« AnteriorContinuar »
fered a change into something new and strange. I have seen carrots and beets grouped with as much skill as ever were living figures in a tableau. It was more than a market to me; it was a museum — an art gallery — as much so as the Louvre, which was not far off. The market artists were all women. In France the "gray mare is the better horse;" in Switzerland she is all the horse there is. The Parisian market-women were as polite as duchesses that is, as polite as duchesses are supposed to be, for I cannot speak of them from personal acquaintance. In this market, then, I saw much of France and of French people. Before I left the Hotel Coquilliere, I knew by sight all the shopkeepers in the neighborhood, and established a
“comment vous portez-vous" acquaintance with a bakeress, who, with infinite patience and politeness, studied out what I was trying to say on the "currency question," and explained to me the mystery of French money — the sous, centimes and francs.
And in the desultory way in which I am writing this, I come to another matter—that of language. I verily believe that many people who would like to visit France, stay away because they dread to go to a country where they are ignorant of the language.
little French is certainly a great help; and however badly you may speak it, the French are too polite to laugh at you, and make every effort to understand: but it is quite possible to get about and enjoy life without knowing a word of the French language. An astonishing number of people, in Paris at least, speak more or less English. You begin, ofttimes, in the street, with fear and trembling, to put together French enough to ask the way to this place or that, to be met with an answer in your native tongue. I do not think that a Parisian ever failed to recognize an American or an Englishman at a glance.
In London you can see a great deal — by paying a shilling for it, but Paris is a "free show.” It is worth a journey there to look at the shop windows. In London, I went to show places and to parks; in Paris, I never tired of walking about the streets. I walked, I do not know how many times, along the great boulevards, to the arches called Portes, St. Martin and St. Denis ; and then there was the Champs Elysées, and a long walk in the other direction, along the Seine. Of the rides taken, according to programme, and which embraced most of the famous places, I shall not speak here.
I know — now that we are speaking of externals — hardly a handsome church in London, (St. Paul's being, of course, above cavil or question,) and I do not know of an ugly one in Paris. The statuary in public places in Paris is always fine; in London, as I have said, it is usually frightful. One wearies, however, of the repetition, in Paris, of Louis XIV. That big wig of his comes in everywhere, and yet he was not a very great man ;
and all the cunning of the painter and sculptor has failed in making him look great. It is all wig and high-heeled shoes, after all. The only one of the old kings, in stone or bronze, that people take a second look at now, is Henri IV, who sits on his big horse, as he has for a long time, on the Pont Neuf.
A great deal has been said about the improvements of Paris, carried on in Napoleon III's time, under the direction of Baron Haussman. The opening up of these immense avenues has in many cases made the city handsomer, but not always. I do not think the immense sweep of street view that leads up to the Arc de Triomphe is handsome. There is such a thing as overdoing the wide-street business, and making a bleak, dreary perspective.
Those who have seen Kansas avenue, in Topeka, know what I
The only thing to do is to fill up these immense long holes with rows of trees on each side and through the center, as they do in Washington.
The great resort of Parisians, the Champs Elysées, owes very little to nature. The trees look diminutive; and there is a great deal of gravel to very little grass; consequently it looks better at night than by day. Then the almost blinding light of long rows of gas lamps, all over the grounds, especially about the little theaters, make the place quite brilliant. Gas is used without stint or measure in Paris. The Frenchman loves light.
But I find myself drifting back in mind not to Paris, but to the people of Paris. The most prominent human beings everywhere in Paris are, first, soldiers, with their everlasting blue backs and red legs; but I do not wish to talk about soldiers now. Next to the soldiers come the workmen - the men who wear the blue blouses, and who have the reputation of throwing up barricades on more or less provocation, and fighting behind them. They are, physically, a fine lot of men — far superior, it seemed to me, to the soldiers. They are always clean; as the English "navvy" is always dirty. They are intelligent - you see a man with a blue blouse quite as often reading a newspaper as the man in a black coat and silk hat. After these come the middle-aged business men, such as you see at the Bourse, and it seemed to me that they affected the style, or had it in some way, of Englishmen; but perhaps men who make money have a family resemblance the world
I know that in Wall street, in the Exchange in London, and in the Paris Bourse, you see faces very much alike. Young Frenchmen, especially the students, with their fine, sharp features,
made me often think of the best class of young Americans, and I checked half-a-dozen times an inclination to speak to such on the presumption that they were my countrymen.
My brief visit dissipated the last slight remains of the impressions received in childhood - impressions probably inherited, for, hundreds of years ago, the Englishman set up an imaginary Frenchman, whom he dubbed “Johnny Crapaud,” a meager, black, thin-legged creature, who screamed and gesticulated like a monkey, who did not believe in God, and who ate frogs. This is the Frenchman of the old English comedies, and has been faithfully copied and reproduced on the American stage - and he is just as natural, and no more so, than the stage Yankee, with his “tarnal” and “tarnation,” words that I, who spent my youth in New England, have never heard seriously uttered in the whole course of my life by anybody.
The Frenchman — the Parisian, at least -- is as unlike this caricature as anything can be. In fact, it always appeared to me that, while animated in conversation, the features of the men I met in Paris, when in repose, possessed an expression of sadness. This
may be the effect of the overwhelming afflictions — the flood of sorrows which has rolled over Paris within the last few years; but I am inclined to think it is permanent and national. I never saw a Parisian boisterously happy. I once saw, though, a very happy company; it was a wedding party at the little village of Joinville-le-Pont, just outside of Paris, on the banks of the Marne. Our party had finished their dinner, when the wedding party arrived, and sat down to a long table under an arbor looking out on the river. The table was neat and bright, and there was wine, plenty of it. Not only the bridal party proper were on hand,
but apparently all the relatives on both sides, from old people down to children. The father of the bride was there-a noblelooking man, with hair and mustache as fine as silk and white as snow. They all drank the vin ordinaire, which forms a regular part of the dinner as much as bread, and numerous bottles of champagne besides; and when the dinner was over, the bride - a sensible-looking but not pretty girl — made the entire circuit of the table and kissed each of the gentlemen on both cheeks, while the bridegroom extended the same courtesy to all the ladies. This was the happiest lot of French people I ever saw, and there was no noise, no vinous excitement--none of the features of the American “tear,” nor of the maudlin demonstrations that occasionally come in at the close of a long series of New Year's calls in our country.
And I saw another and very different scene, in which the same class of people took part. It was in the great Parisian cemetery, the Pere la Chaise. As we were riding out-an English friend and myself— we passed a humble funeral procession; the gentlemen all on foot, and all walking bareheaded, in the burning sun, as they had done, perhaps, for miles. Our cabman lifted his hat as we passed. We happened to be near at hand when the company reached the grave-side; and after the prayers were said, one gentleman after another advanced and sprinkled holy water upon the coffin. The principal, the only mourner, I thought, was a young priest, who for a moment gave way to a burst of grief; and it was a thing to look at and remember, the way in which, without any demonstrativeness, each man advanced and gave his hand to that lone mourner.
They say, notwithstanding all this, that the French are pro