Marie Antoinette - Alice Birkhead

Marie Antoinette was one of the most tragic figures of the French revolution. This biography traces her life from her frivolous youth as a carefree and extravagant young queen, through the drama of the revolution and the calamities of the Reign of Terror, and finally to her stoic and courageous death on the scaffold.

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[Book Cover] from Marie Antoinette by Alice Birkhead
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Here, in the palace gardens, where the stately fountains play,

And a quiet sunshine bathes the land in the balm of an April day,

It is pleasant to sit and dream, awhile of the things that have passed away.

For if much has changed, there is much remains and half of the trees that grow

Were planted here in the Bourbon days, when a king was a king, you know

And they watched them, all the women and men who walked here long ago;

Duke and Marquis and Abbe, who lounged on the terrace stair,

With a stately bow to the wise and great, and a nod to Moliere;

And dainty dames with the tarnished names, and the smiles and the powdered hair.

Ah! life was life in the palace then, and the world was a gallant place,

With the polished ways and the pungent phrase and the ruffles, and swords, and lace,

And sin was hardly a thing to shun when it beckoned with such a grace.

Music and wit and laughter, and pleasure enthroned in state,

And the gardens bright with a fairy light at many a summer fete;

And ruin and famine and death and Hell not half a mile from the gate.!

Hell, and they couldn't see it! Death, and they only played!

For a serf—why a serf was born to serve, and a monarch to be obeyed;

Till the tumbrels came and the guillotine: but at least they were not afraid.

Shadows among the shadows, they flit through the checkered ways,

And the long, straight walks, where the elm-trees grow, and the time-worn statues gaze

Silent and cold, and grey and old, like the ghosts of forgotten days.

Kindly, blundering Louis, and beautiful Antoinette,

With the royal face, and the human heart, and the tears—could we but forget!

Down there is the little Trianon; perhaps we shall see her yet

Poor girl-queen! It's hard to be great; and you tried, and we can but try:

But what you took for the Truth and France was only a painted lie:

Did you know it at last, and understand, when the time had come to die?

Nay, I trust you did: for if Truth brings pain, I hold it is better far,

Were it only once, for a moment's space, like the flash of a falling star,

To pierce the cloud that has dimmed our eyes, and to see things as they are.

For a "sunshine king" is a rosily thing when monarch and man are blind,

And somebody reaps the whirlwind when others have sowed the wind,

And if death and famine stalk through the land, it isn't enough to be kind.

King and Queen, who were boy and girl, long since, ere the die was cast,

Was it all a riddle too hard to solve? Poor souls! You have wept and passed,

And after the din and the strife and sin there is peace, we hope, at the last.

And now the Tricolour triumphs where once the Lilies reigned;

Its red is red with a sea of blood, and the white—ah! the white is stained,

But a giant lie has been swept away, and France and the world have gained.