I know one thing that many people of good taste love above all others, not one, but two, not two even, but three: crystal, porcelain and earthenware.
And I gladly join those who, unable to have many of these graceful products of human industry on their shelves, carry them in their hearts.
For today, if you like, we will only talk about crystal, and it will be around the Baccarat exhibition that we will direct our walk.
It has been said somewhere that the house of the wise man should be made of glass; I don't know, since according to the proverb the wise man sins seven times a day, which is a lot, even for a man; but if this wise man, dreamed of by all philosophies, were to build his house in this way, he would, I imagine, ask for the components in Baccarat.
He would then be given one that would certainly remind him of those famous palaces where fairy tales show us beautiful princesses locked up by the wand of an enchanter. The diamond would not have more fire.
Among all the materials that man has kneaded for his use, I know of none more cheerful than crystal. It delights the eye, it shines in the light of the day, it sparkles in the light of candles, it is the feast of a salon and the joy of a dinner party.
Can you imagine a dinner without glassware and crystals, that is to say without rays? Laughter would not be awakened and melancholy would follow the champagne wine in the glasses.
How then did the Romans sing and rejoice while drinking Falerna wine in gold?
They were Romans!
From this point of view, the Baccarat exhibition is like a huge altar erected in honour of crystal. There is no shortage of worshippers all around.
Of all the industries, crystal is one of the most elegant, one of those which art can embrace with the most complacency, where it can carve out the most extensive empire.
It is art that gives to goblets, vases, ewers, bottles, those exquisite shapes whose pure lines the eyes caress; it is art that traces the design that engraving chisels on the necks, handles, rounded sides of these light works.
To the brilliance of the material, he adds' the perfection of the work.
At first glance, the enclosure reserved for Bacearat's exhibition is like a dazzle. Swirls of sparks emerge from it; they are nothing but fires where all the vivid shades of topaz, ruby, emerald and sapphire shine. In this swarming of lights, it is difficult at first to distinguish shapes and objects.
One will be less astonished when one knows that, suspended in space, or splendidly spread out on the large tables of tinned glass which occupy the centre of the compartment, all these masses of sparks condensed into crystals represent a total value of five hundred thousand francs.
The main piece on display is a monumental fountain which is no less than 7.20 metres high, and whose large basin measures 3 metres in diameter. The form has elegance and majesty; despite its colossal size, this fountain remains light. I don't know what palace awaits its wonders, but one would have to have found Aladdin's lamp to allow oneself such magnificence in the dwellings that Baron Haussmann's activity reserves for us.
If I were a queen or only a princess, I would like to have such fountains for my gardens, under the sunlight, all streaming with water.
But, alas, not everyone is a queen, especially when you are a journalist!
Next to this fountain are chandeliers of a charming, if immense, design.
They are made of white crystal cut into a thousand facets. The light of the candles must break into a thousand silver flakes and spread everywhere like burning snow.
Not every room is suitable for them, but rest assured, there are other chandeliers within reach of every salon. Crystal, too, has its democracy. It is not only for kings on a trip or bankers on a walk. It allows the cheap to approach it.
Not far from the fountain you know, there are two vases that would nobly appear in the home of a nabob. They have a height of 1m,60 cent, (the size of a flier), and handles of 70 cent.
So much for strength and power; such pieces give the measure of what the Baccarat factory can do: grace, elegance, even coquetry, if this attribute of feminine things can be applied to crystal, have their share largely done alongside.
I know there are services engraved and finely illustrated with delicate designs, which seem to be made for the most amiable daughters of Eve. It seems as if the breath of a spirit has kneaded the shapes and traced the§ arabesques. It seems lighter than air.
They enhance the rubies of Clos-Vougeot wine and the quivering topazes of Aï wine.
Other opulent services of solid crystal cut into diamond points accompany them, as well as seasoned troops next to brilliant squadrons.
Between all these products of the same industry are displayed vases, urns, ewers, boxes in opaque or coloured crystal, these milky or greenish, these purple or yellow, blue or golden.
Some are loaded with figures with landscapes, and others are enhanced with engravings whose transparency stands out against the coloured background.
Some people rave about these products; generally these raves come from far away, not only from the province, but also from abroad; some have even crossed the seas to make an explosion.
Well, I will be frank about my opinion.
I do not like opaque crystal, which claims to follow in the footsteps of porcelain, which it will not replace, in spite of imprudent efforts, and I do not like either these coloured glasses which are displayed in jardinières, in boxes, in torches, in flowerpots with a luxury of shades which has nothing to envy to the rainbow.
My sympathy lies with white crystal, the crystal that is limpid and pure, a friend of light. The ray is more at ease there and the drawing rests there with more finesse and sharpness.
But I will no doubt be objected to the fact that industry has its necessities and that before imposing the laws of the most delicate taste, it must consult that of the people to whom it addresses its most numerous products.
I have no choice but to bow to this view.
Mustn't everyone live! Especially an industry that supports so many thousands of workers grouped around the same establishment?
If space permitted, we would tell you what this magnificent establishment in Baccarat is, one of the largest and most complete in Lorraine, and which employs no less than 1740 workers; We would also tell you what bonds of trust and, in a way, of mutual adoption unite the directors and the workers, what order and prosperity reign in this vast factory where everything is arranged for the well-being of those it employs; but a newspaper has its requirements and, in spite of my love for crystal, I must stop here an article which will not even last as long as a fragile glass.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée