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Naître à Paris, c'est être deux fois Francais.
Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Tableau de Paris

To be born in Paris is to be doubly French.

No city exists apart from the multitude of discourses that it prompts. Topography is textuality. One reads the structured space of the city as one reads the structured language of a book. But more than analogy is at work in this dual textuality. In the modern city the two models of urban texts—the "text" of the physical city and the writings about that city—coincide, overlap, comment upon, and at times contradict each other. This intertextuality becomes increasingly intricate as the city expands, builds, and demolishes and as writing about the city draws upon ever more diverse, ever more sophisticated, and ever more established traditions of texts. As these urban texts become more various, meaning proliferates and turns the city into a palimpsest, that is, a textual expression of the labyrinth. Indeed, readings of the palimpsest weave the magic thread that enables the individual to find a way through the labyrinth.

Such reading requires guidance of a sort different than the directives proffered in more conventional narratives. As early as the mid-sixteenth century, it became evident that the city of Paris needed


another kind of narrative to make sense of its increasing diversity. There was no lack of histories and legends and myths to trace the origins of the city and of its name. In fact, chronicles of ritualized praise had been part of a Parisian discourse for centuries. But these celebrations of Paris make no connection to the explicitly topographical expositions like Guillot's Dit des rues de Paris at the very beginning of the fourteenth century. The guidebook as it took shape in the early nineteenth century emerges from the conjunction of these two very different urban texts, the chronicle and the topographical exposition. But the genre that arises from this alliance does not merely join one text to another. More than juxtaposition is at work. For the guidebook to take its place among city texts first requires that the city as a whole be rethought.

Like most practitioners of the genre since, the authors of these early guidebooks assume that unmediated contact with the city is inadequate at best, and probably dangerous as well. The frequency of reference to Paris as hell in the nineteenth century—it was a cliché by the time Balzac got to it in the 1830s in his celebrated opening of La Fille aux yeux d'or—bespoke a pervasive fear in a city beset by evils with unknown consequences. The writer of a guidebook supplied the essential link between text and reader and between city and inhabitant. Gradually, the nineteenth century raised this affinity between the writer-guide and the city to a principle of literary-urban conduct. The literary guidebook became a characteristic genre of postrevolutionary Paris.

Under the ancien régime, guidebooks were less complex undertakings. To the extent that the control of proliferating meanings was less problematic in the ancien régime, it derived from the increasing emphasis on the imposition of royal authority. Guidebooks undertook to define the city in terms of the evolving landscape of power and to direct attention to the sacred geography of monarchical Paris. The importance of the postrevolutionary literary guidebooks can be gauged only against the background of three centuries of guidebooks that magnified the monarchy. Like the postrevolutionary battles over street names, the reconceptualization of the guidebook, its promotion to something of a literary status, went hand-in-hand with the far larger work of reconceiving city and country after the Revolution.

Appropriately enough, the first guidebook of Paris appeared only four years after François I officially settled in his "good city" of Paris


and two years after publication of the first map of the city. In 1532 the bookseller Gilles Corrozet printed what seems to have been the first guidebook of Paris. La Fleur des antiquitez de Paris (The Flower of Parisian Antiquities ) set a model that served for two centuries and more.[2] Corrozet elaborates in specifically topographical terms the extension of monarch's authority over the city of Paris that is illustrated so strikingly in the evolution of the seal of the city. The original seal, that of the water sellers, dating from the early thirteenth century, shows the simplest boat, emblem of the water merchants' trade. A century later, the seal of the Prévôté des Marchands, the overall municipal governing body, displays the same boat, but with the significant addition of two fleurs-de-lys above the now full (though still single mast) sail. In this way, the monarchy literally impresses its signature on the seal of the city.

Corrozet follows this lead, insisting upon the connection between all the inhabitants of the city, but particularly that between the bourgeois and the king, who now honors the city with his presence. In what we might now call a semiotic analysis of the Paris seal, at the end of La Fleur des antiquitez de Paris Corrozet lists the inhabitants who count: "men of learning, . . . merchants, . . . priests, bourgeois, nobles, clerics, and men of arms." Yet Corrozet begins by placing his work under the aegis of the king. He will, he notifies the reader at the outset, first present the history of the city and then "all the most laudable things accomplished in Paris by princes and kings, and all the edifices made by them from the time that it was first inhabited until the time of the very Christian king of France, Francis the First of this name." He ends with a truly marvelous genealogy that traces the reigning king, François I, back to Paris, son of Priam, thereby substant iating the legendary origin of the city in the royal line of Troy and, incidentally, making good on his dedication of the work to the "Nobles, bourgeois, of Greek or Trojan origin." The forced conjunction of bourgeoisie and monarchy stands as a reminder that the decision of François I in 1528 to settle in Paris is determined by his need for the funds that only the city fathers could supply. It is, then, entirely appropriate that Corrozet's analysis of the city seal should see the boat on the seas as a sign of "inestimable wealth."

The first edition of La Fleur des antiquitez de Paris follows the tradition of the chronicles. It is all legend and history and testimonial


 Plate 2. 
Seal of Paris, 1699. The seal as officially registered under Louis XIV,
 with gold fleurs-de-lys against a blue field over the merchant ship representing 
Paris, on a silver sea against a red background. The superimposed fleurs-de-lys 
signaled the dominion of the king over the city. The ship first appeared 
in the thirteenth century as the sign of the Water Merchants Guild and,
 hence, of the commercial vocation of the city. The fleurs-de-lys first appeared 
on the seal in the fourteenth century. (Photograph by the University of 
Chicago Medical Center, A.V. Department.)


about the city and contains no topographical information whatsoever. Corrozet was an astute bookseller who identified a market and at the same time created a genre. Accordingly, the second edition, which he brought out only a year after the first, turned La Fleur into a true guide to urban space. To the legends, history, chronicles, poems, anecdotes, heraldry, and epitaphs of the great, Corrozet added important topographical information, notably lists of all the streets, churches and colleges in the city. The next twenty years saw a total of five reprints of the 1533 edition, the last two with an updated list of streets and other relevant topographical details.

In 1550 Corrozet printed the far more substantial Les Antiquitez, histoires, croniques et singularitez de la grande & excellente cité de Paris, ville capitalle & chef du Royaume de France (The Antiquities, Histories, Chronicles, and Singularities of the Great and Excellent City of Paris, Capital City and Head of the Kingdom of France ) which he dedicated not to the bourgeois of La Fleur but to "the noble and illustrious Families of Paris." So great is Corrozet's pride of place—Paris is "the most magnificent, largest, most populous and sovereign city of France, indeed of all Christendom"—that he admonishes Parisians for their ignorance of :heir city. It is not enough, Corrozet impresses upon readers who might be tempted to shirk their duties as Parisians, to declare peremptorily that one is from such a place. One must be able to discuss its "prerogatives and beauties," and these, in Corrozet's Paris, are once again the work of the monarchy. He claims the honor of writing for "the very Christian Crown of France & the exaltation of your families," and Les Antiquitez stresses more than the earlier La Fleur the debt of city to the monarchy. From the buildings the first kings built to the tombstones and epitaphs that their successors dedicated to them, Corrozet explains, "you will find how much our Kings have enriched and decorated this capital city with privileges, with buildings, and with their own persons, even after their death," the last in reference to all the "sepulchres and epitaphs" promised in the subtitle. Les Antiquitez too enjoyed considerable success. Corrozet printed a second edition in 1561, and another bookseller brought out a third edition in 1577, after Corrozet's death.

Later guidebooks celebrate the monarchy in a more sophisticated mode, but celebration it remains. François Colletet organized the Abrégé des annales de la Ville de Paris (1664), as the subtitle of the work tells us, by the successive reigns of French kings. It was entirely logical


as well as absolutely appropriate for Germain Brice, author of the most popular guidebook of the century—nine editions and five reprints between 1684 and 1752—to begin his tour of Paris with the official residence of the king in Paris, the Louvre, "the most remarkable place, which is the principal ornament of the city by its vast extent and by the quantity of edifices of which it is composed."[3]

As the growth of the city modified urban space, urban genres began to specialize. Serious historians too confronted the varied strata of urban topography and toponymy. Thus Henri Sauval's Histoire et recherches des antiquités de la ville de Paris (1724) quickly became the standard to which later generations (including Victor Hugo for the documentation of Notre-Dame de Paris ) would return again and again. Other works addressed other uses of the city. Compendia of various sorts emphasized the practical, supplied street names and useful addresses, and included summary statistics for the individual who needed to negotiate the city while contemplating its past glories.

The guidebook proper occupies a space between these two poles of past and present. It usually presents a historical sketch of some sort—the term antiquités, so important for Corrozet, continues to figure in numerous subtitles—along with a modicum of more or less useful information. Whatever the specific orientation, from history to almanac to guidebook in the broadest sense, these urban genres sought to systematize as well as to glorify and to make it possible for readers to make their way around the city.

In 1759 and 1760 two works appeared, by the same author and with almost the same title, that point to the prevailing sense of the guidebook as an urban genre. M. Jèze's 1759 Tableau de Paris offers above all information. It is resolutely tied to the present, since the material consists of, as Jèze announces in the preface, "the details most subject to variation." The author offers his Tableau as a "work that is useful for some, necessary for others." Jèze invites readers to help him keep subsequent editions up to date. The 1760 État ou Tableau de Paris is by design not a history (Jèze cites Sauval) and not a description (he cites Corrozet and Brice) but rather a state (état) of knowledge about the city. This is a book to be used, to be studied, and to depend upon (it is at once a "book for use, for research and for commodity"). Jèze insists again and again, here in his "Preliminary Discourse," on the systematization of the information that he provides. That information, much of it familiar from the 1759 Ta-


Plate 3. 
Seal of Paris, 1811. In the First Empire, the fleur-de-lys and the blue 
of the monarchy disappear in favor of the eagle and bees associated with 
Napoléon. The Egyptian goddess Isis on the prow of the ancient, silver ship 
against a red background brings the Egyptian military successes of Napoléon 
in full view as well as the classical associations with imperial Rome, which also 
conquered Egypt. The other parts—the crown that recalls a fortified castle, 
the eagle, and the two garlands (oak leaves on the left, olive leaves on the 
right) tied by red ribbons—were shared by all French cities of the First Order 
(bonnes villes ) (Photograph by the University of Chicago Medical 
Center, A.V. Department.)


Plate 4. 
Seal of Paris, 1817. The monarchy that returned to France after 
Waterloo replaced the Napoleonic eagle and bees with the emblems 
of the ancien régime. The seal reproduced the basic 1699 escutcheon 
but replaced the ship with an elaborately rigged military vessel and 
retained for the outer section the now familiar château-crown, while 
adding lilies to recall the flowers with which Parisians greeted the 
return of Louis XVIII. (Photograph by the University of Chicago 
Medical Center, A.V. Department.)


bleau, is presented systematically. The goal is not simply to supply more information but to present a rational system of knowledge about the city. As the subtitle tells us and a large fold-out map graphically illustrates, the city is "considered relative to the Necessary, the Useful, the Agreeable, and the Administration." If the last category seems somewhat anomalous in the series, Jèze, in his 1759 Tableau, makes a point of signaling, among the many claims of Paris to preeminence, "the wisdom of its Government and its Police."[4]

These urban works and others that followed served the larger purposes of government insofar as they fit within the larger goal of rationalizing the city and bringing it, and its sometimes rebellious inhabitants, under control. Whether or not they articulated these urban concerns, the guidebooks participated in the work of the monarchy, even as the king moved the court from Paris to Versailles. They fixed its imprint in a written text that would survive topographical and social change. By virtue of being systematically organized in a text, street names, monuments, statues, and other urban icons acquired a permanence that guaranteed their survival as text even as the city itself altered, built anew, and modified urban space. The guides fixed the city and in so doing arrested potentially idiosyncratic definitions of place. So usual do these administrative prerogatives appear to the latter-day reader that we forget just how recent the notion of a fixed urban text is. Guidebooks, histories, and practical compendia comprised but one element in the fixing of that text, but they were an important element, indeed, all the more so for the indirect nature of the connection they compelled.

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2 Mapping the City
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