17 SEPTEMBER 1859, Page 18


THE " realities" discussed in the three bulky volumes before us are chiefly those which concern the poor and the criminal classes of Paris. The book has at least this merit, that the author is actuated by a strong interest in his subject, that he has carefully studied its details on the spot, and that, though he compiles a great deal, he also writes out of the fulness of his personal know- ledge. His matter naturally divides itself into three portions. He describes, first, the condition and the habits of the poor ; secondly, the means employed to repress and punish their offences against the law ; and, thirdly, the charitable institutions which exist for their relief. The information he supplies under this last head is the most novel in the book, and next to it is that which relates to prison discipline ; but on the whole his disclosures fall far short of the originality he claims for them. He tells us that the subject on which he has written is not one that has been often or indeed ever been treated before ; but on this he is very pal- pably mistaken. Of the ground he goes over there is very little which has not been explored by preceding writers, both French and English ; and the classes of the Parisian population he describes—petty dealers, hawkers, chiffoniers, charlatans, thieves, and gamins—are almost as familiar to us as our own coster- mongers, patterers, and eat's-meat men. Many of his special instances are of a kind which any reader of French newspapers could supply by the score, and not a few of them which he re- counts as quite new ors: old vamped-up stories which have gone the round of the world. For example, talking of quacks, he says, " Another who diverted us immensely was decidedly a Gascon, and no mistake," and then he fills nearly three pages with a story which was as common in Ireland thirty or forty years ago as any in Joe Miller, and which may be as old as the Sanscrit tongue for anything we know to the contrary. This Gascon, our author tells us, sold little packets of powder which he warranted in- fallible for killing fleas and other vermin. He had gathered round him a crowd of persons, most of whom were eager purchasers, but when they had paid their money they found themselves without directions for using the precious remedy, and pressed the vendor for an explanation. He played with them and kept them at bay * Realitkra of Paris Life. the Author of " Flemish Interiors." fix. &c. In three volumes. Published by Hurst and Blacken. until he had sold off his whole stock ; then tucking up his sleeves he made them a speech, which he pronounced with the true Gaseon. accent.

" ' Bon-nea gens simp-les et na-lls, qui m'ecoutez, et ne voyez pas, ap- prochez ; je vous dirai la manic-re de vous servir de ma poudre. Ce n'eat pea diffici-le ; tenez,—la mu! . . . Vous primes is peta-te be-te, vans is mettez entre vos genoux ; vons lui semis Is. tail-le : eels lid fait ouvrir le bee; une pincee de ma poudre sur is lan-gue, et elle est mor-te!7c'est fini pour elle . . . . et . . . . pour moi sued, qui vous souhai-te bien le bon. sou.'

"At this ludicrous conclusion some are so taken aback at the fellow's cool- ness that they stand aghast while he is making off ; other are trying to give form and expression to their indignation, while a considerable proportion: feel that when a man has been taken in, the less he says about it the better, and that it is a case in which the better part of valour is discretion.. Thankts to these contending influences, the charlatan,' who does not let the grass grow under his feet, manages so well that he is out of sight before his dupes have made up their mind how to punish him, and doubtless he has the wisdom not to reappear on the same field of victory."

In the matter of funny stories there is very little new under the sun. Person declared that Joe Miller was stolen from the Greek, and since the story of the Gascon charlatan is not new, and its date is unknown, it is impossible to assign any limit to its possible antiquity. We can bear with an old story or two now and then, but we object to be crammed with them under the guise of " realities," especially when they are badly told, in a verbose and deadly lively style. The most illustrious of professed charlatans now living is Mengin, and he is net unknown to fame even.in England.. He is so well worth knowing that we will extract our author's sketch of him, at the risk of presenting to some of our readers matter with which they are already familiar.

" He is known in all the provinces of France, and no less in Paris ; for though he has several depots in the capital, he travels about from place to place, and visits the different provinces according to the season, carrying his reputation with him, leaving it and finding it again wherever he goes. Wounted upon a vehicle of very original construction, habited in an ample velvet burnous of brilliant green, variegated with broad gold stripes, his head crowned with a glittering, plumed helmet, he is accompanied by his suivant Vert-de-Gris, who sits perched up behind him, wearing a livery in character with his master's costume, and turning a barrel-organ during the pauses which intervene between the addresses made by his master to the crowd.

"If Mengin is a charlatan, he makes no secret of his profession.

" I am called a charlatan,' he says. ' I am quite aware of it, and take no offence at it. There was a time when, I confess, I did not quite like to hear said, "There goes a charlatan!" By degrees, however, I became used to it, and now I am perfectly indifferent to any remarks that may be made. After all, why should I be ashamed of being a charlatan ? There are so many who are charlatans, who do not acknowledge it, and whe flatter, ca- jole, and coax you all the time they are deceiving„' cheating, and making game of you. Now I deceive no one' I make no fine promises, I don't pre- tend to say I give away my pencils. By no means; I sell them, but honestly, as articles of good quality. I am always to be found in the streets of Paris, and I am not afraid of anyone's coming to me, and saying I have choused them. But, perhaps you will say, What is the use of all this apparatus, all this glitter ?" Ah ! well, I will tell you. In the midst of the diffusion of light of which we are so proud, in this magnificent nineteenth century, human nature still retains, it must be confessed, a remnant of its barbarian character ; it still has its weak side ; men are often caught by external glitter. If I were dressed like an ordinary mortal, you would not take any notice of me. My carriage, my laced coat, my bright and crested helmet attract you even from a distance ; you approach, and then you find it is Mengin, and you must hear and see Mengin. Once there, you are astonished to find you want some pencils. I thus dispose of my stock, which I force nobody to buy, and which no one ever repents of having purchased.'

"After this harangue Signor Vert-de-Gris is requested to favour the com-

r" pany ask y with of inof hails] pAfoorntig:s'ariloeffniirntherlittu&hiBe satiTtit a nt! those who hesitate. If they refuse, he 'persists ; if they still hold out, he crosses his arms, casting down his face like a man plunged in the deepest discouragement and consternation ; then raising his eyes to Heaven,, he seems to recommend himself to some beneficent divinity. "If the sale continues languid be takes out an album, draws a fewstrokes to show the quality of his pencils, and then begins a sketch. It is a head— the hair a incro able and the hat a rimpossible. Satisfied with his per- formance, he holds it up to public admiration. It is perfect, with one ex- ception ; nothing is wanting—but the face. The space has been left for it. Mengin experiences no difficulty as to the next step. His lynx-eye wan- ders over the crowd ; he fixes on his man, and, keeping his gaze, as by fas- cination, upon him, he nails him to his place by an energetic gesture, which seems to say, Stir not.' " The poor wretch remains in a state of stupefied astonishment, while Mengin, in a few clever touches, hits off a most grotesque likeness. When the caricature is completed, he presents it to his sitter with a look of in- quiry, which asks as plainly as words, What do you think of the portrait?' The other, not yet recovered from his surprise, shakes his head with a mix- ture of indignation and dismay, which testifies that, at all events, he is not satisfied with his picture. Who over was ? "Mengin assumes a disconcerted look, (then turns to the crowd with an appealing air, asks them whether it is possible a man can know himself so little as not to be struck with such a resemblance, adding with a shrug, Ma foi ! ce n'eat pas de ma faute si le portrait n'est pas beau ; ce n'est pas moi qui lui ai donne cette figure. de suss bien fiche que la copie lui de- plaise.' This declaration is, of course, ieceived with a tremendous fit of laughter, of which the inevitable result is, first to put to flight the poor fellow who has been caricatured, and, secondly, to augment the crowd by arresting the passers-by, who naturally stop- to ascertain the cause of all the merriment. This affords a favourable opportunity to the salesman, who never loses sight of the main chance, to take up the eulogium and the sale of his merchandise.

"It is a real treat to see Mengin, with his imperturbable assurance and iiplomb, to listen to his traits of humour, and to watch the play of his fea- tures and the activity of his intelligence, and there are many who would enjoy the opportunity of assisting at one of his seances, were they not pre- vented by a feeling of false shame. It is evident this fact is suspected, as, not long since, among the attractions offered at one of the brilliant fetes in the Pre Catelan, it was announced in large letters that the Cortege de Mengin, avec son suivant, "Vert-de-Gris," ' would grace the entertain- ment."

Az attempt which was made in the reign of Louis Philippe to introduce scavengers' carts in Paris provoked a rebellion of the ebilfonniers which was not put down without trouble. We kern from our author that a. serious encroachment upon the long-esta- blished habits and privileges of the chiffonniers is again meditated. It-is proposed that every householder shall be obliged as in Eng- land to have a dust-bin on his premises, which is to be emptied every morning by " the regular dustman," and the contents car- ried off in " voitures accelerees." Scavengers will contract to do• the work without charge on condition of retaining what they collect. The value of the Paris refuse may be guessed from the fact that 40,000 franca' worth of old nails are annually picked up in the streets, and bits of string to the tune of 25,000 francs.

The French law provides a punishment for fraudulent dealing which might be applied in this country with advantage. A. shopkeeper who has been convicted. of using false weights or selling adulterated articles, is not only fined but com- pelled besides to have a large placard, recording his guilt, set up in a conspicuous part of his shop, where it must remain a certain number of weeks, to inform his customers that he has been caught with his hand in their pockets.

The French police is perfection in our author's eyes, and im- measurably superior to our own. Its forte is detection, in which service the English police force is, in his opinion, a pack of bun- glers. The French on the contrary sees, knows, or guesses every- thing, "and when least expected, it pounces upon the subject of its pursuit, or lays its sure and unyielding grasp upon the first germs of a plat." The writer of this extraordinary panegyric has of course forgetten all about the Orsini plot, i-propos of which the Emperor Napoleon III, declared the French police to be the most inefficient in Europe. Again, after stating that " in Paris public opinion, no less than public conduct, is subject to the con- trol of the trance," the writer broadly hints his belief that it would be well if English journalists were subjected to a similar regime. He admires " the wisdom " of the measure which compelled the French papers, one and all, to appear on the morning after M. de Montalembert's trial without a word of comment on the subject, whilst English journalists were making a desperate pother over that " mare's nest."

To exalt the institutions and the religion of France, and to present those of England under the most invidious aspect, is the main purpose of these volumes. Had their author been content with fairly reporting the charitable works of his co-religionists, his labours would have been favourably regarded by candid men of all shades of opinion ; but his fanaticism can see no faults, however venial, within his own church,—no good. beyond. her pale. It is his belief that true charity exists only in the bosom of Ca- tholicism ; in protestant England there is no charity, but only its counterfeit, a philanthropy which is by no means disinterested. He does his little utmost to cast scorn on the Protestant clergy, and holds it to be plainly impossible that there should be one amongst them who is not a selfish hireling. He begins his book, poor man, with the profession of one delusion, as we have already stated, and he ends it with another : he declares his conviction that when he compares France and England, his readers will on reflection allow that he is " always just." When did a bigot ever admit that he could by any possibility be unjust.? Fortu- nately, in the present ease the writer's dulness is an antidote to the virus of his fanaticism.