THE Parisian is more given to pastimes than to sports. The distinction is, in his view, that pastimes are made for man, whereas man is notoriously made for sports. He carries a sport as far as it may go, for sheer amusement, and stops there. All the rest that tends to the ideal perfection of the athlete he counts but labor and sorrow. This is in harmony with his entire outlook on life. He is mainly sociable in his amusements, rather than mainly competitive. To me he never seems less himself than when racing for a prize, by day and by night, on a cycle track that reminds one of some foolish adaptation of the scheme of the praying wheel. So the best of his creative life is a day in the country, with only just such amusements as comport with rural ease. Between his setting forth in the morning and his coming back at night, weary with blessedness, he has picnicked in one of the outlying woods of the capital, perhaps with his entire family, including the mother-in-law.
The returning crowds at the stations have not all been to Versailles, St. Cloud, and St.Germain. These places are more or less inevitable to the many; but the wiser know where to find the lessknown woods and heights, and the scenes that have as yet escaped advertisement. Starting, maybe, from Bougival, they have looked at the site of Josephine’s country house, now but a memory, and have thought perhaps what curious inclosures and reinclosures busy man is ever making for himself in space. An old house is but a little setting in the void for scenes from the drama of life. It vanishes; a newer takes its place; and one cubic inclosure in its time witnesses the play of many parts. To think of these scenes in their succession through the ages is to have the very air peopled with ghosts, and to risk the mental distraction of a witches’ revel. But to consider so is to consider too curiously in this connection.
The stroll is across cornfields with woody heights on one side. The painters of Corot’s generation used to harbor here, and many of them left pictures for their score at Souvent’s restaurant. The more knowing wayfarers, of course, avoid these vanities of anecdote, but everything may be excused to the sight-seer. At the utmost, the others have walked by the riverbank to look at the Machine de Marly, a huge wheel that carries water to the settlements on the height. If they were still for civilization they mounted by Le Pecq to St.-Germain. If they wanted a change after that, they branched off to Les Loges, and registered vows to return for the annual fair in September, to dance and sup by torch-light according to immemorial custom, and so home. Some, again, have started for Sannois, on the Northern and Western railways, for the panorama seen from the windmill on the height, and have pushed on to Cormeilles, by way of the hills, with the valley and the river at a cozy distance below; or they have tarried at Herblay to play at fishing under the trees.
Innumerable are the ways in which you may tire yourself in these environs on a summer afternoon. The ultra-civilized way is to take train to Enghien, the township of pleasure which has grown up, with the help of capital, as the gaudy framework of a sulphur spring. Another, and a better, is to make for Montmorency, where Jean Jacques set up his hermitage at the top of the hill, and at a point in time when the place was still most ancient of days, and mellowing in a rich decay of historic associations. Here again, and right on from here to Andilly, it is all fairyland from the heights. Paris in the far distance, picked out in the white of its stonework and the gold of the dome, with verdant belts of flowers and market gardens midway. At Andilly you are on the verge of the forest of Montmorency, and may go right through to Bethemont, or partly through to St. Leu for the train. And even by this compromise you may get dusty and tired and parched enough for the mood of rural happiness.
Paris is fringed all about with these woods and forests, anything but primeval, of course, under modern administration, yet still wild enough for provocation to much of the fugitive verse of the time. Fontainebleau, beyond this inner circle of umbrage, is a larger order, and if only you have enough selfcontrol to keep from the château and from Barbison, it is more majestic with its giant oaks and its titanic boulders. Yet the tourist will inevitably go to the one for its association with the painters Millet and Rousseau, and to the other on the gentle compulsion of the guidebooks. Michelet, in his study of the insect life of the forest, keeps throughout to the note of its savage charm. Dearer to the elect of these pilgrim crowds is Sceaux, almost due south of the capital, and, in a sense, within a stone’s throw of it, as befits a scene of natural beauty that was accessible in the time of Paul de Kock. To readers of that half-forgotten writer it is still haunted by the shadow of the ” Jeune Homme Charmant,” and of his brotherhood in that larger sense which includes sisterhood as well.
But the glory of Sceaux is that it is a stepping-stone to ” Robinson.” Robinson is our realized ideal of a cockney paradise. It includes a certain suggestion of savage freedom, with due facilities for the fun of the fair the wilderness tempered by Coney Island. It is a restaurant, and the subject of its votive title is no other than our old friend Crusoe. The idea is that you leave teeming Paris for this retreat, in which you may meditate on the shows of things, and, between train and train, play at being cut off from civilization. So, in its garden, you find a stately tree where you may lunch or dine in bowers cunningly perched high in the branches. There are two or three of these in tiers, and all of them, especially the topmost, command views of charming scenery. The vogue of Robinson has led to the invention of many fraudulent trade marks. The village abounds in restaurants dedicated to “Old Robinson,” to “Crusoe,” and to different variants of the name, including one which boldly starts on a new line by a titular invocation to Man Friday.
But Robinson, pure and simple, is the genuine article. The title illustrates the tendency of the French to grasp at the first thing that comes handy in English names. The surname they generally give up for a bad job, but they clutch at the Tom, Dick, or Harry that precedes it, and hold on for dear life. Even when they have it by the right end, they sometimes contrive to go wrong. Crabb Robinson tells us that, all through a ceremonial dinner in his honor, Mme. Guizot overwhelmed him with compliments on the creation of ce charmant Vendredi, in a hazy belief that he was the author of the famous work.
Robinson may serve to illustrate what I mean as to the ordinary Parisian relation to sports and games. The throngs set out, in the first place, for fresh air and landscape; and for diversions they take anything that comes in their way. Sometimes they carry a ball to play with, more often they find their toys in the suburban restaurant. An open-mouthed frog into which they pitch a leaden nicker will amuse them for hours.
Those of nicer taste will perhaps prefer the Port Royal country. This is not so much for the sake of the country as of that ruined memorial of a community of men and women who tried a fall with the Church of Rome, in the interests of the higher spiritual life, and got very much the worst of it. The route is by train from Montparnasse to Trappes, beyond Versailles, and thence on foot through Voisins to the old abbey which was the seat of the settlement. For others there is Cernay la Ville, a woodland haunt of artists, exquisite in hill and valley, hamlet and ruin. Or, again, the idler may take train to Le Plessis Belleville, in the northeast, and walk to Ermenonville for more souvenirs of Rousseau.
But why go on ? The whole vernal basin, in the center of which Paris lies, is a scene of witching beauty,beauty of hill and dale, beauty of association suited to every taste. So, as we have seen, if you like to flavor the picturesque with literature, there are Ermenonville, Port Royal, Montmorency. If you are for things ” paintable,” you have Cernay, Fontainebleau, and Gretz. If angling is the excuse, there are Mantes, Marly, Andrésy, Lagny, and Charenton ; while for boating you can hardly go wrong at Rueil, Herblay, Bougival, and Nogent on the Marne. In one of their aspects these are sports highly cultivated. In their relation to the ordinary life of the people they are mere incidents of an outing. The ordinary Parisian rowing is but three men in a boat, who, in spite of their being on a river, are still very much at sea. More commonly still, it is but one man with a girl, both happily unaware that they are in peril of their lives. They have not far to go. Their mark is the little restaurant on the island which is the sole aim of the excursion. They have come out not so much to row as to breakfast in rowing toggery, to chatter aquatics and scandal, and to sing chansonettes.
In the same way, the holiday fishing is often very little better than the line and the bent pin, as the football is only a vindictive punishment of a leaky india-rubber sphere which requires frequent inflation by a united family. So, too, cycling, although the French are capable of carrying it to great perfection on the track, is often, for the purpose of these excursions, a young man giving a young woman a ride in a bicycle gig, in which she courteously affects to sit at ease, while he toils up the rural slope. Some of these contrivances are fearfully and wonderfully made, and include storage for the baby, and for the provisions for the day.
For rowing, as a sport, there are clubs all about Paris and all about France, with a Parisian Club of the Oar as lawmaker. The laws are made in a congress held annually in the capital, and timed for the match between the eights of the Seine and the Marne, the first event of the rowing year. Asnières was once the great metropolitan center, but avoid it now exactly as you would avoid the plague, for it has guilty relations with the drains of Paris. Everywhere there is difficulty in getting good boats for hire. The supply is naturally adjusted to the demand of the majority, who need tubs in which they may paddle, but may with difficulty drown. One of the great annual races is between the Rowing Club de Paris and the Société Nautique de la Marne. The championship of the Marne is for the early part of September. About a month later comes the fixture for the great race on the Seine for the championship of France. This is in three heats, each of two thousand meters, and it is open to all nations. It is an old institution. At first the English had matters all their own way, but the French submitted with a good grace for the sake of the lesson. Then, gradually learning the management of scull and skiff, they sent men like Armet and Lein to victory on their own course, the latter to the more daring venture at Henley, where, however, he had to lower his colors in the home of the sport.
The Parisians have little to learn from anybody in scientific cycling. Without entering into too technical scrutiny of records, it may be said that they have brought the machine to high perfection as an instrument of sport, and to higher perfection as one of use. They not only cultivate heart-disease on the racing-track with as much assiduity as other people, and hold frequent race meetings, but they use the machine extensively in daily life, on ordinary errands of business or pleasure. This is the true test of any new method of locomotion. They are admirably seconded by the administration of Paris, which gives them good roads everywhere, and sometimes roads all to themselves, as in the approaches to the Bois, which, for all the qualities of a cycling course, is about the best in the world. The revolution, in this land of the motor, is naturally the motor cycle. The rate at which the Parisians charge through the public thoroughfares on this fearful contrivance, I have already mentioned. None but the most nimble can hope to avoid them. The motor is the modern short cut to the survival of the fittest.
They have made many laudable attempts to acclimatize football, and have taken a beating, at regular intervals, from one of the English visiting teams. If they do not succeed in this as well as they might, it is in part to be imputed to them as merit. As persons of taste, they have a great horror of brutalité in sport. ” We do not want to turn French lads into English ones,” cries M. Ribot, in his important. work on educational reform published the other day. ” Rough sports do not suit our race, more refined in its vigueur élégante than that of the Anglo-Saxon.” In the last resort, they usually fail to see why they should suffer for their enjoyments, and they sicken with disgust, rather than with fear, when the dhooli-bearers and the surgeons follow the teams into the football field.
This is the French note, always the touch of elegance, and this is why a certain association with ” fashion ” is of the essence of French sport. It does not, like English sport, usually begin among the people retaining something of the primitive wildness of its origin ; or, if it does, it is always trying to mount to select circles. Football will take a long time to reach the French masses. Their instincts know not the stern joy of the scrimmage. For all their combativeness, they regard life as a progression, an orderly development, not as a battle and a march. For this sport, as for most of the others that involve danger, we must wait on the upper classes. They have imported football and polo and what not, and have done their best to tame them into diversions fit for a man who values a whole skin.
Their chalet of the Racing Club in the Bois de Boulogne is a model of taste in the rustic style. It is all prettiness without and within ; and, in the latter, it does not disdain the aid of millinery. The hall is hung in sky blue and white, and with the diplomas of honor won in the field. Today the club, with its four hundred and fifty members, claims the lead among French societies of athletic sport. It began in the humblest way, but still among the directing classes.” A few young fellows at the Lycée Condorcet wanted to stretch their legs, and bethought them of foot racing in the English style. But first they tried it in the French, that is to say, with prettiness as the first end and aim. They ran in satin blouses, in jockeys’ breeches, in jockeys’ hats, in jockeys’ boots, nay, some positively with jockeys’ whips in their hands, as though with some covert design of touching themselves up behind. Then gradually they swept all this nonsense away, crossed the Channel for their lesson, and rigged them-selves in the style approved to experience. From that time forth they did exceedingly well. They invited English amateurs to compete, and held against them, year by year, the championship in three of the four distances, the shorter ones. Even the mile they won three times out of six ; and though their champion, Borel, was beaten in 1891 by an American, he made a good fight for it. They train for their work, though, characteristically, always under the doctor’s orders for moderation. In the same way they brought in football, where they have yet to beat their masters, and they are now introducing it into the playgrounds of the lyceums.
Then they busied themselves with lawn-tennis, and with success. For their best in this line we must go to the club of the Île de Puteaux on the Seine, a charming rural retreat lying under the guns of Mont Valérien. There you have about a dozen courts, with great refinement in the domestic service, as well as the rigor of the game. Still toiling, and not in vain, after its English masters, our high life” has now its Polo Club near Bagatelle, in the Bois. It exacts strict guaranties of respectability. On the ornamental side none are eligible for admission but the mothers, wives, and unmarried sisters and daughters of members. For their benefit there is a regular service of five-o’clock tea, under umbrella tents. It is not only polo, but polo with a background of dwarf forests, of the spires of St. Cloud, of the meadows of Longchamp.
In like manner the French are acclimatizing golf, especially on the shores of the Mediterranean. At the same time Paris is reviving for its own benefit several of the national games. To see some pretty play of longue paume, the old longue paume of the South, go on Tuesdays and Fridays at about five, and on Sundays all day long, to the Gardens of the Luxembourg. It is played there with rackets according to the best tradition, not with the hand, the tambourine, or the wicker glove, which are still in vogue in the Pyrenees.
This is a popular game, since it is played both by and before the crowd. The fashionable sports affect seclusion and take great’ pains to secure it. Most of them had their modest beginnings at the old tir aux pigeons in the Bois, until they grew strong enough, as we have seen, to set up housekeeping for themselves. The tir aux pigeons, in its turn, began as a skating club, where the happy few might enjoy themselves in winter without intrusion from their fellow creatures. The antiquary may find it worth while to examine the archives of these institutions for traces of English. origin. In the old rules of the Paris Gun Club, for instance, he will find: “Il est interdit de tirer les deux coups de fusil à la fois: si le pigeon est tué il est compté ‘No Bird.’” ” Le tireur en place, et prèt à tirer, doit crier ‘Pull.’ ”
Pistol-shooting is much more nearly indigenous. As duelists, the French naturally have to learn to kill in both kinds. The crack shots are celebrated in luxurious monographs of sport, adorned with their portraits, and doing full justice to their ” records.” The day of the perfect young man of fashion includes some practice with the pistol at one of the private galleries. Sometimes he has a shooting-gallery in his garden, and fires a few shots on rising as a substitute for morning prayer. Then he usually takes a turn on horseback in the Bois I speak by the card. After breakfast he fires more shots, at some rendezvous in town. He discusses the day’s shooting with his friends, and when this weighty business is over, I am assured, he has cleared his conscience of more than half of its burden of duties. A few visits, the theater, and the club complete the day.
Shooting proper, the sport of the gun in the coverts, is a more serious matter. It is hard to get your covert to yourself in this democratic country. What I wrote years ago on this subject is truer than ever today. The most familiar type of sportsman is the small rural proprietor, whose shots, perforce, trespass on his neighbor’s field because of the narrow limits of his own. He is abroad on Sundays and on holidays with his solitary dog, picking up the crumbs of sport, and it is dangerous to interfere with him in his own commune, because he is an elector as well as a proprietor, and perhaps his voice counts in the election of M. le Maire. The better kind of sportsmen form small syndicates, or shooting societies, and at the end of the day’s shooting they divide the bag in equal portions, drawing lots for the odd pieces, or offering them, as a sop to Cerberus, to the peasants on whose grounds they have trespassed. In many instances, however, they buy the right to pass over certain fields, and this is the main object of their association. The great subdivision of landed property in France tends to confront you with a proprietor at every step, and the peasant often derives no small part of his revenue from the shooting.
But the great cities send the most numerous contingent into the fields, for almost every notary, doctor, and government clerk has his weekly or monthly holiday with the gun. The preserves of the Seine-and-Oise, of the Seine-and-Marne, and of the Oise, in the neighborhood of Paris, probably contain as much game as all the rest of France. The best of these, of course, belong to the great proprietors, the bankers and other llionaires, and the next in value are those that lie near enough to get the stray game from the rich man’s field. These adjacent lots are much sought after by the humbler syndicates. The shooting at the châteaux, on the great country estates, presents much the same features as in Englandinvitations to a large circle and a generous hospitality. The main difference is that the invitations are select only in regard to social standing, not to skill with the gun. The keenness of the French sense of the ridiculous does not extend to failure in sport: you miss, and there is an end of it ; and as nobody thinks much the worse of you, you do not think any the worse of yourself. The standard of competence is not a high one, and even shooting is more of a pastime than a sport. Ladies sometimes take the field along with the men, and the Orléans princesses and the Princesse Murat used to stand in the front rank. The finest shooting-estates in France are those of the late Duc d’Aumale and of the Rothschilds.
Sometimes, in the more remote excursions after smaller game, a wild boar crosses the path ; so the prudent sportsman takes his hunting-knife or even his revolver with him, as well as his gun. The French list of necessaries for the field is alarmingly large ; the stations at Rambouillet and Fontainebleau, on nights when people are going down for the shooting, are encumbered with matériel de guerre in a manner that suggests a mobilization of the army. The Revolution saw last of the grand battues of the old school ; and then the infuriated people held the gun, and slaughtered without mercy, for food, without a thought of the future. The partridge never fairly recovered from that blow.
Fencing has been democratized like all else. At one time the management of the rapier was confined exclusively to the upper classes. Now there is an excellent fencing-school at the dry-goods store of the Bon Marché. The young men at the counters take their exercise in that way after working-hours.
As our business is with the people rather than with the dandies, let us now go a-fishing with the loungers of the quays. Their pastime imports no great harm to the fish, because it must not import any great fatigue to the fisherman. The Seine, as it flows in or near Paris, has been fouled by the sewage. Still, as these people preeminently live in their traditions, they fish in the new waters as they fished in the old. No other capital can show so many anglers to the mile of bank. They angle in the suds of the riverine laundries, in the brown waterfalls of the sewers. They crowd the Écluse de la Monnaie at the Pont Neuf, which, in spite of its position in the very heart of Paris, is comparatively calm. This, of course, in its independence of raw result, is the true principle of enjoyment alike in sport and in life. Nor are the results unimportant: with an average of one bite to the thousand baits, great is the joy of fruition for the man who lands his fish, and of expectation for the huge remainder. There is a streak of passivity in the French nature, in needful balance with its known tendency to excitement. The sight of the quays on a summer morning strengthens the probability that one Frenchman wrote the ” Imitation,” and explains how others founded Port Royal. Those who are not fishing are washing and combing the dog ; those who are doing neither are looking on.
The preference of the pastime to the sport accounts for the continued popularity of the Parisian fair. Elsewhere, in all save in its primitive trading uses, the fair is on the decline. As a revel, it is but a memory in London. Greenwich and Bartelmy ” became too much of a good thing. In Ireland they hold that, when a skull comes to ill hap at one of these gatherings, what might otherwise be a verdict of manslaughter becomes a verdict of felo de se. The Owner has literally brought it on his own head. The mere fun of the fair, as an industry, flourishes in full luxuriance in France. Families are born into the business, and die out of it sometimes with large fortunes to their credit, computed in live stock of the desert and freaks of nature, as well as in banknotes.
They pitch by the calendar in the environs, and even in the capital at Easter. This is for the gingerbread fair, held in the Place de la Nation, better known as the old Place du Trône. At other times they occupy the great avenues which stretch from the barriers to the open country for instance, the one that runs from the Port Maillot to the river, a good four or five miles of booths, counting the two rows. Throughout the summer season there is not a fête-day without its fair in one or other of the little townships beyond the walls. It is only a short journey by tram or train, and you are at Versailles, St.Cloud, Meudon, or what not. The motto is, ” Every man in his humor,” for the trivialities of popular amusement. You may do nothing in ten thousand waysby gambling for cakes or for pocket-knives, by throwing a ball at rag dolls, by trying your strength at rickety machines which some-times yield their whole internal economy to one vigorous pull of a plowman, or by having your fortune told. The daughter of Egypt stands on the tail-board of her van, and gives the gaping throng a gratuitous sample of her wares. For this purpose she whispers fates through a long speaking-trumpet, usually directed by judicious preference to the longest ear. In these confidences you may learn that you have wasted your time in the hopeless pursuit of a fair beauty, while another, as yet in the nature of the dark horse, appeals in vain to your fatuous blindness for a glance. The promise of full particulars for fivepence proves an almost irresistible temptation.
When you tire of this, you may go shooting for many varieties of game, on a system which gives you the excitement of the chase in the open without its fatigues, and, in fact, once more reduces sport to its due proportion of pastime. The preyhares and rabbits, and wild fowl by courtesy so called form a happy family, and await their doom in a cage with an edifying resignation that is manifestly quite consistent with good appetite. It is supposed to be determined by your success in attaining a bull’s-eye just above their heads, with the aid of a rifle supplied by the proprietor. You have only to hit the mark to have your choice among these living prizes, and to dine on fresh game at a merely nominal cost. Needless to say, you never hit that mark, though you may almost touch it with the muzzle of the weapon. The secret perhaps is in the rifling, and it may one day put inventors in gunnery on the track of that art of firing round a corner which is their philosopher’s stone. The animals know, by long experience, that the vicissitudes of the day involve no mischance to them, and that they will invariably sleep in their beds at night instead of stewing in the pot au feu of the citizen. They gulp and nibble and chew, therefore, with the full assurance of a natural span of life. Old age and gray hairs overtake them in this honorable service, and the returning traveler may recognize them after long intervals, during which things of moment have happened in the world.
If you are for sport more worthy of the name, though still without the fatigue of personal exertion, you may have even that at the fair. There are the wrestling-booths, where real work is done by brawny champions whose trade is that of the strong man. It is a sight for an impressionist painter, the great dingy tent with its dim lights, the throng of onlookers, open mouthed, not so much with wonder as with a mocking chaff which is often the perfection of gutter wit, the snorting pair in the midst pawing each other for the grip. Sometimes fashion takes a turn in this direction, and the smartest sets of our Romans of the decadence drive down after dinner to look on. This supplies a needful contrast. The little Twelfth cake figures of the dandies, men and women, in their finery, stand out in sharp relief against the laboring champions in the ring, and the ragamuffins of the barrier in the cheap seats. An indescribable repulsion of feeling is the effect of the whole scene. It is due, I think, to a sense of the difference between the ease of the onlooker and the little ease of the performer. When two struggle alone, it is something between the two, and there an end. Each does his best and his worst. When a third comes merely to gaze for his pleasure, our disgust begins. You can hardly watch a cat worrying a mouse without an uneasy feeling that, as one overmuch on the safe side, you are a bit of a coward.
These visits of fashion to the wrestling-booths will, I think, be quoted against us, with the bull-fights of far more serious import, when the time comes to write the history of our decline and fall. I knew a little girl who, once, without seeing the struggle inside the booths, heard the champions announcing outside that they were about to stake their whole fortune on the issue. She waited spellbound for that issue, until presently they returned, and one declared, with heroic composure, that he had lost the savings of a lifetime.
She ran home, emptied her money-box, groped her way back to the fair, amid the glimmering lights of closing time, and laid her hoard on the lap of the ruined man, now quietly smoking his pipe with the champion who was supposed to have reduced him to beggary. The story should have its climax in his tearful refusal to touch a penny of her money, but it has not. He pocketed the offering, led her to the outskirts of the fair, and told her to be a good little girl and run straight home. Still it remains beautiful for all that.
Sometimes, but not often, you may see a bout of French boxing at the fair the savate. It is a sport that hovers between those lower reaches of the street fight, which it somewhat disdains, and the higher one of the duello, to which it is never admitted. It is taught at the gymnasiums as part of the athletic course. It is an art of kicking, and it trains the foot to take the place of the fist in the personal encounters of the plebs, the hand serving mainly to parry. The foot is a terrible substitute ; its strokes are murderous, especially when none are barred. One was barred in a late encounter between the leading French professional and a British boxer. But the French, or rather the Belgian, champion delivered it, all the same, when he found that he was getting the worst of the bout. His opponent was supposed to be maimed for life. On the other hand, to judge by the cries of the delighted crowd, Fashoda was avenged.
After Sedan there was a great growth of gymnastic societies in France, just as there was in Germany after Jena. They sprang up in all parts of the country, with the same patriotic ardor for physical training to the end of national regeneration. They were the first and the least offensive form of Déroulède’s patriotic labors. But the poor creature could not keep politics out of them, and they languished in due course. The misfortune of the French is that their athletic exercise is still rather a system than a growth. It has not its proper beginning in the playground. The playground pastimes are still anything but what they should be. The larger boys often take no part in them, such as they are, but merely walk to and fro and contract pimples. The others toy aimlessly with a ball or play at ” touch.” It is formless amusement, in fact, instead of organized sport. There is no time to repair the omission in later life.
There used to be wild dancing at the fairs. There is less of it now, if only because there is less everywhere. Dancing, in the cheap public halls, there still is, all the year round, but it is more or less professional, especially on the part of the men. These are of a pariah race which is still lower than that of their partners. Even the student no longer dances with conviction as he used to do when Murger’s famous book was young. He goes to the prominent café chantants of the worse type, but rather as an observer. The thing is a little too low on gala days, and a little too dull on the others. Many of the old halls are now the sites of stately dwelling-houses in which the citizen enjoys the amenities of a service of water, of gas, and of tradesmen in procession on the back stairs. The old bal des canotiers, at the riverside resorts, in its old style, is but a memory, and not a very savory one at that. The Parisians have lost the energy for this amusement, which in its prime was a strong rival to gymnastics. There are many ways of taking exercise, and one is to take leaps and bounds in an atmosphere of foul air and tobacco-smoke. Self respect now holds the better sort back.
In the remote quarters the washerwomen and the laborers still have their elephantine revels to round the day of toil. In their rude assemblies you meet on a system of free admission, tempered by a sou paid to the master of ceremonies every time you dance. For popular dancing of the old-fashioned sort you must wait for the 14th of July, which marks the fall of the Bastille and the date of the national fête. The complaisant municipality keeps a ring in the open spaces, and puts up stands for the musicians. The passers by join in, and the thing is real as far as it goes. It is the people dancing, and this is now the rarest of Paris sights. Even at the great bal de l’opéra public dancing has long since become a mere industry. Our grandfathers and grandmothers went there to take a part ; they now go only to take boxes and to look on. The business circle is peopled by the scum of the boulevard and by the male supers of the Opéra, who positively contract with the management for their attendance and their costumes, and who undertake to forget themselves in corybantic revel at so much an hour.
The parks and gardens of the capital are the country reduced to scale for those who have to take the air on the wrong side of the fortifications. The most perfect miniature of this kind is the Parc de Monceaux, near the Arch, on the side of the wicked old Parc aux Cerfs. There is a little bit of everything, prairie and ruin and flowery slope, and all in a space that might almost be covered by a hat of Brobdingnag. It is about the most exquisite thing of its kind in the world. The Bois de Boulogne is known to everybody. This is the same thing on a larger scale, every bit pretty, every bit quarters in London closed to the outer world by gates and gate-keepers. They were solemnly abolished amid rejoicings, but the gardens of the squares still remain private property. One day they will go into the common domain, as the fine garden of Lincoln’s Inn Fields has already gone, to the huge benefit of the inhabitants of the adjacent slums. The owners, many of them lawyers who had their offices round about, never missed a pleasance which they never used. But they claimed handsome compensation for all that, and got it, too. When all London follows the same example of compulsory renunciation, with or without damages, the metropolis will be the garden city of the world. It almost is so now, thanks to the happy idea of laying out the old graveyards as pleasure grounds. In this matter the English capital, after long lagging behind the French, has now bettered the example. Already we Londoners have music in the parks, though it will take us some time to reproduce all the essential features of a military concert in the Gardens of the Luxembourg or of the Palais Royal.
The French have had a century’s familiarity with the conception that the first duty of a community, in the distribution of the blessings of life, is to itself as a whole. Everything strengthens this idea in your Parisian, and it governs his beliefs with the automatic action of a truism. He expects the government to do all sorts of things that are rarely regarded as obligations elsewhere. It has not only to fix the date of the national holiday, but to provide the entertainment. The national fête, with its free places at the theaters, free treats to the school-children, free illuminations and fireworks, is a marvel of administrative hospitality. There is no sense of favor in all this on the part of the giver, but there is a strong sense of right on the part of the receiver.
So with the enjoyment of the public galleries. What-ever higher uses they may be intended to serve, the first care of the government is to make them minister to the greatest happiness of the greatest number. All the regulations as to hours and days of opening and general conditions of use are framed to this end. The people like to think that their art treasures at the Louvre or at the Luxembourg their very own beat all private collections in the world, and are managed by the best experts, ever on the lookout for new acquisitions. Their sense of personal property in the
Mona Lisa ” or the ” Belle Jardinière,” in the Nike of Samothrace or the Venus of Melos, is deep down in them ; and while they might take off their hats to these masterpieces, they would never think of doing so to their own servants who have them in charge. I have seen a milliner’s apprentice smiling contemptuously at the waist of the last named lady, left as it is without the correction of the corset. It was bad taste, no doubt, but still it showed the saving sense of one’s right to laugh as one likes at one’s own. The English visitor to the National Gallery still finds it hard to divest himself of a sense of personal obligation to the policeman.