The Gayety and Fashion of Versailles Life. The Prodigal Frivolities and Diversions of the Court.

The ceremonious routine of the days at Versailles was enlivened at certain times of the year by festivities of astounding brilliance, and, on occasion, by gorgeous receptions offered to visiting rulers and ambassadors, It has already been related that the arrival of Louis XIV and his family at Versailles in the fall of 1663 was celebrated by a fete at which a troupe headed by Moliere was heard in a piece by the great dramatist called Impromptu de Versailles, In the month of May, 1664, Louis commanded a performance of "Pleasures of the Enchanted Isle," in which his favorite actor and playwright furnished the comedy, Lully the music and the ballets, and an Italian mechanician the decorations and illuminations. On the first day there was tilting at the ring, in which pastime Louis XIV played a part, wearing a diamond-embroidered costume. The next day, on an outdoor stage, Moliere and his company played the "Princesse d'Elide." There followed ballets, races, tourneys and a lottery, "in which the prizes were pieces of furniture, silverware and precious stones."

In September, 1665, a hunt was organized in the woods of Versailles, at which the royal ladies wore Amazonian habits. A mid-winter day in the year 1667 was chosen for a tournament "that over-passed the limits of magnificence." The Queen herself led a cortege of Court beauties on a white horse that was set off by brocaded and gem-sewn trappings. The Gazette of 1667 described the appearance of the youthful Master of Versailles at this tournament, he being "not less easily recognized by the lofty mien peculiar to him than by his rich Hungarian habit covered with gold and precious stones, his helmet with waving plumes, his horse that was arrayed in magnificent accouterments and a jeweled saddle-cloth."

Again in the summers of 1668 and 1672 Moliere and Lully entertained the guests at the King's chateau, while in the gardens there were statues, vases and chandeliers so lighted as to give the impression that they glowed with interior names.

In the summer of 1674, Moliere "was no longer alive to arrange dramatic performances among the green and flowery coppices of Versailles. But there was no lack of entertainment at the splendid fetes that marked that year. We have the recital of Felebien, a fastidious chronicler of Court doings, referring to this period of merry-making, which lasted during most of the summer and fall.

"The King," says Felebien, "ordained as soon as he arrived at Versailles that festivities be arranged at once, and that, at intervals, new diversions should be prepared for the pleasure of the Court. The things most noticeable at such times as these were the promptitude, minute pains and silent ease with which the King's orders were invariably executed. Like a miracle - all in a moment - theaters rose, wooded places were made gay with fountains, collations were spread, and a thousand other things were accomplished that one would have supposed would require a long time and a vast bustle of workers."

The "Grand Fetes" occupied six days of the months of July and August. The celebrations of the fourth of July began with a feast laid on the verdant site later usurped by the basin called the Baths of Apollo. Here the beauty of nature was enhanced by an infinity of ornate vases filled with garlands of flowers. Fruits of every clime were served on platters of porcelain, in silver baskets and in bowls of priceless glass. In the evening the Court attended a production of "Alceste" - an opera by Quinault and Lully, executed by artists from the Royal Academy of Music. The stage was set in the Marble Court. The windows facing the court were ablaze with two rows of candles. The walls of the chateau were screened with orange trees, festooned with flowers, illumined by candelabra made of silver and crystal. The marble fountain in the center of the court was surrounded by tall candlesticks and blossoming urns. The spraying waters escaped through vases of flowers, that their falling should not interrupt the voices of those on the stage. Artificial waters, silver-sconced tapers, bowers of fragrant shrubs united to create the richest of settings for this outdoor theater.

It was the King's wish that the grounds of the little "porcelain house" at Trianon be chosen as the scene of the second fete, which took place a week later. In an open-air enclosure, decorated by "a prodigious quantity of flowers," the guests listened to the "Eglogue de Versailles," composed for the occasion by Lully, leader of the Petits-Violons, Louis' favorite Court orchestra. Afterwards all the nobles and their fair companions returned to sup at Versailles in a wood where the Basin of the Obelisk now is.

Seven days later, at the third fete of the series, the King gave a banquet to ladies in the pavilion at the Menagerie. The guests were conveyed in superbly decorated gondolas down the Grand Canal. In a large boat were violinists and hautboy-players that made sweet music. Finally, in a theater arranged this time before the Grotto, all the ladies were regaled with a performance of "La Malade Imaginaire," the last of Moliere's comedies.

For the fourth festal day, the twenty-eighth of July, the King commanded a fete of surpassing beauty. The feast was laid in the center of the Theatre-d'Eau. The steps forming the amphitheater served as tables for the arrangement of the viands. Orange trees heavy with blossoms and golden fruit, apple trees, apricot trees, trees laden with peaches, and tall oleanders - all set out in ornamental tubs; three hundred vessels of fine porcelain filled with fruit; one hundred and twenty baskets of dried preserves; four hundred crystal cups containing ices, an uncounted number of carafes sparkling with rare liqueurs - all created a picture of colorful luxury, which, we are assured, struck those that looked upon it as "most agreeable." Threading their musical murmurings through all the laughter and badinage, the tossing jets of the pyramidal fountains fell away to pools and green-bordered streams.

Lully's opera, "Cadmus et Hermione" Was sung in a theater arranged at the end of the Allee of the Dragon. At its close every one made a tour of the park in open vehicles, lighted by torches carried by lackeys, and all assisted at an exhibition of fire-works on the canal. The evening ended with a supper in the Marble Court. Here an illuminated column was placed on an immense pedestal, while around it was disposed a table with seats for fifty persons.

The fifth gala day was marked by the presentation to the King of one hundred and seven flags and standards that Conde, the illustrious general, had taken at the battle of Senef. In the evening the company toured the park of Versailles, occupying thirty six-horse carriages. After a supper served in a forest retreat the invited ones witnessed a performance of "Iphigenie," a new tragedy by Racine, which was most admirably played by the royal troupe, and much applauded by the Court. There followed a grand illumination of the great fountain at the head of the canal - a display whose beauty and ingenuity "surprised every one" - even the luxury-surfeited guests of Versailles. Besides an encircling balustrade six feet in height and ornamented with fleurs de lys and the arms of the King (all of which glowed with a golden light most lovely to look upon), there were high pedestals that appeared to be of transparent marble, with ornaments representing Apollo and the Sun, whose device Louis, instigator of all the splendor of Versailles, had adopted as his own insignia. These decorations were made after designs by Lebrun.

On the night of the thirty-first of August, the sixth and last day of the fetes, the Court witnessed what seemed to be indeed a magic spectacle. "His Majesty," it is recorded, "coming out of the chateau at one o'clock in the morning, beneath a starless sky, suddenly beheld about him a miraculous rain of lights. Ail the parterres glittered. The grand terrace in front of the chateau was bordered by a double row of lights. The steps and railings of the horseshoe, all the walls, all the fountains, all the reservoirs, shone with myriad flames. The borders of the Grand Canal were adorned with statues and architectural decorations, behind which lights had been placed to make them transparent. The King, the Queen, and all the Court took their seats in richly ornamented gondolas. Boats filled with musicians followed them, and Echo repeated the sounds of an enchanted harmony."

Thus ended the fetes of 1674 - the last of their kind that were given by Louis XIV.

The Versailles calendar of events was divided into three periods: the season of the winter carnival, the pious observances of Easter, and the summer-time festivities. Ordinarily, in the winter months, there was a hunt on foot or horseback almost every day. In the warm season the Court often took part in a promenade by boat on the Grand Canal, followed by a concert and a feast for the ladies at Trianon or at the Menagerie. Ladies were always invited in great numbers to such parties. Sometimes they walked among the orange trees or made a tour of the gardens in light carriages, or repaired to the stables to watch the trainers putting the royal mounts through their paces. And always there were games of chance, for gambling was the ruling passion of the Court.

From the record of Dangeau we read a description of a gay tournament that took place in the riding-school of the Great Stables of Versailles on two successive June days:

"The King and Mme. la Dauphine (wife of the heir to the throne) dined at an early hour, and on leaving table, the King and Monseigneur entered a carriage. Mme. la Dauphine and many ladies followed in other carriages. In the court of the ministers, they found all the cavaliers of the tournament drawn up in two lines; the pages and lackeys were there also. Monseigneur mounted a horse at the head of one company; M. le Duc de Bourbon was at the head of the other. The King took his seat in the place prepared for him.

"The cavaliers first rode round the courtyard of the chateau, passing under the windows of the young Duc de Bourgogne (grandson of the King) who was on the balcony. Then they rode out of the gate and down the Avenue de Paris, and entered the riding-school of the Great Stables by a gate made near the Kennels. After riding in procession before the raised seats of the court, they took their posts, twenty cavaliers in each corner, with their pages and grooms behind them; the drums and trumpets at the barrier. The subject of the tournament was the Wars of Granada, and the cavaliers represented the Spaniards and the Moors. Monseigneur rode a tilt with the Due de Bourbon, and Messieurs de Vendome and de Brionne rode at the same time to make the figure. . . . There were three courses run for the prize, which was won by the Prince de Lorraine. It was a sword ornamented with diamonds, and he received it from the hand of the King. After the tournament all the cavaliers conducted the King to the courtyard of the chateau, lance in hand, and the heads of the companies saluted him with their swords.

"On the fifth, a second tournament was held, and, in spite of the bad weather, the King found it more beautiful than the first. Many ladies were present. The Russian envoys, who had not seen the previous fete, occupied seats at the King's right. During a shower, the spectators retired quickly, but as soon as it had passed, all the seats were filled again. The Marquis de Plumartin won the prize. It was a sword adorned with diamonds, but more costly than that won by the Prince de Lorraine."

The Fete of Kings celebrated each year was a brilliant affair at Versailles. Then the Hall of Mirrors and Salons of War and Peace were illumined by hundreds upon hundreds of twinkling tapers, while over the floor glided a throng of slippered feet to the beat of strings and hautboys. At the suppers, which preceded and followed the dancing, seventy-two Swiss guards served the guests, each one distinguished by a ribbon corresponding with the color of the table to whose service he was assigned. It was the King's custom to retire from the revel with regal formalities at one hour after midnight. But the feasting and dancing continued many times until rosy dawn stole in the windows and paled the candle-light. Besides balls, concerts, plays, games of chance, masquerades, all the Court was invited every week - between October and Easter - to take part in the appartements or receptions given by the King. These soirees began at seven o'clock and lasted till ten. The chief diversion was card-playing. The King, the Queen and all the princes so far unbent as to play with their guests at the same tables, and move about without ceremony, conversing, listening to the music of Lully's band, watching a minuet or a gavotte, eating and drinking, or bestowing special favors upon courtiers that engaged their momentary fancy.

Sometimes the losses of the players at the tables were enormous; again, nobles counted their gains by the hundred thousands. The youthful granddaughter of the King, the Duchess of Bourgogne, lost at one time a sum equaling 600,000 francs, which her doting grandfather paid, as he also paid debts of the Duke of Bourgogne. During one night's play the King himself lost a sum totaling "many millions." On occasion the courtiers were entertained at festivities arranged for the heir to the throne, or by the cardinal that was in residence at the chateau. During masked balls held in the carnival season dancers sometimes changed their costumes two or three times in an evening - one worn under another being revealed by pulling a silken cord. Often well-tempered confusion was caused by gay subterfuges - an exchange of masks, or the imposing of one mask on another. The costumes were sumptuous beyond words. "It is impossible to witness at one time more jewelry," naively recited the Mercure in setting forth the richness of a cercle at which the Court was present in 1707.

Let us read further from the Mercure of the diversions that drove dull care away at a Court carnival: "There have been this winter five balls in five different apartments at Versailles, all so grand and so beautiful that no other royal house in the world can show the like. Entrance was given to masks only, and no persons presented themselves without being disguised, unless they were of very high rank. . . . People invent grotesque disguises, they revive old fashions, they choose the most ridiculous things, and seek to make them as amusing as possible. . . . Mgr. le Dauphin changed his disguise eight or ten times each evening. M. Berain had need of all his wit to furnish these disguises, and of all his ingenuity to get them made up, since there was so little time between one ball and another. The prince did not wish to be recognized, and all sorts of extraordinary disguises were invented for him; frequently under the figures that concealed him, one could not have told whether the person thus masked was tall or short, fat or thin. Sometimes he had double masks, and under the first a mask of wax so well made that, when he took off his first mask, people fancied they saw the natural face, and he deceived everybody. Nothing can equal the enjoyment which Mgr. le Dauphin takes in all these diversions, nor the rapidity with which he changes his disguises. He leaves all his officers without being fatigued, although he works harder at dressing and undressing himself than they do, and he danced much. This prince shows in the least things, in his horsemanship, and in the ardor with which he follows the chase, what pleasure he will take some day in commanding armies. But could one expect less from the son of Louis the Great!

"The first of the five balls," continues the correspondent, "was given by M. le Grand, in his apartments in the new wing of Versailles. The ball commenced with a masquerade. They danced a minuet and a jig; but only Mlle. de Nantes danced in the latter. Mlle. de Nantes was especially admired when she danced, and made so great an impression that people stood on chairs to see her better, Mgr. le Dauphin came to the masquerade with M. le Prince de la Roche-sur-Yon and many other notables. He was in a sedan-chair, accompanied by a number of merry-andrews and dwarfs. He changed his disguise four or five times during the ball, which lasted until four o'clock in the morning. . . . The second ball was given by Mgr. le Dauphin in the hall of his Guards, which forms the entrance to his apartments. M. le Duc gave the third, which was magnificent. Some days after it was the turn of the Cardinal de Bouillon to receive the court."

"From just before Candlemas day to Easter of the year 1700," wrote Saint-Simon, "nothing was heard of but balls and pleasures of the Court. The King gave at Versailles and Marly several masquerades, by which he was much amused under pretext of amusing the Duchesse de Bourgogne.

"No evening passed on which there was not a ball. The chancellor's wife gave one - which was a fete the most gallant and the most magnificent possible. There were different rooms for the fancy-dress ball, for the masqueraders, for a superb collation, for shops of all countries, Chinese, Japanese, etc., where many singular and beautiful things were sold, but no money taken; there were presents for the Duchesse de Bourgogne and the ladies. Everybody was especially diverted at this entertainment, which did not finish until eight o'clock in the morning. Madame de Saint-Simon and I passed the last three weeks of this time without ever seeing the day. Certain dancers were allowed to leave off dancing only at the same time as the Duchesse de Bourgogne. One morning, when I wished to escape too early, the duchesse caused me to be forbidden to pass the doors of the salon; several of us had the same fate. I was delighted when Ash Wednesday arrived, and I remained a day or two dead-beat."

The Mercure describes the fete given by the wife of the Chancellor of France at her mansion beyond the palace grounds:

"Mme. la Duchesse de Bourgogne, learning that Mme. la Chanceliere wished to give her a ball, received the proposition with much joy. Although there were but eight days in which to prepare for it, Mme. la Chanceliere resolved to give the princess in one evening all the diversions that people usually take during all the carnival period - namely, comedy, fair, and ball. When the evening came, detachments of Swiss were posted in the street and in the courtyard, with many servants of Mme. la Chanceliere, so that there was no confusion at the gates or in the court, which was brightly lighted with torches. . . . The ball-room was lighted by ten chandeliers and by magnificent gilded candelabra. At one end, on raised seats, were the musicians, hautboys and violins, in fancy dress with plumed caps. In front of the velvet-covered benches for the courtiers were three arm-chairs, one for Mme. la Duchesse de Bourgogne, and the others for Monsieur and the Madame. Beyond the ball-room, across the landing of the staircase, was another hall, brilliantly lighted, in which were hautboys and violins, and this hall was for the masks, who came in such numbers that the ball-room could not have contained them all.

". . . After remaining about an hour at the ball, Mme. la Chanceliere and the Comte de Pontchartrain conducted Mme. la Duchesse de Bourgogne into another hall, filled with lights and mirrors, where a theater had been erected to furnish the diversion of a comedy. Only about one hundred people were allowed to enter the hall of comedy, and the princes and princesses of the blood, being masked, took no rank there. Mme. la Duchesse de Bourgogne and Madame had arm-chairs in the center of the hall. The Duchesse de Bourgogne was surprised to see a splendid theater, adorned with her arms and monogram. . . . As soon as the princess was seated, Bari, the famous mountebank of Paris, came forward and asked her protection against the doctors, and having extolled the excellence of his remedies, and the marvels of his secrets, he offered to the princess as a little diversion a comedy such as they sometimes played at Paris. There was given then a little comedy which Mme. le Chanceliere had got M. Dancourt to write expressly for that fete. All the actors were from the company of the comedians of the king. They played to perfection, and received much praise. . . . At the end of the comedy, Mme. la Duchesse de Bourgogne was conducted into another hall, where a superb collation had been prepared in an ingenious manner. At one end of the hall, in a half-circle, were five booths, in which were merchants, clad in the costumes of different countries; a French pastry-cook, a seller of oranges and lemons, an Italian lemonade-seller, a seller of sweetmeats, a vendor of coffee, tea and chocolate. They were from the king's musicians, and sung their wares, accompanied by music, at the sides of the booths, and had pages to serve the guests. The booths were splendidly painted and gilded, adorned with lusters and flowers, and bore the arms and cipher of Mme. la Duchesse de Bourgogne. At the back of each booth a large mirror reflected the whole. . . . The Duchesse de Bourgogne left this hall, after the collation, delighted with all that she had seen and heard. Since the ball-room was so crowded with masks, the princess returned to the hall of comedy, where they held a smaller court ball until two o'clock, when she went to the grand ball to see the masks. She was much amused there until four in the morning. When Mme. la Chanceliere and the Comte de Pontchartrain conducted her to the foot of the staircase, she thanked them much for the pleasure they had given her. This fete brought many congratulations to Mme. la Chanceliere."

La Palatine, Duchess of Orleans, has left among her letters a description of her costume on a day of august ceremonies. "The crowd was so great," she wrote, "that we had to wait a quarter of an hour at the door of each salon before entering, and I was wearing a robe and an overskirt so intolerably heavy that I could scarcely stand erect. My costume was of gold woven with black chenille flowers, and my jewels were pearls and diamonds. Monsieur had on a coat of black velour embroidered with gold, and wore all his great diamonds. The coat of my son was embroidered with gold and a variety of other colors and it was covered with gems. The robe my daughter wore was made of green velour threaded with gold and garnished with rubies and diamonds. In her hair was an ornament designed in brilliants and sprays of rubies."

For these extraordinary functions the King and his entourage bedecked themselves with priceless ornaments. When in 1714 the Sun King received the ambassador of Siam, he chose a habit of black and gold bordered with diamonds, valued at 12,500,000 livres, or about $2,500,000. The weight was so great that he was compelled to change it soon after dinner. Besides the jewelry he wore on his own person, the royal host loaned for this event a garniture of diamonds and pearls to the Duke of Maine and another garniture of colored stones to the Count of Toulouse.

When the King of France received foreign ambassadors, or celebrated, with pomp befitting his tastes, marriages and births in the royal family, the Court, weightily, stiffly, sumptuously appareled, thronged through the Hall of Mirrors - the Grand Gallery - in spectacular defile.

These brilliant tableaux, the most brilliant of all Europe, had their source in the King's love of splendor and profusion. It was to please him that his courtiers and favorites staked fortunes at the gaming tables, outran each other in devising costly dresses, contrived novel equipages and unique dwellings. In his superb Court he found all the elements required to satisfy his pride, and glorify his reign. The Sun King was the most profligate host in all history. Determined to outdo the fabulous luxury of the feasts of Lucullus in early Roman times, and to outshine the storied splendor of Oriental princes, he entertained his Court and guests with lavish liberality, superbly indifferent to the cost of his boundless extravagance and considering not at all the day of reckoning that must come later for the Bourbon dynasty in France. To glow with commanding brilliance, like the Sun, in the center of his royal firmament, to overwhelm his subjects with his grandeur, and to dazzle the eyes of other nations - that was the ambition that Louis cherished and achieved.