Mou Dieu! how amusing it is to see people enjoying themselves!
If you want to enjoy this spectacle, go to the Universal Exhibition at the hour when there are the most people, and there, on the side of the rue de Lorraine, you will see face to face how far the candour of the most spiritual people on earth can go.
In this place, not far from the shop windows where the luxury of dolls is displayed, in the centre of a crossroads, rises a rock on which fantasy has grouped a goat, a hare beating a drum, a shepherd playing a blowpipe, a bunting and other small characters borrowed from the animal or fantastic kingdom.
An ingenious mechanism moves these good people and these good little animals. The hare beats the drum with great blows of his sticks, the shepherd blows with all his lungs into his instrument, the goat grazes, bleats, and shakes its horned head, and there is then an unparalleled joy in the gallery.
At the first blow of the stick that makes the donkey skin of the drum snore, the crowd comes running; at the first whistle of the chanter, they are ecstatic. One by one the enthusiasm grows, the machine gallery is deserted, the squadron of cars loses its admirers, even the English pastry shop is abandoned: everyone, mouth agape, rushes around the rock, and traffic is forbidden.
If only there were children there!
But no! they are only voters and eligible, as big as father and mother.
This spectacle is repeated thirty times a day and always with the same success.
How young we are in Paris!
And then the sceptics will come and tell us that there are only blasé people left in France!
Let's take them back to the rock!
This honest rock which has given such a lively spring to the impulse of contemporary naivety is situated not far from the compartments reserved for toys.
Here again there is that pure feeling of candour which delights honest souls.
In one of the shops, where the newest products of the children's industry are displayed, there is a bird in a cage. At first sight it seems quite simple.
Wait a moment; a gentleman pushes a spring and suddenly the bird flaps its wings, wags its head and tail in rhythm, and sings.
Suddenly everyone comes running and everyone swoons.
It is as if it were the first time that a mechanical bird had been heard singing in a cage with gold latticework.
My God!" asked a lady to the master of the bird, "what kind of bird is this?
- It is a hummingbird, madam.
- And that song it makes, that delightful song, is no doubt its natural song.
- Yes, madam, it is the song of its homeland. "
And the lady, at the height of her happiness, retires happy and proud to have heard the song of the hummingbird that does not sing.
All around the shop windows are the toys that make children happy and families restful. In these matters it is difficult to invent much, and highly educated scholars even claim that the little Greeks and Romans, before they were called Alcibiades or Manlius, had more or less the same toys for amusement as the little Parisians of today.
The Egyptians, contemporaries of Pharaoh, had bunting and the Etruscans had wooden horses. As for the Japanese, they have trumpets which, dedicated to the amusements of youth, make no less noise than ours.
There is therefore a complete collection of all those toys which bring so many tears or bursts of laughter, depending on whether they are granted or denied to childhood: harlequins, animals, weapons of war, panoplies, regiments, parks, camps, hunts, boats, musical instruments, herds, villages, spinning tops, marmosets, what have you, everything that leads man from the cradle to the college.
Among all these things, some have a make, a style, an aspect that almost brings them closer to a work of art. Thus, for example, I saw in the window of the Giroux house, a cohort of Roman soldiers escorting a chariot filled with weapons and camping objects, which seem to be on the march for the conquest of Gaul. The attitude, the movement, the gesture, the expression of the physiognomy of these rough men of war, who hold the lance and the sword, are well studied and well rendered. There is life in these small bodies.
Nearby are Gauls, Franks, and barbarians dressed in their fierce armour and helmets bristling with wolf heads, with axes or framed weapons in their fists. They are ready for distant expeditions, for battle; the wagons, harnessed to strong oxen, are loaded. One would almost want to have these figures near one, when one reads the history of Caesar.
And what beautiful cavalry and infantry regiments in their boxes! They reminded me of the distant times when I led armies of small soldiers into battle and my artillery decimated them with machine-gun fire. How many Prussians I destroyed in these encounters! The little schoolchildren of the Berlin colleges were no doubt grateful to me!
I confess in passing that I have no predilection, no taste even for mechanical toys. They require too much care and too many precautions. You mustn't give children anything complicated.
Toys should be played with. If they are clockwork objects, good night.
From this point of view, I would like to address a reproach to a large number of modern toys. They are too perfect, and we no longer dare to use them because we are afraid of breaking them. Perhaps it should be remembered that not all children, even the wisest, are sons of princes, and that most of them do not have the budget to serve them.
But there you have it! Luxury has its contagion. The little girls wanted dolls with mounted houses; the little boys needed racehorses, dog-carts, station wagons, jockeys, and you will see that they will ask for Miss Isabelle the flower girl.
P. S. They already have her!
The other day, while walking through the Exhibition, I happened to meet a little girl who was crying her eyes out.
I have the honour of knowing this little girl, who may well be three feet six inches high.
My first movement was to embrace her. That is always the first thing to do with children. After that:
What's the matter?" I said to her.
- If I were a doll, I would have all sorts of beautiful things!
- That is the great secret!" said the mother to me.
I have been trying in vain to console her for an hour now, and nothing has helped!
- Ah, God! not to be a doll! what a misfortune!" cried the child again, crying over her wimple.
- Is that all! Wait a little.... it's a question of time.... I said to her.... First you start out as a little girl, that's the rule, then when you've been
Then, when you've been a good girl, an enchanter comes who is called a husband, and he gives you all those beautiful things that dolls have.
- All of them?
- All of them and more. "
The child jumped on my neck; I had my reward. But my curiosity was aroused by this great despair which was raining so many tears on a brand new toilet, so I turned my attention to the dolls.
Their kingdom is not difficult to find. If need be, the crowd would serve as a guide. All around the windows that contain these pretty people, there are always hundreds of curious people. The little ones climb on the shoulders of the older ones, the mothers hold their daughters in their arms and this makes a living rampart of brown and blond heads, curly hair and pink mouths from which a thousand exclamations come out.
I had a moment of hallucination, and it seemed to me that I had entered the kingdom of the fairies.
On second thoughts it is not even clear to me that a famous magician has not reduced a certain number of great Parisian women to the state of dolls and locked them up under glass, as Asmodeus once did in his bottle, as a punishment for some petty sins whose memory has been lost in the cackling of the salons.
Only so as not to awaken anyone, this magician who was once called Parafaragaramus or Merlin, is now called Huret or Théronde.
Doesn't it seem to you that only yesterday you greeted these beautiful dolls on the Champs-Elysées, and waltzed with some of them at the last ball of the Minister of State?
Hello, beautiful, marquise, I had the honour of spending four minutes in your dressing room at the Opera last Friday. The African was being performed. Faure sang wonderfully.
Madame la comtesse, if you will allow me, tomorrow evening we shall complete at Mme de R.... the conversation we began the other day at Mme de C...? My God! what a beautiful lace dress you have there!
If we insisted a little, these charming dolls would end up greeting you and answering your questions. But the crowd that presses you does not leave you the time.
Perhaps also the enchanter you know and who has transformed them does not allow it.
Mme Bireux, and you kind mistresses of the Bengali, you have rigours like no other!
For example, if these little Parisian girls kept under cloche, no longer have the gift of speech, - and I imagine that this must bother them horribly, - they have the joy of being dressed by the best dressmakers. Some of them, and this is obvious at first glance, have been shod, dressed and adorned by the most expert tailors.
What dresses and what attitudes! how well they wear the hat that is not seen, and how elegantly they handle the fan! none of them has lost the habits of the most brilliant company, and they have been lavished with the most fashionable costumes.
Madame arrives from the Bois de Boulogne. See, she has not yet had time to take off her burnous.
It is clear that mademoiselle is leaving for the waters of Baden or the waters of Trouville. She has the tudor on her head and the yellow high-heeled boot on her feet.
As for the Duchess, she goes to the ball with practice. The diamonds sparkle around her neck and her long pleated skirt touches the end of the salon. And look! her carriage, harnessed to two burnt-out chestnuts, is there waiting for her. Already the bellboy has pulled down the footboard. There is in this pretty kingdom, which a protective rod protects against all revolutions, a salon whose guests are all at least ambassadors, ministers or chamberlains. The humblest are deputies!
Ah! the beautiful salon!
I don't think that in the Tuileries itself, one sees more embroidery and spit. The beautiful ladies are just like the beautiful gentlemen. It is like being at Madame de Metternich's. The lackeys themselves, who offer refreshments, have a way of presenting the tray that belongs only to people of good breeding. One does not know any better powdered ones.
Not just anyone can enter such a salon!
And this other one, right next door, a family salon this time, which is a pleasure to see Grandmother has just entered, wearing a beautiful cashmere on her shoulders; a young woman glances at her toilet in front of a mirror, and her worried gaze solicits the approval of a young man who examines her. A young woman glances at her toilet in front of a mirror, and her anxious gaze solicits the approval of a young man who examines her. A young girl plays the piano, while a child, a baby, with a belt wider than his, climbs up onto an armchair.
Nothing would surprise me less than to hear the sound of the piano.
For example, one thing delights me and removes all my worries about the future of all these dolls. You only have to look at them to understand that they are millionaires from mother to daughter. The most modest one married a stockbroker Tan last. The most beautiful fabrics and the richest jewel cases are just what they deign to accept.
Now I understand a little the great despair of this little girl whose sobs I was telling you about earlier. Ladies and girls, dolls have everything and anything. They really have nothing to envy Mrs de Rothschild.
A generous foresight had given them everything. Most of them could even start a household this evening. The furniture is there; the cupboards are full of linen and the boxes of jewellery, the wedding basket is full of cashmeres and lace; no one in the Chaussée d'Antin has anything more comfortable: The cabinet de toilette, crates and travelling bags are all ready, the carriage is under the shed, the horses are pawing in the stable, here is the footman and the coachman, there are no objects for the use of the great coquettes that have been forgotten, and if these ladies want to disguise themselves to go to the ball of M. the Minister of the Navy, here is the mask and the domino.
Enchanters have the privilege of such prodigalities!
It seemed that this was not enough.
Now the dolls have their dolls.
And these dolls of the dolls have their cradles, their rattles, their nannies, and their buns!
It is a whole world.
When I told you that there have been blows of the wand in the past!
I assure you, ladies, that if you want to take lessons in coquetry and fine manners, you have only to visit these beautiful people who are not fifteen inches high. They will tell you how to wear a mantelet and how to smile.
You will no doubt reply that you don't need it.
But then a philosophical thought crossed my mind. In the course of the pen, and when it comes to dolls, such puerilities are allowed.
If the amiable little people to whom their mothers and godmothers offer, on Tan's day, these dolls and their trousseau, imagine that it is enough simply to come into the world to have carriages and rubies, satin dresses and gold-embroidered gowns, ruffles of Alençon stitch and muffs of sable, they are preparing for us a singular generation of mothers of families for the future!
But," said a Parisian woman to whom I shared this scruple, "everything depends on the son-in-law!
- You are right, Madame. "
And look at what precaution! not a poor woman among these dolls, not even a worker, no one who works: but by chance, and still it is a concession, here and there a beautiful Cauchoise dressed in lace or some soubrette in a flowered bonnet!
Sir," an economist told me, "if the country of dolls existed, it would be Paradise. "
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée