Arthur Young reports on Paris and Versailles (1787)


Arthur Young, an English traveller through France in 1787, reports on Versailles and Paris:


“Again to Versailles. In viewing the king’s apartment, which he had not left a quarter of an hour, with those slight traits of disorder that showed he lived in it, it was amusing to see the blackguard [dodgy] figures that were walking uncontrolled about the palace, and even in his bedchamber; men whose rags betrayed them to be in the last stage of poverty. Was I was the only person that stared and wondered how the devil they got there?

It is impossible not to like this careless indifference and freedom from suspicion. One loves the master of the house who would not be hurt or offended at seeing his apartment thus occupied if he returned suddenly, for if there was danger of this, the intrusion would be prevented. This is certainly a feature of that good temper which appears to me so visible everywhere in France.

I desired to see the queen’s apartments, but I could not. “Is, her Majesty in it? No. Why then not see it as well as the king’s?” “Ma foi, Monsieur, c’est une autre chose.” [Because sir, that’s another thing altogether”] Ramble through the gardens and by the grand canal with absolute astonishment at the exaggerations of writers and travellers. There is magnificence in the quarter of the orangery, but no beauty anywhere; there are some statues, good enough to wish them under cover. The extent and breadth of the canal are nothing to the eye, and it is not in such good repair as a farmer’s horse pond. The menagerie is well enough, but nothing great…

This great city [Paris] appears to be in many respects the most ineligible and inconvenient for the residence of a person of small fortune of any that I have seen, and vastly inferior to London. The streets are very narrow, and many of them crowded, nine tenths dirty, and all without foot pavements. Walking, which in London is so pleasant and so clean that ladies do it every day, is here a toil and a fatigue to a man, and an impossibility to a well-dressed woman. The coaches are numerous, and what is much worse, there are an infinity of one-horse cabriolets, which … render the streets exceedingly dangerous, without an incessant caution. I saw a poor child run over and probably killed, and have been myself many times blackened with the mud of the kennels.”