Saturday, September ?, 1889

Saturday Sept.

Today we went for the children and brought them home to stay all night. This P. M. We took them to the Au Bon Marche and a courier took us all over this establishment. It is the largest dry goods house in the world. Established by Mr. Beauicault on the principle that every employee should be interested in the business, and from a small store it has grown to magnificent proportion There are now 3800 employees all having an interest and an income over their salary, either commission on their sales or dividends. Their sales this year allready [the typed “all” has been changed to “already” in pencil] amount to ||33,000,000 francs [the “||” has been added in pencil]. All these statistics the courier gave us as we were shown the “Mosons”. They keep two couriers employed to show visitors the establishment. Ours was very polite and explaned everything to us in English after delivering his lecture in French. He took us first to the room where the evening silks were exhibited entirely surrounded with mirrors and filled with electric lights in front of reflectors, dozens of tables on which the goods are spread and hung up for inspection. Then we went into one of the bundle rooms where they were tying up bundles to be sent out; then on to the express room, where packages were being done up and weighed to be expressed. Then through room after room, countless in number where the goods were stored before being sent into the store proper; cloths, silks, velvets, white goods, carpets, rugs, perfumery, soaps, bric-a-brac and everything in the wide world. We then came to the kitchen for all these employees are fed here, and this kitchen is scrupulously clean and just wonderfull. They bake 8000 loaves of bread a day and when they have an omelet they break 8000 eggs. They have all the wine, meat, vegetables etc. they desire, and each article kept in its own particular room. Then we went on to the Monsieurs dining-room and Mademoiselle’s dining-room, everything light, airy, clean and oh, so comfortable. Then we followed on to the girls bed rooms, and they were just beautiful, about the size of our study, polished floors and mantels, single bed-steads (only one girl in a room) table, workstand, handsome shades and lace curtains all in the most perfect state of order and cleanliness. There are four stories of these rooms, all opening out into a broad corridor. The second story corridor leads into a large parlor for the use of the young ladies in the evening. This contains a piano, pictures, life size oil paintings of Mr. and Madame Beaucicault; marble bust of Monsieur B.’s father, bric-a-brac etc.There is also a library but not extensive. Our courier now led us out across the street to see the barns, and you never saw or conceived any place for horses so fine. A stone building with a wide passage in the center, and on each side stalls in pairs containing the horses. The names of each horse and mate on great brass plates over each double stall The horses were all of the finest, and as they did do [typed “did” is crossed out and changed to “do” in pencil] not go out but every other day and then only six hours they are in splendid condition. The wagons were back, and the arrangements for washing and hitching up etc. complete.

[A blog post including several contemporary illustrations is here. Note that the correct spellings in French are Au Bon Marché for the store and Aristide Boucicaut (not “Beaucicault”) for the founder; Boucicaut had died by the time Addie toured the store. The blog post also paints a much less rosy portrait of working there than Addie’s above entry does. This page discusses the architecture of the building built by Laplanche in 1872, and expanded in 1876 by Boileau and Eiffel; this was the building that Addie toured and which appears to still stand today. This old print shows the incredible size of Au Bon Marché compared to other buildings in its area in Paris. While as of this writing the Wikimedia uploader seems to have dated the depicted year of the print to 1887, the Eiffel Tower appears to me to be rising in the background, and if so, it would depict 1889 at the earliest since the Eiffel Tower premiered at the Exposition Universelle de 1889. Au Bon Marché lives on in Paris as Le Bon Marché.]

[Addie had already visited the Paris morgue, with visits by others included in one of Émile Zola’s novels, and now Addie visited a department store heavily featured via a fictionalized version in another of Émile Zola’s novels, the wildly popular Au Bonheur des Dames (originally published in a serialized version – as was common then – it was then published in the format of a novel in 1883). Perhaps this generally shows how much Émile Zola influenced English speakers’ conceptions of Paris, perhaps it simply shows that Addie was an Émile Zola fan, or perhaps it’s a coincidence. To date I have no explicit evidence that Addie read Émile Zola’s novels in particular, just that Addie enjoyed reading in general. Regardless, there is an interesting, image-heavy online exhibition about the novel and the society it represented on this French site (in both the English and French languages); note that the exhibition is a bit quirky, with the viewer reaching various captions and photos mostly by clicking on displayed graphics.]

[This is the first time Addie has noted seeing electric lighting in Paris. Edison and Swan had been working on electric lighting concurrently in the 1870’s, in the U. S. and U. K. respectively. Edison’s public demonstration of  a group of electric lighting had been on New Year’s Eve 1880 in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where his lab was located, and he had opened the first power station in the U. S. on 4 September 1882, lighting a square mile of one of the wealthiest areas of New York City, including the Stock Exchange; it took till 1884 until another American power station was opened. The Edison General Electric Company wasn’t formed till 1887, just two years before Addie saw electric lamps at Paris’s Au Bon Marché. See this page from the American Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) for more on Edison and early electric lighting in the U. S. Paris had done a number of public exhibits involving electrical lighting from 1878’s Exposition Universelle forward, and in 1888 Paris’s government had begun a plan to introduce public electric lighting; some credit the destruction of buildings in Paris by fires attributed at least partly to gas lighting as a good part of the push behind Paris’s decision. For a 1911 article on Paris’s early electric lighting, see “The Electric Lighting System of Paris” (to view the whole article online, a JSTOR login is required).]

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  1. Trackback: Tuesday, October 1, 1889 | Addie's Sojourn

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