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Week, Edited by R. Plumer Ward, Esq.-Wild Sports in Europe,
598 to 612
NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE,
THE LATE PRINCE TALLEYRAND.
It was during the autumn of 18—, that, passing through Paris on my way to the south of Europe, I ventured to pay my visite de rigueur to that hallowed shrine—that Mecca of all young diplomatists—the Hôtel Talleyrand, in the Rue St. Florentin, to obtain, as it were, a blessing, and an imposition of hands, from the high priest of diplomatic craft, ere I ventured, novice and without guile as I then was, to put forth on the unknown sea of politics. Perhaps there lingered in my mind a latent hope of acquiring some new information concerning the hidden rocks and shoals--the under currents which were not yet marked down in the very imperfect chart at that time existing in my brain, and by the aid of which I might, by steering aright, gain more quickly than my colleagues the glorious port of ambassadorship.
I had once had the good fortune to form part of a company, assembled by the owner of P-~ llouse, to meet the prince, during the very last Easter vacation which he had spent in England; so that it was not as a complete stranger that I now ventured, all trembling and awestruck, to seek the presence of his excellency.
The hour was somewhat late for a morning visit, when I called at the hotel; but I had been told by one who knew him well, that his hour of confidence and kindness, his hour of benevolence, in short, was decidedly the one hour before dinner; and so already, even in the smallest matter, beginning to move professionally, I had acted entirely upon the strength of this friendly warning.
I was not disappointed; for I found the veteran diplomatist enjoying the otium cum dignitate, after the fatigues of the day. He was seated in his easy chair, reclining with that peculiarly easy grace which, in spite of his lameness, characterized his every attitude and movement. A bundle of newspapers lay upon the table before him ; some were
Jan.-VOL. LXX. NO. CCL.SXVII.
scattered on the floor around ; but he had evidently forgotten, for the moment, the world and all its fretful politics, and was gazing with fond affection at the gambols of his fair young niece, who was on her knees upon the floor by his side, her arm resting upon the elbow of his chair, teasing and provoking the large English spaniel, Carlo, the delight of the prince, and his constant companion.
It would be difficult for a painter to imagine a scene more interesting, or even more poetical, than the one which thus suddenly presented itself
The long golden hair of the child fell forward in a glittering shower, blending with the silvery masses which, to the latest hour of his life, shaded in such luxuriant abundance the calm brow of the prince; and as he bent down over her, the contrast between the fair and blooming face, animated as it was by the glow of youth and the excitement of the game, with that cold impenetrable countenance those fixed and marble features—was rendered yet more striking. It was the dim immovable Past, seeking to interrogate the busy, smiling Future; Old Time striving to detain one single rosy hour, and pausing to gaze while yet the charm endured. There was indeed over the whole scene a shadow of bygone times, which the graceful figure of that fair girl alone seemed to attach to the Present.
The drawing-room into which I was ushered was noble and lofty, although an entresol, and through the high casements the setting sun of autumn poured in its rich and glowing beams, seeming to pause in fondness over that scene, and, forgetting all beside, to linger there. Through the arched vista of the Tuileries, late so green, but already hared of foliage, the darkening sky gave token of the near approach of twilight, and I could not help being struck with the fitness of the emblem.
I had leisure to contemplate the scene, for the low suppressed laughter of the child, and the playful growling of old Carlo, had prevented the announcement of my name from immediately reaching the ear of his excellency, and it was not till I stood within a step or two of his chair that he became aware of my presence. He then rose slightly, leaning on his cane, and gave me that gracious and courtly welcome-a reminiscence of the old régime-which neither his passage through the revolutionary mire, nor even across the broad Atlantic, had been able to mar. That bland and polished urbanity was the attribute of a race of men of which he was the last representative, and of which we shall see the like no more.
My conference with him was but short, and passed chiefly in inquiry after the friends I had left; some few questions concerning my future destination ; an observation or two respecting the chargé d'affaires at that time resident at the court to which I was bound; but nothing further; and I, who had indulged in vague dreams of the treasures of advice concerning my new career, to be gathered during this interview, was just on the point of taking my leave, without having dared to breathe a hint upon the subject which lay uppermost in my thoughts,--when, to my delight, amid the numberless kind things he uttered upon the subject of my journey, he added, with a bland and courteous smile, which from the old to the young, so greatly enhances the value of the kind speech,
“ Vous viendrez nous voir à Valençay?"
And then, as though he had reserved all his urbanity till the last, acting upon his own principle of “always waiting to the end," he told me that he himself was on the point of hastening thither,--that I should see him no more in Paris,--that the place would not be far out of iny road on my journey southwards; and the kindness of the tone, the friendly glance with which the words were accompanied, left me no doubt of their sincerity : so I accepted the invitation with the most joyful alacrity, and before we parted, he himself had fixed the day for our meeting again—at Valençay!
At Valençay! Here, then, was I about to accomplish by a mighty stride, to overleap by a single bound, many a weary league on the highway of politics; and moreover, to gain ease for the remainder of the dusty journey. So with these pleasant illusions in my mind, it cannot be wondered at if I rather hastened than retarded my movement. With a heart beating high with expectation did I set forth on this pilgrimage. It had been one of my day-dreams, which I was about to convert into reality. I had so often longed to behold the great statesman in his retirement, and now I was about to see him in his hours of leisure and of laisser-aller, and to share with his chosen intimates all the treasures of his rich and varied store of reminiscences !
I had heard that it was his great delight, when at Valençay, to call up the spirits of the shadowy past, and that here he seemed to live and breathe amongst them; that here he took no heed of to-day, or of what might befal on the morrow; that his soul was with the past—his thoughts were all of days gone by, and with the present lingered not. By turns abiding amid the courtly saloon of the days previous to the revolution, he would tell of Madame de Boufflers and Marie Antoinette, and of the folle vie led by the young, when he too was in his youth. Then the rude Conventional—ihe stern Republican—the warlike figures of the Empire-the pale dim Silhouettes of the Restoration, would all arise, and pass in crowded array before his enchanted audience; with such grace and truth, too, were they all endowed, that sometimes the listener could believe that he had seen and heard the like, and that he too had been of them and amongst them.
Valençay had ever been the favourite residence of the prince. It was here he had ever preferred seeking relief from the political turmoil of the moment, -perhaps to repose after the fatigues of the last struggle,--perhaps to gain fresh courage and vigour for that which with his unerring foresight he knew to be inevitable. It was here he sought the rest which he sometimes needed—it is here that by his own desire he now reposes till eternity.
These are the reminiscences which must henceforth render Valençay one of those few favoured spots, scattered here and there over the surface of our dull earth, towards which Fancy hurries on before, and where Memory lingers long behind ; places that shine out amid the dulness of this dreary world, with the bright lustre which the memory of the great and good has shed around them, and which, to the traveller through the land where they are found, become hallowed shrines, that it is scorn and reproach to have visited the country without beholding.
In my case, and young as I then was, it is no wonder if I approached, with feelings of almost undue reverence, the spot where dwelt the last great statesman of the age-last at least of that class of men who, singlehanded and alone, could lead, by the very force of their spirit, whole nations to think as they thought, and act as they directed.
Imagination had indeed gone on long before, and paused to await me at the gates of the Château of Valençay. Nor was I disappointed on my first approach. It is a noble and stately pile, well suited to the regal tastes and habits of him who at that time shed additional lustre over its sumptuous retirement.
The dark forest through which the road lies for many miles, gives a grandeur to the scenery, of which this part of France is elsewhere almost entirely devoid. The broad Moorish towers of the château are seen for some time, alternately appearing, and then lost to sight, until finally they form the termination of the splendid avenue De Gâtines, through which they are beheld at a great distance, gradually rising in the perspective, and seeming to increase in size as the traveller draws near, with an effect almost magical.
Nothing can be finer or more original than the effect of these farfamed towers, which give to the building an air of oriental grandeur, perfectly unique. They were built at different periods, the first one having been added to the edifice, which at the time was already a mixture of Gothic and moyen âge architecture, by M. de Luçay, on his return from his travels in the East, and their broad shining domes, surmounted by light gilt weathercocks, bring strangely to mind the mosques and palaces of the Asiatic cities.
The approach to the château is particularly grand and magnificent, being through an avenue of glorious old chestnut-trees, through which, at the moment of my arrival, the long rays of the evening sun were pouring, all aslant over the green turf, making wide patches of the soft grass appear all on flame, while the shadows thrown between appeared black and mysterious from the contrast. The carriage drove up the noble avenue De Gâtines.
The gay postilions, with long tricoloured ribbons fluttering in the wind, with plaited pigtail, and heavy jack-boots, cracking their whips, with loud halloo, to cheer forward the wild, scampering, rope-harnessed horses, gave such an air de régence to the scene, that I could almost fancy myself, as I leaned eagerly forward in the carriage, to be the hero of one of Marivaux's delightful novels, and to be some one of his dear ingenuous Counts de P., about to pay his first visit to some fascinating, rebellious, unfaithful Marquise de F. or de N.
Had such indeed been the case, I do not think the said hero could have felt more alarmed and embarrassed than I did during the few moments when the carriage, having turned into the great gates, drove round, with stunning fracas, the wide cour d'honneur, and stopped at the princely perron of the vestibule.
It was quite a relief to learn from the domestic, who conducted me through an endless labyrinth of staircases and corridors to my room, that the large party then assembled at the château, had all dispersed after the usual early dinner, and that the building was at the moment a complete desert. Nothing could suit me better, for it gave me time to collect all my scattered ideas, and to establish myself in the great drawing-room, receiving not received; and all timid juveniles know well the full value of this difference. The view from the windows of