Paris was born at Avenay (Marne), the son of Paulin Paris (Alexis Paulin Paris b. 25 March 1800; d. 13 February 1881), an important scholar of medieval French literature. In his childhood, Gaston learned to appreciate Old French romances as poems and stories, and this early impulse for the study of Romance literature was placed on a solid basis by courses of study at Bonn (1856) and at the École des chartes.
Paris taught French grammar in a private school, later succeeding his father as professor of medieval French literature at the Collège de France in 1872; in 1876 he was admitted to the Academy of Inscriptions and in 1896 to the Académie française; in 1895 he was appointed director of the Collège de France. He won a European reputation as a Romance scholar. He had learnt German methods of exact research, but besides being an accurate philologist he was a literary critic of great acumen and breadth of view, and brought a singularly clear mind to bear on his favourite study of medieval French literature. His Vie de Saint-Alexis (1872) broke new ground and provided a model for future editors of medieval texts. It included the original text and the variations of it dating from the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. He contributed largely to the Histoire littéraire de la France, and with Paul Meyer published Romania, a journal devoted to the study of Romance literature.
In 1877 Gaston Paris was invited to Sweden for the 400th anniversary of the Upsala University, where he was made an honorary doctor. Before returning home he also visited Kristiania (Oslo) to take part in a celebration of the Norwegian philosopher Marcus Jacob Monrad. At the University of Kristiania Gaston Paris also held a lecture about the two folktale collectors, Asbjørnsen and Moe, which he believed to be, besides the Grimm Brothers, the best re-tellers of the genre.
Paris died in Cannes in 1903.
- Histoire poétique de Charlemagne (1865)
- Les Plus anciens monuments de la langue française (1875)
- Manuel d'ancien Français (1888)
- Mystère de la passion d'Arnoul Greban (1878), in collaboration with Gaston Raynaud
- Deux rédactions du roman des sept sages de Rome (1876)
- a translation of the Grammaire des langues romanes (1874–1878) of Friedrich Diez, in collaboration with MM. Brachet and Morel-Fatio.
- La Poésie du Moyen Âge (1885 and 1895)
- Penseurs et poètes (1897)
- Poèmes et légendes du moyen âge (1900)
- François Villon (1901), an admirable monograph contributed to the "Grands Écrivains Français" series
- Legendes du Moyen Âge (1903).
- Summary of medieval French literature forms a volume of the Temple Primers.
Paris endeared himself to a wide circle of scholars outside his own country by his unfailing urbanity and generosity. In France he trained a band of disciples at the École des Chartes and the College de France who continued the traditions of exact research that he established. Among them were Leopold Pannier; Marius Sepet, the author of Le Drame chrétien au Moyen Âge (1878) and Origines catholiques du théâtre moderne (1901); Charles Joret; Alfred Morel-Fatio; Gaston Raynaud, who was responsible for various volumes of the excellent editions published by the Société des anciens textes français; Arsène Darmesteter; and others.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- "Hommage à Gaston Paris" (1903), the opening lecture of his successor, Joseph Bédier, in the chair of medieval literature at the College de France;
- A. Thomas, Essais de philologie française (1897);
- W. P. Ker, in the Fortnightly Review (July 1904);
- M. Croiset, Notice sur Gaston Paris (1904);
- J. Bédier et M. Roques, Bibliographie des travaux de Gaston Paris (1904).