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Paris As It Was and As It Is by Francis W. Blagdon

Part 14 out of 14

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But what have these _would-be_ republicans to allege as an excuse in
their favour? They have no convents to initiate young girls in the
arts of dissimulation; no debauched court to contaminate, by its
example, the wavering principles of the weak part of the sex, or sap
the more determined ones of those whose mind is of a firmer texture;
nor have they any friendly, sympathizing confessors to draw a spunge,
as it were, over the trespasses hid in a snug corner of their heart.
No: every one is left to settle his own account with heaven. Yet the
libertinism which at present reigns in Paris is sufficient to make a
deep impression on persons the least given to reflection.

_Il matrimonio_, says the Italian proverb, _e un paradiso o un
inferno_. In fact, nothing can be compared to the happiness of a
married couple, united by sympathy. To them, marriage is really a
terrestrial paradise. But what more horrid than the reverse, that is,
two beings cursing the fatal hour which brought them together in
wedlock? It is a very hell on earth; for surely no punishment can
exceed that of being condemned to pass our days with the object of
our detestation.

If the indissolubility of marriage in France was formerly productive
of such bad consequences; now that the nuptial knot can be loosened
with so much facility, there can no longer exist the same plea for
adultery. Is then this accumulation of vice less the effect of the
institution of divorce in itself, than that of the undigested law by
which it was first introduced?

The law of divorce was, I find, projected in 1790, under the auspices
of the last Duke of Orleans, who, utterly regardless of the welfare
of the State, wished to revolutionize every thing, solely with a view
to his own individual interest. His object was to get rid of his
wife, who was a woman of strict virtue. This law was decreed on the
20th of September 1792, without any discussion whatever. On the 8th
of Nivose and 4th of Floreal, year II, (29th of December 1794 and
24th of April 1795) the Convention decreed additional laws, all
tending to favour the impetuosity of the passions. Thus the door was
opened still wider to licentiousness and debauchery. By these laws,
an absence of six months is sufficient for procuring a divorce, and,
after the observance of certain forms, either of the parties may
contract a fresh marriage.

It is not difficult to conceive how many hot-headed, profligate,
unprincipled persons, of both sexes, have availed themselves of such
laws to gratify their unruly passions, their resentment, their
avarice, or their ambition. Oaths, persons, or property, are, in
these cases, little respected. If a libertine finds that he cannot
possess the object of his desires on any other terms, like Sir John
Brute, in the play, he marries her, in order to go to bed to her, and
in a few days sues for a divorce. I have been shewn here a Lothario
of this description, who, in the course of a short space of time had
been married to no less than six different women.

"Divorce," says a judicious French writer, "is a separation, the
necessity for which ought to be supported by unquestionable proofs;
otherwise, it is nothing more than a legitimate scandal."

The French often wish to assimilate themselves to the Romans, and the
Roman laws sanctioned divorce. Let us then examine how far the
comparison can, in this respect, be supported.

"Among the Romans," continues he, "the first who availed himself of
this privilege was Spurius Corbilius, because his wife was steril.
The second divorce was that of C. Sulpicius, because his wife had
gone abroad with her hair uncovered, and without a veil over her
head. Q. Anstitius divorced on account of having seen his wife speak
to a person of her own sex, who was reckoned loose in her conduct;
and Sempronius, because his had been to see the public entertainments
without having informed him. These different divorces took place
about a hundred years after the foundation of Rome. The Romans, after
that, were upwards of five hundred years without affording an
instance of any divorce. They then were moral and virtuous. But, at
length, luxury, that scourge of societies, corrupted their hearts;
and divorces became so frequent, that many women reckoned their age
by the number of their husbands." To this he might have added, that
several Roman ladies of rank were so lost to all sense of shame, that
they publicly entered their names among the licensed prostitutes.

"Marriage," concludes he, "presently became nothing more than an
object of commerce and speculation; and divorce, a tacit permission
for libertinism. Can divorce among the French, be considered
otherwise, when we reflect that this institution, which seemed likely
to draw closer the conjugal tie, by restoring it to its state of
natural liberty, is, through the abuse made of it, now only a mean of
shameful traffic, in which the more cunning of the two ruins the
ether, in short, a mound the less against the irruptions of

So much for the opinion of a French writer of estimation on the
effect of these laws: let us at present endeavour to illustrate it by
some examples.

A young lady, seduced by a married man, found herself pregnant. She
was of a respectable family: he was rich, and felt the consequences
of this event. What was to be done? He goes to one of his friends,
whom he knew not to be overburdened with delicacy, and proposes to
him to marry this young person, in consideration of a certain sum of
money. The friend consents, and the only question is to settle the
conditions. They bargain for some time: at last they agree for 10,000
francs (_circa_ L410 sterling). The marriage is concluded, the lady
is brought to bed, the child dies, and the gentleman sues for a
divorce. All this was accomplished in six months. As such
opportunities are by no means scarce, he may, in the course of the
year, probably, meet with another of the same nature: thus the office
of bridegroom is converted into a lucrative situation. The following
is another instance of this melancholy truth, but of a different

A man about thirty-two years of age, well-made, and of a very
agreeable countenance, had been married three months to a young woman
of uncommon beauty. He was loved, nay almost adored by her. Every one
might have concluded that they were the happiest couple in Paris;
and, in fact, no cloud had hitherto overshadowed the serenity of
their union. One day when the young bride was at table with her
husband, indulging herself in expressing the happiness which she
enjoyed, a tipstaff entered, and delivered to her a paper. She read
it. What should it be but a subpoena for a divorce? At first she took
the thing for a pleasantry: but the husband soon convinced her that
nothing was more serious. He assured her that this step would make
her fortune, and his own too, if she would consent to the arrangement
which he had to propose to her. "You know," said he, "the rich and
ugly Madame C----: she has 30,000 francs a year (circa L1250
sterling); she will secure to me the half of her property, provided I
will marry her. I offer you a third, if, after having willingly
consented to our divorce, you will permit me to see you as my female
friend." Such a proposal shocked her at the moment; but a week's
reflection effected a change in her sentiments; and the business was
completed. _O tempora! O mores!_

But though many married individuals still continue to break their
chains, it appears that divorces are gradually decreasing in number;
and should the government succeed in introducing into the law on this
subject the necessary modifications, of course they will become far
less frequent.

Every legislature must be aware to what a degree plays are capable of
influencing the opinions of a nation, and what a powerful spring they
are for moving the affections. Why then are not theatrical
representations here so regulated, that the stage may conduce to the
amelioration of morals? Instead of this, in most French comedies, the
husband is generally made the butt of ridicule, and the whole plot
often lies in his being outwitted by some conceited spark. Marriage,
in short, is incessantly railed at in such a lively, satirical manner
as to delight nine-tenths of the audience.

This custom was also introduced on our stage under the reign of
Charles II; and, not many years ago, it was, I am told, as usual to
play _The London Cuckolds_ on Lord Mayor's day, as it is now to give
a representation of _George Barnwell_ during the Easter holidays.
Yet, what is this practice of exhibiting a cuckold in a ridiculous
point of view, but an apology for adultery, as if it was intended to
teach women that their charms are not formed for the possession of
one man only? Alas! it is but too true that some of the French belles
need no encouragement to infidelity: too soon all scruple is stifled
in their bosom; and then, they not only set modesty, but decency too
at defiance. _Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute_; or, as the same
idea is more fully expressed by our great moral poet:

"Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace."

However, in both the instances which I have adduced, the fault was
entirely on the side of the men; and, in general, I believe this will
prove to be the case. Recrimination, indeed, is loudly urged by our
sex in Paris; they blame the women, with a view of extenuating their
own irregularities, which scarcely know any limits.

On a question of a divorce-bill brought on, not long since, in the
House of Commons, you may recollect that a member was laughed at, for
asserting that if men expected women to reform, they ought to begin
by reforming themselves. For my part, I conceive the idea to be
perfectly just. Infidelity on the woman's side is, unquestionably,
more hurtful to society than a failure of the same sort on the man's;
yet, is it reasonable to suppose women to be so exempt from human
frailty, as to preserve their chastity inviolate, when men set them
so bad an example?


_Paris, April 3, 1802_.

Circumstances have at length occurred to recall me to England, and as
this will, probably, be the last letter that you will receive from me
before I have the pleasure of taking you by the hand, I shall devote
it to miscellaneous subjects, and, without studying any particular
arrangement, speak of them at random, just as they chance to present

A fellow-creature, whose care-worn countenance and emaciated body
claimed a mite from any one who had a mite to bestow, had taken his
stand at the gate-way just now as I entered. The recollection of his
tale of woe being uppermost in my mind, I begin with


In spite of the calamities which all great political convulsions
never fail to engender, the streets of Paris present not at this day
that vast crowd of beggars, covered with rags and vermin, by which
they were formerly infested. This is to be attributed to the partial
adoption of measures for employing the poor; and, doubtless, when
receptacles come to be established here, according to the salutary
plans introduced into Bavaria by Count Rumford, mendicity will be
gradually annihilated.

But, if beggars have decreased in Paris, this is not the case with


They seem to have multiplied in proportion to the increase of the
number of opportunities afforded for gambling in the lottery, that
is, in the ratio of 21 to 2.[1]

Formerly, in addition to the public establishment called the _Mont de
Piete_, commissioners were appointed, in different parts of the town,
to take in pledges, and make advances on them previously to their
being lodged in that grand repository. There, money was lent on them
at an interest of 10 per cent; and if the article pledged was not
redeemed by a certain time, it was sold by public auction, and, the
principal and interest being deducted, the surplus was paid to the
holder of the duplicate. Thus the iniquitous projects of usury were
defeated; and the rich, as well as the poor, went to borrow at the
_Mont de Piete_. To obtain a sum for the discharge of a debt of
honour, a dutchess here deposited her diamond ear-rings; while a
washerwoman slipped off her petticoat, and pawned it to satisfy the
cravings of hunger.

At the present moment, the _Mont de Piete_ still exists; but,
doubtless, on a different plan; for Paris abounds with _Maisons de
pret_. On the eve of particular days in each month when the
shopkeepers' promissory notes become due, they here pledge articles
in order to procure the means of making good their payments. But the
crowd of borrowers is the greatest on the days immediately preceding
those on which the Paris lottery is drawn; the hucksters,
marketwomen, porters, retailers of fruit, and unfortunate females,
then deposit their wearing apparel at these dens of rapacity, that
they may acquire a share of a ticket, the price of which is fixed so
low as to be within the purchase of the poorest classes.

The lottery being over, till the next drawing, those persons think no
more of their effects, provided they are within two or three of the
winning numbers; and thus they gamble away almost every thing
belonging to them, even to the very clothes on their back. This is so
true that it is not, I understand, at all uncommon in Paris, for a
Cyprian nymph to send her last robe to the nearest pawnbroker's, in
order to have the chance of a prize in the lottery, and to lie in bed
till she obtains the means of purchasing another. Nor is this by far
the worst part of the story.

The too credulous followers of Fortune, on finding all their hopes of
success blasted, frequently seek a termination of their misery by
suicide: and a person of veracity, who made a point of visiting the
_Morne_ almost daily, assured me that he always knew when the lottery
had just been drawn, by the increased number of dead bodies, there
exposed, of persons who had put an end to their existence.

These are facts shocking to relate; but, if legislators will promote
gaming, either by lotteries, or in any other manner, such are the
consequences to be expected.

Another article which has multiplied prodigiously in Paris, since the
revolution, consists of


In 1789, the only daily papers in circulation here were the _Journal
de Paris_ and the _Petites Affiches_; for the _Gazette de France_
appeared only twice a week. From that period, these ephemeral
productions increased so rapidly, that, under the generic name of
_Journaux_, upwards of six thousand, bearing different titles, have
appeared in France, five hundred of which were published in Paris.

At this time, here is a great variety of daily papers. The most
eminent of these are well known in England; such as the _Moniteur_,
the only official paper, the sale of which is said to be 20,000 per
day; that of the _Journal de Paris_, 16,000; of the _Publiciste_,
14,000; of the _Journal des Debats_, 12,000; of the _Journal des
Defenseurs de la Patrie_, 10,000; and of the _Cle du Cabinet_, 6,000.
The sale of the others is comparatively trifling, with the exception
of the _Petites Affiches_, of which the number daily sold exceeds

In addition to the _Journals_, which I mentioned in my letter of the
16th of December last, the most esteemed are the _Magazin
Encyclopedique_, edited by MILLIN, the _Annales de Chimie_, the
_Journal des Arts_, the _Journal Polytechnique_, the _Journal des
Mines_, the _Journal general des Inventions et des Decouvertes_, &c.
I stop here, because it would be useless to attempt to send you a
complete list of all the French periodical publications, as, in the
flux and reflux of this literary ocean, such a list cannot long be
expected to preserve its exactness.

Among the conveniences which this city affords in an enviable degree
and in great abundance, are


Those of Paris, of every description, still retain their former
pre-eminence. The most elegant are the _Bains Chinois_ on the north
Boulevards, where, for three francs, you may enjoy the pleasure of
bathing in almost as much luxury as an Asiatic monarch. Near the
_Temple_ and at the _Vauxhall d'Ete_, also on the old Boulevards, are
baths, where you have the advantage of a garden to saunter in after

On the Seine are several floating baths, the most remarkable of which
are the _Bains Vigier_, at the foot of the _Pont National_. The
vessel containing them is upwards of 200 feet in length by about 60
in breadth, and presents two tiers of baths, making, on both decks,
140 in number. It is divided in the middle by a large transparent
plate of glass, which permits the eye to embrace its whole extent;
one half of which is appropriated to men; the other, to women. On
each deck are galleries, nine feet wide, ornamented with much
architectural taste. On the exterior part of the vessel is a
promenade, decorated with evergreens, orange and rose trees,
jasmines, and other odoriferous plants. By means of a hydraulic
machine, worked by two horses, in an adjoining barge, the reservoirs
can be emptied and filled again in less than an hour.

The _Bains Vigier_ are much frequented, as you may suppose from their
daily consumption of two cords of wood for fuel. Tepid baths, at
blood-heat, are, at present, universally used by the French ladies,
and, apparently, with no small advantage. The price of one of these
is no more than 30 _sous_, linen, &c. included.

If you want to learn to swim, you may be instructed here in that
necessary art, or merely take a look at those acquiring it, at the


The Seine is the school where the lessons are given, and the police
takes care that the pupils infringe not the laws of decency.

* * * * *

It is certain that, as far back as the year 1684, means were proposed
in London to transmit signs to a great distance in a very short space
of time, and that, towards the close of the seventeenth century, a
member of the Academy of Sciences made, near Paris, several minute
experiments on the same subject. The paper read at the Royal Society
of London, and the detail of the experiments made in France, seem to
suggest nearly the same means as those now put in practice, by the
two nations, with respect to


The construction of those in France differs from ours in consisting
of one principal pole, and two arms, moveable at the ends. There are
four in Paris; one, on the _Louvre_, which corresponds with Lille;
another, on the _Place de la Concorde_, with Brest; a third, on one
of the towers of the church of _St. Sulpice_, with Strasburg; and the
fourth, on the other tower of the said church, which is meant to
extend to Nice, but is as yet carried no farther than Dijon. To and
from Lille, which is 120 leagues distant from Paris, intelligence is
conveyed and received in six minutes, three for the question, and
three for the answer.

Yet, however expeditious this intercourse may seem, it is certain
that the telegraphic language may be abridged, by preserving these
machines in their present state, but at the same time allotting to
each of the signs a greater portion of idea, without introducing any
thing vague into the signification.

Independently of the public curiosities, which I have described,
Paris contains several


Among them, those most deserving of attention are:

ADANSON'S cabinet of Natural History, _Rue de la Victoire_.

CASAS' cabinet of Models and Drawings, _Rue de Seine, Faubourg St.

CHARLES'S cabinet of Physics, _Palais National des Sciences et des

DENON'S cabinet of Drawings, &c. _Hotel de Bouillon_, _Rue J. J.

FOUQUET'S cabinet of Models of Antique Monuments, _Rue de Lille_, _F.
S. G._

HAUPOIS' cabinet of Mechanics.

SUE'S cabinet of Anatomy, _Rue du Luxembourg_.

TERSAN'S cabinet of Antiquities, _Cloitre St. Honore_.

VAILLANT'S cabinet of Birds, &c. _Rue du Sepulchre_, _F. S. G._

VAN-HORREN'S cabinet of Curiosities, _Rue St. Dominique_, _F. S. G._

I must observe that, to visit these men of science, without putting
them to inconvenience, it is expedient either to procure an
introduction, or to address them a note, requesting permission to
view their cabinet. This observation holds good with respect to every
thing that is not public.

If you are fond of inspecting curious fire-arms, you should examine
the _depot d'armes_ of M. BOUTET in the _Rue de la Loi_, whose
manufactory is at Versailles, and also pay a visit to M. REGNIER, at
the _Depot Central de l'Artillerie_, _Rue de l'Universite_, who is a
very ingenious mechanic, and will shew you several curious articles
of his own invention, such as a _dynamometre_, by means of which you
can ascertain and compare the relative strength of men, as well as
that of horses and draught-cattle, and also judge of the resistance
of machines, and estimate the moving power you wish to apply to them;
a _potamometre_, by which you can tell the force of running streams,
and measure the currents of rivers. M. REGNIER has also invented
different kinds of locks and padlocks, which cannot be picked; as
well as some curious pistols, &c.

I have, as you will perceive, strictly confined myself to the limits
of the capital, because I expect that my absence from it will not be
long; and, in my next trip to France, I intend, not only to point out
such objects as I may now have neglected, but also to describe those
most worthy of notice in the environs of Paris.

If I have not spoken to you of all the metamorphoses occasioned here
by the revolution, it is because several of them bear not the stamp
of novelty. If the exchange in Paris is now held in the _ci-devant
Eglise des Petits Peres_, did we not at Boston, in New England,
convert the meeting-houses and churches into riding-schools and

As the _Charnier des Innocens_, which had subsisted in the centre of
Paris for upwards of eight centuries, and received the remains of at
least ten millions of human beings, was, before the revolution,
turned into a market-place; so is the famous spot where the Jacobin
convent stood in the _Rue St. Honore_, and whence issued laws more
bloody than those of Draco, now on the point of being appropriated to
a similar destination. The cemetery of St. Sulpice is transformed
into a Ranelagh. Over the entrance is written, in large letters,
encircled by roses, "BAL DES ZEPHYRS," and, underneath, you read:

_"Has ultra metas requiescunt
Beatam spem expectantes."_

And on the door itself:

_"Expectances misericordiam Dei."_

I was just going to conclude with _Adieu, till we meet_, when I was
most agreeably surprised by the receipt of your letter. I am happy to
find that, through the kind attention of Mr. Mantell of Dover, whose
good offices on this and other simllar occasions claim my most
grateful acknowledgments, you have received all the packets and books
which I have addressed to you during my present visit to Paris. It is
likewise no small gratification to me to learn that my correspondence
has afforded to you a few subjects of deep reflection.

As I told you at the time, the task which you imposed on me was more
than I could accomplish; and you must now be but too well convinced
that the apprehension of my inability was not unfounded. It may not,
perhaps, be difficult for a man of sound judgment to seize and
delineate the general progress of the human mind during a determined
period; but to follow successively, through all their details, the
ramifications of the arts and sciences, is a labour which requires
much more knowledge and experience than I can pretend to: nor did
self-love ever blind me so far as to lead me to presume, for a
moment, that success would crown my efforts.

However, I think I have said enough to shew that one of the striking
effects of the revolution has been to make the arts and sciences
popular in France. It has rendered common those doctrines which had
till then been reserved for first-rate _savans_ and genuises. The
arsenals of the sciences (if I may use the expression) were filled;
but soldiers were wanting. The revolution has produced them in
considerable numbers; and, in spite of all the disasters and evils
which it has occasioned, it cannot be denied that the minds of
Frenchmen, susceptible of the least energy, have here received a
powerful impulse which has urged them towards great and useful ideas.
This impulse has been kept alive and continued by the grand
establishments of public instruction, founded during the course of
that memorable period. Thus, in a few words, you are at once in
possession both of the causes and the result of the progress of the
human mind in this country.

You may, probably, be surprised that I could have written so much, in
so short a space of time, amid all the allurements of the French
capital, and the variety of pursuits which must necessarily have
diverted my attention. Perhaps too, you may think that I might have
dwelt less on some of my least interesting details. I must confess
that I have, in some measure, subjected myself to such an opinion;
but, knowing your wish to acquire every sort of information, I have
exerted myself to obtain it from all quarters. To collect this budget
has been no easy task; to compress it would have been still more
difficult, and, alas! to have transmitted it, in an epistolary form,
would have been totally out of my power, but for the assistance of
two very ingenious artists, who have not a little contributed to
lighten my labour. Introducing themselves to me, very shortly after
my arrival, the one furnished me with an everlasting pen; and the
other, with an inexhaustible inkstand.

Farewell, my good friend. I have obtained a passport for England. My
baggage is already packed up. To-morrow I shall devote to the
ceremony of making visits _p. p. c._ that is, _pour prendre conge_ of
my Parisian friends; and, on the day after, (_Deo volente_) I shall
bid adieu to the "paradise of women, the purgatory of men, and the
hell of horses."

[Footnote 1: Since the revolution, the Paris lottery is drawn three
times in each month, in lieu of twice; and lotteries have also been
established in the principal towns of the Republic, namely; Bordeaux,
Lyons, Marseilles, Rouen, Strasburg, and Brussels. The offices in the
capital present the facility of gambling in all these different
lotteries as often every month as in that of Paris.]


_The new organisation of the National Institute, referred to in
Letter XLV of this volume, will be found among the prefaratory matter
in Vol. I, immediately preceding the Introduction._

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