The diary of John Evelyn

Regular posts from the diary of John Evelyn

Month: December 1643

Thursday 24 December 1643

I went with some company to see some remarkable places without the city: as the Isle, and how it is encompassed by the Rivers Seine and the Ouse.

The city is divided into three parts, whereof the town is greatest. The city lies between it and the University in form of an island. Over the Seine is a stately bridge called Pont Neuf, begun by Henry III. in 1578, finished by Henry IV. his successor. It is all of hewn freestone found under the streets, but more plentifully at Montmartre, and consists of twelve arches, in the midst of which ends the point of an island, on which are built handsome artificers’ houses.

There is one large passage for coaches, and two for foot passengers three or four feet higher, and of convenient breadth for eight or ten to go abreast. On the middle of this stately bridge, on one side, stands the famous statue of Henry the Great on horseback, exceeding the natural proportion by much; and, on the four faces of a stately pedestal (which is composed of various sorts of polished marbles and rich moldings), inscriptions of his victories and most signal actions are engraven in brass.

La statue equestre de Henry le Grand sur son pie-destal from publication by Nicolas de Mathoniere, 1617.

The statue and horse are of copper, the work of the great John di Bologna, and sent from Florence by Ferdinand the First, and Cosmo the Second, uncle and cousin to Mary de Medicis, the wife of King Henry, whose statue it represents.1 The place where it is erected is inclosed with a strong and beautiful grate of iron, about which there are always mountebanks showing their feats to the idle passengers.

From hence is a rare prospect toward the Louvre and suburbs of St. Germains, the Isle du Palais, and Nôtre Dame. At the foot of this bridge is a water-house, on the front whereof, at a great height, is the story of Our Savior and the woman of Samaria pouring water out of a bucket.2 Above, is a very rare dial of several motions, with a chime, etc.

Le Pont Neuf et la Samaritaine vus du Quai de la Mégisserie, by Nicolas Jean-Baptiste Raguenet. 1777

The water is conveyed by huge wheels, pumps, and other engines, from the river beneath. The confluence of the people and multitude of coaches passing every moment over the bridge, to a new spectator is an agreeable diversion. Other bridges there are, as that of Nôtre Dame and the Pont-au-Change, etc., fairly built, with houses of stone, which are laid over this river; only the Pont St. Anne, landing the suburbs of St. Germains at the Tuileries, is built of wood, having likewise a water house in the midst of it, and a statue of Neptune casting water out of a whale’s mouth, of lead, but much inferior to the Samaritan.

The University lies southwest on higher ground, contiguous to, but the lesser part of, Paris. They reckon no less than sixty-five colleges;3 but they in nothing approach ours at Oxford for state and order. The booksellers dwell within the University. The schools (of which more hereafter) are very regular.

The suburbs are those of St. Denis, Honoré, St. Marcel, St. Jaques, St. Michael, St. Victoire, and St. Germains, which last is the largest, and where the nobility and persons of best quality are seated: and truly Paris, comprehending the suburbs, is, for the material the houses are built with, and many noble and magnificent piles, one of the most gallant cities in the world; large in circuit, of a round form, very populous, but situated in a bottom, environed with gentle declivities, rendering some places very dirty, and making it smell as if sulphur were mingled with the mud;4 yet it is paved with a kind of freestone, of near a foot square, which renders it more easy to walk on than our pebbles in London.

Front of the Notre Dame de Paris – “Façade et parvis de N-D de Paris, dessin signé en bas à gauche Antier”. 1699.

On Christmas eve, I went to see the Cathedral at Nôtre Dame, erected by Philip Augustus, but begun by King Robert, son of Hugh Capet. It consists of a Gothic fabric, sustained with 120 pillars, which make two aisles in the church round about the choir, without comprehending the chapels, being 174 paces long, 60 wide, and 100 high. The choir is inclosed with stonework graven with the sacred history, and contains forty-five chapels chancelled with iron.

At the front of the chief entrance are statues in relievo of the kings, twenty-eight in number, from Childebert to the founder, Philip; and above them are two high square towers, and another of a smaller size, bearing a spire in the middle, where the body of the church forms a cross. The great tower is ascended by 389 steps, having twelve galleries from one to the other. They greatly reverence the crucifix over the screen of the choir, with an image of the Blessed Virgin.

There are some good modern paintings hanging on the pillars. The most conspicuous statute is the huge colossal one of St. Christopher5; with divers other figures of men, houses, prospects and rocks, about this gigantic piece; being of one stone, and more remarkable for its bulk than any other perfection.

This is the prime church of France for dignity, having archdeacons, vicars, canons, priests, and chaplains in good store, to the number of 127. It is also the palace of the archbishop. The young king was there with a great and martial guard, who entered the nave of the church with drums and fifes, at the ceasing of which I was entertained with the church music; and so I left him.


  1. John of Bologna’s statue was melted down in 1792 to make cannon. Another statue, by Francois-Frédéric Lemot, erected in 1818, has now taken its place, and repeats the old inscriptions. –AD  

  2. The Pompe de la Samaritaine”.  Built in  in the early 1600’s. This revised version was built between 1712 and 1719 and was demolished in 1813. -GS. AD adds: “ La Samaritaine”—familiar to readers of Les Trois Mousque- taires,—reconstructed in 1715, perished in 1792. There is a model of the old pump, etc., in the Musée Carnavalet, Rue Sévigné.” 

  3.  [“Fifty-five,”—says Sir John Reresby in 1654,—“but few of them endowed except one called la Sorbonne; and that of late by Cardinal Richelieu, so that they are only places of publick lecture, the scholars having both their lodging and other accommodation in the town” (Travels, 1831, p. 8). Sir John Reresby of Thrybergh, Bart., 1634-89, is not mentioned by Evelyn, although he was his contemporary. He travelled on the Continent between 1654 and 1658. His Travels were published with his Memoirs in 1831 ; but a more exact edition of the latter, based upon the original MS. in the British Museum, and edited by James J. Cartwright, M.A., appeared in 1875. –AD 

  4. Les Odeurs de Paris seem to have engaged attention long before M. Louis Veuillor. Coryat, in 1608, declares many of the Paris streets to be “the durtiest, and so consequently the most stinking of all that ever I saw in any citie in my life”; and Peter Heylyn, writing earlier than Evelyn, says, “This I am confident of, that the nastiest lane in London is frankincense and juniper to the sweetest street in this city.” Howell, in a letter to Captain Francis Bacon from Paris in 1620, is also eloquent on the same theme: “This Town (for Paris is a Town, a City, and an University) is always dirty, and ’tis such a Dirt, that by perpetual Motion is beaten into such black unctuous Oil, that where it sticks no Art can wash it off some Colours; insomuch, that it may be no improper Comparison to say. That an ill Name is like the Crot[te] (the Dirt) of Paris, which is indelible” (Howell’s Familiar Letters, Jacobs’ ed. 1892, i. 43). –AD 

  5. Dating from 1413, the statue was destroyed in 1786 -GS 

Wednesday 23 December 1643

My lord was waited on by the master of the ceremonies, and a very great cavalcade of men of quality, to the Palais Cardinal, where on the 23d he had audience of the French king, and the queen Regent his mother, in the golden chamber of presence. From thence, I conducted him to his lodgings in Rue St. Denis, and so took my leave.

Saturday 5 December 1643

The Earl of Norwich1 came as Ambassador extraordinary2: I went to meet him in a coach and six horses, at the palace of Monsieur de Bassompière3, where I saw that gallant person, his gardens, terraces, and rare prospects.


  1. George Lord Goring, who had been recently sent to negotiate an alliance, and obtained from Mazarin promises of aid both in arms and money. Charles, to reward him, made him Earl of Norwich, 28th November, 1644. –AD 

  2. A role in which he formally represented the king -GS 

  3. The famous marshal, Francois, Baron de Bassompierre, 1579-1646. Having been confined for twelve years in the Bastille by Richelieu, he had been released by Mazarin, and reinstated in his position of Colonel-General des Suisses. – AD