Entering the Tomb of the Commonwealth and the Alchemy of the mind. So much is spoken of the environment and of solutions great and small, from men whom profess be pioneers and patriarchs of the Dream, to lesser base shadows of men whom cannot think but of profit or with such distanced distain as that of little men with little minds that We find Our planet in such peril.
Today let us consider the wisdom of a solution from Our European History.
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At the present day the sewer is clean, cold, straight, and correct, and almost realizes the ideal of what is understood in England by the word “respectable.” It is neat and gray, built with the plumb-line,—we might almost say coquettishly. It resembles a contractor who has become a Councillor of State. You almost see clearly in it, and the mud behaves itself decently. At the first glance you might be inclined to take it for one of those subterranean passages so common formerly, and so useful for the flights of monarchs and princes in the good old times “when the people loved its kings.” The present sewer is a handsome sewer; the pure style prevails there,—the classic rectilinear Alexandrine, which, expelled from poetry, appears to have taken refuge in architecture, seems blended with all the stones of this long, dark, and white vault; each vomitory is an arcade, and the Rue de Rivoli sets the fashion even in the cloaca. However, if the geometric line be anywhere in its place, it is assuredly so in the stercoraceous trench of a great city, where everything must be subordinated to the shortest road. The sewer has at the present day assumed a certain official aspect, and the police reports of which it is sometimes the object are no longer deficient in respect to it. The words which characterize it in the administrative language are lofty and dignified; what used to be called a gut is now called a gallery, and what used to be a hole is now a “look.” Villon would no longer recognize the ancient lodgings he used for emergencies. This network of cellars still has its population of rodents, pullulating more than ever; from time to time a rat, an old veteran, ventures his head at the window of the drain and examines the Parisians: but even these vermin are growing tame, as they are satisfied with their subterranean palace. The cloaca no longer retains its primitive ferocity, and the rain which sullied the sewer of olden times, washes that of the present day. Still, do not trust to it too entirely, for miasmas yet inhabit it, and it is rather hypocritical than irreproachable. In spite of all the préfecture of police and the Board of Health have done, it exhales a vague suspicious odor, like Tartuffe after confession. Still, we must allow that, take it all together, sweeping is an homage which the sewer pays to civilization, and as from this point of view Tartuffe’s conscience is a progress upon the Augean stable, it is certain that the sewer of Paris has been improved. It is more than a progress, it is a transmutation; between the old and the present sewer there is a revolution. Who effected this revolution? The man whom every one forgets, and whom we have named,—Bruneseau.