THE Elysée, the official home of the French president Paris’s White House and Buckingham Palace is situated in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, which is one of the most entertaining streets in the whole city in which to loiter; that is, if you like, as I do, the windows of curiosity dealers and jewellers and print shops. Not that bargains are to be obtained here: far from it: it is not like the Rue Saints-Pères or the Rue Mazarine across the river ; but merely as a series of windows it is fascinating. I like it as much as I dislike the Rue Lafayette, which has always been my aversion, not only because it is interminable and commercial and noisy, but because it leads back to England and work; yet since, however, when one arrives in Paris it leads from England and work, I must be a little lenient, and there is also a cafe in it where the diamond-merchants compare gems quite openly.THE Elysée, the official home of the French president Paris’s White House and Buckingham Palace is situated in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, which is one of the most entertaining streets in the whole city in which to loiter; that is, if you like, as I do, the windows of curiosity dealers and jewellers and print shops. Not that bargains are to be obtained here: far from it: it is not like the Rue Saints-Pères or the Rue Mazarine across the river ; but merely as a series of windows it is fascinating. I like it as much as I dislike the Rue Lafayette, which has always been my aversion, not only because it is interminable and commercial and noisy, but because it leads back to England and work; yet since, however, when one arrives in Paris it leads from England and work, I must be a little lenient, and there is also a café in it where the diamond-merchants compare gems quite openly.
Remembering these extenuating circumstances I unhesitatingly award the palm for undesirability in a Paris street to the Rue du Quatre-Septembre and the Rue Réaumur, which are sheer Shaftesbury Avenue, and, as in Shaftesbury Avenue, cause one to regret the older streets and houses whose place they have usurped. The Rue de Rivoli I dislike too : that strange mixture of very good hotels (the Meurice, for instance, is here) and rubbishy shops full of tawdry jewellery to catch the excursionist. How it happened that such a site should have been allowed to fall into such hands is a mystery. An additional objection to the Rue de Rivoli is that the one English acquaintance whom one least wishes to meet is always there.
The Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré becomes the Rue Saint-Honoré at the Rue Royale. The Rue Saint-Honoré is also a good street for shop windows, but not the equal of its more aristocratic half; just as that is surpassed here by the Rue de la Paix, to which we now come on the left, and which contains more things that I can do without, made to perfection, than any street I ever saw. At its foot is the Place Vendôme, with the beautiful column in the midst on which Napoleon’s campaign of 1805 is illustrated in a bronze spiral that constitutes at once, I suppose, the most durable and the longest picture in the world. The bronze came very properly from the melted Russian and Austrian cannons. Napoleon stands at the top, imperially splendid; but as we saw in the chapter on the “Ile de la Cité,” it was not always so : for his first statue was removed by Louis XVIII. to be used for the new Henri IV. In its stead a fleur-de-lys surmounted the column. Then came Louis-Philippe, who erected a new statue of the Emperor, not, however, imperially clad ; and then Napoleon III., who substituted the present figure. But in 1870 the Communards succeeded in bringing the column down, and it has only been vertical again since 1875. Thus it is to be a Paris monument !
Returning to the Rue Saint-Honoré, in which, by the way, are several old and interesting houses, such as No. 271, the Cabaret du Saint-Esprit, a great resort in the Reign of Terror of spectators wishing to see the tumbrils pass, and No. 398, where Robespierre lodged, we come to St. Roch’s church, on the left, interesting both in itself and in history. It has been called the noisiest church in Paris, and certainly it is difficult to find a time when feet are silent there. The attraction is St. Roch’s wealth of shrines, of a rather theatrical character, such as the wise poor love: an entombment, a calvary and a nativity, all very effective if not beautiful. Beauty does not matter, for on Good Friday the entombment holds thousands silent before it. The church, which is in the baroque style that it is so easy to dislike, is too florid throughout. Among the many monuments are memorials of Corneille and Diderot, both of whom are buried here. The music of St. Roch is, I am told, second only to that of the Madeleine.
So much for St. Roch within. Historically it chances to be of immense importance, for it was here, and in the streets around and about the church, that the whiff of grapeshot blew which dispersed the French Revolution into the air. That was on October 5th, 1793, and it was not only the death of the Revolution but it was the birth of the conquering Buonaparte. Carlyle is superb : “Some call for Barras to be made Command-ant; he conquered in Thermidor. Some, what is more to the purpose, bethink them of the Citizen Buonaparte, unemployed Artillery-Officer, who took Toulon. A man of head, a man of action: Barras is named Commandant’s-Cloak; this young Artillery-Officer is named Commandant. He was in the Gallery at the moment, and heard it; he withdrew, some half-hour, to consider with himself : after a half-hour of grim compressed considering, to be or not to be, he answers Yea.
“And now, a man of head being at the centre of it, the whole matter gets vital. Swift, to Camp of Sablons; to secure the Artillery, there are not twenty men guarding it ! A swift Adjutant, Murat is the name of him, gallops ; gets thither some minutes within time, for Lepelletier was also on march that way : the Cannon are ours. And now beset this post, and beset that; rapid and firm: at Wicket of the Louvre, in Cul-de-sac Dauphin, in Rue Saint-Honoré, from Pont-Neuf all along the north Quays, southward to Pont ci-devant Royal, rank round the Sanctuary of the Tuileries, a ring of steel discipline; let every gunner have his match burning, and all men stand to their arms !
“Lepelletier has seized the Church of Saint-Roch; has seized the Pont-Neuf, our piquet there retreating without fire. Stray shots fall from Lepelletier; rattle down on the very Tuileries Staircase. On the other hand, women advance, dishevelled, shrieking, Peace; Lepelletier behind them waving his hat in sign that we shall fraternise. Steady ! The Artillery-Officer is steady as bronze; can, if need were, be quick as lightning. He sends eight-hundred muskets with ball-cartridges to the Convention itself ; honourable Members shall act with these in case of extremity : whereat they look grave enough. Four of the afternoon is struck. Lepelletier, making nothing by messengers, by fraternity or hat-waving, bursts out, along the Southern Quai Voltaire, along streets and passages, treble-quick, in huge veritable onslaught ! Whereupon, thou bronze Artillery-Officer ? ` Fire !’ say the bronze lips. And roar and thunder, roar and again roar, continual, volcano-like, goes his great gun, in the Cul-de-sac Dauphin against the Church of Saint-Roch; go his great guns on the Pont-Royal ; go all his great guns ; blow to air some two-hundred men, mainly about the Church of Saint Roch ! Lepelletier cannot stand such horse-play; no Sectioner can stand it; the Forty-thousand yield on all sides, scour towards covert. `Some hundred, or so of them gathered about the Théâtre de la République; but,’ says he, `a few shells dislodged them. It was all finished at six.
“The Ship is over the bar, then; free she bounds shoreward,amid shouting and vivats ! Citoyen Buonaparte is `named General of the Interior, by acclamation’; quelled Sections have to disarm in such humour as they may; sacred right of Insurrection is gone forever ! The Sieyes Constitution can disembark itself, and begin marching. The miraculous Convention Ship has got to land ; and is there, shall we figuratively say, changed, as Epic Ships are wont, into a kind of Sea Nymph, never to sail more; to roam the waste Azure, a Miracle in History !
“`It is false,’ says Napoleon, `that we fired first with blank charge; it had been a waste of life to do that.’ Most false : the firing was with sharp- and sharpest shot: to all men it was plain that here was no sport; the rabbets and plinths of Saint-Roch Church show splintered by it to this hour. Singular : in old Broglie’s time, six years ago, this Whiff of Grapeshot was promised; but it could not be given then; could not have profited then. Now, however, the time is come for it, and the man; and behold, you have it; and the thing we specifically call French Revolution is blown into space by it, and become a thing that was !
Crossing the Place du Théâtre-Français we come to that historic home of the best French drama, where Molière is still played frequently and one has some re-spite from the theme of facile promiscuity which dominates most of the other theatres of Paris. A new statue cf Alfred de Musset has lately been set up under the Comédie Française. I copy from a writer very unlike him a passage of criticism to remember as one stands by this monument : ” Give a look, if you can, at a Memoir of Alfred de Musset written by his Brother. Making allowance for French morals, and Absinthe (which latter is not mentioned in the Book), Alfred appears to me a fine Fellow, very un-French in some respects. He did not at all relish the new Romantic School, beginning with V. Hugo, and now alive in and Co. (what I call the Gargoyle School of Art, whether in Poetry, Painting, or Music) he detested the modern ‘feuilleton’ Novel, and read Clarissa ! Many years before A. de M. died he had a bad, long illness, and was attended by a Sister of Charity. When she left she gave him a Pen with ‘Prenez à vos pro-messes’ worked about in coloured silks : as also a little worsted ‘Amphore’ she had knitted at his bedside. When he came to die, some seventeen years after, he had these two little things put with him in his Coffin.” That, by Edward FitzGerald, no natural friend to the de Mussets of the world, is very pretty.
The Rue de Richelieu runs up beside the Comédie Française. We have already been in this street to see the Bibliothèque Nationale, entering it from the Boulevard, but let us now walk up it, first to see the Molière monument, so appropriate just here, and also to glance at No. 50, a house still unchanged, where once lived an insignificant couple named Poisson, whose daughter Jean Antoinette Poisson lived to become famous as Madame La Pompadour. In souvenirs of Molière Paris is still rich. We are coming soon to No. 92 Rue Saint-Honoré, where he was born; we are coming to he church of St. Eustache, where he was christened on January 15th, 1622, and where his second son was christened too. We are coming also to the church of St. Germain l’Auxerrois, where he was married and where his first son was baptised. In St. Roch he once stood as a godfather; and close to us now, at the corner of the Rue Saint-Honoré and the Rue Valois, was one of his theatres. And he died close to his monument, at No. 40 Rue de Richelieu. This then is the Molière quarter.
We now enter the Palais Royal, that strange white and green oasis into which it is so simple never to stray. When I first knew Paris the Palais Royal was filled with cheap restaurants and shops to allure the excursionist and the connoisseur of those books which an inspired catalogue once described as very curious and disgusting. It is now practically deserted ; the restaurants have gone and few shops remain; but in the summer the band plays to happy crowds and children frolic here all day. I have, however, never succeeded in shaking off a feeling of depression.
The original palace was built by Richelieu and was then the Palais Cardinal. After his death it became the Palais Royal and was enlarged, and was the scene of notorious orgies. Camille Desmoulins made it more serious, for it was here that he enflamed the people by his words on July 12th, 1789, and started them on their destroying career. That was in the Café de Foy. Carlyle thus describes the scene : “But see Camille Desmoulins, from the Café de Foy, rushing out, sibylline in face ; his hair streaming, in each hand a pistol ! He springs to a table: the Police satellites are eyeing him; alive they shall not take him, not they alive him alive. This time he speaks without stammering : Friends ! shall we die like hunted hares ? Like sheep hounded into their pinfold ; bleating for mercy, where is no mercy, but only a whetted knife? The hour is come; the supreme hour of Frenchman and Man; when Oppressors are to try conclusions with Oppressed ; and the word is, swift Death, or Deliverance forever. Let such hour be well-come ! Us, meseems, one cry only befits : To Arms ! Let universal Paris, universal France, as with the throat of the whirlwind, sound only : To arms To arms ! yell responsive the innumerable voices ; like one great voice, as of a Demon yelling from the air: for all faces wax fire-eyed, all hearts burn up into madness. In such, or fitter words, does Camille evoke the Elemental Powers, in this great moment. Friends, continues Camille, some rallying-sign ! Cockades ; green ones; the colour of Hope ! As with the flight of locusts, these green tree-leaves; green ribands from the neigh. bouring shops; all green things are snatched, and made cockades of. Camille descends from his table, `stifled with embraces, wetted with tears’; has a bit of green rib and handed him; sticks it in his hat. And now to Curtius’ Image-shop there ; to the Boulevards ; to the four winds; and rest not till France be on fire !”
Desmoulins in bronze now stands in the garden, near this spot. It is an interesting statue by Boverie, who showed great courage in his use of a common chair, dignified here into a worthy adjunct of liberation.
Under Napoleon the Tribunate sat in the Palais Royal, and after Napoleon the Orleans family made it their home. The Communards, always thorough, burned a good deal of it in 1871, and it is now a desert and the seat of the Conseil d’Etat. Let us leave it by the gate-way leading to the Rue de Valois and be happier again.
The Rue de Valois is an interesting and picturesque street, but its greatest attraction to me is its association with Charles Lamb. His hotel the Europe, just opposite the gateway has recently been rebuilt and is now called the Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal et de l’Europe, and the polished staircase on which his infinitesimal legs slipped about so comically on his late and not too steady returnings (and how could he be steady when Providence ordained that the waiter of whom in his best stammering French he ordered an egg on his first visit to a restaurant, should have so misunderstood the order as to bring in its place a glass of eau de vie, an error, we are told, which gave Lamb much pleasure ?) the polished staircase has now gone; but the hotel stands exactly where it did, and everything else is the same the Boeuf à la Mode is still close by and still one of the best restaurants in Paris, and the Place de Valois is untouched, with its most attractive archway leading to the Rue des Bons-Enfants and giving on to the vista of the Rue Montesquieu, with its hundred signs hanging out exactly as in 1823.
We now return to the Rue Saint-Honoré. The three old houses, 180, 182, and 184, opposite the Magazins du Louvre, belonged before the Revolution to the Canons of Saint-Honoré. The courtyard here the Cloître du Saint-Honoré is one of the most characteristic examples of dirty Paris that remain, but very picturesque too. To peep in here is almost certainly to be rewarded by some Hogarthian touch, and to walk up the Rue des Bons-Enfants yields similar experiences and some very pleasant glimpses of old Paris.
Still going east we turn down past the Oratoire on the right, with Coligny’s monument on its south side, into the Rue de Rivoli, and across the Rue du Louvre obliquely to the old church we see there, opposite the east end of the Louvre and Napoleon’s iron gates. This church is that of St. Germain l’Auxerrois, not to be confounded with the St. Germain of St. Germain des Prés across the river. St. Germain l’Auxerrois is historically one of the most interesting of the Paris churches, for it was St. Germain’s bell that gave the signal for the massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572, Charles IX. is said to have fired at the Huguenots (doubtless with Catherine de Médicis at his shoulder, anxious for the success of his aim) from one of the windows in the Louvre overlooking this space.
St. Germain of Auxerre began as a layman the ruler of Burgundy. Divine revelation, however, indicated that the Church was his true calling, and he therefore succeeded Saint Amadour as Bishop, ” gave,” in Caxton’s words, “all his riches to poor people, and changed his wife into his sister.” He took to the new life very thoroughly. He fasted every day till evening and then ate coarse bread and drank water and used no pottage and no salt. “In winter ne summer he had but one clothing, and that was the hair next his body, a coat, and a gown, and if it happed so that he gave not his vesture to some poor body, he would wear it till it were broken and torn. His bed was environed with ashes, hair, and sackcloth, and his head lay no higher than his shoulders, but all day wept, and bare about his neck divers relics of saints. He ware none other clothing, and he went oft barefoot and seldom ware any girdle. The life that he led was above man’s power. His life was so straight and hard that it was marvel and pity to see his flesh, and was like a thing not credible, and he did so many miracles that, if his merits had not gone before, they should have been trowed phantasms.”
St. Germain’s miracles were more interesting than those of, say, his convert St. Geneviève. He conjured devils; he forbade fire to burn him; having fed his companions on the only calf of a friendly cow-herd, he put the bones and the skins together and life returned to it; he also raised one of his own disciples from the dead and conversed with him through the walls of his tomb, but on the disciple saying that in his late condition “he was well and all things were to him soft and sweet,” he permitted him to remain dead. He also found his miraculous gifts very useful in the war; but his principal interest to us is that he is supposed to have visited England and organised the Establishment here. St. Germain’s church has a little old glass that is charming and much bad new. The south transept window, although sheer kaleidoscope, is gay and at-tractive.
At the back of the church runs the narrow and medieval Rue de l’Arbre-Sec, extending to the Rue Saint-Honoré. At No. 4 is, or was, the Hôtel des Mousquetaires, where, when it was the Belle Etoile, d’Artagnan drank and swaggered. Let us take this street and come to St. Eustache by way of another and less terrible souvenir of Catherine de Médicis. The Rue de l’Arbre-Sec leads to the Rue Sauval and to the circular Rue de Viarmes surrounding the Bourse de Commerce. Here we see a remarkable Doric column, all that remains of the palace which Catherine built in order to avoid the fate predicted for her by a soothsayer that she would perish in the ruins of a house near St. Germain’s. The Tuileries, which she was then building, being far too near St. Germain’s to be comfortable after such a remark, she erected the Hôtel de la Reine, the tower being designed for astrological study in the company of her Italian familiar, Ruggieri. All else has gone: the tower and the stars remain.
A few steps down the Rue Oblin and we are at St. Eustache, which has to my eyes the most fascinating roof of any church in Paris and a very attractive nave. The interior, however, is marred by the presence of what might be called a church within a church, destroying all vistas, and it is only with great difficulty that one can see the exquisite rose window over the organ. It is a church much used by the poor who even call it Notre Dame des Halles but its music on festival days brings the rich too. Like most other Paris churches of any importance, St. Eustache had its secular period. The Feast of Reason was held here in 1793 ; in 1795 it was the Temple of Agriculture. In 1791 Mirabeau, the first of the illustrious, as we saw, to be buried in the Panthéon, was carried here in his coffin for a funeral service, at which guns were fired that brought down some of the plaster. Voiture the poet was buried here. The church has always been famous for the splendour of its festivals and for its music, its present organ, once much injured by Communard bombs, being one of the finest in the world. No reader of this book who cares for solemn music should fail to ascertain the St. Eustache festivals. On St. Cecilia’s day (March 22nd) entrance is very difficult, but an effort should be made.
Eustache, or Eustace, the Saint, had no direct association with Paris, as had our friends St. Germain and St. Geneviève and St. Denis and St. Martin and St. Merry; but he had an indirect one, having been a Roman soldier under the Emperor Trajan, whose column was the model for the Vendôme column. In the Sacristy, however, are preserved some of the bones not only of himself but of his wife and family, brought hither from St. Denis. One of his teeth is here too, and one special bone, the gift of Pope Alexander VII. to an influential Catholic.
Why our London markets should be so dull and unattractive and the Halles so entertaining is a problem which would perhaps require an ethnological essay of many pages to elucidate. But so it is. Smithfield, Billingsgate, Leadenhall, Covent Garden one has little temptation or encouragement to loiter in any of them; but the Halles spread welcoming arms. I have spent hours there, and would spend more. In the very early morning it is not too agreeable a neighbourhood for the idle spectator, nor is he desired, although if he is prepared to endure a little rough usage with tongue and elbow he will be vastly amused by what he sees; but later, when all the world is up, the Halles entreat his company. Their phases are three : the first is the arrival of the market carts with their merchandise, very much as in our own Covent Garden, but multiplied many times and infinitely more vocal and shattering to the nerves. (I once occupied a bedroom within range of this pandemonium.) The second phase, a few hours later, sees the descent upon the market of the large caterers buyers for the restaurants, great and small, the hotels and pensions. That is between half-past five and half-past seven. And then come the small buyers, the neat servants, the stout housewives, all with their baskets or string bags. This is our time; we may now loiter at our ease secure from the swift and scorching sarcasms of the crowded dawn.
The Halles furnish another proof of the quiet efficiency of Frenchwomen. At every fruit and vegetable stall and to me they are the most interesting of all sits one or more of these watchful creatures, cheerful, capable and always busy either with the affairs of the stall or with knitting or sewing. The Halles afford also very practical proof of the place that economy is permitted to hold in the French cuisine; as much being done for the small purse as for the large one.
In England we are ashamed of economy; by avoiding it we hope to give the impression that we are not mean. The wise French either care less for their neighbour’s opinions or have agreed together to dispense with such insincerities; and the result is that if a pennyworth of carrots is all that your soup requires you need not buy two pennyworth, and so forth. Little portions of vegetables for one, two or more persons, all ready for the pot, can be bought, involving no waste whatever, and with no faltering or excuse on the part of the purchaser to explain so small an order. In France a customer is a customer. There are no distinctions; although I do not deny that in the West End of Paris, where the Americans and English spend their money, subtle shades of courtesy (or want of it) have crept in. I have been treated like a prince in a small comestible shop where I wanted only a pennyworth of butter, a pennyworth of cheese and a pennyworth of milk. It is pennies that make the French rich; no one can be in any doubt of that who has taken notice of the thousands of small shops not only in Paris but in the provinces.
Anyone making an early morning visit to the Halles should complete it by seeing my goat-herd, who leads his flocks thereabouts and eastward. He is the prettiest sight I ever saw in Paris. There are several goat-herds even Passy knows them but my goat-herd is here. By eight o’clock he has done; his flock is dry. He wears a blue cloth tam-o’-shanter (if there can be such a thing: it is really the cap of the romantic mountaineer of comic opera) and he saunters carelessly along, piping melancholy notes on a shepherd’s pipe not unlike the lovely wailing that desolates the soul in the last act of Tristan and Isolde. When a customer arrives he calls one of his goats, sits down on the nearest doorstep it may be a seventeenth-century palace and milks a cupful; and then he is off again, with his scrannel to his lips, the very type of the urban Strephon.
We may leave les Halles (pronounced lay al, and not, as one would think, lays all: one of the pitfalls for the English in Paris) by the Rue Berger, and enter the Square des Innocents to look at its decorative fountain. The next street below the Rue des Innocents is the Rue de la Ferronnerie, where, on May 14th, 1610, Henri IV. was assassinated by Ravaillac before the door of No. 3. And so by the Rue St. Denis, which one is always glad to enter again, and the Rue de Rivoli, we come to Saint-Jacques, that grey aged isolated tower which we have seen so often from the heights and in the distance. It is a beautiful Gothic building, at the summit of which is the figure of St. James, with his emblems, the originals of which are at the Cluny. The tower belonged to the church of St. Jacques-la-Boucherie, but that being in the way when Napoleon planned the Rue de Rivoli, it had to go.
The tower has not lately been open to the climbers, and I have never seen Paris from St. James’s side, but I hope to. Blaise Pascal experimented here in the density of air; hence the presence of his statue below. It was also to Pascal, of whom we now think only as an ironist and wistful theologian, that Paris owes her omnibuses, for it was he that devised the first, which began to run on March 18th, 1662, from the Luxembourg to the Bastille. Pascal owed his conversion to his escape from a carriage accident on the Pont Neuf. His grave we saw at St. Etienne-du-Mont.
In crossing the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville one must not forget that this was once the terrible Place de Grève, the site of public executions for five centuries. Here we meet Catherine de Médicis again, for it was by her order that after the Massacre of St. Bartholomew the Huguenots Briquemont and Cavagnes were hanged here, and here also was executed Captain Montgomery, whom we are to meet in the next chapter. The foster-sister of Marie de Médicis was burned alive in the Place de Grève as a sorcerer ; and Ravaillac, after assassinating Henri IV., here met his end. Among later victims was the famous Cartouche, of whom Thackeray wrote so entertainingly.
The Hôtel de Ville is not a building that I for one should choose to revisit, nor do I indeed advise others to bother about it at all; but externally at any rate it is fine, with its golden sentinels on high. Its chief merit is bulk; but there is a certain interest in observing a Republican palace of our own time, if only to see how near it can come to the real thing. A saturnine guide displays a series of spacious apartments, the principal attraction of which is their mural painting. All the best French Royal Academicians (so to speak) of twenty years ago had a finger in this pie, and their fantasies sprawl over ceilings and walls. With the exception of one room the history of Paris is practically ignored, allegory being the master vogue. Poetry, Song, Inspiration, Fame, Ambition, Despair all these undraped ladies may be seen, and many others. Also Electricity and Steam, Science and Art, distinguishable from their sisters only by the happy chance that although they forgot their clothes they did not forget their symbols.
One beautiful thing only did I see, and that was a large design, perhaps the largest there, of Winter, by Puvis de Chavannes. But to say that I saw it is an exaggeration : rather, I was conscious of it. For the architect of the salon in which Puvis was permitted to work forgot to light it.
In the historical room there are crowded scenes by Laurens of the past of Paris the hero of which is Etienne Marcel, whose equestrian statue may be seen from the windows, under the river façade of the building. Etienne Marcel, Merchant Provost, controlled Paris after the disastrous battle of Poictiers, where the King and the Dauphin were both taken prisoners. Power, however, made him headstrong, and he was killed by an assassin.
It is from the Hôtel de Ville that the city of Paris is administered, with the assistance of the Préfecture de Police on the island opposite. The Hôtel de Ville contains, so to speak, the Paris County Council, and I have been told that no building is so absurdly over-staffed. That may or may not be true. The high officials do not at any rate allow business to exclude the finer graces of life, for in the great hall in which I waited for the cicerone were long tables on which were some twenty or thirty baskets containing visiting cards, and open books containing signatures, and before each basket was a card bearing the name of an important functionary of the Hôtel de Ville such as the Préfet de la Seine, and the Sous-Préfet, and their principal secretaries, and so forth. Every minute or so someone came in, found the basket to which he wished to contribute, and dropped a card in it. I wondered to what extent the social machinery of Paris bureaucracy would be disorganised if I were to change a few baskets, but I did not embark upon an experiment the results of which I should have had no means of contemplating and enjoying.
After leaving the Hôtel de Ville and its modern splendours, we may walk eastward along the Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, one of the narrowest and dirtiest relics of old Paris, and so come to the Hôtel de Sens. But first notice, at the corner of the Rue des Nonnains d’Hyères, at the point at which Mr. Dexter made his drawing, the very ancient stone sign of the knife-grinder. The Hôtel de Sens, in the Place de l’Ave Maria, at the end of the Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, is almost if not quite the most attractive of the old palaces. Although it has been allowed to fall into neglect, it is still a wonderfully preserved specimen of fifteenth-century building. The turrets are absolutely beautiful. The Archbishop of Sens built it, and for nearly three centuries it remained the home of power and wealth, among its tenants being Marguerite of Valois. Then came the Revolution and its decline into a coach office, from which it is said the Lyons mail, made familiar to us by the Irvings, started. During a later revolution, 1830, a cannon ball found a billet in the wall, and it may still be seen there, I am told, although these eyes missed it. The Hôtel is now a glass factory. The city of Paris ought to acquire it before it sinks any lower.
It is at the foot of the Rue de l’Ave Maria, hard by, that Molière’s theatre, which we saw from the Quai des Célestins in an earlier chapter, is found. Here Molière was arrested at the instance of the unpaid tallow chandler. Our way now is by the Rue Figuier, of which the Hôtel de Sens is No. 1, to the Rue François-Miron, all among the most fascinating old architecture and association. At No. 8 Rue Figuier, for instance, Rabelais is said to have lived, and what could be better than that ? At No. 17, we have what the Vicomte de Villebresme calls a “jolie niche du XV siècle.” This street leads into the Rue de Jouy, also exceedingly old, with notable buildings, such as No. 7, the work of Mansard père, and No. 9, and on the left of the Impasse Guépine, which existed in the reign of Saint Louis.
In the Rue François-Miron, if you do not mind exhibiting a little inquisitiveness, enter the doorway of No. 68, and look at the courtyard and the staircase. Here you get an excellent idea of past glories, while the outer doors or gates give an excellent idea of past danger too. For life in Paris in the days in which this street was built must have been very cheap after dark. It is not dear even now in certain parts. This was an historic mansion. It was built for Madame de Beaumaris, femme de chambre of Anne of Austria, and on its balcony, now removed, on August 20th, 1660, Anne stood with Mazarin and others when Louis XIV. entered Paris. No. 82 still retains a balcony of great charm.
We now enter the very busy Rue St. Antoine at its junction with the Rue de Rivoli. Almost immediately on our right is a gateway leading into a very charming courtyard, which is not open to the public but into which one may gently trespass ; it is the school of the Frères Chrétiens, founded by Frère Joseph, the good priest with the sweet and sad old face whose bust is on the wall. A few steps farther bring us to the church of St. Paul and St. Louis, a florid and imposing fane, to which Victor Hugo (to whose house we are now making our way) carried his first child to be christened, and presented to the church two holy water stoops in commemoration. Here also Richelieu celebrated his first mass. One of Delacroix’s best early works (we saw the picture called “Hommage à Delacroix,” you will remember, in the Moreau collection at the Louvre) is in the left transept, ” Christ in the garden of Gethsemane.” On no account miss the Passage Charlemagne (close to the St. Paul Station on the Métro), for it is a curious, busy and very French by-way, and it possesses the remains of a palace of the fourteenth century. In the Passage de St. Pierre is the site of the old cemetery of St. Paul’s in which Rabelais was buried.