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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


La Ville promise, by Daniel Roche and his collaborators

Gilles Chabaud, Jean-François Dubost, Sabine Juratic, Vincent Milliot and Jean-Michel Roy have all researched very effectively and courageously under Daniel Roche's supervision, to produce La Ville promise: mobilité et accueil à Paris (fin XII-début XIXe siècle) (Paris: 2000). Yes, courageous: because the sources about inns, hotels and visitors to the capital are very disparate, and sometimes not all that revealing about the subject. What follows is not a true review: I simply lack the energy and discipline to be fair to the complexity and richness of the material presented here, and especially the statistics, which I always find difficult to summarize.

The cover has a reproduction of a picture "after" Courvoisier showing the Porte d'Enfer circa 1820, making one think of Berlin at about the same time — a virtually non-monumental view. The first chapter, by Milliot gives an overview of police surveillance, concentrating on the creation of registers kept by hotel- and inn-keepers listing those who spend the night. There are frequent references to Guillante's very utopian work proposing identity cards for all residents, etc., of Paris, which the authorities could consult by turning the large revolving wheels in which these cards would be filed. Petty crime abounded, of course, and this is counted and located by quarter, thanks to registers: "la surveillance des garnis apparaît comme l'un des aspects de la répression de la mendicité et de la lutte contre le vagabondage" (p. 75).

What about the guide books about the capital? Gilles Chabaud explores them from their beginnings in the 16th century, and finds the utilitarian aim becoming constantly stronger, revealing the orientation toward the market by both writers and printers. Blegny's (alias "du Pradel") is a fine early example. The imagined Paris of the guides, the emphasis on hoi-polloi society and royalist paternalism are all brilliantly elucidated to make clear how and why Paris became a center of luxury- goods design and manufacture.

Gilles Chabaud, Vincent Milliot and Jean-Michel Roy worked together on the geography of the various places that provided lodging for a fee. There were about 500 such places in 1658, 564 in 1670 and about 1000 in 1673. Merchants and tourists were the two major groups of lodgers in this period, and the former found more places to stay around the Place Maubert than in any other quarter, while the latter stayed near Saint-Germain-des-Prés. As late as 1825, one could rent either a room with several strangers, or a private room (p. 167), with the difference affecting the price. The authors return to the sense (or lack of it) of welcome in guide books and recognize that their principal function continued to be the affirmation of a cultural identity at once urban and national (p. 171). The notion of a marché d'accueil may be evident in a sense of utility that is present in the guides, but there was still a long way to go.

Sabine Juratic tackles the question of displacement to the capital. March and April were most often picked for setting off for Paris, with a declining curve into August, followed by a rise in October-November and a steep falling-off in December (p. 183). People generally came alone, not as couples or families, with many more males arriving than females. Males were usually older — 41% being at least 30 and as many as 16% over 50. The greatest number of women coming to Paris were between 28 and 32 years old. Northern France constituted the pays d'origine for most of the people staying in garnies. There are interesting statistics about occupations and choices of location in the city: proximity to work, wholesalers, colleges counted in choice of location — but less so, of course, for the English tourist who tended to settle down in the Saint-Germain faubourg.

Jean-François Dubost, well-known for his pioneering work on Italians in France, La France italienne, XVIe-XVIIe siècles (Paris, 1997) — see my recent review in Histoire et Archives — returns here to sources he knows so well, but for a later period: lettres de naturalité and, above all, the "Contrôle des étrangers" in the Archives des Affaires étrangères. Really quite paranoid about spies during the War of Spanish Succession, the police settled into ossifying routines occasionally upset by a newly-appointed minister. French frontiers in the 18th century were quite permeable. Foreigners could come and go pretty much as they pleased. Special reports were drawn up about suspected spies. There are some statistics about the number coming in annually for the 1770s and 1780s, but they are difficult to interpret. More foreigners arrive in the "belle saison" than in mid-winter. The English are almost twice s numerous as the Germans, followed by somewhat fewer from Switzerland or the Hapsburg Low Countries. The few Jews who came to Paris are largely from Germany. Far fewer women than men visit the capital, and only the Anglaises come unaccompanied. Among foreign artisans, makers of luxury goods are clearly in the majority. The English come, stay in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, visit libraries and curiosity cabinets and, according to one police report, send most of their time "à table, au jeu, ou avec les femmes." The police spy on the English more than on any other national group, especially in wartime.

The police's perceptions of wealth and social rank are very interesting. Indeed, a whole study of the question could be interesting. The gentry doesn't pose a problem of definition: they are gentilshommes ! There are minor shifts in foreigners' choices of quarter, but in general continuities prevailed. German merchants sought rooms in the mercantile quarters, the English in the bon ton of the Faubourgs Saint-Germain and Saint-Honoré. The Rive Droite gained social and cultural power late in the century, for foreigners often wanted to reside near theaters and operas and, of course, near the salons de peinture. The rues Jacob, Richelieu, Seine and Dauphine had numerous prestigious hotels. The Americans, while socially somewhat heterogeneous, preferred the quartiers to the west; and the British, the "noble faubourg," as my late friend called the VIIe arrondissement, particularly the rue Jacob. The attractiveness of a hotel whose name incorporates one's "national" identity is confirmed. The link between the presence of foreigners and the image of grandeur, monumentality and luxury extended far beyond the rich to include the skilled artisans and, perhaps, the cendrillons who were given board and an attic room, thanks to the luxury market that was already driving the Parisian economy.

The final two chapters (and conclusion) are by the master himself. Daniel Roche (p. 295) refers to the "économie de l'accueil" that Paris has. Indeed, all through the book there is a creative ambiguity about what "welcome" means. The "Promised City" evokes a fundamentally ironic resonance with the "Promised Land." The people who ran hotels or rented rooms sought clients, as did inns and places where cooked food could be consumed. There was a lot of administrative "encadrement" in the Ancien Régime, and the registers of room-renters is an example; but in and through it all, both foreigners' entrance into the capital and their renting of sleeping and eating spaces remained generally out of range for the corporatism one finds so strong virtually everywhere else. Thomas Brennan's work on the cabaret explores the clarification (partial) between public and private space; the hotel room and the garnie were private spaces often kept by "family enterprises." Just think of the ambiguity of the word "guest" (hôte) in this context.

Roche's exploration of the enseignes is one of the finest pieces of analytical historical prose written since the preceding general of Annaliste historians dropped their pens. The "sans qu'on y pense" reading of signs, with their topographical, religious, bestiary, etc., names brings the reader to the edge of significance — to explore the significance of non-significance. Superb.

The study of inventories of people with rooms to let confirms the initial notion of an economy of welcome. These people are merchants renting spaces and services. The specific case studies here are very revealing of the continuities and adaptabilities of the small, family-run lodgings. The statistics are very revealing (p. 317). Their study, through bankruptcy records, suggests slow economic growth for these families in the 18th century, and faster growth in the first half of the 19th. The presence of servants is an interesting measure for those renting rooms (beds !) : 50-60% have no servants. Workers occupied these cheap rooms in many instances, doing seasonal work before returning to the Limousin or elsewhere. Students lodgings also had a specific clientele.

The study of the material used by room-letters — candles, sheets, firewood, laundry and food — is extremely interesting. Seasonal costs are evident; most lodging-keepers did not lay in large stocks of these necessities, but bought as needed. The increasing use of stoves is noted. The number of floors slowly increased until the five-story establishment became quite prevalent in the late 18th century. Most were still only one "house" in space, with only about 50 square meters of surface per floor. The year 1789 is, of course, just a date, a chronological stopping point; but sometimes it seems to mark a dramatic shift. For example, p. 334: "Avant 1789, 10% des hôtels n'ont pas de cour, mais 88% n'ont pas de jardin.... Après la Révolution ... 80% possèdent des cours, les jardins ont disparu...." Rendering statistical information into prose can lead anyone into such a contradiction. It would seem that a change of 10% occurred, but where did the gardens go? Not really into stables, another figure given. The dining rooms were generally on the ground floor; chairs replace benches, the latter disappearing in the 19th century. Roche notes that Arthur Young saw the French as seeking "une distanciation polie"; but clearly it was the range of income and rank that intersected with the range of spaces available for sleeping, etc. And the French also kept to their rooms, according to Young. The décor became sujets d'évasion: city-views, ships and seas, landscapes and genre scenes, with decorations in hotels becoming lay or profane more quickly than in private residences. Bathing facilities remained quite rare down into the 19th century (and beyond!) which helps explain the persistence of bathing establishments along the Seine.

Information on American roomers is very precise: 80% are between the ages of 31 and 40, and almost all of them are male. Of the 860 known Americans, 48% are in commerce and industry, 21% in the navy and navigation, and the rest are a mixture. Most come from east-coast cities. They stayed in the mid-priced establishments in the I, II and III arrondissements.

The conclusion begins with Rousseau's staying in a hotel reputed to have had Bordes, Mobly, and Condillac as guests; but alas, none of them are present during his stay, nor are any of the other leading lights he seemed to want to frequent. Diderot is quite different, as he appears through Jacques le Fataliste. The immense variety, and the fact that things are not always what they seem, adds an element of irony and adventure to a stay in the capital. The "Promised City" captures this same irony — a profane caricature of the "city on the hill."