Mud and Shit is difficult ever be well famed., Yet there is a constituency of dunces that makes topics perhaps unworthy of table talk and considered ill reputation, into one of extended manifest terror.
Today let us consider the wisdom of a solution from Our European History.
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The sewer of Paris in the Middle Ages was legendary. In the sixteenth century Henry II. attempted soundings which failed, and not a hundred years ago, as Mercier testifies, the cloaca was abandoned to itself, and became what it could. Such was that ancient Paris, handed over to quarrels, indecisions, and groping. It was for a long time thus stupid, and a later period, ’89, showed how cities acquire sense. But in the good old times the capital had but little head; it did not know how to transact its business either morally or materially, and could no more sweep away its ordure than its abuses. Everything was an obstacle, everything raised a question. The sewer, for instance, was refractory to any itinerary, and people could no more get on under the city than they did in it; above, everything was unintelligible; below, inextricable; beneath the confusion of tongues was the confusion of cellars, and Dædalus duplicated Babel. At times the sewer of Paris thought proper to overflow, as if this misunderstood Nile had suddenly fallen into a passion. There were, infamous to relate, inundations of the sewer. At moments this stomach of civilization digested badly, the sewer flowed back into the throat of the city, and Paris bad the after-taste of its ordure. These resemblances of the drain to remorse had some good about them, for they were warnings, very badly taken however; for the city was indignant that its mud should have so much boldness, and did not admit that the ordure should return. Discharge it better.
The inundation of 1802 is in the memory of Parisians of eighty years of age. The mud spread across the Place des Victoires, on which is the statue of Louis XIV.; it entered Rue St. Honoré by the two mouths of the sewer of the Champs Élysées, Rue St. Florentin by the St. Florentin sewer, Rue Pierre à Poisson by the sewer of the Sonnerie, Rue Popincourt by the Chemin-Vert sewer, and Rue de la Roquette by the Rue de Lappe sewer; it covered the level of the Rue des Champs Élysées to a height of fourteen inches, and in the south, owing to the vomitory of the Seine performing its duties contrariwise, it entered Rue Mazarine, Rue de l’Échaudé, and Rue des Marais, where it stopped after running on a hundred and twenty yards, just a few yards from the house which Racine had inhabited, respecting, in the seventeenth century, the poet more than the king. It reached its maximum depth in the Rue St. Pierre, where it rose three feet above the gutter, and its maximum extent in the Rue St. Sabin, where it extended over a length of two hundred and fifty yards.
At the beginning of the present century the sewer of Paris was still a mysterious spot. Mud can never be well famed, but here the ill reputation extended almost to terror. Paris knew confusedly that it had beneath it a grewsome cave; people talked about it as of that monstrous mud-bed of Thebes, in which centipedes fifteen feet in length swarmed, and which could have served as a bathing-place for Behemoth. The great boots of the sewers-men never ventured beyond certain known points. It was still very close to the time when the scavengers’ carts, from the top of which St. Foix fraternized with the Marquis de Créqui, were simply unloaded into the sewer. As for the cleansing, the duty was intrusted to the showers, which choked up rather than swept away. Rome allowed some poetry to her cloaca, and called it the Gemoniæ, but Paris insulted its own, and called it the stench-hole. Science and superstition were agreed as to the horror, and the stench-hole was quite as repugnant to hygiene as to the legend. The goblin was hatched under the fetid arches of the Mouffetard sewer: the corpses of the Marmousets were thrown into the Barillerie sewer: Fagot attributed the malignant fever of 1685 to the great opening of the Marais sewer, which remained yawning until 1833 in the Rue St. Louis, nearly opposite the sign of the Messager Galant. The mouth of the sewer in the Rue de la Mortellerie was celebrated for the pestilences which issued from it; with its iron-pointed grating that resembled a row of teeth it yawned in this fatal street like the throat of a dragon breathing hell on mankind. The popular imagination seasoned the gloomy Parisian sewer with some hideous mixture of infinitude: the sewer was bottomless, the sewer was a Barathrum, and the idea of exploring these leprous regions never even occurred to the police. Who would have dared to cast a sound into this darkness, and go on a journey of discovery in this abyss? It was frightful, and yet some one presented himself at last. The cloaca had its Christopher Columbus.
One day in 1805, during one of the rare apparitions which the Emperor made in Paris, the Minister of the Interior attended at his master’s petit lever. In the court-yard could be heard the clanging sabres of all the extraordinary soldiers of the great Republic and the great Empire; there was a swarm of heroes at Napoleon’s gates; men of the Rhine, the Schelde, the Adage, and the Nile; comrades of Joubert, of Desaix, of Marceau, Hoche, and Kléber, aeronauts of Fleurus, grenadiers of Mayence, pontooners of Genoa, hussars whom the Pyramids had gazed at, artillerymen who had bespattered Junot’s cannon-balls, cuirassiers who had taken by assault the fleet anchored in the Zuyderzee; some had followed Bonaparte upon the bridge of Lodi, others had accompanied Murat to the trenches of Mantua, while others had outstripped Lannes in the hollow way of Montebello. The whole army of that day was in the court of the Tuileries, represented by a squadron or a company, and guarding Napoleon, then resting; and it was the splendid period when the great army had Marengo behind it and Austerlitz before it. “Sire,” said the Minister of the Interior to Napoleon, “I have seen to-day the most intrepid man of your Empire.” “Who is the man?” the Emperor asked sharply, “and what has he done?” “He wishes to do something, Sire.” “What is it?” “To visit the sewers of Paris.” This man existed, and his name was Bruneseau.