In the striking tributes which have been paid to the wives of French Presidents we have a remarkable illustration of their influence, in spite of the fact that they have no official status. "If Armand Fallieres has not an enemy in the world," say those who know, "the fact is as much due to his wife as to his goodness."
"Emile Loubet," writes another concerning Falliere's predecessor, "is a remarkably sagacious, kind-hearted man, but having learnt much from his wife, it is really to her that he owes a great deal of his popularity." And concerning the wife of the man whom Loubet succeeded-felix Faure -it has often been recorded that she helped her husband to attain the pinnacle of his fame by her faith in his ambitions, and by the readiness with which she adapted herself to the circumstances of his changing fortunes.
For it must be borne in mind that each of these three Presidents of France have risen from the ranks. The French Republic throws open the great prize of Chief Magistrate to every citizen in the State, and that is why, in the later history of the Third Republic, we find that the ladies of the Elysee Palace-the official residence of the President-have been women who, in ordinary circumstances, would not have risen above middle-class provincial life. Madame Faure was the daughter of an Amboise attorney, and met her husband when the latter, in blouse and wooden shoes, was working in a tanner's yard in that historic French town. Madame Loubet was Mdlle. Marie Denis, of the little village of Montelimar, the pretty daughter of respectable bourgeois parents, while forty years ago Armand Fallieres wooed and won Mdlle. Jeanne Besson, a girl in comparatively humble circumstances, living at Nerac, about seven miles from his own birthplace, the little village of Mezin, Gascony. These are the women who helped their husbands to carve their way successfully to fortune, and who themselves ultimately reigned at the Elysee Palace.
And the position is no sinecure. Indeed, it is one which would probably daunt the majority of women. The social duties attached to it are exceptionally onerous. It is true that the wife of the President is helped very considerably by the permanent staff at the Elysee Palace, but she herself must superintend the management of the receptions, balls, and dinners which are so often given in the gorgeous and spacious State rooms of the Palace. As an illustration of the scale on which entertainments are sometimes given in the Palace, it might be mentioned that on the occasion of a recent Elysee ball no fewer than 10,000 invitations were issued, although, owing to an epidemic of influenza, only 7,000 cards were taken at the doors. The question very naturally arises, who are the 10,000 people whom the President is called upon to entertain on such an occasion? For the most part they consist of country mayors and their wives, attaches, cadets of the military and naval schools, polytechnic students, and, of course, political personages.
The young people enjoy themselves immensely at such a ball. The dances are delightful, and any young gentleman can ask any young lady to be his partner for one dance, addressing his request, however, to her chaperon. Says one who attended the last Elysee ball:
" It takes more than three hours to make the circuit of the State rooms of the Elysee when there is a ball. The refreshment buffets close at midnight, and two supper buffets open some time after, when the President has gone in procession round all the rooms, with the chief guests in his suite. He has a lady on his arm - an example followed by every gentleman in his cortege. The choice of partners is entirely dictated by protocol rules. For some time before the President sets out there is great work in forming a passage for him. The throng that presses forward on both sides, and without any forcing, never invades this passage when once it is opened. The opening of the supper buffets greatly relieves the overcrowded rooms." The writer further remarks: "The quality of wines, confectionery, and all else bears the criticism of gourmets and tempts the gourmands to excess."
This observation reminds one of a characteristic story told of M. Loubet. Hitherto it had been the custom to serve at the Elysee balls two qualities of champagne, a superior quality to the notabilities, and a mediocre quality to the crowd. M. Loubet, however, insisted on having good champagne for everybody, and he served to the crowd the same quality that he served at the diplomatic sideboard, and served it with the same abundance and good grace. The thousands of bottles emptied in a year made no small draft on the presidential purse, but M. Loubet quietly paid for the extra quality out of his own pocket, and said nothing about it.
Two State balls are given every year, in addition to a garden-party, in connection with which thousands of invitations are also issued. Apart from these big affairs, however, a number of private parties and official dinners are given at the Elysee. In the latter case the meals are always extremely sumptuous. The Sevres china, flowers, and splendid decorations make such dinners quite equal to kingly functions. And when a Royal guest is at the Elysee, an interesting concert or some gala performance is arranged to amuse the guests after the banquet.
Housekeeping at the Elysee Palace, therefore, is no easy matter. It is true that the President receives from the State a salary of £24,000 per annum, in addition to £12,000 for household expenditure, and another £12,000 for travelling expenses-altogether, an annual allowance of £48,000. Out of this money, however, he is ex-pected to keep up the presidential establishment, entertain distinguished guests, subscribe to all kinds of charities, and pay all his travelling expenses on French territory. It is much below the income received by the chief of the State in any other great European nation, but it is considered quite sufficient for the Chief Magistrate of France. In addition to the Elysee Palace, it might be mentioned that the President may, if he desires, take up his residence at Fontainebleau, Compiegne, St. Germain, or Rambouillet. All these palaces are magnificently furnished, and there is a permanent staff at each, whose wages are paid by the State. The President, however, usually adds to their wages when in residence.