I’m looking at Albert’s material and thinking about trains in the 19th century. Here are some figures and texts about early perceptions of the railroad. First, a few figures about how long it took to travel from one place to another in 1814 vs. in 1897. Then a poster advertising Paris-Bordeaux in 8 hours. Then finally a text (my translation) by an anonymous train traveller from 1837. Note the “blind men describing an elephant” aspect of the text – the observer is listing a series of definitions of what it means to be travelling that are overturned by this first experience in a train (i.e. speed comes only with effort or movement, travelling allows you to observe and interact with things and people you pass).

Similarly, we’ve talked about how technology has expanded the limits of what is “near” or “far” in personal relationships; that the people one interacts with on an intimate or daily basis may not even be in the same time zone.

Time to travel 1814 

(by stagecoach)

1897 

(by train)

Paris – Brest 

Paris – Marseille

Paris –Toulouse

Paris – Strasbourg

87 h 

112 h

104 h

70 h

11 h 14 mn 

12 h

12 h 05 mn

7 h 20 mn

M. Colton, P. Delfaud et alii, Nouvelle histoire économique. Le XIXè siècle, A. Colin, 1976.

In Bordas, Terres d’Histoire. Histoire. Cycle 3 CM, 1997, p. 99.

From Paris to Saint-Germain by rail: “Each of the travellers in our car was expressing their impressions after their own fashion. Over here, a fellow was expressing his astonishment that, despite such incredible speed, he had no more trouble breathing than if he were walking slowly; over there, a fellow exclaimed at the fact that he felt as though he weren’t moving at all, as though he were sitting in his room; another fellow observed that there wasn’t time enough to make out an insect the size of a bee, just a few feet away, or to recognize the face of a friend; yet another was delighted by the surprised look on the faces of the country people at the sight of this column of smoke and long line of wagons with no horses, gliding along with a low rumble, and disappearing almost at once in the distance. Other, more serious voices proclaimed incalculable the benefits of this invention. ”

En chemin de fer, de Paris à Saint-Germain: « Chacun des voyageurs du wagon où nous étions assis exprimait à sa manière ses impressions. Celui-ci s’étonnait que, malgré tant de rapidité, il lui fût aussi aisé de respirer que s’il eût marché sur terre à pas lents ; celui-là s’extasiait à la pensée qu’il ne sentait aucun mouvement ; il lui semblait être assis dans sa chambre ; un autre faisait remarquer qu’il était impossible d’avoir le temps de distinguer, à trois pas, sur le sable, un insecte de la grosseur d’une abeille, ou de reconnaître les traits d’un ami ; un autre enfin se réjouissait de l’attitude étonnée des gens de la campagne, au passage de cette colonne de fumée et de cette longue traînée de voitures sans chevaux, glissant avec un léger bourdonnement, et disparaissant presque aussitôt dans le lointain. De plus graves déclaraient incalculables les bienfaits de cette invention. »

Réflexions de passagers recueillies par un rédacteur anonyme dans un train de la ligne Paris – Saint-Germain (1837). From Nathan, Gulliver. Histoire. Cycle 3, 1997, p. 160.

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