Short summary - Le Tableau de Paris - Louis-Sébastien Mercier

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Le Tableau de Paris
Louis-Sébastien Mercier

The author's foreword is devoted to the message that interests Mercier in Paris - public and private mores, dominant ideas, customs, scandalous luxury, abuse. "I am interested in the generation of my day and the image of my age, which is much closer to me than the vague history of the Phoenicians or Egyptians." He considers it necessary to report that he deliberately avoided satire on Paris and Parisians, since satire directed at a specific person does not correct anyone. He hopes a hundred. years later, his observations of the life of all strata of society living in a huge city will merge "with the observations of the century."
Mercier is interested in representatives of various professions: cabbies and rentiers, milliners and hairdressers, water carriers and abbots, officers and bankers, beggars and teachers, in a word, everyone who makes a living in different ways and gives others the opportunity to exist. University professors, for example, manage to instill in students an aversion to science, and lawyers, due to unstable laws, do not have the opportunity to think about the outcome of the case, and go in the direction where they are attracted by the client's wallet. Mercier's sketches are not only urban types and inhabitants, but also a portrait of the city. The best panorama, in his opinion, opens from the tower of the Cathedral of Our Lady (the Face of the Big City). Among the "paintings" you can find Rue Urs and Rue Juchette, Cité and Ile Saint Louis, Sainte-Chapelle and the Church of Saint Genevieve. He paints the places where all of Paris is going for festivities - the Palais Royal and Lons Chan. "Cheap cocottes, courtesans, duchesses, and honest women gather there." Festively dressed commoners mingle with the crowd and stare at whatever is worth looking at on public festivities - beautiful women and carriages. In such places, the author concludes that beauty is not so much a gift of nature as "the innermost part of the soul." Vices such as envy, cruelty, cunning, anger and stinginess always appear in the look and expression on the face. That is why, the writer notes, it is so dangerous to pose for a person with a brush in his hand. The artist is more likely to determine the occupation and way of thinking of a person than the famous Lavater, the Zurich professor, who wrote so much about the art of recognizing people by their faces.
The health of residents depends on the condition of the air and the purity of the water. A number of essays are devoted to those industries without which the life of a giant city is inconceivable, but it seems that their purpose is the poisoning of Paris with poisonous fumes (Lard heating, Slaughterhouses, Pernicious air, Veterinary pits). “What can be more important than the health of citizens? The strength of future generations, and therefore the strength of the state itself, does not depend on the care of the city authorities? " - the author asks. Mercier proposes to establish a "Sanitary Council" in Paris, and its composition should not include doctors, who are dangerous for the health of Parisians by their conservatism, but chemists "who have made so many new wonderful discoveries that promise to acquaint us with all the secrets of nature." The doctors, to whom the writer dedicated only one "picture", are not left with attention in other sketches. Mercier argues that doctors continue to practice medicine in old, rather dark ways, only to secure more visits and not give anyone an account of their actions. They all act as accomplices when it comes to consultation. The Faculty of Medicine, in his opinion, is still filled with prejudices from the most barbaric times. That is why it is not a doctor who is required to preserve the health of Parisians, but scientists of other professions.
Mercier refers to the improvement of the living conditions of the townspeople as the closure of the cemetery of the Innocents, which has turned out over the centuries of its existence (since the days of Filsh the Beautiful) in the very center of Paris. The author is also occupied with the work of the police, to which rather lengthy (in comparison with others) sketches are devoted (Police Composition, Chief of Police). Mercier states that holding back the multitude of hungry people who see someone drowning in luxury is an incredibly difficult responsibility. But he could not resist saying: "The police are a bunch of scoundrels" and further: "And from these disgusting scum of mankind, public order will be born!"
For a student of public mores, interest in books is natural. Mercier claims that if not all books are printed in Paris, then they are written in this city. Here, in Paris, live those to whom the essay "On half-writers, quarter-writers, on mestizos, quarters, etc." is dedicated. Such people are published in the Bulletins and Almanacs and call themselves literary men. "They loudly condemn arrogant mediocrity, while they themselves are arrogant and mediocre."
Talking about the corporation of parliamentary Paris clerks - Bazos - the author notices that their coat of arms consists of three inkpots, the contents of which fills and destroys everything around. Ironically, the bailiff and the inspired writer share the same tools. No less sarcasm causes in Mercier the state of modern theater, especially when trying to stage tragedies in which the attendant tries to portray a Roman senator, while wearing the red mantle of a doctor from Moliere's comedy. With no less irony, the author speaks of his passion for amateur performances, especially for staging tragedies. Mercier considers the public reading of new literary works to be a new type of representations. Instead of seeking opinion and advice from a close friend, writers seek to publish their work in public, in one way or another competing with members of the French Academy, who have the right to publicly read and hear public praise. In the 223rd "painting" in a row, the writer regrets the loss of such marvelous spectacles as fireworks, which were launched on solemn days - such as St. Jean or the birth of princes. Now, on these days, prisoners are released and poor girls are given in marriage.
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Mercier did not lose sight of the small chapel of Saint-Joseph in Montmartre, in which Moliere and La Fontaine are buried. He discusses religious freedoms, the time for which has finally come in Paris: Voltaire, who was previously refused burial, received mass for the peace of his soul. Fanaticism, the author sums up, devours itself. Further, Mercier speaks of political freedoms and social morals, the reason for the fall of which lies in the fact that "beauty and virtue have no value with us if they are not backed up by a dowry." Hence the need arose for the following "pictures": "Under any name, About some women, Public women, Courtesans, Kept women, Love affairs, About women, About the idol of Paris - about the" pretty "". No less detailed and vividly reflected in the sketches "Lombard, Monopoly, Department of Purchase, Petty Trade". Attention is also paid to such vices of Paris as "Beggars, Needy, Foundlings, Places of Detention and Detentions", the basis for the creation of which was the desire "to quickly clear the streets and roads of beggars, so that glaring poverty would not be seen next to insolent luxury" 285).
The life of high society was criticized in the "pictures": "On the court, the high-society tone, the secular language." The whims of high society and court life are reflected in sketches dedicated to various details of fashionable dresses, such as "Hats" and "Fake Hair". In his discussion of fashionable headdresses, Mercier characterizes the influence of Paris on the tastes of other countries: "And who knows if we will expand further, as happy winners, our glorious conquests?" (Scene 310). Comparison of the aristocracy with the commoner turns out to be not in favor of a lady from high society, who blindly follows, because of class vanity, all the vagaries of fashion - “Diseases of the eyes, inflammation of the skin, lice are the result of this exaggerated addiction to a wild hairstyle, which is not parted even at night recreation. Meanwhile, a commoner, a peasant woman does not experience any of these troubles. "
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The author did not ignore such an institution, which, in his opinion, could only arise in Paris, is the French Academy, which rather hinders the development of the French language and literature than contributes to the development of both writers and readers. The problems of literature are analyzed in the sketches "Apology of Writers, Literary Quarrels, Fine Arts". The last, 357 "painting", completes the work of Mercier and is written as "Reply to the newspaper Courier de l'Europe". Comparing all the praise and criticism, the author addresses his reader with the words: “Do you want to pay me off so that I would be rewarded for all my sleepless nights? Give from your surplus to the first suffering person, the first unfortunate person you meet. Give it to my compatriot in memory of me. "