French Gayety.


  Our gay allies, in the time of the Revolution, amused themselves by practicing how to mount the scaffold gracefully. De Vigney describes scenes of this kind, where the prisoners would assemble daily, arrange chains as the steps of the scaffold, and each take his or her turn in preparing how to receive the Guillotine, the rest applauding or laughing, according as the novice showed grace or awkwardness. In the time when every heart quaked with anticipations of the fearful pest that was marching, with colossal strides, over the civilized part of the globe, Cholera-ballets and Choleraquadrilles were all the rage at Paris. Every body knows how they treat the subject of suicide, but we have never seen any anecdote on that subject more characteristic than the following, which we take from the Courrier of the United States:

  It seems there is talk of making the Pont des Aria, (over the Seine) a free bridge. The old sentinel who takes the toll on this bridge is naturally opposed to the change. He has proferred this argument against it: “Often,” said he, “unfortunates have given me their last sou to obtain the privilege of precipitating themselves into the Seine from this aristocratic bridge. Think how many suicides there will be when they do not have to pay even a sou.”

  “This reminds us,” continues the lively writer, “of a piquant adventure which happened lately on the same bridge:

  “It was about midnight. The old sentinel saw a well-dressed man pass without paying: he called out, and, the man not seeming to hear, ran after him. He finds him sobbing, his face bathed in tears, approaching the brink with every sign of despair as if about to perpetrate the fatal act. The old soldier, quite moved, forgot the toll. He drew near, tried to calm the poor man, and addressed to him consoling words. But the unfortunate was obstinate in his determination to die. At last he suffered himself to be drawn, apparently much against his will, to the other side of the bridge.—Only there would the kind toll-man leave him after making him promise to give up his gloomy purpose. But hardly had he passed the steps and found himself on the other side of the bridge than he recalled his savior, who, with amazement, found him giggling in the midst of a group of young men who seemed not less gay than himself. It was M———, one of our wittiest writers, who had laid a wager that he would pass the bridge without either paying the toll or running. Thanks to his dramatic powers he had won. The sentinel received, beside the toll, a kiss for the kindness which had made him forget it, and the parties took leave mutually pleased with one another.”

  Yet how far this levity is from supposing heartlessness we well know. The French are the only nation that will dance on the brink of the gulf down which we plunge into the infinite unknown, but it is because their hearts are light, not because they are dead or cold. They can bear acute but not persistent pain.

  With the following joke we have more sympathy, as it is at the expense of English views of the marriage relation, as exhibited in their laws.

  “An Englishman of the most marked Britannic exterior was walking in the Rue St. Honoré, with the careless air of a man quite at leisure, when, suddenly, a man rushes up to him, apparently much hurried and agitated—“Sir, sir,” cried he to the Englishman, “In Heaven’s name, lend me your cane.” “And why should I lend you my cane?” calmly replied the son of Albion.” “That I may administer correction to my wife who has basely deceived me. Quick, quick, or she will escape, as she did two months since with her seducer. Your cane, I beg.” “It seems just,” said the Englishman, with the same sang-froid, “take it, and beat her well.”

  As soon as he had obtained the instrument of correction, he ran off, full speed; the Englishman followed, but deliberately, and, in fact, saw him come up with a woman to whom he appeared to give some blows, but the cane escaped from his hands, and while he was picking it up, she took flight to the Elysian fields. The pretended husband followed, and both were out of sight in a moment.

  The Englishman turned his steps that way, hastening a little this time, for he wished to recover his cane, whose gold head was worth at least five hundred francs, but he could find nothing of the outraged husband. After having waited a long quarter of an hour, he said with his usual phlegm:

  “He is a rascal, but it was an ingenious trick.”

  Notwithstanding his admiration for the address of the thief, he went to the Police to see if he could recover his cane.

  *     *     *     *

  There is other amusing gossip from Paris, that theatredes barietés. It seems that one of the principle sources of adventure there at present is from American Uncles. Whoever knows, and in these revolutionary times there must be many such, that relatives of his have at any time gone out to America, is constantly expecting to hear that these have died, leaving immense fortunes made in the New World to their beloved relatives in the Old. There are agents to look up these successions, and many ingenious frauds and many comic denouements follow.

  Two young sisters, named, like the twins in “The Wandering Jew,” Rose and Blanche, are now waiting for such a succession. One of their relatives died in Louisiana, without children, leaving a fortune of seven millions. Rose and Blanche are the heirs apparent, but the law has yet to decide on their claims. Meanwhile they remain at work in the milliner’s shop, where these brilliant hopes found them. “Will they remain with Madame Barenne, or become her best and richest employers? Will they have 200,000 livres income or three francs a day?” That is the question. Already the rumor of the inheritance has brought many wooers to the saloons of Madame Barenne in search of the future Millionaires. Under pretext of ordering caps and bonnets for mothers and sisters, the dandies, the lions pay them respectful court. We wish these young girls a happier event to their story than we have witnessed in many similar cases. A man dies in America. It has been reported that he has a colossal fortune. How much beloved are these dear American cousins, when they require no more any thing but tears! The heirs present themselves at the offices. What joy! their rights are recognized; they are at the height of happiness; already they feel the cousin’s money in their hands; he left, they hear, but few and trifling debts. “Yes! he was, indeed, an excellent man, so loyal, so honest!” they cannot stop praising him, till the sum of the inheritance is in their hands. Alas, it amounts to three francs. One of the heirs becomes faint; the others seem almost delirious; they wish to go away to seek a physician, some kind of help; the secretary stops them; “do not exert yourselves, gentlemen,” says he; “I have here all that is required in the case; every day I am present at such swoons. I know more about them than any physician; the gentleman will recover as the other disappointed heirs have. I have my little medicine chest for the swoons in case of failure of inheritance.”

  Let us hope that, when Rose and Blanche enter this fearful cabinet, they will not need the medial aid of the obliging secretary.

  If we want contrast, we may compare with these young girls whom Fortune has surprised in the milliner’s shop, an old man of eighty years, once the greatest lord of his time, now reduced to the obscurest mediocrity. Lately, one of our friends had a visit to make in the Rue la Michodéine—he rings, he asks, “Is M——— here?” “No sir, you have mistaken the story; this one is occupied by the Prince of Peace.” “The Prince of Peace in this apartment more humble than modest! he who had formerly so many palaces? He who reigned over the Spanish empire, more king than its king—who had his regiments of body-guards—duchesses at his orders, and a queen at his feet; the Mazarin and Potemkin of his country, who held in his hands the destiny of so great a nation at eighty, is a poor citizen of Paris, subject to the orders of a housekeeper who scolds him, obliged to manage with care his economies. The Prince supports the change with dignity; he never complains.”

  Certainly there could not be found two better subjects for a drama, than in the position of the two young girls, or the life of the Prince of Peace. In some sketches of the Ioways now in Paris, we admire the French talent at observation, so superior to our own. Not without avail do they live so much for and in the day. The careful Americans see hundreds of such shows, and find all barren; they are so engrossed with money-making and politics that they have little sense for what cannot contribute to success in these. These very Ioways they have seen so dully, while the quick Frenchman catches at once the flavor of Indian life. Let us learn from all the nations.*

“French Gayety.” New-York Daily Tribune, 9 July 1845, p. 1.