Victor Hugo: The Hunchback of Notre Dame


We have just attempted to restore, for the reader's benefit, that admirable church of Notre-Dame de Paris. We have briefly pointed out the greater part of the beauties which it possessed in the fifteenth century, and which it lacks to-day; but we have omitted the principal thing,--the view of Paris which was then to be obtained from the summits of its towers.

That was, in fact,--when, after having long groped one's way up the dark spiral which perpendicularly pierces the thick wall of the belfries, one emerged, at last abruptly, upon one of the lofty platforms inundated with light and air,--that was, in fact, a fine picture which spread out, on all sides at once, before the eye; a spectacle sui generis, of which those of our readers who have had the good fortune to see a Gothic city entire, complete, homogeneous,--a few of which still remain, Nuremberg in Bavaria and Vittoria in Spain,--can readily form an idea; or even smaller specimens, provided that they are well preserved,--Vitré in Brittany, Nordhausen in Prussia.

The Paris of three hundred and fifty years ago--the Paris of the fifteenth century--was already a gigantic city. We Parisians generally make a mistake as to the ground which we think that we have gained, since Paris has not increased much over one-third since the time of Louis XI. It has certainly lost more in beauty than it has gained in size.

Paris had its birth, as the reader knows, in that old island of the City which has the form of a cradle. The strand of that island was its first boundary wall, the Seine its first moat. Paris remained for many centuries in its island state, with two bridges, one on the north, the other on the south; and two bridge heads, which were at the same time its gates and its fortresses,--the Grand-Châtelet on the right bank, the Petit-Châtelet on the left. Then, from the date of the kings of the first race, Paris, being too cribbed and confined in its island, and unable to return thither, crossed the water. Then, beyond the Grand, beyond the Petit-Châtelet, a first circle of walls and towers began to infringe upon the country on the two sides of the Seine. Some vestiges of this ancient enclosure still remained in the last century; to-day, only the memory of it is left, and here and there a tradition, the Baudets or Baudoyer gate, "Porte Bagauda".

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