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  • BOOK THIRD. CHAPTER I.

  • NOTRE-DAME.

  • The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice.

  • But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh,

  • not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and

  • men have both caused the venerable monument

  • to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip

  • Augustus, who laid the last.

  • On the face of this aged queen of our cathedrals, by the side of a wrinkle, one

  • always finds a scar.

  • Tempus edax, homo edacior; which I should be glad to translate thus: time is blind,

  • man is stupid.

  • If we had leisure to examine with the reader, one by one, the diverse traces of

  • destruction imprinted upon the old church, time's share would be the least, the share

  • of men the most, especially the men of art,

  • since there have been individuals who assumed the title of architects during the

  • last two centuries.

  • And, in the first place, to cite only a few leading examples, there certainly are few

  • finer architectural pages than this facade, where, successively and at once, the three

  • portals hollowed out in an arch; the

  • broidered and dentated cordon of the eight and twenty royal niches; the immense

  • central rose window, flanked by its two lateral windows, like a priest by his

  • deacon and subdeacon; the frail and lofty

  • gallery of trefoil arcades, which supports a heavy platform above its fine, slender

  • columns; and lastly, the two black and massive towers with their slate penthouses,

  • harmonious parts of a magnificent whole,

  • superposed in five gigantic stories;-- develop themselves before the eye, in a

  • mass and without confusion, with their innumerable details of statuary, carving,

  • and sculpture, joined powerfully to the

  • tranquil grandeur of the whole; a vast symphony in stone, so to speak; the

  • colossal work of one man and one people, all together one and complex, like the

  • Iliads and the Romanceros, whose sister it

  • is; prodigious product of the grouping together of all the forces of an epoch,

  • where, upon each stone, one sees the fancy of the workman disciplined by the genius of

  • the artist start forth in a hundred

  • fashions; a sort of human creation, in a word, powerful and fecund as the divine

  • creation of which it seems to have stolen the double character,--variety, eternity.

  • And what we here say of the facade must be said of the entire church; and what we say

  • of the cathedral church of Paris, must be said of all the churches of Christendom in

  • the Middle Ages.

  • All things are in place in that art, self- created, logical, and well proportioned.

  • To measure the great toe of the foot is to measure the giant.

  • Let us return to the facade of Notre-Dame, as it still appears to us, when we go

  • piously to admire the grave and puissant cathedral, which inspires terror, so its

  • chronicles assert: quoe mole sua terrorem incutit spectantibus.

  • Three important things are to-day lacking in that facade: in the first place, the

  • staircase of eleven steps which formerly raised it above the soil; next, the lower

  • series of statues which occupied the niches

  • of the three portals; and lastly the upper series, of the twenty-eight most ancient

  • kings of France, which garnished the gallery of the first story, beginning with

  • Childebert, and ending with Phillip

  • Augustus, holding in his hand "the imperial apple."

  • Time has caused the staircase to disappear, by raising the soil of the city with a slow

  • and irresistible progress; but, while thus causing the eleven steps which added to the

  • majestic height of the edifice, to be

  • devoured, one by one, by the rising tide of the pavements of Paris,--time has bestowed

  • upon the church perhaps more than it has taken away, for it is time which has spread

  • over the facade that sombre hue of the

  • centuries which makes the old age of monuments the period of their beauty.

  • But who has thrown down the two rows of statues? who has left the niches empty? who

  • has cut, in the very middle of the central portal, that new and bastard arch? who has

  • dared to frame therein that commonplace and

  • heavy door of carved wood, a la Louis XV., beside the arabesques of Biscornette?

  • The men, the architects, the artists of our day.

  • And if we enter the interior of the edifice, who has overthrown that colossus

  • of Saint Christopher, proverbial for magnitude among statues, as the grand hall

  • of the Palais de Justice was among halls, as the spire of Strasbourg among spires?

  • And those myriads of statues, which peopled all the spaces between the columns of the

  • nave and the choir, kneeling, standing, equestrian, men, women, children, kings,

  • bishops, gendarmes, in stone, in marble, in

  • gold, in silver, in copper, in wax even,-- who has brutally swept them away?

  • It is not time.

  • And who substituted for the ancient gothic altar, splendidly encumbered with shrines

  • and reliquaries, that heavy marble sarcophagus, with angels' heads and clouds,

  • which seems a specimen pillaged from the Val-de-Grace or the Invalides?

  • Who stupidly sealed that heavy anachronism of stone in the Carlovingian pavement of

  • Hercandus?

  • Was it not Louis XIV., fulfilling the request of Louis XIII.?

  • And who put the cold, white panes in the place of those windows, "high in color,"

  • which caused the astonished eyes of our fathers to hesitate between the rose of the

  • grand portal and the arches of the apse?

  • And what would a sub-chanter of the sixteenth century say, on beholding the

  • beautiful yellow wash, with which our archiepiscopal vandals have desmeared their

  • cathedral?

  • He would remember that it was the color with which the hangman smeared "accursed"

  • edifices; he would recall the Hotel du Petit-Bourbon, all smeared thus, on account

  • of the constable's treason.

  • "Yellow, after all, of so good a quality," said Sauval, "and so well recommended, that

  • more than a century has not yet caused it to lose its color."

  • He would think that the sacred place had become infamous, and would flee.

  • And if we ascend the cathedral, without mentioning a thousand barbarisms of every

  • sort,--what has become of that charming little bell tower, which rested upon the

  • point of intersection of the cross-roofs,

  • and which, no less frail and no less bold than its neighbor (also destroyed), the

  • spire of the Sainte-Chapelle, buried itself in the sky, farther forward than the

  • towers, slender, pointed, sonorous, carved in open work.

  • An architect of good taste amputated it (1787), and considered it sufficient to

  • mask the wound with that large, leaden plaster, which resembles a pot cover.

  • 'Tis thus that the marvellous art of the Middle Ages has been treated in nearly

  • every country, especially in France.

  • One can distinguish on its ruins three sorts of lesions, all three of which cut

  • into it at different depths; first, time, which has insensibly notched its surface

  • here and there, and gnawed it everywhere;

  • next, political and religious revolution, which, blind and wrathful by nature, have

  • flung themselves tumultuously upon it, torn its rich garment of carving and sculpture,

  • burst its rose windows, broken its necklace

  • of arabesques and tiny figures, torn out its statues, sometimes because of their

  • mitres, sometimes because of their crowns; lastly, fashions, even more grotesque and

  • foolish, which, since the anarchical and

  • splendid deviations of the Renaissance, have followed each other in the necessary

  • decadence of architecture. Fashions have wrought more harm than

  • revolutions.

  • They have cut to the quick; they have attacked the very bone and framework of

  • art; they have cut, slashed, disorganized, killed the edifice, in form as in the

  • symbol, in its consistency as well as in its beauty.

  • And then they have made it over; a presumption of which neither time nor

  • revolutions at least have been guilty.

  • They have audaciously adjusted, in the name of "good taste," upon the wounds of gothic

  • architecture, their miserable gewgaws of a day, their ribbons of marble, their pompons

  • of metal, a veritable leprosy of egg-shaped

  • ornaments, volutes, whorls, draperies, garlands, fringes, stone flames, bronze

  • clouds, pudgy cupids, chubby-cheeked cherubim, which begin to devour the face of

  • art in the oratory of Catherine de Medicis,

  • and cause it to expire, two centuries later, tortured and grimacing, in the

  • boudoir of the Dubarry.

  • Thus, to sum up the points which we have just indicated, three sorts of ravages to-

  • day disfigure Gothic architecture. Wrinkles and warts on the epidermis; this

  • is the work of time.

  • Deeds of violence, brutalities, contusions, fractures; this is the work of the

  • revolutions from Luther to Mirabeau.

  • Mutilations, amputations, dislocation of the joints, "restorations"; this is the

  • Greek, Roman, and barbarian work of professors according to Vitruvius and

  • Vignole.

  • This magnificent art produced by the Vandals has been slain by the academies.

  • The centuries, the revolutions, which at least devastate with impartiality and

  • grandeur, have been joined by a cloud of school architects, licensed, sworn, and

  • bound by oath; defacing with the

  • discernment and choice of bad taste, substituting the chicorees of Louis XV. for

  • the Gothic lace, for the greater glory of the Parthenon.

  • It is the kick of the ass at the dying lion.

  • It is the old oak crowning itself, and which, to heap the measure full, is stung,

  • bitten, and gnawed by caterpillars.

  • How far it is from the epoch when Robert Cenalis, comparing Notre-Dame de Paris to

  • the famous temple of Diana at Ephesus, so much lauded by the ancient pagans, which

  • Erostatus has immortalized, found the

  • Gallic temple "more excellent in length, breadth, height, and structure."

  • Notre-Dame is not, moreover, what can be called a complete, definite, classified

  • monument.

  • It is no longer a Romanesque church; nor is it a Gothic church.

  • This edifice is not a type.

  • Notre-Dame de Paris has not, like the Abbey of Tournus, the grave and massive frame,

  • the large and round vault, the glacial bareness, the majestic simplicity of the

  • edifices which have the rounded arch for their progenitor.

  • It is not, like the Cathedral of Bourges, the magnificent, light, multiform, tufted,

  • bristling efflorescent product of the pointed arch.

  • Impossible to class it in that ancient family of sombre, mysterious churches, low

  • and crushed as it were by the round arch, almost Egyptian, with the exception of the

  • ceiling; all hieroglyphics, all sacerdotal,

  • all symbolical, more loaded in their ornaments, with lozenges and zigzags, than

  • with flowers, with flowers than with animals, with animals than with men; the

  • work of the architect less than of the

  • bishop; first transformation of art, all impressed with theocratic and military

  • discipline, taking root in the Lower Empire, and stopping with the time of

  • William the Conqueror.

  • Impossible to place our Cathedral in that other family of lofty, aerial churches,

  • rich in painted windows and sculpture; pointed in form, bold in attitude; communal

  • and bourgeois as political symbols; free,