Grains of Truth by Edgar Wilson Bill Nye
A young friend has written to me as follows: Could you tell me
something of the location of the porcelain works in Sèvres, France, and
what the process is of making those beautiful things which come from
there? How is the name of the town pronounced? Can you tell me anything
of the history of Mme. Pompadour? Who was the Dauphin? Did you learn
anything of Louis XV whilst in France? What are your literary habits?
It is with a great, bounding joy that I impart the desired
information. Sèvres is a small village just outside of St. Cloud
(pronounced San Cloo). It is given up to the manufacture of porcelain.
You go to St. Cloud by rail or river, and then drive over to Sèvres by
diligence or voiture. Some go one way and some go the other. I rode up
on the Seine, aboard of a little, noiseless, low-pressure steamer about
the size of a sewing machine. It was called the Silvoo Play, I think.
The fare was thirty centimesor, say, three cents. After paying my
fare and finding that I still had money left, I lunched at St. Cloud in
the open air at a trifling expense. I then took a bottle of milk from
my pocket and quenched my thirst. Traveling through France, one finds
that the water is especially bad, tasting of the Dauphin at times, and
dangerous in the extreme. I advise those, therefore, who wish to be
well whilst doing the Continent, to carry, especially in France, as I
did, a large, thick-set bottle of milk, or kumiss, with which to take
the wire edge off one's whistle whilst being yanked through the Louvre.
St. Cloud is seven miles west of the center of Paris and almost ten
miles by rail on the road to Versaillespronounced Vairsi. St. Cloud
belongs to the Canton of Sèvres and the arrondissement of Versailles.
An arrondissement is not anything reprehensible. It is all right. You,
yourself, could belong to an arrondissement if you lived in France.
St. Cloud is on the beautiful hill slope, looking down the valley of
the Seine, with Paris in the distance. It is peaceful and quiet and
beautiful. Everything is peaceful in Paris when there is no revolution
on the carpet. The steam cars run safely and do not make so much noise
as ours do. The steam whistle does not have such a hold on people as it
does here. The adjutant-general at the depot blows a little tin bugle,
the admiral of the train returns the salute, the adjutant-general says
Allons! and the train starts off like a somewhat leisurely young man
who is going to the depot to meet his wife's mother.
One does not realize what a Fourth of July racket we live in and
employ in our business till he has been the guest of a monarchy of
Europe between whose toes the timothy and clover have sprung up to a
great height. And yet it is a pleasing change, and I shall be glad when
we as a republic have passed the blow-hard period, laid aside the
ear-splitting steam whistle, settled down to good, permanent
institutions, and taken on the restful, sootheful, Boston air which
comes with time and the quiet self-congratulation that one is born in a
Bible land and with Gospel privileges, and where the right to worship
in a strictly high-church manner is open to all.
The Palace of St. Cloud was once the residence of Napoleon I in
summer-time. He used to go out there for the heated term, and folding
his arms across his stomach, have thought after thought regarding the
future of France. Yet he very likely never had an idea that some day it
would be a thrifty republic, engaged in growing green peas, or pulling
a soiled dove out of the Seine, now and then, to add to the attractions
of her justly celebrated morgue.
Louis XVIII also put up at the Palace in St. Cloud several summers.
He spelled it palais, which shows that he had very poor early English
advantages, or that he was, as I have always suspected, a native of
Quebec. Charles X also changed the bedding somewhat, and moved in
during his reign. He also added a new iron sink and a place in the barn
for washing buggies. Louis Philippe spent his summers here for a number
of years, and wrote weekly letters to the Paris papers, signed Uno,
in which he urged the taxpayers to show more veneration for their royal
nibs. Napoleon III occupied the palais in summer during his lifetime,
availing himself finally of the use of Mr. Bright's justly celebrated
disease and dying at the dawn of better institutions for beautiful but
I visited the palais (pronounced pallay), which was burned by the
Prussians in 1870. The grounds occupy 960 acres, which I offered to buy
and fit up, but probably I did not deal with responsible parties. This
part of France reminds me very much of North Carolina. I mean, of
course, the natural features. Man has done more for France, it seems to
me, than for the Tar Heel State, and the cities of Asheville and Paris
are widely different. The police of Paris rarely get together in front
of the court-house to pitch horseshoes or dwell on the outlook for the
And yet the same blue, ozonic sky, if I may be allowed to coin a
word, the same soft, restful, dolce frumenti air of gentle, genial
health, and of cark destroying, magnetic balm to the congested soul,
the inflamed nerve and the festering brain, are present in Asheville
that one finds in the quiet drives of San Cloo with the successful
squirt of the mighty fountains of Vairsi and the dark and whispering
forests of Fon-taine-bloo.
The palais at San Cloo presents a rather dejected appearance since
it was burned, and the scorched walls are bare, save where here and
there a warped and wilted water pipe festoons the blackened and
blistered wreck of what was once so grand and so gay.
San Cloo has a normal school for the training of male teachers only.
I visited it, but for some cause I did not make a hit in my address to
the pupils until I began to speak in their own national tongue. Then
the closest attention was paid to what I said, and the keenest delight
was manifest on every radiant face. The president, who spoke some
English, shook hands with me as we parted, and I asked him how the
students took my remarks. He said: They shall all the time keep the
thinknesswhat you shall call the recollectof monsieur's speech in
preserves, so that they shall forget it not continualle. We shall all
the time say we have not witness something like it since the time we
come here, and have not so much enjoy ourselves since the grand
assassination by the guillotine. Come next winter and be with us for
one week. Some of us will remain in the hall each time.
At San Cloo I hired of a quiet young fellow about thirty-five years
of age, who kept a very neat livery stable there, a sort of victoria
and a big Percheron horse, with fetlock whiskers that reminded me of
the Sutherland sisters. As I was in no hurry I sat on an iron settee in
the cool court of the livery stable, and with my arm resting on the
shoulder of the proprietor I spoke of the crops and asked if generally
people about there regarded the farmer movement as in any way
threatening to the other two great parties. He did not seem to know,
and so I watched the coachman who was to drive me, as he changed his
clothes in order to give me my money's worth in grandeur.
One thing I liked about France was that the people were willing, at
a slight advance on the regular price, to treat a very ordinary man
with unusual respect and esteem. This surprised and delighted me beyond
measure, and I often told people there that I did not begrudge the
additional expense. The coachman was also hostler, and when the
carriage was ready he altered his attire by removing a coarse, gray
shirt or tunic and putting on a long, olive green coachman's coat, with
erect linen collar and cuffs sewed into the collar and sleeves. He wore
a high hat that was much better than mine, as is frequently the case
with coachmen and their employers. My coachman now gives me his silk
hat when he gets through with it in the spring and fall, so I am better
dressed than I used to be.
But we were going to say a word regarding the porcelain works at
Sèvres. It is a modern building and is under government control. The
museum is filled with the most beautiful china dishes and funny
business that one could well imagine. Besides, the pottery ever since
its construction has retained its models, and they, of course, are
worthy of a day's study. The Sèvres blue is said to be a little bit
bluer than anything else in the known world except the man who starts a
nonpareil paper in a pica town.
I was careful not to break any of these vases and things, and thus
endeared myself to the foreman of the place. All employes are uniformed
and extremely deferential to recognized ability. Practically, for half
a day, I owned the place.
A cattle friend of mine who was looking for a dynasty whose tail he
could twist while in Europe, and who used often to say over our glass
of vin ordinaire (which I have since learned is not the best brand at
all), that nothing would tickle him more than to have a little deal
with a crowned head and get him in the door, accidentally broke a blue
crock out there at Sèvres which wouldn't hold over a gallon, and it
took the best part of a car load of cows to pay for it, he told me.
The process of making the Sèvres ware is not yet published in book
form, especially the method of coloring and enameling. It is a secret
possessed by duly authorized artists. The name of the town is
Mme. Pompadour is said to have been the natural daughter of a
butcher, which I regard as being more to her own credit than though she
had been an artificial one. Her name was Jeanne Antoinette Poisson Le
Normand d'Etioles, Marchioness de Pompadour, and her name is yet used
by the authorities of Versailles as a fire escape, so I am told.
She was the mistress of Louis XV, who never allowed her to put her
hands in dishwater during the entire time she visited at his house.
D'Etioles was her first husband, but she left him for a gay but rather
reprehensible life at court, where she was terribly talked about,
though she is said not to have cared a cent.
She developed into a marvelous politician, and early seeing that the
French people were largely governed by the literary lights of that
time, she began to cultivate the acquaintance of the magazine writers,
and tried to join the Authors' Club.
She then became prominent by originating a method of doing up the
hair, which has since grown popular among people whose hair has not,
like my own, been already done up.
This style of Mme. Pompadour's was at once popular with the young
men who ran the throttles of the soda fountains of that time, and is
still well spoken of. A young friend of mine trained his hair up from
his forehead in that way once and could not get it down again. During
his funeral his hair, which had been glued down by the undertaker,
became surprised at something said by the clergyman and pushed out the
end of his casket.
The king tired in a few years of Mme. Pompadour and wished that he
had not encouraged her to run away from her husband. She, however,
retained her hold upon the blasé and alcoholic monarch by her wonderful
versatility and genius.
When all her talents as an artiste and politician palled upon his
old rum-soaked and emaciated brain, and ennui, like a mighty canker,
ate away large corners of his moth-eaten soul, she would sit in the
gloaming and sing to him, Hard Times, Hard Times, Come Again No More,
meantime accompanying herself on the harpsichord or the sackbut or
whatever they played in those days. Then she instituted theatricals,
giving, through the aid of the nobility, a very good version of Peck's
Bad Boy and Lend Me Five Centimes.
She finally lost her influence over Looey the XV, and as he got to
be an old man the thought suddenly occurred to him to reform, and so he
had Mme. Pompadour beheaded at the age of forty-two years. This little
story should teach us that no matter how gifted we are, or how high we
may wear our hair, our ambitions must be tempered by honor and
integrity; also that pride goeth before destruction and a haughty
spirit before a plunk.