Monday, August 10th, 2015, continued
…From the Opera Comique (formerly Theatre des Italiens), I head south towards the Seine and past the Bourse (a center of commerce) to White’s Hotel, Hôtel d’Angleterre in French, also called the Hôtel de Philadelphie at that time, perhaps because of the French admiration for the new American experiment in self-government centered in Philadelphia. Mary Wollstonecraft, initially a little depressed and lonely at the house on rue Meslay, began to meet with a group of expatriates who gathered and dined here at 7 Passage des Petits Pères, just off the square in front of Basilique Notre-Dame des Victoires.
One of these expatriates was our man Thomas Paine, who lived here intermittently in 1792 and 1793. I don’t find a building with this address on it, though it appears it would have been to the left hand side of east-west entrance to the Galerie Victoire, at the end of the passage farther from the basilica. Paine finished the first part of The Age of Reason here, where he moved again after his stay at the mansion farmhouse on rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. He smuggled the manuscript to his friend, diplomat and poet Joel Barlow (who I mentioned in my previous Thomas Jefferson series), for safekeeping at the time of his arrest in December of 1793, in hopes that Barlow could have it published while he was imprisoned.
The next site I visit is the Palais Royal, just down the way towards the river. Thomas Jefferson visited the Palais Royal on August 6th, 1786 and other occasions (it’s especially easy to track the movements of Jefferson, being a prolific letter writer and meticulous record keeper). The Palais was a public shopping, entertainment, arts, and business center, originally the home of Cardinal Richelieu for whom the street that runs parallel to it is named, then expanded and updated by the Dukes d’Orleans. It was known for attracting revolutionaries, dissidents, writers, Freemasons, and prostitutes. I approach it from the back garden area, enclosed and crisscrossed by collonades in a classical style, a later addition that Jefferson would certainly have approved of. It’s a lovely shady spot to rest in on this hot day.
I continue on towards the Seine and pass through the front courtyard of the Louvre, where the main entrance and the famous glass pyramid is. Thomas Paine visited the Louvre several times some years before the dangerous period of the French Revolution.
After the American Revolutionary War ended, he found himself without an active cause to support, and turned to science, one of his other main interests. He was elected into the American Philosophical Society in 1785, founded by his great friend and mentor Benjamin Franklin (I write about my visit to the APS headquarters in an earlier piece), which was an illustrious company of scientists, inventors, and other innovators in various fields. Paine had been inspired, during his previous visit to Paris in 1780 to help negotiate a loan for the American revolutionary cause, by a design proposal for a new type of pier-less iron bridge; the usual materials used at the time were wood and stone. He thought he could improve the design, and spent about a year working it out and creating a detailed model with a craftsman named John Hall. When it was finished, he was disappointed to find that no one was willing to fund the building of such a bridge in Philadelphia or anywhere else in America; it was just too expensive and risky an undertaking when just about everyone with means found their resources strained by war debt.
So Thomas Paine went to Paris again in 1787 for a time to present his plans for the iron bridge to the Academie des Sciences of France, which met here in the Louvre until the 1790’s. Perhaps the French, who had so lavishly supported the American cause, would like to be the first have such a marvelously inventive new type of bridge over the Seine, surely they could use one more in such a busy riverside metropolis.
I walk along the Tulieries gardens in front of the Louvre (more on this place in a later piece, since it has significance for my visit, but there’s something I’d like to confirm first), headed for the Place de la Concorde. In June of 1793, Mary Wollstonecraft moved to Neilly-sur-Seine, west of the city and north of the Bois de Boulonge. She had fallen deeply in love with an adventurer, and as it turned out, womanizer, named Gilbert Imlay. For a person who described herself as so wedded to reason, she was prone to allow her emotions to overwhelm her when it came to love, and no one would do but exciting yet unsuitable men who broke her heart every time. Imlay was one of these, and she went to Neilly-sur-Seine both to escape the deadly excesses that the French Revolution was falling into, and to pursue her love affair in private. Imlay remained in Paris, but they would pass back and forth to visit one another.
She would enter Paris through a gate at the Place de Louis Quinze, now called the Place de la Concorde. She described, on one occasion, slipping in the blood of executed victims of the Terror as she passed through the gate, as a well-used guillotine was set up here. Like Paine, the Revolution broke her heart: it was so full of promise, yet here its leaders were, becoming the oppressors they had professed to hate.
Next, I head east along the Champs-Élysées, where Thomas Jefferson finally settled down in the autumn of 1785. He lived here at the Hôtel de Langeac until he returned to America in September 1789. It’s right on the corner of Champs-Élysées and Rue de Berri, in the new quarter named Faubourg du Roule that Louis XV had built. He had moved from place to place in his first year here in Paris, renting rooms, staying with friends, and remodeling the Hotel Taitbout to suit his tastes. He changed his mind about living there, however, since it was so expensive, and he had already spent a quarter of his yearly budget on the place. Jefferson habitually lived far beyond his means, and American Congress, having little power to tax, did not regularly pay expenses of its ministers.
So, Jefferson sold up and moved to the Hôtel de Langeac. It turned out to be a perfect compromise between his love of culture and its refinements, and his moral preference for rural living. At that time, it was on the outer edges of Paris, halfway between the bustle of the city and the peace of the Bois (woods) de Boulogne, which he visited nearly every day. Horseback riding was among his favorite forms of exercise, and he could let the horse really go in this natural setting. Now, however, the full bustle of Paris has enveloped Hôtel de Langeac’s street corner and beyond. As I was absorbed in finding a good angle to photograph the building, I was startled to realize that some of the honking and shouting I was hearing in the background was aimed at me: turns out I was standing right in the driveway of a subterranean parking garage, which lets out right in the middle of a wide sidewalk. Oops.
At this point, I’m regretting the pace at which I toured the city today. My knees ache terribly, especially the right one, and I’m disappointed in myself. I’m an avid hiker and consider myself an able and enthusiastic walker, but today’s tour did me in. Then I remember: I had just been sitting for hours sleeping with my legs all twisted up in the cramped space in front of my airplane seat, so my knees had likely been strained. Next time, I’ll pace myself appropriately. In the meantime, I buy a tall can of Hoegaarden (a favorite ‘easy beer’) and some snacks, and sit by the Seine writing notes under a shade tree; it’s a lovely way to rest. I recover a bit, then stroll some more through the Latin Quarter. It’s touristy to the nth degree. I wish I could have seen it decades ago when it was still bohemian and more interesting, but I do appreciate seeing so many people out on holiday having a good time.
I pass by at the Pantheon, which so inspired Thomas Jefferson, in the early evening, after I had resumed my stroll but paused my historical explorations, simply wandering wherever street, garden, or structure beckoned. At this hour, it’s closed to the public.
I consider where to go next: I’ll be meeting up with my husband at Gare du Nord tomorrow morning, so I need to get out the house in good time. He’s flying in with his fellow randonneurs and his bike and cycling gear to ride Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200-kilometer cycling event that’s been put on every four years for over a century. Before the big ride, we’re taking a detour to Berlin to visit family for a few days, then I’ll see him off on his ride and return to Paris. I’ll be returning to the Pantheon then for a real visit, and to continue my adventures following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson.
Stay tuned!… >>> Third Day
Sources and inspiration:
Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.
Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.
‘French Revolution.’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia., Jul. 17 2015.
Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.
Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.
Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.
‘Palais-Royal‘, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000
Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974.
Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.