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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 centimes—or, 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 Versailles—pronounced 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 unhappy France.

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 goober crop.

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 thinkness—what you shall call the recollect—of 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 pronounced Save.

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.

 
 
 

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