Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

The Human Comedy: Chronicles of 19th-Century France

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Attention !

Attention !

Benjamin Roubaud (French, 1811–1847) Attention ! attention !! ne réveillons pas ce bon propriétaire... (Careful! Careful!! let’s not wake up this nice landlord...), first half of the 19th century Lithograph General Acquisitions Fund, 1951.80.1

Attention ! attention !! ne réveillons pas ce bon pro-priétaire, ménageons-lui une surprise et allons doucement... Des ménagemens... des, ménagemens…

Careful! Careful!! Let’s not wake up this nice landlord, let’s prepare a surprise for him and go softly...Gently now... gently...

If these renters are being so careful not to wake up their landlord, it is less because they are con-siderate and more because they are broke. Students and workers were notorious for moving house à la cloche de bois, or on the sly, without giving notice to their landlords, right before a term’s rent came due. Always on the run from his creditors, Baudelaire is said to have changed apartments more than fifty times.

Even among the more well-to-do, a scene like this one of an individual or family moving house was extremely common in 19th-century Paris, where most people rented, rather than owned, the apartments they lived in. Even today it is common to see movers resorting to creative ma-neuvers like this one to remove furniture from 19th-century Parisian apartment buildings with their notoriously steep, narrow stairways.