A Literary Feast At Versailles

   The gilded ironwork railings are opened onto the large Avenue de Paris which leads directly to the Versailles theatre. Supported by the extremity of part of the railings, a stylish tent has been erected; a large red carpet is spread out over the sand, before the entrance; flowers and roses are scattered over the path. On the threshold, pleasant, smiling and kindly, the Lord of this tranquil abode receives the friends he has invited. An orchestra concealed within a grove murmurs sweet music.
   A gentle slope, sown with green grass, shaded by groves of trees, leads to the theatre that has been laid out in the cool, level part of the gardens. What a marvellous creation, this improvised, "ephemeral", as is written on the frieze, theatre. - Is not everything beautiful, everything good ephemeral? - It has been erected by an artist. It consists of a long rectangle in the shape of a temple, which stands before an atrium with heavy draperies and ends in a small raised stage. The scenery represents a circular colonnade; between the columns can be seen groves and bowers, behind which, perhaps, Mme de La Vallière or Mme de Montespan are about to make their appearance before us.

   The hall is full. And what a hall! Very much "All Paris"!
   Mme la Comtesse Greffulhe, delightfully dressed: her dress is made of pink lilac silk, trimmed with orchids, and covered with silk muslin of the same shade, her hat adorned with orchids and overlaid with lilac-coloured gauze; Mlle Geneviève de Caraman Chimay, Comtesse de Fitz-James, black and white poplin, blue parasol, encrusted with turquoises, Louis XV jabot; Comtesse de Pourtalès, pearl-grey taffeta, sprinkled with dark flowers, pale cuffs, her hat topped with a yellow aigrette, the Duc de Luynes, Comtesse Aimery de La Rochefoucauld, heliotrope crêpe de Chine with black ruche, heliotrope hat; Marquise de Hervey de Saint-Denis, white crêpe, straw hat with white rice and white feathers, alpaca cape with grey embroidery; Comtesse Pierre de Brissac, in a dress with white and yellow stripes, black hat with roses; Duchesse de Gramont, comtesse Adhéaume de Chevigné, Mme Arthur Baignères and M. Baignères, Mme Henri Baignères, Princesse de Chimay, dress of material embroidered with violets and mimosas, black hat with heliotrope bows; Mlles de Heredia, pink muslin dress; comtesse Louis de Montesquiou, in black; vicomtesse de Kergariou, grey crêpe de Chine with hydrangea blue bows, black hat with hydrangea bows; Marquise de Lubersac, ermine cape over a black and white dress; Comtesse Potocka, Mme de Brantes, Princesse de Wagram, Comtesse de Brigode, Marquise de Biencourt, Princesse de Brancovan, in striped dress; Mme Austin Lee, Princesse de Broglie, Comtesse Jean de Montebello, Comtesse de Périgord, silvery grey, iris hat; Mme Arcos, Marquise de Massa, Duchesse d'Albufera, Baron and Baroness Denys Cochin, M. Paul Deschanel, Comte and Comtesse de Lambertye, Comte and Comtesse de Ganay, Comte de Ravignan, Baroness de Poilly, Comte and Comtesse de Janzé, Princesse de Poix, Prince de Sagan, arrived by steam-powered car with Comte de Dion; Comte and Comtesse d'Aramon, Comte de Saint-Phalle, Comte de Gabriac, Comte and Comtesse Bertrand de Montesquiou, Marquis du Lau, Mme Madeleine Lemaire, plum bengaline, pompadour blouse, mauve hat; Mlle Suzette Lemaire, white muslin and yellow satin, black hat strewn with roses; Prince de Lucinge, Vicomtesse de Trédern, Comte and Comtesse de Guerne, Comtesse de Chaponay, Princesse Bibesco, Comtesse de Kersaint, Comtesse de Chevigné, Comtesse de Berkheim, Comte and Comtesse de Chandieu, Marquise de Lur-Saluces, Marquis and Marquise d'Adelsward, Marquis and Marquise de Ganay, M. Joubert, Marquise de Balleroy, Baron de Saint-Amand, Comte de Castellane, M. Charles Ephrussi, M. and Mme Jules Claretie, M. and Mme Francis Magnard, M. and Mme Ganderax, M. and Mme Gervex, M. Rodenbach, M. and Mme Maurice Barrès, Mme Alphonse Daudet, M. and Mme Léon Daudet, M. and Mme Duez, M. and Mme Helleu, Mme Jeanniot, M. and Mme Roger-Jourdain, M. and Mme Jacques Saint-Cère, M. Emile Blavet, M. and Mme Aderer, M. Jean Béraud, Mme Louise Abbéma, M. and Mme Pozzi, M. Henri Simond, MM. Boldini, Tissot, Harancourt, Henri de Régnier, Mme Judith Gautier, M. and Mme de La Gandera, M. and Mme Dubule, M. Aurélien Scholl, M. and Mme Detelbach, M. Dieulafoy, M. de Heredia, comte de Saussine.

   A discreet little bell calls for silence. M. Léon Delafosse sits down at the piano and plays, with the talent we all know he has, a Bach gavotte, A Chopin fantasia, a barcarolle by Rubinstein. M. Yann Nibot follows him; he recites Les Anciens, L'Ouragan, Les Quatre Frères et l'Ella, and this simple, frank, vigorous poetry profoundly moves all his delicate listeners.
   But here is Mlle Reichenberg, utterly gracious, dressed in pale pink, wearing a large hat covered with large pink feathers. We anticipate her with pleasure, because she reads wonderfully François Coppée's Menuet, Verlaine's Mandoline, M. Robert de Montesquiou's madrigal and La Dormeuse by Mme Desbordes-Valmore.

If the child slumbers
He will see the bee,
When it has made its honey,
Dancing between earth and sky.

If the child rests,
A pink angel,
That can only be seen at night
Will come to say "Good night" to him.

If he bellows, if he cries,
Through the furious dawn,
This dear rebellious lamb
Will perhaps be carried off.

Yes, but if he is wise,
Over his sweet face,
The Virgin will stoop
And speak to him for a long time.

   A new enchantment. Mme Sarah Bernhardt, in a long dress of silvery silk, trimmed with a magnificent Venetian guipure; Mlle Bartet, in a white lace skirt and a bodice of cornflower silk muslin, and the appearance of Mlle Reichenberg re-uniting all three. They are welcomed with lengthy applause.
   They recite, with exquisite skill, sharing the stanzas between them, the famous Ode à Versailles, composed by André Chénier after the 10th of August 1792, when, after withdrawing from the struggle, he departed to dream of Versailles. At that time he was in love with Fanny, that is to say Mme Le Coulteux, who lived in Louveciennes:

Oh Versailles, oh woods, oh porticos,
Living marbles, ancient bowers,
Elysium adorned by gods and kings,
To your countenance, in my thoughts,
Like cool dew on parched grass,
A little calm and oblivion flows.

   A short interval, during which M. de Montesquiou's friends admire the little wonders of the garden, the Japanese hot-house, with its rare flowers and pretty little birds, where they gather around the refreshments, laid out in a tent... And the only words one can hear are: "Isn't it charming! ... What a lovely entertainment! ... And what beautiful weather!" Because the sun has joined the party and made the cool dresses resplendent in their pinks, mauves, yellows, lilacs and violets, a sweet caress for the eyes.
The Muse re-establishes her precepts. Once again M. Delafosse is at the piano. This time he performs the musical accompaniments that he himself has composed for M. de Montesquiou's verse, which M. Bagès sings with great feeling.
   Mlle Bartet reappears too, exquisite, extraordinary. She recites Le Parfum impérissable by M. Leconte de Lisle; Le Récif de corail by M. José-Maria de Heredia, a delightful piece by Mlle de Heredia, L'Étang bleu; Le Figuier and Aria by M. Robert de Montesquiou:

... All that is diaphanous
And delicate - and fades:

Canopies' shades
Skeletons of wrens...

Opacity of foliage,
Smoke from village roof-tops.

Not so much opening out
Rather fading away...

But above all, from the tops of elms,
Reflections, echoes of forms.

But again, from the depths of the woods,
Echoes, reflections of Kings.

   Nothing can equal Mlle Bartet's triumph... were it not for Mme Sarah Bernhardt's, who also recited some verses by the master of the house: Salomé, Une romance and Coucher de la morte, one page which will always endure:

One day when she felt that her heart was weary,
Perceiving that it must die from such pain,
She had a coffin fashioned from ebony
And laid with rich cushions inside.

To make them soft, she had them filled
With all the love-letters that had wearied it:
In the bedroom they were brought forth by the armful
And presently the carpet was buried beneath them...

But when she had performed this gesture of acquittal,
This beautiful creature was calmed, dreaming that this day
She would have, for her last night of sleep,
A bed harmonious with murmurs of love...

   It was now time for the author himself to appear, alongside his incomparable interpreters, to receive the enthusiastic applause of the crowd. M. Yann Nibor then re-appeared to recite three more of his works, no less striking than the first. M. Delafosse performs a Liszt rhapsody.
   It is the end. The dream is over. We must return to Paris where the talk is of ministerial announcements, Parliamentary questions and other such things. But with what exquisite memories and with what regret do we leave Versailles, the royal residence, where, for a few hours, we believed we were living in the days of Louis XIV!



First published in Le Gaulois, 31 May 1894.

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