Grains of Truth
by Bill Nye
A young friend has written to me as follows: "Could you tell me
something of the location of the porcelain works in Sevres, France, and
what the process is of making those beautiful things which come from
there? How is the name of the town pronounced? Can you tell me anything
of the history of Mme. Pompadour? Who was the Dauphin? Did you learn
anything of Louis XV whilst in France? What are your literary habits?"
It is with a great, bounding joy that I impart the desired information.
Sevres is a small village just outside of St. Cloud (pronounced San
Cloo). It is given up to the manufacture of porcelain. You go to St.
Cloud by rail or river, and then drive over to Sevres by diligence or
voiture. Some go one way and some go the other. I rode up on the Seine,
aboard of a little, noiseless, low-pressure steamer about the size of a
sewing machine. It was called the Silvoo Play, I think.
The fare was thirty centimes--or, say, three cents. After paying my fare
and finding that I still had money left, I lunched at St. Cloud in the
open air at a trifling expense. I then took a bottle of milk from my
pocket and quenched my thirst. Traveling through France one finds that
the water is especially bad, tasting of the Dauphin at times, and
dangerous in the extreme. I advise those, therefore, who wish to be well
whilst doing the Continent, to carry, especially in France, as I did, a
large, thick-set bottle of milk, or kumiss, with which to take the wire
edge off one's whistle whilst being yanked through the Louvre.
St. Cloud is seven miles west of the center of Paris and almost ten
miles by rail on the road to Versailles--pronounced Vairsi. St. Cloud
belongs to the canton of Sevres and the arrondissement of Versailles. An
arrondissement is not anything reprehensible. It is all right. You,
yourself, could belong to an arrondissement if you lived in France.
St. Cloud is on the beautiful hill slope, looking down the valley of the
Seine, with Paris in the distance. It is peaceful and quiet and
beautiful. Everything is peaceful in Paris when there is no revolution
on the carpet. The steam cars run safely and do not make so much noise
as ours do. The steam whistle does not have such a hold on people as it
does here. The adjutant-general at the depot blows a little tin bugle,
the admiral of the train returns the salute, the adjutant-general says
"Allons!" and the train starts off like a somewhat leisurely young man
who is going to the depot to meet his wife's mother.
One does not realize what a Fourth of July racket we live in and employ
in our business till he has been the guest of a monarchy of Europe,
between whose toes the timothy and clover have sprung up to a great
height. And yet it is a pleasing change, and I shall be glad when we as
a republic have passed the blow-hard period, laid aside the
ear-splitting steam whistle, settled down to good, permanent
institutions, and taken on the restful, soothful, Boston air which comes
with time and the quiet self-congratulation that one is born in a Bible
land and with Gospel privileges, and where the right to worship in a
strictly high-church manner is open to all.
The Palace of St. Cloud was once the residence of Napoleon I in
summer-time. He used to go out there for the heated term, and folding
his arms across his stomach, have thought after thought regarding the
future of France. Yet he very likely never had an idea that some day it
would be a thrifty republic, engaged in growing green peas, or pulling a
soiled dove out of the Seine, now and then, to add to the attractions of
her justly celebrated morgue.
Louis XVIII also put up at the Palace in St. Cloud several summers. He
spelled it "palais," which shows that he had very poor early English
advantages, or that he was, as I have always suspected, a native of
Quebec. Charles X also changed the bedding somewhat, and moved in during
his reign. He also added a new iron sink and a place in the barn for
washing buggies. Louis Philippe spent his summers here for a number of
years, and wrote weekly letters to the Paris papers, signed "Uno," in
which he urged the taxpayers to show more veneration for their royal
nibs. Napoleon III occupied the palais in summer during his lifetime,
availing himself finally of the use of Mr. Bright's justly celebrated
disease and dying at the dawn of better institutions for beautiful but
I visited the palais (pronounced pallay), which was burned by the
Prussians in 1870. The grounds occupy 960 acres, which I offered to buy
and fit up, but probably I did not deal with responsible parties. This
part of France reminds me very much of North Carolina. I mean, of
course, the natural features. Man has done more for France, it seems to
me, than for the Tar Heel State, and the cities of Asheville and Paris
are widely different. The police of Paris rarely get together in front
of the court-house to pitch horseshoes or dwell on the outlook for the
And yet the same blue, ozonic sky, if I may be allowed to coin a word,
the same soft, restful, dolce frumenti air of gentle, genial health,
and of cark destroying, magnetic balm to the congested soul, the
inflamed nerve and the festering brain, are present in Asheville that
one finds in the quiet drives of San Cloo with the successful squirt of
the mighty fountains of Vairsi and the dark and whispering forests of
The palais at San Cloo presents a rather dejected appearance since it
was burned, and the scorched walls are bare, save where here and there a
warped and wilted water pipe festoons the blackened and blistered wreck
of what was once so grand and so gay.
San Cloo has a normal school for the training of male teachers only. I
visited it, but for some cause I did not make a hit in my address to the
pupils until I began to speak in their own national tongue. Then the
closest attention was paid to what I said, and the keenest delight was
manifest on every radiant face. The president, who spoke some English,
shook hands with me as we parted, and I asked him how the students took
my remarks. He said: "They shall all the time keep the thinkness--what
you shall call the recollect--of monsieur's speech in preserves, so that
they shall forget it not continualle. We shall all the time say we have
not witness something like it since the time we come here, and have not
so much enjoy ourselves since the grand assassination by the guillotine.
Come next winter and be with us for one week. Some of us will remain in
the hall each time."
At San Cloo I hired of a quiet young fellow about thirty-five years of
age, who kept a very neat livery stable there, a sort of victoria and a
big Percheron horse, with fetlock whiskers that reminded me of the
Sutherland sisters. As I was in no hurry I sat on the iron settee in the
cool court of the livery stable, and with my arm resting on the shoulder
of the proprietor I spoke of the crops and asked if generally people
about there regarded the farmer movement as in any way threatening to
the other two great parties. He did not seem to know, and so I watched
the coachman who was to drive me, as he changed his clothes in order to
give me my money's worth in grandeur.
One thing I liked about France was that the people were willing, at a
slight advance on the regular price, to treat a very ordinary man with
unusual respect and esteem. This surprised and delighted me beyond
measure, and I often told people there that I did not begrudge the
additional expense. The coachman was also hostler, and when the carriage
was ready he altered his attire by removing a coarse, gray shirt or
tunic and putting on a long, olive green coachman's coat, with erect
linen collar and cuffs sewed into the collar and sleeves. He wore a high
hat that was much better than mine, as is frequently the case with
coachmen and their employers. My coachman now gives me his silk hat when
he gets through with it in the spring and fall, so I am better dressed
than I used to be.
But we were going to say a word regarding the porcelain works at Sevres.
It is a modern building and is under government control. The museum is
filled with the most beautiful china dishes and funny business that one
could well imagine. Besides, the pottery ever since its construction has
retained its models, and they, of course, are worthy of a day's study.
The "Sevres blue" is said to be a little bit bluer than anything else in
the known world except the man who starts a nonpareil paper in a pica
I was careful not to break any of these vases and things, and thus
endeared myself to the foreman of the place. All employes are uniformed
and extremely deferential to recognized ability. Practically, for half a
day, I owned the place.
A cattle friend of mine who was looking for a dynasty, whose tail he
could twist while in Europe, and who used often to say over our glass of
vin ordinaire (which I have since learned is not the best brand at all),
that nothing would tickle him more than "to have a little deal with a
crowned head and get him in the door," accidentally broke a blue crock
out there at Sevres which wouldn't hold over a gallon, and it took the
best part of a carload of cows to pay for it, he told me.
The process of making the Sevres ware is not yet published in book form,
especially the method of coloring and enameling. It is a secret
possessed by duly authorized artists. The name of the town is pronounced
Mme. Pompadour is said to have been the natural daughter of a butcher,
which I regard as being more to her own credit than though she had been
an artificial one. Her name was Jeanne Antoinette Poisson Le Normand
d'Etioles, Marchioness de Pompadour, and her name is yet used by the
authorities of Versailles as a fire escape, so I am told.
She was the mistress of Louis XV, who never allowed her to put her hands
in dishwater during the entire time she visited at his house. D'Etioles
was her first husband, but she left him for a gay but rather
reprehensible life at court, where she was terribly talked about, though
she is said not to have cared a cent.
She developed into a marvelous politician, and early seeing that the
French people were largely governed by the literary lights of that time,
she began to cultivate the acquaintance of the magazine writers, and
tried to join the Authors' Club.
She then became prominent by originating a method of doing up the hair,
which has since grown popular among people whose hair has not, like my
own, been already "done up."
This style of Mme. Pompadour's was at once popular with the young men
who ran the throttles of the soda fountains of that time, and is still
well spoken of. A young friend of mine trained his hair up from his
forehead in that way once and could not get it down again. During his
funeral his hair, which had been glued down by the undertaker, became
surprised at something said by the clergyman and pushed out the end of
The king tired in a few years of Mme. Pompadour and wished that he had
not encouraged her to run away from her husband. She, however, retained
her hold upon the blase and alcoholic monarch by her wonderful
versatility and genius.
When all her talents as an artiste and politician palled upon his old
rum-soaked and emaciated brain, and ennui, like a mighty canker, ate
away large corners of his moth-eaten soul, she would sit in the gloaming
and sing to him, "Hard Times, Hard Times, Come Again No More," meantime
accompanying herself on the harpsichord or the sackbut or whatever they
played in those days. Then she instituted theatricals, giving, through
the aid of the nobility, a very good version of "Peck's Bad Boy" and
"Lend Me Five Centimes."
She finally lost her influence over Looey the XV, and as he got to
be an old man the thought suddenly occurred to him to reform, and
so he had Mme. Pompadour beheaded at the age of forty-two years.
This little story should teach us that no matter how gifted we are,
or how high we may wear our hair, our ambitions must be tempered
by honor and integrity; also that pride goeth before destruction
and a haughty spirit before a plunk.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~