By HAROLD NICOLSON
MONSIEUR ANDRE SIEGFRIED is by nature a political economist. When he strays from the asphalt path of the trade-cycle and the theory of distribution, he is assailed by a sense of sin, as if he had idled with Amaryllis among the anemone and asphodel. In his latest book, which is entitled Geographie Humoristique de Paris and is published by the Passerelle Press, he describes the displace- ments that have occurred during the last century among certain categories of Parisians. English readers must realise that the epithet humoristique as applied to this parergon is a literary and historical allusion rather than an exact description of the tone in which the book is composed. Such levity as M. Siegfried permits himself is about as folichon as one of Ricardo's jokes. Indeed, what worries me about the French is their truly appal- ling seriousness. Why on earth should a man like M. Siegfried wish to excuse his light-heartedness in toying with arrond- issements by adding to his title the deprecatory giggle of humoristique, indicating that his work is to be taken lightly ? No British Academician, did such an animal exist, would feel shy about publishing so interesting an inventory or seek to pass if off as a quip; the cupola of the hutitut weighs heavily indeed. What I admire so much about M. Siegfried is his capacity for taking trouble. Admittedly this examination of the addresses of the dead and living does not constitute one of his major works; but he has devoted to it those gifts of research, accuracy and deduction that have rendered him one of the best political critics of our age. He has spent much time conning the yellowed leaves of annuaires: he has con- sulted the Bottins of a century : as a result be now provides us with material which is rich in comparisons and interesting as a study in human gregariousness.
* * * * The effect of his book is to confirm the idea that the Parisian is much more urban than the Londoner. For instance, M. Siegfried begins by discussing the varied associations aroused by the several Paris telephone exchanges. Only very few of the London exchanges suggest anything to me at all. " Welbeck " has associations with dentists, doctors and nurs- ing homes : " Whitehall " suggests civil servants and clubs : and " Central " makes one think of all those enchanting lawyers and newspaper men. But what Londoner is moved by the sound of "Uplands," or " Livingstone," or " Perivale," or•" Acorn " ? When, as sometimes may happen, I dial " BYR " or "MAC," my thoughts do not float off happily into memories of the authors of "Childe Harold" and "Lays of Ancient Rome." My thoughts concentrate either upon what I am about to say or upon how agreeable is the automatic telephone with no tired operator to be flattered and solicited. But to M. Siegfried, that excellent Parisian, the telephone exchanges have evocations of their own. The word " Kleber " suggests riches and flats smelling of beeswax and tuberoses : the word " Odeon " suggests second-hand books under arcades and a great many learned men, both young and old: " Trinite," " Taitbout " and " Provence " stink of Big Business, whereas " Wagram," " Europe " and " Laborde " have all the charm of decayed gentility. It is true that I am not a frequent telephonist, having for the convenient little instrument a loathing such as all decent people feel. But even those of my friends who really enjoy a social chat upon the telephone do not, I gather, attribute personalities to the "Ken," the " Gro " and the " Whi " which they dial. They mean no more to them than 3364. They mean much more to M. Siegfried. * * * * The metro stations again inspire him with sentimental civic moods. I quite see that if one passes from Austerlitz, via Bastille, St. Paul, Hotel de Ville, Chatelet, Louvre, Palais Royal and Tuileries to Concorde only the most dulled imagination would fail to receive faint stirrings of history. Even so, I suppose, a sense of actually being in London is conveyed to me when I see the sucession of Victoria, St. James', West- minster, Temple, Mansion House, Monument and Tower Hill. But M. Siegfried is far more metropolitan, or imaginative, than I am, since he derives delighted associations even from those stations that are christened, in the gay French manner, after journalists or politicians whose very existence and meaning have long since been forgotten. I quite agree that interesting space-time feelings are aroused when, seated in the same seat in the Underground, gazing at the same advertisement oppo- site, one is transported beneath streets upon the pavements of which the footsteps of men and women are hurrying this way and that. The difference between a real Parisian like M. -Siegfried and an average Londoner such as myself is that, whereas he knows the sort of people that those suburban feet belong to, I do not. To him, Boucicaut, Breguet-Sabin, Corentin-Celton, Faiderbe-Chaligny and so on really suggest living human beings. But when I pass the stations of Dollis Hill, Neasden or Essex Road, I have no idea at all to what sort of people the footsteps belong. In fact we Londoners do not love or know our city in the same way as Paris by Parisians is both known and loved. Always within us there is the "dumb longing for the Berkshire loam."
M. Siegfried's book is marsupial, in that it possesses a small pouch containing twenty-four sketch-maps to illustrate his theme. He takes five or six categories of Parisians—such as writers, artists, scientists, doctors, dukes and bankers—and examines in what districts of Paris these people lived in 1848, in 1900 and in 1950. The movement, as we had already been assured by the demographic experts, is generally one from east to west; the shifting of Parisians has followed this general tendency, but with excep,tions that are significant. In 1848, for instance, most of the members of the French Academy lived on the left bank of the Seine, in the VIth and VIIth arrondissements, namely those of the Luxembourg and the Palais Bourbon : one solitary academican lived out in the north- east suburb of La Villette; only two, at that date, lived in the Etoile area. By 1950 the Luxembourg area had declined in favour of the Right Bank, but the old VII, running from the Rue de Bac to the Champ de Mars, retained its ancient popularity. The academician from La Villette had disappeared. Now one thing that is strange to us is that no fewer than 33 of the 40 immortals are at this moment living in Paris. How few of our own leading writers really live in London ! They are scattered over the shires, from Cornwall to the Shetlands. The Parisian artists, again, still tend to congregate on one side or other of the Boulevard St. Michel, although a few of the more successful Salon portrait-painters have emigrated to the Etoile area. The French scientists display a touching loyalty to the Vth arrondissement, clinging lovingly to the Val de Grace and the Jardin des Plantes. And although the dukes and the bankers have left thg IXth arrondissement and their hanging gardens draped in Clematis, they have again huddled pretty close together in Nos. VII, XVI and XVII.
Are we British equally gregarious and conservative in our residential habits ? The doctors of course congregate around Harley Street and the dukes and bankers around Mayfair. If we took a census of the painters living in London we should find that most of them didn't; and that those who did were star-scattered between Chelsea and the Euston Road. Nor do our literary men and women congregate normally; it is a long, long way from Tite Street to Gordon Square and from Regent's Park to Bayswater. Is it that French artists and writers, dukes and bankers, enjoy each other's company more than their English equivalents ? I do not think that is the explanation. It is rather that the French are more conversational than we are; and much prefer towns.