Katharine De Forest.

Paris as it is; an intimate account of its people, its home life, and its places of interest online

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"On a en tort de lid donner tant de monnaie
pour line mauvaise piece!"

* * * *

Mile. Z., coming from her loge: "Just fancy!
Mme. W. insisted on coming into my loge.
She cried, 'Ouzrea, ouvrcc moi done!' " "And
then?" "And then I answered, 'Do you take
me for an oyster opener?' "

In another part of the foyer Silvain talks of
his birds, Mounet-Sully of his bicyclette,
Rachel Boyer of her automobile, Trufifier of his
writing — all these princes of the Comedie and
all of these great amoureuses of the drama are
after all, bons bourgeois.

Fi^ench Homes,

It is not an easy thing to generalize about
homes anywhere, but one general statement
can certainly be made of those in France;
they are what the foreigner knows the least
about of anything in the country. The French
have a great love for home, even though, as we
are fond of saying, they have no such word in
their language. "Foyer" replaces it. but you
never hear them talk familiarly about their
foyers. They say, '7r vais a la maison' — "I
am going to the house," and they speak of
their "interiors," but neither of these expres-
sions is the equivalent of our word home.

I always think perhaps they have no satis-
factory word for it because no one word could
ever express all the conditions which the idea
must contain to them. They seem to put into
it some of the literal feeling that an old col-
ored mammy I once knew had when she found
out what 1-o-v-e spelled. "Mighty poah way to
spell love,'cordin's I knows it," she said; "on'y
just foah letters!" The English idea of home
is an abstraction, and almost any symbol would
express it. They can take out a tea kettle at
five o'clock in the afternoon in any spot of the


globe where they may happen to be, and as
they watch the steam mount from this emblem
of their altars and their fires, it is a little Britain
and it is home. But home to the French is
something concrete and material. It is some
particular spot in some particular house, in
which are installed the exact traditions at-
tached to their idea of their own partic-
ular family. They are devoted to this. They
never want to leave it, and when they go away
in the summer it is always to set up somewhere
just such another home, exactly like the one
they have left. You rarely find the best French
people in hotels or boarding-houses. The re-
sponsibility of keeping up these particular tra-
ditions is probably one reason why they put a
little sort of Chinese wall around their interiors,
within which the foreigner is rarely invited.
These homes must not be modified nor dis-
turbed by the profane touch.

This explains the fact that we know so little
about French life. Paris is a city within
a city, one of which is real and the
other artificial. Its show places, its show
dressmakers, half its life, exist only for
the stranger. Its Tout-Paris is nothing but
a heterogeneous collection of the smart sets
of all countries and all nations, who make up
an artificial and cosmopolitan society like that
of any great capital, and therefore as little typ-
ical of their ow^n. But these are the only peo-


pie we ever hear about. Realistic novelists
have to go to them for their situations, and it
is only from them that journalists can get their
sensations. This is by no means peculiar to
Paris, but there is this difference between it
and London or Xew York. Any extravagant
thing we read of in these other places falls
upon a background made up of our exact
knowledge of what the country really is, and
so we immediately give it its proper value;
while in France we know so little about the
best types of people that nothing has its real

Almost all the writers who have made any
study of French life speak of this ; men like Mr.
Hamerton, Mr. Brownell, Mr. Theodore Child.
One thing that Mr. Child wrote about the false
values given to facts by newspapers constantly
comes back to me. Their readers, he said, did
not remember that a journalist valued a fact
not by virtue of its importance, but of its nov-
elty. From year's end to year's end a million
and a half of people worked in Paris ten to
twelve hours a day; an important fact, but not
new. and so the newspapers did not mention it.
A score of politicians met and drew up a crazy
manifesto, and immediately the fact, being new,
was telegraphed to the ends of the earth. Then
when the man who read the newspapers came
to Paris and got more exact notions of reality
he made himself conversationallv tiresome and


impaired his digestion in marveling at the
calmness of the population, the activity of busi-
ness of all kinds, and the prosperity of the city
in general.

During the ten or twelve years that I have
known the French capital I have never seen it
anything but calm, active and prosperous; but
every now and then a letter, or sometimes a ca-
ble from an interested family, begging me to
go into the streets with precaution and to take
no unnecessary risks, tells me that somebody
in some obscure part of the town has again
been drawing up a crazy manifesto, and that to
the other side of the water we are, as usual, on
the verge of a revolution. When the other side
brings its preconceived ideas of French life
over, it seldom gets an opportunity for compar-
ing them with any object-lessons, and there-
fore they never change. They seldom meet
French familias of their own class in America,
and even if they did, it would be difficult for
them to know much about the ideas and
standards of its members, since they could not
carry on for fifteen minutes a general conver-
sation in any language common to all.

The fact is, that while everything we hear
about Paris is true, it is only part of the truth.
The typical life of France is in its bourgeoisie,
and this the outsider seldom reads about, and
still less meets.

I am afraid that the word does not sound


interesting, but the bourgeoisie is of two
kinds, the petite and the haute. The "petite
bourgeoisie," is made up of the mass of
worthy but uninteresting famiHes, shop-
keepers, modest functionaries, people living
on tiny incomes, who lead a pot-au-feu ex-
istence bounded by their own little interests.
They take no part in any intellectual move-
ment, and their sole ambition is to put by a lit-
tle money each year for their children. They
are, nevertheless, the economic force of France.
It is from them that the country got in a few
days twelve times the five milliards demanded
by Germany as indemnity of war.

The "haute bourgeoisie," on the other hand,
includes the intellectual class of France; those
families who consider a classical education the
most necessary of possessions, and think it a
duty to take an interest in every intellectual
movement — in art, science and letters. You
find in it the professors, the artists, the writers,
the physicians, the engineers, every class in
which personal value ranks above either name
or fortune. The haute bourgeoisie Franqaise
is the moral force of the nation; the haute
bourgeoisie Parisienne is to-day the real aris-
tocracy of the Republic. It does not, however,
strictly speaking, mean a class. It means peo-
ple having a certain common etat d'esprit; a
certain common view and conduct of life, A
noble may be a bourgeois, and often is.


I do not know how I can better illustrate
this than by describing two families among my
French friends whom I have known intimately
for a long time, who seem to me, each in their
way, typical of the haute bourgeoisie and of its
finest characteristics. One is the family of a
professor. The husband is a self-made man,
the grandson of a simple mason, who has made
his position entirely by his brains. He grad-
uated with high honors from the Ecole Xor-
male Superieure, a special college in Paris for
professors, in which only twenty-five pupils
are admitted a year. Then he spent three years
at the French school for the preparation of
high professors at Rome, and almost immedi-
ately after finishing there was appointed "pro-
fessor of the Faculty." That is to say, through
public lectures he prepares high instructors in
his turn. This is the highest university title in
France. It brings him in from seven to nine
thousand francs a year. At twenty-eight he
married a charming girl without a large dot,
but of a fine family, the daughter of a dis-
tinguished public man. noted for his breadth
of mind and high character.

Both these young people knew when they
married that their income would never exceed
fifteen thousand francs at the outside. This in
Paris, an expensive capital, meant looking for-
ward to a life governed by the strictest econ-
omv. With the four children that have


come to them in eleven years it has turned
into a Hfe of privation. They have ac-
cepted it gaily, and have as ideally happy
a home as I knov^ of anywhere. What makes
it typical is that all its happiness and am-
bition lies in intangible things. They live in a
quaint little house with a garden near the Pan-
theon. Of mornings the husband goes
off to his lectures, while his wife keeps the
house with that exquisite economy which is
one of the things about France where ovir pre-
conceived ideas have not played us false. She
makes nearly all the children's clothes and her
own with the aid of her little housemaid, and
directs the children's education with that ex-
treme care which forces itself upon us as one
of the most conspicuous characteristics of
French home life. The saying is, A French
mother knows every hour of her daughter's
life. A French mother and father know every
step of their children's education. It is the
mother herself, in the professor's family, who
takes the children to their conrs. All this
does not prevent her from finding the time
to go now and then into society — de se
montrer dans le monde — where you see her
charmingly dressed, in perfect taste. At
night husband and wife always dine together,
and afterward read aloud for an hour or
so. Nevertheless, the husband manages to
write for the reviews and compete for the


prizes offered by the Institute, making in this
way the summer outing — a house in the Pyre-
nees — and a Httle sum put by each year for the
dot of the daughters. On Saturday evenings
they are "at home." You hear excellent music
in their little salon and delightful conversation,
since nearly all the people who drop in to dis-
cuss literature, science and art over a tea-table
belong to the university world.

The other people are artists, both husband
and wife, and from the French standpoint
have money. That is to say, between them
they have a private income of thirty thou-
sand francs, which will be doubled on the
death of their parents, and as much is
added to it every year by the sale of the hus-
band's pictures. He is one of the most distin-
guished of the young painters of the Champs
de Mars salon, and an example of that remark-
able versatility which you find so often in cul-
tivated Frenchmen. Before he began to paint
he wrote, and won instant recognition through
his short stories. His wife also paints. She is
what is called a rare esprit, a brilliant aquarel-
liste, who exhibits every year in the Champs
de Mars, and an excellent musician.

What makes this family typical is that, with
money, they choose to adopt a standard of life
whose aims lie in intangible things just as much
as the professor and his wife, whose means are
so limited. The wife, who could give over to


others much of the care of the house and the
education of the children, chooses to look after
both in precisely the same way as in the other
home. Both she and her husband, who could
live lives of leisure, give themselves up to the
most unremitting work. His ambition is to
create art; to hand down the artistic inheri-
tance he has received, and add to it something
of his own. So he works unceasingly, and his
wife is his invaluable, if silent, partner. Never
a picture is sketched on the canvas that has not
been thoroughly discussed with her. It is she,
too, who is her husband's inspiration, who
gives him courage in the moments of discour-
agement which come to every artist. Their
luxuries are in adding now and then a fine
tapestry or a beautiful piece of old furniture to
their home, which is arranged with exquisite
taste, and in taking every year a summer trip
before they settle down to the old house in
Brittany from which the husband has got so
many of his best subjects.

It is easy to see from these two examples the
underlying principles upon which the bour-
geoisie is based. I know many individual in-
stances like them in America, but I do not
know of any whole class of people all having
a similar standard and manner of life. You
can sum up the distinguishing characteristics
of the best French families in one sentence,
which will apply to all. This is a common


and exactly defined conception, which has
been handed down from generation to genera-
tion, of duty; to work, to Hve within your in-
come without touching the capital, to put by
something every year for your children, to
watch personally over their manners and de-
velopment, and to give them the finest pos-
sible education. This is what makes a family,
according to the French idea. And these peo-
ple make up the real France. Her economic
wealth does not come so much from individual
fortunes as from the small economies of the
masses, and so her great artistic, scientific and
literary movement is not carried on so much
by the talent of single individuals as by the vast
accumulation of methodical and often ob-
scure efforts which keep the intellectual at-
mosphere so overcharged that every now and
then flashes from it a luminous spark known
by some such name as Pasteur, Puvis de Cha-
vannes, Renan, Guy de Maupassant. All
these men were bourgeois, sons of bourgeois.
direct descendants of that Tiers foat which
made the French revolution.

It is this very bourgeoisie which is so
much attacked at present, both from within and
without; and I am aware that a society whose
finest expression tends towards the obscure
efforts of the masses rather than to the brilHant
initiative of individuals is slenderly equipped
for keeping its material preeminence in the

Cozy Corner in a French Home.

A French Home.


struggle for fame and power of the Nineteenth
Century. But from this comes the atmos-
phere of repose which is one of the sources of
the exquisite charm of Paris. Tlie entire city
is a perfected composition, all of whose lines
and masses and tones contribute toward a
general ensemble of elegance and beauty. And
all its homes are finished and perfected in-
teriors in which there is a common standard
of taste and life.

A home to the French always means a
"harmony," as they put it, established with
certain pieces of furniture, certain meithlcs
around which the rest is built. One of my
French friends, who has one foot in the Amer-
ican colony, confessed to me that he had
never found among us an interior that had
to him the air of being furnished. "They all
seem to me like encampments," he said.
"So many little things set about!" These
ordered homes that look as though they
might have stood from all time, give you a
sensation of exquisite repose; mingled with
a constant fear of disturbing something.

I once, with a friend, spent a year in a
French family of distinction where they had
never seen any Americans. One of its inmates
was a delightful old French lady who was
gradually growing deaf, and she thought it
was because we were Americans that she did
not hear. She was a good soul for whom we


had much affection and who responded to it
by trying to "make our education," as she
called it, in a thousand ways. We had a loose,
irregular manner of cutting the cards when we
played with her at piquet; we did not like
cheese, and therefore never ate any, sometimes
which she construed into a lack in our early
training; we did not air our linen properly;
and, most serious thing of all, in our accounts
we had a promiscuous way of lumping to-
gether whole classes of things under the gen-
eral term "sundries." "There always will be
gaps in the American education," she would
say. "It cannot be otherwise." We had the
estate of jeunes filles, although we had both
seen something of the society of three coun-
tries, and as of evenings we sat and sewed
while someone read aloud, the shut-in, tran-
quil, secluded atmosphere, about which there
always seemed to be a faint, intangible per-
fume of violets, made me feel as though I
were a little child again, sewing patchwork at
my mother's knee. On the occasions when
we had a soiree, with "jeunes gens," I found
myself unconsciously looking forward to
meeting men with something of the feel-
ing that Eve must have had when she con-
sidered the apple.

Let me say in passing, that the French still
keep up a good deal everywhere the custom
of reading- aloud. I once remarked to a


young Frenchman whom I knew upon the
extreme beauty of his diction in speaking. He
said it was the result of the habit they had at
home of reading aloud. In the summer his
mother had a former societaire of the Fran-
qais come down once a week to their chateau
to give the entire family lessons in diction.

French homes are apt not to have the ma-
terial comforts of ours. In very good houses
the fire will be lighted in the salon only when
the company has actually rung at the door,
or on the days of reception. I remember
once buying a palm at the Louvre and having
the salesman say to me, when I asked him if
he would guarantee it to be in good condi-
tion: "Certainly it is in good condition, but
this is something that must be taken into
account. Once a week, Madam, you will
make a fire in your salon. The plant, which
is accustomed to the cold every other day,
will naturally feel this sudden change to a
warm atmosphere, and wilt momentarily."
A man in the Louvre could not imagine an
interior where there was a fire in the salon
oftener than once a week.

Demoulins has given as one of his evi-
dences of Anglo-Saxon superiority the many
comforts we have in our homes, and these
are incontestable. And yet as everything has
the defects of its qualities, I cannot help feel-
ing sometimes that our superior material


standpoint is rather hard to Hve up to, espe-
cially for women. As a nation, we must be
constantly increasing our numerators, in
whatever represents the unit of our am-
bitions; money, position, cultivation — and
generally money — and it is upon the women
that the necessity falls of giving constant and
material proof of an advanced and enlight-
ened state which is always changing its
standards. Whole papers have to be invented
to keep us informed from week to week and
month to month of such things as the latest
finds in etiquette and house decoration, the
size of visiting cards, or the most approved
kinds of kitchen dishes; and our sense of re-
sponsibility over our individual opinions on
art, literature, religion and other subjects is
something prodigious.

Everything with us tends towards individ-
ual initiative, and everything with the French
towards general repose; but since, whatever
we may be, we are not lacking in a sense of
humor, I know of nothing that could gratify
it more than to be present at one of those
rare interviews where too much of the
individual initiative of one side of the water
has crossed over to the old world and comes
in contact with too much of the repose of the

Once or twice in my life this privilege has

A Family Breakfast.

On the Street.


been granted me. I recall the expression on
the face of a French wife of the type of one of
those in the families I have described, at the
answer of a pretty young American woman,
who had come abroad alone for a year to
study French and art, when asked how her
husband was going to get along without her.
"Oh, well — we didn't see so very much of
each other when I was home. My husband
was away all day — and we lived in a hotel —
and at night when we didn't go out we gen-
erally had people in."

By far the most satisfying thing in this line,
however, was a conversation between one of
those French mothers who "know every hour
of their daughters' lives," and whose family
represented the concentrated essence of the
French culture of seven hundred years, and
two American girls of nineteen and twenty-
one, respectively, who had come abroad alone
to "make original investigations," as they
told us. It was only one of them, however,
a pretty creature like Daisy Miller, who
exposed her past and present aspirations in
the follow^ing monologue, broken scarcely
by a single question from her amazed listener:
"I want to know things for myself," she
said. "Fve come over to get everything
from the original sources. Fve got to learn
French and German and Italian — oh, Fve sfot


a mountain of work before me! I'm going to
master French. I've given myself two
months for it. Of course, that isn't very long,
but as Miss Jones and I have the habit of
studying, I think we can do a great deal.
And Fm going to master art. At present
I'm in a period where I think all art is the
language of the soul. It's the expression of
the soul — but that's another thing I w-ant to
do. I want to talk with them — the artists, I
mean — and see if that's really true. The
books say it is, but then they put every-
thing so beautifully, don't you know. It
doesn't take a girl very long to audit up a
man — do you think it does — and as soon as
I talk with them I shall know."

"What did you think of the salons?" the
French lady asked, politely, as there came a
momentary lull.

"Oh, we didn't go to them. There were
nothing but modern pictures in them, and we
hadn't come to that period yet. In French
art I've only got as far as David, and the dis-
tinctly Napoleonic period. I began with
Egyptian art. I gave a series of parlor talks
on it at home. I've talked to more than five
hundred people. I talked without remunera-
tion. Poppa says they ought to have been
paid for listening to me. He says I'll never
learn anything because I never listen, and I
don't know but it's true. I've never listened


in my life. I've always been used to talking.
I have so many aspirations, and I don't know
how they'll focus!"

My French friend has several times asked
me how they did focus.

The Latin Quarter.

My own Latin Quarter comprises the
whole left bank of the Seine, indiscriminately,
and is a confused mingling of souvenirs of
Balzac, Miirger, Frangois Villon, Victor
Hugo and Du Maurier, together with a thou-
sand others that I have collected on my own
account. I remember my first dejeuner in a
studio in the quartier, in the spring, in a tall
house near the Pantheon, which looked out
on an old garden full of the scent of lilacs,
through which veered yellow butterflies and
dragonflies. Backed up against it were other
old houses with cream and faded pink and
citron-green walls, and on their roofs sat a
whole company of chimney pots, like so many
gossippy old ladies. At breakfast was a
young musical composer, who played for us
afterwards, amidst great enthusiasm, a Wag-
nerian composition of his own in which the
leitmotivs were what he called the students'
cries. To this day I can hear him saying
solemnly: "Here are the students coming
in the distance!" I could not find out at the
time, nor have I ever been able to discover
since, that the students ever had any such


cries; but as the man of genius justly re-
marked: "If they had had any, they would
have certainly been like those in his piece."
After this come all the Latin Quarter
memories of that first winter when I began
really to live in Paris, and to enjoy things
with that sense of possession which gives
them such a particular interest, before their
freshness has become dulled by too much fa-
miliarity. I remember my first visits to the
Luxembourg in the short afternoons, and
coming out at the hour of closing into the
gardens to find the statues shivering in the
winter twilight, and the lights glimmering
just enough through the mist to let you dis-
tinguish the violets and mimosa in the little
charettes that the women pushed along the

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Online LibraryKatharine De ForestParis as it is; an intimate account of its people, its home life, and its places of interest → online text (page 4 of 16)