Book Of Paris
( Originally Published 1910 )
THERE are two classes of people who come to Paris, — those to whom, though they may be familiar with every monument, have wandered in every quartier, have crossed the Place de la Concorde daily for twenty years, Paris never means more than the sum of its thousand interests; and those who feel within themselves the overpowering, constantly increasing sense of the great city's personality. To the former Paris gives no heed, but in the hearts of the latter she is always writing her book. It is a book of infinite variety, exalted and. prophetic, delicately fanciful and gay, sombre with the misery of existence, according to the materials on which it is written; but it is always the Book of Paris significant, never petty. When it is finished, it will hold the story of the human soul; but it will never be finished.
Paris is not the subject of the book: Paris is only the medium. It is in her style, since it is she who writes; but its subject is Life, and whatever, good or bad, has any bearing upon life is to be found somewhere in its pages, without embellishment and without euphemism. Nothing is disguised, nothing falsified ; for Paris herself is inscrutable, setting down with purposeless impartiality all that touches her subject. A universal reader for the book, if such were to be found, would need, I think, to be part god, part demon; for no one man could rise high enough to grasp half its noble beauty, and none surely be found base enough to comprehend all its black ugliness.
I, too, wandering along the boulevards, musing in the Luxembourg Gardens, or watching at night from the bridges the red and yellow lights swirling in the black river, have felt repeatedly the strange thrill of comprehension, and have known that in me also some pages were being added to the Book of Paris,— confused, it was true, often incoherent, and never of the greatest, but of the book, nevertheless. Such as they were, I have tried here to transcribe them for you. The task was not easy. It has been as though I were translating painfully from one language into another. Rigid, sharp - edged words, made for the expression of definite logical thought, were hard moulds into which to pour the fragments of ideas and the shifting, inconsequential moods that Paris gave me. Something, however, of the original always shines through even the worst translation, and for the substance of the rambling es-says that follow I make no apology. If the thoughts and the feelings with which Paris filled me were indeed, as I truly think them, pages from the book of herself, then, how-ever minor, they cannot but have some worth.