A Visit To Paris
( Originally Published 1921 )
ALTHOUGH in the last chapter we have caught a glimpse of a steamboat in America, we have little to record of the gradual changes from sailing-ship to steamboat and from coach to train which had their inception since the days in which Dr. Roget's continental journey of 1802–3 was made, as he made no very extended journeys during this transition period.
On looking through his notes, however, it is interesting to observe that in August 1824 he makes the first mention of travelling by " steam packet " in a voyage from Liverpool to the Isle of Man in the City of Glasgow, occupying from ten in the morning to ten in the evening. He subsequently went on in the same boat to Ardrossan. Another reference in 1826 describes him as setting out in the steam packet from Bristol bound for Ilfracombe, but " obliged to put back on account of a gale of wind."
It may be remarked here that, although the early experiments of Symington in Scotland went back as far as 1801, regular sailings of passenger steamers do not appear to have commenced till 1815, when the first steam packet began to ply between Liverpool and Glasgow. It was in 1816 that the first steam passenger-boat ran across the Channel from Brighton to Havre. As far as can be ascertained, the first steamboat placed on the Dover cross-Channel service was the Rob Roy, which started running in 1820. Again we can appeal to Turner for the appearance of these boats, Part of an engraving after a view of Dover in 1822 is reproduced in Fig. 6, and shows one of these tiny boats packed with passengers, and with the long thin funnel which was characteristic of the early steam-boats.
We are, however, able to give an account of the conditions prevalent in 1830 from a journal written by Mrs. Mary Roget during a visit to Paris with her husband (Dr. P. M. Roget) in that year. It may be remarked here that Dr. Roget was by this time Secretary of the Royal Society, a position to which he was elected in 1827 and retained for twenty years. Here for the first time we cross the Channel by steam, but we still travel by coach or carriage along the roads. On this occasion the passage was made from Southampton to Havre. The journal will not be given by any means in full, but a few portions which bear upon the travel and other conditions may be of interest.
" On Friday, the 3rd (Sept.), we left London at ten o'clock, in the stage for Southampton. Arrived about half-past eight. Bright moon ; walked on the quay, and went to bed. On Saturday, 4th, at half-past seven, embarked on board the George IV steam packet for Havre. Took in passengers at Portsmouth. We sailed along the beautiful smiling coast of the Isle of Wight. When we lost sight of land and found ourselves in the open sea, we gradually settled down to something like a moody silence, feeling a little disturbed by the motion of the vessel. We betook ourselves to different resting-places on deck, and as it was fortunately a very fine day, I remained lying on my mattress on the wooden sofa from eleven o'clock till ten o'clock at night, not being able to raise my head till we approached the harbour at Havre. About two miles from the town we were met by a pilot, and from him and his boatman I first heard the strange sound of a foreign language. By that time the moon had risen, and her dear light beautifully illumined the line of houses on the quay, which, seen through the shipping, had a very picturesque effect. Three Frenchwomen in caps were the foremost of the crowd to receive us. They seemed to be quite au fait with the business of the custom house and gave every information required. One of them opened the door of a closet and told me I must enter to be examined. Accordingly, a woman, placed there for the purpose, proceeded to examine my person, which she did very ineffectually, and I might have been spared the annoyance of having her hand inserted underneath my stays. She said she merely wished to see if I had any marchandise anglaise about me, and took no notice of two English shawls I wore—one quite new, which an English friend at Paris had re-quested me to carry over for her. Two minutes at the farthest served to satisfy Madame, and we were only allowed to bring on shore what we actually wanted for the night out of our carpet bag, which, having a lock upon it, we were obliged to leave in the boat.
We soon walked to the inn, and were immediately shown to our room. But the dismay of an English lady was considerable to find that this room was but a step raised above the courtyard, a tiled floor without carpet and two very high windows, with very thin muslin curtains half-way up, opening into the court or public entrance, so that it was exactly like sleeping in the street. I did not like the idea of undressing in so exposed a situation. To add to which, the upper half of the windows was overlooked by the huge kitchen on the opposite side of the court. Fatigue, however, helped to reconcile me, and after taking coffee I did go to bed, and slept well.
Sunday, 5th.—We sallied forth to see some-thing of the town, which is not pretty. 'Rain coming on, we took shelter in a cobbler's shop, where he was following his trade, Sunday as it was. Close to his elbow, his wife was dressing a salad for dinner, and in a corner of the room a man was doing something to his toilet. They very civilly placed me in a chair. I could not resist buying a pair of French clogs, for the rain had made the streets so very dirty-a river in the middle of almost every street—that I could scarcely get to the inn without them. An old school-friend of Dr. Roget's called to take us to the Protestant church and invited us to dine with him at six o'clock. The church is a small chapel with a gallery, the gentlemen and ladies divided to the right and left of a narrow centre aisle. . . When it was time to go to Mr. de R.'s we took a hackney coach (fiacre)—much cleaner than those in - London—which carried us up the hill where Mr. de R.'s country cottage is situated. . . . Our dinner I must describe, as it differed from our mode of entertaining in some points. The host and hostess sat at the sides of the table opposite to each other, their guests arranged by Madame at the top of the table and the children together below. On the middle of the table was a soup and four covered corner dishes. Madame helped the soup and sent it round. That was removed and fish placed there, carved and handed in the same way. Then bouillie was handed round, and afterwards the four corner dishes were carved—duck stewed with cucumber in the sauce, tongue with tomato sauce, and fricandeau of veal. When this was removed there was another course of five dishes. One was stewed peaches and the others little sweets or puddings. The dessert on the tablecloth and as much cake as fruit. Our coach took us home at night.
Monday.—The first thing we had to do was to get our luggage from the custom house. It could not be got on Saturday night ; we arrived too late, and they would not attend to transact business on the Sunday. Passports, too, were refused on Sunday, so that if we had been travel-ling to see a sick friend at Rouen, we should have been thirty-six hours stationary from legal delays. After we were clear of the custom house, we joined the R.'s in a carriage excursion to Harfleur, a town once a seaport, about four miles up the river."
The journal goes on to describe a visit to a château near Harfleur and a private concert which Dr. and Mrs. Roget attended in the evening in Havre.
" Tuesday, 7th.-At ten o'clock embarked on board the Navrais steamboat for Rouen. Our sailing along the Seine was very enchanting. The river winds at the foot of gentle hills, constantly varying, sometimes gently sloping to the water, with small villages and pretty churches concealed in the thick foliage. At others the broken chalk cliffs terminate abruptly and give more wildness to the scene. At the mouth of the river, where the water undergoes a remarkable change of appearance, the picturesque town of Quilleboeuf is situated, projecting considerably into the water. On the opposite side of the river is a picturesque old château whose white walls beautifully contrasted with the dark foliage on the side of the hills. The navigation of this part of the river is dangerous from formidable sandbanks, but the bar once crossed, the sailing is easy and delightful. I am told that the banks of the Seine give us the most beautiful part of the North of France, and we certainly remarked afterwards, as we went from Rouen to Paris by land, that where we lost sight of the river the scene became flat and uninteresting. We dined on deck. As we approached Rouen the hills began to diminish in height, and the magnificent cathedral soon towered above every other object. The first appearance of the town, with the heights of St. Catherine behind, is magnificent. The boulevards afford trees, which appear to mingle with the shipping. The evening sun was shining upon the town and the picture was quite enchanting. We directed our steps to the Hôtel de Rouen on the Quay, and were shown into a very pretty room. As soon as we had deposited our baggage, which was only slightly inspected by an officer on board the boat, we thought we would make an attempt to go to the theatre, but found the principal one was closed on account of some little disturbance among the workmen. We walked a long way across the bridge to a smaller one, but found that it was closed too, and we had to return through violent rain, from which we took shelter in the first café we met with. It was the first I had been in. They are all furnished with separate tables. . . . Opposite to the entrance generally sits a lady with writing-desk before her. She keeps the accounts, etc., and if you pass by the table you are expected to move to her. She goes by the name of the ` Goddess.' In this case she had a very earthly look, and her votaries were not of the first or second class, and were all men, most of them playing dominoes...."
We will omit the description of Rouen and its objects of interest. The journal continues :
" We slept well ; and, surrounded by a dense fog, set out at 6.30 in the coupé of the diligence for Paris. . We passed by some very pretty villages and dined at Mantes, passed a few vineyards, and arrived in Paris by nine o'clock."
We do not propose to weary the reader with Mrs. Roget's account of all the sights which they saw and entertainments which they attended in Paris, but will go on to the entry in the journal for September 21st, which reads as follows :
" We spent this day in packing and took one walk into the Palais Royal. Dined in our room at four o'clock, and were at the coach office by half-past five, to set out by the malle poste to Calais. Mr. W. was the third in the carriage, and we travelled all night and the following day through an uninteresting country to Calais, which we reached about half-past ten at night. This coach carries three inside and one in a sort of calèche in front with the courier. Five horses drew it, and we were nine or ten hours quicker than the diligence on the same road.
Thursday, 23rd.-We intended to have sailed in the steamboat for Dover, which left Calais at twelve this morning. All our boxes were on board, and we trembled as we heard the wind whistling ; but as no one spoke of danger, we proceeded without remonstrance. Just as we were stepping on board, the captain was heard to say that he would not advise ladies to embark, for he did not expect to land at Dover, and the disembarking at Ramsgate was very disagreeable. Such disinterested advice we were bound to follow, and we ordered our boxes on shore again. They were not allowed to accompany us, however, without a second visit to the custom house, where one of our boxes, which had been allowed to pass unmolested in going, was torn open, after having committed the sin of entering the steamboat. Calais is not a very attractive town, and after we had looked into the principal church and walked upon the ancient walls, once strongly fortified against the English, we found nothing to entertain us. A French lady, who was travel-ling alone to England, proved an agreeable companion. She told us of her life having been saved eight years before on this very voyage by the intrepidity of an English gentleman. They sailed from Calais in fine weather, but before they could reach Dover were overtaken by a storm. The lady was very ill, and gave herself up for lost when they told her that the only chance the passengers had for their lives was to throw themselves into the sea and swim ashore, a distance of about three-quarters of a mile. The young gentleman told her not to despair, for he would save her, if possible. He took off his coat, tied her to his back, and carried her to the shore alive.
The wind continued very high all day, and there seemed to be little prospect of our being able to sail by the next boat, which was to sail for London at three o'clock on Friday morning. I went, however, early to bed, and at two o'clock we were roused by a message from the captain that the wind had abated a little and he would certainly hail. It required some effort to obey his summons, and the lady with us was so long in dressing that we were the last on board and found the ladies' cabin filled. The wind seemed to us as high as ever and very cold, and we did not enjoy the idea of being out on deck all night. Roget found me shivering in despair and insisted upon taking me below. His berth in the gentle-men's cabin was the only resource I had, and he sat by me till morning, four hours of tossing and sickness, before we got into the river. We reached the Tower Stairs, London, about six o'clock, and having been detained two hours before we could pass the custom house, we took a coach for Bernard Street just three weeks since we had left it for Southampton."
Dr. Roget's married life was, sad to say, only to prove of nine years' duration ; for his wife died in 1833, leaving him with a daughter and a son not yet five years old, the latter of whom, John Lewis Roget (the present editor's father), we shall follow in further travels in later chapters.
Dr. Roget's mother, whose travels we have already recounted, died two years later. At the time, Dr. Roget happened to be in Ireland, and a good idea of the rate at which travel was accomplished at that time is obtained from his hurried journey from Dublin on this occasion to Ilfracombe, where his mother died, and where, as we have already said, she resided during much of the latter part of her life. According to his notes, Dr. Roget embarked in the Holyhead packet at 7 p.m. on August 9th, landed at Holyhead at 2 a.m. the next day, went by mail (coach) to Birmingham and slept there, proceeding to Ilfracombe, and finally arriving there at 9 p.m. on August 12th.
It may be remarked here that the very numerous references to coach journeys which occur in Dr. Roget's notes refer on some occasions to the " Mail and on others to coach services known by other names, such as the " Regulator;" the " Tantivy," etc. It must be borne in mind that one great point of difference between the mails, which were Government run and existed primarily to transport the mails, carrying passengers incidentally, and the other " stage " coaches, run by private enterprise for passenger carrying, was that the mails travelled at night, which the stage coaches did not, and also they carried a smaller number of passengers.
The joys of winter coaching are shown by the following note on December 26, 1836 :
" Set out for Weston in the Tantivy 1; stuck for an hour in a snowdrift beyond Salt Hill; stopped at Maidenhead, obliged to sleep there. Next day only reached Oxford. Next day slept at Enstone and arrived on the 29th at Weston."
A few years later he refers to the fact that his sister, his daughter and a friend were " overturned near Barnstaple."
It may be remarked here that the coaching period in England may be said to have finally closed about 1848, after a reign of less than two hundred years, for it can be reckoned as having commenced in 1657, although the old " stage-wagons " first carried occasional passengers at the end of the sixteenth century. What Harper, the historian of coaching,' calls the " golden age " of coaching commenced in 1825 and closed in 1837. In that year the zenith had been reached, but the rapid decline soon took place. In these palmy days coaches on some twenty-eight different mail routes left London every night, running at average speeds, including stops, of from seven to ten miles per hour. As a contrast to Fig. 2, we give in Fig. 7 a representation of a mail coach of 1830 changing horses at the old " White Lion " at Finchley.
It is perhaps remarkable that a man who took such a keen interest in mechanical things as Dr. Roget should have left in his notes no record referring to the steam coaches which, owing to the endeavours of Gurney, Hancock and others, ran with no mean degree of success on the roads during a period commencing about 1829 and lasting until about 1836. It is not always realized that, considering the primitive resources for the manufacture of machinery then available, these vehicles were far ahead of their time from an engineering point of view, and it was only the prejudice of the uneducated against novelty, the opposition of vested interests, and finally the solution of the problem in another way by the railway engineers, that compelled them to be laid aside and forgotten. Nevertheless, these steam coaches marked a very distinct stage in the development of road locomotion, and if they had been allowed to develop freely and unhindered might have led to a very different system of mechanical traction becoming general long before the advent of the petrol motor.
Dr. Roget makes no definite reference to his first experience of railway travel, but the commencement of the gradual substitution of railways for coach travel was made during the period we are considering. The historic Stockton and Darlington Railway was opened in 1821, but passengers were not regularly carried until 1825. The era of passenger railways really began in 1830 with the inauguration of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, after the winning of the famous locomotive competition at Rainhill in the previous year by Stephenson's " Rocket," now enjoying its well-earned and honoured rest in South Kensington Museum. The next ten years saw the inception of most of the great lines in this country, but the great rush of capital into railway construction schemes known as the "Railway Mania " did not culminate until 1843.