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Archive for the ‘Third Republic’ Category

 Place de l’Opéra

Place de l’Opéra

Charles C. 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.

Excerpt from Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles by Charles C. Fulton.

Paris, August 18, 1873

It is not an easy matter at this late day to write letters from Paris that will interest and instruct. It is a city which everybody is familiar with, it having been so often described, and its attractions and beauties so vividly spread before the general reader that it would almost seem like undertaking to write something new about Baltimore. We have visited it so often, and ridden and walked through its multifarious thoroughfares until all its crooks and turns are as familiar to us as those of any of our leading American cities. Still there is something about Paris that makes it always appear bright, gay, and sparkling to the visitor.

The Parisian does not worship the “dust of ages” or take pride in smoked and begrimed walls as the Londoner does. If he has anything that is handsome he tries to make it handsomer. He is always rubbing, scrubbing, and polishing old things, or tearing them down to make room for something new and more beautiful. The four handsome clusters of gas-lamps in the centre of the Place de l’Opéra are not only kept as bright and elegant as the day they were put up, but the elaborate bronze lamp-posts are polished with as much regularity as the glasses of the lamps. If the slightest defect is observed in one stone in the street, it is relaid or replaced by a new one; and if a flaw in the asphaltum as large as a man’s hand is discovered, a repairing party is at work in a few hours, and the defect removed. Every tenant is held responsible for the cleanliness of the street before his door, and neither dirt nor rubbish of any kind is permitted. As in public matters, so also is those of private concern. They never allow their houses or store fronts to become dull or dingy. They are always arranging and rearranging the goods in their windows and striving to make them more attractive. All these scores of miles of boulevards are planted with sycamore trees. When they plant trees they take good care that they shall have a fair chance to grow, and they are all flourishing beautifully. Around each tree an iron grating, extending three feet each way, is inserted in the pavement, in order that its roots may have breathing-room and water. There are hundreds of thousands of these trees all thus planted, and all tended and watered by the city authorities. If one should happen to die, a tree of similar size is brought to take its place, that the uniformity may be unbroken. These trees are the pride of Paris, and are yearly becoming more serviceable as a shade to the broad sidewalks as well as a grand ornament to the boulevards.

Thus it is that the attractions of Paris are always increasing. No rust or decay is permitted , and old things are swept away as having served their day and generation. Antiquity has no worshipers, and is made to yield to the spirit of improvement. New squares, gardens, and fountains are following the march of improvement in the suburbs, and even in those quarters of the city where the poorer classes mostly reside, these pleasure-grounds are being fitted up as elegantly as in the wealthiest sections. Paris is not beautiful in spots, but every portion of it abounds in attractions.

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Anton von Werner, The Proclamation of the German Empire (January 18, 1871)

King of Prussia`s proclamation as Emperor of Germany in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles; Bismarck can be seen in the center wearing white.

When declaring war on Prussia in July 1870, Frenchmen did not expect that within months the prosperous Second Empire would be no more. It all happened so fast: the war, the fall of the Empire and its replacement by the Third Republic, followed by the Prussian occupation and the horrors of the Commune uprising yet to come. For Prussia, however, it was a time of glory and the time for unification of all the small German-speaking kingdoms and duchies into a new European power – the German Empire. To France’s chagrin and humiliation, the ceremony was held in the famous Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. For Otto von Bismarck, architect of the unification project, the day marked the culmination of his political career.

Nasir al-Din Shah, ruler of Persia 1848-96, photo by Nadar

Two years later, on a visit to Paris, the Shah of Persia captured in his diary  the prevailing French mood and the political confusion that reigned at the time:

To-day we noticed a singular frame of mind in the French. First of all, they still keep up the state of mourning that followed the German War, and they are all, young or old, sorrowful and melancholy. The dresses of the women, ladies and men, are all dresses used for mourning; with little ornamentation and very plain. Now and then some people shouted: “Vive le Maréchal” , “Vive le Shah de Perse!”, from another one I heard , as I strolled about by night, a loud voice saying: “May his reign and rule be firm and enduring.”

From the whole of these circumstances it becomes evident that there are at present in France numerous parties who desire a monarchy; but they are in three sections, one desiring the son of Napoleon, another the dynasty of Louis-Phillipe, and the third Henry the Fifth, who is then Bourbon family; and although this and the family of Louis Phillipe are really one race, they have distinctions.

The wishers for a republic, on the other hand, have great power; but they are not all of one mind. Some are for a Red Republic, which is a fundamental commonweal. Others are for a moderate republic in which monarchical institutions shall be found, without a monarch’s existing. Others again wish otherwise. Among all these diversities of opinion it is now a very difficult matter to govern, and the consequences of these incidents will surely eventuate in many difficulties, unless that all combine on one plan and establish either a pure monarchy or a pure republic. Then, France is the most powerful of States, and all must take her into their calculations; whereas, with all these dissidences it is a difficult matter for her to preserve her institutions.

Excerpt from the Diary of H.M. Shah of Persia During his Tour Through Europe in A.D. 1873

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French stamp, 1876

From the book Paris from the Earliest Period to the Present Day by William Walton, Philadelphia, 1899:

The arrangements for mailing and receiving letters in Paris are, in general, very satisfactory,—the branch post-offices are over a hundred in number, and they will receive not only letters and mailable packages, but telegrams. They do a very large business, and are generally thronged all day in the popular quarters,—the registry department being greatly in favor. At night, they are recognizable by their blue lanterns, and there are also, since 1894, auxiliary offices in certain shops designated by blue signs. The letter-boxes, set in the wall of the building, so that letters and packages may be mailed from the street, are usually four in number, one each for Paris, the departments, foreign mail, and for printed matter. Stamps may be bought and letters mailed also in very many of the small tobacco-shops, in public buildings, and in the dépôts of the railways and the tramways of the suburbs. There are eight collections and distributions a day, on work-days, and five on Sundays and fête-days; the facteur, or carrier, has discharged his duty when he has left the mail with the concierge of the building, and its final delivery rests entirely with the latter functionary. These facteurs, who are generally intelligent and conscientious, wear the inevitable uniform of all French officials, and carry their mail in an absurd stiff little leathern box, suspended in front of their stomachs by a strap around their necks. Their distributing matter never seems to exceed the capacity of this box,—ranging in quantity from a third to a tenth of the ordinary burden of a New York letter-carrier.

A more rapid method of distribution, for which a higher rate is charged, is by means of the pneumatic tubes which traverse the city, mostly through the égouts, and which have their termini in the branch post-offices. Envelopes or enclosures sent by this medium must contain neither valuable objects nor hard and resisting bodies. The service of colis postaux, so called although there is no necessary connection with the post, and which corresponds nearly with the American express system, is, for Paris, in the hands of a director to whom it is a concession by the Administration des Postes, and for the departments and the colonies in those of the railway companies and the subsidized maritime companies. The inevitable conflict with the workings of the octroi interferes very seriously with the promptness and efficacy of this service, and in the summer of 1898 the complaints of the despoiled patrons were unusually loud and deep. In their search for contraband articles, the octroi inspectors open a large number of these packages received from the departments and containing in very many cases consignments of wine, game, patés, and other delicacies,—the closing up of these numerous cases is left to the employees of the railways, and the result has been a perfect pillage. In vain do the consignees protest—the companies interpose the interminable delays of corporations, and justice is not to be had.

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The two terms are often confused. In the 19th century Paris, especially during the Second Empire, cocottes were high-ranking prostitutes; their rank was determined by the number of ruined men they left in their wake. They were mostly of low origin and socially unacceptable outside their circle. Even La Païva, the richest cocotte in France and wife of a Portuguese aristocrat, was turned out when she attempted to appear at Court.

Cocodettes, on the other hand, were well-born spirited women in the entourage of Empress Eugénie. Duchesses, countesses, and wives of foreign ambassadors aspired to be members of the club. However, as far as virtue was concerned, cocottes and cocodettes often stood on the same moral level. In fact, the imperial court was an upscale brothel where sex was exchanged for favors. Napoleon III, a notorious sex-addict, cruised the in-crowd for easy conquests. To an experienced courtier, a twirl of the emperor’s moustache was a sure sign that the object of his interest would soon find herself in a horizontal position. To be tumbled by the emperor was considered a badge of honor. During a ball given at the court, “Madame de X.,” recalled Baron Haussmann, “was loudly enthusiastic after what had just happened to her. I had to snatch her away for a waltz to prevent her from bragging about it to her husband.”

Cocottes and cocodettes – two faces of the moral decadence that characterized the exuberant Second Empire. It all came to an end in 1870 when France provoked a war with Prussia and suffered a defeat. The Third Republic, built on the Second Empire’s ruins, proclaimed the return to middle-class morality.

Franz Winterhalter: The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting, 1855

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