“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 233-237.
IN the city of Paris there is a street that runs parallel with the Louvre, the garden of the Tuileries, and the Champs Elysées (or Elysian Fields), just one block apart from them, and called by the name of Rue St. Honoré. It was one bright and beautiful morning that I walked up this street with a friend of mine, who then resided in this famous city. “You will see,” said he, “a great deal that is vile and wicked in Paris, if you take the trouble to look for it; but you will also find a great deal that is good, noble, and benevolent, if you will take the same trouble; although I must say that foreign visitors do not care much to find out what is really good and worthy of visiting here, preferring instead to indulge their curiosity in other and less reputable objects.” So saying, he led me through a door up one flight of stairs into a spacious room, that at once filled me with surprise and delight.
For standing endwise against the walls of the room, on every side, were beautiful little swinging cradles, nearly all of light iron-work, and painted of various colors — blue, green, white, and gold, and other gay tints, with tiny white sheets, blankets, and pillows, and nestled amid the soft, warm coverings was such a multitude of rosy faces, 234 nearly all of them fast asleep, that what with the bright day shining through the tall windows, and the bright cradles, and the exquisitely clean room, and the little heads and closed eyelids, and rosy cheeks and lips of this baby congregation around, one could scarcely be unmoved, even if he were an American, and his own little ones were no nearer to him than three thousand miles beyond the salt sea!
Nor was the surprise of seeing so many swinging cradles at all diminished by reading the illustrious names attached to them; for every one had a plate or card, upon which was engraved or inscribed the name of some juvenile of illustrious birth: for instance, the one on my right, as I entered, bore the name of the young Prince Imperial, and others, on every side, exhibiting some title of nobility belonging to the tender morning glories of the Empire. “So, then,” said I, “here lies the flower of the young noblesse of France!” Here are the infant emperors, princes, dukes, marquises, and counts of the Napoleonic dynasty. Alas! where are the young Bourbons, the Orleans, the Montpensiers, the Joinvilles, the Montmorencies? By my faith, the children of people of rank are always beautiful; there is something so distinguished-looking in their countenances, even when asleep, that you at once recognize the difference between them and the children of ordinary people!
A few of the youthful dukes and princes were wide awake, and sitting bolt upright in their cribs, while quite a rosy ring of urchins were seated on the clean wax floor, all with round, shining eyes, and little black heads, and 235 blooming cheeks; but, to my surprise, not among them all was a note of complaint uttered, a cry of pain, an exclamation of fretfulness. All looked happy, clean, and content. But it seemed to me they were awfully serious — staring at us with haughty looks, as if impressed with the dignity of their positions in life.
A couple of bright, apple-faced nuns of the Order of St. Thérèse, clad in yellow stuff gowns, with keys, rosaries, scissors, pincushions, or other useful articles, hanging from their girdles, were bustling about among the callous community, as full of goodness and mirth and cheerful conversation, as if they had been veritable mothers themselves. The whole establishment, one of them said, was under the immediate protection of the Empress, as well as seventeen other crèches in the city. They were benevolent institutions, where poor mothers could deposit their babies in the morning, before going to their daily work, returning to nurse them at proper hours, and then to take them home in the evening. When they are brought to La Crèche in the morning, they are washed, dressed, fed, and attended to during the whole day, medical attendance provided, if necessary, for all of which the mother pays only two sous (or two cents). This institution takes charge of sixty children a day, none of which, I believe, are over two years of age. The swing-cradles are the gifts of benevolent ladies, many of them of high rank, and are given in the name of their own little ones. “See here,” she said, pointing to the first one that attracted my attention, “a cradle from the Empress herself!”
So, then, these are not children of noble blood, but only 236 foundlings of washerwomen and seamstresses. I thought from the first they all had a sort of plebeian look! “Pardon me, monsieur,” said Sister Agathe, “these are not foundlings. Their mothers are very poor; but they may be very respectable. And when they take their infants away at night, ah! monsieur should see how happy the poor mothers are to get them back once more — hugging them as if they never, never wanted to part with them again!”
It was a beautiful thought to give these institutions the name they bear; for La Crèche signifies “a manger,” and at once brings to mind the heavenly manger in which the young Saviour — himself a child of the poor — was carefully laid by his virgin mother.
Such institutions as La Crèche do not foster crime; but they may be the means of preventing hundreds of thousands of cases of infanticide; they may prevent many cases of suicide; they may even bind fathers and mothers together by stronger ties than those which are too often separated by misery and hopelessness. Little children soon grow large enough to take care of themselves, and even to add to the support of a family. But while they are infants, and helpless, and poor, and friendless, protect them for a little while, O ye benevolent!
I turned from La Crèche; with a happy heart, to think that even in this vast and vicious city the little ones were not altogether unprovided for; that even in the midst of toil and privation, Parisian mothers could look forward to the rising of the morning’s sun with hope and gratitude; and as I then thought of my own country, a cloud darkened
my spirit, and I said: “Would to God we had a day-by-day asylum, such as this, in the midst of our populous and thriving cities! If we had, how many a poor mother’s heart would be lightened over her daily work, and how many a rich woman’s heart would feel glorified in ministering to such a charity! Surely there are plenty of benevolent ladies who would contribute a cradle a-piece! Surely there are plenty of benevolent gentlemen who would gladly lend their aid to support such a building; the expense of nurses would not be much — indeed, how many poor women would be too happy to embrace such a situation? And then to think of the good it might do; of the crimes it might prevent!