Below is a series of somewhat satirical illustrations of Paris, the great City of Lights, as it was in 1894. The illustrations are taken from a French book called “A Travers Paris” (Across Paris) by the noted French illustrator of the Victorian era, Crafty, which was a pseudonym of Victor Gerusez (1840-1906). The original French text was also by Crafty. The English text below is from my translation of the original text, with some modifications.
In recent years several agencies have, for a modest fee, been transporting foreigners across Paris to show them its monuments, its peculiarities, its beauties and its ugliness. We would like in this album to achieve the same goal, but rather than outdoors, from a comfortable chair next to a fireplace, thus avoiding the jolting drive as our means of locomotion and the disadvantages poor weather.
Like every other day, carriages are returning from the Wood in single file … Suddenly, without knowing what fly has stung, a procession of horses has suddenly taken a disorderly appearance that even the combined efforts of the driver and his co-pilot failed to moderate. He does not gallop, he flies, spreading fear among the timorous souls, and exciting the noblest impulses of devotion in generous natures. The general feeling is fear of what will happen. — Only a few skeptics remain unruffled and all other spectators are bent like so many question marks ???
The expected shock occurred. A cab driven carelessly, coming from the rue de Presbourg, did not have time to avoid the avalanche of four wheels rolling toward him. The rear wheel of the other carriage has struck his own with such force that the two vehicles came to an immediate halt. The cab, lighter than the other, was overturned on its side, while his driver was thrown onto the opposite lane. Some kind souls are trying to extricate the occupants from the damaged box. A physician, one always finds him in such cases, lavishes his attention to the owner of the Victoria (a type of carriage) whom he has placed on a chair. Meanwhile the driver’s companion is attempting to mislead the authorities by spinning an inaccurate tale, and placing all the blame for the accident on the driver of the other cab, who has been rendered mute by his numerous bruises.
An excitable doorman saw smoke in the stairwell. – In his zeal, he went to break the windows of all the alarms in the neighborhood, and from all points of the compass firefighters rushed to the scene of the disaster, some uncertain of its exact location. All the boys they met on the way, escort the firefighters keeping pace along side with long strides, while policemen interrupted the movement, under the fallacious pretext of helping it.
Having discovered the threatened building, mastered the “scourge” with a few buckets of water, the municipal crews have started back to their barracks, with an uproar to equal that of their arrival. The fans of free shows have remained on the scene, commenting on the seriousness of the event, whose magnitude grows with each retelling. which according to them, a significance proportioned to the imagination of the speakers. In summary, the disaster is confined to the loss of an old carpet. But the district will be in turmoil until the end of the day, and thanks to measures taken by the competent authority, the movement of cars will be hampered until late in the evening.
The bus stop is a circle in the open, without any amenities, but with the advantage that women are admitted. It is probably for this reason that we see the regulars who, although bearing tickets, do take a seat in vehicles that follow one another without interruption.
The horses had barely started to get used to steam trams, with their smoke and their whistles, when it was seen fit to use electricity .- It was probably a good intention, as these new vehicles travel without noise or smoke. Unfortunately the electric cabs cause an invincible terror in the Paris cavalry. – These animals that are only half beasts, remain wary of what they can not understand, and the sight of this car with no apparent means of motion inspires the horses with a distrust that does not seem completely unintelligent.
This is a serious problem .- Does the taxi’s night rate apply when the passenger arrives home after 12:30, or is it necessary that the driver was hired after this time for him to have the right to claim the prize (of a higher rate)? In the present instance, the driver claims to the contrary, while the citizen said he should pay the standard rate. The parties are in extreme perplexity, while the feminine side of the carriage languishes pending the resolution of the conflict.
When one lives in Paris, nothing is more difficult than to stay put.- The city contains many attractions, some free some costy, and the temptation is often strong to leave one’s home, attracted by the charm of the street. One never knows what they will see, but one can be sure to see something and that that something will be new. The curiosity is so string that even teh trees succumb and start to move.[This passage makes a humorous allusion to the illustration above which shows a number of trees being transplanted and moved on wheeled dollies. It suggests that the trees are just like the people of Paris, always on the move.]
It’s time for lunch. Illuminated parked vehicles lined the sidewalks, while their teams stretch their weary limbs and light a comforting cigarette. Though motionless, these vehicles retain their appearance of quadrupeds, causing invincible repugnance in the horses.
It is certainly the greatest step towards the human rights in the new era: the right to be crushed only when one wants to e, or when his face is displeasing to the policeman.
Far-sighted people do not wait for January 1 to ship their gifts, but latecomers who waited until the last moment, leave the confectioner scrambling to get the bag ready
The pity is that in these extreme moments the supplies of the popular shops are often exhausted and to meet the public demand, the shopkeepers sometimes find it necessary to replace their usual products with poisonous sweets and adulterated chocolates from the nearest grocer. “Tarde venientibus ossa,” said the poet during the days of forgotten year.
Here is the meeting place for connoisseurs of intelligence, who prefer to satisfy their vulgar gluttony with feast of the mind. No indigestion to fear if by chance the title has misled them, the heaviest products have never had more serious effects than sometimes causing sleep early, but still quiet and often deep. The great advantage of such gifts is for the donor is that he is not forced to taste it, the danger lies in giving, without having read it, a book that demolishes the political beliefs, or the religious and social character of the recipient.
Cyclists are generally bold, this is due to their age, their confidence, the little space they need to move, and the speed that they can attain. — It follows that the cyclist starts with all his might, and that if he encounters an unexpected obstacle, he ends up overturned.
The wood paving stone is sometimes slipping, – it is often the result of natural moisture; – more frequently still, this dangerous state of the roadways comes from an insufficient watering which does not remove all of the refuse on which the horses step. – These days, there are as many animals lying on the ground as standing upright. as many animals lying are counted than upright, and, without the spirit of fraternity which carries our fellow-citizens between helping, traffic would become definitely impracticable. [It is interesting to see that the Parisians had an equivalent of potholes as far back as 1894!]
The downpour, so impatiently waited during certain summers, now multiplies so much that this cataclysm becomes the daily event. – In spite of this regularity, the phenomenon varies so much the hours of its appearance, and occurs with such an instantaneity, that it manages each time to surprise and flood a number walkers, who had believed to be able to benefit from a fallacious break in the rain.
The traveling salesmen are well liked by the housewives of the district who support them towards and against all, they are the Masters of the roadway, and the heaviest vehicles are obliged to yield the way to them. – If an unhappy coachman has the audacity to go to a jog-trot, or the awkwardness to pass too close to a customer installed right in the middle of the street, he is subjected to a vocabulary which reveals the vicinity of the markets.
Everyone, after a laborious day, is eager to find the freshness of a garden more or less extensive, but where one is free to kick back and relax. It is the hour when junk food abounds in the train cars and when melons combine their perfumes with those of the Maroilles cheese and the emanations of expensive or cheap cigars, but also nauseous, of our national manufactures.
It is as hot as Senegal all afternoon. Not a seat is vacant. This is the moment when the star appears on the scene, and even on days when the weather is terrible, her many followers make are there. She has not yet opened her mouth, but she appeared, and nothing more is necessary for every face in the crowd to exude complete happiness.
The boat touches the dock, and the employee who presides over the control of these aquatic bus is preparing to give the signal for departure. But an entire family spread over the platform hastens heavily – the father is already on the dock and encourages the rest with his voice and gestures, the girl reaches the bridge, but the mother, out of breath, is still on dry land and boarding opportunities seem particularly compromised.
A fairly strong flood occurred during the night and the river has received a number of objects carelessly deposited too close to its shores, beams, empty casks, and other materials that float. On one of these wrecks is a cat meowing pitifully, and every feeling heart, whether or not affiliated with the Humane Society, wonders anxiously who will be the brave rescuer to assist the unfortunate feline.
While at Potinière [another park] you can admire the expert bicycle riders who have mastered all the secrets o f the art, here one only comes across some beginners studying under the watchful eyes of professionals who ensure that people are usually able, after a dozen lessons, to ride properly. But there are some who just have no balance and manage to capsize at every turn of the wheel.
The win was quite unexpected. The total bets fell into the hands of the coach who took a “small chance” to his horse, the lad who had brought the horse onto the track and found him cheerful, and a gentleman who, having never come to the races before, had bet on the horse because he liked the name.
Everywhere is the same accumulation of cars, horses and bicycles. The lines follow each other without interruption, the horses’ noses touching the hood of the car before threatening the shafts and the rear of the footmen sitting at the back of them. Despite the impatience of some, in a relatively short time, this mass of spectators eventually flows, someting that at first seemed to be absolutely impossible.
The crowd is generally friendly. Marriages are usually held at the same time as when the milliners and dressmakers of the neighborhood take their lunch. Their lack of dowry continues to leave them single without removing their desire and hope to climb in rank. The milliners and dressmakers sit in the back, and their specialized knowledge allows them to accurately estimate the probable resources of the new spouses and their entourage.
This is when the compliments accumulate .- If half of the praise that the couple receives at that moment were deserved, there would be only to happy marriages. Unfortunately these are not always sincere, and this explains why courts sometimes grant a divorce for people who do not agree.
In a certain environment, there is no feast complete without some exceptional food and reasonable absorption of various liquids. These gargantuan feasts are usually held in summer near the Porte Maillot, and extend indefinitely, and often leave the spouses happy memories of their finest indigestion.
And so ends our tour of Paris. A world not that far removed in time from our own, but very different in terms of way of life.