PGB 13: Traveling To 19th Century Paris!
Imagine, if you will, traveling to Paris in the 19th century. What was it like? The logistics of it? No planes, no chunnel trains. Instead, you have steam ships, slow trains, and carriages of all varieties. And hopefully the capacity to deal with all the rigors of travel in a world of strange border control processes and complicated travel itineraries. Perhaps some things remain the same. 😉
Check out how one American made the journey to Paris in this episode!
Note: This was definitely the unlucky 13th episode! Apologies for some of the wonky sound issues. However, the outtakes have inspired me to collect some bloopers for a future bloopers reel. I will have to bleep out some of my less-than-decorous language, however…
The New Series
As mentioned in the podcast, this episode launches a new series for PGB based on the book Paris: With Pen and Pencil by David W. Bartlett. I’m excited to explore a key period in the development of Paris through someone who was actually there!
What To Expect
The plan is to read a chapter or two per episode. I’ll provide commentary and context to enrich the experience and help you follow along at home. Don’t worry—this experiment won’t take over the podcast. Since the chapters pretty much stand alone, we don’t need to worry about losing the plot. So these will be mixed in with the more usual content about
dead bodies Parisian History.
The Journey Begins
For the show notes, I wanted to focus mostly on Bartlett’s journey from London to Paris. Which is far more interesting (and less baffling) than his version of Parisian history. Though I can’t ignore it completely!
The book follows David on two separate journeys to Paris. The first was during the rule of President Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon, sometime between 1848-1852 (my guess is closer to the 1850-1852 range). The second was after Louis Napoleon opted for a coup d’etat instead of giving up his presidency and then crowned himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1852. The book was published originally in 1858, so the second trip happened sometime between 1852-1858. A very eventful period in Paris!
Brace For Stormy Seas
We start in London, departing from the London Bridge: the first time from the wharf and the second time from the rail station.
Both trips, however, require taking a boat across the channel. The first boat trip, from central London to Boulogne, sounds about as nauseating as the last (and hopefully final) boat I took from France to the UK! Absolute misery.
His second trip, from New Haven to Dieppe and back, was considerably more pleasant, if much longer at sea.
The 1853 Miniature Guide to Paris and Its Environs listed enough details to allow me to find examples of the types of ships Bartlett may have taken. At this point, ships still had wooden hulls and used paddlewheels instead of turbines. The ship on the right is the closest in size to his ship:
Once he finally safely landed in Boulogne, David had to run the gauntlet of passport control and baggage handling before moving on to the next step of his journey.
Here are the broad steps required, as described in Pen & Pencil and the Miniature Guide:
- First, drop to your knees in thanksgiving for making it ashore. Mostly kidding. 😏
- Actual First Step: find a customs house official who will take you to the correct location to be searched.
- Have your person and belongings searched. It seems that this could be like going through TSA security. Your experience will vary based on employees, time of day, etc.
- Have your passport taken and your final destination confirmed and printed in it. It will then travel to Paris ahead of you. As far as I can tell, your passport will be sent to Paris, regardless of your actual final destination. French bureaucracy has been thwarting logic for a very long time.
- Pay 2 francs (about $16) to receive a provisional passport. You can use this for the remainder of your time in France or exchange it for your real passport posthaste once you arrive in Paris.
- Your luggage is sent to the custom (ware)house for weighing and inspection. Like David, you can hire a commissaire (commissioner) to handle this task for you for a fee. The official authorized commissioners are listed in the waiting room of the custom house. You will be entrusting them with your luggage keys.
Note: Bartlett seems to employ his commissaire for much more than just luggage handling. I suppose everything is optional for a fee?
- You (or your intrepid commissaire) must pick up your luggage from the customs warehouse by the next morning. It is unclear what happens if you fail to do this. I recommend doing your best to pick up your possessions on time, lest you never see them again.
- You can rest the night in Boulogne or head straight to the rail station and be on your way!
Bartlett’s train route was Boulogne through Amiens and then on to Paris. On the way, they traveled through the gorgeous town of Enghein. Later, this town would become famous for its race track and casino. Hemingway was a fan, check out more in this article!
After his generally pleasant train ride, David arrived in Paris (probably at the Gard du Nord) and headed for his hotel, The Bedford. After grabbing a meal (at the hotel restaurant?) and chilling in the reading room, he hit the hay and awoke refreshed and ready to tackle Paris!
Here Bartlett ends his story for now and provides his incredible and incredibly inaccurate history of Paris. To spare us all the pedantry, I instead suggest these full histories of Paris and France.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases of these books.
If you are now deeply curious about the history of Americans venturing to Paris, then David McCullough’s thorough review of our intrepid ancestors is the perfect next step. Long before Emily in Paris, you had people like James Fennimore Cooper and Harriet Beecher Stowe heading to Paris!
Kindle version available.
A popular “selective” history of Paris. I would say this is for the more well-versed and scholarly reader, who is comfortable with the gender norms of older (especially British) authors. Its tone is like a time capsule but the information is so good, it’s worth the journey!
Kindle version available.
The most lighthearted of the French histories. With the best cover of the group! 🐔
No Kindle version at time of writing.
The writing is more academic and I found it to be rather idiosyncratic. But it is recommended for its broader look at social history.
Kindle version available.
The Original Sources
Two books were used for the podcast episode: The actual book we are exploring and a supplemental travel guide to help with some background information. Both are free from online archives.
Paris: With Pen and Pencil… by David W. Bartlett. “Our” version was printed between 1871-1890 by Hurst & Co.
The 1853 Miniature Guide to Paris and Its Environs by Francis Coughlan proved to be an invaluable resource as I was trying to visualize exactly what the trip would have looked like and cost.
And a special shout out to the always useful Measuring Worth historical currency conversion site and a helpful (though dated) U of Michigan site for sorting out the historic denominations of British currency. The images of the coinage helped when my math skills were floundering!
Recreate the Journey
Want to recreate a little bit of this journey for yourself? While you won’t have to take a sailing ship or suffer some of the customs house indignities, you can still enjoy the more leisurely route between London and Paris. I, however, will stick with the Eurostar.
Ferries continue to run between the UK and France for your
motion sickness transportation needs. Just like in the 19th century, you have many points of departure and companies to choose from. A good place to start your planning is the France Ferry Booker. Dramamine optional, but highly recommended.
The good news is that you get to hold on to your passport on your journey. The bad news is that you will still need to go through passport control. Check with the ferry company for the procedures on your route.
To get to Paris from the coast, check out the SNCF (French rail company) site for the best routes and tickets. The earlier you book, the better the pricing! And watch out for luggage limitations on your line.
Once you are in Paris, you may choose to stay at the still operating Hotel Bedford, in the heart of the swanky right bank. You can dine in their gorgeous hotel restaurant (sadly no longer 3 francs). Or grab a light snack or nightcap in the bar. Alas, they don’t seem to still have a reading room. But the Smith & Son English language bookshop is just a 10 minute walk away!
For the next installment, tentatively scheduled for April, we will join our author for a tour of some restaurants. And, he promises, a little bit of gossip!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode and the idea of the series! What did you like? What do you wish was thrown overboard? Let me know below!
Merci and à bientôt!
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Header Poster: Affiche de promotion de la station balnéaire. Held at Archives municipales de Boulogne-sur-Mer. Image found in Histoire de Boulogne-sur-Mer by Alain Lottin.
Ships in the Harbor: “Ships of the General Steam Navigation Company, off Brunswick Wharf, Blackwall.” Held by National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. From Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by Fæ. Public Domain.
1846 Passport: From the National Parks Service Hampton National Historic Site, HAMP 14525. Issued by the US State Department.
Boulogne Train Station: “Boulogne gare maritime cpa” from “before 1930” [clothing indicates last quarter of 19th century/very early 20th]. Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by Karldupart.