Foire Saint Germain, Paris

France (Wikipedia)

Although Lister did not mention the Foire Saint Germain in his pocketbook or memoirs, his fellow traveler Philip Skippon wrote:

The fair of S. Germain begins the 3d of Feb. and holds all the Lent; the place the fair is kept in, is a large square house with six or seven rows of shops, where customers play at dice when they come to buy things; the commodity is first bought, and then they play who shall pay for it. After candle-lighting is the greatest gaming, sometimes the king comes and dices . . .

The Fair of St. Germain was held on grounds in a suburb on the south side of Paris; an early modern observer stated that everyone went there: ‘Helter-skelter, masters with valets and lackeys, thieves with honest people.  The most refined courtesans, the prettiest girls, the subtlest pickpockets are as if intertwined together.  The whole fair teems with people from the beginning to the end’. 1  In the early eighteenth century, the Faire became an important venue for French theatre, particularly the Ópera Comique.

In his later visit to Paris in 1697, Lister wrote a good deal about the Fair in a published memoir, and it appears many things had not changed a bit.  He stated:

We were in Paris at the time of the fair of S. Germain.  It lasts six weeks at least; the place where it is kept well bespeaks its antiquity; for it is a very pit or hole, in the middle of the Faubourg, and belongs to the great abbey of that name.  You descend into it on all sides, and in some places above twelve steps; so that the city is raised above it six or eight foot. . . .  The fair consists of most toy-shops, and Bartholomew-fair ware; also fiance and pictures, joiner’s work, linen and woollen manufactures; many of the great ribband shops remove out of the Palais hither; no books; many shops of confectioners, where the ladies are commodiously treated.

The great rendezvous is at night, after the play and opera are done; and raffling for all things vendible is the great diversion; no shop wanting two or three raffling boards.  Monsieur, the Dauphin, and other princes of the blood come, at least once in the fair-time to grace it.

Here are also coffee shops, where that and all sorts of strong liquors . . . are sold.

Knavery here is in perfection as with us; as dexterous cut-purses and pick-pockets.  A pick-pocket came into the fair at night, extremely well-clad, with four lacqueys with good liveries attending him:  he was caught in the act, and more swords were drawn in his defense than against him; but yet he was taken, and delivered into the hands of justice, which is here sudden and no jest.

An early modern map showing the location of the Foire is below.


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  1. Warren Roberts, Revolutionary Artists: Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Louis Prieur (Albany: SUNY Press, 2000), 38.

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