Following on from my recent post describing how to catch a boat to France in 1750, and looking at the problems of post-chaise travel on French roads, I thought it worth looking at Paris itself.
First, a reminder of the French monetary system prior to the French Revolution:
The Louis d’Or was first issued in 1640 on the order of Louis XIII and showed a portrait of King Louis on one side of the coin; the French royal coat of arms on the reverse. It actually came in multiples of one, two, four and eight , along with fractions of a half and a quarter. This is what the 4-Louis d’Or looked like, and a mighty fine coin it was:
The half ecu. or as the book describes it, the demi-ecu equivalent to three livres and similar to the British halfcrown, was a silver coin:
As the guidebook explains, the livre was a unit of value but was not represented by an actual coin. It is interesting to see from the explanation below that whereas in Britain coins remain legal tender from one monarch’s reign to the next, meaning that coins were often in circulation for a century or more before they got hopelessly worn and illegible, the French called in their currency whenever the king died. Presumably French coins were therefore kept to a far higher quality than British coinage and French coinage was therefore less susceptible to counterfeiting. British coins, especially in the second half of the eighteenth century, were generally rubbish and stayed that way until the Great Re-coinage in 1814.
There follows the writer’s list of where to stay en route to Paris:
Amiens (a good champagne and a merry landlady) is obviously an excellent place to stay, but perhaps Luzarche is even better with its reference to ‘good things and a handsome Landlady’. France then, as now, has so much to offer….
So we have it: you will be thoroughly searched when entering the city of Paris, but the good news is that for 30 sous a day you can get away with not having to feed your servant because he will make do with your left-overs! That still leaves the food itself….Handy to know what it will cost you for your ‘water bottle, bason and towels’ and very good to know that your tea-making perquisites are obtainable, albeit at a price.
Ah, here we get to the nub of the problem: the Beef and Veal are not much good, so it is always wise to choose the Mutton; the soups are so poor no self-respecting Englishman will go near them and. as the guide says “I must again remind you, that ’tis dangerous either to drink much Water, or too great draughts of their small wines, for so doing will most assuredly throw you into a violent Looseness, and no Place in the elegant or delicate World is so ill-provided with Conveniences for such a condition as Paris is: Wherefore, that you may have no extraordinary Calls to use them, mix your Water always with the common Wines of about 30 sous a bottle, and drink no wine under that price, for the low pric’d wines are only fit for the servants ….”
So there we have it: the loos in Paris are terrible, and if you fail to water your wine you will assuredly get the runs and live to regret it.
The guide goes on to describe the various attractions in Paris which the tourist should see – the Tuileries, the Louvre and so on, before extending the French experience by visiting Versailles. Then, as now, it must have been an impressive sight for the English traveller.
But to end with, the Holy Grail, the list of wines which were drinkable for the visitor to Paris. I like the idea that whereas the knowledgeable wine connoisseurs of England drank fine ‘Burgundies and Clarets’ Parisians had no use of them. They stuck with the ‘tolerable’ Preignac – wine from the Gironde area which we would probably know better as Barsac and Sauternes, I’ll drink to that!