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August 11 , 2009

A Tour of Two Cities: 18th century London and Paris compared


This new translation offers readers of English a unique look at eighteenth century London and England generally, compared to Paris and France in the same period. It was written by the sharp-tongued and observant journalist Linguet, who had moved there to start a French periodical far from French censorship. His observations range from overviews of official institutions like the Law and religion to descriptions of houses, furniture, markets. etc.

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Some samples: "Paris being approximately round, one must not be surprised to find London very long..."'; "The English chased the Monks from their island; and they have made of it a great cloister, where one finds only cells of the most tedious uniformity. All the habitations are scrupulously the same.";"The Frenchman who thus sells by small portions, limits himself to a modest profit:....The English retailer has precisely the contrary maxim: he prefers not to sell than to not gain 15, 20, sometimes 30 and 40 percent..";"the only promenade of London, St. James Park, is loaded with crude, rugged gravel, which cuts shoes, and kills the feet: one easily travels inside the city, one and two leagues of distance: a walk around the park is enough to maim the careless person who does not arm himself before risking it.";"One could cross all of London, in every direction, for a long time, before getting an idea of where the English have hidden the Thames.";"One of our greatest expenses, for we the French, is the decoration of our apartments: we are never done with the Carpenter, the Upholsterer, the Painter, the Gilder, the Cabinet-maker.";"Vegetables boiled in water, an enormous roast, and which is reused, by the family, as long as it lasts; at most on ceremonial occasions, fish cooked like the vegetables, this is what the English cooking comes down to.";"We esteem light, sweet wines, and slightly sharp seasonings; they have sauces which are bland to the point of insipidity, and wines spirited to the point of violence."

There is far more in this new translation, based on two articles Linguet wrote soon after he arrived. Whether your interest in the English or French side of this period, you will find a rich trove of insights and observations in these page.

An appendix also offers Linguet's widely quoted predictions for the new country of the United States - "Not having passed through the flow and almost imperceptible gradations which have marked the rise of other nations, they will find themselves on a sudden in the full possession of maturity, and this, with all the energy of a youthful constitution".

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