« AnteriorContinua »
it known, then, to all admirers of the motley coat, that although the office and dignity of court fool were abolished by Louis Quatorze, his successor had the good sense to be fond of fools, and reappointed an honorary jester, on whom he conferred at the same time a post and a pension. Louis the Fifteenth died in 1774; but in the warm and genial airs of summer, when the swallows are skimming along the ground, and the butterflies are fluttering overhead, the “ Last of the Fools," who has so often played his antics before the monarch when Versailles was in its glory, is still occasionally seen toddling along the sunny sides of its streets, or tot. tering forth from one of the portals of the palace, as if he had stepped out of some grave of the last century, or walked down from the framework of some ancient picture. His whole appearance presents a singular compound of contradictions and anomalies. Old and decrepit as he is, he endeavours to preserve a youthful jerk in his short steps, to give the skirts of his coat a swing as if he still retained his elasticity of walk, and to crawl along with the jauntiness of his juvenile foolery. His carriage is not more inconsistent with his own age than his dress is with that of the world. He wears in public a complete court suit, the remains, apparently, of former splendour; his venerable white locks arranged in the antique style by a coiffeur, a black silk bag behind, and his hat always in his hand or carried beneath his arm. With a bustling inanity in his motions, and a bantering or sheepish smile upon his features, he gazes at the passengers, makes them a most gracious bow, or salutes them with a grimace, as the humour strikes him ; and then half hobbles and half flourishes away with a grave enjoyment of the stranger's utter amazement. Casual encounterers of this unique character, judging from the expression of his countenance and the buffoonery of his actions, might set him down for a natural simpleton : but this would be an egregious mistake; he is by no means deficient in understanding, only he has played the fool until he cannot be serious ; use has become nature to him, and he has run his first and second childhood all into one. His “ gentle dulness ever loves a joke;" and much of his drollery, it must be confessed, savours of superanguation. Thus, when he is introduced to a new acquaintance, he will simper and smirk so as to display his two rows of false teeth in their whitest and most adolescent attitude; anon he turns his back, whips the whole ratelier out of his mouth, and comes mumbling and mowing in all the childishness of toothless senility. Sometimes he asks his friends to dinner, always taking care to add—“Mais vous prendez le hasard du pot”-you must take pot-luck; which he does not stipulate in the vain ostentation of Gripe,
“Who asks us to pot-luck and displays a grand treat,
'Tis to choke us with envy, not tempt us to eat;"> but that he may have a literal excuse for depositing upon the table certain porcelain vases, much more commonly seen in dormitories than in dining rooms. From time to time he places a huge portfolio under his arm, totters into a stage coach, and betakes himself to the stock exchange at Paris, where so strange an apparition, exclaiming, “Spanish bonds! Spanish bonds !” soon brings all the bulls and bears to his side ; with whom he discourses in a tone of infinite gravity, touching Spanish, Neapolitan, and French stock; attempts, of course, no transaction; and returns to his friends at Versailles, exclaiming, “Eh bien ! j'ai fait toutes mes affaires à la Bourse, et sans risque-c'est le stul moyen.” After which ho rubs his hands with an air of infinite self-gratulation. That he should be an inveterate punster
is one of the characters by which he held his office; and not even royal authority can tempt hiin to violate it. His quibbles are sometimes bad enough to
be good ; which is the less wonderful, as all his impromptus are profoundly studied. After cautiously laying the train of a pun, he makes a visit for the express purpose of its explosion, remains till he can signalize his departure by a second, and renews the same process when he is prepared with a third.
Other drolls and buffoons may easily exceed him in humour; but the preposterousness in this instance consists in the anachronism of the whole personage, in the official character of his folly, and the strange jumble of boyish and frolicksome levity with decrepitude and old age. To see a man with one foot in the grave cutting capers with the other, making a mockery of the world which he must so shortly quit, and jingling his bells when his fellow-ancients are counting their beads, may be supposed a melancholy spectacle ; but there is so much naïveté and genuine benevolence in his aspect, apparently so sincere a conviction that he is labouring in his vocation, and cannot employ his residuum of life better than in contributing to the innocent amusement of others, that, far from having the heart to quote against him—“How ill grey hairs become a fool and jester!" one feels tempted to wish that the day may be still remote when the sculptor shall be called upon to execute his orders by inscribing upon his tombstone" Here lies the last of the Fools !"
MARSHAL SOULT, AND HIS MURILLOS,
I am no artist, no professional critic, no established connoisseur; not even an amateur of paintings, except in its primitive sense of an admirer or lover of that art, whose legitimate object is to convey a
faithful imitation of pleasing naturë. I know little of the masters ; care nothing for the schools ; and disdain to learn by rote the technical babble about gusto, chiaro oscuro, handling, tints and half tints, orpiments, pigments, lucid and opaque, carnations, Spanish brown, Venetian red, and Naples yellow : but having a practised eye, and a fervent feeling for the great original, as executed by the hand of the Creator, I consider myself competent, without other apprenticeship, to form an opinion of any copy modified by the pencil of man. I need not put my eye to school to enable it to judge of resemblances ; nor make my heart member of an academy, that it may learn responses to the whisperings of external beauty. Perhaps the critics think otherwise, but they may be very positive and yet very wrong. In the infancy of painting, the artists contented themselves with a simple imitation of nature, and he was the best performer who could produce the cleverest deception. It was reckoned a great triumph when Bucephalus neighed at Alexander's portrait ; Zeuxis snapped his fingers at Parrhasius when the birds came to peck at his painted grapes, but confessed himself outdone, when, on offering to remove a curtain that apparently covered a portion of his rival's canvass, he discovered it to be the production of his brush. In the progress of professional ambition, such easy victories are disdained ; difficulties are overcome which were before considered insuperable ; foreshortening, perspective, composition, light and shade, are scientifically combined; and while nature assumes no position in which she cannot be faithfully reflected, her imitators select none in which she cannot be pleasingly, as well as accurately, represented. The arts have their decline and fall as well as empires; and painting, from this epoch, begins to feel the touches of corruption, until the conquest of technical difficulties is deemed the paramount excellence : subjects are selected, not
because they are pleasing, but because they afford an opportunity for display of talent; and it becomes the grand object of an artist to exhibit himself rather than nature. Hence mannerism, and hence the propriety of terming the present era the age of artists rather than the age of the arts. Literature follows the same course : in Lord Byron, for instance, is not nature every where subordinate to self-display? he is his own muse, and drawing upon himself for inspiration, needs no other Pegasus than his favourite hobbyhorse--Egotism. Our musical composers are too busy in exhibiting their science to think of pleasing our ears: Braham forgets the composer, that the singer may manifest his execution ; and even our daughters, when they come from boarding school, disdain to recreate us with any simple or pathetic melodies, that they may dazzle and astonish us with the velocity of their fingers in rattling through a difficult piece.
But what has all this to do with Soult and his Murillos ?-nothing-save that it occurred to me as I was crossing the Pont Royal on my way to his hotel, and so completely engrossed my attention, that I was nearly run over by a cabriolet. Having finished my exordium, and escaped the wheels, I proceeded to the Fauxbourg St. Germain, and turned into the court yard of marshal Soult, duke of Dalmatia, in a corner of which were four stablemen, too busy in tossing up half-pence to bestow even a look upon the visitors. Probably his grace has' often indulged in a similar recreation, but having tossed up his half-pence to better account, he has found his way into the saloon, and left his competitors in the stable yard. A groom of the chambers having conducted us through that indispensable appendage to every French mansion, a spacious billiard room, led us to a small ante-chamber, where we were received with a frank courtesy by the marshal, a middle sized, though somewhat corpulent per.