Treasures of the Vernon Duke Collection
A Record of Change

UCR Library’s Special Collections Department possesses an extensive research collection of materials on the history of Paris, acquired in 1979 from the estate of songwriter Vernon Duke, best known for “April in Paris.” The Vernon Duke is comprised of some 800 books and a series of rare folio-sized maps and other documents. The city of Paris has a long history, but it can be argued that the consciousness of Paris as a site of urban development begins in the mid-eighteenth century. The Vernon Duke Collection is especially rich in chronicles, maps, guidebooks and other studies of life and manners in Paris, dating from the reign of Louis XVI to the end of the belle époque. One would have to go to the Musée Carnavalet in Paris to find a more comprehensive collection of original documents from this crucial time in the development of Paris.

Some Treasures of the Vernon Duke Collection

Though this exhibition displays numerous examples (mainly visual) from the Vernon Duke Collection, we display here a few unusual and significant books from its holdings. These books—all contemporary accounts of Paris before, during, and after Balzac’s time—offer a microcosm of the collection.

  1. The print shops of pre-Revolutionary Paris gave rise to two extraordinary commentaries on daily life in the Paris of the 1780s and 1790s, those of Sébastien Mercier and of Restif de la Bretonne.

  2. The Parisian Night Owl: Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1806), novelist, journalist, and social theoretician, is in many ways an extraordinary figure in French letters. The Vernon Duke Collection’s fine set of his Les Nuits de Paris, ou le spectateur nocturne, in 14 volumes, were published anonymously in London, 1788, with a 15th volume published in Paris in 1790. A reader of fashionable novels of the time, from Rousseau to Laclos, would have little idea of the multiple activities and industries depicted by Restif from his unique point of view: that of nocturnal wanderer in the streets of Paris.

  3. Essais historiques de Paris, par Monsieur de Saint-Foix, cinquième edition (Paris : chez la veuve Duchene), 1776.

  4. Paris, ou le livre des cent-et-un, in 14 volumes (Paris : Chez Lavocat, libraire), 1834.

  5. Quinze jours à Paris,ou Guide de l’étranger dans la capitale et ses environs (Paris : Chaumerot), 1848.

  6. The Parks, Promenades, and Gardens of Paris, by W. Robinson, F.L.S. (London: John Murray), 1869.

A Record of Change


The Vernon Duke Collection is rich in guide books written in French and English that describe the physical and institutional landscape of Paris during the period when Balzac was creating his fictional Paris. Scholars would profit from comparing Balzac’s description of a given place or institution, with accounts of these same places in such guidebooks, written for the most part for the edification of travelers and tourists. Tourism was already becoming an industry toward the middle of the 19th century.

In many cases, in terms of fact, descriptions in the guide books overlap with those in Balzac. The difference in tone and perspective however gives a good sense of the particularity of Balzac's vision. Balzac sees Paris, its streets and quarters and public buildings, through the eyes of characters for whom Paris is a place of struggle, as if the material properties of Paris were at one and the same time the prize to be gained, and the impediment to attaining that prize. In Balzac, monuments are emblems of power, and of envy. There are no tourists in Balzac's world.

  1. 1814: Paris in Eighteen Hundred and Two and Eighteen Hundred Fourteen, Reverend William Shepherd (London: Longman, Hurst, et. al), 1814.

  2. 1826 : Paris, Tableau Moral et Philosophique, par M. Fournier-Verneuil (Paris, 1826).

  3. 1830 : Voyage à Paris, ou Esquisses des hommes et des choses dans cette capitale, par le Marquis Louis Ranier Lafranchi (Lepetit: Paris), 1830.

  4. 1836: Paris and the Parisians in 1836, Frances Trollope, author of “Domestic Manners of the Americans” (Baudry’s European Library: Paris), 1836.

  5. 1848 : Quinze ans à Paris (1832-1848); Paris et les Parisiens, Charles Forster (Paris: Frimin Didot Frères), 1848.

  6. 1848 : Quinze jours à Paris, ou guide de l’étranger dans la capitale et ses environs, tableau synoptique et pittoresque, par Marin (Paris : Chaumerot , Libraire-éditeur, Palais-Royal), 1848.

  7. 3000 : Paris depuis ses origines jusqu’en l’An 3000, Léo Clarette (Charavay Frères & Cie, éditeurs, Paris), as expected, no date.
Copyright © 2003 Regents of the University of California, UCR College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Tomás Rivera Library. All rights reserved.