My dear boy:
This, you know, is my birthday and Mama thought it no more than proper that I should treat ourselves to a ride and guide to Versailles.
We had a nice park wagon with two horses, and there were six more in our party and the guide. We started at 9:30 and took our way along some of the grand boulevards and passed the Tuileries and the imposing Arc de Triomphe de L’Etoile, also the Palisade L’Elysees, the present residence of the President of the Republic, then through the Bois de Boulogne, a beautiful park with oak trees, the favorite promenade of the Patrician. On to Versailles, where we arrived after a ride of about an hour and a half. It was a beautiful drive and we all enjoyed it very much.
I shall not attempt to give a description of what we saw at Versailles. There is so much to be seen there, and we were compelled to go through the buildings and the grounds in such a hurry that it seems like a dream to me now, with but indistinct recollections of some of the main features.
Historically, the place is of great interest. The erection of the palace and the surrounding park has cost more than a hundred million dollars, and it is said that 36,000 men and 6000 horses were employed to work on the gardens, park, etc. It cost $2 1/2 million annually to keep it up, and costs now more than $100,000 annually.
Both Louis XIV & XV died in the palace; Louis XVI, who was guillotined in 1793, was forcibly carried away from this place in 1789. In 1795, it served as a manufactory of arms and, in 1815, the Prussians helped themselves to what they wanted out of the palace. After the fall of Napoleon, it was occupied, in succession, by Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis Philippe.
In 1855, Victoria was received here by Napoleon III and, in 1871, the palace was occupied by Prussian forces. In the same year, on the 18th of January, King William was here proclaimed Emperor of Germany. After the departure of the German forces, it became the seat of the government of France under the presidency of Mr. Thiers and continued so until 1880 when the government was removed to France. The final destiny of the Palace was fixed by Louis Philippe, who appropriated to it enormous sums and made a great Museum of it. It has been a museum of French history under all its aspects.
An equestrian statue of Louis XIV marks the entrance to the Court Royal. Passing through a large corridor filled with casts of pieces of sculpture of the middle ages, we entered, in succession, rooms containing immense pictures recalling the principal historic deeds of the French nation, the history of the crusades of the 11th and 13th, the victories in Algiers, the expedition into the Crimea, the retreat from Russia, etc. The Hercules room, which served as the great court ball room in the 18th century, has a fine ceiling fresco, the largest in existence. It is 59 x 55 feet and represents the Apotheosis of Hercules.
Then follows the Room of Plenty with a ceiling painted to represent “Plenty” of Royal Magnificence, then follows the Rooms of Venus, Diana, Mars, Mercury, Apollo, that of War and the Great Glass Gallery in which the ceiling has thirty scenes from the history of Louis XIV, each picture being enclosed in a sculptured border, richly gilt.This gallery, 244 feet long and 34 feet broad by 42 feet high. Each of the 17 windows, overlooking the magnificent gardens, has a corresponding arch decorated with mirrors joined with wrought copper. When the wonderful furniture of olden times filled this gallery, this splendid decoration must have procured a striking affect. As it is now, it looks empty and faded. The one at Chiemensee made more of an impression on me is it still glitters and looks fresh.
But try to recall this hall covered with two immense carpets, the windows with curtains of white damask brocade with gold, and distribute to the longer room silver sconces, high stands, consoles, stools, and silver boxes holding orange trees, bowls and vases fashioned by the most skilled workmen, wonderful chandeliers suspended from the ceiling, and you have a room unique in its execution and fairy like in its appearance.
The rooms of Louis XV, his dining hall, cabinet, antechamber, Louis XVI library, billiard and bathroom, Marie Antoinette’s neat and plain little rooms as well as the great rooms of the state approved of great interest.
We visited the old Opera Hall, which is now used for the meetings of the senate, also the room which is now used as the Chamber of the Deputies, where the President of the Republic is elected, and then stepped out to get a view of the gardens.
Standing at the edge of a large staircase, we had, below us, the Latona basin, then the ground garden of Latona, at the end of which opened a long perspective formed by a beautiful green lawn, another basin and the grand Canal.
We walked through the gardens and groves. The Grove the Bath of Apollo. In an artificial rock is a fine group in white marble representing 6 nymphs in attendance on Apollo, presenting him perfumes. His horses are at rest at the foot of the rock. All this surrounded by green shrubbery and trees produces a striking effect.
I am sorry that we are too late to see the great fountains play, but it costs the city several thousand dollars every time they spurt. You may know that they save water as much as they can. The visit to the Great Trianon was a regular farce. The keeper who took us through it fairly raced along, and our guy did hard work to keep up with him and sling out some explanations in German while, at the same time, the keeper was jabbering away in French.
It was a sort of resting place for Louis XIV, and all that I can remember of it is that we had no time to rest while we were inside of it. The dining room is fine, and the floors are all slippery. But, in the carriage house, we had a good chance to admire the fine state coaches, sedan chairs and sledges. There is a coronation coach built in 1825 for Charles X and used for the baptism of the son of Napoleon III in 1854. The old thing weighs 15,432 lbs, and isn’t half as good as our Auto, I bet.
The little Trianon has a fine winding staircase with a railing of wrought and gilded iron with the initials of Marie Antoinette. Louis XVI gave this palace to her and she often stayed there with some friends. Here she led a country life in the simplicity she so loved, away from the pomp and trying etiquette of the court. On October 5th, 1789, the news of the arrival of the Parisian mob made her leave, in haste, the dear place which she never saw again.
The place is interesting on account of the many souvenirs of this unfortunate queen. We took a walk in the gardens of the Little Trianon and the Hamlet of Marie-Antoinette, a cluster of rustic houses, a mill, henhouse, dairy, etc., and took our seats in the park wagon pretty well tired out from our long tramp.
We rode home passing through Severs, where the famous Manufactory of Porcelain is situated and saw the Eiffel Tower. The most interesting part, however, was the throng of autos, carriages, wagons, cabs, double deck cars and people in the principal detail streets through which we passed. It was so very exciting that it was hard to keep Emily in her seat, and I was glad to get them all home safe and sound. All tired out and ready to eat our dinner.