Philobiblon: You wouldn't get away with it today

Saturday, April 08, 2006

You wouldn't get away with it today

My retroblogger, Miss Frances Williams Wynn, is today reporting on the conditions in 1830s France, and particularly on the early days of passports...

The strictness about passports was most absurd. Dr. Somerville went with Mr. Hankey to the Passport Office, where every individual was then expected to appear, and all, even children and maids, were obliged to have their separate passports, describing person, age, &c. Dr. Somerville, having seen this ceremony performed on the four elder children, at last said to the official, 'I see you are a gentleman, and I am convinced that a secret entrusted to your honour will, in spite of everything, be in safe keeping. I will, therefore, in strict confidence, tell you an important secret: you see there the Duchesse de Berry in disguise,' and he pointed to the youngest child, a girl of four years old, who, upon being looked at, hid herself under the table.
The officer, laughing, said: 'Que voulez-vous, monsieur? Je sens comme vous tout le ridicule de ce que je fais; mais les ordres nous viennent d'en haut; nous devons obeir a la lettre.' [Roughly: Who are you? I know this is ridiculous, but I have orders from on high that must be obeyed to the letter.]

Today they'd probably bang up the four-year-old for a few hours, just to be certain...


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