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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

To Paris

Saturday, October 23rd., Paris.

As the train swaggered through Dulwich, Rickards and I caught a glimpse of a platform full of city men and city clerks and a few girls, waiting for an up-local. It was impossible not to feel uplifted by a feeling of superiority. In the minds of how many on that platform is not the continental train, as it thunders past every morning, the visible symbol of pleasure, adventure and romance! ... I remembered my emotions years ago at Hornsey, as I stood on the platform there and saw the Edinburgh express sweep swiftly and smoothly by ... And the Edinburgh express was not the Continental boat train, though it moved more proudly, with its gorgeous Pullman in the centre of it.

Dover and Calais. What mean amorphous entrance portals to great kingdoms! Mere grimy untended back-doors!

As we left Dover harbour, the lines of greyish-yellow official buildings on the grey-green hillside spread out clear, and then disappeared in the vague distance. The sea was rough. I closed my eyes and prepared to be uncomfortable.

Paris train: the carriage was full of silent Frenchmen, and as we flew along through a flying sea of yellow leaves glinting in the sunlight, I remembered tales of the sociability of Frenchmen - how, unlike Englishmen, they beguiled their journeys by courteous and cheerful dialogue. perhaps on this line the native public has suffered by the example of our insular manners.

For many miles the landscape was bare, greyish and uninteresting. Then, as we increased our distance from the sea southwards a change of temperature and atmosphere became more and more perceptible, until the warmth and brightness made almost an English summer. Presently the character of the landscape altered. Water was everywhere in large quiet pools bordered by trees delightfully tinted, and we passed by picturesque towns with fine churches and wonderful crooked white streets.

We entered Paris, as one enters London, by boring a way into the city through ravines with windowed walls. On the right was a single impressive feature, the hill of Montmartre surmounted by a great cathedral under scaffolding.

It was dusk as we drove to the hotel through traffic less crowded than that of London, but noisier, more gesticulating, and far more bewilderingly mazy.

On my first evening in Paris, it was proper that I should see "Faust" at the Opera. We arrived 20 minutes before the curtain, and found a vast interior honeycombed with corridors in which people, by comparison insignificant as ants, were rushing wildly about, arguing, gesticulating and quarrelling with the harpy-like ouvreuses

This was the 1099th performance of "Faust" at the Opera and it was listened to with all the rapt attention of a premiere. It is true that "Faust" still draws an average of over 20,000 francs per performance, and is still the most popular work in the repertoire, but this was special occasion, and the audience larger and more interested even than usual.

I followed the performance, like the rest, with intent approval - and this though I had long ago bound myself by oaths never to sit out another "Faust" evening. But no "Faust" could approach this for perfect ensemble. In some ways it has become highly conventionalised by repetition, yet the conventionality does not annoy. Specious and meretricious as it must appear to those who can appreciate Wagner, nevertheless this house forces you to accept it for a classic.

As we came out of the Opera, men were crying the Journal, with the first feuilleton of Zola's "Paris". Zola and the Journal and Steinlein's poster thereof seem just now to flame in the forehead of the city.

Additionally for October 23rd., see 'Marital breakdown' -

A great calamity has occurred in this household. I am obliged to arrange for a separation from Marguerite on account of her relations with Legros, whom she absolutely refuses to give up, & with whom she is certainly very much in love.

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