1902 Encyclopedia > Paris > History - 19th Century

(Part 23)

History - 19th Century

It does not enter into the plan of the present sketch to narrate the history of Paris during the Revolutionary period; that is the history rather of France, and to a certain extent of the whole word (see France). During the consulate hardly anything of note took place at Paris except the explosion of the infernal machine directed against Bonaparte on December 24, 1800.

The coronation of Napoleon by Pope Pius VII. was celebrated in Notre Dame on December 2, 1804. Eight years later, during the Russian campaign, the conspiracy of Genreal Malet, happily suppressed, was on the point of letting loose on all France a dreadful civil war. The empire, however, was then on the wane, and Paris was witness of its fall when, after an heroic resistance of two days, the city was obliged to surrender to the allies on march 30, 1814.

After the return of the Bourbons, Paris had to submit to a treaty more humiliating than the capitulation. Already in 1763 Louis XV. had signed in his capital the treaty with England known as the shameful (Honteuse), by which he surrendered a great part of the American and Indian colonies, and notably Canada. That of May 30, 1814, was more truly disastrous, since it dismembered the mother-country, cancelled almost all the conquests of the republic and the empire, and lessened the military strength of France by robbing it of half its fleet. And worse even than this was the treaty of 28th November 1815, which not only suppressed the slight accessions of territory recognized by the treaty of 1814, and doomed to demolition the fortifications of Huningue, but exacted a war indemnity of 700 millions francs (28,000,000 pounds), and demanded the maintenance in seven departments of 150,000 soldiers of the allied army until the payment of the entire sum.

Under Louis XVIII. the only event of note that occurred in Paris was the assassination of the duke of Berry by Louvel, February 13, 1820. Ten years later the revolution of 1830, splendidly commemorated by the Column of July in Place de la Bastille, put Cahrles X. to flight and inaugurated the reign of Louis Philippe, a troublous period, which was closed by the revolution of 1848 and a new republic. It was this reign, however, that surrounded Paris with bastioned fortifications with ditches and detached forts. The republic of 1848 brought no greater quiet to the city than did the reign of Louis Philippe. The most terrible insurrection was that of June 23 to 26, 1848, distinguished by the devotion and heroic death of the Archibishop Affre. It was quelled by General Cavaignac, who then for some months held the executive power. Prince Louis Napoleon next became president of the republic, and after dissolving the chamber of deputies on December 2, 1851, caused himself to be proclaimed emperor just a year later.

The second empire completed that material transformation of Paris which had already been begun at the fall of the ancient monarchy. First came numerous cases of destruction and demolition caused by the suppression of the old monasteries and of many parish churches. A number of mediaeval buildings, civil or military, were cleared away for the sake of regularity of plan and improvements in the public streets, or to satisfy the taste of the owners, who thought more of their comfort or profit than of the historic interest of their old mansions or houses. Destructions of this kind, in some instances of advantage, in other cases without excuse, still continue with more or less frequency. It was under the first empire that the new series of improvements were inaugurated which have made Paris a modern city. Napoleon began the Rue de Rivoli, built along this street the wing intended to connect the Tuileries with the Louvre, erected in front of the court of the Tuileries the triumphal arch of the Carrousel, in imitation of that of Septimius Severus at Rome. In the middle of the Place Vendome was reared, on the model of Trajan’s column, the column of the grand army, surmounted by the statue of the emperor. To immortalize this same grand army he ordered from the architect Pierre Vignon a Temple of Victory, which without changing the form of its Corinthian peristyle has become the church of the Madeleine; the entrance to the avenue of the Champs Elysees was spanned by the vast triumphal arch De l’Etoile (of the star), which owes its celebrity not only to its colossal dimensions and its magnificent situation, but also to one of the four subjects sculptured upon its faces – the Chant du Depart or Marseillaise, one of the masterpieces of Rude and of modern sculpture . another masterpiece was executed by David of Angers, the pediment of the Pantheon, not less famous than Soufflot’s dome. The museum of the Louvre, founded by decree of the Convention on July 27, 1793, was organized and considerably enlarged; that of the Luxembourg was created in 1805, but was not appropriated exclusively to modern artists till under the Restoration. The Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, due to Convention, received also considerable additions in the old priory or abbey of St Martin des Champs, where the council of the Five Hundred had installed it in 1798.

Under the Restoration and under the government of July many new buildings were erected; but, with the exception of the Bourse, constructed by the architects Brongniart and Labarre, and he colonnade of the chamber of deputies, these are of interest not so much for their size as for the new artistic tendencies affected in their architecture. People had gown weary of the eternal Graeco-Roman compilations rendered fashionable by the Renaissance, and reduced under the empire to mere imitations, in producing which all inspiration was repressed. The necessity of being rational in architecture, and of taking full account of practical wants, was recognized; and more suggestive and plastic models were sought in the past. These were to be found, it was believed, in Greece; and in consequence the government under Louis Philippe saw itself obliged to found the French school at Athens, in order to allow young artists to study their favorite types on the spot. In the case of churches it was deemed judicious to revive the Christian basilicas of the first centuries, as ay Notre Dame de Lorette and St Vincent de Paul; and a little later to bring in again the styles of the Middle Ages, as in the ogival church of Ste Clotilde.

Old buildings were also the object of labors more or less important. The Place de la Concorde was altred in various ways, and adorned with eight statues of towns and with two fountains; on October 25, 1836, the Egyptian obelisk, brought at great expense from Luxor, was erected in the center. The general restoration of the cathedral of Notre Dame was voted by the Chamber in 1845, and entrustd to Viollet-le-Duc; and the palace of the Luxembourg and the Hotel de Ville were considerably enlarged at the same time, in the style of the existing edifices.

But the great transformer of Paris in modern times was Napoleon III. To him or to his reign we owe the Grand Opera, the finest theater in the world, and the masterpiece of the architect Garnier; the new Hotel-Dieu; the finishing of the galleries which complete the Louvre and connect it with the Tuileries; the extension of the Palais de Justice and its new front on the old Place Dauphine; the tribunal of commerce; the central markets; several of the finest railway stations; the viaduct at Auteuil; the churches of La Trinite, St Augustin, St Ambroise, St Francois Xavier, Bellerville, Menilmontant, &x. For the first international Paris exhibition (that of 1855) was constructed the "palace of industry"; the enlargement of the national library was commenced; the museum of French antiquities was created by the savant Du Sommerard, and installed in the old "hotel" built at the end of the 15th century for the abbots of Cluny.

All this is but he smallest part of the memorials which Napoleon III. left of his presence. Not only was the city traversed in all directions by new throughfares, and sumptuous houses raised or restored in every quarter, but the line of the fortifications was made in 1859 the limit of the city. The area was thus doubled, extending to 7450 hectares or 18,410 acres, instead of 3402 hectares or 8407 acres. It was otherwise with the population; to the 1,200,000 inhabitants which Paris possessed in 1858 the incorporation of the suburdan zone only added 600,000.

Paris had to pay dear for its growth and prosperity under the second empire. This Government, which by straightening and widening the streets, thought it had effectually guarded against the attempts of its internal enemies, had not sufficiently defended itself from external attack, and at the first reverses of 1870 Paris found itself prepared to overthrow the empire, but by no means able to hold out against the approaching Prussians.

The two sieges of Paris in 1870-71 are among the most dramatic episodes of its history. The first siege began on September 19, 1870 with the occupation by the Germans of the heights on the left side of the river and the capture of the unfinished redoubt of Chatillon. Two days later the investment was complete. General Trochu, head of the French Government and governor of the city, had under his command 400,000 men – a force which ought to have been able to hold out against the 240,000 Germans by whom it was besieged had it not been composed for the most part of hurried levies of raw soldiers with inexperienced officers, and of national guards who, never having been subjected to strict military discipline, were a source of weakness rather than of strength. The guards, it is true, displayed a certain warlike spirit, but it was for the sole purpose of exciting disorder. Open revolt broke out on October 31; it was suppressed, but increased the demoralization of the besieged and the demands of the Prussians. The partial successes which the French obtained in engagements on both sides of the river were rendered useless by the Germans recapturing all the best positions; the severity of winter told heavily on the garrison, and the armies in the provinces which were to have co-operated with it were held in check by the Germans in the west and south. In obedience to public opinion a great sortie was undertaken; this, in fact, was the only alternative to a surrender; for, the empire having organized everything in expectation of victory and not of disaster, Paris, insufficiently provisioned for the increase of population caused by the influx of refugees, was already suffering the horrors of famine. Accidental circumstances combined with the indecision of the leaders to render the enterprise a failure. Despatches sent by balloon to the army of the Loire instructing it to make a diversion reached their destination too late; the bridge of Champigny over the Marne could not be constructed in time; the most advantageous positions remained in the hands of the Germans; and on the 2nd and 3rd December the French abandoned the positions they had seized on the 29th and 30th of November . another sortie made towards the north on December 21st was repulsed, and the besieged lost the Avron plateau, the key to the positions which they still held on that side. The bombardment began on December 27th, and great damage was done to the forts on the left of the Seine , especially those of Vanves and Issy, directly commanded by the Chatillon battery. A third and last sortie (which proved fatal to Regnault the painter) was attempted in January 1871, but resulted in hopeless retreat. An armistice was signed on January 27th, the capitulation on the 28th. The revictualling of the city was not accomplished without much difficulty, in spite of the generous rivalry of foreign nations (London alone sending provisions to the value of 80,000 pounds).

On the 1st of March the Germans entered Paris. This event, which marked the close of the siege, was at the same time the first preparation for the "commune;" for the national guard, taking advantage of the general confusion and the powerlessness of the regular army, carried a number of cannon to the heights of Montmartre and Belleville under pretext of saving them. President Thiers, appreciating the danger, attempted on march 18th to remove the ordnance; his action was the signal of an insurrection which, successful from the first, initiated a series of terrible outrages by the murder of the two generals, Lecomte and Thomas. The Government, afraid of the defection of the troops, who were demoralized by failure and suffering, had evacuated the forts on the left side of the river and concentrated the army at Versailles (the forts on the right side were still to be held for some time by the Germans). Month Valerien happily remained in the hands of the Government, and became the pivot of the attack during the second siege. All the sorties made by the insurgents in the direction of Versailles (where the National Assembly was in session from March 20) proved unsuccessful, and cost them two of their improvised leaders – Generals Flourens and Duval. The incapacity and mutual hatred of their chiefs rendered all organization and durable resistance impossible. On Sunday May 21st the Government forces, commanded by Marshall M’Mahon, having already captured the forts on the right side of the river, made their way within the walls; but they had still to fight hard from barricade to barricade before they were masters of the city; Belleville, the special Red Republican quarter, was not assaulted and taken till Friday. Meanwhile the communists were committing the most horrible excesses: the archbishop of Paris (Georges Darboy, q.v.), President Bonjean, priests, magistrates, journalists, and private individuals, whom they had seized as hostages, were shot in vetches in the prisons; and a scheme of destructions was rutghlessly carried into effect by men and women with cases of petroleum (petroleurs and petroleuses). The Hotel de Ville, the Palais de Jsutice, the Tuileries, the Ministry of Finance, the palace of the Legion of Honor, that of the Council of State; part of the Rue de Rivoli, &c., were ravaged by the flames; barrels of gunpowder were placed in Notre Dame and the pantheon, ready to blow up the buildings; and the whole city would have been involved in ruin if the national troops had not gained a last and crowning victory in the neighborhood of La Roquette and Pere-la-Chaise on May 28th. Besides the large number of insurgents who, taken in arms, were pitilessly shot, others were afterwards condemned to death, to penal servitude, to transportation; and the survivors only obtained their liberty by the decree of 1879.

From this double trial Paris emerged diminished and almost robbed of its dignity as capital; for the parliamentary assemblies and the Government went to sit at Versailles. For a little it was thought that the city would not recover from the blow which had fallen on it. All came back, however-confidence, prosperity, and, along with that, increasing growth of population and the execution of great public works. The Hotel de Ville has been rebuilt, the school of medicine adorned with an imposing façade, a vast school of pharmacy established in the old gardens of the Luxembourg, and boulevard completed. The exhibition of 1878 was more marvelous than those of 1855 and 1867, and unlike that of the latter year has left a lasting memorial, the palace of the Trocadero. Finally the chambers in 1879 considered quiet sufficiently restored to take possession of their customary quarters in the Palais Bourbon and the Luxembourg. This happy event closes for the present the annals, at times only too dramatic, of the capital of France. (A.S.P.)

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Paris - Table of Contents

The above article was written by the following authors:

[Parts 1-18]
Anthyme St. Paul; author of Histoire monumentale de la France; edited Annuaire de l'Archéologue Français, from 1877.

[Parts 19-23]
Gaston Meissas; member of Société de Géographie; author of Grands Voyageurs de Notre Siècle, etc.

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