Part 12 out of 14
whether made use of in the markets, gaming-houses, taverns, or
CAROLINE and BRUNET, or BRUNET and CAROLINE. They are like two
planets, round which move a great number of satellites, some more
imperceptible than others. If to these we add TIERCELIN, an actor of
the grotesque species, little more is to be said. Were it not for
BRUNET, who makes the most of his comic humour, in playing all sorts
of low characters, and sometimes in a manner truly original, and
Mademoiselle CAROLINE, whose clear, flexible, and sonorous voice
insures the success of several little operas, the _Theatre
Montansier_ would not be able to maintain its ground, notwithstanding
the advantages of its centrical situation, and the attractions of its
lobby, where the impures of the environs exhibit themselves to no
small advantage, and literally carry all before them.
We now come to the theatres on the _Boulevard_, at the head of which
is to be placed
This little theatre is situated on the _Boulevard du Temple_, and, of
all those of the third order, has most constantly enjoyed the favour
of the public. Previously to the revolution, AUDINOT drew hither
crowded houses by the representation of comic operas and bad _drames_
of a gigantic nature, called here _pantomimes dialoguees_. The
effects of decoration and show were carried farther at this little
theatre than at any other. Ghosts, hobgoblins, and devils were, in
the sequel, introduced. All Paris ran to see them, till the women
were terrified, and the men disgusted.
CORSE, the present manager, has of late added considerably to the
attraction of the _Ambigu Comique_, by not only restoring it to what
it was in the most brilliant days of AUDINOT, but by collecting all
the best actors and dancers of the _Boulevard_, and improving on the
plan adopted by his predecessor. He has neglected nothing necessary
for the advantageous execution of the new pieces which he has
produced. The most attractive of these are _Victor_, _le Pelerin
blanc_, _L'Homme a trois visages_, _Le Jugement de Salomon_, &c.
The best performers at this theatre are CORSE, the manager, TAUTIN,
and Mademoiselle LEVESQUE.
* * * * *
In regard to all the other minor theatres, the enumeration of which I
have detailed to you in a preceding letter, I shall briefly,
observe that the curiosity of a stranger may be satisfied in paying
each of them a single visit. Some of these _petits spectacles_ are
open one day, shut the next, and soon after reopened with
performances of a different species. Therefore, to attempt a
description of their attractions would probably be superfluous; and,
indeed, the style of the pieces produced is varied according to the
ideas of the speculators, the taste of the managers, or the abilities
of the performers, who, if not "the best actors in the world," are
ready to play either "tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral,
pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem
[Footnote 1: The Theatre of the _Porte St. Martin_ not having been
open, when this letter was written, it is not here noticed. It may be
considered as of the second rank. Its representations include almost
every line of acting; but those for which the greatest expense is
incurred are melo-drames and pieces connected with pantomime and
parade. The house is the same in which the grand French opera was
performed before the revolution.]
[Footnote 2: See Vol. i. Letter XXI.]
_Paris, February 22, 1802._
The variety of matter which crowds itself on the mind of a man who
attempts to describe this immense capital, forms such a chaos, that
you will, I trust, give me credit for the assertion, when I assure
you that it is not from neglect or inattention I sometimes take more
time than may appear strictly necessary to comply with your wishes.
Considering how deeply it involves the peace and comfort of
strangers, as well as inhabitants, I am not at all surprised at the
anxiety which you express to acquire some knowledge of the
POLICE OF PARIS.
In the present existing circumstances, it might be imprudent, if not
dangerous, to discuss, freely openly, so delicate a question. I shall
take a middle course. Silence would imply fear; while boldness of
expression might give offence; and though I certainly am not afraid
to mention the subject, yet to offend, is by no means my wish or
intention. In this country, the Post-Office has often been the
channel through which the opinion of individuals has been collected.
What has been, may again occur; and in such critical times, who
knows, but the government may conceive itself justified in not
considering as absolutely sacred the letters intrusted to that mode
of conveyance? Under these considerations, I shall beg leave to refer
you to a work which has gone through the hands of every inquisitive
reader; that is the _Tableau de Paris_, published in 1788: but, on
recollection, as this letter will, probably, find you in the country,
where you may not have an immediate opportunity of gratifying your
curiosity, and as the book is become scarce, I shall select from it
for your satisfaction a few extracts concerning the Police.
This establishment is necessary and useful for maintaining order and
tranquillity in a city like Paris, where the very extremes of luxury
and wretchedness are continually in collision. I mean _useful_, when
no abuse is made of its power; and it is to be hoped that the present
government of France is too wise and too just to convert an
institution of public utility into an instrument of private
Since the machinery of the police was first put in order by M.
D'ARGENSON, in 1697, its wheels and springs have been continually
multiplied by the thirteen ministers who succeeded him in that
department. The last of these was the celebrated M. LENOIR.
The present Minister of the Police, M. FOUCHE, has, it seems,
adopted, in a great measure, the means put in practice before the
revolution. His administration, according to general report, bears
most resemblance to that of M. LENOIR: he is said, however, to have
improved on that vigilant magistrate: but he surpasses him, I am
told, more in augmentation of expenses and agents, than in real
In selecting from the before-mentioned work the following _widely
scattered_ passages, and assembling them as a _piece of Mosaic_, it
has been my endeavour to enable you to form an impartial judgment of
the police of Paris, by exhibiting it with all its perfections and
imperfections. Borrowing the language of MERCIER, I shall trace the
institution through all its ramifications, and, in pointing out its
effects, I shall "nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice."
If we take it for granted, that the police of Paris is now exercised
on the same plan as that pursued towards the close of the old
_regime_, this sketch will be the more interesting, as its
resemblance to the original will exempt me from adding a single
stroke from my own pencil.
"D'ARGENSON was severe," says MERCIER, "perhaps because he felt, in
first setting the machine in motion, a resistance which his
successors have less experienced. For a long time it was imagined
that a Minister of Police ought to be harsh; he ought to be firm
only. Several of these magistrates have laid on too heavy a hand,
because they were not acquainted with the people of Paris; a people
of quick feeling, but not ferocious, whose motions are to be
divined, and consequently easy to be led. Whoever should be void of
pity in that post, would be a monster."
MERCIER then gives the fragment by FONTENELLE, on the police of Paris
and on M. D'ARGENSON, of which I shall select only what may be
necessary for elucidating the main subject.
"The inhabitants of a well-governed city," says FONTENELLE, "enjoy
the good order which is there established, without considering what
trouble it costs those who establish or preserve it, much in the same
manner as all mankind enjoy the regularity of the motions of
celestial bodies, without having any knowledge of them, and even the
more the good order of a police resembles by its uniformity that of
the celestial bodies, the more is it imperceptible, and,
consequently, the more it is unknown, the greater is its perfection.
But he who would wish to know it and fathom it, would be terrified.
To keep up perpetually in a city, like Paris, an immense consumption,
some sources of which may always be dried up by a variety of
accidents; to repress the tyranny of shop-keepers in regard to the
public, and at the same time animate their commerce; to prevent the
mutual usurpations of the one over the other, often difficult to
discriminate; to distinguish in a vast crowd all those who may easily
conceal there a hurtful industry; to purge society of them, or
tolerate them only as far as they can be useful to it by employments
which no others but themselves would undertake, or discharge so well;
to keep necessary abuses within the precise limits of necessity which
they are always ready to over-leap; to envelop them in the obscurity
to which they ought to be condemned, and not even draw them from it
by chastisement too notorious; to be ignorant of what it is better to
be ignorant of than to punish, and to punish but seldom and usefully;
to penetrate by subterraneous avenues into the bosom of families, and
keep for them the secrets which they have not confided, as long as it
is not necessary to make use of them; to be present every where
without being seen; in short, to move or stop at pleasure an immense
multitude, and be the soul ever-acting, and almost unknown, of this
great body: these are, in general, the functions of the chief
magistrate of the police. It should seem that one man alone could not
be equal to them, either on account of the quantity of things of
which he must be informed, or of that of the views which he must
follow, or of the application which he must exert, or of the variety
of conduct which he most observe, and of the characters which he must
assume: but the public voice will answer whether M. D'ARGENSON has
been equal to them.
"Under him, cleanliness, tranquillity, plenty, and safety were
brought to the highest degree of perfection in this city. And,
indeed, the late king (Lewis XIV) relied entirely on his care
respecting Paris. He could have given an account of a person unknown
who should have stolen into it in the dark; this person, whatever
ingenuity he exerted in concealing himself, was always under his eye;
and if, at last, any one escaped him, at least what produced almost
the same effect, no one would have dared to think himself
"Surrounded and overwhelmed in his audiences by a crowd of people
chiefly of the lower class, little informed themselves of what
brought them, warmly agitated by interests very trifling, and
frequently very ill understood, accustomed to supply the place of
discourse by senseless clamour, he neither betrayed the inattention
nor the disdain which such persons or such subjects might have
"FONTENELLE has not," continues MERCIER, "spoken of the severity of
M. D'ARGENSON, of his inclination to punish, which was rather a sign
of weakness than of strength. Alas! human laws, imperfect and rude,
cannot dive to the bottom of the human heart, and there discover the
causes of the delinquencies which they have to punish! They judge
only from the surface: they would acquit, perhaps, those whom they
condemn; they would strike him whom they suffer to escape. But they
cannot, I confess, do otherwise. Nevertheless, they ought to neglect
nothing that serves to disclose the heart of man. They ought to
estimate the strength of natural and indestructible passions, not in
their effects, but in their principles; to pay attention to the age,
the sex, the time, the day; these are nice rules, which could not be
found in the brain of the legislator, but which ought to be met with
in that of a Minister of the Police."
"There are also epidemical errors in which the multitude of those who
go astray, seems to lessen the fault; in which a sort of
circumspection is necessary, in order that punishment may not be in
opposition to public interest, because punishment would then appear
absurd or barbarous, and indignation might recoil on the law, as well
as on the magistrate."
"What a life has a Minister of Police! He has not a moment that he
can call his own; he is every day obliged to punish; he is afraid to
give way to indulgence, because he does not know that he may not one
day have to reproach himself with it. He is under the necessity of
being severe, and of acting contrary to the inclination of his heart;
not a crime is committed but he receives the shameful or cruel
account: he hears of nothing but vicious men and vices; every instant
he is told: 'there's a murder! a suicide! a rape!' Not an accident
happens but he must prescribe the remedy, and hastily; he has but a
moment to deliberate and act, and he must be equally fearful to abuse
the power intrusted to him, and not to use it opportunely. Popular
rumours, flighty conversations, theatrical factions, false alarms,
every thing concerns him.
"Is he gone to rest? A fire rouses him from his bed. He must be
answerable for every thing; he must trace the robber, and the lurking
assassin who has committed a crime; for the magistrate appears
blameable, if he has not found means to deliver him up quickly to
justice. The time that his agents have employed in this capture will
be calculated, and his honour requires that the interval between the
crime and the imprisonment should be the shortest possible. What
dreadful duties! What a laborious life! And yet this place is
"On some occasions, it is necessary for the Minister of Police to
demean himself like a true _Greek_, as was the case in the following
"A person, being on the point of making a journey, had in his
possession a sum of twenty thousand livres which embarrassed him; he
had only one servant, whom he mistrusted, and the sum was tempting.
He accordingly requested a friend to be so obliging as to take care
of it for him till his return.
"A fortnight after, the friend denied the circumstance. As there was
no proof, the civil law could not pronounce in this affair. Recourse
was had to the Minister of Police, who pondered a moment, and sent
for the receiver, making the accuser retire into an adjoining room:
"The friend arrives, and maintains that he has not received the
twenty thousand livres. 'Well,' said the magistrate, 'I believe you;
and as you are innocent you run no, risk in writing to your wife the
note that I am going to dictate. Write.
"'"My dear wife, all is discovered. I shall be punished if I do not
restore you know what. Bring the sum: your coming quickly to my
relief is the only way for me to get out of trouble and obtain my
"'This note,' added the magistrate, 'will fully justify you. Your
wife can bring nothing since you have received nothing, and your
accuser will be foiled.'
"The note was dispatched; the wife, terrified, ran with the twenty
"Thus the Minister of Police can daily make up for the imperfection
and tardiness of our civil laws; but he ought to use this rare and
splendid privilege with extreme circumspection.
"The chief magistrate of the police is become a minister of
importance; he has a secret and prodigious influence; he knows so
many things, that he can do much mischief or much good, because he
has in hand a multitude of threads which he can entangle or
disentangle at his pleasure; he strikes or he saves; he spreads
darkness or light: his authority is as delicate as it is extensive.
"The Minister of Police exercises a despotic sway over the
_mouchards_ who are found disobedient, or who make false reports: as
for these fellows, they are of a class so vile and so base, that the
authority to which they have sold themselves, has necessarily an
absolute right over their persons.
"This is not the case with those who are apprehended in the name of
the police; they may have committed trifling faults: they may have
enemies in that crowd of _exempts_, spies, and satellites, who are
believed on their word. The eye of the magistrate may be incessantly
deceived, and the punishment of these crimes ought to be submitted to
a more deliberate investigation; but the house of correction ingulfs
a vast number of men who there become still more perverted, and who,
on coming out, are still more wicked than when they went in. Being
degraded in their own eyes, they afterwards plunge themselves
headlong into all sorts of irregularities.
"These different imprisonments are sometimes rendered necessary by
imperious circumstances; yet it were always to be wished that the
detention of a citizen should not depend on a single magistrate, but
that there should be a sort of tribunal to examine when this great
act of authority, withdrawn from the eye of the law, ceases to be
"A few real advantages compensate for these irregular forms, and
there are, in fact, an infinite number of irregularities which the
slow and grave process of our tribunals can neither take cognizance
of, nor put a stop to, nor foresee, nor punish. The audacious or
subtle delinquent would triumph in the winding labyrinth of our civil
laws. The laws of the police, more direct, watch him, press him, and
surround him mose closely. The abuse, is contiguous to the benefit, I
admit; but a great many private acts of violence, base and shameful
crimes, are repressed by this vigilant and active force which ought,
nevertheless, to publish its code and submit it to the inspection of
"Could the Minister of Police communicate to the philosopher all he
knows, all he learns, all he sees, and likewise impart to him certain
secret things, of which he alone is well-informed, there would be
nothing so curious and so instructive under the pen of the
philosopher; for he would astonish all his brethren. But this
magistrate is like the great penitentiary; he hears every thing,
relates nothing, and is not astonished at certain delinquencies in
the same degree as another man. By dint of seeing the tricks of
roguery, the crimes of vice, secret treachery, and all the filth of
human actions, he has necessarily a little difficulty in giving
credit to the integrity and virtue of honest people. He is in a
perpetual state of mistrust; and, in the main, he ought to possess
such a character; for, he ought to think nothing impossible, after
the extraordinary lessons which he receives from men and from things.
In a word, his place commands a continual, and scrutinizing
* * * * *
_February 22, in continuation._
"Even should not the Parisian have the levity with which he is
reproached, reason would justify him in its adoption. He walks
surrounded by spies. No sooner do two citizens whisper to each other,
than up comes a third, who prowls about in order to listen to what
they are saying. The spies of the police are a regiment of
inquisitive fellows; with this difference, that each individual
belonging to this regiment has a distinct dress, which he changes
frequently every day; and nothing so quick or so astonishing, as
these sorts of metamorphoses.
"The same spy who figures as a private gentleman in the morning, in
the evening represents a priest: at one time, he is a peaceable limb
of the law; at another, a swaggering bully. The next day, with a
gold-headed cane in his hand, he will assume the deportment of a
monied man buried in calculations; the most singular disguises are
quite familiar to him. In the course of the twenty-four hours, he is
an officer of distinction and a journeyman hair-dresser, a shorn
apostle and a scullion. He visits the dress-ball and the lowest sink
of vice. At one time with a diamond ring on his finger, at another
with the most filthy wig on his head, he almost changes his
countenance as he does his apparel; and more than one of these
_mouchards_ would teach the French _Roscius_ the art of _decomposing_
himself; he is all eyes, all ears, all legs; for he trots, I know not
how, over the pavement of every quarter of the town. Squatted
sometimes in the corner of a coffee-room, you would take him for a
dull, stupid, tiresome fellow, snoring till supper is ready: he has
seen and heard all that has passed. At another time, he is an orator,
and been the first to make a bold speech; he courts you to open your
mind; he interprets even your silence, and whether you speak to him
or not, he knows what you think of this or that proceeding.
"Such is the universal instrument employed in Paris for diving into
secrets; and this is what determines the actions of persons in power
more willingly than any thing that could be imagined in reasoning or
"The employment of spies has destroyed the ties of confidence and
friendship. None but frivolous questions are agitated, and the
government dictates, as it were, to citizens the subject on which
they shall speak in the evening in coffee-houses, as well as in
"The people have absolutely lost every idea of civil or political
administration; and if any thing could excite laughter in the midst
of an ignorance so deplorable, it would be the conversation of such a
silly fellow who constantly imagines that Paris must give the law and
the _ton_ to all Europe, and thence to all the world.
"The men belonging to the police are a mass of corruption which the
Minister of that department divides into two parts: of the one, he
makes spies or _mouchards_; of the other, satellites, _exempts_, that
is, officers, whom he afterwards lets loose against pickpockets,
swindlers, thieves, &c., much in the same manner as a huntsman sets
hounds on wolves and foxes.
"The spies have other spies at their heels, who watch over them, and
see that they do their duty. They all accuse each other reciprocally,
and worry one another for the vilest gain."
I cannot here avoid interrupting my copious but laboriously-gathered
selection from MERCIER, to relate an anecdote which shews in what a
detestable light _mouchards_ are considered in Paris.
A man who appeared to be in tolerably good circumstances, fell in
love, and married a girl whom the death of her parents and
accumulated distress had driven to a life of dissipation. At the end
of a few months, she learnt that her husband was a spy of the police.
"Probably," said, she to him, "you did not take up this trade till
after you had reflected that in following that of a thief or a
murderer, you would have risked your life." On saying this, she ran
out of the house, and precipitated herself from the _Pont Royal_ into
the Seine, where she was drowned.--But to resume the observations of
"It is from these odious dregs," continues our author, "that public
"When the _mouchards_ of the police have acted contrary to their
instructions, they are confined in the house of correction; but they
are separated from the other prisoners, because they would be torn to
pieces by those whom they have caused to be imprisoned, and who would
recognize them. They inspire less pity on account of the vile trade
which they follow. One sees with surprise, and with still more pain,
that these fellows are very young. Spies, informers at sixteen!--O!
what a shocking life does this announce!" exclaims MERCIER. "No;
nothing ever distressed me more than to see boys act such a part....
And those who form them into squads, who drill them, who corrupt such
Such is the admirable order which reigns in Paris, that a man
suspected or described is watched so closely, that his smallest steps
are known, till the very moment when it is expedient to apprehend
"The description taken of the man is a real portrait, which it is
impossible to mistake; and the art of thus describing the person by
words, is carried to so great a nicety, that the best writer, after
much reflection on the matter, could add nothing to it, nor make use
of other expressions.
"The Theseuses of the police are on foot every night to purge the
city of robbers, and it might be said that the lions, bears, and
tigers are chained by political order.
"There are also the court-spies, the town-spies, the bed-spies, the
street-spies, the spies of impures, and the spies of wits: they are
all called by the name of _mouchards_, the family name of the first
spy employed by the court of France.
"Men of fashion at this day follow the trade of _mouchards_; most of
them style themselves _Monsieur le Baron_, _Monsieur le Comte_,
_Monsieur le Marquis_. There was a time, under Lewis XV, when spies
were so numerous, that it was impossible for friends, who assembled
together, to open their heart to each other concerning matters which
deeply affected their interest. The ministerial inquisition had
posted its sentinels at the door of every room, and listeners in
every closet. Ingenuous confidences, made from friends to friends,
and intended to die in the very bosom where they had been deposited,
were punished as dangerous conspiracies.
"These odious researches poisoned social life, deprived men of
pleasures the most innocent, and transformed citizens into enemies
who trembled to unbosom themselves to each other.
"One fourth of the servants in Paris serve as spies; and the secrets
of families, which are thought the most concealed, come to the
knowledge of those interested in being acquainted with them.
"Independently of the spies of the police, ministers have spies
belonging to themselves, and keep them in pay: these are the most
dangerous of all, because they are less suspected than others, and it
is more difficult to know them. By these means, ministers know what
is said of them; yet, of this they avail themselves but little. They
are more intent to ruin their enemies, and thwart their adversaries,
than to derive a prudent advantage from the free and ingenuous hints
given them by the multitude.
"It is entertaining enough to consider that, in proper time and
place, spies are watching him who, at his pleasure, sets spies to
watch other citizens. Thus, the links which connect mankind in
political order are really incomprehensible. He who does not admire
the manner in which society exists, and is supported by the
simultaneous reaction of its members, and who sees not the serpent's
_tail_ entering its _mouth_, is not born for reflection.
"But the secrets of courts are not revealed through spies; they get
wind by means of certain people who are not in the least mistrusted;
in like manner the best built ships leak through an imperceptible
chink, which cannot be discovered.
"What is interesting in courts, and particularly so in ours," says
MERCIER, "is that there is a degree of obscurity spread over all its
proceedings. We wish to penetrate what is concealed, we endeavour to
know till we learn; thus it is that the most ingenious machine
preserves its highest value only till we have seen the springs which
set it in motion.
"After having considered the different parts which form the police of
the capital, we still perceive all the radii reaching from the centre
to the circumference. How many ramifications issue from the same
stem! How far the branches extend! What an impulse does not Paris
give to other neighbouring cities!
"The police of Paris has an intimate correspondence with that of
Lyons and other provincial cities: for it is evident that it would be
imperfect, if it could not follow the disturber of public order, and
if the distance of a few leagues skreened him from researches.
"The correspondence of the Parisian police is not therefore limited
to its walls; it extends much farther; and it is in towns where
imprudent or rash persons would imagine that they might give their
tongue greater freedom, that the vigilant magistrate pries into
conversation, and keeps a watchful eye over those who would measure
their audacity by the degree of distance from the capital.
"Thus the police of Paris, after having embraced France, penetrates
also into Switzerland, Italy, Holland, and Germany; and when
occasion requires, its eye is open on all sides to what can interest
the government. When it wishes to know any fact, it is informed of it
to a certainty; when it wishes to strike a serious blow, it seldom
misses its aim.
"It may easily be conceived that the machine would be incomplete, and
that its play would fail in the desired effect, did it not embrace a
certain extent. It costs but little to give to the lever the
necessary length. Whether the spy be kept in pay at Paris, or a
hundred leagues off, the expense is the same, and the utility becomes
"Experience has shewn that these observations admit of essential
differences in the branches of the police. Weights and measures must
be changed, according to time, place, persons, and circumstances.
There are no fixed rules; they must be created at the instant, and
the most versatile actions are not destitute of wisdom and reason.
"Of this wholesale legislators are not aware: it is reserved for
practitioners to seize these shades of distinction. There must be a
customary, and, as it were, every-day policy, in order to decide well
without precipitation, without weakness, and without rigour. What
would be a serious fault at Paris, would be a simple imprudence at
Lyons, an indifferent thing elsewhere, and so on reciprocally.
"Now this science has not only its details and its niceties, it has
also its variations, and sometimes even its oppositions. Ministers
must have a steady eye and great local experience, in order to be
able to strike true, and strike opportunely, without espousing
imaginary terrors; which, in matters of police, is the greatest fault
that can be committed.
"LYCURGUS, SOLON, LOCKE, and PENN! you have made very fine and
majestic laws; but would you have divined these? Although secret,
they exist; they have their wisdom, and even their depth. The
distance of a few leagues gives to matters of police two colours,
which bear to each other no resemblance; and there is no principal
town which is not obliged, in modeling its police on that of Paris,
to introduce into it the greatest modifications. The motto of every
Minister of Police ought to be this: _The letter of the law kills,
its spirit gives life._
"The safety of Paris, during the night, is owing to the guard and
two or three hundred _mouchards_, who trot about the streets, and
recognize and follow suspected persons. It is chiefly by night that
the police makes its captions."
The manner in which these captions are made is humorously, gravely,
feelingly, and philosophically described by the ingenious MERCIER.
Long as this letter already is, I am confident that you will not
regret its being still lengthened by another extract or two relative
to this interesting point; thus I shall terminate the only
elucidation that you are likely to obtain on a subject which has so
strongly excited your curiosity.
"The comic," says our lively author, "is here blended with the
serious. The fulminating order, which is going to crush you, is in
the pocket of the _exempt_, who feels a degree of pleasure in the
exercise of his dreadful functions. He enjoys a secret pride in being
bearer of the thunder; he fancies himself the eagle of Jove: but his
motion is like that of a serpent. He glides along, dodges you,
crouches before you, approaches your ear, and with down-cast eyes and
a soft-toned voice, says to you, at the same time shrugging his
shoulders: '_Je suis au desespoir, Monsieur; mais j'ai un ordre,
Monsieur, qui vous arrete, Monsieur; de la part de la police,
Monsieur_.'----'_Moi, Monsieur_?'----'_Vous-meme, Monsieur_.'----You
waver an instant between anger and indignation, ready to vent all
sorts of imprecations. You see only a polite, respectful, well-bred
man, bowing to you, mild in his speech, and civil in his manners.
Were you the most furious of mankind, your wrath would be instantly
disarmed. Had you pistols, you would discharge them in the air, and
never against the affable _exempt_. Presently you return him his
bows: there even arises between you a contest of politeness and good
breeding. It is a reciprocity of obliging words and compliments, till
the moment when the resounding bolts separate you from the polite
man, who goes to make a report of his mission, and whose employment,
by no means an unprofitable one, is to imprison people with all
possible gentleness, urbanity, and grace.
"I am walking quietly in the street; before me is a young man
decently dressed. All at once four fellows seize on him, collar him,
push him against the wall, and drag him away. Natural instinct
commands me to go to his assistance; a tranquil witness says to me
coolly: 'Don't interfere; 'tis nothing, sir, but a caption made by
the police.' The young man is handcuffed, and he disappears.
"I wish to enter a narrow street, a man belonging to the guard is
posted there as a sentinel: I perceive several of the populace
looking out of the windows. 'What's the matter, sir?' say I.----
'Nothing,' replies he; 'they are only taking up thirty girls of the
town at one cast of the net.' Presently the girls, with top-knots of
all colours, file off, led by the soldiers of the guard, who lead
them gallantly by the hand, with their muskets clubbed.
"It is eleven o'clock at night, or five in the morning, there is a
knock at your door; your servant opens it; in a moment your room is
filled with a squad of satellites. The order is precise, resistance
is vain; every thing that might serve as a weapon is put out of your
reach; and the _exempt_, who will not, on that account, boast the
less of his bravery even takes your brass pocket-inkstand for a
"The next day, a neighbour, who has heard a noise in the house, asks
what it might be: 'Nothing, 'tis only a man taken up by the police.'
----'What has he done?'----'No one can tell; he has, perhaps,
committed a murder, or sold a suspicious pamphlet.'----'But, sir,
there's some difference between those two crimes.'----'May be so; but
he is carried off.'
"You have been apprehended; but you have not been shewn the order;
you have been put into a carriage closely shut up; you know not
whither you are going to be taken; but you may be certain that you
will visit the wards or dungeons of some prison.
"Whence proceeds the decree of proscription? You cannot rightly
"It is not necessary to write a thick volume against arbitrary
arrests. When one has said, _it is an arbitrary act_, one may,
without any difficulty, infer every possible consequence. But all
captions are not equally unjust: there are a multitude of secret and
dangerous crimes which it would be impossible for the ordinary course
of the law to take cognizance of, to put a stop to, and punish. When
the minister is neither seduced nor deceived, when he yields not to
private passion, to blind prepossession, to misplaced severity, his
object is frequently to get rid of a disturber of the public peace;
and the police, in the manner in which the machine is set up, could
not proceed, at the present day, without this quick, active, and
"It were only to be wished that there should be afterwards a
particular tribunal, which should weigh in an exact scale the motives
of each caption, in order that imprudence and guilt, the pen and the
poniard, the book and the libel, might not be confounded.
"The inspectors of police determine on their part a great many
subaltern captions; as they are generally believed on their word, and
as they strike only the lowest class of the people, the chief readily
concedes to them the details of this authority.
"Some yield to their peevishness; others, to their caprice: but who
knows whether avarice has not also a share in their proceedings, and
whether they do not often favour him who pays at the expense of him
who does not pay? Thus the liberty of the distressed and lowest
citizens would have a tarif; and this strange tax would bear hard on
the very numerous portion of _prostitutes_, _professed gamblers_,
_quacks_, _hawkers_, _swindlers_, and _adventurers_, all people who
do mischief, and whom it is necessary to punish; but who do more
mischief when they are obliged to pay, and purchase, during a certain
time, the privilege of their irregularities.
"We have imitated from the English their Vauxhall, their Ranelagh,
their whist, their punch, their hats, their horse-races, their
jockies, their betting; but," concludes MERCIER, "when shall we copy
from them something more important, for instance, that bulwark of
liberty, the law of _habeas corpus_?"
[Footnote 1: The office of Minister of the Police has since been
abolished. M. FOUCHE is now a Senator, and the machine of which he
was said to be so expert a manager, is confided to the direction of
the Prefect of Police, who exercises his functions under the
immediate authority of the Ministers, and corresponds with them
concerning matters which relate to their respective departments. The
higher duties of the Police are at present vested in the _Grand
Juge_, who is also Minister of Justice. The former office is of
[Footnote 2: Voltaire thought otherwise; and he was not mistaken.]
[Footnote 3: I shall exemplify this truth by two remarkable facts.
About the year 1775, when M. DE SARTINE was Minister of the Police,
several forgeries were committed on the Bank of Vienna; Count DE
MERCY, then Austrian ambassador at Paris, was directed to make a
formal application for the delinquent to be delivered up to justice.
What was his astonishment on receiving, a few hours after, a note
from M. DE SARTINE, informing him that the author of the said
forgeries had never been in Paris; but resided in Vienna, at the same
time mentioning the street, the number of the house, and other
A circumstance which occurred in 1796, proves that, since the
revolution, the system of the Parisian police continues to extend to
foreign countries. The English Commissary for prisoners of war was
requested by a friend to make inquiry, on his arrival in Paris,
whether a French lady of the name of BEAUFORT was living, and in what
part of France she resided. He did so; and the following day, the
card, on which he had written the lady's name, was returned to him,
with this addition: "She lives at No. 47, East-street,
[Footnote 4: The same principle holds good in politics.]
[Footnote 5: The municipal guard of Paris at present consists of 2334
men. The privates must be above 30 and under 45 years of age.]
_Paris, February 26, 1802._
Referring to an expression made use of in my letter of the 16th of
December last, you ask me "What the sciences, or rather the
_savans_ or men of science, have done for this people?" With the
assistance of a young Professor in the _College de France_, who bids
fair to eclipse all his competitors, it will not be difficult for me
to answer your question.
Let me premise, however, that the _savans_ to whom I allude, must not
be confounded with the philosophers, called _Encyclopaedists_, from
their having been the first to conceive and execute the plan of the
_Encyclopaedia_. These _savans_ were DIDEROT, D'ALEMBERT, and
VOLTAIRE, all professed atheists, who, by the dissemination of their
pernicious doctrine, introduced into France an absolute contempt for
all religion. This infidelity, dissolving every social tie, every
principle between man and man, between the governing and the
governed, in the sequel, produced anarchy, rapine, and all their
At the beginning of the revolution, every mind being turned towards
politics, the Sciences were suddenly abandoned: they could have no
weight in the struggle which then occupied every imagination.
Presently their existence was completely forgotten. Liberty formed
the subject of every writing and every discourse: it seemed that
orators alone possessed the power of serving her; and this error was
partly the cause of the calamities which afterwards overwhelmed
France. The greater part of the _savans_ remained simple spectators
of the events which were preparing: not one of them openly took part
against the revolution. Some involved themselves in it. Those men
were urged by great views, and hoped to find, in the renewal of
social organization, a mean of applying and realizing their theories.
They thought to master the revolution, and were carried away by its
torrent; but at that time the most sanguine hopes were indulged. If
the love of liberty be no more than a phantom of the brain, if the
wish to render men better and happier be no more than a matter of
doubt, such errors may be pardoned in those who have paid for them
with their life.
It is in the recollection of every one that the National Convention
consisted of two parties, which, under the same exterior, were
hastening to contrary ends: the one, composed of ignorant and
ferocious men, ruled by force; the other, more enlightened,
maintained its ground by address. The former, restless possessors of
absolute power, and determined to grasp at every thing for preserving
it, strove to annihilate the talents and knowledge which made them
sensible of their humiliating inferiority. The others, holding the
same language, acted in an opposite direction. But being obliged, in
order to preserve their influence, never to shew themselves openly,
they employed their means with an extreme reserve, and this
similarity at once explains the good they did, the evil they
prevented, and the calamities which they were unable to avert.
At that time, France was on the very brink of ruin. _Landrecies_, _Le
Quesnoy_, _Conde_ and _Valenciennes_ were in the power of her
enemies. _Toulon_ had been given up to the English, whose numerous
fleets held the dominion of the seas, and occasionally effected
debarkations. This country was a prey to famine and terror; _La
Vendee_, _Lyons_, and _Marseilles_ were in a state of insurrection.
No arms, no powder; no ally that could or would furnish any; and its
only resource lay in an anarchical government without either plan or
means of defence, and skilful only in persecution. In a word, every
thing announced that the Republic would perish, before it could enjoy
a year's existence.
In this extremity, two new members were called to the Committee of
Public Welfare. These two men organized the armies, conceived plans
of campaign, and prepared supplies.
It was necessary to arm nine hundred thousand men; and what was most
difficult, it was necessary to persuade a mistrustful people, ever
ready to cry out "treason!" of the possibility of such a prodigy. For
this purpose, the old manufactories were comparatively nothing;
several of them, situated on the frontiers, were invaded by the
enemy. They were revived every where with an activity till then
unexampled. _Savans_ or men of science were charged to describe and
simplify the necessary proceedings. The melting of the church-bells
yielded all the necessary metal. Steel was wanting; none could be
obtained from abroad, the art of making it was unknown. The _Savans_
were asked to create it; they succeeded, and this part of the public
defence thus became independent of foreign countries.
The exigencies of the war had rendered more glaring the urgent
necessity of having good topographical maps, and the insufficiency of
those in use became every day more evident. The geographical
engineers, which corps had been suppressed by the Constituent
Assembly, were recalled to the armies, and although they could not,
in these first moments, give to their labours the necessary extent
and detail, they nevertheless paved the way to the great results
since obtained in this branch of the art military. Nothing is more
easy than to destroy; nothing is so difficult, and, above all, so
tedious as to reconstruct.
The persons then in power had likewise had the prudence to preserve
in their functions such pupils and engineers in the civil line as
were of an age to come under the requisition. Whatever might be the
want of defenders, it was felt that it requires ten years' study to
form an engineer; while health and courage suffice for making a
soldier. This disastrous period affords instances of foresight and
skill which have not always been imitated in times more tranquil.
The Sciences had just rendered great services to the country. They
were calumniated; those who had made use of them were compelled to
defend them, and did so with courage. A circumstance, equally
singular and unforeseen, occasioned complete recourse to be had to
An officer arrived at the Committee of Public Welfare: he announced
that the republican armies were in presence of the enemy; but that
the French generals durst not march their soldiers to battle, because
the brandies were poisoned, and that the sick in the hospitals,
having drunk some, had died. He requested the Committee to cause them
to be examined, asked for orders on this subject, and wished to set
off again immediately.
The most skilful chymists were instantly assembled: they were ordered
to analyze the brandies, and to indicate, in the course of the day,
the poison and the remedy.
These _savans_ laboured without intermission, trusting only to
themselves for the most minute details. Scarcely was time allowed
them to finish their operations, when they were summoned to appear
before the Committee of Public Welfare, over which ROBESPIERRE
They announced that the brandies were not poisoned, and that water
only had been added to them, in which was slate in suspension, so
that it was sufficient to filter them, in order to deprive them of
their hurtful quality.
ROBESPIERRE, who hoped to discover a treason, asked the Commissioners
if they were perfectly sure of what they had just advanced. As a
satisfactory answer to the question, one of them took a strainer,
poured the liquor through it, and drank it without hesitation. All
the others followed his example. "What!" said ROBESPIERRE to him, "do
you dare to drink these poisoned brandies?"----"I durst do much
more," answered he, "when I put my name to the Report."
This service, though in itself of little importance, impressed the
public mind with a conception of the utility of the _savans_, a
greater number of whom were called into the Committee of Public
Welfare. There they were secure from subaltern informers, with which
France abounded. Having concerns only with the members charged with
the military department, who were endeavouring to save them, they
might, by keeping silence, escape the suspicious looks of the tyrants
of the day. There was then but one resource for men of merit and
virtue, namely, to conceal their existence, and cause themselves to
In the midst of this sanguinary persecution, all the means of defence
employed by France, issued from the obscure retreat where the genius
of the Sciences had taken refuge.
Powder was the article for which there was the most urgent occasion.
The soldiers were on the point of wanting it. The magazines were
empty. The administrators of the powder-mills were assembled to know
what they could do. They declared that the annual produce amounted to
three millions of pounds only, that the basis of it was saltpetre
drawn from India, that extraordinary encouragements might raise them
to five millions; but that no hopes ought to be entertained of
exceeding that quantity. When the members of the Committee of Public
Welfare announced to the administrators that they must manufacture
seventeen millions of pounds of powder in the space of a few months,
the latter remained stupified. "If you succeed in doing this," said
they, "you must have a method of making powder of which we are
This, however, was the only mean of saving the country. As the French
were almost excluded from the sea, it was impossible to think of
procuring saltpetre from India. The _savans_ offered to extract all
from the soil of the Republic. A general requisition called to this
labour the whole mass of the people. Short and simple directions,
spread with inconceivable activity, made, of a difficult art, a
common process. All the abodes of men and animals were explored.
Saltpetre was sought for even in the ruins of Lyons; and soda,
collected from among the ashes of the forests of La Vendee.
The results of this grand movement would have been useless, had not
the Sciences been seconded by new efforts. Native saltpetre is not
fit for making powder; it is mixed with salts and earths which render
it moist, and diminish its activity. The process employed for
purifying it demanded considerable time. The construction of
powder-mills alone would have required several months, and before
that period, France might have been subjugated. Chymistry invented
new methods for refining and drying saltpetre in a few days. As a
substitute for mills, pulverized charcoal, sulphur, and saltpetre
were mixed, with copper balls, in casks which were turned round by
hand. By these means, powder was made in twelve hours; and thus was
verified that bold assertion of a member of the Committee of Public
Welfare: "Earth impregnated with saltpetre shall be produced," said
he, "and, in five days after, your cannon shall be loaded."
Circumstances were favourable for fixing, in all their perfection,
the only arts which occupied France. Persons from all the departments
were sent to Paris, in order to be instructed in the manufacture of
arms and saltpetre. Rapid courses of lectures were given on this
subject. They contributed little to the general movement, which had
saved the Republic, but they had an effect no less important, that of
bringing to light the astonishing facility of the French for
acquiring the arts and sciences; a happy gift which forms one of the
finest features in the character of the nation.
Notwithstanding so many services rendered by the Sciences, the
learned were not less persecuted; the most celebrated among them were
the most exposed. The venerable DAUBENTON, the co-operator in the
labours of BUFFON, escaped persecution only because he had written a
work on the improvement of sheep, and was taken for a simple
shepherd. COUSIN was not so fortunate; yet, in his confinement, he
had the stoicism to compose works of geometry, and give lessons of
physics to his companions of misfortune.
LAVOISIER, that immortal character, whose generosity in promoting the
progress of science could be equalled only by his own enlightened
example in cultivating it, was also apprehended. As one of the
Commissioners for fixing the standard of weights and measures, great
hopes were entertained that he might be restored to liberty. Measures
were taken with that intention; but these were not suited to the
spirit of the moment. The commission was dissolved, and LAVOISIER
left in prison. Shortly after, this ever to be lamented _savant_ was
taken to the scaffold. He would still be living, had his friends
acted on the cupidity of the tyrants who then governed, instead of
appealing to their justice.
About this period, some members of the Convention having introduced a
discussion in favour of public instruction, it was strongly opposed
by the revolutionary party, who saw in the Sciences nothing but a
poison which enervated republics. According to them, the finest
schools were the popular societies. To do good was then impossible,
and to shew an inclination to do it, exposed to the greatest danger
the small number of enlightened men France still possessed.
In this point of view, every thing was done that circumstances
permitted. A military school was created, where young men from all
the departments were habituated to the exercise of arms and the life
of a camp. It was called _L'Ecole de Mars_. Its object was not to
form officers, but intelligent soldiers, who, spread in the French
armies, should soon render them the most enlightened of Europe, as
they were already the most inured to the hardships of war.
Thus, a small number of men, whose conduct has been too ill
appreciated, alone retarded, by constant efforts, the progress of
barbarism and struggled in a thousand ways against the oppression
which others contented themselves with supporting.
At length, the bloody throne, raised by ROBESPIERRE, was overthrown:
hope succeeded to terror; and victory, to defeat. Then, the Sciences,
issuing from the focus in which they had been concentered and
concealed, reappeared in all their lustre. The services they had
rendered, the dangers which had threatened them, were felt and
acknowledged. The plan of campaign, formed by the scientific men,
called to the Committee of Public Welfare, had completely succeeded.
The French armies had advanced on the rear of those of the allies,
and, threatening to cut off their retreat, not only forced them to
abandon the places they had taken, but also marched from conquest to
conquest on their territory.
The means of having iron, steel, saltpetre, powder, and arms, had
been created during the reign of terror. The following were the
results of this grand movement at the beginning of the third year of
Twelve millions of pounds of saltpetre extracted from the soil of
France in the space of nine months. Formerly, scarcely one million
was drawn from it.
Fifteen founderies at work for the casting of brass cannon. Their
annual produce increased to 7000 pieces. There existed in France but
two establishments of this description before the revolution.
Thirty founderies for iron ordnance, yielding 13,000 pieces per year.
At the breaking out of the war, there were but four, which yielded
annually 900 pieces of cannon.
The buildings for the manufacture of shells, shot, and all the
implements of artillery, multiplied in the same proportion.
Twenty new manufactories for side-arms, directed by a new process.
Before the war, there existed but one.
An immense manufactory of fire-arms established all at once in Paris,
and yielding 140,000 muskets per year, that is, more than all the old
manufactories together. Several establishments of this nature formed
on the same plan in the different departments of the Republic.
One hundred and eighty-eight workshops for repairing arms of every
description. Before the war, there existed but six.
The establishment of a manufactory of carbines, the making of which
was till then unknown in France.
The art of renewing the touch-hole of cannon discovered, and carried
immediately to a perfection which admits of its being exercised in
the midst of camps.
A description of the means by which tar, necessary for the navy, may
be speedily extracted from the pine-tree.
Balloons and telegraphs converted into machines of war.
All the process of the arts relative to war simplified and improved
by the application of the most learned theories.
A secret establishment formed at Meudon for that purpose. Experiments
there made on the oxy-muriate of potash, on fire-balls, on
hollow-balls, on ring-balls, &c.
Great works begun for extracting from the soil of France every thing
that serves for the construction, equipment, and supplies of ships of
Several researches for replacing or reproducing the principal
materials which the exigencies of the war had consumed, and for
increasing impure potash, which the making of powder had snatched
from the other manufactories.
Simple and luminous directions for fixing the art of making soap, and
bringing it within reach of the meanest capacity.
The invention of the composition of which pencils are now made in
France, the black lead for which was previously drawn from England;
and what was inappreciable in those critical circumstances, the
discovery of a method for tanning, in a few days, leather which
generally required several years' preparation.
In a word, if we speak of the territorial acquisitions, which were
the result of the victories obtained by means of the extraordinary
resources created by the men of science, France has acquired an
extent of 1,498 square leagues, and a population of 4,381,266
individuals; namely, Savoy, containing 411,700 inhabitants; the
County of Nice, 93,166; Avignon, the _Comtat Venaissin_, and Dutch
Flanders, 200,500; Maestricht and Venloo, 90,000; Belgium, 1,880,000;
the left bank of the Rhine, 1,658,500; Geneva and its territory,
40,000; and Mulhausen, 7,200.
P.S. Paris is now all mirth and gaiety; in consequence of the revived
pleasures of the Carnival. I shall not give you my opinion of it till
[Footnote 1: See Vol. I. Letter XXXIV.]
[Footnote 2: The bells produced 27,442,852 pounds of metal. This
article, valued at 10 _sous_ per pound, represents 15 millions of
francs (_circa_ L625,000 sterling). A part served for the fabrication
of copper coin, the remainder furnished pieces of ordnance.]
_Paris, February 28, 1802._
In all great cities, one may naturally expect to find great vices;
but in regard to gaming, this capital presents a scene which, I will
venture to affirm, is not to be matched in any part of the world. No
where is the passion, the rage for play so prevalent, so universal:
no where does it cause so much havock and ruin. In every class of
society here, gamesters abound. From men revelling in wealth to those
scarcely above beggary, every one flies to the gaming-table; so that
it follows, as a matter of course, that Paris must contain a great
number of _Maisons de jeu_, or
They are to be met with in all parts of the town, though the
head-quarters are in the _Palais du Tribunat_, or, as it is most
commonly called, the _Palais Royal_. Whenever you come to Paris,
and see, on the first story, a suite of rooms ostentatiously
illuminated, and a blazing reverberator at the door, you may be
certain that it is a house of this description.
Before the revolution, gaming was not only tolerated in Paris, but
public gaming-houses were then licensed by the government, under the
agreeable name of _Academies de jeu_. There, any one might ruin
himself under the immediate superintendance of the police, an officer
belonging to which was always present. Besides these academies, women
of fashion and impures of the first class were allowed to keep a
gaming-table or _tripot de jeu_, as it was termed, in their own
house. This was a privilege granted to them in order that they might
thereby recover their shattered fortune. When all the necessary
expenses were paid, these ladies commonly shared the profits with
their protectors, that is, with their friends in power, through whose
protection the _tripot_ was sanctioned. Every one has heard of the
fatal propensity to gaming indulged in by the unfortunate Marie
Antoinette. The French women of quality followed her pernicious
example, as the young male nobility did that of the Count d'Artois
and the Duke of Orleans; so that, however decided might be the
personal aversion of Lewis XVI to gaming, it never was more in
fashion at the court of France than during his reign. This is a fact,
which can be confirmed by General S---th and other Englishmen who
have played deep at the queen's parties.
At the present day, play is, as I have before stated, much recurred
to as a financial resource, by many of the _ci-devant_ female
_noblesse_ in Paris. In their parties, _bouillotte_ is the prevailing
game; and the speculation is productive, if the company will sit and
play. Consequently, the longer the sitting, the greater the profits.
The same lady who moralizes in the morning, and will read you a
lecture on the mischievous consequences of gaming, makes not the
smallest hesitation to press you to sit down at her _bouillotte_ in
the evening, where she knows you will almost infallibly be a loser.
No protection, I believe, is now necessary for a lady who chooses to
have a little private gaming at her residence, under the specious
names of _societe_, _bal_, _the_, or _concert_. But this is not the
case with the _Maisons de jeu_, where the gaming-tables are public;
or even with private houses, where the object of the speculation is
publicly known. These purchase a license in the following manner. A
person, who is said to have several _sleeping_ partners, engages to
pay to the government the sum of 3,600,000 francs (_circa_ L150,000
sterling) a year for the power of licensing all gaming-houses in this
capital, and also to account for a tenth part of the profits, which
enter the coffer of the minister at the head of the department of the
police. This contribution serves to defray part of the expense of
greasing the wheels of that intricate machine. Without such a
license, no gaming-house can be opened in Paris. Sometimes it is paid
for by a share in the profits, sometimes by a certain sum per
These _Maisons de jeu_, where dupes are pitted against cheats, are
filled from morning to night with those restless beings, who, in
their eager pursuit after fortune, almost all meet with
disappointment, wretchedness, ruin, and every mischief produced by
gaming. This vice, however, carries with it its own punishment; but
it is unconquerable in the heart which it ravages. It lays a man
prostrate before those fantastic idols, distinguished by the
synonymous names of fate, chance, and destiny. It banishes from his
mind the idea of enriching himself, or acquiring a competence by slow
and industrious means. It feeds, it inflames his cupidity, and
deceives him in order to abandon him afterwards to remorse and
From the mere impulse of curiosity, I have been led to visit some of
the principal _Maisons de jeu_. I shall therefore represent what I
In a spacious suite of apartments, where different games of chance
are played, is a table of almost immeasurable length, covered with a
green cloth, with a red piece at one end, and a black, one at the
other. It is surrounded by a crowd of persons of both sexes, squeezed
together, who, all suspended between fear and hope, are waiting, with
eager eyes and open mouth, for the favourable or luckless chance. I
will suppose that the banker or person who deals the cards, announces
"_rouge perd, couleur gagne_." The oracle has spoken. At these words
of fate, on one side of the table, you see countenances smiling, but
with a smile of inquietude, and on the other, long faces, on which is
imprinted the palid hue of death. However, the losers recover from
their stupor: they hope that the next chance will be more fortunate.
If that happens, and the banker calls out "_rouge gagne, couleur
perd_;" then the scene changes, and the same persons whom you have
just seen so gay, make a sudden transition from joy to sadness, and
_vice versa_. This contrast no language can paint, and you must see
it, in order to conceive how the most headstrong gamblers can spend
hour after hour in such a continual state of agitation, in which they
are alternately overwhelmed by rage, anguish, and despair. Some are
seen plucking out their hair by the roots, scratching their face, and
tearing their clothes to pieces, when, after having lost considerable
sums, frequently they have not enough left to pay for a breakfast or
dinner. What an instructive lesaon for the novice! What a subject of
reflection for the philosophic spectator! At these scenes of folly
and rapacity it is that the demon of suicide exults in the triumphs
he is on the point of gaining over the weakness, avarice, and false
pride of mortals. If the wretched victim has not recourse to a
pistol, he probably seeks a grave at the bottom of the river.
Among these professed gamblers, it often happens that some of them,
in order to create what they term _resources_, imagine tricks and
impostures scarcely credible. I shall relate an anecdote which I
picked up in the course of my inquiries respecting the garning-houses
in Paris. It may be necessary to premise that the counterfeit louis,
which are in circulation in this country, and have nearly the
appearance of the real coin, are employed by these knaves; they
commonly produce them at night, because they then run less risk of
being detected in passing them; but these means are very common and
almost out of date.
In the great gaming-houses in Paris, it is customary to have on the
table several _rouleaux_ of louis d'or. An old, experienced gambler
came one day to a house of this class, with his pockets full of
leaden _rouleaux_ of the exact form and size of those containing
fifty louis d'or. He placed at one of the ends of the table (either
black or red) one of his leaden _rouleaux_: he lost. The master of
the bank took up his _rouleau_, and, without opening it, put it with
the good _rouleaux_ in the middle of the table, where the bank is
kept. The old gambler, without being disconcerted, staked another. He
won, and withdrew the good _rouleau_ given him, leaving the
counterfeit one on the table, at the same time calling out, "I stake
ten louis out of the _rouleau_." The cards were drawn; he won: the
banker, to pay him the ten louis, took a _rouleau_ from the bank.
Chance willed that he lighted on the leaden _rouleau_. He endeavoured
to break it open by striking it on the table: the _rouleau_ withstood
his efforts. The gambler, without deranging his features, then said
to the banker; "Mind you don't break it." The banker, disconcerted,
tore the paper, and, on opening it, found it to contain nothing but
lead. There being no positive proof against the gambler, he was
permitted to retire, and his only punishment was to be in future
excluded from this gaming-house. But he had the consolation of
knowing that ninety-nine others would be open to him. However, this
and other impostures have led to a regulation, that, in all these
houses, the value of every stake should be apparent to the eye, and
openly exposed on the table.
From what I have said you might infer that _trente-et-un_ (or _rouge
et noir_) is the most fashionable game played here; but, though this
is the case, it is not the only one in high vogue. Many others,
equally pernicious, are pursued at the same time, such as _la
roulette_, _passe-dix_, and _biribi_, at which cheats and sharpers
can, more at their ease, execute their feats of dexterity and schemes
of plunder. Women frequent the gaming-tables as well as the men, and
often pledge their last shift to make up a stake. It is shocking to
contemplate a young female gamester, the natural beauty of whose
countenance is distorted into deformity by a succession of agonizing
passions. Yet so distressing an object is no uncommon thing in Paris.
You may, perhaps, be curious to know what are these games, of
_trente-et-un_, _biribi_, _passe-dix,_ and _la roulette_. Never
having played at any of them, such a description as I might pretend
to give, could at best be but imperfect. For which, reason I shall
not engage in the attempt.
It is confidently affirmed that in the principal towns of France,
namely, Bordeaux, Lyons, Marseilles, Rouen, &c. the rage for play is
no less prevalent than in the capital, where gaming-houses daily
increase in number. They are now established in every quarter in
Paris, even the poorest, and there are some where the lowest of the
populace can indulge in a _penchant_ for gaming, as the stake is
proportioned to their means. This is the ruin of every class of
inhabitants and of foreigners; so much so, that suicides here
increase in exact proportion to the increase of gaming-houses.
Is it not astonishing that the government should suffer, still more
promote the existence of an evil so pernicious in every point of
view? From the present state of the French finances, it would,
notwithstanding, appear that every consideration, however powerful,
must yield to the want of money required for defraying the expenses
of the department of the Police.
_Minima de malis_ was the excuse of the old government of France for
promoting gaming. "From the crowd of dissipated characters of every
description, accumulated in great cities," said its partisans,
"governments find themselves compelled to tolerate certain abuses, in
order to avoid evils of greater magnitude. They are forced to
compound with the passions which they are unable to destroy; and it
is better that men should be professed gamblers than usurers,
swindlers, and thieves." Such was the reasoning employed in behalf of
the establishment of the _Academies de jeu_, which existed prior to
the revolution. Such is the reasoning reproduced, at the present day,
in favour of the _Maisons de jeu_; but, when I reflect on all the
horrors occasioned by gaming, I most ardently wish that every
argument in favour of so destructive a vice, may be combated by a pen
like that of Rousseau, which, Sir William Jones says, "had the
property of spreading light before it on the darkest objects, as if
he had written with phosphorus on the walls of a cavern."
[Footnote 1: During the Carnival of the present year (1803) the
masked balls at the grand French Opera were quite deserted, in
consequence of a new gaming-house, established solely for foreigners,
having, by the payment of considerable sums to the government,
obtained permission to give masked balls. These balls were all the
rage. There was one every Tuesday, and the employment of the whole
week was to procure cards of invitation; for persons were admitted by
_invitation_ only, no money being taken. The rooms, though spacious,
were warm and comfortable; the company, tolerably good, and extremely
numerous, but chiefly composed of foreigners. _Treute-et-un_,
_biribi_, _pharaon_, _creps_, and other fashionable games were
played, so that the _speculators_ could very well afford to give all
sorts of refreshments, and an elegant supper _gratis_.]
_Paris, March 1, 1802_.
Of all the institutions subsisting here before the revolution, that
which has experienced the greatest enlargement is the
MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY.
This establishment, formerly called _Le Jardin du Roi_, and now more
commonly known by the name of _Le Jardin des Plantes_, received its
present denomination by a decree of the National Convention, dated
the 10th of June 1793. It is situated on the south bank of the Seine,
nearly facing the Arsenal, and consists of a botanical garden, a
collection of natural history, a library of works relating to that
science, an amphitheatre for the lectures, and a _menagerie_ of
Originally, it was nothing more than a garden for medicinal plants,
formed under that title, in 1626, by GUY DE LA BROSSE, principal
physician to Lewis XIII, who sanctioned the establishment by letters
patent. The king's physicians were almost always intendants of this
garden till the year 1739, when it was placed under the direction of
BUFFON. Before his time, the cabinet was trifling. It consisted only
of some curiosities collected by GEOFFROY, and a few shells which had
belonged to TOURNEFORT; but, through the zeal of BUFFON, and the care
of his co-operator DAUBENTON, it became a general _depot_ of natural
history, and its riches had increased still more than its utility. On
the breaking out of the revolution, it had been protected through
that sort of respect which the rudest men have for the productions of
nature, whence they either receive or expect relief for their
sufferings. It had even been constantly defended by the revolutionary
administration, under whose control and dependence it was placed.
Regarding it, in some measure, as their private property, their pride
was interested in its preservation; and had any attempt been made to
injure it, they would infallibly have caused an insurrection among
the inhabitants of the surrounding _faubourg_. These singular
circumstances, joined to the good understanding prevailing among the
professors, had maintained this fine establishment in a state, if not
increasing, at least stationary. On the revival of order, ideas were
entertained of giving to it an extension which had already been
projected and decreed, even during the reign of terror.
The botanical garden was enlarged; the extent of the ground intended
for the establishment was doubled; a _menagerie_ was formed; new
hot-houses and new galleries were constructed; the addition of new
professors was confirmed, and all the necessary disbursements were
made with magnificence. Thus, in the same place where every
production of nature was assembled, natural history was for the first
time taught in its aggregate; and these courses of lectures, become
celebrated by the brilliancy of the facts illustrated in them, the
number of pupils who frequent them, and the great works of which they
have been the cause or the motive, have rendered the MUSEUM OF
NATURAL HISTORY one of the first establishments of instruction
existing in Europe.
Formerly, there were but three professors attached to this
establishment. At present, there are no less than thirteen, who each
give a course of forty lectures. The courses of zoology and
mineralogy take place in the halls of the cabinet containing the
collections corresponding to each of those sciences. The courses of
botany, anatomy, and chemistry are delivered in the great
amphitheatre, and that of natural iconography in the library. The
days and hours of the lectures are announced every year by particular
The establishment is administered, under the authority of the
Minister of the Interior, by the professors, who choose, annually,
from among themselves, a director. At present, that situation is held
by FOURCROY. Although this celebrated professor, in his lectures on
chemistry, must principally attach himself to minerals, the
particular object of chemical inquiry, he is far from neglecting
vegetable and animal substances, the analysis of which will, in time,
spread great light on organic bodies. The most recent discoveries on
the exact constitution of bodies are made known in the course of
these lectures, and a series of experiments, calculated for
elucidating the demonstrations, takes place under the eyes of the
No one possesses more than FOURCROY the rare talent of classing well
his subjects, of presenting facts in a striking point of view, and of
connecting them by a succession of ideas extremely rapid, and
expressed in a voice whose melody gives an additional charm to
eloquence. The pleasure of hearing him is peculiarly gratifying; and,
indeed, when he delivers a lecture, the amphitheatre, spacious as it
is, is much too small to contain the crowd of auditors. Then, the
young pupils are seen with their eyes stedfastly fixed on their
master, catching his word with avidity, and fearing to lose one of
them; thus paying by their attention the most flattering tribute to
the astonishing facility of this orator of science, from whose lips
naturally flow, as from a spring, the most just and most select
expressions. Frequently too, carried away by the torrent of his
eloquence, they forget what they have just heard, to think only of
what he is saying. FOURCROY speaks in this manner for upwards of two
hours, without any interruption, and, what is more, without tiring
either his auditors or himself. He writes with no less facility than
he speaks. This is proved by the great number of works which he has
published. But in his writings, his style is more calm, more smooth
than that of his lectures.
Each professor superintends and arranges the part of the collections
corresponding to the science which he is charged to teach. For this
purpose, there are also assistant naturalists, whose employment is to
prepare the various articles of natural history. The keeper of the
cabinet, under the authority of the director, takes all the measures
necessary for the preservation of the collections. The principal ones
1. The cabinet of natural history, containing the animal kingdom,
divided into its classes; the mineral kingdom; the fossils, woods,
fruits, and other vegetable productions, together with the herbals.
This cabinet, which occupies the buildings on the right, on entering
from the street, is open to students on Mondays, Wednesdays, and
Saturdays, from eleven o'clock till two, and to the public in general
every Tuesday and Friday in the afternoon.
2. The library, chiefly composed of works relating to natural
history, contains, among other valuable articles, an immense
collection of animals and plants, painted on vellum. Three painters
are charged to continue this collection under the superintendance of
the professors. The library is open to the public every day from
eleven o'clock to two.
3. The cabinet of anatomy, containing the preparations relative to
the human race and to animals. It is situated in a separate building,
and for the present open to students only.
4. The botanical school, containing the plants growing in the open
ground, and the numerous hot-houses in which are cultivated those
peculiar to warm countries.
5. The _menagerie_ of foreign animals. At the present moment, they
are dispersed in various parts of the garden; but they are shortly to
be assembled in a spacious and agreeable place.
6. The chemical laboratory and the collection of chemical
To these may be added a laboratory for the preparation of objects of
natural history, and another for that of objects of anatomy.
Notwithstanding the improved state to which BUFFON had brought this
establishment, yet, through the united care of the several scientific
men who have since had the direction of it, the constant attention
bestowed on it by the government, and even by the conquests of the
French armies, its riches have been so much increased, that its
collection of natural history may at this day be considered as the
finest in being. The department of the minerals and that of the
quadrupeds are nearly complete; that of the birds is one of the most
considerable and the handsomest known; and the other classes, without
answering yet the idea which a naturalist might conceive of thenm,
are, nevertheless, superior to what other countries have to offer.
Among the curious or scarce articles in this Museum, the following
claim particular notice:
In the class of quadrupeds, adult individuals, stuffed, such as the
camelopard, the hippopotamus, the single-horned rhinoceros, the
Madagascar squirrel, the Senegal lemur, two varieties of the
oran-outang, the proboscis-monkey, different specimens of the indri,
some new species of bats and opossums, the Batavian kangaroo, and
several antelopes, ant-eaters, &c.
In the class of birds, a great number of new or rare species, and
among those remarkable either for size or beauty, are the golden
vulture, the great American eagle, the Impey peacock, the Ju[
pheasant or argus, the plantain-eater, &c.
Among the reptiles, the crocodile of the Ganges, the fimbriated
tortoise of Cayenne, &c.
Among the shells, the glass patella, and a number of valuable,
scarce, or new species.
The collection of insects has just been completed through the
assiduity of the estimable LAMARCK, the professor who has charge of
In the mineral kingdom, independently of the numerous and select
choice of all the specimens, are to be remarked as objects of
particular curiosity, the petrifactions of crocodiles' bones found in
the mountain of St. Pierre at Maestricht, and the collection of
impressions of fishes from Mount Bolca, near Verona.
At the present moment, the _menagerie_ contains a female elephant
only, the male having died since my arrival in Paris, three
dromedaries, two camels, five lions, male and female, a white bear, a
brown bear, a mangousta, a civet, an alligator, an ostrich, and
several other scarce and curious animals, the number and variety of
which receive frequent additions. In other parts of the garden are
inclosures for land and sea fowls, as well as ponds for fishes.
The denomination of _Jardin des Plantes_ is very appropriate to this
garden, as it furnishes to all the botanical establishments
throughout France seeds of trees and plants useful to the
poor are supplied with such medicinal plants as are proper for the
cure or relief of their complaints.
_Paris, March 3, 1802._
It has been repeatedly observed that civilized nations adhere to
their ancient customs for no other reason than because they are
ancient. The French have, above all, a most decided partiality for
those which afford them opportunities of amusement. It must therefore
have been a subject of no small regret to them, on the annual return
of those periods, to find the government taking every measure for the
suppression of old habits. For some years since the revolution, all
disguises and masquerades were strictly prohibited; but, though the
executive power forbade pasteboard masks, its authority could not
extend to those mental disguises which have been occasionally worn by
many leading political characters in this country. No sooner was the
prohibition against masquerading removed, than the Parisians gave
full scope to the indulgence of their inclination; and this year was
revived, in all its glory, the celebration of
Yesterday was the conclusion of that mirthful period, during which
Folly seemed to have taken possession of all the inhabitants of this
populous city. Every thing that gaiety, whim, humour, and
eccentricity could invent, was put in practice to render it a sort of
continued jubilee. From morn to night, the concourse of masks of
every description was great beyond any former example; but still
greater was the concourse of spectators. All the principal streets
and public gardens were thronged by singular characters, in
appropriate dresses, moving about in small detached parties or in
numerous close bodies, on foot, on horseback, or in carriages. The
_Boulevards_, the _Rue de la Loi_, and the _Rue St. Honore_,
exhibited long processions of masks and grotesque figures, crowded
both in the inside and on the outside of vehicles of all sorts, from
a _fiacre_ to a German waggon, drawn by two, four, six, and eight
horses; while the _Palais Royal_, the _Tuileries_, the _Place de la
Concorde_, and the _Champs Elysees_ were filled with pedestrian wits,
amusing the surrounding multitude by the liveliness of their sallies
and the smartness of their repartee. Here S[
Scaramouches, Punchinellos, Pierrots, Harlequins, and Columbines,
together with nuns, friars, abbes, bishops, and _marquis_ in
caricature, enlivened the scene: there, sultans, sultanas,
janissaries, mamluks, Turks, Spaniards, and Indians, in stately
pride, attracted attention. On one side, a Mars and Venus, an Apollo
and Daphne, figured under the attributes of heathen mythology: on
another, more than one Adam and Eve recalled to mind the origin of
To the eye of an untravelled Englishman, the novelty of this sight
must have been a source of no small entertainment. If he was of a
reflecting mind, however, it must have given rise to a variety of
observations, and some of them of a rather serious nature. In
admiring the order and decency which reigned amidst so much mirth and
humour, he must have been desirous to appreciate the influence of
political events on the character of this people. In a word, he must
have been anxious to ascertain how far the return of our Gallic
neighbours to their ancient habits, announces a return to their
It is well known that the Carnival of modern times is an imitation of
the Saturnalia of the ancients, and that the celebration of those
festivals was remarkable for the liberty which universally prevailed;
slaves being, at that period, permitted to ridicule their masters,
and speak with freedom on every subject. During the last years of the
French monarchy, the Parisians neglected not to avail themselves of
this privilege. When all classes were confounded, at the time of the
Carnival, the most elevated became exposed to the lash of the lowest;
and, under the mask of satire, the abuses which had crept into
religious societies, and the corruption which prevailed in every
department of the State, escaped not their bold censure. From a
consciousness, no doubt, of their own weakness, the different
governments that have ruled over France since the revolution, dreaded
the renewal of scenes in which their tottering authority might be
overthrown; but such an apprehension cannot have been entertained by
the present government, as manifestly appears from the almost
unlimited license which has reigned during the late Carnival.
Notwithstanding which, it is worthy of remark that no satirical
disguises were met with, no shafts of ridicule were aimed at the
constituted authorities, no invective was uttered against such and
such an opinion, no abuse was levelled against this or that party.
Censure and malice either slept or durst not shew themselves, though
freedom of expression seemed to be under no restraint.
Formerly, when the people appeared indifferent to the motley
amusements of the Carnival, and little disposed to mix in them,
either as actors or spectators, it was not uncommon for the
government to pay for some masquerading. The _mouchards_ and
underlings of the police were habited as grotesque characters,
calculated to excite curiosity, and promote mirth. They then spread
themselves, to the number of two or three thousand, over different
parts of the town, and gave to the streets of Paris a false colouring
of joy and gladness; for the greater the misery of the people, the
more was it thought necessary to exhibit an outward representation of
public felicity. But these political impostures, having been seen
through, at length failed in their effect, and were nearly
relinquished before the revolution. At that time, nothing diverted
the populace so much as _attrapes_ or bites; and every thing that
engendered gross and filthy ideas was sure to please. Pieces of
money, heated purposely, were scattered on the pavement, in order
that persons, who attempted to pick them up, might burn their
fingers. Every sort of bite was practised; but the greatest
attraction and acme of delight consisted of _chianlits_, that is,
persons masked, walking about, apparently, in their shirt, the tail
of which was besmeared with mustard.
At the present day, these coarse and disgusting jokes are evidently
laid aside, as some of a more rational kind are exhibited; such as
the nun, partly concealed in a truss of straw, and strapped on the
catering friar's back; the effect of the galvanic fluid; and many
others too numerous to mention. No factitious mirth was this year
displayed; it was all natural; and if it did not add to the small sum
of happiness of the distressed part of the Parisian community, it
must, for a while at least, have made them forget their wretchedness.
With few exceptions, every one seemed employed in laughing or in
exciting laughter. Many of the characters assumed were such as
afforded an opportunity of displaying a particular species of wit or
humour; but the dress of some of the masquerading parties, being an
excellent imitation of the rich costumes of Asia, must have been
To conclude, the masked balls at the Opera, on the last days of the
Carnival, were numerously attended. Very few characters were here
attempted, and those were but faintly supported. Adventures are the
principal object of the frequenters of these balls, and I have reason
to think that the persons who went in quest of them were not
disappointed. In short, though I have often passed the Carnival in
Paris, I never witnessed one that went off with greater _eclat_. As
the Turkish Spy observes, a small quantity of ashes, dropped, the day
after its conclusion, on the head of these people in disguise, cools
their frenzy. From being mad and foolish, they become calm and
_Paris, March 5, 1802._
As I foresee that my private affairs will, probably, require my
presence in England sooner than I expected, I hasten to give you an
idea of the principal public edifices which I have not, yet noticed.
One of these is the _Luxembourg_ Palace, now called the
PALAIS DU SENAT CONSERVATEUR.
Mary of Medicis, relict of Henry IV, having purchased of the Duke of
Luxembourg his hotel and its dependencies, erected on their site this
palace. It was built in 1616, under the direction of JACQUES DE
BROSSE, on the plan of the _Pitti_ palace at Florence.
Next to the _Louvre_, the _Luxembourg_ is the most spacious palace in
Paris. It is particularly distinguished for its bold character, its
regularity, and the beauty of its proportions. The whole facade is
ornamented with coupled pilasters: on the ground-floor, the Tuscan
order is employed, and above, the Doric, with alternate rustics. In
the four pavilions, placed at the angles of the principal pile, the
Ionic has been added to the other two orders, because they are more
elevated than the rest of the buildings. Towards the _Rue de
Tournon_, the two pavilions communicate by a handsome terrace, in the
middle of which is a circular saloon, surmounted by a dome of the
most elegant proportion. Beneath this dome is the principal entrance.
The court is spacious, and on each side of it are covered arches
which form galleries on the ground-floor and in front of the upper
The twenty-four pictures which Mary of Medicis had caused to be
painted by the celebrated RUBENS, for the gallery of the
_Luxembourg_, had been removed from it some years before the
revolution. At that time even, they were intended for enriching the
Museum of the _Louvre_. Four of them are now exhibited there in the
Great Gallery. They are allegorical; with the other twenty, they
represent the prosperous part of the history of that queen, and form
a striking contrast to the adversity she afterwards experienced
through the persecution of Cardinal Richelieu.
To gratify his revenge, he ordered all the furniture, &c. belonging
to Mary of Medicis to be sold, together with the statues which then
decorated the courts and garden of the _Luxembourg_, and pursued with
inveteracy the unfortunate queen who had erected this magnificent
edifice. Being exiled from France in 1631, she wandered for a long
time in Flanders, and also in England, till the implacable cardinal
prevailed on Charles I, to command her to quit the kingdom. In 1642,
she took refuge at Cologne, and, at the age of 68, there died in a
garret, almost through hunger and distress.
Before the revolution, this palace belonged to MONSIEUR, next brother
to Lewis XVI. It has since been occupied by the Directory, each of
whose members here had apartments. No material change has yet been
made in it; nor does any thing announce that the partial alterations
intended, either in its exterior or interior, will speedily be
"----_Pendent opera interrupta minaeque, &c._"
At the present day, the _Luxembourg_ is appropriated to the
Conservative Senate, whose name it has taken, and who here hold their
sittings in a hall, fitted up in a style of magnificence still
superior to that of the Legislative Body. But the sittings of the
former are not public like those of the latter; and as I had no more
than a peep at their fine hall, I cannot enter into a description of
However, I took a view of their garden, in which I had formerly
passed many a pleasant hour. Here, workmen are employed in making
considerable improvements. It was before very irregular, particularly
towards the south, where the view from the palace was partly
concealed by the buildings of the monastery of the Carthusians. By
degrees, these irregularities are made to disappear, and this garden
will shortly be laid out in such a manner as to correspond better
with the majesty of the palace, and display its architecture to
greater advantage. Alleys of trees, which were decayed from age, have
been cut down, and replaced by young plants of thriving growth. In
front of the south facade is to be a tasteful parterre, with an
oblong piece of water in its centre. Beyond the garden is a large
piece of ground formerly belonging to the Carthusian monastery, which
is now nearly demolished; this ground is to be converted into a
national nursery for all sorts of valuable fruit-trees. Being
contiguous to the garden of the Senate, with which it communicates,
it will furnish a very extensive promenade, and consequently add to
the agreeableness of the place.
The present Minister of the Interior, CHAPTAL, who cultivates the
arts and sciences with no less zeal than success, purposes to make
here essays on the culture of vine-plants of every species, in order
to obtain comparative results, which will throw a new light on that
branch of rural economy.
A great number of vases and statues are placed in the garden of the
Senate. Many of these works are indifferently executed, though a few
of them are in a good style. Certainly, a more judicious and more
decorous choice ought to have been made. It was not necessary to
excite regret in the mind of the moralist, by placing under the eyes
of the public figures of both sexes which are repugnant to modesty.
If it be really meant to attempt to mend the loose morals of the
nation, why are nudities, which may be considered as the leaven of
corruption, exposed thus in this and other national gardens in Paris?
* * * * *
_March 5, in continuation_.
St. Foix, in his "_Essais historiques sur Paris_" speaking of the
Bastille, says, "it is a castle, which, without being strong, is one
of the most formidable in Europe." In their arduous struggle for
liberty, the French have scarcely left a vestige of this dread abode,
in which have been immured so many victims of political vengeance. I
will not pretend to affirm that such is the description of prisoners
now confined in
But when the liberty of individuals lies at the mercy of arbitrary
power, every one has a right to draw his own inference.
This edifice takes its name from the Templars, whose chief residence
it was till they were annihilated in 1313. Philip the Fair and
Clement V contrived, under various absurd pretences, to massacre and
burn the greater part of the knights of this order. The knights of
St. John of Jerusalem were put in possession of all the property of
the Templars, except such part as the king of France and the Pope
thought fit to share between them. The _Temple_ then became the
provincial house of the Grand Priory of France.
The Grand Priory consisted of the inclosure within the walls of the
_Temple_, where stood a palace for the Grand Prior, a church, and
several houses inhabited by shopkeepers and mechanics; but, with the
considerable domains annexed to it, this post, before the revolution,
yielded to the eldest son of the Count d'Artois, as Grand Prior, an
annual revenue of 200,000 livres. The inclosure was at that time a
place of refuge for debtors, where they enjoyed the privilege of
freedom from arrest.
The palace was erected by JACQUES SOUVRE, Grand Prior of France. Near
it, is a large Gothic tower of a square form, flanked by four round
turrets of great elevation, built by HUBERT, treasurer to the
Templars, who died in 1222.
It was in this building, which was considered as one of the most
solid in France, that Lewis XVI was confined from the middle of
September 1792 to the day of his execution. From the 13th of August
till that period, the royal family had occupied the part of the
palace which has been preserved. This tower, when it had been
entirely insulated and surrounded by a ditch, was inclosed by a high
wall, which also included part of the garden. The casements were
provided with strong iron bars, and masked by those shutters, called,
I believe, _trunk-lights_. As for the life which the unhappy monarch
led in this prison, a detailed narrative of it has been published in
England, by Clery, his faithful _valet-de-chambre_.
I have not been very anxious to approach the _Temple_, because I
concluded that, if fame was not a liar, there was no probability of
my having an opportunity of seeing any part of it, except the outer
wall. The result was a confirmation of my opinion. Who are its
occupiers? What is their number? What are their crimes? These are
questions which naturally intrude themselves on the mind, when one
surveys the turrets of this new Bastille--for, whether a place of
confinement for state-prisoners be called _La Bastille_ or _Le
Temple_, nevertheless it is a state-prison, and reminds one of
slavery, which, as Sterne says, is, in any disguise, a bitter
draught; and though thousands, in all ages, have been made to drink
of it, still it is not, on that account, less bitter.
_Paris, March 8, 1802_.
Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be always able to
answer your inquiries without hesitation. Considering the round of
amusements in which I live, I flatter myself you will readily admit
that it requires no small share of good-will and perseverance to
devote so much time to scribbling for your entertainment. As for
information, you will, on your arrival in Paris, know how much or how
little you have derived from the perusal of my letters. You will then
have it in your power to compare and judge. With the originals before
you, you cannot be at a loss to determine how far the sketches
Some of your inquiries have been already answered in my former
letters. Among the number, however, you will find no reply on the
subject of the
PRESENT STATE OF THE FRENCH PRESS.
This question being of a nature no less delicate than that concerning
the police, you cannot but commend my discretion in adopting a
similar method to gratify your curiosity; that is, to refer you to
the intelligent author whom I quoted on the former occasion. If
common report speaks the truth--_Sit mihi fas audita loqui?_--the
press here is now in much the same state in which it was before the
revolution. I shall therefore borrow again the language of MERCIER,
who is a famous dreamer, inasmuch as many of his dreams have been
realized: yet, with all his foresight and penetration, I question
whether he ever dreamt that his picture of the French press, drawn in
the interval between the years 1781 and 1788, would still be, in some
respects, a true one at the beginning of the year 1802. But, as
Boileau shrewdly remarks,
"_Le vrai peut quelquefois n'etre pas vraisemblable._"
"The enemies of books," says our author, "are the enemies of,
knowledge, and consequently of mankind. The shackles with which the
press is loaded, are an incitement for setting them at defiance. If
we were to enjoy a decent liberty, we should no longer have recourse
to licentiousness. There are political evils which the liberty of the
press prevents, and this is already a great benefit. The interior
police of States requires to be enlightened by disinterested
writings. There is no one but the philosopher, satisfied with the
esteem alone of his fellow-citizens, that can raise himself above the
clouds formed by personal interest, and set forth the abuses of
insidious custom. In short, the liberty of the press will always be
the measure of civil liberty; and it is a species of thermometer,
which shews, at one glance, what a people have lost or gained.
"If we adopt this maxim, we are every day losing; for every day the
press is more restricted.
"Suffer people to think and speak; the public will judge: they will
even find means to correct authors. The surest method to purify the
press, is to render it free: obstacles irritate it: prohibitions and
difficulties engender the pamphlets complained of.
"Could despotism kill thought in its sanctuary, and prevent us from
communicating the essence of our ideas to the mind of our
fellow-creatures, it would do so. But not being able quite to pluck
out the philosopher's tongue, and cut off his hands, it establishes
an inquisition, peoples the frontiers with searchers, spreads
satellites, and opens every package, in order to interrupt the
infallible progress of morality and truth. Useless and puerile
effort! Vain attack on the natural right of general society, and on
the patriotic rights of a particular one! Reason, from day to day,
strikes nations with a greater lustre, and will at last shine
unclouded. It answers no purpose to fear or persecute genius: nothing
will extinguish in its hands the torch of truth: the decree which its
mouth pronounces, will be repeated by all posterity against the
unjust man. He wished to snatch from his fellow-creatures the most
noble of all privileges, that of thinking, which is inseparable from
that of existing: he will have manifested his weakness and folly; and
he will merit the twofold reproach of tyranny and impotence.
"When a very flat, very atrocious, and very calumniating libel
appears under a fellow's coat, 'tis a contest who shall have it
first. People pay an exorbitant price for it; the hawker who cannot
read, and who wishes only to get bread for his poor family, is
apprehended, and sent to prison, where he shifts for himself as well
as he can.
"The more the libel is prohibited, the more eager we are for it. When
we have read it, and we see that nothing compensates for its mean
temerity, we are ashamed to have sought after it. We scarcely dare
say, _we have read it_: 'tis the scum of low literature, and what is
there without its scum?
"Contempt would be the surest weapon against those miserable
productions which are equally destitute of truth and talent.
"When will men in power know how to disdain equally the interested
encomiums of intriguing flatterers and the satires produced by
"Besides, those who sit in the first boxes must always expect some
shafts levelled at them by those who are in the pit; this becomes
almost inevitable. They must needs pay for their more commodious
place: at least we attribute to those who rule over us more
enjoyments: they have some which they will avow, solely with a view
to raise themselves above the multitude. The human heart is naturally
envious. Let men in power then forgive or dissemble seasonably:
satire will fall to the ground; it is by shewing themselves
impassible, that they will disarm ardent malignity.
"Nevertheless, there is a kind of odious libel, which, having every
characteristic of calumny, ought to be repressed. This is commonly
nothing more than the fruit of anonymous and envenomed revenge: for
what are the secret intrigues of courts to any man of letters? He
will know time enough that which will suit the pen of history.
"A libeller should be punished, as every thing violent ought to be.
But the parties interested should abstain from pronouncing; for where
then would be the proportion between the punishment and the crime?
"I apply not the name of libels to those atrocious and gratuitous
accusations against the private life of persons in power or
individuals unconnected with the government. Such injurious and
unmeaning shafts are an attack on honour: their authors should be
"The police detected and apprehended one of its inspectors, who,
being charged to discover those libels, proposed the composition of
similar ones to some half-starved authors. After having laid for them
this infernal snare for the gain of a little money, he informed
against them, and sold them to the government.
"These miscreants, blinded by the eager thirst of a little gold,
divert themselves with the uneasiness of the government, and the more
they see it in the trances of apprehension, the more they delight in
magnifying the danger, and doubling its alarms.
"Liberty has rendered the English government insensible to libels.
Disdain is certain, before the work is commenced. If the satire is
ingenious, people laugh at it, without believing it; if it is flat,
they despise it.
"Why cannot the French government partly adopt this indifference? A
contempt, more marked, for those vile and unknown pens that endeavour
to wound the sensibility of pride, would disgust the readers of the
flat and lying satires after which they are so eager, only because
they imagine that the government is really offended by them.
"It is to be observed that the productions that flatter more or less
public malignity, spread in fugitive sparks a central fire, which, if
compressed, would, perhaps, produce an explosion.
"Magistrates have not yet been seen disdaining those obscure shafts,
rendering themselves invulnerable from the openness of their
proceedings, and considering that praise will be mute, as long as
criticism cannot freely raise its voice.
"Let them then punish the flattery by which they are assailed, since
they are so much afraid of the libel that always contains some good
truths: besides, the public are there to judge the detractor; and no
unjust satire ever circulated a fort-night, without being branded
"Ministers reciprocally deceive each other when they are attacked in
this manner; the one laughs at the storm which has just burst on the
other, and promotes secretly what he appears to prosecute openly and
with warmth. It would be a curious thing if one could bring to light
the good tricks which the votaries of ambition play each other in the
road to power and fortune.
"There is nothing now printed in Paris, in the line of politics and
history, but satires and falsehoods. Foreigners look down with pity
on every thing that emanates from the capital on these matters. Other
subjects begin to feel the consequences of this, because the
restraint laid on the mind is manifested even in books of simple
amusement. The presses of Paris are no longer to serve but for
posting-bills, and invitations to funerals and weddings. Almanacks
are already a subject too elevated, and the inquisition examines and
"When I see a book," says MERCIER, "sanctioned by the government, I
would lay a wager, without opening it, that this book contains
political falsehoods. The chief magistrate may well say: 'This piece
of paper shall be worth a thousand francs;' but he cannot say: 'Let
this error become truth,' or, 'let this truth no longer be anything
but an error.' He may say it, but he can never compel men's minds to
"What is admirable in printing, is that these fine works, which do
honour to human genius, are not to be commanded or paid for; on the
contrary, it is the natural liberty of a generous mind, which unfolds
itself in spite of dangers, and makes a present to human nature, in
spite of tyrants. This is what renders the man of letters so
commendable, and insures to him the gratitude of future ages.
"O! worthy Englishmen! generous people, strangers to our shameful
servitude, carefully preserve among you the liberty of the press: it
is the pledge of your freedom. At this day, you alone are the
representatives of nearly all mankind; you uphold the dignity of the