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The Faubourg Of St. Germain
by [?]

There has been too much said and written in the last dozen years about breaking down the “great wall” behind which the aristocrats of the famous Faubourg, like the Celestials, their prototypes, have ensconced themselves. The Chinese speak of outsiders as “barbarians.” The French ladies refer to such unfortunates as being “beyond the pale.” Almost all that has been written is arrant nonsense; that imaginary barrier exists to-day on as firm a foundation, and is guarded by sentinels as vigilant as when, forty years ago, Napoleon (third of the name) and his Spanish spouse mounted to its assault.

Their repulse was a bitter humiliation to the parvenue Empress, whose resentment took the form (along with many other curious results) of opening the present Boulevard St. Germain, its line being intentionally carried through the heart of that quarter, teeming with historic “Hotels” of the old aristocracy, where beautiful constructions were mercilessly torn down to make way for the new avenue. The cajoleries which Eugenie first tried and the blows that followed were alike unavailing. Even her worship of Marie Antoinette, between whom and herself she found imaginary resemblances, failed to warm the stony hearts of the proud old ladies, to whom it was as gall and wormwood to see a nobody crowned in the palace of their kings. Like religious communities, persecution only drew this old society more firmly together and made them stand by each other in their distress. When the Bois was remodelled by Napoleon and the lake with its winding drive laid out, the new Court drove of an afternoon along this water front. That was enough for the old swells! They retired to the remote “Allee of the Acacias,” and solemnly took their airing away from the bustle of the new world, incidentally setting a fashion that has held good to this day; the lakeside being now deserted, and the “Acacias” crowded of an afternoon, by all that Paris holds of elegant and inelegant.

Where the brilliant Second Empire failed, the Republic had little chance of success. With each succeeding year the “Old Faubourg” withdrew more and more into its shell, going so far, after the fall of Mac Mahon, as to change its “season” to the spring, so that the balls and fetes it gave should not coincide with the “official” entertainments during the winter.

The next people to have a “shy” at the “Old Faubourg’s” Gothic battlements were the Jews, who were victorious in a few light skirmishes and succeeded in capturing one or two illustrious husbands for their daughters. The wily Israelites, however, discovered that titled sons-in- law were expensive articles and often turned out unsatisfactorily, so they quickly desisted. The English, the most practical of societies, have always left the Faubourg alone. It has been reserved for our countrywomen to lay the most determined siege yet recorded to that untaken stronghold.

It is a characteristic of the American temperament to be unable to see a closed door without developing an intense curiosity to know what is behind; or to read “No Admittance to the Public” over an entrance without immediately determining to get inside at any price. So it is easy to understand the attraction an hermetically sealed society would have for our fair compatriots. Year after year they have flung themselves against its closed gateways. Repulsed, they have retired only to form again for the attack, but are as far away to-day from planting their flag in that citadel as when they first began. It does not matter to them what is inside; there may be (as in this case) only mouldy old halls and a group of people with antiquated ideas and ways. It is enough for a certain type of woman to know that she is not wanted in an exclusive circle, to be ready to die in the attempt to get there. This point of view reminds one of Mrs. Snob’s saying about a new arrival at a hotel: “I am sure she must be ‘somebody’ for she was so rude to me when I spoke to her;” and her answer to her daughter when the girl said (on arriving at a watering- place) that she had noticed a very nice family “who look as if they wanted to know us, Mamma:”