The Story of Paris The Story of Paris

The Story of Paris

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Publisher Description

The History of Paris, says Michelet, is the history of the French monarchy: "Paris, France and the Dukes and Kings of the French, are three ideas," says Freeman, "which can never be kept asunder." The aim of the writer in the following pages has been to narrate the story of the capital city of France on the lines thus indicated. Moreover, men are ever touched by "sad stories of the death of kings," the pomp and majesty and the fate of princes. By a pathetic fallacy their capacity to suffer is measured by their apparent power to enjoy, and those are moved to tears by the spectacle of a Dauphin surrendered to the coarse and brutal tutelage of a sans-culotte, who read without emotion of thousands of Huguenot children torn from their mothers' arms and flung to the novercal cruelties of strangers in blood and creed. In the earlier chapters the legendary aspect of the story has been drawn upon rather more perhaps than an austere historical conscience would approve, but it is precisely a familiarity with these romantic stories, which at least are true in impression if not in fact, that the sojourner in Paris will find most useful, translated as they are in sculpture and in painting, on the decoration of her architecture, both modern and ancient, and implicit in the nomenclature of her ways.

The story of Paris presents a marked contrast with that of an Italian city-state whose rise, culmination and fall may be roundly traced. Paris is yet in the stage of lusty growth. Time after time, like a young giantess, she has burst her cincture of walls, cast off her outworn garments and renewed her armour and vesture. Hers are no grass-grown squares and deserted streets; no ruined splendours telling of pride abased and glory departed; no sad memories of waning cities once the mistresses of sea and land; none of the tears evoked by a great historic tragedy; none of the solemn pathos of decay and death. Paris has more than once tasted the bitterness of humiliation; Norseman and Briton, Russian and German have bruised her fair body; the dire distress of civic strife has exhausted her strength, but she has always emerged from her trials with marvellous recuperation, more flourishing than before.

Since 1871, when the city, crushed under a twofold calamity of foreign invasion and of internecine war, seemed doomed to bleed away to feeble insignificance, her prosperity has so increased that house rent has doubled and population risen from 1,825,274 in 1870 to 2,714,068 in 1901. The growth of Paris from the settlement of an obscure Gallic tribe to the most populous, the most cultured, the most artistic, the most delightful and seductive of continental cities has been prodigious, yet withal she has maintained her essential unity, her corporate sense and peculiar individuality. Paris, unlike London, has never expatiated to the effacement of her distinctive features and the loss of civic consciousness. The city has still a definite outline and circumference, and over her gates to-day one may read, Entrée de Paris. The Parisian is, and always has been, conscious of his citizenship, proud of his city, careful of her beauty, jealous of her reputation. The essentials of Parisian life remain unchanged since mediæval times. Busy multitudes of alert, eager burgesses crowd her streets; ten thousand students stream from the provinces, from Europe, and even from the uttermost parts of the earth, to eat of the bread of knowledge at her University. The old collegiate life is gone, but the arts and sciences are freely taught as of old to all comers; and a lowly peasant lad may carry in his satchel the portfolio of a prime minister or the insignia of a president of the republic, even as his mediæval prototype bore a bishop's mitre or a cardinal's hat. The boisterous exuberance of youthful spirits still vents itself in rowdy student life to the scandal of bourgeois placidity, and the poignant self-revelation and gnawing self-reproach of a François Villon find their analogue in the pathetic verse of a Paul Verlaine. Beneath the fair and ordered surface of the normal life of Paris still sleep the fiery passions which, from the days of the Maillotins to those of the Commune, have throughout the crises of her history ensanguined her streets with the blood of citizens. Let us remember, however, when contrasting the modern history of Paris with that of London, that the questions which have stirred her citizens have been not party but dynastic ones, often complicated and embittered by social and religious principles ploughing deep in the human soul, for which men have cared enough to suffer, and to inflict, death.

5 January
Library of Alexandria

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