I went to see more exactly the rooms of the fine Palace of Luxemburg1, in the Fauxbourg St. Germains, built by Mary di Medicis, and I think one of the most noble, entire, and finished piles that is to be seen, taking it with the garden and all its accomplishments. The gallery is of the painting of Rubens, being the history of the Foundress’s Life2, rarely designed3; at the end of it is the Duke of Orleans‘ library4 , well furnished with excellent books, all bound in maroquin and gilded, the valance of the shelves being of green velvet, fringed with gold. In the cabinet joining to it are only the smaller volumes, with six cabinets of medals, and an excellent collection of shells and agates, whereof some are prodigiously rich. This Duke being very learned in medals and plants, nothing of that kind escapes him5. There are other spacious, noble, and princely furnished rooms, which look toward the gardens, which are nothing inferior to the rest.

“The Meeting of Marie de Médicis and Henri IV at Lyon.” by Peter Paul Rubens. Part of a series of 24 paintings illustrating the life of Marie de’ Medici present at the Palais Luxembourg during John Evelyn’s visit. Between 1621 and 1625.

The court below is formed into a square by a corridor, having over the chief entrance a stately cupola, covered with stone: the rest is cloistered and arched on pilasters of rustic work. The terrace ascending before the front, paved with white and black marble, is balustered with white marble, exquisitely polished.

Only the hall below is low, and the staircase somewhat of a heavy design, but the facia toward the parterre which is also arched and vaulted with stone, is of admirable beauty and full of sculpture.

The Palais de Luxemburg and gardens as shown in the “Plan de Turgot” by Louis Bretez. 1739.

The gardens6 are near an English mile in compass, inclosed with a stately wall, and in a good air. The parterre is indeed of box, but so rarely designed and accurately kept cut, that the embroidery makes a wonderful effect to the lodgings which front it. ‘Tis divided into four squares and as many circular knots, having in the center a noble basin of marble near thirty feet in diameter (as I remember), in which a Triton of brass holds a dolphin, that casts a girandola of water near thirty feet high, playing perpetually, the water being conveyed from Arceuil by an aqueduct of stone, built after the old Roman magnificence. About this ample parterre, the spacious walks and all included, runs a border of freestone, adorned with pedestals for pots and statues, and part of it near the steps of the terrace, with a rail and baluster of pure white marble.

The walks are exactly fair, long, and variously descending and so justly planted with limes, elms, and other trees, that nothing can be more delicious, especially that of the hornbeam hedge, which being high and stately, buts full on the fountain.

Toward the further end, is an excavation intended for a vast fish-pool, but never finished, and near it is an inclosure for a garden of simples, well kept; and here the Duke keeps tortoises in great number, who use the pool of water on one side of the garden. Here is also a conservatory for snow. At the upper part, toward the palace, is a grove of tall elms cut into a star, every ray being a walk, whose center is a large fountain.

Engraving of various tortoise and turtles. Author unknown. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bibliodyssey/

The rest of the ground is made into several inclosures (all hedge-work or rows of trees) of whole fields, meadows, bocages, some of them containing divers acres.

Next the street side, and more contiguous to the house, are knots in trail, or grass work, where likewise runs a fountain. Toward the grotto and stables, within a wall, is a garden of choice flowers, in which the duke spends many thousand pistoles. In sum, nothing is wanted to render this palace and gardens perfectly beautiful and magnificent; nor is it one of the least diversions to see the number of persons of quality, citizens and strangers, who frequent it, and to whom all access is freely permitted, so that you shall see some walks and retirements full of gallants and ladies; in others melancholy friars; in others, studious scholars; in others, jolly citizens, some sitting or lying on the grass, others running and jumping; some playing at bowls and ball, others dancing and singing; and all this without the least disturbance, by reason of the largeness of the place.

What is most admirable, you see no gardeners, or men at work, and yet all is kept in such exquisite order, as if they did nothing else but work; it is so early in the morning, that all is dispatched and done without the least confusion.

I have been the larger in the description of this paradise, for the extraordinary delight I have taken in those sweet retirements. The Cabinet and Chapel nearer the garden-front have some choice pictures. All the houses near this are also very noble palaces, especially Petite Luxemburg7. The ascent of the street is handsome from its breadth, situation, and buildings.

I went next to view Paris from the top of St. Jacques’ steeple8, esteemed the highest in the town, from whence I had a full view of the whole city and suburbs, both which, as I judge, are not so large as London: though the dissimilitude of their several forms and situations, this being round, London long,—renders it difficult to determine; but there is no comparison between the buildings, palaces, and materials, this being entirely of stone and more sumptuous, though I esteem our piazzas to exceed theirs.

Hence I took a turn in St. Innocent’s churchyard9, where the story of the devouring quality of the ground (consuming bodies in twenty-four hours), the vast charnels of bones, tombs, pyramids, and sepulchers, took up much of my time, together with the hieroglyphical characters of Nicholas Flamel’s philosophical work, who had founded this church, and divers other charitable establishments, as he testifies in his book.

Here divers clerks get their livelihood by inditing letters for poor maids and other ignorant people who come to them for advice, and to write for them into the country, both to their sweethearts, parents, and friends; every large gravestone serving for a table. Joining to this church is a common fountain, with good relievos upon it.

  1. Of which the architect was Salomon Debrosse, d. 1626, who may have recalled the Pitti Palace at Florence, where Marie de Médicis had passed her younger days. Addison certainly noticed a similarity. “It” (the Pitti Palace), he says, “is not unlike that of Luxemburg at Paris, which was built by Mary of Médicis, and for that Reason perhaps the Workmen fell into the Tuscan humour.” (Remarks on Italy, 1705, p. 409). The Luxembourg, now known as the Palais du Senat, was built 1615-20 –AD 

  2. Evelyn is referring to the “Marie de’ Medici cycle” of paintings detailing the struggles and triumphs in her life. -GS 

  3. Now in the Louvre (twenty-one pictures). They were painted between 1621-25. –AD -Austin says twenty-one but I believe there are 24 -GS 

  4. Gaston-Jean-Baptiste, Duke of Orleans, 1608-60, the King’s uncle, second son, by Henry IV., of Marie de Médicis, who bequeathed this palace to him. He was Lieutenant-General, and Governor of Languedoc. –AD 

  5. “There is no man alive in competition with him for his exquisite skill in medailes, topical memory, and extraordinary knowledge in plants: in both which faculties the most reputed antiquaries and greatest Botanists do (and that with reason) acknowledg him both their prince and superiour.”(Evelyn’s State of France; Miscellaneous Writings, 1825, p. 55.) –AD 

  6. They were also designed originally by Debrosse. –AD 

  7. This, now the residence of the president of the Senate, was a dependency of the greater palace, erected ahout the same date by Richelieu, who lived here till the Palais Royal was built. –AD 

  8. St. Jacques-la-Boucherie, of which the tower only now remains, the church having been pulled down in 1789. In climbing it Evelyn was following Howell’s suggestion (Forreine Travell, 1642, Sect, iii.); and also Lassels, who says (Voyage of Italy, 1670, i. p. 121): “I would wish my Traveler … to make it his constant practise (as I did) to mount up the chief Steeple of all great townes.”.   Richard Lassels, often referred to in the succeeding notes, was a Roman Catholic divine who died at Montpellier in 1668. He had been professor of classics at the English College at Douay. His travels (in two volumes) were published posthumously at Paris by Vincent du Moutier, under the care of his friend, S. Wilson, who inscribed them to Richard, Lord Lumley, Viscount Waterford.   Evelyn was probably familiar with the book; and perhaps employed it occasionally, when writing up his Memoirs, to refresh his memory. –AD 

  9. “Tis all one to lie in St. Innocent’s churchyard, as in the sands of Egypt,” Hydriotaphia, 1658 (final par.).

    The church and churchyard were closed in 1786, and the Rue and Square des Innocents now occupy the site. A later visitor than Evelyn thus describes ths spot: — “St. Innocent’s churchyard, the public burying-place of the City of Paris for a 1000 years, when intire (as I once saw it,) and built about with double galleries full of skull and bones, was an awful and venerable sight: but now I found it in ruins, and the greatest of the galleries pulled down, and a row of houses built in their room, and the bones removed I know not whither: the rest of the churchyard in the most neglected and nastiest pickle I ever saw any consecrated place.” (Lister’s Travels in France, 1698). –AD