The Ile De La Cité
( Originally Published 1918 )
Paris Old and New — The Heart of France — Saint Louis — Old Palaces — Henri IV.'s Statue — Ironical Changes — The Seine and the Thames — The Quais and their Old Books — Diderot and the Lady — Police and Red Tape — The Conciergerie — Marie Antoinette — Paris and its Clocks — Méryon's Etchings — French Advocates — A Hall of Babel — Sainte Chapelle — French News-papers Serious and Comic — The Only Joke — The English and the French.
WHERE to begin ? That is a problem in the writing of every book, but peculiarly so with Paris ; because, however one may try to be chronological, the city is such a blend of old and new that that design is frustrated at every turn. Nearly every building of importance stands on the site of some other which instantly jerks us back hundreds of years, while if we deal first with the original structure, such as the re-mains of the 'Roman Thermes at the Cluny, built about 300, straightway the Cluny itself intrudes, and we leap from the third century to the nineteenth ; or if we trace the line of the wall of Philip Augustus we come swiftly to so modern an institution as the Mont-de-Piété; or if we climb to such a recent thoroughfare as the Boulevard de Clichy, with its palpitatingly novel cabarets and allurements, we must in order to do so ascend a mountain which takes its name from the martyrdom of St. Denis and his companions in the third century. It is therefore well, since Paris is such a tangle of past and present, to disregard order altogether and to let these pages reflect her character. Expect then, dear reader, to be twitched about the ages without mercy.
Let us begin in earnest by leaving the mainland and adventuring upon an island. For the heart of Paris is enisled : Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, the Palais de Justice, the Hôtel Dieu, the Préfecture de Police, the Morgue — all are entirely surrounded by water. The history of the Cité is the history of Paris, almost the history of France.
Paris, the home of the Parisii, consisted of nothing but this island when Julius Caesar arrived there with his conquering host. The Romans built their palace here, and here Julian the Apostate loved to sojourn. It was in Julian's reign that the name was changed from Lutetia (which it is still called by picturesque writers) to Parisea Civitas, from which Paris is an easy derivative. The Cité remained the home of government when the Merovingians under Clovis expelled the Romans, and again under the Carlovingians. The second Royal Palace was begun by the first of the Capets, Hugh, in the tenth century, and it was completed by Robert the Pious in the eleventh. Louis VII. decreed Notre Dame; but it was Saint Louis, reigning from 1226 to 1270, who was the father of the Cité as we know it. He it was who built Sainte Chapelle, and it was he who surrendered part of the Palace to the Law.
While it was the home of the Court and the Church the island naturally had little enough room for ordinary residents, who therefore had to live, whether aristocrats or tradespeople, on the mainland, either on the north or south side of the river. The north side for the most part was given to merchants, the south to scholars, for Saint Louis was the builder not only of Sainte Chapelle but also of the Sorbonne. Very few of the smaller buildings of that time now remain : the oldest Paris that one now wanders in so delightedly, whether on the north bank or the south, whether near the Sorbonne or the Hôtel de Sens, dates, with a few fortunate exceptions, from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Nowhere may the growth of Paris be better observed and better understood than on the highest point on this Island of the City — on the summit of Notre Dame. Standing there you quickly comprehend the Paris of the ages : from Caesar's Lutetia, occupying the island only and surrounded by fields and wastes, to the Paris of this year of our Lord, spreading over the neighbouring hills, such a hive of human activity and energy as will hardly bear thinking of — a Paris which has thrown off the yoke not only of the kings that once were all-powerful but of the Church too.
By the twelfth century the kings of France had be-gun to live in smaller palaces more to their personal taste, such as the Hôtel Barbette, the Hôtel de Sens, (much of which still stands, as a glass factory, at the corner of the Rue d'Hôtel de Ville and the Rue de Figuier, one of the oldest of the Paris mansions), the Hôtel de Bourgogne (in the Rue Etienne Marcel: you may still see its tower of Saint Jean Sans Peur), the Hôtel de Nevers (what remains of which is at the corner of the Rue Colbert and Rue Richelieu), and, of course, the Louvre. Charles VII. (1422-1461) was the first king to settle at the Louvre permanently.
To gain the Ile de la Cité we leave the mainland of Paris at the Quai du Louvre, and make our crossing by the Pont Neuf. Neuf no longer, for as a matter of historical fact it is now the oldest of all the Paris bridges : that is, in its foundations, for the visible part of it has been renovated quite recently. The first stone of it was laid by Henri III. in 1578: it was not ready for many years, but in 1603 Henri IV. (of Navarre) ventured across a plank of it on his way to the Louvre, after several previous adventurers had broken their necks in the attempt. " So much the less kings they," was his comment. He lived to see the bridge finished.
Behind the statue of this monarch, whom the French still adore, is the garden that finishes off the west end of the Ile very prettily, sending its branches up above the parapet, as Mr. Dexter's drawing shows. Here we may stop ; for we are now on the Island itself, midway between the two halves of the bridge, and the statue has such a curious history, so typical of the French character, that I should like to tell it. The original bronze figure, erected by Louis XIII. in 1614, was taken down in 1792, a time of stress, and melted into a commodity that was then of vastly greater importance than the effigies of kings — namely cannon. (As we shall see in the course of this book, Paris left the hands of the Revolutionaries a totally different city from the Paris of 1791.) Then came peace again, and then came Napoleon, and in the collection at the Archives is to be seen a letter written by the Emperor from Schönbrunn, on August 15th, 1809, stating that he wishes an obelisk to be erected on the site of the Henri IV. statue — an obelisk of Cherbourg granite, 180 pieds d'élevation, with the inscription " l'Empereur Napoléon au Peuple Francais." That, however, was not done.
Time passed on, Napoleon fell, and Louis XVIII. returned from his English home to the throne of France and was not long in perpetrating one of those symmetrical ironical jests which were then in vogue. Taking from the Vendôme column the bronze statue of Napoleon (who was safely under the thumb of Sir Hudson Lowe at St. Helena, well out of mischief), and to this adding a second bronze statue of the same usurper intended for some other site, the monarch directed that they should be melted into liquid from which a new statue of Henri IV. — the very one at which we are at this moment gazing — should be cast. It was done, and though to the Röntgen-rayed vision of the cynic it may appear to be nothing more or less than a double Napoleon, it is to the world at large Henri IV., the hero of Ivry.
I have seen comparisons between the Seine and the Thames; but they are pointless. You cannot compare them : one is a London river, and the other is a Paris river. The Seine is a river of light; the Thames is a river of twilight. The Seine is gay; the Thames is sombre. When dusk falls in Paris the Seine is just a river in the evening; when dusk falls in London the Thames becomes a wonderful mystery, an enchanted stream in a land of old romance. The Thames is, I think, vastly more beautiful ; but on the other hand, the Thames has no merry passenger steamers and no storied quais. The Seine has all the advantage when we come to the consideration of what can be done with a river's banks in a great city. For the Seine has a mile of old book and curiosity stalls, whereas the Thames has nothing.
And yet the coping of the Thames embankment is as suitable for such a purpose as that of the Seine, and as many Londoners are fond of books. How is it ? Why should all the bookstalls and curiosity stalls of London be in Whitechapel and Farringdon Street and the Cattle Market ? That is a mystery which I have never solved and never shall. Why are the West Central and the West districts wholly debarred — save in Charing Cross Road, and that I believe is suspect — from loitering at such Alluring street banquets? It is beyond under-standing.
The history of the stall-holders of the quais has been told very engagingly by M. Octave Uzanne, whom one might describe as the Austin Dobson and the Augustine Birrell of France, in his work Bouquinistes et Bouquineurs. They established themselves first on the Pont Neuf, but in 1650 were evicted. (The Paris bridges, I might say here, become at the present time the resort of every kind of pedlar directly anything occurs to suspend their traffic.)
The parapets of the quais then took the place of those of the bridge, and there the booksellers' cases have been ever since. But no longer are they the gay resort that once they were. It was considered, says M. Uzanne, writing of the eighteenth century, "quite the correct thing for the promenaders to gossip round the book-stalls and discuss the wit and fashionable writings of the day. At all hours of the day these quarters were much frequented, above all by literary men, lawyers' clerks and foreigners. One historical fact, not generally known, merits our attention, for it shows that not only the libraries and the stall-keepers assisted in drawing men of letters to the vicinity of the Hôtel Mazarin, but there also existed a `rendez-vous' for the sale of English and French journals. It was, in fact, at the corner of the Rue Dauphine and the Quai Conti that the first establishment known as the Café Anglais was started. One read in big letters on the sign board : Café Anglais — Becket, propriétaire. This was the meeting place of the greater part of English writers visiting Paris who wished to become acquainted with the literary men of the period, the encyclopoedists and poets of the Court of Louis XV. This Café offered to its habitués the best-known English papers of the day, the Westminster Gazette, the London Evening Post, the Daily Advertiser, and the various pamphlets published on the other side of the Channel.
"You must know that the Quai Conti up to the year 1769 was only a narrow passage leading down to a place for watering horses. Between the Pont Neuf and the building known as the Château-Gaillard at the opening of the Rue Guénégaud, were several small shops and a small fair continually going on.
"This Château-Gaillard, which was a dependency of the old Porte de Nêsle, had been granted by Francis I. to Benvenuto Cellini. The famous Florentine gold-smith received visits from the Sovereign protector of arts and here executed the work he had been ordered to do, under his Majesty's very eyes.
" One calls to mind that Sterne, in his delightful Sentimental Journey, was set down in 1767 at the Hôtel de Modène, in the Rue Jacob, opposite the Rue des Deux-Anges, and one has not forgotten his love for the quais and the adventure which befell him while chatting to a bookseller on the Quai Conti, of whom he wished to buy a copy of Shakespeare so that he might read once more Polonius' advice to his son before starting on his travels.
"Diderot, in his Salon of 1761, relates his flirtation with the pretty girl who served in one of these shops and afterwards became the wife of Menze. She called herself Miss Babuti and kept a small book shop on the Quai des Augustins, spruce and upright, white as a lily and red as a rose. I would enter her shop, in my own brisk way : " Mademoiselle, the 'Contes de la Fontaine' . . . a `Petronius' if you please." "Here you are, Sir. Do you want any other books ?" — "Forgive me, yes." — "What is it?" — "La `Religieuse en Chemise.'" — "For shame, Sir ! Do you read such trash ? " — " Trash, is it, Mademoiselle? I did not know. . .
M. Uzanne's pages are filled with such charming gossip and with character-sketches of the most famous booksellers and book-hunters. One pretty trait that would have pleased Mary Lamb (and perhaps did, in 1822, when her brother took her to the "Boro' side of the Seine") is mentioned by M. Uzanne : "The stall-keeper on the quais always has an indulgent eye for the errand boy or the little bonne [slavey] who stops in front of his stall and consults gratis `La Clef des Songes' or the ` Le Secrétaire des Dames.' Who would not commend him for this kind toleration? In fact it is very rare to find the bookseller in such cases not shutting his eyes metaphorically—and refraining from walking up to the reader, for fear of frightening her away. And then the young girl moves off with a light step, repeating to herself the style of letter or the explanation of a dream, rich in hope and illusions for the rest of the day."
But the best description of the book-hunter of the c quais is that given to Dumas by Charles Nodier. "This animal," he said, "has two legs and is featherless, wanders usually up and down the quais and the boulevards, stopping at all the old bookstalls, turning over every book on them ; he is habitually clad in a coat that is too long for him and trousers that are too short; he always wears on his feet shoes that are down at the heel, a dirty hat on his head, and, under his coat and over his trousers, a waistcoat fastened together with string. One of the signs by which he can be recognised is that he never washes his hands."
Henri IV.'s statue faces the Place Dauphine and the west façade of the Palais de Justice. At No. 28 in the Place Dauphine Madame Roland was born, little thinking she was destined one day to be imprisoned in the neighbouring Conciergerie, which, to those who can face the difficulties of obtaining a ticket of admission, is one of the most interesting of the Island's many interesting buildings. But the process is not easy, and there is only one day in the week on which the prison is shown.
The tickets are issued at the Préfecture of Police — the Scotland Yard of Paris — which is the large building opposite Sainte Chapelle. One may either write or call. I advise writing; for calling is not as simple as it sounds : simplicity and sightseeing in Paris being indeed not on the best terms. It was not until I had asked five several officials that I found even the right door of the vast structure, and then having passed a room full of agents (or policemen) smoking and jesting, and having climbed to a third storey, I was in danger of losing for ever the privilege of seeing what I had fixed my mind upon, wholly because, although I knew the name and street of my hotel, I did not know its number. Who ever dreamed that hotels have numbers ? Has the Savoy a number in the Strand ? Is the Ritz numbered in Piccadilly ? Not that I was living in any such splendour, but still, on the face of it, a hotel has a name because it has no number. " C'est égal," the gentleman said at last, after a pantomime of impossibility and reproach, and I took my ticket, bowed to the ground, replaced my hat and was free to visit the Conciergerie on the morrow. Such are the amenities of the tourist's life.
Let me here say that the agents of Paris are by far its politest citizens, and in appearance the healthiest. I have never met an uncivil agent, and I once met one who refused a tip after he had been of considerable service to me. Never did I attempt to tip another. They have their defects, no doubt: they have not the authority that we give our police : their management of traffic is pathetically incompetent; but they are street gentlemen and the foreigner has no better friend.
The Conciergerie is the building on the Quai d'Horloge with the circular towers beneath extinguishers — an impressive sight from the bridges and the other bank of the river. Most of its cells are now used as rooms for soldiers (André Chénier's dungeon is one of their kitchens) ; but a few rooms of the deepest historical interest have been left as they were. These are displayed by a listless guide who rises to animation only when the time comes to receive his bénéfice and offer for sale a history of his preserves.
One sees first the vaulted Salle Saint Louis, called the Salle des Pas Perdus because it was through it that the victims of the Revolution walked on their way to the Cour de Mai and execution. The terribly significant name has since passed to the great lobby of the Palais de Justice immediately above it, where it has less appropriateness. It is of course the cell of Marie Antoinette that is the most poignant spot in this grievous place. When the Queen was here the present room was only about half its size, having a partition across it, behind which two soldiers were continually on guard, day and night. The Queen was kept here, suffering every kind of indignity and petty tyranny, from September 11th, 1793, until October 16th. Her chair, in which she sat most of the time, faced the window of the courtyard.
A few acts of kindness reached her in spite of the vigilance of the authorities; but very few. I quote the account of two from the official guide, a poor thing, which I was weak enough to buy: "The Queen had no complaint to make against the concierges Richard nor their successors the Baults. It is told that one day, about the end of August, Richard asked a fruitseller in the neighbourhood to select him the best of her melons, whatever it might cost. `It is for a very important personage then ?' said the seller disdainfully, looking at the concierge's threadbare clothes. `Yes,' said he, `it is for someone who was once very important; she is so no longer; it is for the Queen.' `The Queen,' exclaimed the tradeswoman, turning over all her melons, ` the Queen ! Oh, poor woman ! Here, make her eat that, and I won't have you pay for it.
"One of the gendarmes on duty having smoked during the night, learnt the following day that the Queen, whom he noticed was very pale, had suffered from the smell of tobacco; he smashed his pipe, swearing not to smoke any more. It was he also who said to those who came in contact with Marie Antoinette : `Whatever you do, don't say anything to her about her children."
For her trial the Queen was taken to the Tribunal sitting in what is now the First Circle Chamber of the Palais de Justice, and led back in the evening to her cell. She was condemned to death on the fifteenth, and that night wrote a letter to her sister-in-law Elizabeth which we shall see in the Archives Nationales: it is firmly written.
The Conciergerie had many other prisoners, but none so illustrious. Robespierre occupied for twenty-four hours the little cell adjoining that of the Queen, now the vestry of the chapel. Madame Du Barry and Madame Récamier had cells adjacent to that of Madame Roland. Later Maréchal Ney was imprisoned here. The oldest part of all — the kitchens of Saint Louis are not shown.
The Pont au Change, the bridge which connects the Place du Châtelet with the Boulevard du Palais, the main street of the Ile de la Cité, was once (as the Ponte Vecchia at Florence still is) the headquarters of gold-smiths and small bankers. Not the least of the losses that civilisation and rebuilders have brought upon us is the disappearance of the shops and houses from the bridges. Old London Bridge — how one regrets that !
At the corner of the Conciergerie is the Horloge that gives the Quai its name — a floridly decorated clock which by no means conveys the impression that it has kept time for over five hundred years and is the oldest exposed time-piece in France. Paris, by the way, is very poor in public clocks, and those that she has are not too trustworthy. The one over the Gare St. Lazare has perhaps the best reputation; but time in Paris is not of any great importance. For most Parisians there is an inner clock which strikes with perfect regularity at about twelve and seven, and no other hours really matter. And yet a certain show of marking time is made in the hotels, where every room has an elaborate ormolu clock, usually under a glass case and rarely going. And in one hotel I remember a large clock on every landing, of which I passed three on my way up-stairs; and their testimony was so various that it was two hours later by each, so that by the time I had reached my room it was nearly time to get up. On asking the waiter the reason he said it was because they were synchronised by electricity.
There has been a Tour de l'Horloge at this corner of the Conciergerie ever since it was ordained by Philippe le Bel in 1299 ; the present clock, or at least its scheme of decoration, dates, however, from Henri III.'s reign, about 1585. The last elaborate restoration was in 185e. In the tower above was a bell that was rung only on rare occasions. The usual accounts of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew say that the signal for that outrage was sounded by the bell of St. Germain l'Auxerrois; but others give it to the bell of the Tour de l'Horloge. As they are some distance from each other, perhaps both were concerned; but since St. Germain l'Auxerrois is close to the Louvre, where the King was waiting for the carnage to begin, it is probable that it rang the first notes.
One of Méryon's most impressive and powerful etchings represents the Tour de l'Horloge and the façade of the Conciergerie. It is a typical example of his strange and gloomy genius, for while it is nothing else in the world but what it purports to be, it is also quite unlike the Tour de l'Horloge and the façade of the Conciergerie as any ordinary eyes have seen them. They are made terrible and sinister: they have been passed through the dark crucible of Méryon's mind. To see Paris as Méryon saw it needs a great effort of imagination, so swiftly and instinctively do these people remove the traces of unhappiness or disaster. It is the nature of Paris to smile and to forget; from any lapse into woe she recovers with extraordinary rapidity.
Méryon's Paris glowers and shudders; there is blood on her hands and guilt in her heart. I will not say that this concept is untrue, because I believe that the concept formed by a man of genius is always true, although it may not contain all the truth, and indeed one has to recall very little history to fall easily into Méryon's mood ; but for the visitor who has chosen Paris for his holiday — the typical reader, for example, of this book — Mr. Dexter's concept of Paris is a more natural one. (I wish, by the way, before it is too late, that Mr. Muir-head Bone would devote some time to the older parts of the city — particularly to the Marais. How it lies to his hand !)
Since we are at the gates of the Palais de Justice, let us spend a little time among the advocates and their clients in the great hall — the Salle des Pas Perdus. (In an interesting work, by the way, on this building, with a preface by the younger Dumas, the amendment, "La Salle du temps perdu" is recommended.) The French law courts, as a whole, are little different from our own: they have the same stuffiness, they give the same impression of being divided between the initiated and the uninitiated, the little secret society of the Bar and the great innocent world. But the Salle des Pas Perdus is another thing altogether. There is nothing like that in the Strand. Our Strand counsel are a dignified, clean-shaven, be-wigged race, striving to appear old and inscrutable and important. They are careful of appearances; they receive instructions only through solicitors; they affect to weigh their words; sagacious reserve is their fetish. Hence our law courts, although there are many consultations and incessant passings to and fro, are yet subdued in tone and overawing to the talkative.
But the Palais de Justice ! — Babel was inaudible beside it. In the Palais de Justice everyone talks at once; no one cares a sou for appearances or reticence; there are no wigs, no shorn lips, no affectation of a superhuman knowledge of the world. The French advocate comes into direct communication with his client — for the most part here. The movement as well as the vociferation is incessant, for out of this great hall open as many doors as there are in a French farce, and every door is continually swinging. Indeed, that is the chief effect conveyed : that one is watching a farce, since there has never been a farce yet without a legal gentleman in his robes and black velvet cap. The chief difference is that here there are hundreds of them. As a final touch of humour, or lack of gravity, I may add that notices forbidding smoking are numerous, and every advocate and every client is puffing hard at his cigarette.
Victor Hugo's Notre Dame begins, it will be remembered, in the great Hall of the Palais de Justice, where Gringoire's neglected mystery play was performed and Quasimodo won the prize for ugliness. The Hall, as Hugo says, was burned in 1618: by a fire which, he tells us, was made necessary by the presence in the archives of the Palais of the documents in the case of the assassination of Henri IV. by Ravaillac. Certain of Ravaillac's accomplices and instigators wishing these papers to disappear, the fire followed as a matter of course, as naturally as in China a house had to be burned down before there could be roast pig.
Sainte Chapelle, which, with the kitchens of Saint Louis under the Conciergerie, is all that remains of the royal period of the Palais de Justice, is, except on Mondays, always open during the reasonable daylight hours and is wholly free from vexatious restrictions. Sanctity having passed from it, the French sightseers do not even remove their hats, although I have noticed that the English and Americans still find the habit too strong. The Chapelle may easily disappoint, for such is the dimness of its religious light that little is visible save the dark coloured windows. One is, however, conscious of perfect proportions and such ecclesiastical elegance as paint and gold can convey. It is in fact exquisite, yet not with an exquisiteness of simplicity but of design and elaboration. It is like a jewel — almost a trinket — which Notre Dame might have once worn on her breast and tired of. Its flêche is really beautiful; it darts into the sky with only less assurance and joy than that of Notre Dame, and I always look up with pleasure to the angel on the eastern point of the roof.
What one has the greatest difficulty in believing is that Saint Chapelle is six hundred and fifty years old.
It was built for the relics brought from the Crusades by Saint Louis, which are now in the Treasury of Notre Dame. The Chapel has, of course, known the restorer's hand, but it is virtually the original structure, and some of the original glass is still here preserved amid reconstructions. To me Sainte Chapelle's glass makes little appeal; but many of my friends talk of nothing else. Let us thank God for differences of taste. During the Commune (as recently as 1871) an attempt was made to burn Sainte Chapelle, together with the Palais de Justice, but it just failed. That was the third fire it has survived.
From Sainte Chapelle we pass through the Rue de Lutèce, which is opposite, across the Boulevard, because there is a statue here of some interest — that of Renaudon, who lived in the first half of the seventeenth century at No. 8 Quai du Marché Neuf, close by, and founded in 1631 the first French newspaper, the Gazette de France. Little could he have foreseen the consequences of his, rash act ! It is amusing to stand here a while and meditate on the torrent that has proceeded from that small spring. Other cities have as busy a journalistic life as Paris, and in London the paper boys are more numerous and insistent, while in London we have also the contents' bills, which are unknown to France; and yet Paris seems to me to be more a city of newspapers than even London is. Perhaps it is the kiosques that convey the impression.
The London paper and the Paris papers could not well be more different. In the matter of size, Paris, I think, has all the advantage, for one may read every-thing in a few minutes; but in the matter of ingredients the advantage surely lies with us, for although English papers tell far too much, and by their own over-curiousness foster inquisitiveness and busy-bodydom, yet they have some sense of what is important, and one can always find the significant news by hunting for it. In Paris this is less easy. What one will find, however, is a short story or a literary essay written with distinction, an anecdote of the day by no means adapted for the young person, and a number of trumpery tragedies of passion or excess, minutely told. The signed articles are always good, and when critical usually fearless, but the unsigned notices of a new play or spectacle credit it with perfection in every detail; and here, at any rate, as in our best reviews of books, we are in a position to feel some of the satisfaction that proceeds from conscious superiority.
But it has to be remembered in Paris, people go to the theatre automatically, whereas we pick and choose and have our reasons; and therefore an honest criticism of a play is of little importance there. The Paris Daily Mail seems to have fallen into line very naturally, for I find in it on the morning on which I write these lines a puff of the Capucines revue, saying that it kept the house in continous laughter by its innocent fun, and will doubtless draw all Paris. As if (i) the laughter of any Paris theatre was ever continuous, and as if (ii) there was ever any innocent fun at the Capucines, and as if (iii) all Paris would go near that theatre if there were !
One reason, I imagine, for the diffuseness of the English paper and the brevity of the French, is that the English have so little natural conversation that they find it useful to acquire news on which to base more ; while the French need no such assistance. The English again are interested in other nations, whereas the French care nothing for any land but France. There is no space in which to continue this not untempting analysis : it would require much room, for to understand thoroughly the difference between, say, the Daily Telegraph and the Journal is to understand the difference between England and France.
The French comic papers one sees everywhere — except in people's hands. I suppose they are bought, or they would not be published ; but I have hardly ever observed a Frenchman reading one that was his own property. The fault of the French comic paper is monotony. Voltaire accused the English of having seventy religions and only one sauce ; my quarrel with the French is that they have seventy sauces and only one joke. This joke you meet everywhere. Artists of diabolical cleverness illustrate it in colours every week; versifiers and musicians introduce it into songs; comic singers sing it; playwrights dramatise it; novelists and journalists weave it into prose. It is the oldest joke and it is ever new. Nothing can prevent a Parisian laughing at it as if it were as fresh as his roll, his journal or his petit Gervais. For a people with a world-wide reputation for wit, this is very strange; but in some directions the French are incorrigibly juvenile, almost infantine. Personally I envy them for it. I think it must be charming never to grow out of such an affection for indecency that even a nursery mishap can still be always funny.
One of the comic papers must, however, be exempted from these generalisations. Le Rire, Le Journal Amusant, La Vie Parisienne and the scores of cheaper imitations may depend for their living on the one joke; but L'Assiette au Beurre is more serious. L'Assiette au Beurre is first and foremost a satirist. It chastises continually, and its whip is often scorpions. Even its lighter numbers, chiefly given to ridicule, contain streaks of savagery.
At the end of the brief Rue de Lutèce is the great Hôtel Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris, having been founded in the seventh century; and to the left of it is one of the Paris flower markets, where much beautiful colour may be seen very formally and unintelligently arranged. Gardens are among those things that we order (or shall I say disorder ?) better than the French do.
And now we will enter Notre Dame.