Sunday, April 09, 2006

Party Feeling in France

July 1833.—I have just heard from Dr. Somerville a strange instance of the virulence of party feeling now raging in France. He had shown some civilities to a Monsieur and Madame de ———: they vowed eternal friendship in a few days. Some time after this, the Somervilles went to Paris : their dear friends, the de ———'s, were absent, and did not return till the Somervilles had been some time settled, indeed not till the Doctor had returned to England.

Great was the joy of meeting, and that of the de ————'s did not evaporate in professions. Parties were immediately made to show those sights to which favour alone could gain admission, a dinner proposed, &c. &c. The day after their first meeting, Madame ———— being in the carriage with Mrs. Somerville, asked her whether she had been to some party or sight past. ' No,' answered Mrs. Somerville, ' it was unfortunately at the time when I was at La Grange,' (the country seat of La Fayette). The genuine Frenchwoman expressed her surprise by a start, a bound from her seat which made Mrs. Somerville tremble for the springs of her carriage: then followed a string of 'Mon Dieu! est il possible!' &c. &c., ' that you, such a woman as you, should visit such a man? There is not a person belonging to the bonne societe who would speak to you, if you were known to have been in such company.'

Mrs. Somerville repeated that she had not only passed a week at La Grange, but considered it as one of the most agreeable she had spent in the whole course of her life, and that she hoped to repeat the visit. Her friend said that she felt under great obligations to Mrs. Somerville, had conceived for her an affection which nothing could shake, ' but I own to you,' she added, ‘had this been our first interview, after what has just passed, it should have been our last. However, I have one favour to ask of your friendship, et je vous la demands a genoux. You are to dine with me on such a day: au nom de Dieu, I entreat, do not mention the name of La Fayette, or in any way allude to this visit. Of the party invited to meet you there is not one individual who would not, after such an avowal, avoid you as if you came from a plague-house, or would ever speak to you.'

Mrs. Somerville replied, that she would never wittingly speak on a topic unpleasant to the master of any house where she found herself a guest: at the same time, as she never did anything she was ashamed of, she would not shrink from her friendship for La Fayette, if, in the course of conversation, she was questioned on the subject.

Dr. Somerville tells me that, even under Napoleon, the police never was so active, nor so expensively organised, as under the Citizen King. When the Duchesse de Berry was wandering about, the strictness about passports was most absurd. Dr. Somerville went with Mr. Hankey to the Passport Office, where every individual was then expected to appear, and all, even children and maids, were obliged to have their separate passports, describing person, age, &c. Dr. Somerville, having seen this ceremony performed on the four elder children, at last said to the official, 'I see you are a gentleman, and I am convinced that a secret entrusted to your honour will, in spite of everything, be in safe keeping. I will, therefore, in strict confidence, tell you an important secret: you see there the Duchesse de Berry in disguise,' and he pointed to the youngest child, a girl of four years old, who, upon being looked at, hid herself under the table.

The officer, laughing, said: 'Que voulez-vous, monsieur? Je sens comme vous tout le ridicule de ce que je fais; mais les ordres nous viennent d'en haut; nous devons obeir a la lettre.'

A few days after this, Dr. Somerville departed by the Malle Paste: being within a few miles of Montreuil, he missed his passport, and consulted the conducteur as to what he was to do; he fully expected to have been lodged in a prison till he could in some way have been identified, and asked whether he had not better tell his tale and surrender himself at once. The conducteur, hearing that he was known to Quilliac, at Calais, promised, if he would only lean back in the cabriolet, he would pass him through the gates without any enquiry. However, he had not an opportunity of proving the total uselessness of the tiresome passport, for a few minutes afterwards it was found in the straw at the bottom of the carriage.

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