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The Paris Of Our Grandparents
by [?]

We are apt to fall into the error of assuming that only American cities have displaced their centres and changed their appearance during the last half-century.

The “oldest inhabitant,” with his twice-told tales of transformations and changes, is to a certain extent responsible for this; by contrast, we imagine that the capitals of Europe have always been just as we see them. So strong is this impression that it requires a serious effort of the imagination to reconstruct the Paris that our grandparents knew and admired, few as the years are that separate their day from ours.

It is, for instance, difficult to conceive of a Paris that ended at the rue Royale, with only waste land and market gardens beyond the Madeleine, where to-day so many avenues open their stately perspectives; yet such was the case! The few fine residences that existed beyond that point faced the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, with gardens running back to an unkempt open country called the Champs Elysées, where an unfinished Arc de Triomphe stood alone in a wilderness that no one ever dreamed of traversing.

The fashionable ladies of that time drove in the afternoon along the boulevards from the Madeleine to the Ch�teau d’Eau, and stopped their ponderous yellow barouches at Tortoni’s, where ices were served to them in their carriages, while they chatted with immaculate dandies in skin-tight nankeen unmentionables, blue swallow-tailed coats, and furry ‘beaver” hats.

While looking over some books in the company of an old lady who from time to time opens her store of treasures and recalls her remote youth at my request, and whose spirituel and graphic language gives to her souvenirs the air of being stray chapters from some old-fashioned romance, I received a vivid impression of how the French capital must have looked fifty years ago.

Emptying in her company a chest of books that had not seen the light for several decades, we came across a “Panorama of the Boulevards,” dated 1845, which proved when unfolded to be a colored lithograph, a couple of yards long by five or six inches high, representing the line of boulevards from the Madeleine to the Place de la Bastille. Each house, almost each tree, was faithfully depicted, together with the crowds on the sidewalks and the carriages in the street. The whole scene was as different from the effect made by that thoroughfare to-day as though five hundred and not fifty years had elapsed since the little book was printed. The picture breathed an atmosphere of calm and nameless quaintness that one finds now only in old provincial cities which have escaped the ravages of improvement.

My companion sat with the book unfolded before her, in a smiling trance. Her mind had turned back to the far-away days when she first trod those streets a bride, with all the pleasures and few of the cares of life to think about.

I watched her in silence (it seemed a sacrilege to break in on such a train of thought), until gradually her eyes lost their far-away expression, and, turning to me with a smile, she exclaimed: “How we ever had the courage to appear in the street dressed as we were is a mystery! Do you see that carriage?” pointing in the print to a high-swung family vehicle with a powdered coachman on the box, and two sky-blue lackeys standing behind. “I can remember, as if it were yesterday, going to drive with Lady B-, the British ambassadress, in just such a conveyance. She drove four horses with feathers on their heads, when she used to come to Meurice’s for me. I blush when I think that my frock was so scant that I had to raise the skirt almost to my knees in order to get into her carriage.

“Why we didn’t all die of pneumonia is another marvel, for we wore low-necked dresses and the thinnest of slippers in the street, our heads being about the only part that was completely covered. I was particularly proud of a turban surmounted with a bird of paradise, but Lady B— affected poke bonnets, then just coming into fashion, so large and so deep that when one looked at her from the side nothing was visible except two curls, ‘as damp and as black as leeches.’ In other ways our toilets were absurdly unsuited for every-day wear; we wore light scarves over our necks, and rarely used furlined pelisses.”