24 APRIL 1880, Page 12


IT is twenty years, they say, since so fine an Easter week has been known in Paris as that of the present year of grace. Cloudless skies, brilliant sunshine, soft, sweet air, and the pecu- liar lightness of the atmosphere—which, delightful as it is, has nevertheless the effect of rendering the incessant noise of Paris especially maddening—all did their best to make the great holiday-week enjoyable. In the grand and fashionable quarters of the city there was the usual movement, and perhaps an unusually numerous throng of strangers ; the great churches were crowded, the Concours Hippique was resorted to by many thousands daily, the boulevards had such a contingent ofjidneurs as the present writer had never before seen in March, the chairs in the Champs Elysees were occupied as confidently as though the summer were already come and the sharp winds had finally retreated to their cave, leaving the long jocund days to the exquisite vest tendre of the chestnuts without fear of blight, and to the snowy masses of the pear- blossoms and the thorn-flowers, which in themselves formed this Easter a spectacle worth going a long way to behold. Warmth without sultriness, and that delightful feeling of height and distance which the sky of Paris gives one in the early spring, when the architectural beauties of the city are seen at their best, and the views from the bridges are in their perfec- tion, especially marked those few "pet" days this year. They also made it the pleasanter to observe some of the social features of a quarter which is but little frequented by visitors to Paris, although it is in close proximity to scenery far more beautiful than that of the Bois de Boulogne side, the quarter of the Faubourg St. Antoine, the Place du Tame, and the Avenue de Saint Mande.

The characteristic aspect of the quarter begins with the former Boulevard du Prince EugCne, now called Boulevard Voltaire, and the " Place " on which, opposite the great bar- racks, the effigy of Josephine's gallant son stood, until it was deposed in favour of that statue of the philosopher of Ferney which was, by an epigram in action, blown off its pedestal into space by a Prussian shell. There is incessant movement, curiously compounded of business and amusement, for the passers are constantly pouring in and out of the shops, and the trottoirs are encumbered with little booths and tents and wide-spread crimson and gold umbrellas, all sheltering tables at which games of various kinds are being briskly played ; and there is a Babel of cheerful sound, and a carnivalesque prevalence of gaudy colour. Nowhere in Paris are the shops more bedizened with ornament than in the quarter of Carlyle's " scarecrows " and Dickens's Madame Defarge. There- is a butcher's shop all trellised with gold and vermilion, and bear- ing a frieze of bulls' heads with interlaced garlands which might have adorned a sacrificial temple in ancient Rome ; and the dark little wine-shop next to it might be the very place in which Madame Defarge posted up her knitted registers of doom, as she sat behind that identical leaden counter, with the signal- rose ready to her hand. There are still standing great gaunt skeletons of the many-storeyed houses from whence the fluttering scarecrows streamed " down into the street," at the ominous drum-beat—which even now seems never to be long unheard in the quarter—and in front of them tidy, brisk little shops, in which le petit commerce flourishes ; while in odd bits of waste ground at the side, the gigantic swings that have an inexhausti- ble attraction for the youth of St. Antoine are in incessant motion, and carousels of the humbler sort do a lively business all day long.

The Foire aux ,Tambons closes just before the famous Foire au Pain d'Epice begins; the former being of a much tamer, homelier, and more business-like aspect than the latter, for among its wares it includes kitchen and household utensils of every kind, in addition to the ostensible hams, which are, for the most part, sold en gros and in their canvas covers, being in only comparatively few instances subjected to decorative treat- ment. Festoons of copper saucepans, and bunches of brooms, cun- ningly enwreathed with pot-herbs, are among the lighter features of the spectacle ; but still, the Fair has a matter-of-fact air, the swarming crowds are on household cares intent, the provision is being made an Boric= ; the saltimbanque element is compara- tively insignificant. We must wait for Easter Sunday, when the glories of that vast assemblage of caravans, booths, ambulatory equipages of every size, shape, and purpose, theatres, cirques, carrousels and montagnes Busses, at present shrouded in many-coloured coverings, shall be displayed to the public gaze, under the august shadow of the two great columns which are the most superb expression of the vanished monarchy in all Paris, and have survived so many cataclysms. Mightily majestic in the broad-lying moonlight on the vigil of Easter Day, looked the towering statues of Saint Louis and Philip Augustus, holding the Place of the Throne, with a far-stretch- ing world of tarpaulin and striped canvas at their base, and the ceaseless hum of preparation, with now and then a growl, a shriek, or a whine from the "beast shows," accordingly as a lion, a hyaena, or a wolf felt himself aggrieved by the established order of things. With Sunday morning the scene had under- gone a surprising transformation; but it was not until the even- ing that its brilliancy, its extraordinary movement, its curious characteristics were fully displayed.

The ancient institution of the Ginger-bread Fair belongs to the old historic life of the Paris of the past, and is in its present aspect as perfect a summary of the present as could be selected for observation. It is aide of the people, and there, it must be admitted, the people are seen to advantage; the gay, good- humoured, complaisant, tolerant, easily-amused side of their character comes out. The spectacle of a vast crowd, in con- stant motion, in all the excitement of varied kinds of amuse- ment, with little or no police control—at least so far as any such was apparent—and without the slightest admixture of the " rough" element, a crowd in which ladies were perfectly secure from insult and children from injury; in which every- body seemed eager and anxious that everybody else should find something with which to be pleased and amused, is peculiarly interesting, in a place in which one has so many terrible associations with the idea of "the people." The vast space of the Place du TrOne, with a great extent beyond it in the direction of Vincennes, and the whole line of the Rue du Fau-

bourg St. Antoine, is occupied with the booths and shows. The central buildings are large theatres, capable of accommodating hundreds of spectators at one time, with gorgeously decorated fronts, and draped and gilded estrades, on which the actors or dancers, as the case may be—splendid warriors in wigs of the Turenne period, and stalwart athletes in muscle-displaying =Riots, with spangles in profusion—afford glimpses of them-

selves, at brief, delicious intervals, and work up the expectant crowd to a satisfactory pitch of eagerness ; and the whole

double line is splendidly lighted as far as the eye can reach. From the front of a Concert, whose portico reveals distracting peeps of dancing fairies in silver gauze and roses, streams a broad, shifting riband of electric light, which produces a strange and beautiful effect, as it is flung now on one mass of the crowd and now on another, making every face and figure distinct in the white radiance. There is not an instant's cessa- tion in the motion, the whole place seems to whirl, and yet it is not distressing ; the air is so pure, the sky is so high, the stars hang like silver globes from the steel vault, the tall columns preside in solemn stateliness ; there is a cheerful murmur of, per- haps, a hundred thousand voices, and a constant ring of laughter. The din of music is everywhere; to the beating of drums, the tootling of horns, the grinding of organs, the ear-piercing strains of the fife, the clash of cymbals, are added the shrill cries of the showmen, the rush of the great wheels, the working of the cranks by which adventurous pleasure-seekers are hoisted aloft in the seemingly dangerous, but really secure .Roues tournaates, the giddy whirl of the carrousels, or, as we prosaically call them, " merry-go-rounds "—and indeed, we have but pale copies of these splendid hobby-horses of the period— and the never-leaving-off tinkling of the bells which adorn the innumerable mysterious objects of colportage. Distinctly heard and felt amid it all, is a soft sighing of the sweet spring wind, as it sends waves of freshness over the scene ; and the whole forms a combination of sounds which ought to drive one mad, if coolly considered; but it does not, because the entrain, is infectious. If your readers are acquainted with the delightful description of the kermesse at Middleburg in M. Henry Havard's " Heart of Holland," they will understand the effect produced by the monumental and dazzling carrousels, which form a leading attraction of the Ginger-bread Fair ; they will remember, too, how M. Henry Havard and Baron Constant de Rebecque had to tear themselves away from the fascination, lest they, too, should find themselves mounted upon hippogriffs or hippo- potami, and whirling round to the maddening music of the " Mandolinata," which is represented on the Place du Trone by the " Marseillaise."

" Qn'un sang impnr abreuve nos Bilious !"

grind imploringly a hundred barrel and pianoforte organs, grunt a thousand wind-instruments, while round whirl myriads of gilded monsters, on whose caparisoned backs sit Parisians of both sexes and of every age, smiling, happy, proud, the right men, women, and children in the right place, amid the sympathetic applause of their fellow-citizens. The gorgeous- ness of these vast machines is beyond description; there is one, worked by a coquettish little steam-engine, with a driver in a moyen-age costume of perfect accuracy and extreme richness, which cost £40,000, and is a marvel of gilding, mirrors, flags, lamps, heraldic devices, crimson velvet, reflectors, spangles, and gold lace. This belongs to a company, and is a very prosperous investment; it travels far and wide through France. The same company own the beautiful little miniature circular railway which spins round and round, its tiny carriages always full, its steam always on, and its flags fluttering gaily, as it carries load after load of happy holiday-makers. Another gorgeous carrousel, comprising two complete galleries, and canopied by a golden dome, displays the arms of every country in the two worlds, blazoned in silver on imperial-purple velvet, and is almost too dazzling to look at. In the midst of all this, it is carious to observe the little domestic arrangements of the

saltimbanque world, and to study those strange people. The present writer, feeling that at half-past one on Easter Mon- day morning it is time to quit the festive scene and halls of dazzling light, and learning that the fair remains open the whole night, proposes to himself to drop in casually next day, when that saltimbanque world will be as yet en Wshabille. So he withdraws, while the noise and the whirl and the ceaseless gaiety are all going on with undiminished ardour and vivacity.