The author’s foreword is devoted to a communication about what Mercier in Paris is interested in – public and private mores, dominant ideas, customs, scandalous luxury, abuse. “The modern generation and the image of my age occupy me, which is much closer to me than the foggy history of the Phoenicians or Egyptians.” He considers it necessary to say that he deliberately avoided satire on Paris and Parisians, since satire directed at a specific person does not correct anyone. He hopes a hundred. years later, his observations on the life of all segments of society living in a huge city, merge “with the observations of the century.”
Mercier is interested in representatives of a variety of professions: cabmen and rentiers, modists and hairdressers, water carriers and abbots, officers and bankers, beggars and teachers, in short, everyone who earns a living in many ways and gives others the opportunity to exist. University professors, for example, manage to inculcate disciples with aversion to science, and lawyers, because of unsustainable laws, do not have the opportunity to think about the outcome of the case, and go in the direction where they are attracted by the client’s purse. The drawings of Mercier are not only urban types and inhabitants, but also a portrait of the city. The best panorama, in his opinion, opens with the tower of the “Cathedral of Our Lady”. Among the “paintings” you can find Urs Street
The health of the inhabitants depends on the state of the air and the purity of the water. A number of essays are devoted to those industries without which the life of a gigantic city is inconceivable, but it seems that their destination is the poisoning of Paris with poisonous fumes. “What can be more important than the health of citizens? The power of future generations, and therefore the strength of the state itself, does not depend on the diligence of the city authorities?” – the author asks. Mercier proposes to establish a “Sanitary Council” in Paris, and its members should include not doctors who, with their conservatism, are dangerous to the health of Parisians, but chemists “who made so many new beautiful discoveries that promise to acquaint us with all the secrets of nature.” Doctors, to which the writer dedicated only one “picture”, are not left in the attention of other sketches. Mercier argues, that doctors continue to practice medicine in old, rather dark ways only in order to provide themselves with more visits and not give anyone a report in their actions. All of them act as accomplices, if it comes to a consultation. The medical faculty, in his opinion, is still filled with prejudices of the most barbarous times. That’s why the preservation of the health of Parisians does not require a doctor, but scientists of other professions.
To improve the living conditions of citizens, Mercier refers to the closure of the Innocent’s cemetery, which turned out to be in the very center of Paris for centuries. The author also takes the work of the police, which is devoted to quite extensive sketches. Mercier states that the need to restrain a lot of hungry people who see how someone is buried in luxury is an incredibly heavy duty. But he could not restrain himself from saying: “The police are a bunch of scoundrels” and further: “And from these disgusting scum of humanity will be born a public order!”
For students of public mores, interest in books is natural. Mercier argues that if not all books are printed in Paris, then they are written exactly in this city. Here, in Paris, live those who are dedicated to the essay “On the half-writers, quarter-writers, on the half-breeds, quarthers and so on.” Such people are published in Messengers and Almanacs and call themselves writers. “They loudly condemn arrogant mediocrity, while they themselves are arrogant and mediocre.”
Talking about the corporation of the Parisian clerks of Paris – Bazos, – the author notes that the coat of arms consists of three ink tanks, the contents of which pour and destroy everything around. Ironically, the bailiff and the inspired writer have common tools. No less sarcasm causes Mercier’s state of the modern theater, especially when trying to set up tragedies in which the kapeldiner tries to portray a Roman senator, while dressing in the red robes of a doctor from Moliere’s comedy. With no less irony, the author speaks of a passion for amateur theatricals, especially the production of tragedies. To a new kind of representation Mercier refers public reading of new literary works. Instead of getting an opinion and getting advice from a close friend, the writers tend to publicize their work in public, in one way or another, competing with members of the French Academy, who have the right to publicly read and publicly listen to praise in their address. In the 223rd “picture” of the account, the writer regrets the loss of such wonderful spectacles as fireworks, which were allowed on solemn days – somehow: the day of St. Jean or the birth of princes. Now, on these days, prisoners are released to freedom and married to poor girls.
Mercier did not lose sight of the small chapel of Saint-Joseph in Montmartre, in which Molière and La Fontaine are buried. He talks about religious freedoms, the time for which finally came to Paris: Voltaire, who was previously refused a burial, received a mass for the repose of his soul. Fanaticism, the author sums up, devours himself. Further, Mercier speaks of political freedoms and social mores, the reason for the fall of which lies also in the fact that “beauty and virtue do not have any value for us, unless they are backed by a dowry.” Hence the need for the following “pictures”: “Under any name, About some women, Public women, Courtesans, Contributions, Love links, About women, About the idol of Paris – about” charming. “No less detailed and vividly reflected in sketches” Lombard, Monopoly,
The life of high society is criticized in “paintings”: “On the court, Velikosvetsky tone, secular language.” The quirks of the high-society and court life are reflected in sketches on various details of fashionable toilets, such as “Hats” and “Fake hair.” In his discussion of fashionable headdresses, Mercier describes Paris’s influence on the tastes of other countries: “And who knows if we will continue to expand our glorious conquests as lucky winners?” . Comparison of the aristocracy with the commoner is not in favor of a lady from high society, blindly following the class vanity behind all the fads of fashion – “Diseases of the eyes, skin inflammation, lice are the result of this exaggerated predilection for a wild hairstyle with which they do not part even during night hours recreation.
The author also paid attention to an institution that, in his opinion, could arise only in Paris, is the French academy, which rather hinders the development of the French language and literature, thus contributing to the development of both writers and readers. Problems of literature are analyzed in sketches “The Apology of Writers, Literary Quarrels, Graceful Literature.” The last, 357 “picture,” completes Mercier’s work and is written as “Reply to the newspaper Courier de l’Erop.” After comparing all the praises and criticisms, the author turns to his reader with the words: “Do you want to pay me back, that I should be rewarded for all your sleepless nights? Give from your surplus to the first sufferer, the first unfortunate, whom you will meet. Give my compatriot in memory of me. “