THE STORY OF TWO STATUES
France, always generous, said to herself one day, “What could I do to be agreeable to America?” The idea occurred to her that it might be well to recall to the New World that Lafayette was not completely foreign to its freedom. A cable was immediately sent to President Grant. It was very concise since each word cost three francs seventy-five centimes:
Grant, President, White House, Washington.
Wish to be very agreeable to you. Wish to make statue Lafayette for your beautiful country. What do you think? Answer prepaid.
The answer was not slow in coming. Here is a copy as it was communicated to me:
Wish to be agreeable to you. See no difficulties in proposal. Make statue Lafayette. Pack well and send prepaid—Grateful America.
This happened under M. Thiers. A credit was immediately voted and M. Bartholdi, one of our most skillful sculptors, was commissioned to come immediately to grips with Lafayette. Three months afterwards, the finished statue was sent to the ministry, and then for a whole year the matter was not brought up again.
A few Frenchmen living in America were disturbed by this oversight and commissioned a businessman who was going to Europe to ask what had become of the statue. As soon as he landed, the businessman went to M. Thiers. He didn’t know that the president had just been replaced.
“Address yourself to my successor,” said M. Thiers.
The businessman went to the new president’s residence and asked for an interview which was granted and which concluded with this piece of advice: “Go to the minister in charge.”
The minister in charge received the businessman very politely and said to him as he showed him out: “Go to the Director of Fine Arts.”
“I should have thought of that sooner,” said the businessman as he ran to the Bureau of Fine Arts.
Luckily the director was in his office. The businessman was shown in and the following dialogue began:
“I have come to ask news of the statue of Lafayette.”
“Wait a moment. My head clerk probably knows what it is all about. I have been here such a short time.”
The head clerk was called.
“Have you heard anything about the statue of Lafayette?”
“It is in the basement," answered the head clerk seriously.
“Well, monsieur le directeur, will you be good enough to have it brought up and sent immediately to the United States prepaid?”
“But, monsieur, I have no orders from the minister, and if I had, I have no money which I can use for shipping costs.”
“Nevertheless, the statue cannot remain eternally in the basement. France promised it to America. America is awaiting it impatiently.”
“But, monsieur, I do not wish to prevent your taking it. I will go further, I will authorize you to remove it.”
Our businessman did not want to come back without his Lafayette; besides, he had an idea and he didn’t have to be told twice. He got the statue and sent it immediately to America, addressing it to the Consul General of France in New York. Not long afterwards, he himself reached that city, presented himself to our consul general and approximately this conversation took place.
“Well, monsieur le consul général, I have just come back from France.”
“I brought it with me.”
“The statue of Lafayette.”
“Ah, fine,” said the consul.
“It’s in the customhouse right now.”
“You did the right thing.”
“It is sent in your name.”
“In my name, what for?”
“Because it is you who must pay the duty and the freight.”
“The freight? I pay the freight! The government has given me no orders.”
“Come now, monsieur, it’s only a question of a few thousand francs.”
Naturally, the consul could not be moved.
Luckily for our commercial traveler in statues, a French committee had been formed in America which found a way to release the unhappy Lafayette from the American customs. The most curious thing about the story is that Lafayette, once he was freed, was no further along. At the moment I am writing, a site where he can be properly placed upon his pedestal has not yet been found.
France, feeling more and more generous, said to herself one fine morning, “What could I do to be agreeable to America on the occasion of her hundredth anniversary? What if I should offer her a statue?” A statue is just the thing. A campaign for funds was organized. Frenchmen and Americans both took part, and it was decided unanimously that the statue should represent: Liberty Enlightening the World. M. Bartholdi, whom we have already mentioned, was given the commission for this work.
His new creation did not have to undergo all the misadventures of the statue of Lafayette. The work was brought to completion without any interference, and when it was quite finished, the artist came to America to seek a propitious place for the site of his immense Liberty Enlightening the World.
I don’t know exactly why this subject was chosen. The New World, everyone maintains, possesses all the liberties and as a consequence has no need of being enlightened further.
I close the parenthesis.
M. Bartholdi, after a rather long search, at last found what he wanted: a magnificent position, a natural base emerging from the water, in a word, Bedloe’s Island.
“This is the place,” he cried.
Without losing a moment, the sculptor recruited workmen and brought them to the islet to dig the foundations.
While the men were working, the artist was looking emotionally at the hole which was getting deeper and deeper. Following the thread of his thought, he saw in these first blows with a pickaxe the point of departure of the grandiose monument to which his name would be eternally attached,, He was at this point in his dreams when he felt a hand tapping him on the shoulder. The sculptor turned around and found himself in the presence of a policeman.
“What are you doing?” the agent of the law asked him politely.
“I am having the foundations dug for Liberty Enlightening the World”
“Who gave you the liberty to dig this hole?”
“But, it was. . . .”
“You don’t know who?”
“Pardon me, it is America! America ordered a statue from me. I was looking for a suitable place to raise my monument. This is a marvelous place.”
“What you say interests me very much, but in spite of all the liberties which America enjoys, learn, monsieur, that you do not have the right to dig so large a hole without authorization. Will you be good enough to follow me to the mayors office?”
The workmen who had stopped at the sight of a policeman had already put on their coats and were about to leave the spot. “Don’t go,” cried the sculptor in despair. “I will be back in five minutes with the permit.”
“Five minutes!” The artist had not foreseen one thing—what am I saying?—many things:
To construct something on municipal land without permission is just as impossible in America as everywhere else. The mayor could not take upon himself such a responsibility; he called together the city council. The city council found that a question of this importance could not be decided without getting the opinion of the governor of the State. The governor of the State could do nothing without consulting the president of the Republic. The president of the Republic was only the humble instrument of the House, whose decisions might be re-examined by the Senate.
Why couldn’t they do for Liberty Enlightening the World what had been done for the quarantine station?—construct an island on piles. That is an idea as big as the monument itself. Only the construction would have to be solid; if there should be any upset, Bartholdi’s island might go floating off, and who knows where chance might lead it? Perhaps to the coast of France, perhaps even as far as Paris, which has now become a seaport?11