PARIS -- In this city there are well meaning people who will tell you that bargains in books no longer turn up on the stalls along the Seine. Don't listen to them. The chance of finding a Shakespeare First Folio is, of course, approximately zero. Inscribed presentation copies of Joyce, Proust, or the Marquis de Sade ("with awfully warm personal regards") are long shots. But goof things do sometimes still find their way onto the stands.
One Sunday morning not long ago, Marcel Leleu, erudite bouquiniste whose stall is just below the Pont-au-Double near Notre Dame Cathedral, ungrudgingly sold a practically immaculate copy of Galignani's "illustrated Paris Guide: 1884" for three and a half francs -- not much more than 80 U.S. cents. No Dead Sea scroll, if you insist, but a book of antiquarian fascination chiefly because it talks so knowledgeably, so familiarly, about the transoceanic passenger ship, that almost extinct means of crossing large bodies of water. Remember?
As a good guide should, the Galignani book tells about Paris streets, Paris Museums, about the hotels, theaters, baths, and bars of its time, four score and 15 years ago. It turns then to problems of transporation: There weren't any. In 1884 you caught a ship. Published in Paris by the Galignani Library -- still today very much in business at 224 Rue de Rivoli, close to the Louvre -- the 1884 Guide tan to 350 pages, with 62 steel engravings of Paris scenes and a profusion of glorious shipping-line ads.
If you, an American living in, say, Baltimore or up the Susquehanna, had wanted to journey abroad in that summer of 1884, there were varying numbers of ships sailing daily from New York's North River and East River piers. Drop into the shipping offices any morning, take your pick. Europe was, to the tourist eye attractively tranquil that year, a friendly place, forward-looking, plenty of sound money around.
True, Italy had just signed up with Germany and Austria to form the Triple Alliance against France and Russia, but not many people cared about that. Emperor William I, full of years, was gracefully riding the high tide of Prussia prosperity. A man named Karl Marx, who had written tedious articles now and again for Horace Greeley's Tribune, had dropped dead in London, so that was the end of that. The use of electricity for illumination, still a novelty on land, was being put to the test by go-ahead shipowners. It was prominently announced in the Galignani Guide that "the Guion Line have adopted the electric light".
Bravo the Guion Line! The company took a full-page ad, stressing that its ships unfailingly left New York Tuesdays and Saturdays (damn the weather) toward Queenstown and Liverpool, and boasted that three of its vessels -- Arizona, Alaska and Oregon -- were the swiftest ocean steamers afloat. Other Guion ships were named Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Nevada, with one unexplained intruder, Abyssinia. (First 1884 vaudeville comedian, "So long". Second comedian, "Abyssinia".) All Guion ships employed that dernier cri, a combination of sail and steam, for propulsion through the waves.
Not to be outdone, North German Lloyd advertised 30 ships in transatlantic passenger service. Hohenzollern, Hohenstaufen, Braunschweig, and Graf-Bismarck were counterbalanced in terser syllables by Ems, Oder, Eider, and Ohio. Or you could book a cabin aboard Hermann. The company undertook to move you from New York to Southampton in a lightning-like eight days! -- unless the weather waxed significantly violent. But never mind, plenty of nourishing meat and potatoes aboard.
Had you been a strickler for sailing under the U.S. flag, the choice would have been slim. In 1884, the American Line, Philadelphia to Liverpool, was the sole passenger carrier flying the Stars and Stripes. To attrach customers, the company advertised in Galignani that "Every Steamer carries a Stewardess," which must have been nice for the ladies. American's intermediate class provided "Beds, Bedding and all necessary Utensils" at eight guineas the voyage. Eight guineas -- you could call it $40. First class ran from 12 to 21 guineas ( $60 to $105), but doubtless furnished much smarter utensils.
Bookseller Leleu's copy of the 1884 Guide has the name "Lee Carr" in blue indelible pencil on the inside front cover. If Mr. Carr lugged the book off to Paris in his Gladstone bag that year, he would seem to have made attentive use of it -- earnest thumb-smudges here and there; on a dozen pages, Burgundy stains (or just possibly Bordeaux). One page is elaborately dogeared, page 21, headed "BATHS, &c.", reporting that "Paris now has 200 bathing establishments, furnishing an average 2,500,000 baths to the public". A week? A year? In any event, the internal evidence is that Mr. Carr favored bathing. "Paris also contains 277 lavoirs, or public washhouses" -- so our Mr. Carr could have had no problem with his laundry.
There is no clue or smudge or penciled tick to indicate which hotel, if any, Mr. Carr descended upon; but the Grand Hotel du Louvre in the Rue de Rivoli offered almost unbeatable blandishments in its full-page ad. Messrs. Chauchard & Company, proprietors, pointed to "700 beds and sitting rooms, richly furnished"; to the full pension at 15 franc a day, "including Room, Attendance, Candles, substantial breakfast (2 dishes, 1/2 bottle of wine), and improved lift to all floors." Crowning glory: The Louvre's dining room had been lighted by electricity, "thus keeping the temperature most agreeably cool and fresh."
For his return to New York -- or Philadelphia -- Mr. Carr would have had a wide choice of Guide-advertised ships, leaving from Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Le Havre, London, Southampton, Liverpool, and other ports. He might well have liked the Inman Line, because all of Inman's ocean greyhounds afforded "Pianos" as well as "Bath-rooms". National Steamship Company, not to be left behind, provided a piano in every ship, too, and their new 6,000-ton iron screw steamer America was challenging, that very year, the Guion Line for speed supremacy on the North Atlantic. (Who won?) Meanwhile, White Star played it cool -- they sailed from Liverpool each week with no more pianos than a prairie schooner, challenging nobody to anything.
Did Mr. Lee Carr ever hear an airplane screaning overhead? It seems unlikely. Did he ever hang around an airport half a night because his transportation was snowed in somewhere, 2,000 miles away? Not probably. But in any case would he have deigned to wing over the Atlantic strapped in a chair? Hardly. Here was a man brought up on gracious ships equipped with Pianos and Utensils and civilized Beds and Bedding. His well-thumbed copy of Galignani's Guide seems somehow to suggest that Mr. Carr would have snorted, "The devil with the flying machines! Book me first class aboard the Abyssinia".