The City Beautiful

By Anne Warwick


The most prejudiced will not deny that Paris is beautiful; or that there is about her streets and broad, tree-lined avenues a graciousness at once dignified and gay. Stand, as the ordinary tourist does on his first day, in the flowering square before the Louvre; in the foreground are the fountains and bright tulip-bordered paths of the Tuileries--here a glint of gold, there a soft flash of marble statuary, shining through the trees; in the center the round lake where the children sail their boats. Beyond spreads the wide sweep of the Place de la Concorde, with its obelisk of terrible significance, its larger fountains throwing brilliant jets of spray; and then the trailing, upward vista of the Champs Elysees to the great triumphal arch; yes, even to the most indifferent, Paris is beautiful.

To the subtler of appreciation, she is more than beautiful; she is impressive. For behind the studied elegance of architecture, the elaborate simplicity of garden, the carefully lavish use of sculpture and delicate spray, is visible the imagination of a race of passionate creators--the imagination, throughout, of the great artist. One meets it at every turn and corner, down dim passageways, up steep hills, across bridges, along sinuous quays; the masterhand and its "infinite capacity for taking pains." And so marvelously do its manifestations of many periods through many ages combine to enhance one another that one is convinced that the genius of Paris has been perennial; that St. Genevieve, her godmother, bestowed it as an immortal gift when the city was born.

From earliest days every man seems to have caught the spirit of the man who came before, and to have perpetuated it; by adding his own distinctive yet always harmonious contribution to the gradual development of the whole. One built a stately avenue; another erected a church at the end; a third added a garden on the other side of the church, and terraces leading up to it; a fourth and fifth cut streets that should give from the remaining two sides into other flowery squares with their fine edifices. And so from every viewpoint, and from every part of the entire city, to-day we have an unbroken series of vistas--each one different and more charming than the last.

History has lent its hand to the process, too; and romance--it is not an insipid chain of flowerbeds we have to follow, but the holy warriors of Saint Louis, the roistering braves of Henry the Great, the gallant Bourbons, the ill-starred Bonapartes. These as they passed have left their monuments; it may be only in a crumbling old chapel or ruined tower, but there they are, eloquent of days that are dead, of a spirit that lives forever staunch in the heart of the fervent French people.

It comes over one overwhelmingly sometimes, in the midst of the careless gaiety of the modern city, the old, ever-burning spirit of rebellion and savage strife that underlies it all, and that can spring to the surface now on certain memorable days, with a vehemence that is terrifying. Look across the Pont Alexandre, at the serene gold dome of the Invalides, surrounded by its sleepy barracks. Suddenly you are in the fires and awful slaughter of Napoleon's wars. The flower of France is being pitilessly cut down for the lust of one man's ambition; and when that is spent, and the wail of the widowed country pierces heaven with its desolation, a costly asylum is built for the handful of soldiers who are left--and the great Emperor has done his duty!

Or you are walking through the Cite, past the court of the Palais de Justice. You glance in, carelessly--memory rushes upon you--and the court flows with blood, "so that men waded through it, up to the knees!" In the tiny stone-walled room yonder, Marie Antoinette sits disdainfully composed before her keepers; tho her face is white with the sounds she hears, as her friends and followers are led out to swell that hideous river of blood.

A pretty, artificial city, Paris; good for shopping, and naughty amusements, now and then. History? Oh yes, of course; but all that's so dry and uninspiring, and besides it happened so long ago.

Did it? In your stroll along the Rue Royale, among the jewellers' and milliners' shops and Maxim's, glance up at the Madeleine, down at the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde. Little over a hundred years ago, this was the brief distance between life and death for those who one minute were dancing in the "Temple of Victory," the next were laying their heads upon the block of the guillotine.

[1] From "The Meccas of the World." By permission of the publisher, John Lane. Copyright, 1913.