Walk in Bièvres
Preamble to the catalog of the Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo
Perhaps the first writer, in any case the only one to our knowledge, whose distant judgment – it dates from the 14th century – has come down to us, is the poet Eustache Deschamps.
« Who wants to see a very pretty house
In a pleasant and well-ordered place…
And to the right heart of the kingdom of France
Boys and Yaüe, garden in abundance
Of all birds the mundane paradise
Of the fountains the beauty and the noise
In Bièvre see, three leagues from Paris… »
That suits us best! How many other… poets, painters, doctors, soldiers, famous in their time, but whose memory is still close to us, have appreciated before us the charm of the Valley, this « Valley with a charming heart (where)… the Bièvre flows and flows like a ribbon » said Jean Moréas at the beginning of this century.
« The path which, coming from Jouy, runs along the Val de Bièvre on the left bank is narrow and nonchalant. It insinuates itself, on the hillside between the walls and the hedges of rich bourgeois properties. Sometimes, thanks to an alley, a gate, an orchard yawning in the breeze, the eye escapes towards the wooded hills of the southern bank, and the traveler, at times, sees the bottom of the Val with meadows and gardens where the river basks, still unaware of the coming misery and the obscure destiny that Paris has in store for it. It is a courteous landscape, without grandeur but not without grace, conducive to patient thoughts, to placid bliss, to work, to retreats… » We could add that this path has hardly changed since Georges Duhamel made discover our commune in Le Désert de Bièvres.
We will try to evoke some famous people who preceded us. These very real ones have sometimes left us with tangible memories; their houses, their gardens, which are perhaps ours today… First of all, how did they see our village, these four young walkers? One said: « Resort for millionaires ! » Another replied: « A hole, bean merchants, handymen, pensioners… the end of the world. » Peremptory opinions, judgments too hasty – and subjective – to be retained.
The Château des Roches and the current Roche-Dieu were originally the same property extending from the Bièvre to the Route de Versailles, located in the stronghold of Ménillet, at a place called: Hameau de Vauboyen. It belonged in 1660 to the painter Jean Bérain, draftsman of the King’s Chamber, supplier of compositions for the cabinetmaker Boulle, etc. It was therefore on this estate, which consisted of only a few isolated houses, that Louis XIV had “La Roche” built, the only mention indicated on the maps of the time. The lands were given to Georges Maréchal by the King with the title of Marquis de Bièvres.
As for the Château des Roches, it is to the Bertin family – and their guests – that it owes its fame. Bertin the eldest, although he seems to have always been a warm host, exercised a severe choice. King Louis-Philippe experienced this at his expense. Having made the director of the Journal des Débats say one day – « That he would like to know Les Roches » –, Bertin replied: « The King is very well at Versailles and I am very well at Les Roches. If he comes here, we will both be hurt. »
Louis-François Bertin, known as the eldest, had come to settle in Bièvres in 1804 in the Domaine des Roches belonging at that time to Mr. Jean-Jacques-Antoine Caussins de Perceval, a famous orientalist (born in Montdidier in 1759 – died in 1835 ), and became the owner a few years later. Mr. Bertin the Eldest then returned to France, after having been exiled two years previously, owner of the Journal des Débats since 1800; he edited it until 1811. At that time, Napoleon I took possession of the Journal des Débats and granted ownership to several of his devoted servants; they gave it the name Journal de l’Empire. This expropriation lasted until the return of the Bourbons in 1814 and the newspaper then became the organ of royalist opinion. But in 1829, unable to approve of the direction given to policy by the Polignac Ministry, Mr. Bertin published an article ending with these words: « Unhappy France! unhappy King! « . Put on trial for this article, in August, Bertin the Elder was tried and sentenced to one year in prison. He appealed against this judgment and was quashed in October 1829. He was defended by Dupin the Elder. These two trials greatly occupied public opinion, which greatly approved of M. Bertin’s acquittal. He continued to edit the Journal des Débats until his death in 1841.
Shortly before 1830, several former editors of the newspaper having died (Dussault-Hoffmann, Malte-Brun), M. Bertin attracted to him a whole young generation of famous men: Villemain, Salvandy, Frédéric Soulié, Silvestre de Sacy, Saint-Marc Girardin, Michel Chevalier, Jules Janin, Désiré Nisard, Lesourd, Xavier Raymond and Victor Hugo. His high intelligence, his benevolence for youth formed a nucleus of writers, but who, thanks to the education given by their leader, have left fine names in the literature of our century. It was then that we saw so many distinguished men come to Les Roches, because in addition to his high literary intelligence, Bertin the eldest had that of the Fine Arts and attracted to him in painting Gérard, Girodet, Ingres, Paul Delaroche, and in music Berlioz, Rossini, Meyerbeer, Ambroise Thomas, Gounod, Liszt, etc.
Mr. Bertin had three children, all eminent by their noble faculties: Édouard Bertin – who was mayor of Bièvres from July 1846 to March 1848 – remarkable painter; Armand Bertin who succeeded his father in the direction of the Journal des Débats and Miss Louise Bertin who composed the music for several operas and two volumes of poetry entitled Glanes, well worthy of esteem. Édouard and Louise died without descendants. Only Armand Bertin left two daughters: Mme Bazin whose husband became director of the Journal des Débats and Mme Léon Say whose husband was a senator. Armand Bertin had married Miss Aimée-Anne-Cécile Dollfus, daughter of the owner of the Manufacture of painted canvas then existing in Bièvres, who was mayor of Bièvres.
Louis-François Bertin had a younger brother, Mr. Bertin de Vaux, owner of the Château de Villepreux, near Versailles. This one was deputy during the reign of Louis-Philippe for the department of Seine-et-Oise and his son, General Bertin, succeeded him.
Bertin the Eldest had spent almost all of his exile in Rome and there had formed a friendship with Chateaubriand, then embassy secretary, which lasted until death.
It was in his house in Bièvres, says Pierre Larousse, that Bertin spent his best days, and it was there that he should have been seen free, happy, walking under the trees he had planted and evoking memories of his life. Bièvres then saw the elite of men of letters. Benevolent and strong in friendship, Mr. Bertin passionately loved the arts and artists, letters and writers. Talent was always sure to find in him a cordial support and a criticism that was both benevolent and witty… Asking nothing for him from the government, he obtained everything for his friends. He reconciled Victor Hugo with the July government, which called him a reactionary. Victor Hugo obtained the friendship of the father who had published in 1827 in his famous daily a much noticed article on the Odes and Ballades. For five years, he came to stay in the summer at Les Roches with his children and their mother as well as the brother, Mr. Armand Bertin; Among the verses he addressed to Miss Louise Bertin, here is the text of one of them which appeared in Les Feuilles d’Automne:
To Miss Louise B…
« Yes, it’s the valley! the calm and dark valley!
Here the cooler summer blooms in the shade
Here flowers that wither quickly, last a long time.
Here the soul contemplates, listens, adores, aspires,
And takes pity on this petty world and this mad empire
Where man every day makes less room for God.
A river at the bottom; woods on both slopes.
There, elms, bordered by a hundred climbing vines;
Meadows, where the reaper browns his nervous arm;
There pensive willows weeping on the shore,
And, like an insolent and naive bather,
Let the ends of their hair soak in the water.«
Bièvres often inspired Hugo. It is moving for his admirers to seek out in his work what was written at Les Roches. Those who like it can take up La Tristesse d’Olympio and, while walking along the wall of the park:
« The pond near the spring… » in the middle of which they will see the island on which, it is said, the poet himself planted the trees.
Before leaving this high place of Bievre, let us have a thought for others such as: Ingres who painted at Les Roches in 1832, the famous painting, of the Master of the house, which appears in the Louvre; Benjamin Constant, Chateaubriand, who had only the road to cross, staying opposite, with Joseph Récamier – cousin of the beautiful Juliette – then owner of the Château de la Roche (today Roche-dieu), former meeting place of hunting of Louis XIV who greatly appreciated the woods of the valley, from Buc to Verrières, which is probably why so many of his courtiers settled there.
Honorary Curator of the French Museum of Photography in Bièvres.