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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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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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