3 October 1893
PARIS, Oct. 2.
M. Zola has communicated his impressions of England to a representative of the Temps. He is delighted with his visit, but thinks the English have still great prejudices against him. They were told that he was an industrious and respectable man, that he was a gentleman and his wife a lady, and that he ought to be properly received. Accordingly he had been much more feasted than read or understood. He was told he had been much better received than the Emperor William. A German, however, had written to him from Berlin inviting him to visit that city, assuring him that he had many literary friends, and that he would be greeted with more enthusiasm than in London. This invitation he, of course, declined.
He cannot, after only one visit, pass an opinion on the English, but he thinks the French are very unjust in attributing to them animosity against France. He questioned middle and lower class people who did not know who he was, and he found that if they held England to be the first country in the world they placed France next in the order of their preferences. The Germans are execrated, for their artisans come and take lower wages than the English, whereas French artisans keep at home. The English, moreover, are getting tired of paying for German Royal alliances, for these Princes are generally penniless, and they come and live in England. The English Press is less aggressive than the French, and of the two nations England is the one which has most friendliness for the other.
As for London, he is struck by its size. Except Westminster Abbey, there are few great monuments, but the buildings, like the City itself, are colossal. The Thames is the stomach and heart of London, and is the visible symbol of its wealth and greatness. He was struck and depressed by the interminable streets. In the suburbs the houses are all uniform, and each is inhabited by a single family. The parks are recreation-grounds and breathing spaces, but are not true parks, and he would give 40 Hyde Parks for the Bois de Boulogne. The London traffic is prodigious, and puts Paris quite in the shade. He found it impossible to get through the uninterrupted line of vehicles to go from one side of a bridge to the other. As a novelist fond of describing crowds he was delighted, and the common charge of exaggeration could not be brought against him if he described London. His wife said to him, "It is just the city for you." A slight mist, moreover, favoured him by softening the outlines.
He has come back really enamoured of London. He went to Whitechapel, and found that the slums have been much Haussmannized by the County Council. Picturesque squalor, a sort of romantic "Cour des Miracles," may be vainly sought for, and the scene of Jack the Ripper's first crime is like any ordinary alley. Equally dirty spots can be found near Piccadilly, and in the rich quarters. Poverty is more hidden than in Paris. People starve, but it is not placarded on the walls. The river above London, with its pleasure boats, on board of which concerts and balls are given, is delightful. He may, perhaps, write on London, but not until he has paid a second and quieter visit. He should make the Thames the pivot of the book. He should not venture to give English characters, not knowing them well enough, but the chief characters would be French, with a few English in the background.
Hitherto he has considered Paris a sufficient field of observation, but he has now thoughts of a series of novels on the great European capitals. At present, however, he is occupied with a book called "Les Trois Villes"-Lourdes, with its attempted mystical revival; Rome, with her policy of reconciling Catholicism and the modern spirit; and Paris, with its Socialism. It will be the balance-sheet, religious, philosophical, and social, of the century, with a plot thrown in to prevent its being dry.-Our Own Correspondent.