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Notes of a Late Visit to Paris

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the January 1867 Sword and Trowel


AST CHRISTMAS-DAY WE CROSSED THE CHANNEL to seek a little rest on the opposite shore. Smooth water below, a clear sky above, a merry heart within, and good company at hand, are a fair portion for a day of joy. The boat was decked with holly and mistletoe as became the festive season, and nature in her best attire was all in tune with the general gladness. We left Dover's giant cliffs, and entered Calais harbor without a thought of the chops of the Channel, or any other of the disagreeables of life. Yet for all this who cares to be traveling on Christmas-day? Do not all the memories appeal against it? It goes against the grain to be showing tickets, changing carriages, and shivering on landing-stages on a day sacred to plum-pudding and roast beef, family festivities, blazing fires, and household joys. One feels like a barbarian violating the proprieties of civilized life, or a prodigal running away from the fatted calf, and the feasting of the old house at home. Never mind, here we are, with six and twenty miles of brine between us and the old English Christmas logs, and we must catch the train for Paris, or be left among the runaway bankrupts. It is a long and weary journey from Calais to Paris, just a dreary drag over a huge flat; monotonous as the clergyman's tones at Droneton-in-the-Marsh, and two-thirds as dull as his oft-repeated sermons; but Paris itself is even in winter a full reward for all the tedium of the way. Having from preference visited the gay capital several times in winter, When by the way it is not gay but remarkably quiet, we do not hesitate to say that we know of no other place where in winter rest and instructive recreation can be so easily blended. As an educational city Paris is complete; it has large and well-arranged museums of every science and art; and within a small radius it contains a wealth of illustration which all Europe besides could not excel. Here the thoughtful observer may study in different museums, zoology, anatomy, comparative anatomy, diseased pathology, conchology, entomology, geology, botany, hydrostatics, agriculture, mining, horology, electricity, and indeed every branch of knowledge; and his studies may be diversified with wanderings among miles of pictures and acres of statuary. The vain may very easily find in Paris a feast for their vanity, but the intelligent may be equally content with the feast of knowledge which its splendid collections afford them. Our readers would not care to hear in detail of the many marvels of a city which they have no doubt superficially seen for themselves; we only suggest that upon their next visit they should become scholars for once instead of mere sightseers, and they will find new pleasure in the very pleasant trip.
    On the last Sabbath of the year we were agreeably surprised to find so many shops closed compared with the state of things five or six years ago. We noticed this to a friend well acquainted with the city, and he coincided in the observation. It seemed to us on former occasions as if no shops were closed at all, and workmen were certainly toiling as on ordinary days, but now there is just the shade of a Sabbath, for which step in the right direction one is heartily thankful. We cannot vouch for it that this Sabbatic improvement is general, but it was certainly very marked in the streets which we traversed. We visited our French Baptist brethren in their obscure, out-of-the-way, and dirty room at the back of the church of St. Roch. We sincerely wish that they would come out of that cave of Adullam. We have no objection to worship with them, even if they select a stable, but some people maintain the dangerous luxury of a nose, and others have a fastidious liking for fresh air, and these pardonable refinements will be quite out of place in that miserable school-room. The number of worshippers was about the same as when we were there last, something under one hundred; but their zeal and spirit were all that we could wish. A heart conscious of the love of Jesus would soon discover that the Lord is there. A really living church tenants that humble room. Not enterprising and bold, but; humbly earnest and stedfast in the faith are these men. So gracious and zealous are they that we can scarcely tell how it is that they do not, for the sake of the good cause, thrust themselves into a position of more publicity. It was with extreme difficulty that we found them out at all upon a former visit, for there was not even a notice-board outside, and one had to turn into a little courtyard and up a winding pair of stairs before the little written notice which tells the hour of worship could be seen. It is as if a tradesman should advertise his wares upon a piece of paper wafered on a pane of the back-kitchen window, where no one would ever see it but his own family: verily the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. The church of God in this case is not a city set upon a hill, but a hamlet hidden in a hole. We imagine that a sense of dwelling under a despotism haunts our French friends, and makes them fear to attempt anything which might bring down the rough hand of authority upon them; yet as we doubt not, if the hand did fall, they would bear it like true heroes, and derive great good therefrom, they have no cause to be alarmed. The same number of members of our church in the Tabernacle would have hired a large hall, or preached out in the Champs Elysees by now, throwing themselves upon the cheveux-de-frise if they could not scale the wall of difficulties, but our French brethren are content to go on worshipping in dinginess and singing their unmelodious cantiques in peaceful obscurity. We wish they had a little more of the fire, as well as the dew from heaven. They are admirable examples of all the virtues, but courageous enterprise is not their most prominent feature. The pastors and evangelists are indefatigable in their visitations and ministrations, but it would give us unfeigned satisfaction to see a portion of the tremendous energy of our brother Oncken, of Hamburg, infused into them. The American society by which they are sustained should get them a better room, in as public a place as possible, make them known among Americans and English, and push the cause to a success. By God's help, there is the nucleus of a great movement in that handful of people, but the £50 a year expended for a dirty chamber is so much money wasted; if four times the money were spent in rent, or better still, a good plain chapel erected, the larger sum would be by far the more economical investment. Under God, the people are worth spending the money upon, and would abundantly reward the society, and this is more than can be said of every sphere occupied by our American and English societies upon the Continent.
    It does not appear clear that the large sums expended by the Congregationalists and Wesleyans are producing an adequate return although their generous efforts are laudable in the extreme. We are informed that the annual expense of the Independent mission is not far short of £25 per head per annum for every member of the church; if they are not first-rate members at that cost they certainly ought to be. English Christianity in Paris in its collective capacity must probably always be a struggling plant, needing much foreign aid, and bearing slender fruit; the majority of our countrymen leave their religion behind them when they go abroad, and those who retain a profession find themselves weakened by the ungenial atmosphere of Vanity Fair. If French churches can be formed of each denomination, and English services be held as adjuncts, there will be a far greater probability of vitality and success; and this is what we anxiously long to see accomplished in the ease of our very worthy friends of the Rue St. Roch. Certain funds are in hand for a chapel for them, but the amount is scarcely a fourth of what will be required; meanwhile Pastor Dez is very unwell, and cannot carry on the work of collecting; and the other pastor, M. Le Poids, is fully occupied with the good work among his own flock. Unless a gracious Providence shall interpose, a most hopeful people will linger on in forced obscurity and powerlessness; whereas, if brought out into the light, their progress in all probability would be rapid. They are nearly all converts from Popery, and know how to converse with those who are under that yoke of bondage; their teachings are heard with respect, and the prejudice against them is almost as much to be rejoiced in as to be regretted, since it excites curiosity, and so brings hearers under the sound of the truth. There appears to be among the French working classes a considerable amount of religiousness of a hopeful kind. They do not much frequent the churches or reverence the priests; they make a distinction between the church and religion, and prefer to be religious in their own way. The story of the love of Jesus is generally received with respectful tenderness, and evangelical truth, if not distinctly styled "Protestantism," usually commands a hearing. The pastor, M. Le Poids, had just returned from a funeral when we saw him, and had been preaching the glorious gospel of immortality and eternal life at the grave, around which a large company gathered, and many Romanists and others came forward at the close to press his hand and thank him for the good word which he had spoken to them. There is a grand field for the gospel in France, but the limited amount of money allotted to the work by those who foster it is the great drawback at present. We are neither requested nor authorized to say this by friends in Paris, but this is our own deliberate judgment, and so assured are we of its correctness that if it were in our power we would remove the difficulty at once.
    We traversed the enormous circles of the Great Exhibition. At a distance the erection has at present the appearance of a monster gasometer,* but as far as one could judge from walking through it is well adapted for its purpose, and will be the great wonder of the year 1867. When we went to Paris our heart was set upon obtaining a larger room for our French Baptist friends, in which, during the Exhibition the best known of our English ministers might have held a service for friends of our own denomination. Into this project the committee or the London Association entered most heartily, hoping to be made a blessing to the thousands who will visit Paris to inspect the World's Fair. Finding, however, that the wants of the English will be very well provided for by other denominations, and perceiving no likelihood of drawing our St. Roch friends out of their upper room, we have for the time let the matter drop, unless the providence of God should open a door and clear the path for the further carrying out of the scheme. May the Lord look upon the country which his faithful servants in olden times stained with their blood, and send forth his salvation upon the land! May France rejoice in the Lord Jesus and his salvation!


NOTE (added by The Spurgeon Archive):
* Spurgeon's visit to Paris preceded by three months the April 1 opening of the 1867 World's Fair (Exposition Universelle) in Paris, showpiece of Napoleon III. This was the second of a series of seven World's Fairs hosted in Paris from the mid-19th century to the start of World War II (1855, 1867, 1878, 1889, 1900, 1925, 1937). The structure Spurgeon compares to a "monster gasometer" is not—as some have supposed—the Eiffel Tower (which did not exist until the 1889 Exposition Universelle).
Exposition palace, Paris 1867
Instead, Spurgeon was describing the 1867 fair's exposition palace, a gigantic oval that covered more than 35 acres on the Champ-de-Mars. From the outside, it looked like a gigantic steel tank (with a 1-mile circumference). It had an open garden in the middle and 12 concentric aisles separating the displays. Walking around the massive exhibition was supposed to give visitors the impression of circling the globe.

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