The following text was published in 1854:
The French generally have been celebrated for possessing no inconsiderable share of conceit, but in regard to a most exalted respect for themselves, the Parisians far surpass all their provincial brethren; the very circumstance of their happening in Paris, they imagine at once confers upon them a diploma of the very highest acme of civilisation, causing them to feel a sort of pity for a person who is born elsewhere; however, as one of these enlightened spirits once observed to me, that a person might by coming to live at Paris in the course of time imbibe the same tone of refinement. Now this was said in all the true spirit of human kindness; he knew that I was not born in Paris, and conceiving that I might feel the bitterness of that misfortune, though it might afford me a degree of consolation to be assured, that there were some means of repairing the disadvantages under which I laboured, from not having made my entrance to the world in the grand metropolis of France.
It matters not how low may be the calling of a Parisian, he will still flatter himself that the manner in which he acquits himself in the department in which he is placed, evinces a degree of superiority over his fellow labourer, and gratifies his amour propre with the thought. Even a scavenger would endeavour to persuade you that he has a peculiar manner of sweeping the streets exclusively his own, and that his method of shovelling up the mud and pitching it into the cart is quite unique, and in fact that his innate talent is such that, it has eventually placed him at the summit of his profession. This may appear, perhaps, to some of my readers rather overdrawn, but the following instance which came under my own observation is not much less extravagant.
A man who was in the habit of cleaning my boots, had a most incorrigible propensity for garrulity, and as I like in a foreign country to obtain some insight into the ideas and feelings of all classes, I did not care to check the poor fellow in the indulgence of his favourite penchant, particularly as his remarks were always proffered with a tone of the most profound respect for my august person. Finding one morning that my boots had not been polished quite so well as usual, the next time I saw the shoeblack I mentioned the circumstance to him. “Ah! Sir,” he exclaimed with a deep sigh, “that is one of the many instances of the ingratitude of human nature; I confided those boots to the boy whom you must have seen come with me to fetch yours and the other gentlemen’s shoes or clothes for brushing, etc. Well, sir, that young urchin is a protégé of mine; I took him, sir, from the lowest obscurity and made him what he is; I taught him my profession, I endowed him with all the benefit of my experience, and with respect to blacking shoes, I have initiated him into all the little mysteries of the art, and can declare that there is not one in the business throughout all Paris that can surpass him, when he chooses to exert his talents; and therefore it renders it the more unpardonable that he should slight one of my best customers.” Judging, I suppose, from the expression of my countenance that I did not appear to be deeply infused with a very exalted idea of what he termed the mysteries of his art, he continued, “You may think as you please, sir, but there is much more ability required in blacking shoes than you may imagine, and that boy is well aware of it; he knows how I began by first instructing him in all the fundamental principles of the art; and gradually led him on until I accomplished him in giving the last polish, and can now proudly say he is a true artist in the profession.”
David W. Bartlett, Paris: With Pen and Pencil