Page:Household Words - Volume 12.djvu/371

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"Familiar in their Mouths as HOUSEHOLD WORDS"Shakespeare.


HOUSEHOLD WORDS.

 

A WEEKLY JOURNAL.

CONDUCTED BY CHARLES DICKENS.

 


No. 295.] SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 1855. Price 2d.
Stamped 3d.


 

PARIS IMPROVED. THE citizens of London and the citizens of Paris can be compared and contrasted in almost the same terms as the cities them- selves : the one sombre, heavy, large, con- tinually expanding, seldom changing ; the other bright, compact, open, lively, and ever improving. The pace of London improvement is that of the overgrown alderman, or of his own beloved turtle. It takes a lustre to pull down and rebuild a house or two in Chancery Lane, a decade to reconstruct Cannon Street, and a lifetime to open out an entirely new thoroughfare. In our youth, a nest of rookeries was demolished on the Clerkenwell side of Holborn Bridge, under pretence of continuing Farringdon Street to be an open route for the Northern and Western Rail- ways : we are now more than middle-aged, our second son has attained his majority, and Farringdon Street still stands where it did. It is neither longer nor broader than it was when Fleet Ditch ceased to be navigable for merchant ships, and when Fleet Market after- wards flourished above that covered estuary. It is not a foot nearer to Bath, nor Liverpool, nor Berwick-upon-Tweed. The loose bricks ; the unconsidered tiles ; the rusty, dinted frag- ments of pots and kettles ; the rugged mounds of filth ; the slimy holes and puddles ; the jagged profiles of tenements half torn down, half standing; the arches of empty coal- cellars; the carcases of dead domestic animals; the bones of others whose death and skeleton- hood dates three reigns back ; the " tempo- rary " posts and barriers now decayed with age ; and the stenches from Cow Cross 1 ; all continue to seethe and breed pestilence in the hideous gap dug out of the centre of this metropolis nearly a quarter of a century ago. Yet, during that time, there has been activity of another kind close by. Hundreds of dinners have been eaten; thousands of turtle have been slain and washed down with oceans of cold punch ; millions of money in coal-dues and corn-dues have been squan- dered, and diverted from their legal purposes, into ever-running channels of gormandising and jobbery. Further off in the world a vast amount of work has been done, of precisely the same sort as that which our citizens have wretchedly shirked. Within the territories of the United States, whole cities have been built, peopled, and organised, of not much smaller extent than the city of London proper. Miles and miles of ground have been covered with habitations in other parts of the globe, and called St. Fran- cisco, Melbourne, Port Philip, what you will. Even while the wise men of the East have been haggling about one little piece of open ground at the base of St. Paul's Ca- thedral, a considerable portion of the capital of the great French empire has been not only razed, but rebuilt ; rebuilt with a degree of solidity not easily conceivable in this our city of bricks and stucco ; and in a style of splendour which would have startled the late Mr. John Martin, notably the most extreme idealist of gorgeous architecture ever known. Indeed, since the tradition of Cadmus and the magical realities of the gold districts, we know of no instance of rapid building to equal the recent transformations in Paris. In the three years during which this short work has been mainly in action, there have been swept away a great many narrow crooked streets, which reeked with open streams of foetid refuse ; which were without side-pave- ments foot-passengers, horses, vehicles and filth, all mixing there in continual confu- sion; which were seldom lighted by the sun by day, in consequence of the height and close proximity of the opposite houses, and which wei'e but dimly lighted by night, with miserable lamps slung across the road ; which were densely thronged from the cellars to the roofs, by a variety of inmates whose salient characteristic was wicked squalor ; into which prudent people never ventured after sunset, and where imprudent people were frequently robbed and sometimes qualified by the coup de clef, or some other sudden passport, for the Morgue ; nests, in short, of disquiet, disease, and iniquity. Not only have entire neigh- bourhoods such as these, been swept away wholesale, but every part of the city has been more or less improved in detail. Streets of moderate width have had their narrow entrances enlarged ; sharp turns have been squared, and corner houses made to form double, instead of single angles so that these widened cross-roads are never crowded, and seldom obstructed; projecting houses have VOL. XII. 295