Paris - Et Puis Apres?
( Originally Published 1921 )
WITH Louis XIV came the zenith of the monarchy, and the great, spectacular Paris of to-day, the Paris of the boulevards and of the Champs Elysees, was born of his pride, his ambition, and his power. Louis XIV gave the note of the modern city, no longer confined within mediaeval walls, but stretching out in all directions and assuming the aspect and proportions of a metropolis.
As he planned and conceived, so his successors, Louis XV, Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis-Philippe, and Napoleon III, developed upon an always increasing scale of magnificence. Louis XV created out of the desolation of the fields beyond the Tuileries the superb Place de la Concorde, which, forming a point of arrival for the descent of the Champs Elysees, made the link between this, triumphal avenue and the garden of the palace, which had been done over by Lenotre, and became the centre of the westward moving city.
The Place de la Concorde was made the vast axis of a group of related buildings which it tied together in a common design. Gabriel was the. architect and he built the handsome Ministere de la Marine and the Hotel Crillon, separated from each other by the Rue Royale, for the reception of ambassadors and other distinguished personages. The Palais Bourbon, built for a daughter of Louis XI V and Madame de Maintenon, across the Seine, balanced the Madeleine, begun by Louis XV as a church and carried out under Napoleon as a temple of victory, in honour of the soldiers of the Grand Army.
The Place Louis XV, as the Concorde was first called, commemorated the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, and the king " gratified " his subjects by permitting an equestrian statue of himself, in bronze, to ornament the centre, where now stands the obelisk. Bouchardon and Pigalle executed the statue of the king, a figure crowned with laurel, dressed in the Roman style and mounted upon a charger, supported by four virtues. This statue, when first erected, drew forth many clever sayings from the wits of the capital, in allusion both to the disposition and the execution of the figures, of which those forming the pedestal were very inferior to that of the king. One of these pasquinades ran:
" O la belle statue! 0 le beau piedestal! Les Vertus sont a pied, le Vice est a cheval."
The Place de la Concorde was from the first marked for tragic history, and before it was quite finished was the scene of a terrible catastrophe following the festivities attendant upon the marriage of the dauphin of France with the beautiful Marie-Antoinette, which was celebrated at Versailles, on the 16th of May, 1770. On the 30th day of the month the various spectacles, held in honour of the nuptials, terminated by a magnificent display of fireworks in the Place Louis XV attracting a multitude that filled to overflowing the whole of that capacious square. It was in leaving the place that the newly opened Rue Royale became choked with the populace and in the panic that ensued many people were crushed to death, while others, stumbling over the pitfalls created by the unfinished building to the two sides of the opening, were thrown into the freshly dug foundations and killed.
It was in the Place Louis XV that the Revolution may be said to have broken out and here was shed the first blood in that terrible convulsion. Here was also the principal place of execution. The first victim who perished in this place was the king himself. The fountain, dedicated to the sea (on the south side), marks the exact spot where Louis XVI died, January 21, 1793, one of twenty-eight hundred people who were beheaded in this place.
The fountains and the eight allegorical statues of the great provincial cities of France date from the second empire; the groups of sculpture, known as Les Chevaux de Marly, by Guillaume Coustou, which flank the entrance to the Champs Elysees, date from Louis XIV.
The Champs Elysees is now the magnificent, modern entrance to the city. Napoleon improved it for the victorious entry of his army and planned the Triumphal Arch of the Etoile, one of four which he intended to erect in commemoration of his victories. It was begun in 1806, from the designs of Chalgrin, but not finished until 1836, when both architect and founder were no more. It is clearly less choice than the little Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which we have classed amongst the jewels of Paris, but it rejoices in one fine example of sculpture by the great Rude—a high relief of the Genius of War summoning the Nation to Arms, placed against the right hand pier of the arch, facing down the avenue.
Straight down the Champs Elysees, across the Concorde, through the garden of the Tuileries, under the Arc du Carrousel, the whole immense composition has been considered with the vast palace of the Louvre as its base. The last object in the line of this magnificent vista is Paul Bartlett's equestrian statue of Lafayette, conceived as a youth setting forth upon his romantic adventure in aid of American independence. The statue is the gift of young Americans to Paris and ranks not only as the masterpiece of the American sculptor, but as one of the great equestrians of the world.
The arcades of the Rue de Rivoli are Napoleon's contribution to this part of Paris, built as a souvenir of his native streets. The emperor continued them through the Rue Castiglione which leads to the Place Vendome and to the column erected by Napoleon in imitation of the Trajan, at Rome, and covered with reliefs of his victories in Germany, from designs by Bergeret, cast from Austrian cannon. A bronze statue of Louis XIV, by Girardon, at first ornamented the centre of this space.
Napoleon had a fancy for planting memorials of himself in historic places associated with other powerful monarchs. Both this statue of Louis XIV and the famous Henri IV, on the Pont-Neuf, had been demolished during the Revolution, and Napoleon had a statue of himself, by Chaudet, placed upon the top of the Colonne Vendome, and planned an obelisk, inscribed with his name, to replace the Henri IV statue. Louis XVIII, on ascending the throne, took from the Place Vendome the bronze statue of the emperor and adding it to another had both melted into the present statue of his ancestor Henri IV. Francois Frederic-Lemot, of Lyon, is the sculptor of the monument to the hero of Ivry.
A second statue of Napoleon, by Seurre, made from cannon taken in Algiers, was magnanimously erected by Louis-Philippe in 1833, only to be replaced in 1863, by a copy of the first statue, by Chaudet. On May 16, 1871, on the motion of the painter, Courbet, the Communards threw down the entire column. It was rebuilt from the fragments in 1874.
Under Napoleon III Paris underwent a still more drastic transformation owing to the enter-prise of Georges Eugene Haussmann, prefect of the Seine, who cut broad avenues ruthlessly through dense masses of houses to the destruction of numberless tortuous streets. To this era belong the great principal arteries of traffic running north and south—the Boulevards de Strasbourg and de Sebastopol, the Boulevards du Palais and Saint-Michel, the Boulevards Haussmann and de Magenta, the Boulevards Saint-Germain and du Montparnasse, the Rue de Rennes, and the prolongations of the Rues de Rivoli, de Turbigo, and Lafayette.
The Bois de Boulogne, the Bois de Vincennes, the Pare Monceau, the Buttes-Chaumont, and other squares and gardens were the outgrowth of this later development. The Opera and the Hotel de Ville are the two giant efforts amongst the prodigious building of this period.
The Opera, designed by Garnier, derives its chief distinction as a background for Carpeaux' famous group, La Danse, which ornaments the right side of the principal facade. The Had de Ville is famous for its wealth of modern decoration, done by all the great French painters of the last generation.
Finally the several great expositions added to Paris such spectacular notes as the Trocadero, the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais, the Pont Alexandre III, which ties into a greater scheme of composition the esplanade, the hotel, and the dome of the Invalides.
Such was the development of Paris up to the outbreak of the great European war, which in time to come will surely mark a new era in the history of the city. Even now the fortifications, which date only from the last revolution, are being demolished, not only to admit of further expansion but because they offer no defence against modern warfare. The little pleasure boats, which used to make travelling so agreeable up and down the winding river, having been requisitioned during the war, are now condemned. When they are replaced, *if ever they are replaced, it will be by some modern speed ship which will bear about as much resemblance to the flotilla of happy memory as does the vapore of the Grand Canal to the languorous gondola. Already their absence makes the Seine a more serious river.
But the Seine itself lives in constant menace of dredging, widening, and straightening by a canal from Rouen, which will make of Paris a port, and the river no place at all for loitering. What will do then, poor things, the fishermen of the Seine, that contemplative society of Izaak Waltons, who pass their lives in dreamy pursuit of the non-existent poisson? And what, in winter, will do the daily papers, when, its flux for-ever calmed, the river will flow sagely between its banks, and the crue de la Seine will no longer fill in the dull moments of journalism?
We who have weathered the war and its after-math have assisted at the birth of a new Paris. Let this book stand as a tribute to the old.