The American in Paris - Vol. I - John Sanderson - ebook
Kategoria: Literatura faktu, reportaże, biografie Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1838

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John Sanderson

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Opis ebooka The American in Paris - Vol. I - John Sanderson

(Two volumes.) Sketches of Paris and French people : In Familiar Letters to His Friends. An account of the teacher and writer's experiences and perceptions of France, where he had traveled for health reasons in 1835. Noted for its astute and striking descriptions, it became popular in the United States, is published in London as The American in Paris (1838), and would be later translated into French by Jules Janin.

Opinie o ebooku The American in Paris - Vol. I - John Sanderson

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About

Chapter 1 - Letter I
1. June 30th, 1835.
2. Rouen, July 3rd, 1835.
Chapter 2 - Letter II

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You have no sooner a guinea in London than you have none. In addition to the ways and means I pointed out in my last, gather together the letters I wrote you from Paris, and offer them to the booksellers. There are enough, if you have preserved them, for two volumes. I had partly the intention, in writing these letters, to dress them up one day into some kind of shape for the Public. I am not certain they are fit to be seen in their present dishabille - but leave that to the purchaser. A pretty woman slip-shod is a pretty woman still, and she is not so much improved as you think by her court dress. Tell the Public I do not mean them for great things: I am no critic, no politician, no political economist; but only, as Shakespeare would say, «a snapper up of inconsiderate trifles». Under this title I have the honour to be, with the most perfect consideration, the Public's very obedient, humble servant.


Chapter 1 Letter I

Havre - Description of the Town - The Map seller - Manners of the People - Law of Inheritance - State of Agriculture - Town and Country Poverty - Foreign Trade - The Custom House, a School for Perjury - System of Passports - The French Diligence - Rouen - The Cathedral - Joan of Arc.


1. June 30th, 1835.

I HAVE half a mind to describe this town to you. It has twenty thousand inhabitants, is at the mouth of the Seine, and twenty-four hours from Paris. The houses are high, mostly of black slate and patched often till nothing is seen but the patches, and mushrooms and other vegetables grow through the cracks. Villages in America have an air of youth and freshness harmonising with their dimensions. Small things should never look old. This town presents you with the ungracious image of a wrinkled and gray-headed baby. The streets, except one, have no sidewalks; they are paved with rough stone, and are without gutters and common sewers, the march of intellect not having arrived at these luxuries. The exception is the rue de Paris; it has trottoirs, a theatre, a public square, a market-house, a library with six thousand volumes, and a church very richly furnished, the organ presented by Cardinal Richelieu. I have been to the church this morning, to pay the Virgin Mary the pound of candles I owed for my preservation at sea. The prettiest improvement I have seen (and it is no miracle for a town of so much commercial importance) is a clock, cut in from the bay along the channel of an old creek, which contains three or four hundred ships, a goodly number of which wear the American flag; it runs through the midst of the town, and brings the vessels into a pleasant sociability with the houses. When the tide is high, these vessels ride in their own element; when low, you see a whole fleet wallowing in the mud; and passengers, to get to sea, have to wait the complaisance of both wind and tide often a whole week.

But step out through the rue de Paris, a little to the north, and you will see a compensation for all this ugliness. It is a hill, running boldly up to the water's edge, whose south side, several hundred feet high, is smothered with houses, which seem to be scrambling up the acclivity to get a look at the town; and the entire summit is covered with beautiful villas, and gardens rich with trees and shrubbery, and hedges, which at this season are a most luxurious ornament. Many American families, having grown rich here by commerce, are perched magnificently upon this hill. The view from the top is charming! The old town, in its motley livery of houses, ships, and fortifications, spreads itself out at your feet; on the west, there is an open view of the channel, and all the pretty images of a commercial port, such as vessels in the near and distant prospect, coming into harbour and going out upon their voyages; and on the south, and beyond the bay into which the Seine flows, is a fine romantic country of field and woodland, which runs gradually up, undulating like the sea, till it meets the blue sky. It is charming, too, in the night; for as soon as Mercury has hung out his lamps above, these Havrians light up theirs in the town, and set up a little opposition to the heavens; and there you are between two firmaments, which of a fine evening is a fantastic and gorgeous spectacle. This is the Havre. It is the first thing I ever described, and I am out of breath.

And now the customs and manners. I have had dealings with hackney-coachmen, porters, pedlars, and pickpockets, and have found them eminently qualified in their several departments. In strolling last evening through the streets, going only to frank a letter at the post office, I remarked a person crying maps by a wall side. He walked up and down with arms folded, and had a grave and respectable face: - A trente sous seulement! C'est incroyable! A trente sous! I wished to look after a place in Normandy called Helleville; the very place where Guiscard and, that other choicest of all ladies' heroes, Tancred were born. Only think of Tancred being born in the department of Coutance, and being nothing but a Frenchman; and only think, too, of the possibility of taking a piece of gold out of a man's waistcoat pocket at mid-day, the owner being wide awake, and in full enjoyment of his senses. I had no sooner made my wants known to this polite auctioneer than, with a civilité toute française, he placed the map before my eyes - that is, between the eyes and the waistcoat pocket, and himself just behind the left shoulder, and assisted me in the search - Hell- Hell- Hell- Helleville!- le voila, monsieur! He then resumed his walk and looked out for new customers; and I, with a return of his bow and smile, and a grateful sense of his politeness, took leave, and pursued my way contentedly, not missing what was stolen, to the post-office. Here I took out my letter, had it stamped, and put my hand complacently in my pocket, and then went home very much disgusted with the French nation. To be robbed at the Havre brings no excuse for one's wit or understanding: in Paris, it is what one expects from the civilization of the capital.

The porters, coachmen, draymen, boatmen, and such like, about the Havre, are wrangling and noisy to excess. They burst out into a fury every few minutes, but it always terminates innocently. It reminds one of our militia musketry; there is a preliminary, and then a general explosion, and then a few scattering cartridges, and all ends in smoke. They seldom resort to duelling, and boxing is considered vulgar; and as for oaths, they make no sort of figure in French. In the article of swearing, we are ahead, I believe, of all other nations. In their common intercourse, however, these people are much more respectful than we are to their betters and to one another. Mr. Boots, for no other reason than bringing your shoes in well polished, insists on your pardon for having deranged you; and the beggar takes leave of his fellow-beggar with his respects to madam. But these respects, I have heard, do not bear the test of any two penny interest. There is no civility that stands against sixpence.

This common world is more social, and in appearance more joyous, than with us. It huddles together in public places, with wonderful conversation and merriment, till a late hour of the night; and what a quantity of green old age! grandmothers of sixty with their hair en papillote, are playing hide and go-seek with twenty-five. After all, what signifies the degree of poverty or age, if one is happy? Another remarkable thing is the respect paid to property. Benches on the public squares are handed down to posterity with no other marks than the natural wear and tear of sitting on them; vegetables grow by the way-side untrodden, and gardens and fields offer their fruits without hedge or fence, or any visible protection. I have talked these matters over with a Frenchman, who says, that it is the last generation only that lives at this rate, and that the present one dies off at a very reasonable age. The truth I believe is that we, in our country, keep old persons inside the house; we wrap them up and lay them on the shelf, and ennui and neglect, no doubt, abridge a little their duration.

As for the security of property, he ascribes it entirely to a certain shepherdly swain, very common here, who wears red breeches, and is coiffed in a cocked hat, with one of the cocks exactly over his nose, called a garde champetre, who watches day and night over the safety of the fields. A curiosity of the place is the peasant women, whom you will see mixed fantastically with the citizens in the market, and flocking in and out in great numbers at the town gate. Labour and the sun have worn all the feminine charms out of their faces, and they have mounted up over these ugly faces starched and white caps two stories high, in which they encounter all sorts of weather; they are seated on little asses, a large basket at each side, in which they carry vegetables to market, and carry back manure for the crops of the next year. The American intercourse is so quickened by railroads and steamboats, that the characteristics of town and country are almost effaced; here they wear yet their distinct liveries.

And now the antiquities. I visited, this morning, a trumpery old palace of Charles V.; also a round tower, built, they say, by that great tower builder, Julius Cassar; and returning through a solitary alley, I stumbled accidentally upon a monument of more precious memory, the birthplace of the author of Paul and Virginia. It is a scrubby old hut, with a bit of marble in front containing his name and day of nativity. Genius seems to have but mean notions of the dignity of birth; Pindar was born in the slough and vapours of Boeotia, and St. Pierre in this filthy alley of the Havre.

And now the politics. The children here are apportioned equally, and cannot be disinherited. All the father can dispose of by will, is a half, third, or fourth, of the estate, according as he has one, two, or more heirs. This kind of succession cuts up the land into small patches, and thus brings poverty on both town and country. Families being without capital to improve their agricultural resources, have but little to spare to the town, and can, therefore, buy but little of its stores and manufactures; and, from inability to supply the raw materials and provisions cheap, buy this little at an enhanced price. In this way the two parties mutually beggar each other. Besides, under this system of minute divisions, the farming; population increases enormously, poverty increasing in the same ratio.

Two-thirds of the French are already farmers; and in England, where farming is in so much greater perfection, the ratio is one-third. This law, too, in rendering the children independent of the father, destroys his authority and his check upon their conduct; it weakens the motives to exertion, which arise from fear of want or prospects of future good, and is consequently unfavourable to intellect and morals. The English system makes one son only a fool, the French besots the whole family. A redundant population is the great curse of all these old countries, and under this system of subdivision, a nation, unless the blessings of war or the plague intervene, becomes as multitudinous as the Chinese, eating dogs, and cats, and potatoes, and hutting with cows and pigs; a plough, as in Ireland, becoming a joint stock possession, and a horse belonging to a whole neighbourhood.

The French, in spite of the Moscows and Waterloos, have added between five and six millions to their population of 1789. Agriculture, to be sure, was improved by the Revolution, by the divisions amongst the peasantry of the national domains and confiscated property of the nobles, by the abolition of tithes and game laws, and by bringing the waste lands into cultivation; but this condition is, or must soon be, on the reverse. In America, the abundance of idle and- cheap land prevents this calamity for the present. I have travelled a few miles in the country, and have squeezed what sense I could out of the peasants. I find that, in all branches of husbandry, a labourer here performs a fourth less work daily than in America; and in ploughing and reaping, nearly a third. The French implements, too, are clumsy and bungling; oxen are yoked by the horns, harrows have wooden teeth, and the plough, mostly of wood, scratches up the earth instead of turning a furrow.

Another great evil in French politics is the centralization of everything in the metropolis. In our country, each borough or township is an independent community, and manages its concerns with scarce a sense of any foreign superintendence. An individual recommends himself to favour first in his village, then in his county, next in his state, and finally in the United States; and none glimmer in the last sphere who have not shown in the first. Here this condition is reversed - there is a converging of all the rays into one general focus. Paris is the centre, and there is none but delegated authority anywhere else. So the French provinces are out at the heels and elbows, and Paris wears its elegant and fashionable wardrobe. Your Pottsville has a hundred miles of railroad, whilst the Havre transports the whole trade of the capital by a two-wheeled operation she calls the roulage, and her boats upon the channel carrying on the intercourse between the two greatest cities of the world, are about equal to yours, in which you cross over into Jersey to eat creams with mother Heyle.

A third reason of village and country poverty is the neglect of machinery, by which production may be increased with a diminution of labour. Not a railroad has yet shown its nose in this place, though it is the outlet to the foreign trade of one third of the French territory, including the capital, with its almost a million of inhabitants. They are cleaning their great dock to-day with a hundred or two of men armed with spades, whilst a machine is doing the same work upon the Delaware with three or four negroes. The economists of the French school reason thus: If this clumsy apparatus is superseded, our workmen will be out of employ; besides, it is known that the increase of consumers always keeps pace with the increase of production, and you end where you began. - But you increase also your strength. Yes, and the difficulties of government. - You give life to a greater number of human beings. And little obligations have they for the gift, if they are to run the risk of being corrupted in this world and punished in the next; and the means of corruption are greater in a crowded than a thin population; greater amongst an idle and luxurious, than a simple and laborious people.

The American public was more happy and virtuous with its three millions than with its ten millions and its railroads. If this is all true, then the country which has least fertility of soil, and least skill in the arts of agriculture, is the most favoured by Providence; and the best system of economy is that which teaches us to procure the least possible produce with the greatest possible labour. The best employment, too, for the labourers, would be to plant cucumbers in summer, and extract the sunbeams out of them, to keep themselves warm in winter. I like the system which teaches us to increase the sum of human comforts. I think it is better to live in an improved country, with clean streets and neat dwellings, than to have the same means of living with destitution of such conveniences. I like even to starve with decent accommodations.

A fourth great cause of poverty is the restriction which these nations have imposed upon their mutual intercourse, and the produce of each other's industry. There is a total disagreement between natural reason and the custom of all countries on this subject. Nature, by giving us a diversity of soils, climates, and products, has pointed out the right objects of industry, and laid all nations under obligations of dependence and intimacy upon each other; and there is a general struggle amongst all to counteract this benevolent design. France, for example, has a natural fitness for wines, and the land producing this wine is unsuited to any other culture; yet she has so managed as to keep her wine trade stationary for the last fifty years. England buys her wine, of inferior quality, from Portugal and Spain, and carries on a greater trade with the Chinese, her Antipodes, than with France, her next-door neighbour. All proclaim the benefits of foreign trade, and all legislate directly to get rid of their foreign customers. In what more direct way could France prevent the sale of her wines to Russia, Sweden, and England, than by refusing their coal, iron, woollen manufactures, and other products, for which they have a natural advantage in return?

But the great struggle of all is to become independent; and yet the very word implies the extinction of all foreign commerce. The greatest of all national blessings is assuredly that very dependence we are so eager to avoid. We cannot become dependent upon a foreign nation without laying it, at the same time, under a similar dependence. But in case of a war? This is the very way to make a war impossible. Men do not war against their own interests. We are dependent upon Lyons for her silks, and her petitions are now pouring in daily against the impending war with America; and many think they will go nigh to prevent it. Would not this war be more remote if the dependence were increased? If I wished to prevent all future wars with France and England, I would begin by building a railroad from Paris to London, and removing their commercial restrictions. Each country would then improve to the uttermost that industry to which it is most fitted. Intimacies, too, would be improved, prejudices effaced, and they would become, at length, so dependent upon each other, that even should a mad or silly government involve them in a war, their mutual interests would force them to discontinue it.

Of all methods of gathering taxes, that of the Custom-house seems to me the worst. What an expensive apparatus of buildings! what a fleet of vessels! what an army of spies! what courts of admiralty! and what an array of new crimes upon the statute book! A custom-house is a school for perjury and other vices, and where the first lessons are made easy for beginners. There is nothing one robs with so little compunction as one's country. It is, at the worst, only robbing thirty millions of people. A sin loses its criminality by diffusion, and may be so expanded as to be no sin at all.

All the functions of a custom-house are in their nature odious and vexatious. The first injunction is to refuse the traveller, wearied of the sea, the common rites of hospitality on setting his foot upon the land, to ransack even honest women by impudent police officers, and subject honourable men to a scrutiny practised elsewhere only upon thieves. I piqued a Frenchman on board our ship on the venality, which I had heard of, of the French ports. He replied that he had been in the American trade for ten years, and accompanied each of his cargoes to our ports, for the express purpose of not paying the duties. Why, nothing is more easy. «There is an officer who examines; we know each other; he knocks off the top of the boxes, rummages the calico with great fuss and ceremony, and the silks and jewellery sleep quiet at the bottom. Whoever, he says, pays more than ten per cent of his duties in any country, is unacquainted with his business.»

There is another item in European policy - the requirement of passports - the cost, the delays and vexatious ceremony attending it. This has incurred abundant reprehension, especially from American travellers; and there certainly is no other use in such a regulation than that a set of the most despicable creatures that creep upon the earth may get a living by it. But when one is used, for a long time, to see things done in a certain way, one does not conceive the possibility of their being done in any other way. When I informed an intelligent Frenchman, of forty years, that even a stranger did not carry a passport about with him in America, and that we dispensed with all this array of police officers, and spies, and other such impediments to travelling and the intercourse of nations, he inferred that there could be no personal security. That alone, he said, would deter him from residing in the United States. When I cited against him the example of England, he remained incredulous, and required the confirmation of a better authority.

Don't you imagine that I am going to treat you hereafter to so vulgar a thing as politics. Events have not yet thickened upon my observation, and I am obliged to make use of all my resources. If I could afford to send you blank paper all the way across the Atlantic, I would have omitted these last pages - hand them over to your husband. The living here is about equal in the quality of food and price to your best houses of Philadelphia. The hotels are shabby in comparison with ours; the one I lodge in has not been washed since the year of the world 1656; but the cookery and service are altogether in favour of the French. A breakfast is two francs, a dinner three, and a chamber two. You may count your daily expenses at a dollar and a half in the best houses. The Havre is our first acquaintance on the continent, and its history cannot be without some interest, especially to ladies who are just sighing to go to Paris. Adieu.


2. Rouen, July 3rd, 1835.

What a curiosity of ugliness is a French diligence. It exceeds in this quality even our American stages. But beauty is sacrificed to convenience: it carries three tons of passengers and luggage, with a speed of seven miles an hour. The coupé, in front, has three seats, the intérieur, six, and the rotonde as many in the rear, the price decreasing in the same direction - from the whole, to about the half of our American prices. There are also three seats aloft. These divisions are invisible to each other, and represent the world outside - the rich, the middling, and the poor. If you feel very aristocratic, you take the whole coupé to yourself, or yourself and lady, and you can be as private as you please. Each seat is numbered, and the traveller has his number on the way-bill and in his pocket. A conducteur superintends luggage, etc., and is paid extra. The team has three horses abreast in front, and two in the rear, and upon one of the latter is mounted a postillion. This personage deserves a particular notice. He is immersed to his middle in a huge pair of boots, making each leg the diameter of his body; and his body, too, is squeezed into a narrow coat, which being buttoned to the chin, props his woeful countenance towards the firmament, so that he corresponds exactly with Ovid's description of a man, or rather, he looks like the letter Y upside down. Cracking a whip he does not regard as an acquirement, but a virtue. He can crack several tunes; and, in a calm night, serenades a whole village.

The road to Rouen, in the diligence, has nothing in it agreeable. The land has the ordinary crops, but it is a wide waste of cultivation, without hedges, or barns, or cottages. The only relief is now and then a comfortless village, or a solitary and neglected chateau. You swallow a mouthful of dust at each breath, and you are disgusted at all the stopping-places by the wailing voices of beggars, old men and women recommending themselves by decrepitude, and children by rags and nakedness. The children often run before the diligence for a quarter of a mile in quest of the charitable sous. I soon got out of change, and then reasoned myself into a fit of uncharitableness. They may be unworthy, and I shall encourage vice; besides, charity only increases the breed. What I give to these vagabonds I take from somebody else. I should otherwise lay it out in some article of trade, and if all do so, we shall only make a new set of beggars by relieving the old - reduce the industrious to mendicity by encouraging the idlers. Moreover, I can't help all, and I won't help any, or, if I do help any, I will give to my own countrymen, and not to these ragamuffin Frenchmen. In this way, you get along without much affecting the tranquillity of your conscience. My advice is that you come by the Seine and the steamboat. It is a passage of only eight hours, and everyone says it will delight you with its beautiful and romantic scenery.

I suppose you know this is the birth-place of Racine and Fontenelle. It deserves a passing notice on their account, as also on its own. The residence of those truculent old Norman dukes who made the world shake with fear, and gave sovereigns to some of the best nations of Europe, cannot be an indifferent spot upon the globe. Indeed, we may trace to it many of our own institutions, as well as a good part of our language. Our terms of law, the very cries of our courts in Schuylkill county, are imported from this Old Normandy, of which Rouen is the capital. It is a fantastic old town, with earthenware tiles, and enclosed between two mountains, having a mixture of art and nature, which bring each other out finely into relief. One is delighted to see town in the country, and country in the town. Here is a large factory, or hotel, and there a set of gray and tawny-looking hovels, like a village of the Puttawattemies.

The peasants are seen amongst the tops and chimneys of the houses, cultivating their fields on the sides, and upon the summits, of the hills, which are arrayed in tufts of woodland, hedges, and pasturage; and all the avenues leading to the town are beautifully over shaded with chestnuts and elms. The Seine, too, has its fairy islands and weeping willows on its banks, and winds along through the middle of the town; and now and then a steamboat comes up the valley, with a puffing and fuss that would have made stare even the iron features of old Rollo. One can see such a town but once, and no one can see it so well as he who has been used to the fresh and glaring villages of our country. Rouen has ninety thousand inhabitants, a library of four thousand volumes, a gallery of paintings, and manufactures of all sorts of calico and other cotton stuffs; also of velvets, shawls, linen, and bombasins. More than half the population is engaged directly in these manufactures. My advice is that you sleep here one night instead of in the diligence, in running post to Paris; and in your evening's walk, I invite you to step out and see Napoleon's bridge, which has, in the centre of it, a fine statue of Corneille.

I went to see that famous piece of venerable antiquity, the Cathedral. You have its picture in all the Penny Magazines. Our guide, who knows it by heart, told us his tale as follows: - «Gentlemen, this is the tomb of Hollo, first duke of Normandy; no horse could carry him; had to walk on foot; died 917. Gentlemen, this is William Longsword, his son and successor; was on the point of taking the frock to be a monk, but was basely assassinated by Arnaud, Count of Flanders.» (And the devil a monk was he.) «Gentlemen, this is Pierre de Breze, Grand Seneschal of Anjou and Normandy; fell in the battle of Montilherry, 1467; and this is John, Duke of Bedford, Viceroy of Normandy, who died in 1438. In this tomb, gentlemen (come a little nearer) - in this tomb is deposited the heart of Richard Coeur de Lion! (a tremor ran through our bones.) His heart is in this tomb, his brains are in Poictiers, and the other parts of him in Kent, in Great Britain. The man who took out his brains died of it. This is the last man Richard killed, and he had killed more than one.» Here our Cicerone ran down, and his features, just now so animated, were suddenly collapsed, the natural effect of inspiration.

We looked then at the great bell, and the organs, and the statues of saints, most of them mutilated in the Revolution. One, without a 'nose, they told us was St. Dunstan; the Devil and the Jacobins having retaliated. There is a headless trunk, too, they might very well pass for St. Denis. One of the remarkable features of this church is the painting on glass, representing scriptural scenes, of which the colours seem to have grown more vivid by time, though time has destroyed the secret of their composition. The architecture is Gothic, and the grandest specimen of this order in France. Its immense fluted columns, near a hundred feet high and ten or twelve in diameter - its images of Christ and the Virgin, and the pictures of the apostles and saints, are both sublime and beautiful. The lightning has thought it worthy of a visit, and has overturned one of its huge towers.

Poor Joan of Arc! Here is her monument in the midst of the market square, where she was burnt. It is a pedestal of twenty feet, surmounted by her statue. Alongside of this trophy of French and English barbarism, instead of blushing for shame, they shew you, for six pence, the room in which she was imprisoned. It is damp, and has only glimmerings of light, and is altogether a horrid remnant of antiquity. Farewell to Rouen.


Chapter 2 Letter II

Paris - Street Cries - St. Roch - The Boulevards - Parisian Lodgings - Manner of Living - The Grand Opera - Taglioni - The Public Gardens - The Guinguettes - Dancing, the characteristic amusement of the French - Sunday Dances - Dancing defended, from classical authority.