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Archive for the ‘social life’ Category

Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1876

Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1876

I would have a hard time finding the exact source of the following anonymous text, but the writing style points to the early Victorian times. No doubt, the author was one of the American tourists appreciating France’s unabashed joie-de-vivre and the lack of remorse for having good time – a remorse which was so ingrained in the Anglo-Saxon soul:

An American is made for indoors, but a Frenchman’s home is the outside half of his house. It is for the street he sacrifices domestic comfort. He eats and drinks in the street; he reads his newspaper and takes his dram in the street. To appear like ladies or gentlemen in public one day in the week, either sex will economize their personal wants the remaining six to a condition bordering almost on penury, to save sufficient money to hire, if they cannot purchase, the necessary garments. More can be made of a small capital in Paris than in any other city. There is no occasion to buy anything. Whatever is needed of clothing, domestic utensils, or any article whatever, even to a newspaper, can be hired at moderate rates for any period of time.

One of the most striking contrasts between the French and Americans is in their physical appearance. Both sexes of the former look healthy and robust. Their countenances are full and florid, and have an expression of sensual ease and contentment, as if they were on good terms with themselves and the world. They have none of the care-worn, haggard American physiognomy, which gives youth the air of age, and betokens a race in which labor and thought are paramount to all other considerations. On the contrary, the French when old, look young. The pleasures of this life oil the joints of age, so that time slips smoothly by. If any class belie their years it is the children, to whom overdress and physical restraint give an expression of premature gravity or unnatural heaviness. No doubt the outdoor, and “care not for to-morrow,” life of the French, combined with their passion for amusements, has much to do in their fine state of preservation. Something must be put down to their superior toilets. For the English, with perhaps a higher condition of health, look beside them, to use a comprehensive term in the female vocabulary, like frights, or in other words, there is about as much difference of exterior between the two races as between a buffalo and a blood horse. This applies more particularly to the women. I verily believe an English lady to be incorrigible in matters of taste; or else it has become a point of honor with her to make herself as unattractive as possible. If both nations would divide equally their respective pride and vanity, the result would be a decided improvement in each. Add to this composition the go-ahead principle of brother Jonathan, and the world would have a specimen of a race that would soon distance all national competition in the essential points of order, beauty, and energy. For a man whose passions are his slaves, whose sentiments are obedient to his will, whose emotions are made so many sources of epicurean pleasure, who lives only to extract the greatest amount of happiness from the sensual world, regardless of a spiritual life, Paris affords resources which are not to be found elsewhere. It is emphatically the home of the man of the world. All that the head can covet is at his option ; but if he has the faintest suspicion of possessing a heart in which dwells the love of the true and natural, he had better withdraw it from the vortex of Parisian life, before it is sucked in too deep to escape.

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James Tissot: Too Early, 1873

The occupations of the higher classes in Paris are much the same as they are in other capitals; both sexes are more fond of taking baths than they are in London, and even when they have that convenience in their own houses, the men often prefer lounging to the most fashionable public baths. The young sparks of fashion are very fond of sumptuous breakfasts at the most stylish coffee-houses in Paris, and often begin by taking a few dozen of oysters by way of giving them an appetite; beefsteaks dressed in the English style, a few choice French dishes, two or three sorts of wine, desert, and coffee, generally compose the repast until the dinner hour. The time is filled up with walking, riding, driving, practising gymnastic exercises, pistol-shooting, fencing, etc. After dinner, which usually terminates about eight, and is in fact the same thing as the breakfast on a more extensive scale, they proceed to the theatres; those most in vogue with the beau monde are the Italian Opera, the French Opera or Académie de Musique, the Comic Opera, and the Théâtre Français. After the performances are over, they generally lounge into some favourite coffee-house, and then close the day to recommence another, following much the same course, with some trifling variation. But now the favourite pursuit amongst young men of fashion, is that of riding and everything which is connected with horses, such as racing, leaping, steeple chasing, and discussing their different qualities and the various modes of breaking them in, in England and in France.

Although their pursuits are not so numerous nor so various as those of the men, yet women opportunities of killing time are greater; as shopping alone employs often some hours of the day, the importance attached to a bonnet, a cap, a turban and above all to a dress, causes many and long dissertations. Exhibitions and morning concerts frequently occupy also much of the ladies’ leisure, a little walking in the Tuileries gardens at a certain hour and in a certain part whilst their carriage waits for them, an airing in it, or a turn on horseback, fill up the rest of the day, and after dinner, if not at the theatre, they either receive or pay visits, as it is the fashion to do so of an evening in Paris.

I must not quit this sketch of the Parisians and their occupations without giving my readers some idea of what is called La Jeune France, which consists of a number of young men, who wear comical shaped hats, their hair very long hanging below their ears, and let the greater part of their beards grow; they also have their throats bare and their shirt collars turned down; they have rather a wild look, and their political theories are somewhat wilder than their looks; they are republican in principle, and in manner, adopting a sort of rough abrupt style, as far from courteous as can well be imagined. They amount to perhaps a few thousands in Paris, comprising a number of the students in law and medicine, many of the painters, musical professors, and at least half the literary characters in Paris; some of them are either the editors their subs or the communicators to two-thirds of the newspapers at Paris.

How to Enjoy Paris in 1842 by F. Herve

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Edgar Degas: The Bellelli Family

 

Amongst the middle-classes, both husband and wife keep very steadily to business, particularly the latter, and as they live frugally, they generally calculate upon retiring from business in ten or twelve years, and mostly effect their object, as they are perfectly contented when they have amassed enough capital to produce three or four hundred a year, which is the case with the major part of them; many are not satisfied until four or five times that sum; but they are seldom ambitious, nor care to get out of their class, as the persons with whom they associate and are intimate, are mostly relations and connexions to whom they are attached, and do not seem to fancy any pleasure in extending their acquaintances. But before they retire from business they have their occasional recreations; in fine weather they are very fond of spending their Sundays in the country; in the winter they frequently visit the theatres, but very rarely have company at home or pay visits, except on the New Year, and in the Carnival they give one ball, and go to several others given by their relations; this description alludes to what may be termed the respectable class of shopkeepers.

How to Enjoy Paris in 1842 by F. Herve

 

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English and American visitors to France marvelled at the quantities of alcohol consumed in public places and the lack of visible consequences. Here are some personal observations written between 1870 and the end of the century:

“The extreme instances of French sociable habits in their full development are the men, who, on getting up in the morning, go straight to a café for a glass of white wine, which means half a bottle, or sometimes a bottle. Whilst drinking this, or immediately after, they smoke one or two pipes or cigars. The conversation lasts some time, they take a little turn, or if they have anything to do before déjeuner, perhaps they may decide to do it. It is possible (we are supposing an extreme case) that absinthe may be considered needful to prepare the system for the work of digestion, which is a reason for returning to the café.

The déjeuner itself is a great gastronomical piece of business, if the man is an epicure; and during the course of it he will drink his bottle of wine. Then he will return to the café for his cup of coffee and little glass of pure cognac. After that he smokes, talks, lounges, does a little business of some kind, is surprised to find that it is already four o’clock to meet his friends at the café again to drink beer, or absinthe, or bitters. Dinner comes next, and during dinner another bottle of wine is absorbed. After that meal, our friend returns to the café, and talks, or plays billiards, cards, or dominoes till eleven, smoking most of the time and drinking Strasburg beer.

We will leave out of consideration for the present the gastronomical part of such an existence, which is not the least anxiously cared for. The reader perceives that the habits just described keep a man in a state of perpetual alcoholic stimulus. One drink has not exhausted its effect before it is succeeded by another, and this from eight or nine in the morning till eleven o’clock at night. A series of small customs have so arranged themselves as a tradition from other bonvivants who have gone before, that by simple conformity to these a man may be constantly alcoholized.

 The reader is not to suppose for a moment that such a Frenchman as I am now describing, is ever drunk, in any degree perceptible to other people. He has always so perfectly the control of his reason that it even becomes doubtful whether he feels any pleasure from his drinking. Perhaps he feels no other sensations than those of the normal physical life, but the white wine, absinthe, red wine, coffee, cognac, beer, bitters, red wine again, beer again till bed-time, have become necessary to prevent him from sinking into mental dejection or physical prostration. The effect upon health, provided only that the slave of these habits does not smoke incessantly, and does not take absinthe more than once a day, is imperceptible in strong men for many years, and at the worst only seems to necessitate an annual trip to take some kind of waters.”  Philip Gilbert Hamerton

*

“Intoxication is almost unknown in the better cafés; their patrons may sear their oesophagi with hot chartreuse, derange the nerves with absinthe, stimulate themselves hourly with their little cups of black coffee and brandy; but they never get drunk. Frenchmen are temperate, even in their intemperance. An English gin-mill and probably an American bar causes more drunkenness than a dozen French cafés.”  George H. Heffner

*

 “One may, in fact, pass a whole year in a large French city, even in Paris itself, and still not witness a single case of insobriety.” The Cunard Souvenir Guide

 

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Excerpt from the Goncourt Journals 1851-1896

2 June 1868

Dinner at Magny’s. We heard some curious details about the German scholars Froenher and Oppert, a couple of pedants who are no more learned than anybody else but to whom the present-day cult of Germanism in the world of learning has brought ironic blessings—to the first a cosy sinecure in the Louvre, and to the other a prize of a hundred thousand francs for his work on cuneiforms, a language of which he alone knows the secrets and which nobody has ever been able to check.

One of our number had known Froehner when he was humble, poor, and wretched, and, like all Germans, played a piano in his garret. When he met him again, Froehner was wearing a cravat with pink spots and an astonishing suit, the sort of suit you can imagine a German scholar turned dandy would wear. “I dare say you find me changed, my dear fellow,” he said. “The fact is that I discovered that hard work, application, and all that was just nonsense. Hase told me that the only way to get to the top here was through women. Look at Longpérier: if he hadn’t begun frequenting drawing rooms…”

On another occasion Froehner got hold of our guest, taken him into a window recess and anxiously asked him if he thought that a German like himself, Froehner, would ever be able to talk smut to women as Frenchmen did, saying that he had tried but that what he said always became so coarse and filthy that he could never finish it properly.

What a comic sign of the times, erudition applying this method to achieve success! Erudition represented by these two Germans, these two vulgar natives of the land of artlessness, trying to succeed by means of the delicate corruption of France.

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(From Paris Partout! A guide for the English and American Traveller in 1869 or How to see PARIS for 5 guineas)

 Paris, the City of Light, is a veritable charivari of pleasures after nightfall; the visitor must only beware of not regretting the effects of a too-eager readiness to yield to the siren calls of its temptations and intoxications.

Theatres,  cafés chantants and dancing halls

The Grand Opéra, rue Pelletier. Properly the French Opera, run up in a hurry in 1821(to replace a building in the rue de Richelieu, at the door of which the Duc de Berri was stabbed and which was pulled down in consequence). In front of the portico three dastardly Italians tried to assassinate the Emperor and the Empress in 1858, and now this building is being replaced too, by a splendid edifice designed by M. Garnier, due to open in 1871. The government provides 900,000 francs of annual subsidy. Peformances on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and often Sunday.

 The Opéra Comique, Place des Italiens. In this handsome hall are presented lighter works, by modern composers such as Aber, Halévy etc.

The Théâtre Italien, Place Boildieu. Here a select audience listens to Italian Opera, in a season which lasts from November to April (after which the singers generally repair to London).

The Théâtre Français, rue Richelieu. The seat of the French regular drama – classic works and modern alike, with a government subsidy of 240,000 francs. Molière was once its manager; in later years it has been the scene of triumphs of Talma and Rachel. The manager is allowed to withdraw an actor from any other theatre to the Comédie-Française (as it is also known) on one year notice.

The Odéon, near the Luxembourg. A minor Théâtre Français, but not an inferior one. Here Beaumarchais’ play Le Mariage de Figaro was first produced in 1784; nine years later, the entire troop of actors was arrested by order of the Revolutionary tribunal. It has several times been burnt down.

 Théâtre des Variétés, Boulevard Montmartre. A neat and much frequented house, in which the amusing musical vaudevilles of M. Offenbach can be seen.

The infamous Boulevard du Temple, or ‘Boulevard du Crime’, on which the smaller theatres played the most lurid and distasteful melodrama, has now been destroyed to make way for the regime’s march of progress.

The Théâtre Gymnase-Dramatique, Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, is respectable. The plays are moral and the performers are all married.

Note Ladies do not patronize the pit, or parterre, of any theatre; gentlemen admitted here should in the interval ensure their places by tying a handkerchief around the banquette. Be also warned that at the Grand Opéra, the claque sit here. This disagreeable cohort, paid by the management in this and other theatres to respond favourably to the entertainment in question, should on no account be shushed or silenced in their mercenary activities. An attempt to abolish the claques in 1853 proved totally unsuccessful after a fortnight.

Tickets for all Parisian theatrical performances may be booked from a central office on the Boulevard des Italiens; avoid the profiteers who swarm outside the more popular theatres – their offers are always excessive in price, and frequently entirely bogus!

Cafés chantants.  Spectators sit and listen to music, sometimes of a coarse nature, executed by performers often outrageously overdressed. No charge is made for admission, but one will be expected to take refreshment, usually of an inferior quality. The company is not aristocratic, but the visitor need not fear annoyance or impropriety. The most celebrated of these institutions is L’Alcazar, rue du Fauburg Poissonière. Here the fabulous Theresa, whose salary exceeds 20,000 fr. per annum, sings, twice a week in the winter season, ditties of a satirical and even saucy turn.

Bals publics. It is difficult to imagine scenes more curious or fantastic than those presented by these public dancing halls. At the most refined level, bals masqués are presented during the winter in the Grand Opéra – the pit being boarded over and joined to the stage. Gentlemen may be admitted (10 fr.) in plain evening clothes, but ladies should be masked or in costume. The gorgeous and glittering revelry of the polka, waltz, and mazurka reaches its climax at 1 a.m. Strict etiquette is by no means the predominating characteristic of the fair who resort to this pleasantest of pandemonia. It will be conceived that if a visitor should take the ladies of his family to witness this display, he must take them to a box as a mere spectators, for to mingle with any of these too vivacious groups, could be worse than indiscretion.

Elsewhere public dancing halls abound. Some of the smaller establishments in the suburbs are little more than dens of all the vices: official efforts to curb their activities and proliferation have not been altogether effective.

In the centre of the city, more commodious establishments may be found, among them the Salle Valentino, rue S. Honoré. The architecture is a medley of the Moorish and Greek; the columns are gaily painted, and the recess is backed by mirrors which greatly enhances the brilliancy of the scene. There are a billiard table, a shooting gallery, a dynamometer for amateurs of muscular strength, and tables where trifles may be raffled for. The visitor must expect to see every variety of embrace not excepting the ursine hug. Admission 2-3 fr.

Jardin Mabille, Avenue Montaigne. A large circular space, with a pavilion for the orchestra in the centre, is reserved for the dancers, and lighted by a profusion of gas-lights suspended from artificial palm trees. A snug corner is laid out for refreshment; here the votary of Terpsichore may treat his partner to a refreshing lemonade. An immense covered saloon affords the visitor a secure asylum from bad weather. The company of this elegant garden comes under the description of ‘the gayest of the gay’, but licence is not carried beyond propriety. Admission 2 fr.

 Would that the same could be said of the Salon de Wauxhall,  rue de la Douane, which partakes of the character of the manufacturing arrondissement surrounding it, and is not much more respectably attended than the Holborn Casino! The police make forays on its bacchic excesses, and arrests are made.

A novel and hilarious diversion is provided by an American importation. In the Roller Skating Club, rue Jean Goujon, skating on shoes soled with rubberized wheels is demonstrated daily by ‘Professor’ Fuller, a master of the Art who claims to have been ‘decorated by every Sovereign in the world with ice in his dominions’. The first of such institutions in Europe.

Next: Sightseeing

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The French, so reputed for love, had a strictly business-like approach to marriage. Men and women were merchandise with a price tag and matrimony was a financial transaction much like any other commercial deal. Wealthy widows purchased titles; young beauties without dowry offered themselves for sale to rich old men. The intention to marry a fortune was expressed candidly in newspaper ads like these:

May 27, 1877

Demand for a Demoiselle, even difficult to marry, but of great fortune, for a distinguished young man. Write to the newspaper.

November 12, 1876

Marriages André 42, rue du Bac, founded in 1859. Patented for its success, its discretion. One orphan, 23, 150.000 F: an officer. Demoiselle, 20, 150,000 F, father will hand down business. Widow, 40, 400,000 F: Monsieur with a title.

October 5, 1881

Mme GRUET, 11 bis, rue Mauberge: 3 orphans, 17 to 22, 1 million to 5 million F, 5 widows, 25 to 55, 200,000 to 7 million F.

March 14, 1888

Young Demoiselle, honorable family, very good physique, educated, distinguished, loves only old age. A well-to-do Monsieur, very aged, even one with infirmity.

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Homage to the grisette. Statue erected in 1830

From Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles by Charles C. Fulton. Text written in 1873.

It’s a common remark among strangers in France that about every third man wears a uniform of some kind and such is almost the case here in Paris. Nearly all of these uniformed men are forbidden by law to marry, and they belong to a class who have never been taught to entertain such an idea as pertaining to their future existence.  They have always found it difficult to get food for themselves, and hence have never entertained such a preposterous undertaking as marrying and supporting a family.

These men have sisters who have always recognized themselves as belonging to a class who are never to know the relations of husband and wife. Such a thought never enters the head of a girl or a boy belonging to the poorer classes of Paris. Sometimes they succeed in drawing themselves out of their natural state of existence, and aspire to higher things, but the great mass of them have for generation found that the chief aim in life was bread and wine. They have the natural passions of ordinary men and women, and hence the grisette.

They are not taught, even by their spiritual counsellors, that there is any sin in the life they lead, and are as punctual in their church attendance as any class in Paris. Nor are they regarded as degraded, unless they fall still lower and become professional courtesans.  They are considered as fulfilling their destiny, and love and are beloved as other mortals. Sometimes these ties are permanent, but in the generality of cases they are merely for a time, and when broken a new one is formed.

Thus they pass through life, and their children, of whom they furnish the state about eighteen thousand per annum, are sometimes kept and maintained by themselves, but oftener passed over to the orphan-asylums, just as most of their mothers were passed over in their early infancy. The grisette, it will thus be seen, is a feature of Parisian society that is regarded as inevitable, and, being inevitable, those who raise themselves out of its slough are not deemed to have been tainted or tarnished in character. Those who pass through life as grisettes are not regarded as “fallen angels” but as women who are fulfilling their sad and unfortunate destiny and whose chances for heaven are quite as good as those whose lots are cast in pleasanter ways. So long as the youth lasts they live a merry life, and when this departs, they become waiting-maids. They are the unfortunate victims of kingcraft, which requires standing armies and draws the youth of the country away from the ordinary pursuits of life and happiness.

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From Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles by Charles C. Fulton. Text written in 1873.

Fulton was one of the incomprehensibly rich American tourists who invaded Paris two years after the twin calamities of the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of the Second Empire. In 1871, the city was ruined by Prussian bombardment and the Commune of Paris revolution, both responsible for destroying and damaging many public buildings. It is therefore surprising that Fulton never mentions the wounds Paris had sustained. In the two years that followed, Paris seems to have risen from the ashes to dazzle the foreigners as it did under the reign of Napoleon III.

The boulevards of Paris, extending for miles through all sections of the city, present a gay scene at night. The thousands of cafés, brilliant with gas-jets, have their tables out on the broad pavements, and from eight to ten o’clock in the evening it is difficult to obtain a seat in any of them. Ice-cream and coffee is the extent of the Parisian’s indulgence though a few add a little cognac to their coffee. They spend their summer evenings in promenading the boulevards and occasionally stopping for a cup of their favourite beverage.

The sidewalks of the boulevards are at least thirty-five feet wide, and in many prominent places, women are stationed along the curb-stones with chairs to rent, on which those who are tired may for a few centimes rest themselves and view the promenaders as they pass. The broad streets are also filled with carriages so that it is difficult to effect a crossing. They are required by law to have their lamps burning.

Strangers in the city who wish to view these gas-light scenes generally engage carriages and drive slowly through the different boulevards, and a vast number of carriages are constantly passing to a from the various places of amusement. Everybody seems happy and intent upon enjoyment.

[…] The stores are not only brilliantly lighted, but nearly all of them  have rows of gas-lights on the outside, making the streets almost as light as day.

The display of the stores last night on the Boulevard des Capucines exceeded anything we had ever before seen even in Paris. […] The tasteful  arrangement of the goods, the disposition of the lights, and the reflection in the side-glasses with which the shop-windows are always provided, presented a continuous spectacle of surpassing beauty. Ten years ago the Palais Royal was the great central attraction of Paris, but the boulevard stores have so greatly excelled these small establishments that it is now comparatively deserted at night. The hundreds of jewellers’ windows were sparkling with diamonds and precious stones, and even the fancy and dry-goods stores tried to excel one another in the effort to attract attention of the throngs of promenaders.

We walked through some of these central boulevards for nearly two hours, and everywhere the pavements were so filled that it was difficult for three to walk abreast without being continually jostled by the promenaders. This was also the case in the arcades running through the interior of the squares, where the display was similarly attractive. The best possible order was everywhere preserved and the gensdarmes, with their huge cavalry-swords, stood like statues on the corners of the streets, having no occasion to do more than remain quietly at their posts.

There being no cobble-stone pavements in Paris, the carriages and omnibuses make little or no noise as they glide along the smooth asphaltum, nor is there any dust for them to stir up to vex the eyes and the lungs of the people. The sweeping machines are going all night and until ten o’clock in the morning, making the streets as clean as they could be swept with a corn-broom by hand, and lest any dust should be left in the crevices, they are washed off with hose.

In short, Paris is grand. She has passed through her tribulations, and has again presented herself to the world more beautiful and attractive than ever. That the world is pleased is evident from the many thousands of strangers now lingering here to enjoy the brilliant spectacle.

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