The Colonies in Paris

  • Robert Aldrich

Abstract

In 1877, Victor Hugo, France’s most celebrated poet, took his grandchildren Georges and Jeanne to visit the zoo in the Jardin des Plantes. They marvelled at the wild beasts kept in the heart of Paris — the five-year-old confused lions with wolves, his sister warned that a monkey would steal his hat and said that an elephant was an animal with horns in its mouth. Hugo, too, was much taken with the animals from ‘Afrique aux plis infranchissables, / O gouffre d’horizons sinistres, mer des sables, / Sahara, Dahomey, lac Nagaïn, Darfour’ (Africa, with its unyielding folds, / O abyss of sinister horizons, sea of sands, / Sahara, Dahomey, Lake Nagain, Darfur). His poem paid respects to Buffon, the eighteenth-century scientist who helped establish this ‘Paris un peu tigré’ (mottled Paris) which Hugo called ‘du vaste univers un raccouri complet’ (of the vast universe a thorough digest). Hugo meditated on God and his creation of such strange creatures, listing for the pleasure of the words the names of weird beasts and the no less exotic-sounding places from which they came. He watched contemplatively at the encounter between his laughing grandchildren and the roaring, chirping, shrieking animals. Yet he discerned the anger and humiliation of animals captured and brought to France to satisfy a yearning for foreign places: ‘On ne sait quel noir monde étonné nous regarde/Et songe, et sous un joug, trop souvent odieux, / Nous courbons l’humble monstre et la brute hagarde / Qui, nous voyant démons, nous prennent pour des dieux’ (We know not what startled dark world watches us / And think how, under a too often odious yoke, / We subdue the humble monster and the haggard brute / Which see us as demons, but take us for gods).2

Keywords

Dust Europe Cage Rubber Pyramid 

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Notes

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Copyright information

© Robert Aldrich 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Aldrich
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SydneyAustralia

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