My First Years as a Frenchwoman, 1876-1879

This file was produced from images generously made available by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF/Gallica) at http://gallica.bnf.fr., carlo traverso, Charlie Kirschner and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

MY FIRST YEARS AS A
FRENCHWOMAN

[Illustration: Madame Waddington.

From a photograph taken in the year of the Exposition, 1878.]

MY FIRST YEARS AS A
FRENCHWOMAN

1876-1879

BY
MARY KING WADDINGTON
ILLUSTRATED

1914

CONTENTS

I. WHEN MACMAHON WAS PRESIDENT
II. IMPRESSIONS OF THE ASSEMBLY AT VERSAILLES
III. M. WADDINGTON AS MINISTER OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION
IV. THE SOCIAL SIDE OF A MINISTER’S WIFE
V. A REPUBLICAN VICTORY AND A NEW MINISTRY
VI. THE EXPOSITION YEAR
VII. THE BERLIN CONGRESS
VIII. GAIETIES AT THE QUAI D’ORSAY
IX. M. WADDINGTON AS PRIME MINISTER
X. PARLIAMENT BACK IN PARIS
XI. LAST DAYS AT THE FOREIGN OFFICE
INDEX

ILLUSTRATIONS

MADAME WADDINGTON Frontispiece

  From a photograph taken in the year of the Exposition, 1878.

MONSIEUR THIERS
MARSHAL MACMAHON
SITTING OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY AT THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES
THE FOYER OF THE OPERA
MEETING OF OFFICERS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, AND OF
DELEGATES OF THE NEW CHAMBERS, IN THE SALON OF
HERCULES, PALACE OF VERSAILLES
THEODOR MOMMSEN
PALACE OF THE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, PARIS
FRANZ LISZT
WILLIAM E. GLADSTONE
LORD LYONS
HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS, EDWARD, PRINCE OF WALES, IN 1876
PRINCE HOHENLOHE
M. WILLIAM WADDINGTON. IN THE UNIFORM HE WORE AS
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND AT THE BERLIN
CONGRESS, 1878
NASR-ED-DIN, SHAH OF PERSIA
PRINCE BISMARCK
THE BERLIN CONGRESS
M. JULES GRÉVY, READING MARSHAL MACMAHON’S LETTER
OF RESIGNATION TO THE CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES
M. JULES GRÉVY ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC BY
THE SENATE AND CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES MEETING AS
THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
THE ELYSÉE PALACE, PARIS
HER MAJESTY QUEEN VICTORIA, ABOUT 1879
M. DE FREYCINET
MME. SADI CARNOT
PRESIDENT SADI CARNOT

MY FIRST YEARS AS A FRENCHWOMAN

I

WHEN MACMAHON WAS PRESIDENT

I was married in Paris in November, 1874, at the French Protestant
Chapel of the rue Taitbout, by Monsieur Bersier, one of the ablest and
most eloquent pastors of the Protestant church. We had just established
ourselves in Paris, after having lived seven years in Rome. We had a
vague idea of going back to America, and Paris seemed a first step in
that direction—was nearer New York than Rome. I knew very little of
France—we had never lived there—merely stayed a few weeks in the
spring and autumn, coming and going from Italy. My husband was a deputy,
named to the National Assembly in Bordeaux in 1871, by his
Department—the Aisne. He had some difficulty in getting to Bordeaux.
Communications and transports were not easy, as the Germans were still
in the country, and, what was more important, he hadn’t any
money—couldn’t correspond with his banker, in Paris—(he was living in
the country). However, a sufficient amount was found in the country, and
he was able to make his journey. When I married, the Assembly was
sitting at Versailles. Monsieur Thiers, the first President of the
Republic, had been overthrown in May, 1873—Marshal MacMahon named in
his place. W.[1] had had a short ministry (public instruction) under
Monsieur Thiers, but he was so convinced that it would not last that he
never even went to the ministry—saw his directors in his own rooms. I
was plunged at once into absolutely new surroundings. W.’s personal
friends were principally Orleanists and the literary element of
Paris—his colleagues at the Institute. The first houses I was taken to
in Paris were the Ségurs, Remusats, Lasteyries, Casimir Périers,
Gallieras, d’Haussonville, Léon Say, and some of the Protestant
families—Pourtalès, André Bartholdi, Mallet, etc. It was such an
entirely different world from any I had been accustomed to that it took
me some time to feel at home in my new milieu. Political feeling was
very strong—all sorts of fresh, young elements coming to the front.
The Franco-German War was just over—the French very sore and bitter
after their defeat. There was a strong underlying feeling of violent
animosity to the Emperor, who had lost them two of their fairest
provinces, and a passionate desire for the revanche. The feeling was
very bitter between the two branches of the Royalist party, Legitimists
and Orleanists. One night at a party in the Faubourg St. Germain, I saw
a well-known fashionable woman of the extreme Legitimist party turn her
back on the Comtesse de Paris. The receptions and visits were not always
easy nor pleasant, even though I was a stranger and had no ties with any
former government. I remember one of my first visits to a well-known
Legitimist countess in the Faubourg St. Germain; I went on her reception
day, a thing all young women are most particular about in Paris. I found
her with a circle of ladies sitting around her, none of whom I knew.
They were all very civil, only I was astonished at the way the mistress
of the house mentioned my name every time she spoke to me: “Madame
Waddington, êtes-vous allée à l’Opéra hier soir,” “Madame Waddington,
vous montez à cheval tous les matins, je crois,” “Monsieur Waddington va
tous les vendredis à l’Institut, il me semble,” etc. I was rather
surprised and said to W. when I got home, “How curious it is, that way
of saying one’s name all the time; I suppose it is an old-fashioned
French custom. Madame de B. must have said ‘Waddington’ twenty times
during my rather short visit.” He was much amused. “Don’t you know why?
So that all the people might know who you were and not say awful things
about the ‘infecte gouvernement’ and the Republic, ‘which no gentleman
could serve.'”

[Footnote 1: “W.,” here and throughout this book, refers to Madame

Waddington’s husband, M. William Waddington.]

[Illustration: Monsieur Theirs.]

The position of the German Embassy in Paris was very difficult, and
unfortunately their first ambassador after the war, Count Arnim, didn’t
understand (perhaps didn’t care to) how difficult it was for a
high-spirited nation, which until then had always ranked as a great
military power, to accept her humiliation and be just to the victorious
adversary. Arnim was an unfortunate appointment—not at all the man for
such a delicate situation. We had known him in Rome in the old days of
Pio Nono’s reign, where he had a great position as Prussian minister to
the Vatican. He and the Countess Arnim received a great deal, and their
beautiful rooms in the Palazzo Caffarelli, on the top of the Capitol
Hill (the two great statues of Castor and Pollux standing by their
horses looking as if they were guarding the entrance) were a brilliant
centre for all the Roman and diplomatic world. He was a thorough man of
the world, could make himself charming when he chose, but he never had a
pleasant manner, was curt, arrogant, with a very strong sense of his own
superiority. From the first moment he came to Paris as ambassador, he
put people’s backs up. They never liked him, never trusted him; whenever
he had an unpleasant communication to make, he exaggerated the
unpleasantness, never attenuated, and there is so much in the way things
are said. The French were very hard upon him when he got into trouble,
and certainly his own Government was merciless to him.

One of my first small difficulties after becoming a Frenchwoman was to
eliminate some of my German friends from my salon. I could not run the
risk of their being treated rudely. I remember so well one night at
home, before I was married, seeing two French officers not in uniform
slip quietly out of the room when one of the German Embassy came in, yet
ours was a neutral house. When my engagement was announced one of my
great friends at the German Embassy (Count Arco) said to me: “This is
the end, I suppose, of our friendship; I can never go to see you when
you are the wife of a French deputy.” “Oh, yes, you can still come; not
quite so often, perhaps, but I can’t give up my friends.” However, we
drifted apart without knowing why exactly. It is curious how long that
hostile feeling toward Germany has lasted in France.

Every year there is a great review of the Paris garrison (thirty
thousand men) by the President of the Republic, at Longchamp, on the
14th of July, the national fête—the day of the storming of the Bastile.
It is a great day in Paris—one of the sights of the year—and falling
in midsummer the day is generally beautiful and very warm. From early
dawn all the chairs and benches along the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne are
crowded with people waiting patiently for hours to see the show. There
is not a seat to be had at Longchamp. Unless one arrives very early the
tribunes are packed, and the President’s box very crowded, as he invites
the diplomatic corps and the ministers and their wives on that day. The
troops are always received with much enthusiasm, particularly the
artillery, dragging their light field-pieces and passing at a
gallop—also the battalion of St. Cyr, the great French military school.
The final charge of the cavalry is very fine. Masses of riders come
thundering over the plain, the general commanding in front, stopping
suddenly as if moved by machinery, just opposite the President’s box.
I went very regularly as long as W. was in office, and always enjoyed my
day. There was an excellent buffet in the salon behind the box, and it
was pleasant to have a cup of tea and rest one’s eyes while the long
columns of infantry were passing—the regular, continuous movement was
fatiguing. All the ambassadors and foreigners were very keen about the
review, paying great attention to the size of the men and horses and
their general equipment. As long as Marshal MacMahon was President of
the Republic, he always rode home after the review down the
Champs-Elysées—in full uniform, with a brilliant staff of foreign
officers and military attachés. It was a pretty sight and attracted
great attention. Some of the foreign uniforms are very striking and the
French love a military show.

[Illustration: Marshal MacMahon.]

For many years after the war the German military attaché returned from
the review unobserved in a shut carriage, couldn’t run the risk of an
angry or insulting word from some one in the crowd, and still later,
fifteen years after the war, when W. was ambassador in England, I was
godmother of the daughter of a German-English cousin living in London.
The godfather was Count Herbert Bismarck, son of the famous chancellor.
At the time of the christening I was in France, staying with some
friends in the country. The son of the house had been through the war,
had distinguished himself very much, and they were still very sore over
their reverses and the necessity of submitting to all the little
pin-pricks which came at intervals from Germany. Bismarck sent me a
telegram regretting the absence of the godmother from the ceremony. It
was brought to me just after breakfast, while we were having our coffee.
I opened it and read it out, explaining that it was from Bismarck to
express his regret for my absence. There was a dead silence, and then
the mistress of the house said to me: “C’est très désagréable pour vous,
chère amie, cette association avec Bismarck.”

I didn’t see much of W. in the daytime. We usually rode in the morning
in the Bois and immediately after breakfast he started for Versailles in
the parliamentary train. Dinner was always a doubtful meal. Sometimes he
came home very late for nine-o’clock dinner; sometimes he dined at
Versailles and only got home at ten or eleven if the sitting was stormy.
The Hotel des Reservoirs did a flourishing business as long as the
Chambers sat at Versailles. When we were dining out it was very
disagreeable, particularly the first winter when I didn’t know many
people. I remember one dinner at the Countess Duchatel’s where I went
alone; we were ten women and five men. All the rest were deputies, who
had telegraphed at the last moment they would not come, were kept at
Versailles by an important question.

One of the most interesting things I saw in 1873, just before my
marriage, was the court-martial of Marshal Bazaine for treachery at
Metz—giving up his army and the city without any attempt to break
through the enemy’s lines, or in fact any resistance of any kind. The
court was held at the Grand Trianon, Versailles, a place so associated
with a pleasure-loving court, and the fanciful devices of a gay young
queen, that it was difficult to realise the drama that was being
enacted, when the honour of a Marshal of France—almost an army of
France, was to be judged. It was an impressive scene, the hall packed,
and people at all the doors and entrances clamouring for seats. The
public was curious, a little of everything—members of the National
Assembly, officers all in uniform, pretty women of all categories—the
group of journalists with keen eager faces watching every change of
expression of the marshal’s face—some well-known faces, wives of
members or leading political and literary men, a fair amount of the
frailer sisterhood, actresses and demi-mondaines, making a great effect
of waving plumes and diamonds. The court was presided over by the Duc
d’Aumale, who accepted the office after much hesitation. He was a fine,
soldierly figure as he came in, in full uniform, a group of officers
behind him, all with stern, set faces. The impression of the public was
generally hostile to the marshal; one felt it all through the trial. He
was dressed in full uniform, with the grand cordon of the Legion of
Honour. It was melancholy to hear the report of his career when it was
read by his counsel,—long years of active service, many wounds, often
mentioned for brave conduct under fire, having the “Médaille
Militaire”—the grand cordon of the Legion d’Honneur, the baton de
Maréchal de France,—all the honours his country could give him—to end
so miserably, judged not only by the court but by the country, as a
traitor, false to his trust, when his country was in the death-throes of
defeat and humiliation. His attitude at the trial was curious. He sat
very still in his armchair, looking straight before him, only raising
his head and looking at the Duc d’Aumale when some grave accusation was
made against him. His explanation brought the famous reply from the duc,
when he said it was impossible to act or to treat; there was nothing
left in France—no government, no orders—nothing. The due answered:
“Il y avait toujours la France.” He didn’t look overwhelmed, rather like
some one who was detached from the whole proceedings. I saw his face
quite well; it was neither false nor weak—ordinary. It is difficult to
believe that a French general with a brilliant record behind him should
have been guilty of such treachery, sacrificing his men and his honour.
His friends (they were not many) say he lost his head, was nearly crazy
with the utterly unforeseen defeat of the French, but even a moment of
insanity would hardly account for such extraordinary weakness. W. and
some of his friends were discussing it in the train coming home. They
were all convinced of his guilt, had no doubt as to what the sentence of
the court would be—death and degradation—but thought that physical
fatigue and great depression must have caused a general breakdown. The
end every one knows. He was condemned to be shot and degraded. The first
part of the sentence was cancelled on account of his former services,
but he was degraded, imprisoned, escaped, and finished his life in Spain
in poverty and obscurity, deserted by all his friends and his wife. It
was a melancholy rentrée for the Duc d’Aumale. His thoughts must have
gone back to the far-off days when the gallant young officer, fils de
France, won his first military glory in Algiers, and thought the world
was at his feet. His brilliant exploit, capturing the Smala of
Abd-el-Kader, has been immortalised by Vernet in the great historical
picture that one sees at Versailles. There are always artists copying
parts of it, particularly one group, where a lovely, fair-haired woman
is falling out of a litter backward. Even now, when one thinks of the
King Louis Philippe, with all his tall, strong, young sons (there is a
well-known picture of the King on horseback with all his sons around
him—splendid specimens of young manhood), it seems incredible that they
are not still ruling and reigning at the Tuileries. I wonder if things
would have been very different if Louis Philippe and his family had not
walked out of the Tuileries that day!

I often asked W. in what way France had gained by being a republic. I
personally was quite impartial, being born an American and never having
lived in France until after the Franco-Prussian War. I had no particular
ties nor traditions, had no grandfather killed on the scaffold, nor
frozen to death in the retreat of “La Grande Armée” from Moscow. They
always told me a republic was in the air—young talents and energy must
come to the front—the people must have a voice in the government. I
think the average Frenchman is intelligent, but I don’t think the vote
of the man in the street can have as much value as that of a man who has
had not only a good education but who has been accustomed always to hear
certain principles of law and order held up as rules for the guidance of
his own life as well as other people’s. Certainly universal suffrage was
a most unfortunate measure to take from America and apply to France, but
it has been taken and now must stay. I have often heard political men
who deplored and condemned the law say that no minister would dare to
propose a change.

I went often to the Chamber in the spring—used to drive out and bring
W. home. Versailles was very animated and interesting during all that
time, so many people always about. Quite a number of women followed the
debates. One met plenty of people one knew in the streets, at the
Patissiers, or at some of the bric-à-brac shops, where there were still
bargains to be found in very old furniture, prints, and china. There is
a large garrison. There were always officers riding, squads of soldiers
moving about, bugle-calls in all directions, and continuous arrivals at
the station of deputies and journalists hurrying to the palace, their
black portfolios under their arms. The palace was cold. There was a fine
draught at the entrance and the big stone staircase was always cold,
even in June, but the assembly-room was warm enough and always crowded.
It was rather difficult to get seats. People were so interested in those
first debates after the war, when everything had to be reorganised and
so much of the past was being swept away.

II

IMPRESSIONS OF THE ASSEMBLY AT VERSAILLES

The sittings of the assembly were very interesting in that wonderful
year when everything was being discussed. All public interest of course
was centred in Versailles, where the National Assembly was trying to
establish some sort of stable government. There were endless discussions
and speeches and very violent language in the Chambers. Gambetta made
some bitter attacks on the Royalists, accusing them of mauvaise foi and
want of patriotism. The Bonapartist leaders tried to persuade themselves
and their friends that they still had a hold on the country and that a
plébiscite would bring back in triumph their prince. The Legitimists,
hoping against hope that the Comte de Chambord would still be the
saviour of the country, made passionate appeals to the old feeling of
loyalty in the nation, and the centre droit, representing the
Orleanists, nervous, hesitating, knowing the position perfectly,
ardently desiring a constitutional monarchy, but feeling that it was
not possible at that moment, yet unwilling to commit themselves to a
final declaration of the Republic, which would make a Royalist
restoration impossible. All the Left confident, determined.

The Republic was voted on the 30th of January, 1875, by a majority of
one vote, if majority it could be called, but the great step had been
taken, and the struggle began instantly between the moderate
conservative Republicans and the more advanced Left. W. came home late
that day. Some of his friends came in after dinner and the talk was most
interesting. I was so new to it all that most of the names of the rank
and file were unknown to me, and the appreciations of the votes and the
anecdotes and side-lights on the voters said nothing to me. Looking back
after all these years, it seems to me that the moderate Royalists
(centre droit) threw away a splendid chance. They could not stop the
Republican wave (nothing could) but they might have controlled it and
directed it instead of standing aloof and throwing the power into the
hands of the Left. We heard the well-known sayings very often those
days: “La République sera conservatrice ou elle ne sera pas” and “La
République sans Républicains,” attributed to M. Thiers and Marshal
MacMahon. The National Assembly struggled on to the end of the year,
making a constitution, a parliament with two houses, senate and chamber
of deputies, with many discussions and contradictions, and hopes and
illusions.

[Illustration: Sitting of the National Assembly at the palace of

Versailles. From l’Illustration, March 11, 1876]

I went often to Versailles, driving out when the weather was fine. I
liked the stormy sittings best. Some orator would say something that
displeased the public, and in a moment there would be the greatest
uproar, protestations and accusations from all sides, some of the
extreme Left getting up, gesticulating wildly, and shaking their fists
at the speaker—the Right, generally calm and sarcastic, requesting the
speaker to repeat his monstrous statements—the huissiers dressed in
black with silver chains, walking up and down in front of the tribune,
calling out at intervals: “Silence, messieurs, s’il vous plaît,”—the
President ringing his bell violently to call the house to order, and
nobody paying the slightest attention,—the orator sometimes standing
quite still with folded arms waiting until the storm should abate,
sometimes dominating the hall and hurling abuse at his adversaries. W.
was always perfectly quiet; his voice was low, not very strong, and he
could not speak if there were an uproar. When he was interrupted in a
speech he used to stand perfectly still with folded arms, waiting for a
few minutes’ silence. The deputies would call out: “Allez! allez!”
interspersed with a few lively criticisms on what he was saying to them;
he was perfectly unmoved, merely replied: “I will go on with pleasure as
soon as you will be quiet enough for me to be heard.” Frenchmen
generally have such a wonderful facility of speech, and such a pitiless
logic in discussing a question, that the debates were often very
interesting. The public was interesting too. A great many women of all
classes followed the sittings—several Egerias (not generally in their
first youth) of well-known political men sitting prominently in the
President’s box, or in the front row of the journalists’ box, following
the discussions with great interest and sending down little slips of
paper to their friends below—members’ wives and friends who enjoyed
spending an hour or two listening to the speeches—newspaper
correspondents, literary ladies, diplomatists. It was very difficult to
get places, particularly when some well-known orators were announced to
speak upon an important question. We didn’t always know beforehand, and
I remember some dull afternoons with one or two members making long
speeches about purely local matters, which didn’t interest any one. We
looked down upon an almost empty hall on those occasions. A great many
of the members had gone out and were talking in the lobbies; those who
remained were talking in groups, writing letters, walking about the
hall, quite unconscious apparently of the speaker at the tribune. I
couldn’t understand how the man could go on talking to empty benches,
but W. told me he was quite indifferent to the attention of his
colleagues,—his speech was for his electors and would appear the next
day in the Journal Officiel. I remember one man talked for hours about
“allumettes chimiques.”

Léon Say was a delightful speaker, so easy, always finding exactly the
word he wanted. It hardly seemed a speech when he was at the tribune,
more like a causerie, though he told very plain truths sometimes to the
peuple souverain. He was essentially French, or rather Parisian, knew
everybody, and was au courant of all that went on politically and
socially, and had a certain blague, that eminently French quality which
is very difficult to explain. He was a hard worker, and told me once
that what rested him most after a long day was to go to a small
boulevard theatre or to read a rather lively yellowbacked novel.

I never heard Gambetta speak, which I always regretted—in fact knew
very little of him. He was not a ladies’ man, though he had some devoted
women friends, and was always surrounded by a circle of political men
whenever he appeared in public. (In all French parties, immediately
after dinner, the men all congregate together to talk to each
other,—never to the women,—so unless you happen to find yourself
seated next to some well-known man, you never really have a chance of
talking to him.) Gambetta didn’t go out much, and as by some curious
chance he was never next to me at dinner, I never had any opportunity of
talking to him. He was not one of W.’s friends, nor an habitué of the
house. His appearance was against him—dark, heavy-looking, with an
enormous head.

When I had had enough of the speeches and the bad atmosphere, I used to
wander about the terraces and gardens. How many beautiful sunsets I have
seen from the top of the terrace or else standing on the three famous
pink marble steps (so well known to all lovers of poetry through Alfred
de Musset’s beautiful verses, “Trois Marches Roses”), seeing in
imagination all the brilliant crowd of courtiers and fair women that
used to people those wonderful gardens in the old days of Versailles! I
went sometimes to the “Reservoirs” for a cup of tea, and very often
found other women who had also driven out to get their husbands. We
occasionally brought back friends who preferred the quiet cool drive
through the Park of St. Cloud to the crowd and dust of the railway. The
Count de St. Vallier (who was not yet senator, but deeply interested in
politics) was frequently at Versailles and came back with us often. He
was a charming, easy talker. I never tired of hearing about the
brilliant days of the last Empire, and the fêtes at the Tuileries,
Compiègne, and St. Cloud. He had been a great deal at the court of
Napoleon III, had seen many interesting people of all kinds, and had a
wonderful memory. He must have had an inner sense or presentiment of
some kind about the future, for I have heard him say often in speaking
of the old days and the glories of the Empire, when everything seemed so
prosperous and brilliant, that he used often to ask himself if it could
be real—Were the foundations as solid as they seemed! He had been a
diplomatist, was in Germany at the time of the Franco-German War, and
like so many of his colleagues scattered over Germany, was quite aware
of the growing hostile feeling in Germany to France and also of
Bismarck’s aims and ambitions. He (like so many others) wrote repeated
letters and warnings to the French Foreign Office, which apparently had
no effect. One heard afterward that several letters of that description
from French diplomatists in Germany were found unopened in a drawer at
the ministry.

It was rather sad, as we drove through the stately alleys of the Park of
St. Cloud, with the setting sun shining through the fine old trees, to
hear of all the fêtes that used to take place there,—and one could
quite well fancy the beautiful Empress appearing at the end of one of
the long avenues, followed by a brilliant suite of ladies and
écuyers,—and the echoes of the cor de chasse in the distance. The
alleys are always there, and fairly well kept, but very few people or
carriages pass. The park is deserted. I don’t think the cor de chasse
would awaken an echo or a regret even, so entirely has the Empire and
its glories become a thing of the past. A rendezvous de chasse was a
very pretty sight.

We went once to Compiègne before I was married, about three years before

Pages: 1 | 2 | Single Page