Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Visiting the Ruins of Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon at Versailles, 1803

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Susan reporting:

The English have always been intrepid travelers, and for hundreds of years, they have eagerly crossed the Channel in search of the enlightenment, entertainment, and edification to be found on the Continent. The 18th c is the heyday of the famous "Grand Tours", that final finishing touch to a young gentleman's education, and not even the hazards of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars could keep the determined tourist in Britain.

One of the more famous travelers of this era was a lawyer-poet-travel-writer named Sir John Carr (1772-1832.) Undeterred by inconvenient current events, he traveled widely throughout Europe in the early 19th c. and wrote a series of travel books that documented his journeys. The books were popular, and sufficiently influential to earn him a knighthood from the Duke of Bedford in Dublin in 1806. Styles in writing change, however, and while his detailed descriptions remain interesting, it's also painfully clear that he believed that no noun or verb should go unmodified, ever, ever.

Still, where else would we find this description of the tattered remains Marie-Antoinette's Petit Trianon at Versailles, which Carr visited less than a decade after her death? This excerpt and the illustration, above, are both from The Stranger in France, published in 1803 – and, if you'd like to read more, it's available on-line free as a Project Gutenberg Ebook here.

    "I approached, with increased delight, the enchanting little palace and grounds of the late queen, distant from Versailles about two miles, called the Petit Trianon, to which she very justly gave the appellation of her "little Palace of Taste." Here, fatigued with the splendours of royalty, she threw aside all its appearances, and gave herself up to the elegant pleasures of rural life. It is a princely establishment in miniature. It consists of a small palace, a chapel, an opera house, out offices and stables, a little park, and pleasure grounds; the later of which are still charming, although the fascinating eye, and tasteful hand of their lovely but too volatile mistress, no longer pervade, cherish, and direct their growth and beauty. By that reverse of fortune, which the revolution has familiarized, the Petit Trianon is let out by the government to a restauranteur. All the rooms but one in this house were preoccupied, on the day of our visit in consequence of which we were obliged to dine in the former little bed room of the queen, where, like the Idalian goddess [Venus], she used to sleep in a suspended basket of roses. The apertures in the ceiling and wainscot, to which the elegant furniture of this little room of repose had once adhere, are still visible.
    "After dinner, we hastened through our coffee, and proceeded to the gardens. After winding through gravelled walks, embowered by the most exquisite and costly shrubs, we entered the elegant temple of Cupid, from which the little favourite of mankind had been unwillingly, and rudely expelled, as appeared by the fragments of his pedestal. 
    "Thy wrongs little god! shall be revenged by thy fair friend Pity. Those who treated thee thus, shall suffer in their turn, and she shall not console them!...."

Above: Ruins of the Queen's Farm-house in the Petit Trianon, Engraving in aqua tint of sketch, published in The Stranger in France, 1803


Sarah said...

Marie Antoinette's herd of Ramboillet Merino sheep helped re-establish the merino as we know it today though the pure Ramboillet does have differences to the Merino.

Chris Woodyard said...

The Petit Trianon has fascinated me since I saw photos of it and the Petit Hameau brought back by my grandfather from the First World War. Although the incident has been largely debunked, two English ladies who visited the Trianon in 1901 believed they went back in time and saw the Petit Trianon as it was in Marie Antoinette's time, complete with gardeners and courtiers in 18th century garb and the Queen herself. Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain wrote about it in a book called "An Adventure", published in 1911. It is full of a romanticized vision of the tragic Queen, the gardens, and the buildings (as seen through the haze of unaccustomed wine at luncheon, as one critic unkindly put it.) It's a shortish book--about 135 pp and it's online here:

Angelyn said...

Love that last quote about the fair friend Pity. Thanks for posting this.

Isobel Carr said...

I’ve read (ok, skimmed, LOL!) several of his travel journals. Google Books also has them posted for free. Great for details and insight into how my characters might have viewed the world.

Hels said...

Love it! Most Grand Tourists were young men, fresh out of school and free to waste a few years on daddy's income. If Sir John Carr was a lawyer-poet-travel-writer and more mature gent, no wonder his insights and writings were more sophisticated. Teenage boys would have been going after other insights.

looloolooweez said...

I count myself very lucky to have been able to visit the Petit Trianon with a group of students. It was truly a lovely little place -- I can't blame the queen for wanting to spend so much time there.

Grace Burrowes said...

Now I must bend my imagination to such tasks as will allow me to use the word "embowered." Anybody can use and overuse "empowered," but a real lawyer-poet-traveler will find a way to work "embowered" into her prose. Great post! Keep 'em coming!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I was intrigued by how romanticized this description was - esp. when it was such a short time after Revolution, and from an Englishman at that.

Chris, thanks for the link to the ebook link - pretty vivid ghost-sighting (or imagination!)

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