famous; but it should seem that the
females here of that stamp deserve to be no less celebrated.
Not many years ago, I heard of an English lady of quality being
detected in the very act of secreting a quantity of valuable lace, to
which she had taken a particular fancy at a great haberdasher's in
Pall-Mall. It was said that she endeavoured to exculpate herself for
this inadvertency on the ground of being in a pregnant state, which
had produced an irrisistible longing. However this may be, she might
here have got a lesson, as will appear from the following instance of
ingenuity very lately practised by one of her own sex.
In the _ci-devant Palais Royal_, a haberdasher of note keeps a shop
where the highest-priced articles of female wear are exhibited,
immediately on coming from the hands of the manufacturer or inventor.
The other day, a lady somewhat turned of thirty, of genteel
appearance and engaging address, entered this shop, and asked to see
some white lace veils. Several were shewn to her at the price of from
twenty-five to fifty louis each. These not being sufficiently rich to
please her taste, others more costly were produced, and she fixed on
one of eighty louis in value. Standing before a glass, she
immediately put on this veil _a la religieuse_, that is, in the form
of the hood of a nun's dress. Then taking from her bosom her little
purse, she found it to contain no more than twenty louis in
bankpaper, which she paid to the haberdasher as a deposit for the
veil, at the same time desiring him to send one of his men with her
to her _homme d'affaires_ or agent, in order that he might bring back
the other sixty.
As a Parisian tradesman is always extremely glad to get rid of his
goods, she had no difficulty in carrying her point; and, having
selected from among the shopmen a shamefaced youth of eighteen, took
him with her in the hackney-coach which she had kept in waiting. She
gave the coachman her orders, and away he drove to a famous
apothecary's, in the _Rue St. Honore_. "This," said she to the
shopman, "is the residence of my _homme d'affaires_: follow me, and
you shall have your money." She accordingly alighted, and, after
saying a few words in the ear of the doctor, on whose credulity she
had already exercised her genius, desired him to take the young man
to his private room, and settle the business, while she remained to
chat with his wife.
The unsuspecting youth, seeing the lady on such terms of intimacy in
the family, made no hesitation to follow the doctor to a
back-parlour, where, to his extreme surprise, he was closely
questioned as to his present state of health, and the rise and
progress of the disorder which he had caught through his own
imprudence. The more he denied the circumstance, the more the
doctor persisted in his endeavours to procure ocular demonstration.
The latter had previously locked the door, having been apprized by
the lady that her son was exceedingly bashful, and that stratagem,
and even a certain degree of violence, perhaps, must be employed
to obtain evidence of a complaint, which, as it injured her
_dear boy's_ constitution, disturbed her own happiness and peace
of mind. The doctor was proceeding to act on this information,
when the young shopman, finding his retreat cut off, vociferously
demanded the sixty louis which he was come to receive in payment
for the veil. "Sixty louis in payment for a veil!" re-echoed the
doctor. "Your mother begged me to examine you for a complaint which
you have inconsiderately contracted in the pursuit of pleasure." The
_denouement_ now taking place, the two dupes hastened back to the
shop, when they found that the lady had decamped, having previously
discharged the coach, in order that she might not be traced by the
The art of purloining a watch, a snuff-box, or a purse, unperceived
by the owner, may, no doubt, be acquired by constant practice, till
the novice becomes expert in his profession: but the admirable
presence of mind displayed by Parisian sharpers must, in a great
measure, be inherited from nature. What can well surpass an example
of this kind mentioned by a celebrated French writer?
A certain person who had been to receive a sum of money at a
banker's, was returning home with it in a hired carriage. The
coachman, not remembering the name of the street whither he had been
ordered to drive, got off his box, and opened the coach-door to ask
it. He found the person dead and cold. At his first exclamation,
several people collected. A sharper who was passing by, suddenly
forced his way through the crowd, and, in a lamentable and pathetic
voice, called out: "'Tis my father! What a miserable wretch am I!"
Then, exhibiting every mark of the most poignant grief, he got into
the coach, and, crying and sobbing, kissed the dead man's face. The
bystanders were affected, and dispersed, saying, one to another,
"What an affectionate son!" The sharper drove on in the coach, where
he found the bags of money, which were an unexpected booty, and,
stopping it at a door, told the coachman that he wished to apprize
his sister of the melancholy accident that had just happened. He
alighted, and shut the coach-door, leaving the corpse as naked as it
came into the world. The coachman, having waited a long time,
inquired in vain at the house for the young man and his sister; no
one had any knowledge of her, him, or the deceased.
I remember when I was last in Paris, at the beginning of the
revolution, being shewn a silversmith's shop, whence a few articles
having been stolen, the master was induced to examine in what manner
the thieves gained admittance. Discovering an aperture where he
conjectured that a man's hand might be introduced, he prepared a
noose with a proper cord, and remained in waiting the following night
to see if they would repeat their visit. At a late hour, when all was
quiet, he perceived a man's hand thrust through the aperture;
instantly he drew tight the noose, and thought he had effectually
secured the culprit; but he was mistaken. The fellow's accomplices,
fearing that the apprehension of one of them would lead to the
discovery of all, on finding it impossible to extricate him by any
other means, cut off his wrist. When the patrole arrived at the spot,
on the call of the silversmith, he was not a little astonished to
find that his prisoner had escaped, though with the loss of a hand,
which remained fast in the noose.
With respect to these more daring classes of rogues, every year
almost produces some new race of them. Since the revolution, the
criminal code having condemned to death none but those guilty of
murder, housebreakers, to avoid the penalty of the law, had recourse
to a practice, which put the persons whom they subjected to it to the
most severe pain. This was to hold their feet to the fire till they
declared where all their moveable property was to be found. Hence
these villains obtained the name of _chauffeurs_. Notwithstanding the
vigilance of the Police, they still occasionally exercise their
cruelties in some of the departments, as may be seen by the
proceedings of the criminal tribunals. I have also heard of another
species of assassins, who trained blood-hounds to seize a man by the
throat in certain solitary places, and then came afterwards, and
plundered him at their ease. When apprehended, they coolly said: "We
did not kill the man, but found him dead."
As in former times, all sentences passed on criminals, tried in
Paris, whether condemned to die or not, are put into execution on the
PLACE DE GREVE.
The first sentence executed here was that passed on _Marguerite
Porette_, a female heretic, who was burnt alive in the year 1310.
Among the punishments which it has been found necessary to
re-establish is that of marking with a hot iron. Criminals, condemned
to imprisonment in irons, are exposed for two hours on a scaffold in
the middle of this square. They are seated and tied to a post, having
above them a label with the words of their sentence. They are clad in
woollen pantaloons and a waistcoat with sleeves, one half of each of
which is white; the other, brown. After being exposed two hours, they
are stripped, and to their shoulder is applied a hot iron, which
there leaves the impression of the letter V, for _voleur_, thief.
Women, not being condemned to imprisonment in irons; are exempt from
the penalty of being marked. This punishment is said to produce
considerable effect on the culprits, as well as on the spectators.
Previously to its being revived, persons convicted of thieving were
insolent beyond all endurance.
The _Place de Greve_ is a parallelogram, one of the long sides of
which is occupied by the _ci-devant Hotel de Ville_, a tasteless
edifice, begun in 1533, but not finished till 1605.
Before the revolution, the _Place de Greve_ was alternately the
theatre of punishments and rejoicings. On the same pavement, where
scaffolds were erected for the execution of criminals, rose superb
edifices for public festivals.
Here, when any criminal of note was to suffer, the occupiers of the
adjoining houses made a rich harvest by letting their apartments.
Every window that commanded a view of the horrid scene, was then
hired at a most exorbitant price. Women of the first rank and
fashion, decked in all the luxury of dress, graced even the uppermost
stories. These weak-nerved females, who would have fainted at the
sight of a spider mangling a fly, stood crowded together, calmly
viewing the agonies of an expiring malefactor, who, after having been
racked on the wheel, was, perhaps, denied the _coup de grace_ which
would, in an instant, have rid him of his miserable existence.
The death of a regicide was a sort of gala to these belles; while the
lead was melting over the furnace, the iron pinchers heating in the
fire, and the horses disposed for tearing asunder the four quarters
of the victim of the laws, some of them amused themselves with an
innocent game at cards, in sight of all these terrible preparations,
from which a man of ordinary feeling would avert his looks with
How happens it that, in all countries on the continent, ladies flock
to these odious spectacles? Every where, I believe, the populace run
to behold them; but that a female of superior birth and breeding can
deliberately seek so inhuman a gratification is a mystery which I
cannot explain, unless, indeed, on the principle of shewing
themselves, as well as that of seeing the show.
"_Spectatum veniunt, veniunt spectentur ut ipsae_."
_Paris, February 2, 1802._
Independently of the general organization of Public Instruction,
according to the new plan, of which I have before traced you the
leading features, there exist several schools appropriate to
different professions, solely devoted to the Public Service, and
which require particular knowledge in the arts and sciences. Hence
they bear the generic name of
SCHOOLS FOR PUBLIC SERVICES.
They are comprised under the following denominations.
SCHOOL OF ARTILLERY.
BRIDGES AND HIGHWAYS.
In order to be admitted into any of the above schools, the candidates
must prove themselves qualified by the preliminary instruction
required the examinations at the competition prescribed for each of
them. The pupils of these schools receive a salary from the nation.
At the head of them is the _Polytechnic School_, of which I have
already spoken. This is the grand nursery, whence the pupils, when
they have attained a sufficient degree of perfection, are
transplanted into the other _Schools for Public Services_. Next come
SCHOOLS OF ARTILLERY.
There are eight of these in the places where the regiments of
artillery are garrisoned. The pupils who are sent thither as
officers, after having been examined, apply their knowledge to the
arts, to the construction of works, and to the manoeuvres of war
dependent on artillery. Each school, in which the pupils must remain
two years longer, is under the superintendance of a general of
brigade of the corps.
SCHOOL OF MILITARY ENGINEERS.
This school, united to that of Miners, is established at Metz. Its
labours relate to the application of the theoretical knowledge which
the pupils have imbibed at the _Polytechnic School_. The objects of
these labours is the construction of all sorts of works of
fortification, mines and counter-mines, mock-representations of
sieges, attack, and defence, the drawing of plans and military
surveys, in a word, all the details of the duty of engineers in
fortified places and in the field.
The number of pupils is limited to twenty. They have the rank and pay
of second lieutenant. The School of Engineers, as well as the Schools
of Artillery, is under the authority of the Minister at War.
Much as I wish to compress my subject, I must observe that,
previously to leaving the school, the pupils undergo a strict
examination respecting the objects of instruction before-enumerated.
This examination is intrusted to a _jury_ (as the French term it)
composed of the commander in chief of the school, a general or
field-officer of the corps, appointed every year by the Minister at
War, and one of the permanent examiners of the Polytechnic School.
_This jury forms the list of merit, which regulates the order of
promotion._ Can we then wonder that the French have the first
military engineers in Europe?
SCHOOL OF BRIDGES AND HIGHWAYS.
It was founded in 1787, by TRUDAINE, and continued under the
direction of PERRONET, chief engineer of this corps, till his death,
which happened in 1794. He was then 86 years of age. By his will, he
bequeathed to this school, for the instruction of the pupils whom he
loved as his children, his library, his models, his manuscripts, and
his portfolios; articles which at this day form an invaluable
This school, which is at present established in the _Hotel de
Chatelet_ (formerly belonging to the duke of that name) _Rue de
Grenelle_, _St. Germain_, unites the _depot_ or repository of plans
and models to the labours relating to roads, canals, and harbours for
trade. The number of pupils admitted is fifty. They are taken from
the _Polytechnic School_, and retain the salary which they there
The instruction given to them chiefly consists in the application of
the principles of physics and mathematics to the art of planning and
constructing works relative to roads, canals, and sea-ports, and the
buildings belonging thereto; the means of execution, and the mode of
forming plans and estimates of the works to be executed, and the
order to be observed in keeping the accounts.
The _School of Bridges and Highways_ is under the authority of the
Minister of the Interior,
PRACTICAL SCHOOLS OF MINES.
One of these schools is established at Geislautern, in the
department of La Sarre; and the other, at Pesay, in the department
The Director and Professors form a committee for the working of the
mines of Pesay, as well as for the instruction of the pupils. In
consequence of the report of this committee the _Council of Mines_
established in Paris, proposes to the government the measures
necessary to be adopted. Twenty pupils, who have passed their
examination at the _Polytechnic School_, are attached to the
practical schools, for the purpose of applying the theoretical part
of their instruction. Extra-scholars, with testimonials of good
behaviour and capacity, are admitted to be educated at their own
expense. These schools are also under the authority of the Minister
of the Interior.
SCHOOL OF NAVAL ENGINEERS.
The _School of Naval Architects_, which existed in Paris, has been
removed to Brest, under the name of _Ecole des Ingenieurs des
Vaisseaux_. No pupils are admitted but such as have been students, at
least two years, in the _Polytechnic School_. The examination of the
candidates takes place every year, and the preference is given to
those who excel in descriptive geometry, mechanics, and the other
branches of knowledge appropriated to the first year's study at that
school. When the pupils have proved, in the repeated examinations
which they must undergo, that they are sufficiently qualified, they
are sent to Brest (as vacancies occur), in order to apply the theory
they have acquired to the different works carried on in that port,
where they find both the example and the precept, and are taught
every thing relative to the construction of ships of war and
This school is under the authority of the Minister of the naval
department. The pupils admitted into it, receive a salary of 1800
francs (_circa_ L. 75 sterling) a year.
SCHOOLS OF NAVIGATION.
The Schools of Mathematics and Hydrography, established for the navy
of the State, and the Schools of Hydrography destined for the
merchant-service, bear the name of _Ecoles de Navigation_.
Every year, there is a competition for the admission of candidates
for naval employment. The Hydrographical Examiner makes a general
tour to the different ports, where he interrogates the pupils in
arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statics, and navigation. According to
these examinations, they are admitted to the rank of _aspirons de
marine_ or midshipmen, captains of merchant-ships for long voyages,
masters of coasting-vessels, pilots, &c,
By a late decree of the Consuls, no one can be admitted to the
examination prescribed for being received as master in the
coasting-trade, unless he is twenty-four years of age, and has
served five years on board the ships of war belonging to the
* * * * *
In my letter of the 15th of January, I have shewn you that Public
Instruction is to be divided into four classes: 1. In Primary
Schools, established by the _Communes_. 2. In Secondary Schools,
established by the _Communes_, and kept by private masters. 3. In
Lyceums. 4. In _Special Schools_. In the two last-mentioned
establishments, the pupils are to be maintained at the expense of the
Before I particularize the _Special Schools_, I must mention a
national institution, distinguished by the appellation of
It is divided into four colleges, established at Paris, St. Cyr, St.
Germain-en-Laye, and Compiegne. It was destined for the gratuitous
education of the children of the military killed in the field of
honour, and of public functionaries who might happen to die in the
discharge of their office.
By a decree of the Consuls, dated the 1st of Germinal year VIII (22nd
of March 1800) the number of pupils, in each of the Colleges of
Paris, St. Cyr, and St. Germain-en-Laye, is limited to two hundred,
and to three hundred, in that of Compiegne. An augmentation, however,
is to be made in favour of the new departments. The pupils are named
by the First Consul. On entering the College, they bring a stated
proportion of necessaries, after which they are wholly maintained at
the expense of the nation till they have finished their studies. The
government provides for the advancement of those who give the
greatest proof of good conduct and talent. The pupils cannot remain
in either of these four colleges beyond the age of eighteen.
As I have before observed, the Central Schools are, in future, to
bear the name of Lyceums, and the highest degree of public
instruction is to be acquired in the
In these upper schools are to be particularly taught, in the most
profound manner, the useful sciences, together with jurisprudence,
medicine, natural history, &c. The Special Schools now in existence
are to be continued, subject to such modifications as the government
may think fit to introduce for the benefit of the Public Service.
They are still under the immediate superintendance of the Minister of
The _College de France_ I have before described: the Museum of
Natural History, the Special School of docimastic Mineralogy and
Chemistry, and that for Oriental languages, I shall speak of
elsewhere; but I shall now proceed to give you a rapid sketch of the
others which I have not yet noticed, beginning with the
SPECIAL SCHOOL OF PAINTING AND SCULPTURE.
This institution was founded in 1648, at the instigation of LE BRUN.
It was formerly held in the _Place du Louvre_, but is now removed to
the _ci-devant College des Quatre-Nations_, which has taken the name
of _Palais des Beaux Arts_. This is the only school in Paris that has
never indulged in any vacation. Each professor is on duty for two
months. During the first month, he gives his lessons in the school of
living models; during the other, in the school of the antique,
called, _la bosse_. It may not be uninteresting to give you an idea
Every year there is a competition in Painting, Sculpture, and
Architecture, which is to be called _National Prize_. Its object is
to confer on those who have gained the first prize, at present
proposed by the Institute, the advantage of an allowance of 1200
francs for five years, which is insured to them at the French School
of Fine Arts at Rome. During their stay there, they are lodged,
boarded, and taken care of, in case of illness, at the expense of the
A competition takes place every six months for the rank of places in
the schools; and another, every three months for the distribution of
There is also a prize, of 100 francs, founded by M. DE CAYLUS, for a
head expressive of character, painted or drawn from nature; and
another prize of 300 francs, founded by LATOUR, for a half-length,
painted after a model, and of the natural size.
Independently of the competition of the school, there is every year a
general competition followed by a distribution of the works of
encouragement, granted to the artists who have distinguished
themselves most in the annual exhibition of the _Salon du Louvre_. A
jury, named by the competitors themselves, examines the different
pictures, classes them according to the degree of merit which it
finds they possess, and the Minister of the Interior allots to each
of the artists _crowned_ a sum in payment of a new work which they
are bound to furnish to the government.
NATIONAL SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE.
In this school, which is held in the _Louvre_, the Professor of
Architecture delivers lectures on the history of that art, and the
theory of its different branches, on the orders, and edifices erected
by the ancients, and on the works of Vitruvius, Palladio, Scamozzi,
and Vignole. He takes no small pains to make known the bold style of
Grecian architecture, which the Athenians chiefly employed during the
ages when they prided themselves on being a free people.
The Professor of Mathematics explains the principles of arithmetic
and elementary geometry, which he applies to the different branches
of civil and military architecture, such as levelling, the art of
constructing plans, and perspective.
The Professor of Stereotomy, in his lectures, chiefly comprises
masonry and carpentry; he points out the best methods of employing
those arts in civil and military buildings. His demonstrations relate
to the theoretical and practical part of both branches. All the
pupils, and students of architecture are indiscriminately admitted to
the competition for the great prize of architecture, provided they
are not foreigners.
CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC.
This establishment, situated in the _Rue du Faubourg Poissonniere_,
was founded on the 16th of Thermidor year III, (4th of August 1795)
for the preservation and reproduction of music in all its branches.
It is composed of a director, three inspectors of teaching, a
secretary, a librarian, and thirty-five professors.
The director presides over the whole establishment; the inspectors
superintend the teaching, examine the pupils, and teach the branches
of study attributed to them by the regulation.
In the Conservatory, the instruction is divided as follows:
composition, harmony, solfaing, singing, violin, violincello,
harpsicord, organ, flute, hautboy, clarinette, French-horn, bassoon,
trumpet, trombonne, serpent, preparation for singing, and declamation
applicable to the lyric stage.
The completion of the study is effected by a series of lectures,
treating specially of the relations between the sciences and the art
Three hundred pupils of both sexes, taken in equal number from each
department, are instructed gratuitously in the Conservatory. The
principal points towards which their studies are directed, are, to
keep up music in society, to form artists for the execution of public
_fetes_, for the armies, and for the theatres.
These pupils are admitted after an examination, which takes place
four times a year. Prizes are distributed annually, in a public
meeting of the Conservatory, to the pupils who distinguish themselves
in each branch of study.
* * * * *
_February 2, in continuation._
To the preceding brief account of the Conservatory, I shall subjoin a
few observations on the
PRESENT STATE OF MUSIC IN FRANCE.
Till the year 1789, this was the country where the greatest expense
was incurred in cultivating music; yet the means which were employed,
though very numerous, produced but little effect, and contributed not
to the improvement of that art. Every thing even announces that its
progress would have been still more retarded, but for the
introduction of the Italian Opera, in 1645, by Cardinal Mazarin.
The brilliant success of _Orfeo e Euridice_, in 1647, determined the
national taste in favour of this sort of _spectacle_, and gave birth
to the wish of transplanting it to the French stage. It was in 1659
that the first opera, with music adapted to a French poem, was
performed at Issy.
Since the epoch of the establishment of the French opera, every
department belonging to it, with the sole exception of the singing,
has been so much improved, that it is become the most brilliant
_spectacle_ in Europe. But, as the lyric theatres in France were
always obliged to seek recruits among the pupils formed in the
schools maintained by the clergy for the service of public worship,
the influence of the clerical mode of instruction was felt; and this
was, in fact, the source of the bad taste which for a long time
characterized French singing.
Had the grand opera in France been continued an Italian one, as it
was first established, (like those subsequently introduced in the
principal cities of Europe) it would have been supported by
performers formed by the Conservatories of Italy; and the good taste
of those schools would have balanced or proscribed the bad taste of
the French cathedrals; but the genius of the seventeenth century
chose that the French language, purified and fixed by the writers who
rendered it illustrious, should also become the language of the lyric
theatre. Musical instruction, remaining entirely subservient to the
customs of religion, was unable to keep pace with the rapid progress
of the arts and sciences during that brilliant period.
Among the defects of the old system of teaching music, must be placed
that of confining it to men; nevertheless, the utility of women in
concerts and plays was as incontestable then as it is at the present
day. Public instruction was therefore due to them in that point of
view; but, had no such consideration existed, they should have been
admitted to participate in this instruction, in order to propagate
the art in society. The success of this method would have been
infallible: as soon as women should have cultivated the musical art
with success, its naturalization would have been effected in France,
as it has been in Germany and Italy.
The expense of the musical instruction pursued in the schools
belonging to the cathedrals was immense, compared with its results in
every branch of the art. As to composers, they produced but a very
small number, and few of these distinguished themselves; no
instrumental performer of eminence ever issued from them; and, with
few exceptions, the singers they formed were very indifferent.
The necessity of introducing a better method of singing induced the
government, in 1783, to establish a _Special School of Singing and
Declamation._ This institution continued in full exercise for ten
years; but, though the celebrated PICCINI was appointed to preside
over the vocal department, the habits of the old school obstructed
its progress, and prevented it from producing the good which was
expected from it.
At the epoch of the dissolution of the monarchical institutions,
there remained in France only the School of Music of the Parisian
national guard, and that of Singing and Declamation just mentioned.
The republican government ordered them to be united, and thus was
formed the _Conservatory of Music_.
Nor let it be imagined that policy has had no share in establishing
this institution. It has furnished the numerous bands of musicians
rendered necessary by the levy of fourteen armies which France had,
at one and the same time, in the field. It is well known that music
has done almost wonders in reviving the courage of the French
soldiers, who, when Victory seemed adverse to them, inclined her in
their favour, by rallying to the tune of the _Marseillois_. In the
heat of action, joining their voice to the instruments, and raising
themselves to a pitch of enthusiasm, they received or dealt out
death, while they kept singing this hymn. The French then are no less
indebted to ROUGET DE LILLE than the Spartans were to TYRTAEUS. At the
beginning of the revolution, they had no songs of the warlike kind,
except a few paltry ballads sung about the streets. ROUGET, who was
then an officer of engineers at Strasburg, was requested to compose a
martial hymn. Full of poetic fire, he shut himself up in his chamber,
and, in the course of one night, wrote the words of the
_Marseillois_, adapting to them music, also of his own composition.
Notwithstanding this patriotic production, and the courage which the
author is said to have displayed during the war, he was twice
imprisoned, at one time on suspicion of royalism; at another, of
Independently of the great number of musicians with which the
Conservatory has supplied the armies, it has furnished between two
and three hundred to the theatres, as well in Paris as in the
departments. The band of the Consular guard was formed from the
pupils of the Conservatory, and sixty of them at present compose the
orchestra, known in Paris by the name of _Concert Francais_, and the
execution of which has been much applauded by many celebrated
Its members meet to discuss the theories which may improve and extend
the different branches of the musical art. They have already laid the
principal foundations of a body of elementary works for teaching them
in perfection. _Les Principes elementaires de Musique_, and a _Traite
d'Harmonie_, which is said to have gained the universal approbation
of the composers of the three schools, assembled to discuss its
merits, are already published. A method of singing, established on
the best principles of the Italian school, applied to French
declamation, is now in the press; and these publications are to be
successively followed by other didactic works relative to the history
of the art.
A principal cause of the present scarcity of fine voices in France,
is the war which she has had to maintain for ten years, by armies
continually recruited by young men put in requisition at the period
when the voice is forming, and needs to be cultivated in order to
acquire the qualities which constitute a good singer.
Formerly, French commerce derived but very little advantage from
articles relating to music; but the means employed by the
Conservatory may probably turn the scale in favour of this country,
as well as render it, in that respect, independent of foreign
Before the revolution, England furnished France with _piano-fortes_,