I wonder if base-ball playing agrees with you as well as sight-seeing & parley-vousing does with me…
Asniers, Aug 2, 1870
I wonder if base-ball playing agrees with you as well as sight-seeing & parley-vousing does with me. Except on sea travelling, [it] suits me perfectly. I walk regularly on my tramps around the city [of Paris] four, five, or six miles a day, searching both for what is in the guide book & what is not. I am afraid I shall be in the condition of Rev. Mr. Channing whose lectures I once attended, whom [William Master] Spackman, I believe, once said had learned more than he could systematize & comprehend.
You will take notice that this felicitous state of being is obtained only on land. On sea, it is a little different. I remember how beautiful to me once was the expression “rocked to sleep in the bosom of the billow.” I should like to see the man that uttered such a sentiment & either talk to him or take him or a voyage. I can no longer regard the sea as a sublime deity, throwing up its mighty waves & opening vast caverns disclosing the yellow sands beneath (Virgil). Now I look upon it as a mean sort of element which continually tips one this way & that way, forward & backward, from one side to the other, giving no peace to his brain, nor quiet digestion to his stomach. The whole voyage was just like this. The sea never rolled in such vast billows, or plunged with such force, that one could enter into the spirit of its fury & partake of the impulse, but heaving & swaying just enough & a little more than enough to make everybody feel like turning himself inside out. Poor passengers. Often have I seen ye stagger to the ship’s side & make libation after libation after libation to the sea, thus frightening away all the mermaids &c, or while promenading on the deck, dreadful warnings have filled the ship as some poor wretch in his extremity tried to relieve himself. But below in the cabin, what a noise. Squalls of infants, heart-rending bellowings, deep groans, followed by the noise of a rushing flood thrice repeated. After all there was considerable amusement. Many French people were aboard & the Americans who were abroad also affected the language so that I had a foretaste of La France. Many odd characters displayed themselves & Rich occupied a good part of his time in sketching them. Some of his drawings were very fine. He is now at the Hotel Mirabeau with his Father’s family. In a week or two he will go to Switzerland & return to Boston in the fall as he will study architecture in some office there.
We had a jolly time at Brest. Its magnificent fortifications, fine harbor filled with Monitors & ships of war, its narrow streets, funny shops & comical people, women with their white caps, peasants in their blouses & wooden shoes, soldiers & sailors in great numbers everywhere. We rambled about the town until evening, took the night train for Paris & arrived at the city at four o’clock in the afternoon of the next day, passing on the way the grand Cathedral at Chartres, which I purpose to visit after leaving Paris.
We rode rapidly to the Hotel Mirabeau, passing by the Hotel des Invalides, with its gilded dome, beneath which the remains of Napoleon are entombed, then down the long esplanade, past the Corps Legislatif, over the Seine in the direction of whose length can be seen the towers of Notre Dame (by the way, I shall perhaps send home a few pictures of Paris by Rich, so if you call after his return, Mother will show them to you), then into the Place de la Concorde. These two places, the Tomb of Napoleon & this square are to me the crowning sights of Paris. I do not except even the Louvre, famous & glorious picture gallery though it may be, for stand here in the centre of the Place. Nearby is the famous Obelisk of Luxor over 3,000 years old telling of Egypt’s greatest sovereign, Sesostris. On each side are two magnificent fountains. All around are colossal images representing the different cities of France. Candelabra with designs representing the ancient galleys. Around is a broad grand avenue paved with concrete, while a wide side walk runs around the whole square. Add to this the size of the Square itself. Still more, on one side you look into the gardens of the Tuileries with its grand forest, on the other stretches away in the distance the Champs Elysees, a magnificent avenue with parks on both sides, at last ascending to the Arc de Triumphe. Then remember that in this place stood the guillotine of 1793. To this square hurried the fierce mob from the Faubourg St. Antoine to see the King, Louis XVI, die. Hither came from the Conciergerie, whose towers still remain, Marie Antoinette. Here continually came up the carts laden with the proscribed of Robespierre, Danton & Marat. The whole Revolution again comes up before the mind & one scene of history becomes realized.
In the distance is the gilded dome of Napoleon’s tomb. One enters into what appears to be a vestibule above the great dome, with its frescoes below & just in front is a balustrade. You approach. It surrounds a crypt in which is The Tomb. It is an immense sarcophagus, magnificently polished & resting upon a rectangular mass of dark green stone in a cavity in which lies the body. Around in the pavement is a mosaic-like wreath of bay or laurel from which stream out rays of light. Around are images like Caryatides finely executed. Farther back is a shrine dedicated to Saint-Louis in the shape of a canopy, beneath which is an image of Christ on the cross. I need not say that in such a place as this, one can spend hours. Here one can realize another scene, or group of scenes, & becomes in some sense a hero worshiper. Right or wrong, one cannot but do homage in this place to a man who gave France a national sentiment, an idea of a foremost nationality. Perhaps someday we shall have a treatise with this title, “The Central Idea of the Napoleonic Dynasty.” It would be a grand study, that of this epoch. Perhaps this is nonsense.
Write soon, your friend,
The rates of postage via Havre & via England, I have been told, are different. I have been told via England is best.
R.W. Swaim, Paris, France
Care of John Munroe & Co.
7 Rue Scribe