Fiction > Harvard Classics > Victor Hugo > Notre Dame de Paris > Book III > Chapter II
Victor Marie Hugo (1802–1885).  Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Book III
II. A Bird’s-Eye View of Paris
WE have endeavoured to restore for the reader this admirable Cathedral of Notre Dame. We have briefly enumerated most of the beauties it possessed in the fifteenth century, though lost to it now; but we have omitted the chief one—the view of Paris as it then appeared from the summits of the towers.   1
  When, after long gropings up the dark perpendicular stair-case which pierces the thick walls of the steeple towers, one emerged at last unexpectedly on to one of the two high platforms inundated with light and air, it was in truth a marvellous picture spread out before you on every side; a spectacle sui generis of which those of our readers can best form an idea who have had the good fortune to see a purely Gothic city, complete and homogeneous, of which there are still a few remaining, such as Nuremberg in Bavaria, Vittoria in Spain, or even smaller specimens, provided they are well-preserved, like Vitré in Brittany and Nordhausen in Prussia.   2
  The Paris of that day, the Paris of the fifteenth century, was already a giant city. We Parisians in general are mistaken as to the amount of ground we imagine we have gained since then. Paris, since the time of Louis XI, has not increased by much more than a third; and, truth to tell, has lost far more in beauty than ever it has gained in size.   3
  Paris first saw the light on that ancient island in the Seine, the Cité, which has, in fact, the form of a cradle. The strand of this island was its first enclosure, the Seine its first moat.   4
  For several centuries Paris remained an island, with two bridges, one north, the other south, and two bridge heads, which were at once its gates and its fortresses: the Grand-Châtelet on the right bank, the Petit-Châtelet on the left. Then, after the kings of the first generation, Paris, finding itself too cramped on its island home, where it no longer had room to turn round, crossed the river; whereupon, beyond each of the bridge-fortresses, a first circle of walls and towers began to enclose pieces of the land on either side of the Seine. Of this ancient wall some vestiges were still standing in the last century; to-day, nothing is left but the memory, and here and there a tradition, such as the Baudets or Baudoyer Gate—porta bagauda.   5
  By degrees the flood of dwellings, constantly pressing forward from the heart of the city, overflows, saps, eats away, and finally swallows up this enclosure. Philip Augustus makes a fresh line of circumvallation, and immures Paris within a chain of massive and lofty towers. For upward of a century the houses press upon one another, accumulate, and rise in this basin like water in a reservoir. They begin to burrow deeper in the ground, they pile storey upon storey, they climb one upon another, they shoot up in height like all compressed growth, and each strives to raise its head above its neighbour for a breath of air. The streets grow ever deeper and narrower, every open space fills up and disappears, till, finally, the houses overleap the wall of Philip Augustus, and spread themselves joyfully over the country like escaped prisoners, without plan or system, gathering themselves together in knots, cutting slices out of the surrounding fields for gardens, taking plenty of elbowroom.   6
  By 1367, the town has made such inroads on the suburb that a new enclosure has become necessary, especially on the right bank, and is accordingly built by Charles V. But a town like Paris is in a state of perpetual growth—it is only such cities that become capitals. They are the reservoirs into which are directed all the streams—geographical, political, moral, intellectual—of a country, all the natural tendencies of the people; wells of civilization, so to speak—but also outlets—where commerce, manufacture, intelligence, population, all that there is of vital fluid, of life, of soul, in a people, filters through and collects incessantly, drop by drop, century by century. The wall of Charles V, however, endures the same fate as that of Philip Augustus. By the beginning of the fifteenth century it, too, is over-stepped, left behind, the new suburb hurries on, and in the sixteenth century it seems visibly to recede farther and farther into the depths of the old city, so dense has the new town become outside it.   7
  Thus, by the fifteenth century—to go no farther—Paris had already consumed the three concentric circles of wall, which, in the time of Julian the Apostate, were in embryo, so to speak, in the Grand-Châtelet and the Petit-Châtelet. The mighty city had successively burst its four girdles of wall like a child grown out of last year’s garments. Under Louis XI, clusters of ruined towers belonging to the old fortified walls were still visible, rising out of the sea of houses like hilltops out of an inundation—the archipelagoes of the old Paris, submerged beneath the new.   8
  Since then, unfortunately for us, Paris has changed again; but it has broken through one more enclosure, that of Louis XV, a wretched wall of mud and rubbish, well worthy of the King who built it and of the poet who sang of it:
        “Le mur murant Paris rend Paris murmurant.” 1
  In the fifteenth century Paris was still divided into three towns, perfectly distinct and separate, having each its peculiar features, specialty, manners, customs, privileges, and history: the City, the University, the Town. The City, which occupied the island, was the oldest and the smallest of the trio—the mother of the other two—looking, if we may be allowed the comparison, like a little old woman between two tall and blooming daughters. The University covered the left bank of the Seine from the Tournelle to the Tour de Nesle—points corresponding in the Paris of to-day to the Halles-aux-Vins and the Mint, its circular wall taking in a pretty large portion of that ground on which Julian had built his baths. 2 It also included the Hill of Sainte-Geneviève. The outermost point of the curving wall was the Papal Gate; that is to say, just about the site of the Panthéon. The Town, the largest of the three divisions of Paris, occupied the right bank. Its quay, interrupted at several points, stretched along the Seine from the Tour de Billy to the Tour du Bois; that is, from the spot where the Grenier d’Abondance now stands to that occupied by the Tuileries. These four points at which the Seine cut through the circumference of the Capital—la Tournelle and the Tour de Nesle on the left, the Tour de Billy and the Tour de Bois on the right bank—were called par excellence “the four towers of Paris.” The Town encroached more deeply into the surrounding country than did the University. The farthest point of its enclosing wall (the one built by Charles V) was at the gates of Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin, the situation of which has not changed.  10
  As we have already stated, each of these three great divisions of Paris was a town—but a town too specialized to be complete, a town which could not dispense with the other two. So, too, each had its peculiarly characteristic aspect. In the City, churches were the prevailing feature; in the Town, palaces; in the University, colleges. Setting aside the less important originalities of Paris and the capricious legal intricacies of the right of way, and taking note only of the collective and important masses in the chaos of communal jurisdictions, we may say that, broadly speaking, the island belonged to the Bishop, the right bank to the Provost of the Merchants’ Guild, and the left bank to the Rector of the University. The Provost of Paris—a royal, not a municipal office—had authority over all. The City boasted Notre Dame; the Town, the Louvre and the Hôtel-de-Ville; the University, the Sorbonne. Again, the Town had the Halles, the City the Hôtel-Dieu, the University the Pré-aux-Clercs. 3 Crimes committed by the students on the right bank, were tried on the island in the Palais de Justice, and punished on the right bank at Montfaucon, unless the Rector, feeling the University to be strong and the King weak, thought fit to intervene; for the scholars enjoyed the privilege of being hanged on their own premises.  11
  Most of these privileges (we may remark in passing), and there were some of even greater value than this, had been extorted from the kings by mutiny and revolts. It is the immemorial course: Le roi ne lâche que quand le peuple arrache—the King only gives up what the people wrest from him. There is an old French charter which defines this popular loyalty with great simplicity: Civibus fidelitas in reges, quæ tamen aliquoties seditionibus interrupta, multa peperit privilegia. 4  12
  In the fifteenth century the Seine embraced five islands within the purlieus of Paris: the Louvre, on which trees then grew; the Ile-aux-Vaches and the Ile Notre Dame, both uninhabited except for one poor hovel, both fiefs of the Bishop (in the seventeenth century these two islands were made into one and built upon, now known as the Ile Saint-Louis); finally the City, having at its western extremity the islet of the Passeur-aux-Vaches—the cattle ferry—now buried under the foundations of the Pont Neuf. The City had, in those days, five bridges—three on the right: the Pont Notre Dame and the Pont-aux-Change being of stone, and the Pont-aux-Meuniers of wood; and two on the left: the Petit-Pont of stone, and the Pont Saint-Michel of wood—all lined with houses. The University had six gates built by Philip Augustus, namely—starting from the Tournelle—the Porte Saint-Victor, the Porte Bordelle, the Porte Papale, the Porte Saint-Jacques, the Porte Saint-Michel and the Porte Saint-Germain. The Town also had six gates, built by Charles V, namely—starting from the Tour de Billy—the Porte Saint-Antoine, the Porte du Temple, the Porte Saint-Martin, the Porte Saint-Denis, the Porte Montmartre and the Porte Saint-Honoré. All these gates were strong, and at the same time handsome—which is no detriment to strength. A wide and deep fosse, filled during the winter months with a swift stream supplied by the Seine, washed the foot of the walls all round Paris. At night the gates were shut, the river was barred at the two extremities of the town by the massive iron chains, and Paris slept in peace.  13
  From a bird’s-eye view, these three great divisions—the City, the University, and the Town—presented each an inextricably tangled network of streets to the eye. Nevertheless, one recognised at a glance that the three fragments formed together a single body. You at once distinguished two long, parallel streets running, without a break or deviation, almost in a straight line through all these towns from end to end, from south to north, at right angles with the Seine; connecting, mingling, transfusing them, incessantly pouring the inhabitants of one into the walls of the other, blending the three into one. One of these two streets ran from the Porte Saint-Jacques to the Porte Saint-Martin, and was called Rue Saint-Jacques in the University, Rue de la Juiverie (Jewry) in the City, and Rue Saint-Martin in the Town, crossing the river twice, as the Petit-Pont and the Pont Notre Dame. The second—which was called Rue de la Harpe on the left bank, Rue de la Barillerie on the island, Rue Saint-Denis on the right bank, Pont Saint-Michel on one arm of the Seine, Pont-aux-Change on the other—ran from the Porte Saint-Michel in the University to the Porte Saint-Denis in the Town. For the rest, under however many names, they were still only the two streets, the two thoroughfares, the two mother-streets, the main arteries of Paris, from which all the other ducts of the triple city started, or into which they flowed.  14
  Independently of these two principal streets, cutting diametrically through the breadth of Paris and common to the entire capital, the Town and the University had each its own main street running in the direction of their length, parallel to the Seine, and intersecting the two “arterial” streets at right angles. Thus, in the Town you descended in a straight line from the Porte Saint-Antoine to the Porte Saint-Honoré; in the University, from the Porte Saint Victor to the Porte Saint-Germain. These two great thoroughfares, crossing the two first mentioned, formed the frame on to which was woven the knotted, tortuous network of the streets of Paris. In the inextricable tangle of this network, however, on closer inspection, two sheaf-like clusters of streets could be distinguished, one in the University, one in the Town, spreading out from the bridges to the gates. Something of the same geometrical plan still exists.  15
  Now, what aspect did this present when viewed from the top of the towers of Notre Dame in 1482?  16
  That is what we will endeavour to describe.  17
  To the spectator, arrived breathless on this summit, the first glance revealed only a bewildering jumble of roofs, chimneys, streets, bridges, squares, spires, and steeples. Everything burst upon the eye at once—the carved gable, the high, pointed roof, the turret clinging to the corner wall, the stone pyramid of the eleventh century, the slate obelisk of the fifteenth, the round, stark tower of the donjon-keep, the square and elaborately decorated tower of the church, the large, the small, the massive, the airy. The gaze was lost for long and completely in this maze, where there was nothing that had not its own originality, its reason, its touch of genius, its beauty; where everything breathed of art, from the humblest house with its painted and carved front, its visible timber framework, its low-browed doorway and projecting storeys, to the kingly Louvre itself, which, in those days, boasted a colonnade of towers. But here are the most important points which struck the eye when it became some-what accustomed to this throng of edifices.  18
  To begin with, the City. “The island of the City,” as Sauval observes—who, with all his pompous verbosity, sometimes hits upon these happy turns of phrase—“the island of the City is shaped like a great ship sunk into the mud and run aground lengthwise, about mid-stream of the Seine.” As we have already shown, in the fifteenth century this ship was moored to the two banks of the Seine by five bridges. This likeness to a ship had also struck the fancy of the heraldic scribes; for, according to Favyn and Pasquier, it was from this circumstance, and not from the siege by the Normans, that is derived the ship emblazoned in the arms of Paris. To him who can decipher it, heraldry is an algebra, a complete language. The whole history of the later half of the Middle Ages is written in heraldry, as is that of the first half in the symbolism of the Roman churches—the hieroglyphics of feudalism succeeding those of theocracy.  19
  The City, then, first presented itself to the view, with its stern to the east and its prow to the west. Facing towards the prow there stretched an endless line of old roofs, above which rose, broad and domed, the lead-roofed transept of the Sainte-Chapelle, like an elephant with its tower, except that here the tower was the boldest, airiest, most elaborate and serrated spire that ever showed the sky through its fretted cone.  20
  Just in front of Notre Dame three streets opened into the Cathedral close—a fine square of old houses. On the south side of this glowered the furrowed, beetling front of the Hôtel-Dieu, with its roof as if covered with boils and warts. Then, on every side, right, left, east, and west, all within the narrow circuit of the City, rose the steeples of its twenty-one churches, of all dates, shapes, and sizes, from the low, worm-eaten Roman belfry of Saint-Denis du Pas (carcer Glaucini) to the slender, tapering spires of Saint-Pierre aux Bœufs and Saint-Landry. Behind Notre Dame northward, stretched the cloister with its Gothic galleries; southward, the semi-Roman palace of the Bishop, and eastward, an uncultivated piece of ground, the terrain, at the point of the island. Furthermore, in this sea of houses, the eye could distinguish, by the high, perforated mitres of stone which at that period capped even its topmost attic windows, the palace presented by the town, in the reign of Charles VI, to Juvénal des Ursins; a little farther on, the black-barred roofs of the market-shed in the Marché Palus; farther off still, the new chancel of Saint-Germain le Vieux, lengthened in 1458 by taking in a piece of the Rue aux Febves with here and there a glimpse of causeway, crowded with people, some pillory at a corner of the street, some fine piece of the pavement of Philip Augustus—magnificent flagging, furrowed in the middle for the benefit of the horses, and so badly replaced in the middle of the sixteenth century by the wretched cobblestones called “pavé de la Ligue”; some solitary court-yard with one of those diaphanous wrought-iron stair-case turrets they were so fond of in the fifteenth century, one of which is still to be seen in the Rue des Bourdonnais. Lastly, to the right of the Sainte-Chapelle, westward, the Palais de Justice displayed its group of towers by the water’s edge. The trees of the royal gardens, which occupied the western point of the island, hid the ferry-man’s islet from view. As for the water, it was hardly visible on either side of the City from the towers of Notre Dame: the Seine disappeared under the bridges, and the bridges under the houses.  21
  And when one looked beyond these bridges, on which the house-roofs glimmered green—moss-grown before their time from the mists of the river—and turned one’s gaze to the left towards the University, the first building which caught the eye was a low, extensive cluster of towers, the Petit-Châtelet, whose yawning gateway swallowed up the end of the Petit-Pont. Then, if you ran your eye along the river bank from east to west, from the Tournelle to the Tour de Nesle, it was one long line of houses with sculptured beams, coloured windows, overhanging storeys jutting out over the roadway—an interminable zigzag of gabled houses broken frequently by the opening of some street, now and then by the frontage or corner of some grand mansion with its gardens and its court-yards, its wings and outbuildings; standing proudly there in the midst of this crowding, hustling throng of houses, like a grand seigneur among a mob of rustics. There were five or six of these palaces along the quay, from the Logis de Lorraine, which shared with the Bernardines the great neighbouring enclosure of the Tournelle, to the Tour de Nesle, the chief tower of which formed the boundary of Paris, and whose pointed gables were accustomed, for three months of the year, to cut with their black triangles the scarlet disk of the setting sun.  22
  Altogether, this side of the Seine was the least mercantile of the two: there was more noise and crowding of scholars than artisans, and there was no quay, properly speaking, except between the Pont Saint-Michel and the Tour de Nesle. The rest of the river bank was either a bare strand, like that beyond the Bernardine Monastery, or a row of houses with their feet in the water, as between the two bridges. This was the domain of the washerwomen; here they called to one another, chattered, laughed, and sang, from morning till night along the river side, while they beat the linen vigorously—as they do to this day, contributing not a little to the gaiety of Paris.  23
  The University itself appeared as one block forming from end to end a compact and homogeneous whole. Seen from above, this multitude of closely packed, angular, clinging roofs, built, for the most part, on one geometrical principle, gave the impression of the crystallization of one substance. Here the capricious cleavage of the streets did not cut up the mass into such disproportionate slices. The forty-two colleges were distributed pretty equally over the whole, and were in evidence on all sides. The varied and charming rooflines of these beautiful buildings originated in the same art which produced the simple roofs they overtopped, being practically nothing more than a repetition, in the square or cube, of the same geometrical figure. Consequently, they lent variety to the whole without confusing it, completed without overloading it—for geometry is another form of harmony. Several palatial residences lifted their heads sumptuously here and there above the picturesque roofs of the left bank: the Logis de Nevers, the Logis de Rome, the Logis de Reims, which have disappeared; also the Hôtel de Cluny, which for the consolation of the artist still exists, but the tower of which was so stupidly shortened a few years ago. Near the Hôtel Cluny stood the Baths of Julian, a fine Roman palace with circular arches. There was, besides, a number of abbeys, more religious in style, of graver aspect than the secular residences, but not inferior either in beauty or in extent. The most striking of these were the Bernardines’ Abbey with its three steeples; Sainte-Geneviéve, the square tower of which still exists to make us more deeply regret the rest; the Sorbonne, part college, part monastery, of which so admirable a nave still survives; the beautiful quadrilateral Monastery of the Mathurins; 5 adjacent to it the Benedictine Monastery, within the wall of which they managed to knock up a theatre between the issue of the seventh and eighth editions of this book; the Abbey of the Cordeliers, with its three enormous gables in a row; that of the Augustines, the tapering spire of which was, after the Tour de Nesle, the second pinnacle at this side of Paris, counting from the west. The colleges, the connecting link between the cloister and the world, held architecturally the mean between the great mansions and the abbeys, more severe in their elegance, more massive in their sculpture than the palaces, less serious in their style of architecture than the religious houses. Unfortunately, scarcely anything remains of these buildings, in which Gothic art held so admirable a balance between the sumptuous and the simple. The churches (and they were numerous and splendid in the University quarter, illustrating every architectural era, from the Roman arches of Saint-Julien to the Gothic arches of Saint-Séverin)—the churches dominated the whole, and as one harmony more in that sea of harmonies they pierced in quick succession the waving, fretted outline of the gabled roofs with their boldly cut spires, their steeples, their tapering pinnacles, themselves but a magnificent exaggeration of the sharp angles of the roofs.  24
  The ground of the University quarter was hilly, swelling in the southeast to the vast mound of the Montagne Sainte-Geneviéve. It was curious to note, from the heights of Notre Dame, the multitude of narrow and tortuous streets (now the Quartier Latin), the clusters of houses, spreading helter-skelter in every direction down the steep sides of this hill to the water-edge, some apparently rushing down, others climbing up, and all clinging one to the other.  25
  The inhabitants thronging the streets looked, from that height and at that distance, like a swarm of ants perpetually passing and repassing each other, and added greatly to the animation of the scene.  26
  And here and there, in the spaces between the roofs, the steeples, the innumerable projections which so fantastically bent and twisted and notched the outermost line of the quarter, you caught a glimpse of a moss-grown wall, a thickset round tower, an embattled, fortress-like gateway—the wall of Philip Augustus. Beyond this stretched the verdant meadows, ran the great high-roads with a few houses straggling along their sides, growing fewer the farther they were removed from the protecting barrier. Some of these suburbs were considerable. There was first—taking the Tournelle as the point of departure—the market-town of Saint-Victor, with its one-arched bridge spanning the Bièvre; its Abbey, where the epitaph of King Louis the Fat—epitaphium Ludovici Grossi—was to be seen; and its church with an octagonal spire, flanked by four belfry towers of the eleventh century (there is a similar one still to be seen at Etampes). Then there was Saint-Marceau, which already boasted three churches and a convent; then, leaving on the left the mill of the Gobelins with its white wall of enclosure, you came to the Faubourg Saint-Jacques with its beautifully carved stone cross at the cross-roads; the Church of Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas, then a charming Gothic structure; Saint-Magloire, with a beautiful nave of the fourteenth century, which Napoleon turned into a hayloft; and Notre Dame-des-Champs, which contained some Byzantine mosaics. Finally, after leaving in the open fields the Chartreux Monastery, a sumptuous edifice contemporary to the Palais de Justice with its garden divided off into compartments, and the deserted ruins of Vauvert, the eye turned westward and fell upon the three Roman spires of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, in the rear of which the market-town of Saint-Germain, already quite a large parish, formed fifteen or twenty streets, the sharp steeple of Saint-Sulpice marking one of the corners of the town boundary. Close by was the square enclosure of the Foire Saint-Germain, where the fairs were held—the present market-place. Then came the abbot’s pillory, a charming little round tower, capped by a cone of lead; farther on were the tile-fields and the Rue du Four, leading to the manorial bakehouse; then the mill on its raised mound; finally, the Lazarette, a small, isolated building scarcely discernible in the distance.  27
  But what especially attracted the eye and held it long was the Abbey itself. Undoubtedly this monastery, in high repute both as a religious house and as a manor, this abbey-palace, wherein the Bishop of Paris esteemed it a privilege to pass one night; with a refectory which the architect had endowed with the aspect, the beauty, and the splendid rose-window of a cathedral; its elegant Lady Chapel; its monumental dormitories, its spacious gardens, its portcullis, its drawbridge, its belt of crenated wall, which seemed to stamp its crested outline on the meadow beyond, its court-yards where the glint of armour mingled with the shimmer of gold-embroidered vestments—the whole grouped and marshalled round the three high Roman towers firmly planted on a Gothic transept—all this, I say, produced a magnificent effect against the horizon.  28
  When at length, after long contemplating the University, you turned towards the right bank—the Town—the scene changed its character abruptly. Much larger than the University quarter, the Town was much less of a united whole. The first glance showed it to be divided into several singularly distinct areas. First, on the east, in that part of the Town which still takes its name from the “marais”—the morass into which Camulogènes led Cæsar—there was a great group of palaces extending to the water’s edge. Four huge mansions, almost contiguous—the Hôtels Jouy, Sens, Barbeau, and the Logis de la Reine mirrored in the Seine their slated roofs and slender turrets. These four edifices filled the space between the Rue des Nonaindières to the Celestine Abbey, the spire of which formed a graceful relief to their line of gables and battlements. Some squalid, moss-grown hovels overhanging the water in front of these splendid buildings were not sufficient to conceal from view the beautifully ornamented corners of their façades, their great square stone casements, their Gothic porticoes surmounted by statues, the bold, clear-cut parapets of their walls, and all those charming architectural surprises which give Gothic art the appearance of forming her combinations afresh for each new structure. Behind these palaces ran in every direction, now cleft, palisaded, and embattled like a citadel, now veiled by great trees like a Carthusian monastery, the vast and multiform encircling wall of that marvellous Hôtel Saint-Pol, where the King of France had room to lodge superbly twenty-two princes of the rank of the Dauphin and the Duke of Burgundy with their retinues and their servants, not to mention the great barons, and the Emperor when he came to visit Paris, and the lions, who had a palace for themselves within the royal palace. And we must observe here that a prince’s lodging comprised in those days not less than eleven apartments, from the state chamber to the oratory, besides all the galleries, the baths, the “sweating-rooms,” and other “superfluous places” with which each suite of apartments was provided—not to mention the gardens specially allotted to each guest of the King, nor the kitchens, store-rooms, pantries, and general refectories of the household; the inner court-yards in which were situated twenty-two general offices, from the bakehouse to the royal cellarage; the grounds for every sort and description of game—mall, tennis, tilting at the ring, etc.; aviaries, fish-ponds, menageries, stables, cattle-sheds, libraries, armouries, and foundries. Such was, at that day, a King’s palace—a Louvre, an Hôtel Saint-Pol—a city within a city.  29
  From the tower on which we have taken up our stand, one obtained of the Hôtel Saint-Pol, though half-hidden by the four great mansions we spoke of, a very considerable and wonderful view. You could clearly distinguish in it, though skilfully welded to the main building by windowed and pillared galleries, the three mansions which Charles V had absorbed into his palace: the Hôtel du Petit-Muce with the fretted parapet that gracefully bordered its roof; the Hôtel of the Abbot of Saint-Maur, having all the appearance of a fortress, with its massive tower, its machicolations, loopholes, iron bulwarks, and over the great Saxon gate, between the two grooves for the drawbridge, the escutcheon of the Abbot; the Hôtel of the Comte d’Etampes, of which the keep, ruined at its summit, was arched and notched like a cock’s-comb; here and there, three or four ancient oaks grouped together in one great bushy clump; a glimpse of swans floating on clear pools, all flecked with light and shadow; picturesque corners of innumerable court-yards; the Lion house, with its low Gothic arches on short Roman pillars, its iron bars and continuous roaring; cutting right through this picture the scaly spire of the Ave-Maria Chapel; on the left, the Mansion of the Provost of Paris, flanked by four delicately perforated turrets; and, in the centre of it all, the Hôtel Saint-Pol itself, with its multiplicity of façades, its successive enrichments since the time of Charles V, the heterogeneous excrescences with which the fancy of the architects had loaded it during two centuries, with all the roofs of its chapels, all its gables, its galleries, a thousand weather-cocks turning to the four winds of heaven, and its two lofty, contiguous towers with conical roofs surrounded by battlements at the base, looking like peaked hats with the brim turned up.  30
  Continuing to mount the steps of this amphitheatre of palaces, rising tier upon tier in the distance, having crossed the deep fissure in the roofs of the Town which marked the course of the Rue Saint-Antoine, the eye travelled on to the Logis d’Angoulême, a vast structure of several periods, parts of which were glaringly new and white, blending with the rest about as well as a crimson patch on a blue doublet. Nevertheless, the peculiarly sharp and high-pitched roof of the modern palace—bristling with sculptured gargoyles, and covered with sheets of lead, over which ran sparkling incrustations of gilded copper in a thousand fantastic arabesques—this curiously damascened roof rose gracefully out of the brown ruins of the ancient edifice, whose massive old towers, bulging cask-like with age, sinking into themselves with decrepitude, and rent from top to bottom, looked like great unbuttoned waistcoats. Behind rose the forest of spires of the Palais des Tournelles. No show-place in the world—not even Chambord or the Alhambra—could afford a more magical, more ethereal, more enchanting spectacle than this grove of spires, bell-towers, chimneys, weather-cocks, spiral stair-cases; of airy lantern towers that seemed to have been worked with a chisel; of pavilions; of spindle-shaped turrets, all diverse in shape, height, and position. It might have been a gigantic chess-board in stone.  31
  That sheaf of enormous black towers to the right of the inky Tournelles, pressing one against the other, and bound together, as it were, by a circular moat; that donjon-keep, pierced far more numerously with shot-holes than with windows, its drawbridge always raised, its portcullis always lowered—that is the Bastile. Those objects like black beaks projecting from the embrasures of the battlements, and which, from a distance, you might take for rain-spouts, are cannon. Within their range, at the foot of the formidable pile, is the Porte Saint-Antoine, crouching between its two towers.  32
  Beyond the Tournelles, reaching to the wall of Charles V, stretched in rich diversity of lawns and flower-beds a velvet carpet of gardens and royal parks, in the heart of which, conspicuous by its maze of trees and winding paths, one recognised the famous labyrinthine garden presented by Louis XI to Coictier. The great physician’s observatory rose out of the maze like a massive, isolated column with a tiny house for its capital. Many a terrible astrological crime was perpetrated in that laboratory. This is now the Place Royale.  33
  As we have said, the Palace quarter, of which we have endeavoured to convey some idea to the reader, though merely pointing out the chief features, filled the angle formed by the Seine and the wall of Charles V on the east. The centre of the Town was occupied by a congeries of dwelling-houses. For it was here that the three bridges of the City on the right bank discharged their streams of passengers; and bridges lead to the building of houses before palaces. This collection of middle-class dwellings, closely packed together like the cells of a honeycomb, was, however, by no means devoid of beauty. The sea of roofs of a great city has much of the grandeur of the ocean about it. To begin with, the streets in their crossings and windings cut up the mass into a hundred charming figures, streaming out from the Halles like the rays of a star. The streets of Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin, with their innumerable ramifications, went up side by side like two great trees intertwining their branches; while such streets as the Rue de la Plâterie, Rue de la Verrerie, Rue de la Tixeranderie, etc., wound in tortuous lines through the whole. Some handsome edifices, too, thrust up their heads through the petrified waves of this sea of gables. For instance, at the head of the Pont-aux-Changeurs, behind which you could see the Seine foaming under the mill-wheels of the Pont-aux-Meuniers, there was the Châtelet, no longer a Roman keep, as under Julian the Apostate, but a feudal tower of the thirteenth century, and built of stone so hard that three hours’ work with the pick did not remove more than the size of a man’s fist. Then there was the square steeple of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, with its richly sculptured corners, most worthy of admiration even then, though it was not completed in the fifteenth century; it lacked in particular the four monsters which, still perched on the four corners of its roof, look like sphinxes offering to modern Paris the enigma of the old to unriddle. Rault, the sculptor, did not put them up till 1526, and received twenty francs for his trouble. There was the Maison-aux-Piliers, facing the Place de Grève, of which we have already given the reader some idea; there was Saint-Gervais, since spoilt by a doorway “in good taste”; Saint-Méry, of which the primitive pointed arches were scarcely more than circular; Saint-Jean, whose magnificent spire was proverbial; and twenty other edifices which disdained not to hide their wonders in that chaos of deep, dark, narrow streets. Add to these the carved stone crosses, more numerous at the crossways than even the gibbets; the cemetery of the Innocents, of whose enclosing wall you caught a glimpse in the distance; the pillory of the Halles, just visible between two chimneys of the Rue de la Cossonnerie; the gibbet of the Croix du Trahoir at the corner of the ever-busy thoroughfare; the round stalls of the Corn Market; fragments of the old wall of Philip Augustus, distinguishable here and there, buried among the houses; mouldering, ivy-clad towers, ruined gateways, bits of crumbling walls; the quay with its myriad booths and gory skinning yards; the Seine, swarming with boats from the Port au Foin or hay wharf to the For l’Evêque, and you will be able to form some adequate idea of what the great irregular quadrangle of the Town looked like in 1482.  34
  Besides these two quarters—the one of palaces, the other of houses—the Town contributed a third element to the view: that of a long belt of abbeys which bordered almost its entire circumference from east to west; and, lying just inside the fortified wall which encircled Paris, furnished a second internal rampart of cloisters and chapels. Thus, immediately adjoining the park of the Tournelles, between the Rue Saint-Antoine and the old Rue du Temple, stood the old convent of Sainte-Catherine, with its immense grounds, bounded only by the city wall. Between the old and the new Rue du Temple was the Temple itself, a grim sheaf of lofty towers, standing haughty and alone, surrounded by a vast, embattled wall. Between the Rue Neuve du Temple and the Rue Saint-Martin, in the midst of gardens, stood the Abbey of Saint-Martin, a superb fortified church, whose girdle of towers and crown of steeples were second only to Saint-Germain-des-Prés in strength and splendour.  35
  Between the two streets of Saint-Martin and Saint-Denis stretched the convent enclosure of the Trinité, and between the Rue Saint-Denis and the Rue Montorgueil that of Filles-Dieu. Close by, one caught a glimpse of the mouldering roofs and broken wall of the Cour des Miracles, the only profane link in that pious chain.  36
  Lastly, the fourth area, standing out distinctly in the conglomeration of roofs on the right bank, and occupying the eastern angle formed by the city wall and the river wall, was a fresh knot of palaces and mansions clustered round the foot of the Louvre. The old Louvre of Philip Augustus, that stupendous pile whose enormous middle tower mustered round it twenty-three major towers, irrespective of the smaller ones, appeared from the distance as if encased within the Gothic roof-lines of the Hôtel d’Alencon and the Petit-Bourbon. This hydra of towers, this guardian monster of Paris, with its twenty-four heads ever erect, the tremendous ridge of its roof sheathed in lead or scales of slate and glistening in metallic lustre, furnished an unexpected close to the western configuration of the Town.  37
  This then, was the town of Paris in the fifteenth century—an immense mass—what the Romans called insula—of burgher dwelling-houses, flanked on either side by two blocks of palaces, terminated the one by the Louvre, the other by the Tournelles, bordered on the north by a long chain of abbeys and walled gardens all blended and mingling in one harmonious whole; above these thousand buildings with their fantastic outline of tiled and slated roofs, the steeples—fretted, fluted honeycombed—of the forty-four churches on the right bank; myriads of streets cutting through it; as boundary: on one side a circuit of lofty walls with square towers (those of the University wall were round); on the other, the Seine, intersected by bridges and carrying numberless boats.  38
  Beyond the walls a few suburbs hugged the protection of the gates, but they were less numerous and more scattered than on the side of the University. In the rear of the Bastille about twenty squalid cottages huddled round the curious stonework of the Croix-Faubin, and the abutments of the Abbey of Saint-Antoine des Champs; then came Popincourt, buried in cornfields; then La Courtille, a blithe village of taverns; the market-town of Saint-Laurent with its church steeple appearing in the distance as if one of the pointed towers of the Porte Saint-Martin; the suburb of Saint-Denis with the vast enclosure of Saint-Ladre; outside the Porte-Montmartre, the Grange-Bâteliére encircled by white walls; behind that again, with its chalky slopes, Montmartre, which then had almost as many churches as wind-mills, but has only retained the wind-mills, for the world is now merely concerned for bread for the body. Finally, beyond the Louvre, among the meadows, stretched the Faubourg Saint-Honorè, already a considerable suburb, and the verdant pastures of Petite-Bretagne and the Marché-aux-Porceaux or pig-market, in the middle of which stood the horrible furnace where they seethed the false coiners.  39
  On the top of a hill, rising out of the solitary plain between La Courtille and Saint-Laurent, you will have remarked a sort of building, presenting the appearance, in the distance, of a ruined colonnade with its foundation laid bare. But this was neither a Panthèon nor a Temple of Jupiter; it was Montfaucon. 6  40
  Now, if the enumeration of so many edifices, brief as we have done our best to make it, has not shattered in the reader’s mind the image of old Paris as fast as we have built it up, we will recapitulate in a few words. In the centre, the island of the City like an immense tortoise, stretching out its tiled bridges like scaly paws from under its gray shell of roofs. On the left, the dense, bristling, square block of the University; on the right, the high semicircle of the Town, showing many more gardens and isolated edifices than the other two. The three areas, City, University, and Town, are veined with streets innumerable. Athwart the whole runs the Seine—“the fostering Seine,” as Peter du Breul calls it—encumbered with islands, bridges, and boats. All around, a vast plain checkered with a thousand forms of cultivation and dotted with fair villages; to the left, Issy, Vanves, Vaugirarde, Montrouge, Gentilly, with its round and its square tower, etc.; to the right, a score of others from Conflans to Ville-l’Evêque; on the horizon, a border of hills ranged in a circle, the rim of the basin, as it were. Finally, far to the east, Vincennes with its seven square towers; southward, Bicêtre and its sharp-pointed turrets; northward, Saint-Denis with its spire; and in the west, Saint-Cloud and its castle-keep. Such was the Paris which the ravens of 1482 looked down upon from the heights of Notre Dame.  41
  And yet this was the city of which Voltaire said that “before the time of Louis XIV it only possessed four handsome examples of architecture”—the dome of the Sorbonne, the Val-de-Grâce, the modern Louvre, and I forget the fourth—the Luxembourg, perhaps. Fortunately, Voltaire was none the less the author of Candide; and none the less the man of all others in the long line of humanity who possessed in highest perfection the rire diabolique—the sardonic smile. It proves, besides, that one may be a brilliant genius, and yet know nothing of an art one has not studied. Did not Molière think to greatly honour Raphael and Michael Angelo by calling them “the Mignards 7 of their age”?  42
  But to return to Paris and the fifteenth century.  43
  It was in those days not only a beautiful city; it was a homogeneous city, a direct product—architectural and historical—of the Middle Ages, a chronicle in stone. It was a city composed of two architectural strata only—the Romanesque and the Gothic—for the primitive Roman layer had long since disappeared excepting in the Baths of Julian, where it still pierced through the thick overlying crust of the Middle Ages. As for the Celtic stratum, no trace of it was discoverable even when sinking wells.  44
  Fifty years later, when the Renaissance came, and with that unity of style, so severe and yet so varied, associated its dazzling wealth of fantasy and design, its riot of Roman arches, Doric columns and Gothic vaults, its delicate and ideal sculpture, its own peculiar tastes in arabesques and capitals, its architectural paganism contemporary with Luther, Paris was perhaps more beautiful still though less harmonious to the eye and the strictly artistic sense. But that splendid period was of short duration. The Renaissance was not impartial; it was not content only to erect, it must also pull down; to be sure, it required space. Gothic Paris was complete but for a moment. Scarcely was Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie finished when the demolition of the old Louvre began.  45
  Since then the great city has gone on losing her beauty day by day. The Gothic Paris, which was effacing the Romanesque, has been effaced in its turn. But what name shall be given to the Paris which has replaced it?  46
  We have the Paris of Catherine de Mèin the Tuileries; the Paris of Henri II in the Hôtel-de-Ville, both edifices in the grand style; the Place Royale shows us the Paris of Henri IV—brick fronts, stone copings, and slate roofs—tricolour houses; the Val-de-Grâce is the Paris of Louis XIII—low and broad in style, with basket-handle arches and something indefinably pot-bellied about its pillars and humpbacked about its domes. We see the Paris of Louis XIV in the Invalides—stately, rich, gilded, cold; the Paris of Louis XV at Saint-Sulpice—scrolls and love-knots and clouds, vermicelli and chicory leaves—all in stone; the Paris of Louis XVI in the Panthèon, a bad copy of Saint Peter’s at Rome (the building has settled rather crookedly, which has not tended to improve its lines); the Paris of the Republic at the School of Medicine—a spurious hash of Greek and Roman, with about as much relation to the Coliseum or the Panthèon as the constitution of the year III has to the laws of Minos—a style known in architecture as “the Messidor”; 8 the Paris of Napoleon in the Place Vendôme—a sublime idea, a bronze column made of cannons; the Paris of the Restoration at the Bourse—an abnormally white colonnade supporting an abnormally smooth frieze—it is perfectly square and cost twenty million francs.  47
  To each of these characteristic buildings there belongs, in virtue of a similarity of style, of form, and of disposition a certain number of houses scattered about the various districts easily recognised and assigned to their respective dates by the eye of the connoisseur. To the seeing eye, the spirit of a period and the features of a King are traceable even in the knocker of a door.  48
  The Paris of to-day has, therefore, no typical characteristic physiognomy. It is a collection of samples of several periods, of which the finest have disappeared. The capital is increasing in houses only, and what houses! At this rate, there will be a new Paris every fifty years. The historic significance, too, of its architecture is lessened day by day. The great edifices are becoming fewer and fewer, are being swallowed up before our eyes by the flood of houses. Our fathers had a Paris of stone; our sons will have a Paris of stucco.  49
  As for the modern structures of this new Paris, we would much prefer not to dilate upon them. Not that we fail to give them their due. The Sainte-Geneviève of M. Soufflot is certainly the finest tea-cake that ever was made of stone. The palace of the Lègion d’Honneur is also a most distinguished piece of confectionery. The dome of the Corn Market is a jockey-cap set on the top of a high ladder. The towers of Saint-Sulpice are two great clarinets—a shape which is as good as any other—and the grinning zigzag of the telegraph agreeably breaks the monotony of their roofs. Saint-Roch possesses a door that can only be matched in magnificence by that of Saint Thomas Aquinas; also it owns a Calvary in alto-relievo down in a cellar, and a monstrance of gilded wood—real marvels these, one must admit. The lantern tower in the maze at the Botanical Gardens is also vastly ingenious. As regards the Bourse, which is Greek as to its colonnade, Roman as to the round arches of its windows and doors, and Renaissance as to its broad, low, vaulted roof, it is indubitably in purest and most correct style; in proof of which we need only state that it is crowned by an attic storey such as was never seen in Athens—a beautiful straight line, gracefully intersected at intervals by chimney pots. And, admitting that it be a rule in architecture that a building should be so adapted to its purpose that that purpose should at once be discernible in the aspect of the edifice, no praise is too high for a structure which might, from its appearance, be indifferently a royal palace, a chamber of deputies, a town hall, a college, a riding-school, an academy, a warehouse, a court of justice, a museum, a barracks, a mausoleum, a temple, or a theatre—and all the time it is an Exchange. Again, a building should be appropriate to the climate. This one is obviously constructed for our cold and rainy skies. It has an almost flat roof, as they obtain in the East, so that in winter, when it snows, that roof has to be swept, and, of course, we all know that roofs are intended to be swept. And as regards the purpose of which we spoke just now, the building fulfils it to admiration; it is a Bourse in France as it would have been a Temple in Greece. It is true that the architect has been at great pains to conceal the face of the clock, which would have spoilt the pure lines of the façade; but in return, we have the colonnade running round the entire building, under which, on high-days and holidays, the imposing procession of stock-brokers and exchange-agents can display itself in all its glory.  50
  These now are undoubtedly very superior buildings. Add to them a number of such handsome, interesting, and varied streets as the Rue de Rivoli, and I do not despair of Paris offering one day to the view, if seen from a balloon, that wealth of outline, that opulence of detail, that diversity of aspect, that indescribable air of grandeur in its simplicity, of the unexpected in its beauty, which characterizes—a draught-board.  51
  Nevertheless, admirable as the Paris of to-day may seem to you, conjure up the Paris of the fifteenth century; rebuild it in imagination; look through that amazing forest of spires, towers, and steeples; pour through the middle of the immense city the Seine, with its broad green and yellow pools that make it iridescent as a serpent’s skin; divide it at the island points, send it swirling round the piers of the bridges; project sharply against an azure horizon the Gothic profile of old Paris; let its outline float in a wintry mist clinging round its numerous chimneys; plunge it in deepest night, and watch the fantastic play of light and shadow in that sombre labyrinth of edifices; cast into it a ray of moonlight, showing it vague and uncertain, with its towers rearing their massive heads above the mists; or go back to the night scene, touch up the thousand points of the spires and gables with shadow, let it stand out more ridged and jagged than a shark’s jaw against a coppery sunset sky—and then compare.  52
  And if you would receive from the old city an impression the modern one is incapable of giving, go at dawn on some great festival—Easter or Whitsuntide—and mount to some elevated point, whence the eye commands the entire capital, and be present at the awakening of the bells. Watch, at a signal from heaven—for it is the sun that gives it—those thousand churches starting from their sleep. First come scattered notes passing from church to church, as when musicians signal to one another that the concert is to begin. Then, suddenly behold—for there are moments when the ear, too, seems to have sight—behold, how, at the same moment, from every steeple there rises a column of sound, a cloud of harmony. At first the vibration of each bell mounts up straight, pure, isolated from the rest, into the resplendent sky of morn; then, by degrees, as the waves spread out, they mingle, blend, unite one with the other, and melt into one magnificent concert. Now it is one unbroken stream of sonorous sound poured incessantly from the innumerable steeples—floating, undulating, leaping, eddying over the city, the deafening circle of its vibration extending far beyond the horizon. Yet this scene of harmony is no chaos. Wide and deep though it be, it never loses its limpid clearness; you can follow the windings of each separate group of notes that detaches itself from the peal; you can catch the dialogue, deep and shrill by turns, between the bourdon and the crecelle; you hear the octaves leap from steeple to steeple, darting winged, airy, strident from the bell of silver, dropping halt and broken from the bell of wood. You listen delightedly to the rich gamut, incessantly ascending and descending, of the seven bells of Saint-Eustache; clear and rapid notes flash across the whole in luminous zigzags, and then vanish like lightning. That shrill, cracked voice over there comes from the Abbey of Saint-Martin; here the hoarse and sinister growl of the Bastile; at the other end the boom of the great tower of the Louvre. The royal carillon of the Palais scatters its glittering trills on every side, and on them, at regular intervals, falls the heavy clang of the great bell of Notre Dame, striking flashes from them as the hammer from the anvil. At intervals, sounds of every shape pass by, coming from the triple peal of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Then, ever and anon, the mass of sublime sound opens and gives passage to the stretto of the Ave-Maria chapel, flashing through like a shower of meteors. Down below, in the very depths of the chorus, you can just catch the chanting inside the churches, exhaled faintly through the pores of their vibrating domes. Here, in truth, is an opera worth listening to. In general, the murmur that rises up from Paris during the daytime is the city talking; at night it is the city breathing; but this is the city singing. Lend your ear, then, to this tutti of the bells; diffuse over the ensemble the murmur of half a million of human beings, the eternal plaint of the river, the ceaseless rushing of the wind, the solemn and distant quartet of the four forests set upon the hills, round the horizon, like so many enormous organ-cases; muffle in this, as in a sort of twilight, all of the great central peal that might otherwise be too hoarse or too shrill, and then say whether you know of anything in the world more rich, more blithe, more golden, more dazzling, than this tumult of bells and chimes—this furnace of music, these ten thousand brazen voices singing at once in flutes of stone, three hundred feet high—this city which is now but one vast orchestra—this symphony with the mighty uproar of a tempest.  53

Note 1.  This might be freely translated: The dam damming Paris, sets Paris damning. [back]
Note 2.  Portions of these Roman baths still exist in the Hôtel de Cluny. [back]
Note 3.  The recreation and fighting ground of the students, the present Fau bourg Saint-Germain. [back]
Note 4.  Fidelity to the kings, though broken at times by revolts, procured the burghers many privileges. [back]
Note 5.  An order formed in the twelfth century, specially vowed to the rescuing of Christians out of slavery. [back]
Note 6.  The place of execution, furnished with immense gibbets, the site of an ancient Druidical temple. [back]
Note 7.  Pierre Mignard (1610–1695), the well-known French painter, a contemporary of Molière. [back]
Note 8.  From that period of the French Revolution when this bad imitation of the antique was much in vogue. [back]



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