CHAPTER X. THE SHRINE OF ROYAL MEMORIES, THE SCENE OF WORLD ADJUSTMENTS
It was not long after the enforced departure of Louis XVI and the Court that the immense sepulcher of regal glory was dismantled and forsaken. During the Revolution some of the furnishings were taken to Paris to supply the needs of the king and his family at the Tuileries. A number of pictures and objects of art contained in the palace and the two Trianons were removed to the Museum of the Louvre, which had been founded in 1775. Some of these paintings, including the Joconde by da Vinci, and famous canvases by Titian, del Sarto, Rubens and Van Dyck, still hang on the walls of the first national gallery of France. Agitated discussions arose as to the final destiny of the palace and its contents. A group of law-makers would have sold the building outright. But in July, 1793, the Convention decreed the establishment at Versailles of a provincial school, a museum of art objects taken from the houses of those that had emigrated from troublous France, a public library, a French museum for painting and sculpture, and a natural history exhibition. There were, however, Revolutionaries that so despised the relics of royalty that they continued to urge from time to time the complete demolition of the palace and park - chief works of Louis XIV's reign. The most diligent defenders of the chateau were the inhabitants of the town of Versailles, who were keenly aware that the continued existence of the palace would insure a measure of prosperity to the community. They protested, that, just object of the people's venom as the edifice was, it nevertheless stood as a monument to the arts and crafts of France during two centuries. The assailants that made hideous the days of October fifth and sixth, 1789, had done comparatively little material damage within the palace precincts. Gun shots of the Paris mob had disfigured two statues at the main entry to the courtyard, had destroyed the grill that separated the Royal Court from the Court of the Ministers; lunges of their bayonets had broken the mirrors in the Grand Gallery, while pursuing the Guards to massacre them. Otherwise, the historic walls and gardens bore no evidence of Revolutionary fury.
After several years of contention, plan and counter-plan, the Convention definitely saved Versailles for the nation by the decrees of 1794 and 1795. During this epoch of violence and revolt, thousands of articles were offered for sale at the stables of Versailles, in the presence of appointed representatives of the people. Linen, utensils, mirrors, clocks, cabinets, chandeliers, stoves, damask curtains, carriages, wines of Madeira, Malaga and Corinth, coffee, Sevres porcelains, engravings, paintings, drawings, and some fine furniture went for a song at this colossal auction. In 1796 the Minister of finance ordered that remaining pieces of furniture of great beauty and value be put on sale. In this way were summarily dispersed chairs of tapestry and gilt that would to-day command extravagant sums; desks of exquisite marquetry, at which kingly documents and billets doux had been penned; dressing-tables whose mirrors had reflected the faces, sad or gay, frank or subtle, of queens and mistresses; wardrobes that had held the linens and brocades of princes and courtiers; clocks of gold and enamel that had registered the hours of portentous births and marriages. Tables of mosaic and satinwood, cushions of gold brocade, cameo medallions, porcelain panels, plaques of lacquer and bronze were included on the list of articles to be disposed of. In the original inventory, discovered in the library at Versailles, were included pieces of Saxony ware, Watteau figures, Sevres vases, dishes and cups, Beauvais tapestries, clocks made by Robin and de Sotian, candelabra of crystal, chandeliers of silver - all from the apartments of the King, the Queen and the Dauphin. For 20,000 francs there was sold a tapestry emblematic of the American Revolution. Creditors of the new Government were paid in furniture and art works whose value they estimated to please their own purses. A brochure published at Paris by Charles Davillier recites the romance of "The Sale of the Furnishings of Versailles during the Terror." To a certain Monsieur Lanchere, a former cab driver who had undertaken the conduct of military convoys and transports for the State, were assigned clocks, carpets, statuary, chests, secretaries and consoles that embarrassed every nook and corner of the spacious Paris mansion of which he became proprietor.
"Paris," narrates Monsieur Davillier, "was gorged after the sale at the chateau of Versailles with priceless furniture and objects of vertu." Newspapers were filled with the advertisements of second-hand dealers offering to the public these souvenirs - redolent, splendid, tragic - of a dead-and-gone dynasty, of an epoch vanished never to return.
The institutions whose establishment at Versailles definitely saved the chateau and its dependencies for posterity, were, at the Palace, a conservatory of arts and sciences and a library of 30,000 volumes; in the Kitchen Garden a school of gardening and husbandry; at the Grand Commune, a manufactory of arms; at the Menagerie, a school of agriculture. Halls that had echoed to the dance and the clink of gold at gaming-tables now heard profound lectures on history, ancient languages, mathematics, chemistry, and political economy! Classic exercises beneath the painted ceilings of these memoried rooms! Scholastic discourse where music and laughter had vibrated for a hundred extravagant years!