Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

Is a street set on end, the grand stair-case forming the highway, and every floor a separate habitation. Let me describe the one in which I am lodged, which may serve as a specimen of its class. It is a huge quadrangular pile of stone, built round a spacious paved court. The ground floor is occupied by shops, magazines, and domestic offices. Then comes the entre-sol, with low ceilings, short windows, and dwarf chambers; then succeed a succession of floors, or stories, rising one above the other, to the number of Mahomet's heavens. Each floor is like a distinct mansion, complete within itself, with ante-chamber, saloons, dining and sleeping rooms, kitchen and other conveniencies for the accommodation of a family. Some floors are divided into two or more suites of apartments. Each apartment has its main door of entrance, opening upon the stair-case, or landing-places, and locked like a street door. Thus several families and numerous single persons live under the same roof, totally independent of each other, and may live so for years, without holding more intercourse than is kept up in other cities by residents in the same street.

Like the great world, this little microcosm has its gradations of rank and style and importance. The Premier, or first floor with its grand saloons, lofty ceilings, and splendid furniture, is decidedly the aristocratical part of the establishment. The second floor is scarcely less aristocratical and magnificent; the other floors go on lessening in splendor as they gain in altitude, and end with the attics, the region of petty tailors, clerks, and sewing girls. To make the filling

56

VOL. XVI.

up of the mansion complete, every odd nook and corner is fitted up as a joli petit apartement à garçon, (a pretty little bachelor's apartment,) that is to say, some little dark inconvenient nestling-place for a poor devil of a bachelor.

The whole domain is shut up from the street by a great porte-cochére, or portal, calculated for the admission of carriages. This consists of two massy folding-doors, that swing beavily open upon a spacious entrance, passing under the front of the edifice into the court-yard. On one side is a spacious stair-case leading to the upper apartments. Immediately without the portal, is the porter's lodge, a small room with one or two bed-rooms adjacent, for the accommodation of the concierge, or porter, and his family. This is one of the most important functionaries of the hotel. He is, in fact, the Cerberus of the establishment, and no one can pass in or out without bis knowledge and conseut. The porte-cochére in general is fastened by a sliding bolt, from which a cord or wire passes into the porter's lodge. Whoever wishes to go out, must speak to the porter, who draws the bolt. A visiter from without gives a single rap with the massive knocker; the bolt is immediately drawn, as it by an invisible hand; the door stands ajar, the visiter pushes it open, and enters. A face presents itself at the glass door of the porter's little chamber : the stranger pronounces the name of the person he comes to seek. If the person or family is of importance, occupying the first or second floor, the porter sounds a bell once or twice, to give notice that a visiter is at band. The stranger in the mean time ascends the great stair-case, the highway common to all, and arrives at the outer door, equivalent to a street door, of the suite of rooms inhabited by his friends. Beside this hangs a bell-cord, with which he rings for admittance.

When the family or person inquired for is of less importance, or lives in some remote part of the mansion less easy to be apprized, no signal is given. The applicant pronounces the name at the porter's door, and

is told, · Montez au troisieme, au quatriême ; souvez à la porte à droite, or à gauche ; (* Ascend to the third or fourth story; ring the bell on the right or left hand door,') as the case may be. The

porter and his wife act as domestics to such of the inmates of the mansion as do not keep servants; making their beds, arranging their rooms, lighting their fires, and doing other menial offices, for which they receive a monthly stipend. They are also in confidential intercourse with the servants of the other inmates, and, baving an eye on all the in-comers and out-goers, are thus enabled, by hook and by crook, to learn the secrets and the domestic history of every member of the little territory within the porte-cochére.

The porter's lodge is accordingly a great scene of gossip, where all the private affairs of this interior neghborhood are discussed. The court-yard, also, is an assembling place in the evenings for the servants of the different families, and a sisterhood of sewing girls from the entre-sols and the attics, to play at various games, and dance to the music of their own songs, and the echoes of their feet; at which assemblages the porter's daughter takes the lead; a fresh, pretty, buxom girl, generally called • La Petite,' though alınost as tall as a grenadier. These little evening gatherings, so characteristic of this gay country, are countenanced by the various families of the mansion, who often

look down from their windows and balconies, on moonlight evenings, and enjoy the simple revels of their domestics. I must observe, however, that the hotel I am describing is rather a quiet, retired one, where most of the inmates are permanent residents from year to year, so that there is more of the spirit of neighborhood, than in the bustling, fashionable hotels in the gay parts of Paris, which are continually changing their inhabitants.

[blocks in formation]

I often amuse myself by watching from my window (which bythe-by is tolerably elevated,) the movements of the teeming little world below me; and as I am on sociable terms with the porter and his wife, I gather from them, as they light my fire, or serve my breakfast, anecdotes of all my fellow lodgers. I have been somewhat curious in studying a little antique Frenchman, who occupies one of the jolie chambers à garçon already mentioned. He is one of those superannuated veterans who flourished before the revolution, and have weathered all the storms of Paris, in consequence, very probably, of being fortunately too insignificant to attract attention. He has a small income, which he manages with the skill of a French economist : appropriating so much for his lodgings, so much for his meals; so much for his visits to St. Cloud and Versailles, and so much for his seat at the theatre. He has resided in the hotel for years, and always in the same chamber, which he furnishes at his own expense. The decorations of the room mark his various ages. There are some gallant pictures, which he hung up in his younger days; with a portrait of a lady of rank, whom he speaks tenderly of, dressed in the old French taste; and a pretty opera dancer, pirouetting in a hoop petticoat, who lately died at a good old age. In a corner of this piciure is stuck a prescription for a rheumatism, and below it stands an easy-chair. He has a small parrot at the window, to amuse him when within doors, and a pug-dog to accompany him in his daily peregrinations. While I ain writing, he is crossing the court to go out. He is attired in his best coat, of sky-blue, and is doubtless bound for the Tuilleries. His hair is dressed in the old style, with powdered earlocks and a pig-tail. His little dog trips after him, sometimes on four legs, sometimes on three, and looking as if his leather small-clothes were too tight for him. Now the old gentleman stops to have a word with an old crony who lives in the entre-sol, and is just returning from his promenade. Now they take a pinch of snuff together; now they pull out huge red cotton handkerchiefs, (those 'flags of abomi. pation,' as they have well been called,) and blow their noses most sonorously. Now they turn to make remarks upon their two little dogs, who are exchanging the morning's salutation; now they part, and my old gentleman stops to have a passing word with the porter's wife; and now he sallies forth, and is fairly launched upon the town for the day.

No man is so methodical as a complete idler, and none so scrupulous in measuring and portioning out his time, as he whose time is worth nothing. The old gentleman in question has his exact hour

casement.

for rising, and for shaving himself by a small mirror hung against his

He sallies forth at a certain hour every morning, to take his

cup of coffee and his roll at a certain café, where he reads the papers. He has been a regular admirer of the lady who presides at the bar, and always stops to have a little badinage with her, en passant. He has his regular walks on the Boulevards and in the Palais Royal, where he sets his watch by the petard fired off by the sun at mid-day. He has his daily resort in the Garden of the Tuilleries, to meet with a knot of veteran idlers like himself, who talk on pretty much the same subjects whenever they meet. He has been present at all the sights and shows and rejoicings of Paris for the last fifty years : has witnessed the great events of the revolution; the guillotining of the king and queen; the coronation of Bonaparte; the capture of Paris, and the restoration of the Bourbons. All these he speaks of with the coolness of a theatrical critic; and I question whether he has not been gratified by each in its turn; not from any inherent love of tumult, but from that insatiable appetite for spectacle, which prevails among the inhabitants of this metropolis. I have been amused with a farce, in which one of these systematic old triflers is represented. He sings a song detailing his whole day's round of insignificant occupations, and goes to bed delighted with the idea that his next day will be an exact repetition of the same routine :

[blocks in formation]

ing, and

In another part of the hotel, a handsome suite of rooms is occupied by an old English gentleman, of great probity, some understand

very considerable crustiness, who has come to France to live economically. He has a very fair property, but his wife, being of that blessed kind compared in Scripture to the fruitful vine, has overwhelmed him with a family of buxom daughters, who hang clustering about him, ready to be gathered by any hand. He is seldom to be seen in public, without one hanging on each arm, and smiling on all the world, while his own mouth is drawn down at each corner like a mastiff's, with internal growling at every thing about him. He adheres rigidly to English fashion in dress, and trudges about in long gaiters and broad-brimmed hat; while his daughters almost overshadow him with feathers, flowers, and French bonnets.

He contrives to keep up an atmosphere of English habits, opinions, and prejudices, and to carry a semblance of London into the very heart of Paris. His mornings are spent at Galignani's news-room, where he forms one of a knot of inveterate quidnuncs, who read the same articles over a dozen times in a dozen different papers.

He generally dines in company with some of his own countrymen, and they have what is called a comfortable sitting after dinner, in the English fashion, drinking wine, discussing the news of the London papers, and canvassing the French character, the French metropolis, and the

French revolution, ending with a unanimous admission of English courage, English morality, English cookery, English wealth, the magnitude of London, and the ingratitude of the French.

His evenings are chiefly spent at a club of his countrymen, where the London papers are taken. Sometimes his daughters entice him to the theatres, but not often. He abuses French tragedy, as all fustian and bombast, Talma as a ranter, and Duchesnois as a mere termagant. It is true his ear is not sufficiently familiar with the language to understand French verse, and he generally goes to sleep during the performance. The wit of the French comedy is flat and pointless to him. He would not give one of Munden's wry faces, or Liston's inexpressible looks, for the whole of it.

He will not admit that Paris has any advantage over London. The Seine is a muddy rivulet in comparison with the Thames; the West End of London surpasses the finest parts of the French capital; and on some one's observing that there was a very thick fog out of doors : • Pish!' said he, crustily, “it's nothing to the fogs we have in London !'

He has infinite trouble in bringing his table into any thing like conformity to English rule. With his liquors, it is true, he is tolerably successful. He procures London porter, and a stock of port and sherry, at considerable expense; for he observes that he cannot stand those cursed thin French wines : they dilute his blood so much as to give him the rheumatism. As to their white wines, he stigmatizes them as mere substitutes for cider; and as to claret, why it would be port if it could. He has continual quarrels with his French cook, whom he renders wretched by insisting on his conforming to Mrs. Glass; for it is easier to convert a Frenchman from his religion than his cookery. The poor fellow, by dint of repeated efforts, once brought himself to serve up ros bif sufficiently raw to suit what he considered the cannibal taste of his master; but then he could not refrain, at the last moment, adding some exquisite

that

put the old gentleman in a fury. He detests wood-fires, and has procured a quantity of coal; but not having a grate, he is obliged to burn it on the hearth. Here he sits poking and stirring the fire with one end of a tongs, while the room is as murky as a smithy; railing at French chimneys, French masons, and French architects; giving a poke, at the end of every sentence, as though he were stirring up the very bowels of the delinquents he is anathematizing. He lives in a state militant with inani. mate objects around him ; gets into high dudgeon with doors and casements, because they will not come under English law, and has implacable feuds with sundry refractory pieces of furniture. Among these is one in particular with which he is sure to have a high quarrel every time he goes to dress. It is a commode, one of those smooth, polished, plausible pieces of French furniture, that have the perversity of five hundred devils. Each drawer has a will of its own ; will open or not, just as the whim takes it, aud sets lock and key at defiance. Sometimes a drawer will refuse to yield to either persuasion or force, and will part with both handles rather than yield ; another will come out in the most coy and coquettish manner imaginable ; elbowing along, zig-zag; one corner retreating as the other advances ; making a thousand difficulties and objections at every move; until the old gentleman, out of all patience, gives a sudden

sauce,

« PreviousContinue »