Tower of 300 Meters

In my old Guide de Paris, published by A. Taride around what we quaintly used to call ‘the turn of the century’ (meaning around 1900), the Eiffel Tower is not listed under E for Eiffel but under T for Tour, the French word for tower.

In the first line of the description, the guidebook uses the word tour in another meaning, calling the tower a “Babel completed and a tour de force of modern industry”. (Unlike the biblical Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11:1–9, the Eiffel Tower did not provoke the wrath of God and was not left unfinished.)

Paris guidebook published by A. Taride

The guidebook also compares the Eiffel Tower to an upside-down Y “on which without hesitation Musset would have gallantly punctuated the moon”.

This is a reference to the dramatist, poet and novelist Alfred de Musset (1810-1857) and his whimsical poem Ballade à la lune (Ballade to the moon), which begins:

C’était, dans la nuit brune,
Sur le clocher jauni,
La lune
Comme un point sur un i.

This means, roughly: “It was, in the dark night, / On the yellowed steeple, / The moon / Like a dot on an i.” To make sure we remember, the poet brings the same comparison twice more in the poem, once in the middle and again at the very end: “like a dot on an i”.

The anonymous guidebook author seems to assume that his readers all know the poem (probably a reasonable assumption in 1900) and that if Musset hadn’t died a quarter-century before the Eiffel Tower was even thought of, he would have put the dot there rather than “on the yellowed steeple”.

Musset’s Ballade à la lune has often been set to music, by Jacques Offenbach, for example, but also by George Brassens, who recorded a somewhat shortened version in 1979.

Update: Thanks to ‘toutloperaoupresque655890715’ for this comment: “C’était dans la nuit brune was a canon that was taught to children in primary school in France, when I was young. I think many French people of my generation know it, without always knowing that the lyrics are by Musset.”

Plan and Guide of Paris, title page

After a paragraph of statistics (e.g., 2,500,000 rivets) the Taride guidebook lists some of the major sights that can be seen from the Tower:

“Nearby, like stocky dwarfs, the Trocadéro and the Palais des Champs-Elysées. To the South-East, the Invalides and the Val-de-Grace with their golden helmets, Luxembourg in the middle of a green setting, the haughty Pantheon on its mound. To the East, the quadrangle of the Louvre, the cupola of the Institute, the Palace of Justice and its group of towers sitting on the edge of the water, the solemn mass of Notre-Dame, the pepperbox roofs of the Hôtel-de-Ville, the Genius of Liberty shining on its pedestal [at Place de la Bastille] and in the distance, two question marks, the Columns of the Place de la Nation. To the North-East, the Stock Exchange, the Opera, the hectic and tumultuous Boulevards, the Greek purity of the Madeleine, Montmartre with its clusters of houses and the dazzling whiteness of the Sacré-Coeur which stands out against the firmament. To the North, the Champs-Elysées extended in a line of beauty, the Arc de Triomphe with its twelve radiating avenues, the splendor of the Monceau district and its park, and in the distance the spires of Saint-Denis stabbing the sky. To the West the verdant mass of the Bois [de Boulogne] and gently rounded in the mist, a circle of hills, Bellevue, Saint-Cloud, Suresnes with Mont-Valèrien, formidable behind its rampart; horizon of a penetrating harmony, landscape full of charm and seduction.”

The Tower of 300 Meters

The text concludes by declaring that even if the Tower of 300 Meters “only served to make us better admire Paris, would still be a useful work. In the evening, it becomes the luminous Lighthouse, the great old light whose projections caress the dozing City with tender clarity.”

See also: Paris Pratique par Arrondissement.

9 thoughts on “Tower of 300 Meters”

  1. “C’était dans la nuit brune” était un canon qu’on apprenait aux enfants à l’école primaire en France, quand j’étais jeune.
    Je pense que beaucoup de français de ma génération le connaissent, sans toujours savoir que les paroles sont de Musset.

  2. I love old guidebooks and that’s a brilliant description of the views! Probably not so unchanged either, despite all the newer buildings that will have been added to the cityscape since 1900 🙂

  3. Old guidebooks are so great. In 1964 had a green Michelin guide for Provance. It was in French because I guess there weren’t enough people who needed one in English in those days.

    1. I used to have a green Michelin guide to Paris from the 1960s, also in French, but I gave it to someone who was going there. It had a lot more detailed text than the current editions.

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