John Quincy Adams to Mary Smith Cranch
Auteuil December 12th. 1784
My Mamma has desired me, My dear Aunt, to give a Copy of a few cursory minutes, that I took at Chantilly of the Prince de Condé’s Seat there.1 They are very incorrect and confused, but I dont love to make apologies, and will therefore give them such as they are, and trust for the rest in your Candour.
Chantilly is the seat of the Prince de Condé, and is perhaps the most magnificent, and most elegant place of the kind, in the world. It took us from 9 in the morning to 2. afternoon to see it imperfectly; we saw an immense variety without seeing all. We first went through the Stables. A very magnificent piece of Architecture; so much so, that it has been said, that the Prince de Condé’s horses, were lodged more superbly, than two thirds the kings in Europe. It was built by one of the Princes, who had made a very large fortune, by the System, which turned every thing topsy turvy in France, in the beginning of the present Century.2 There is place for 240 horses, and there are almost always 160, or 170 there. In the same building are about 150 dogs for hunting Stags; an amusement of which the Prince is very fond. The next thing we saw was a theatre, upon which the Prince himself plays with his Courtiers every Sunday while he is at Chantilly, from Octr. to January. Near this is the armoury, where the armour of the great Condé, and of many others are shewn, among which is that of the famous Maid of Orleans. These Pieces of old iron, the intrinsic value of which is very little more than nothing are looked upon by some People, as inestimable. The castle we had not time to see it is almost surrounded by a large pond of water, in which there is vast number of Carps so tame, that you may take them in the hand. The garden is very large, and has in it a variety of flowers, and a number of fountains from which the water spouts up ten feet high. There is also an English Garden as they call it, because in the English taste, and in it is a little farm with a mill. There are two or three buildings which appear on the outside to be small huts or cottages, but are furnished within, in the most elegant and splendid manner imaginable.3 One of them the present Prince built in 1782 for the reception of the grand Duke of Russia, and gave him an entertainment in it. Opposite the Garden is a Ménagerie where there are a few curious birds, and some wild beasts, but this is not equal to the rest and I think it would be as well if it was not shown at all, as there is at Versailles a very extensive Ménagerie, and this must suffer by the Comparison. There are besides all this two buildings, one of which is called pavillon de Venus and the other, which is built in imitation of the Chinese manner, pavillon Chinois; they are both very elegant, but are not otherwise Remarkable. The Castle appears to be an ancient building, and is said to contain a number of very fine Pictures, but we had not the time to see it.
Besides the pavillon de venus, is a small statue of Cupid. Not represented with mischievous instruments as he commonly is, nor with wings, not with a bandage round his eyes. He is Standing in an easy posture, and holds in one hand a flaming heart. The Inscription under him is very pretty it is as follows. / I give it in French; because it would lose by a translation, and you will be able to understand it in the original.
N’offrant qu’un coeur à la Beauté,
Ausse nud que la Verité.
Sans armes, comme l’Innocence
Sans ailes, comme la Constance
Tel fut l’Amour, au siécle d’or
On ne le trouve plus mais on le cherche encore.
If this last line surprises you, you will remember that it was written in France, where the assertion will doubtless hold good and the writer probably thought it was every where as it was in his own Country. I think it will do very well to be in the Garden of a Prince, who can certainly know nothing at all about l’Amour.
I am, my dear Aunt, your obliged Nephew and humble Servant.
J. Q. Adams
RC (MWA: Abigail Adams Corr.)
1. The Adams family visited Chantilly, twenty-five miles north of Paris, on 13 Aug. (JQA, Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981-. description ends , 1:208). The town was best known for its chateau and park, which passed to the House of Condé in 1632. The first Prince de Condé to reside at Chantilly was Louis II de Bourbon (1621–1686), called the great Condé, whose fame rested on his military genius. The Prince de Condé mentioned in this letter is his direct descendant, Louis Joseph (1736–1818), who had distinguished himself in the Seven Years War (Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel description begins Pierre Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle, Paris ; 15 vols. and supplements. description ends ; Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale description begins J. C. F. Hoefer, ed., Nouvelle biographie générale depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’à nos jours, Paris, 1852–1866; 46 vols. description ends ).
2. The stables were built from 1719 to 1735 by Louis Joseph’s father, Louis Henri, Duc de Bourbon (Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel description begins Pierre Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle, Paris ; 15 vols. and supplements. description ends ).
“The System” was a financial scheme set up by the Scottish economist John Law under the Regency in 1716. Law’s System, in its initial form, the Banque Générale, issued paper money redeemable for a fixed amount of coin and offered loans at low rates, thus increasing the supply of money and encouraging French industry. The System took control of France’s non-European trade, became the dominant creditor to the State, and assumed the function of receiver-general in tax collection. Speculation in the System soon became frantic, and the boom, called the “Mississippi bubble,” burst in 1720 when stock-holders started to demand their paper gains in specie, and Law attempted to impose regulations limiting its ownership. Popular opposition forced the government to withdraw a decree that would have gradually reduced the value of bank notes, but the System, Law, and many investors were ruined. Cambridge Modern Hist. description begins The Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge, Eng., 1902–1911; repr. 1969, [New York]; 12 vols. description ends , 6:168–176; DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1900; 63 vols. plus supplements. description ends .
3. AA2 gives a more detailed description of the interior of one of these cottages in her journal: “It had the appearance, on the outside, of a little dirty place, with old windows and little doors, with every appearance of rustic simplicity—when, to our surprise, we were shown into an elegant apartment, with pictures and paintings; the furniture of pink silk, trimmed with a deep, rich silver fringe and tassels; in the centre was a table with a set of Sevres China—white, with a gilt edge” (Jour. and Corr. description begins Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, Daughter of John Adams, ... edited by Her Daughter Caroline Amelia (Smith) de Windt, New York and London, 1841–1842; 2 vols. description ends , 1:13–14).