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  • Transforming Paris into an Industrial Capital:Competing Discourses (1750–1820)

From Rousseau to Hugo, Paris became an industrial city. This transformation took place in the midst of an industrialization that threw into question the relationship between citizens and their environment. The development of hazardous activities was a challenge for the Ancien Régime society, and this led to a transformation in law and in the representation of Paris. A complex process gave factories the possibility of establishing themselves in towns. As part of the new approach of modern manufacturing, Paris became the laboratory for testing the legitimacy of pollution, ushering in an alliance between the state, science, and industry, in an entirely new kind of political project for a new and modern capital.

AT THE TURN OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY and over the course of barely two generations, Paris became a large industrial city. To understand this seldom acknowledged urban revolution, we need to explore not only the economic, spatial, and scientific processes but also the discursive processes that enabled industry to become a legitimate part of a city that had been previously so attached to its culture, religion, and finance. Indeed, nothing at the end of the eighteenth century predisposed Paris to become a predominant manufacturing center. Although the capital had developed an intricate web of high quality artisanal workshops drawing on an abundant and qualified workforce and a large consumer market, the first phase of industrial growth in France was mainly rooted in small towns with specialized production, along rivers, and in the heart of forests. Moreover, many town dwellers feared the disruptive effects of manufacturing with its noise, smoke, smells, and various risks, which were considered hardly compatible with the Enlightenment code of urban conduct.

Thus, when industrialization began to leave its mark on Paris, multiple tensions emerged inside regulatory institutions, in particular because of the nuisances caused by workshops and factories. These tensions gave rise to such heated public debates, controversies, and legal proceedings that the government had to intervene. From these tensions can be discerned two contrasting reactions. First, the emergence of public opinion or a space for public debate could be observed, which was far from being strongly formed or grounded on established platforms from which opinions could spread. However, the space of public opinion undeniably allowed some of the issues raised by industrialization and urbanization to be discussed, sometimes virulently, within the elite or more widely among writers, social observers, and in certain expert circles. Second, the government, which was increasingly in favor of progress, began fervently to support industrial development and, at the same time, paid attention to swings in public opinion at a time when the concept of a public space was emerging.1 Since the issues debated sometimes challenged the place of industry itself because of industrial nuisances, the last decades of the ancien régime set the terms of a conflict that was finally resolved during the years of the French Revolution. [End Page 86]

This article seeks to describe the process that lead to an acceptance of industrial nuisances in cities by creating a hierarchy among legitimized discourses. In the second third of the century, a movement of writers very close to the neo-Hippocratic medical community was inclined to denounce the presence of industries inside cities, and the government encouraged the production of scientific knowledge that would have a significant influence on many social observers. Ultimately, however, the debate was finally taken over by the post-revolutionary administration and handed over to technicians (essentially chemists close to the government), who offered plausible-sounding assessments of the possible industrial hazards, while marginalizing any other approach.

The noxious city of writers and social observers

A noxious city: this was the damning verdict pronounced about the City of Light by its eighteenth-century French contemporaries.2 Across all social categories, classes, and communities, elites agreed to condemn the toxicity of a city suffocated by its narrow streets and dead ends, its houses built on bridges, and its city walls that no longer protected but instead obstructed air flow and prevented the removal of waste and putrid exhalations. Paris, this “immense ville dont l’influence maladive a tant d’étendue et d’effets,”3 was the focus of attention. Between 1750 and 1789, writers and foreign travelers painted a picture of Paris as a filthy and tumultuous place that needed to be cleared of all its domestic and artisanal clutter. “En sortant de Villejuif, nous découvrîmes un immense amas de maisons surmonté par un nuage de vapeur. Je demandais à mon père ce que c’était: ‘c’est Paris. C’est une grande ville.’” Thus did Nicolas Rétif de la Bretonne discover Paris in 1746,4 while among the greatest writers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau established its reputation as a city of dirt and corruption: “Combien l’abord de Paris démentit l’idée que j’en avais! […] en entrant dans le faubourg Saint-Marceau, je ne vis que de petites rues sales et puantes, de vilaines maisons noires, l’air de la malpropreté […]. Il m’en est resté toujours un secret dégoût pour l’habitation de cette capitale.” In 1750, on leaving the capital, he exclaimed, “Adieu donc Paris, ville célèbre, ville de bruit, de fumée et de boue.”5 These authors transformed their first encounter with Paris into a disappointment, and the theme of a squalid city became one of the literary topoi about arriving in Paris6—a topos that was in stark contrast with royal ambitions and urban design efforts to embellish the capital and adorn it with impressive monuments. At the end of the ancien régime, other foreign travelers (Young, Karamzine, etc.) continued to observe its narrow and filthy streets.7 There is no doubt that Paris was unclean and that the [End Page 87] authorities struggled mightily to rid the city of its muck. Louis-Sébastien Mercier noted that Paris, “la ville du monde la plus sale,” “se nommait jadis Lutetia, ville de boue.”8 Paris became known for its muck as much as for its narrow streets and areas of overcrowding and stagnation, all condemned for their stench and humidity.

In contrast with such a morbid city, the ideal city was one in which air circulated and where the streets and the river flowed freely. In 1749, Voltaire initiated a series of urban projects, quickly adopted by Parcieux, Poncet de la Grave, Quatremère de Quincy, and Patte,9 as well as Mercier, who in two essays provided an imaginary counterpoint to his Tableau de Paris, transporting Paris in space and time to better reveal its vices and defects and imagine improvements.10 From 1785, the houses on the Notre-Dame, Change, and Saint-Michel bridges were demolished and the Innocents cemetery was relocated, symbolizing the desire of the urban elite to breathe fresh clean air. Nonetheless, town improvement works to remodel some areas of Paris were slow, and the health situation in Paris was far from seeing any real improvement; the city continued to be mired in its filth, obstructions, and urban hazards. And so, in the century of Enlightenment, the realization that the capital’s urban ecology was stagnating or even worsening became unbearable.

In the decades from 1750 to 1770, artisanal and industrial businesses were marked out as one of the causes of insalubrity: sites producing stench were increasingly associated with sites of danger. In the miasma theory, otherwise known as the “aerist” theory, bad smells contaminated the air, which then carried diseases and spread epidemics.11 In this context, the influence of the environment on human health was recognized, and the Parisian police, which was very influenced by neo-Hippocratic medicine, sought to move artisanal and industrial businesses to the outskirts of the city.12 Workshops and factories such as tallow foundries, gut cleaning workshops, tanneries, starch plants, and fulling and retting mills (for flax and hemp) became the focus of attention. Mercier frequently denounced the inhumane inner-city slaughterhouses, with the blood of livestock thrown out onto the streets and the foul smells of animal fat being melted into tallow.13

Dirty streets were frequently associated with these industries, as with the work of laundresses and wig makers, who threw out starched water that broke up and dislodged the cobblestones.14 Mercier also criticized the dangers and noise of economic activity. He exclaimed about construction work, “Qui n’est pas exposé à être blessé dans ces rues tumultueuses? Une tuile, un carrosse, une poutre branlante, un marteau de maçon […] vous font plaie, bosse, contusion, fracture.”15 Paris was a noisy and bustling city because of its daily commotion, [End Page 88] but especially because of its shouting workers with their “voix aigres et retentissantes qui se font entendre au sommet et jusques sur le derrière des maisons.”16 This clamorous toil was a disturbance because the cries came from those working, such as masons and laundresses, directly out in the public space. Moreover, this thinking intersected with the concerns of doctors and architects and announced a vision of public hygiene opposed to the presence of industries within city walls. Thus, in 1769, Patte thought that the “distribution vicieuse des villes” could be resolved by moving “tous les métiers grossiers, et les arts qui produisent beaucoup d’odeurs et de bruit, tels que les tanneries, les triperies, les maréchaux, les blanchisseuses” beyond four rows of trees planted around the city.17 The idea of removing the remaining noxious inner-city businesses was widely shared in the decade following 1750. During a period experiencing the first signs of industrialization, social observers urged the government to reform its policy: in the space of a few years, these problems were progressively entrusted to experts who began to construct a discourse upon which writers increasingly began to rely, but which still did not yet monopolize public debates.

Tensions from 1770 to 1789: convergence and competition among discourses

In the last years of the ancien régime, the Parisian police reformed how it dealt with public health issues. Initiated by Sartine, Lieutenant General of Police before 1774, adoption of this pre-hygienist mindset by the police service was confirmed under his successor Lenoir (1775-1785). Important institutions and publications created an environment that promoted the dissemination of scientific and medical knowledge in the public domain. The Gazette de santé was founded in 1773, while the Royal Society of Medicine was created in 1776. Lenoir reformed common practices in the field of public health, using a new approach for dealing with nuisances. He asked pharmacists, who were officially recognized through the foundation of the College of Pharmacy in 1777, to assess some of the more urgent issues.18 Parmentier and Cadet de Vaux quickly became Lenoir’s active auxiliaries and influenced some of his decisions.

Cadet de Vaux and Parmentier’s innovation was to challenge the prevailing notion that nuisances were produced by the presence of workshops and factories. Although their role was still to control putrid exhalations and smoke emissions, this was through chemical processes rather than by removing sources of pollution. Cadet de Vaux coined the term “mephitism” to refer to miasma and was admired for it by Mercier: “Ce mot nouveau a retenti comme un tocsin formidable; on a vu partout des gaz malfaisants, et les nerfs olfactoires [End Page 89] sont devenus d’une sensibilité surprenante.”19 In 1778, they published a treatise on the sanitation of cesspools, which were becoming difficult to manage in Paris.20 Setting out to “demiphitize” cesspools after 1779, they made sulphuric acid react with sea salt to produce hydrochloric acid, which had disinfecting properties according to the principles and practices established by Guyton de Morveau in Dijon in 1773. In this way, the use of chemicals was legitimized. Parmentier, in particular, did not fear their effects in the least. In 1775, in his dissertation on the Seine’s water, he maintained that the most salubrious quarters were indeed those that housed industries. In his second dissertation in 1787, he raised these questions again: “Le projet de vouloir transférer beaucoup d’ateliers au-delà de l’enceinte des villes, n’est-il pas plus superflu qu’utile? La pureté de l’air ne s’altérerait-elle pas bientôt par l’habitation d’un grand nombre d’hommes réunis dans un espace très circonscrit, si les vapeurs de ces ateliers portent dans l’atmosphère, ne contribuaient à l’amélioration de l’air que nous respirons.”21 In an analogy to the Seine, whose significant flow he thought could dilute all substances released into it, Parmentier claimed that all the fumes neutralized each other in the air, and their combination formed the very air that people breathed. This new way of approaching the issue of pollution had a powerful effect on public opinion, especially through the leading French daily paper, the Journal de Paris, which began circulation in 1777, and which promoted the idea passionately. Cadet de Vaux was indeed one of the daily newspaper’s founders, and it regularly published accounts of the sanitation policy in the capital.22

It should come as no surprise, then, to find a certain degree of permeability between the official discourse of these new experts, circulating in the press and in official leaflets, and that of certain social observers. Here again, Mercier provides the best example. He was quick to denounce certain nuisances, and yet he also often supported the spirit of reform underway, even plagiarizing some of the publications of its advocates. Drawing significantly on enlightened literary writings and press articles typical of his time, Mercier evoked their criticism of the traditional regulation methods used by the police, thereby becoming a proponent of the spirit of reform. For example, in 1788, he complained about inertia of the police and its practices, including its continued tolerance of insalubrious laundering practices on boats in the center of Paris: “Mais pour guérir l’imagination qui, une fois blessée, rejette le raisonnement, il serait à désirer qu’on obligeât les blanchisseuses d’établir leurs bateaux au-dessous de Paris.”23 It so happens that just the previous year, Parmentier had written some identical lines in a reprinted amended version of his Dissertation sur les eaux de la Seine: “Mais comme le pouvoir de l’imagination [End Page 90] prévaudra toujours sur les raisonnements les plus solides, il serait à désirer que le Gouvernement, occupé aujourd’hui de tous les genres d’objets de salubrité, obligeât les blanchisseuses, par exemple, d’établir leurs bateaux au-dessous de Paris.”24

Moreover, with regard to protests about the noise made by craftsmen, to which he lent his voice in his Tableau de Paris, Mercier also wrote:

Le marteau du forgeron et du maréchal-ferrant trouble quelquefois le sommeil du matin. Si l’on en croyait nos sybarites, on reléguerait hors des villes tous les artisans qui font frémir la lime mordante; il ne serait plus permis au chaudronnier de battre sa marmite. […] Il faudrait que le bruit de la cité fût enchaîné de toute part, pour protéger leur oisive mollesse. […] Par une suite du même esprit, ils ne voudraient pas sentir la boutique du chapelier, à cause de l’odeur de sa foule; ni celle du corroyeur, à cause des huiles; ni celle du vernisseur; ni celle du parfumeur, quoiqu’ils fassent usage de ses cosmétiques; ni celle du rappeur de tabac, qui les fait éternuer involontairement lorsqu’ils passent.25

In attacking criticisms of economic activity with such optimism and realistic acceptance of productive necessities, he was in fact copying from a medical report drafted by physicians at the Paris Faculty of Medicine during an investigation into pollution caused by a nitric acid factory, itself ordered by the Lieutenant General of Police as part of his consultation of scientific experts. The report observes:

Pour peu qu’on voulut se prêter aux vues et au dire de gens qui se prétendent incommodés de leur voisinage, il faudrait reléguer tous les artisans dans une autre Ville; le marteau d’un forgeron serait nuisible, parce qu’il troublerait le sommeil du matin; un chaudronnier le serait aussi par le bruit qu’il fait en battant sa marmite; un chapelier serait un voisin incommode par l’odeur de sa foule et la préparation de ses peaux; un corroyeur ne mériterait pas plus de grâce pour la puanteur des huiles qu’il emploie; le peintre, le parfumeur auraient à combattre contre les têtes faibles; et l’épicier n’aurait pas la permission de faire piler de l’euphorbe chez lui, parce qu’il pourrait faire éternuer tous ses voisins.26

Critical of standard police practices, Mercier showed in this way his admiration of Lenoir’s modern mindset. Proponents of modernization defended it by arguing that it served the common will and strongly promoted economic development. Its doctrine necessitated certain reforms, in particular concerning the management of gypsum and stone quarries. To address the problem of quarry sinkholes after 1777, Lenoir set up a Quarry Inspectorate that followed new practices, by-passing the traditional role of the police.27 In particular, the new administration proposed to make the quarries sink artificially as a preventative measure, one that had never been carried out before. Here again, Mercier’s writings drew very heavily on the account of events in the Journal [End Page 91] de Paris. In 1780, the newspaper published several (unsigned) news items that marveled at the events:

Il s’agissait d’affaisser le ciel d’une carrière ayant plusieurs arpents de superficie, et qui n’était soutenue que par les piliers assez rares qu’y avaient laissés les ouvriers. [Cela] formait un spectacle tout à fait majestueux et neuf […] M. Guillaumot a fait usage de la poudre à canon […] pour faire affaisser toute cette étendue de terrain sur elle-même, et combler ainsi le vide de la carrière en un instant. On vit la montagne s’ébranler, se fendre de toutes parts et s’affaisser sans pour ainsi dire d’explosion, et sans même qu’on ait entendu le bruit auquel tous les spectateurs attendaient.28

Mercier wrote:

On a comblé le vide effrayant de ces carrières, et affaissé les terres et les montagnes sur ellesmêmes, en brisant les piliers par la mine. Ce fut un spectacle curieux et nouveau, que donna l’art du mineur entre les mains de M Vandermarck. On vit une colline considérable s’abaisser, et, d’après l’expression populaire, faire la révérence. Il y eut jusqu’à quarante piliers brisés d’un seul coup de feu.29

Of course, beyond the facile game of pointing out literary correspondences and analogies our aim here is not only to show that Mercier’s talent included the serious borrowing from and use of other people’s work, a very widespread practice at the time, but also to emphasize how this practice reflected a commonality of views among diverse actors as to how urban space should be envisaged and regulated. In this way, this remarkable urban observer took an active part in the emergence of public opinion, as well as in the spirit of reform and the dissemination of science in the public arena.

This convergence of discourses did not mean, however, that they were entirely identical. Public opinion was far from being completely swayed by shifts in perception among experts close to the government. Parmentier’s assertions in particular were strongly criticized by certain doctors. For example, the Gazette de santé openly challenged the famous pharmacist’s ideas against isolating sites that produced insalubrities. As early as 1776, the journal criticized Parmentier’s Dissertation, arguing that “quoique la confusion des exhalaisons […] neutralise [les exhalaisons], il est souvent dangereux d’être dans le voisinage de certaines manufactures.”30 In 1787, the Gazette was much more scathing about Parmentier’s new edition of the Dissertation. “L’intérêt de la vérité demandait cette réclamation contre le petit ouvrage d’un chimiste connu, qui s’est laissé entraîner par sa grande facilité d’écrire, sans discuter avec soin les faits qu’il avance et qui a fait plutôt voir l’abus qu’on pouvait faire du raisonnement en physique, qu’il n’est parvenu à démontrer des vérités nouvelles.”31 Similarly, in one of the following issues, the journal [End Page 92] recognized the dangers of lead substances handled in certain workshops, and it concluded that preventative measures were necessary and that it was preferable to isolate factories.32 In 1781, exploring the effects of tallow workshops on their neighbors’ health, the Gazette started a debate and appealed to the public: “Nous invitons les personnes instruites et sans préjugés, à nous faire part de leurs idées à ce sujet.”33 There was, therefore, the opportunity for public debate on these questions. More than ever before, the last decades of the ancien régime were a period of inquiry into the presence of industries in cities. The topic mobilized expert circles as well as many social observers, writers, and ordinary citizens, who found these problems echoed both in the press and in specialized journals. However, it was this very possibility of exploring the link between urbanity and industrial reality that was foreclosed during the revolutionary and imperial decades.

Technicians monopolize the debate (1790–1820)34

The revolutionary decade saw an increase in the legitimacy of scientific expertise. On the one hand, scientists were important drivers of change: from 1793, the chemists Berthollet, Fourcroy, Guyton de Morveau, and Chaptal occupied top government positions, filling roles that supported industrialization. On the other hand, in a tense political climate and after years of multiple wars against a coalition of European aristocratic powers, public opinion, when it was not severely muzzled by the authorities, was naturally more inclined to take an interest in the issues raised by revolutionary upheavals than those relating to quality of life. The question of industrial nuisances indisputably became less of a priority for ordinary citizens and writers. In stark contrast to prior decades, there is scant literary or journalistic discussion of the industrial presence in Paris. This despite the abolishment of earlier preventative measures that allowed industrialists to establish their workshops and factories wherever they wanted—including in the heart of the city. Only the explosion at the Grenelle gunpowder factory in 1794 made it into Mercier’s Nouveau Paris, as well as being mentioned in other Parisian newspapers, but more from a political angle than a risk management one.35 Around 1800, the presence of industry had obviously increased, despite a concurrent decline of the economy as a result of the Revolution.

Increasingly, non-scientific discourse became marginalized as the police prefecture took control of all powers of regulation and began turning systematically to scientists in order to assess industrial nuisances. The scientist Chaptal became the key figure in this consolidation of science and administration, becoming Interior Minister immediately after Bonaparte acceded to [End Page 93] power. Academician, chemist, entrepreneur, and also member of the Conseil d’État, he perfectly embodied the conjunction of scientific expertise and emerging administrative and regulatory standards, through which, moreover, industrialism and the free market ethic became associated.36 He had himself established a sulphuric acid factory at the city walls in 1798, which provoked fear and protest. In order to provide a coherent framework for promoting industry, Chaptal led the 1802 creation of a Health Council as an agency whose scientific expertise could guide the Parisian authorities, and whose principal members were chemists and other men of science (among them, Cadet de Gassicourt, Deyeux, and Darcet were the more active).

In 1804, the Ministry also commissioned the Academy of Sciences to produce a report “on factories emitting offensive smells and on the danger they pose for public health,” and this report was entrusted to Guyton de Morveau and Chaptal. The report confirmed that many complaints had been voiced by public opinion, in Paris in particular, but it certified that acid factories were harmless and demanded that they be given government protection through a new approach to regulation with more administrative control. Chaptal and Guyton de Morveau cemented their arguments by attacking the traditional policing system that relied on citizen complaints. They asserted that the future of many factories depended solely on “simples règlements de police” and opposed “l’honnête manufacturier” on the one hand, and the “arbitraire” of a “simple magistrat de police” as well as the “préjugés” and “ignorance” of public opinion on the other, all jeopardizing “[le] sort de l’art même.”37 The terms of the debate were thus clearly set: anyone holding opinions opposing industrial development would be obliged to surrender.

In February 1806, the police prefect took a new step towards this change with a police order specifying that any factory thought to be unsanitary or to pose a fire threat in the city could no longer be established in Paris without an authorization, to be issued after an inspection by “des gens de l’art.”38 The Health Council’s expertise thus was strengthened as it became part of the process of regulation and effectively intervened at the last stage of the authorization procedure. In this way, the Health Council became responsible not only for applying its own expertise, but also for commenting on the various documents submitted, including the advice of police superintendents and neighbors’ protests, which the Council did not hesitate to criticize. It tended to deny the legitimacy of complaints. Its reports generally ended with rather general and overbearing conclusions, and its method of expertise was unilateral and one-sided. In just a few years it became highly powerful, and its advice was very often followed by the police prefect, frequently against [End Page 94] the opinions of superintendents, who were nonetheless more in tune with their communities. Out of more than 3,000 applications processed by the Health Council between 1811 and 1828, the proportion of notices of refusal from the Council on the establishment of unsanitary industries fell from 10% to 5%. In contrast, the share of complaints and objections from citizens rose from between 22% and 30% in the 1810s to between 35% and 45% in the 1820s; a peak in 1822 was partly caused by a higher number of steam engine cases that year.

Figure 1. Archives de la Préfecture de police, Rapports du Conseil de salubrité, 1811–1828.
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Figure 1.

Archives de la Préfecture de police, Rapports du Conseil de salubrité, 18111828.

The Health Council had indeed stripped the police of its traditional powers and absorbed the other less visible and prestigious prefecture departments.39 This step was clearly designed to marginalize all opposition, since there was no common agreement on the issue. Thus road network superintendents (commissaires de la petite voirie), who were required to give advice about every application to establish a factory, sometimes objected to the notices issued by the Health Council, at least before 1820. Police superintendents also continued to carry out neighborhood enquiries, called commodo et incommodo. Nonetheless, these investigations were much less important than they had been. Among all the police superintendents, entrenched in his command of the division at Les Halles from 1800 to 1830, Masson stood out for having the professionalism and experience requisite to criticize strongly the Health Council at times. As did many other superintendents, Masson strongly disapproved [End Page 95] of industrialization in the capital. In 1807, he expressed his exasperation in a note he made on a report by Deyeux and Cadet supporting the opening of a ferrous sulphate factory in a north-eastern suburb of Paris:

Les fabriques sont utiles, mais devraient toujours être reléguées dans des lieux où elles ne pourraient nuire. […] En dépit de M. Chaptal, il ne faut pas que ces fabriques nuisent à la société […] Si les vapeurs sulfureuses nuisent aux végétaux et s’y attachent, elles nuisent certainement plus activement aux poumons, puisqu’elles sont inspirées par les habitants voisins et qu’elles pénètrent dans les habitations […]. On ne peut point ajourner la destruction des gaz délétères.40

The Parisian superintendents’ defiance of such a prominent figure showed that there was some discord amongst the police prefecture staff about the optimism expressed by the Academy chemists. However, it had become very much a minority view. Nevertheless, before 1820, these were the only alternative voices to official discourses, alongside those of some provincial doctors, such as Fodéré in Marseille. Writers and other social observers no longer commented on the industrial presence in cities. It was only in the middle of the century that descriptions of the industrial city began to appear again, but this was a very different time when the question was no longer to oppose change, but merely to offer accounts of it. However, industrial glory was not unknown to the literary imagination, and its dismal and sad aspects appeared frequently in literary works. Even before Zola’s Rougon-Macquart epic, Hugo wrote some very compelling lines on the new industrial presence in Paris during the Restoration. Setting Les misérables near the Gobelins barrier in 1823, he wrote that there was

une odeur de couperose […] par bouffées des toits d’une fabrique voisine. […] Si loin que la vue pût s’étendre, on n’apercevait que les abattoirs, le mur d’enceinte et quelques rares façades d’usines, pareilles à des casernes ou à des monastères; partout des baraques et des plâtras, de vieux murs noirs comme des linceuls, des murs neuf blanc comme des suaires; partout des rangées d’arbres parallèles, des bâtisses tirées au cordeau, des constructions plates, de longues lignes froides, et la tristesse lugubre des angles droits. Pas un accident de terrain, pas un caprice d’architecture, pas un pli. C’était un ensemble glacial, régulier, hideux.41

Thus, in hardly two generations, a complete paradigm shift had taken place within the hierarchy of accepted discourses, allowing the emergence of an industrial capital. Criticism of the harmful effects of production contrasted considerably with the position held from the 1800s by the Health Council, the body whose advice the police prefect followed. Scientific expertise based on a belief in industrial progress and an upsurge by economic liberals against regulations protecting citizens from nuisances were certainly already perceptible [End Page 96] from the mid-1770s. Nonetheless, in this great transformation the role of the Health Council was essential. The latter used its expertise to legitimize the presence of industry in cities once and for all, and it marginalized and even expressed contempt towards neighborhood enquiries, the advice of police superintendents and any other differing views. Paris was the perfect example of a French city raising the question of the coexistence between industry and housing. The question was discussed here more acutely than anywhere else, especially at the political level, and eventually, as the early adopter of a new system that spread rapidly to the rest of the continent, Paris became a real testing ground for industrial pollution in the contemporary period. In this complete reshuffling of values at a time of political and silent revolution, the decades from 1750 to 1820 witnessed a profound change that resulted in the acceptance of industry and its multiple nuisances, pollution and risks—a change that stands at the origins of the contemporary environmental crisis.

Thomas Le Roux
Centre de Recherches Historiques (CNRS/EHESS)


1. Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1991); Roger Chartier, Les origines culturelles de la Révolution française (Paris: Seuil, 1990); Mona Ozouf, “Le concept d’opinion publique au XVIIIe siècle,” Sociologie de la communication, 1:1 (1997): 349–65; Keith Michael Baker, Au tribunal de l’opinion: Essai sur l’imaginaire politique au 18e siècle (Paris: Payot, 1993).

2. Sabine Barles, La ville délétère: Médecins et ingénieurs dans l’espace urbain, XVIIIeXIXe siècle (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 1999); Alain Corbin, Le miasme et la jonquille: L’odorat et l’imaginaire social aux XVIIe et XIXe siècles (Paris: Aubier, 1982).

3. Jean-Jacques Menuret de Chambaud, Essais sur l’histoire médico-topographique de Paris (Paris: rue et hôtel de Serpente, 1786), 8–9.

4. Nicolas Rétif de la Bretonne, Monsieur Nicolas (Paris: Gallimard, 1989), 1:148–49.

5. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Les confessions, vol. 1, Œuvres complètes (Paris: Gallimard, 1959, 154; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, ou De l’éducation (Paris: Bordas, 1992), 125.

6. Jacques Rustin, “La séquence de l’ ‘arrivée à Paris’ dans le roman français de la seconde partie du XVIIIe siècle,” Rétif de la Bretonne et la ville (Strasbourg: Presses de l’Université de Strasbourg, 1993), 7–36; Simon Davis, “L’idée de Paris dans le roman du dix-huitième siècle”, in La ville au XVIIIe siècle (Aix-en-Provence: Edisud, 1975), 11–17.

7. Nicolaj Karamzine speaks of “rues étroites, malpropres, boueuses, de méchantes maisons et des gens en haillons déchirés” in Voyage en France, 17891790 (Paris; Hachette, 1885), 76. Arthur Young speaks of a city that is “sale et mal construite. Pour aller de la rue de Varenne, dans le faubourg Saint-Germain, j’ai dû traverser toute la ville, et j’ai passé par des rues étroites, vilaines et encombrées.” Voyage en France, 178717881789 (Paris: Armand Colin, 1976), 1:83.

8. Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Tableau de Paris (Amsterdam: no publisher, 1781–1788), bk. 1, ch. 40, 121, and bk. 6, ch. 455, 1.

9. Antoine Picon, Architectes et ingénieurs au siècle des Lumières (Marseille: Parenthèses, 1988); Isabelle Backouche, La trace du fleuve: La Seine et Paris (17501850) (Paris: EHESS, 2000); Le sain et le malsain au XVIIIe siècle, Dix-huitième siècle (1977). [End Page 97]

10. Louis-Sébastien Mercier, L’an 2440 rêve s’il en fut jamais (London: no publisher, 1771); Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Parallèle de Paris et de Londres (Paris: Didier, 1982 [manuscript c. 1780]).

11. Jean-Jacques Menuret de Chambaud, Essai sur l’action de l’air dans les maladies contagieuses (Paris: Rue et hôtel de Serpente, 1781); Pierre Darmon, L’homme et les microbes, XVIIeXXe siècles (Paris: Fayard, 1999); Caroline Hannaway, Medecine, Public Welfare, and the State in Eighteenth-century France: The Société Royale de Médecine of Paris (Baltimore: Ph. Dissertation, Johns Hopkins University, 1974).

12. Nicolas Delamare, Traité de la police, 3 vols. (Paris: J. et P. Cot, [puis] M. Brunet, [puis] J.-F. Hérissant, 1713–1738); Nicolas Des Essarts, Dictionnaire universel de la police, 8 vols. (Paris: Moutard, 1786–1790).

13. Arlette Farge, “Signe de vie, risque de mort: Essai sur le sang et la ville au XVIIIe siècle,” Urbi, 2 (1979): 15–22; Reynald Abad, “Les tueries à Paris sous l’Ancien Régime ou pourquoi la capitale n’a pas été dotée d’abattoirs aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècle,” Histoire, Economie, Société, 4 (1998): 649–76.

14. Mercier, Tableau de Paris, bk. 6, ch. 491, 115–18.

15. Mercier, Tableau de Paris, bk. 8, ch. 656, 294.

16. Mercier, Tableau de Paris, bk. 4, ch. 330, 156.

17. Pierre Patte, Mémoires sur les objets les plus importants de l’architecture (Paris: Rozet, 1769), 1, 9.

18. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Science and Polity in France: The End of the Old Regime (1980) (Princeton: Princeton U P, 2004).

19. Mercier, Tableau de Paris, bk. 8, ch. 671, 341.

20. Antoine Alexis Cadet de Vaux, Louis-Guillaume Laborie, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, Observations sur les fosses d’aisances et moyens de prévenir les inconvénients de leur vuidange (Paris: De l’imprimerie de Ph.-D. Pierres, 1778).

21. Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, Dissertation physique, chimique et économique, sur la nature et la salubrité des eaux de la Seine (Paris: impr. de J. G. Clousier, 1775), 17; Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, Dissertation sur la nature des eaux de la Seine (Paris: Buisson, 1787), 31–32.

22. For example, Journal de Paris (22 August 1777, 23 September 1778, 24 May, 21 and 23 August, 8 October 1779, 14 June and 5 July 1780, 22 July 1781).

23. Mercier, Tableau de Paris, bk. 10, ch. 787, 106.

24. Parmentier, Dissertation sur la nature, 88-89.

25. Mercier, Tableau de Paris, bk. 4, ch. 330, 156.

26. Archives Nationales, F12 879, Bellot, de la Rivière, des Essartz, de Vallun, Rapport fait à la Faculté de médecine […] pour examiner le laboratoire du Sieur Charlard, et juger les inconvéniens qui peuvent résulter pour les maisons voisines, de la distillation d’eau-forte, 1774, 14.

27. Thomas Le Roux, “Les effondrements de carrières de Paris: La grande réforme des années 1770,” French Historical Studies, 36:2 (2013): 205–37.

28. Journal de Paris (24 March and 25 May 1780).

29. Mercier, Tableau de Paris, bk. 2, ch. 189, 281.

30. Gazette de santé (15 February and 7 March 1776).

31. Gazette de santé (1787, no. 9 and 10).

32. Gazette de santé (9 April 1780, no. 15).

33. Gazette de santé (8 July 1781, no. 27).

34. This last section refers to some of the conclusions in my book published in 2011. Unless otherwise stated and for more information, please refer to these. Thomas Le Roux, Le laboratoire des pollutions industrielles, Paris, 17701830 (Paris: Albin Michel, 2011).

35. Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Le nouveau Paris (1798) (Paris: Mercure de France, 1994), bk. 4, ch. 143, 452–54.

36. Jeff Horn, The Path Not Taken: French Industrialization in The Age of Revolution, 17501830 (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006).

37. Procès-verbaux des séances de l’Académie des sciences (Hendaye: Impr. de l’Observatoire d’Abbadia, 1910–1922), 3:152 and 165–68. [End Page 98]

38. Collection officielle des ordonnances de police des origines jusqu’à 1844 (Paris: Paul Dupont, 1844), 1:308–09.

39. On the marginalization of police knowledge, Thomas Le Roux, “Comment industrialiser la France? Quand l’expertise scientifique marginalisa les savoirs et pratiques juridiques, 1770–1810 », Entropia, 15 (2013): 105–18.

40. Police Prefecture Archives, Health Council Reports, April 1807.

41. Victor Hugo, Les misérables (1862) (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2002), 341–42. [End Page 99]

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