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My health was never good at Chelsea, and as I had been working too hard, I became so ill, that change of air and scene were thought absolutely necessary for me. We went accordingly to Paris; partly, because it was near home, as Somerville could not remain long with us at a time, and, partly, because we thought it a good opportunity to give masters to the girls, which we could not afford to do in London. When we arrived, I was so weak, that I always remained in bed writing till one o’clock, and then, either went to sit in the Tuileries gardens, or else received visits. All my old friends came to see me, Arago, the first. He was more engaged in politics than science, and as party spirit ran very high at that time, he said he would send tickets of admission to the Chambers every time there was likely to be an “orage.” When I told him what I was writing, he gave me some interesting memoirs, and lent me a mass of manuscripts, with leave to make extracts, which were very useful to me. General de La Fayette came to town on purpose to invite Somerville and me to visit him at La Grange, where we found him living like a patriarch, surrounded by his family to the fourth generation. He was mild, highly distinguished, and noble in his manners; his conversation was exceedingly interesting, as he readily spoke of the Revolution in which he had taken so active a part. Among other anecdotes, he mentioned, that he had sent the principal key of the Bastile to General Washington, who kept it under a glass case. He was much interested to hear that I could, in some degree, claim a kind of relationship with Washington, whose mother was a Fairfax. Baron Fairfax, the head of the family, being settled in America, had joined the independent party at the Revolution.

The two daughters of La Fayette, who had been in prison with him at Olmuetz, were keen politicians, and discussed points with a warmth of gesticulation which amused Somerville and me, accustomed to our cold still manners. The grand-daughters, Mesdames de Remusat and de Corcelles, were kind friends to me all the time I was in Paris.

M. Bouvard, whom we had known in London, was now Astronomer-Royal of France, and he invited us to dine with him at the Observatory. The table was surrounded by savants, who complimented me on the “Mechanism of the Heavens.” I sat next M. Poisson, who advised me in the strongest manner to write a second volume, so as to complete the account of La Place’s works; and he afterwards told Somerville, that there were not twenty men in France who could read my book. M. Arago, who was of the party, said, he had not written to thank me for my book, because he had been reading it, and was busy preparing an account of it for the Journal of the Institute. At this party, I made the acquaintance of the celebrated astronomer, M. Pontecoulant, and soon after, of M. La Croix, to whose works I was indebted for my knowledge of the highest branches of mathematics. M. Prony, and M. Poinsot, came to visit me, the latter, an amiable and gentlemanly person; both gave me a copy of their works.

We had a long visit from M. Biot, who seemed really glad to renew our old friendship. He was making experiments on light, though much out of health; but when we dined with him and Madame Biot, he forgot for the time his bad health, and resumed his former gaiety. They made us promise to visit them at their country-house when we returned to England, as it lay on our road.

To my infinite regret, La Place had been dead some time; the Marquise was still at Arcueil, and we went to see her. She received us with the greatest warmth, and devoted herself to us the whole time we were in Paris. As soon as she came to town, we went to make a morning visit; it was past five o’clock; we were shown into a beautiful drawing-room, and the man-servant, without knocking at the door, went into the room which was adjacent, and we heard her call out, “J’irai la voir! j’irai la voir!” and when the man-servant came out, he said, “Madame est desolee, maïs elle est en chemise.” Madame de La Place was exceedingly agreeable, the life of every party, with her cheerful gay manner. She was in great favour with the Royal Family, and was always welcome when she went to visit them in an evening. She received once a week, and her grand-daughter, only nineteen, lovely and graceful, was an ornament to her parties. She was already married to M. de Colbert, whose father fell at Corunna.

No one was more attentive to me than Dr. Milne-Edwards, the celebrated natural historian. He was the first Englishman who was elected a member of the Institute. I was indebted to him for the acquaintance of MM. Ampere and Becquerel. I believe Dr. Edwards was at that time writing on Physiology, and, in conversation, I happened to mention that the wild ducks in the fens, at Lincolnshire, always build their nests on high tufts of grass, or reeds, to save them from sudden floods; and that Sir John Sebright had raised wild ducks under a hen, which built their nests on tufts of grass as if they had been in the fens. Dr. Edwards begged of me to inquire for how many generations that instinct lasted.

Monsieur and Madame Gay Lussac lived in the Jardin des Plantes. Madame was only twenty-one, exceedingly pretty, and well-educated; she read English and German, painted prettily, and was a musician. She told me it had been computed, that if all the property in France were equally divided among the population, each person would have 150 francs a-year, or four sous per day; so that if anyone should spend eight sous a-day, some other person would starve.

The Duchesse de Broglie, Madame de Stael’s daughter, called, and invited us to her receptions, which were the most brilliant in Paris. Every person of distinction was there, French or foreign, generally four or five men to one woman. The Duchess was a charming woman, both handsome and amiable, and received with much grace. The Duke was, then, Minister for Foreign Affairs. They were remarkable for their domestic virtues, as well as for high intellectual cultivation. The part the Duke took in politics is so well known, that I need not allude to it here.

At some of these parties I met with Madame Charles Dupin, whom I liked much. When I went to return her visit, she received us in her bedroom. She was a fashionable and rather elegant woman, with perfect manners. She invited us to dinner to meet her brother-in-law, the President of the Chamber of Deputies. He was animated and witty, very fat, and more ugly than his brother, but both were clever and agreeable. The President invited me to a very brilliant ball he gave, but as it was on a Sunday I could not accept the invitation. We went one evening with Madame Charles Dupin to be introduced to Madame de Rumford. Her first husband, Lavoisier, the chemist, had been guillotined at the Revolution, and she was now a widow, but had lived long separated from her second husband. She was enormously rich, and had a magnificent palace, garden, and conservatory, in which she gave balls and concerts. At all the evening parties in Paris the best bedroom was lighted up for reception like the other rooms. Madame de Rumford was capricious and ill-tempered; however, she received me very well, and invited me to meet a very large party at dinner. Mr. Fenimore Cooper, the American novelist, with his wife and daughter, were among the guests. I found him extremely amiable and agreeable, which surprised me, for when I knew him in England he was so touchy that it was difficult to converse with him without giving him offence. He was introduced to Sir Walter Scott by Sir James Mackintosh, who said, in presenting him, “Mr. Cooper, allow me to introduce you to your great forefather in the art of fiction”; “Sir,” said Cooper, with great asperity, “I have no forefather.” Now, though his manners were rough, they were quite changed. We saw a great deal of him, and I was frequently in his house, and found him perfectly liberal; so much so, that he told us the faults of his country with the greatest frankness, yet he was the champion of America, and hated England.

None were kinder to us than Lord and Lady Granville. Lady Granville invited us to all her parties; and when Somerville was obliged to return to England, she assured him that in case of any disturbance, we should find a refuge in the Embassy. I went to some balls at the Tuileries with Madame de Lafayette Lasteyrie and her sister. The Queen Amelie was tall, thin, and very fair, not pretty, but infinitely more regal than Adelaide, Queen of England, at that time. The Royal Family used to walk about in the streets of Paris without any attendants.

Sir Sydney Smith was still in Paris trying to renew the order of the Knights Templars. Somerville and I went with him one evening to a reception at the Duchesse d’Abrantes, widow of Junot. She was short, thick, and not in the least distinguished-looking, nor in any way remarkable. I had met her at the Duchesse de Broglie’s, where she talked of Junot as if he had been in the next room. Sir Sydney was quite covered with stars and crosses, and I was amused with the way he threw his cloak back to display them as he handed me to the carriage.

I met with Prince Kosloffsky everywhere; he was the fattest man I ever saw, a perfect Falstaff. However, his intellect was not smothered, for he would sit an hour with me talking about mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and what not. He was banished from Russia, and as he had been speaking imprudently about politics in Paris, he was ordered to go elsewhere; still, he lingered on, and was with me one morning when Pozzo di Borgo, the Russian Ambassador called. Pozzo di Borgo said to me, “Are you aware that Prince Kosloffsky has left Paris?” “Oh yes,” I said, “I regret it much.” He took the hint, and went away directly.

I had hitherto been entirely among the Liberal set. How it came that I was invited to dine with M. Hericourt de Thury, I do not remember. M. de Thury was simple in his manners, and full of information; he had been Director of the Mines under Napoleon, and had charge of the Public Buildings under Louis XVIII. and Charles X., but resigned his charges at the Revolution of July. At this time the Duchesse de Berry was confined in the citadel of Blaye. She had a strong party in Paris, who furiously resented the treatment she met with. M. de Thury was a moderate Légitimiste, but Madame was ultra. When I happened to mention that we had been staying with Lafayette, at La Grange, she was horrified, and begged of me not to talk politics, or mention where we had been, or else some of her guests would leave the room. The ladies of that party would not dance or go to any gay party; they had a part of the theatre reserved for themselves; they wore high dark dresses with long sleeves, called “Robes de Resistance,” and even the Légitimiste newspapers appeared with black edges. They criticised those who gave balls, and Lady Granville herself did not escape their censure. The marriage of the Duchesse de Berry to the Marchese Lucchesi Palli made an immense sensation; it was discussed in the salons in a truly French manner; it was talked of in the streets; the Robes de Resistance were no longer worn, and the Légitimiste newspapers went out of mourning.

All parties criticised the British Administration in Ireland. A lady sitting by me at a party said, “No wonder so many English prefer France to so odious a country as England, where the people are oppressed, and even cabbages are raised in hotbeds.” I laughed, and said, “I like England very well, for all that.” An old gentleman, who was standing near us, said, “Whatever terms two countries may be on, it behoves us individuals to observe good manners;” and when I went away, this gentleman handed me to the carriage, though I had never seen him before.

The Marquise de La Place was commissioned by Dr. Majendie to invite me to meet her and Madame Gay Lussac at dinner. I was very unwilling to go; for I detested the man for his wanton cruelties, but I found I could not refuse on account of these ladies. There was a large party of savants, agreeable and gentlemanly; but Majendie himself had the coarsest manners; his conversation was horridly professional; many things were said and subjects discussed not fit for women to hear. What a contrast the refined and amiable Sir Charles Bell formed with Majendie! Majendie and the French school of anatomy made themselves odious by their cruelty, and failed to prove the true anatomy of the brain and nerves, while Sir Charles Bell did succeed, and thus made one of the greatest physiological discoveries of the age without torturing animals, which his gentle and kindly nature abhorred. To Lady Bell I am indebted for a copy of her husband’s Life. She is one of my few dear and valued friends who are still alive.

While in Paris, I lost my dear mother. She died at the age of ninety, attended by my brother Henry. She was still a fine old lady, with few grey hairs. The fear of death was almost hereditary in the Charters family, and my mother possessed it in no small degree; yet when it came, she was perfectly composed and prepared for it. I have never had that fear; may God grant that I may be as calm and prepared as she was.

I was in better health, but still so delicate that I wrote in bed till one o’clock. The “Connexion of the Physical Sciences” was a tedious work, and the proof sheets had to be sent through the Embassy.

M. Arago told me that David, the sculptor, wished to make a medallion of me; so he came and sat an hour with me, and pleased me by his intelligent conversation and his enthusiasm for art. A day was fixed, and he took my profile on slate with pink wax, in a wonderfully short time. He made me a present of a medallion in bronze, nicely framed, and two plaster casts for my daughters.

I frequently went to hear the debates in the Chambers, and occasionally took my girls, as I thought it was an excellent lesson in French. As party spirit ran very high, the scenes that occurred were very amusing. A member, in the course of his speech, happening to mention the word “liberté,” the President Dupin rang the bell, called out “Stop, a propos de liberté,” ... jumped down from his seat, sprung into the tribune, pushed out the deputy, and made a long speech himself.

The weather being fine, we made excursions in the neighbourhood. At Sèvres I saw two pieces of china; on one of them was a gnu, on the other a zebra. Somerville had told me that soon after his return from his African expedition, he had given the original drawings to M. Brongniart then director of the manufactory.

Baron Louis invited me to spend a day with him and his niece, Mademoiselle de Rigny, at his country house, not far from Paris. I went with Madame de la Place, and we set out early, to be in time for breakfast. The road lay through the Forest of Vincennes. The Baron’s park, which was close to the village of Petit-Brie, was very large, and richly wooded; there were gardens, hot-houses, and all the luxuries of an English nobleman’s residence. The house was handsome, with a magnificent library; I remarked on the table the last numbers of the “Edinburgh” and “Quarterly” Reviews. Both the Baron and his niece were simple and kind. I was greatly taken with both; the Baron had all the quiet elegance of the old school, and his niece had great learning and the manners of a woman of fashion. She lived in perfect retirement, having suffered much in the time of the Revolution. They had both eventful lives; for Baron Louis, who had been in orders, and Talleyrand officiated at the Champs de Mars when Louis the Sixteenth took the oath to maintain the constitution. Field-Marshal Macdonald, Duc de Tarante, and his son-in-law, the Duc de Massa; Admiral de Rigny, Minister of Marine; M. Barthe, Garde des Sceaux; and the Bouvards, father and son, formed the party. After spending a most delightful and interesting day, we drove to Paris in bright moonlight.

Our friends in Paris and at La Grange had been so kind to us that we were very sad when we went to express our gratitude and take leave of them. We only stayed two days at La Grange, and when we returned to Paris, Somerville went home and my son joined us, when we made a rapid tour in Switzerland, the only remarkable event of which was a singular atmospheric phenomenon we saw on the top of the Grimsel. On the clouds of vapour below us we saw our shadows projected, of giant proportions, and each person saw his own shadow surrounded by a bright circle of prismatic colours. It is not uncommon in mountain regions.

[General Lafayette and all his family were extremely kind to my mother. He was her constant visitor, and we twice visited him at his country house, La Grange. He wished to persuade my mother to go there for some days, after our return from Switzerland, which we did not accomplish. The General wrote the following letter to my father: ]


LA GRANGE, 31st October, 1833.


I waited to answer your kind letter, for the arrival of Mr. Coke’s precious gift, which nobody could higher value, on every account, than the grateful farmer on whom it has been bestowed. The heifers and bull are beautiful; they have reached La Grange in the best order, and shall be tenderly attended to.... It has been a great disappointment not to see Mrs. Somerville and the young ladies before their departure. Had we not depended on their kind visit, we should have gone to take leave of them. They have had the goodness to regret the impossibility to come before their departure. Be so kind as to receive the affectionate friendship and good wishes of a family who are happy in the ties of mutual attachment that bind us to you and them.... Public interest is now fixed upon the Peninsula, and while dynasties are at civil war, and despotic or juste milieu cabinets seem to agree in the fear of a genuine development of popular institutions, the matter for the friends of freedom is to know how far the great cause of Europe shall be forwarded by these royal squabbles.

We shall remain at La Grange until the opening of the session, hoping that, notwithstanding your and the ladies’ absence, your attention will not be quite withdrawn from our interior affairs the sympathy shall be reciprocal.

With all my heart, I am
Your affectionate friend,