France After The Franco-prussian War
( Originally Published 1921 )
IN the interval since the last journeyings that we followed, Dr. P. M. Roget, the little boy of our earlier chapters, had died at the ripe age of ninety (in 1869), and Mr. J. L. Roget had himself married, in 1865, Miss Frances Ditchfield. Of the somewhat extended tour that he made to Italy and elsewhere after his marriage we have no account to offer, and our next pause is for a glimpse of France after the Franco-Prussian War, from some notes relating to a short tour, in the course of which he again passed through France, Belgium and Holland in 1872. These reflect post-war conditions of very much less severity than those unfortunately now prevailing in France, but are not without interest.
As on previous occasions to which we have referred, the crossing was again made to Antwerp, where the traveller records : " Great improvements in the last few years, by raising fortifications, filling moats, and making new quarters to the city," Little did he think then that Antwerp would be overrun by temporarily triumphant Germans in less than fifty years.
There is little to dwell upon in connection with the various towns visited in Belgium. The first reference to results of the war is met with at Mézières :
" Mézières.—Detained here two and a half hours by error in Belgian train book. Walked about clean town. Houses seemed newly built. Saw no trace of the war except a chip over the church door and the presence of Prussian soldiers, one of whom walks constantly up and down the railway platform with his rifle, etc."
Reference is again made in the journal to German soldiers being seen in Rethel, and passing on, we find a few words devoted to Rheims which are worth quoting, when we think of the fate of the town and its cathedral at the hands of the ruthless enemy of France some forty years later.
" Rheims Cathedral.—Exterior very rich, but in a false style of decoration, with figures and animals stuck all over it and not kept subordinate to the construction. The towers light and beautiful and the interior of fine proportions and solemn effect, with completeness and unity. . . . German troops here in plenty. . . . The sentries loaf about in a very different way from ours and hold their rifles anyhow, generally pointed at one's stomach."
At Soissons it is briefly reported : " No German troops here"; and among a few remarks on the scenery beheld from the train on the way to Paris we find : " Le Bourget Drancy, a large plain bearing traces of the war in ruined houses." The most interesting reflection of the conditions is in the following impressions of Paris :
" Paris.—Walked out and saw stump (merely the base) of the Vendôme Column, the ruins of the Ministère des Finances and the Tuileries. Both are complete nothings, but a part of the walls is standing. From the Tuileries Gardens you can see through to the horses on the arch in the Place du Carrousel. The public are allowed to walk through what were the private gardens and up to the wall of the palace, upon which is inscribed ` Propriété Nationale,' ` Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.' The arcades of the Rue de Rivoli and the Rue de la Paix are chipped and knocked about, but are patched in many places where there have been shot marks. The shops in the Rue de Rivoli contain illustrations, photographs and otherwise, of the events of the war and the Communist insurrection, without reserve. Ecosura's picture of the Rue de Rivoli and the burning Louvre is photographed, and there are toy figures representing a Prussian soldier laden with plunder, including clock and basket of champagne. Photo-graphic cartes of the ex-Emperor of the French and family, Favre, Gambetta, the Emperor of Germany, etc., side by side with French actresses in the least possible amount of raiment. The trees in Tuileries Gardens still bear marks of ill-usage, great burns on their bark; but many gaps have been filled up with young trees, so that the thickness of the trunks varies very much."
It is rather interesting to compare the monetary conditions prevailing in Paris after the two wars. In 1872, when the above notes were made, Mr. Roget records the changing of circular notes for £20 into 505.50 francs, a rate of 25.27 francs to the pound, which is a very different matter from the figure of over 60 attained in 1920.
Mr. Roget visited the nearer parts of the Continent many times more before his death in 1908, as is testified by the large number of water-colour sketches which it was his delight to make, but we have no written account to offer of these little tours.