Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes
The following is excerpted from "Paris: With Pen and Pencil, Its People and Literature, Its Life and Business", by David W. Bartlett

The Jardin des Plantes in the summer is one of the favorite resorts of Parisians, and although I frequented the spot, I never left it without a wonder that so much is thrown open free to the public. This is a remarkable feature of Paris and French institutions and public buildings. If possible, that which the people wish to see they can see for nothing. Painting-galleries, gardens, churches, and lectures are open to the crowd. This is in striking contrast with London. There nothing is free. The stranger pays to go over Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's. He cannot see anything without paying half a crown for the sight. To look at a virgin or butler is worth at least a shilling.

The stranger usually enters the Jardin des Plantes by the eastern gate. The gallery of zoology is seen at the other end of the garden, while on either hand are beautiful avenues of lime trees. Beyond, on the right, is the menagerie, and on the left is a large collection of forest trees. Scattered all around in the open space, are beds containing all manner of medicinal and other plants from all parts of the earth. This part of the garden is to the botanist a very interesting spot. The flowering-shrubs are surrounded by a rail fence, and the level of the ground is sunk beneath that of other parts of the garden. There is a special "botanical garden," which is much frequented by students. On another avenue there are plantations of forest shrubs, and near them a cafĂ© to accommodate visitors. Then stretching still further on, are new geological, mineralogical, and botanical galleries, all warmed in winter and summer, if necessary, by hot water, and capable of receiving the tallest tropical plants. Between the conservatories there are two beautiful mounds—one a labyrinth, and the other a collection of fir-trees. The labyrinth is one of the best and most beautiful I ever saw, far surpassing the celebrated one at Hampton court. The mound is of a conical shape, and is completely covered by winding and intricate paths. The whole is surmounted by a splendid cedar of Lebanon. On the summit there are also seats covered with a bronze pavilion, and taking one of them the visitor can look over all the garden portions of Paris, and several of the villages near Paris. It is an exquisite view, and I know of no greater pleasure in the hot months than after walking over the garden to ascend the labyrinth and sit down in the cool shade of the pavilion, and watch the people wandering over the gardens, Paris, and the country. The western mound is a nursery of fir-trees, every known kind being collected there. There is another inclosure entered by a door at the foot of this mound, which in warm weather contains some of the most beautiful trees of New Holland, the Cape of Good Hope, Asia Minor, and the coast of Barbary. The amphitheater is here, also, where all the lectures are delivered. It will hold twelve hundred students but more than that number contrive to hear the lectures. In the enclosure there are twelve thousand different kinds of plants, and at the door stand two very beautiful Sicilian palms more than twenty-five feet in height.

The menagerie of the garden is one of the finest in the world, and is in some respects like the menagerie in London, though arranged with more taste. The cages are scattered over a large inclosure, and it seems like wandering over a forest and meeting the animals in their native wilds. After passing beneath the boughs of dark trees, it is startling to look up and see a Bengal tiger within a few feet of you, though he is caged, or to walk on further still, and confront a leopard. This part of the garden is a continual source of amusement to the younger portions of the community of Paris, to say nothing of the children of larger growth.

The cabinet of comparative anatomy is one of the finest parts of the garden, and we owe its excellence mainly to the great exertions of Cuvier. Every department is scientifically arranged, and the whole form, perhaps, the best collection of anatomical specimens in the world. In the first room are skeletons of the whale tribe, and many marine animals; in the next, are skeletons of the human species from every part of the globe. A suite of eleven rooms is taken up for the anatomy of birds, fishes, and reptiles. Several rooms are taken up with the exhibition of the muscles of all animals, including man. Others exhibit arms and legs; others still, brains and eyes, and the different organs of the body all arranged together, distinct from the remaining parts of the frame. In one room there is a singular collection of skulls of men from all countries, of all ages, and conditions. Celebrated murderers here are side by side with men of ancient renown.

The gallery of zoology is three hundred and ninety feet in length, and fronts the east end of the garden. The other galleries are all equally spacious and well arranged.

The library is composed of works on natural history, and it is an unrivaled collection. It contains six thousand drawings, thirty thousand volumes, and fifteen thousand plants. This fine library is free on certain days to the world.


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