An 18th Century Bullfight and a Woman of Arles, France

Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait in 1887, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Vincent Van Gogh, self-portrait in 1887. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A gentleman by the name of Wilson Moore undertook a trip to Holland, France, and Italy in the late 1700s. During his trip he wrote letters, and, later, while at the table of Duke Humphrey, he decided to send “his work into the world,” by publishing a book that described his “rambles” and was based on the letters he wrote between 1791 and 1793. Among the interesting events that happened to Moore was a visit to the French city of Arles, a city situated on the Rhône River and famed for inspiring the paintings of the Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh.

Arles was also the spot where a bullfight was scheduled and where thousands of spectators arrived to watch Spaniard’s on horseback compete against wild bulls. Besides bulls, there were also plenty of beautiful women in Arles.

After arriving in Marseilles, Moore wrote a letter to Lady B., who was living on Harley-Street in London, detailing the bull fight and the beauty of Arles women. Part of that letter follows almost verbatim:

This was the season of all others for the gratification of my curiosity — the commissary general was just arrived from Paris – the celebration of the ancient bullfight was to take place the second day after my arrival — … thousands of the women of the country were expected. — Temporary galleries were erected for ten thousand spectators — company came flocking in from every quarter within fifty leagues.

Thirteen bulls had been taken from a neighbouring forest, where they were bred wild; and several horsemen arrived from Spain, reputed for their skill in this dangerous exercise. —

The morning of the celebration arrived — and when the cannons announced the commencement of the daring spectacle, I was conducted to the scene of action — about seven thousand people were assembled, and the principal inhabitants had politely set apart the most advantageous seat for the accommodation of Monsieur Anglois — fancying myself a being of no common order placed amongst the first visits of distinction, I thought myself entitled to address the most beautiful woman I could find — walking round the galleries, under pretence of saluting the whole company, I passed by several of the finest women I have ever seen, and sat … down by that which evidently came nearest to perfection.

She was tall and fair, and her symmetry so exquisite that I almost doubted her humanity. She spoke the language of her country, and though it only served further to illustrate the infinity of sounds that the four and twenty letters are capable of producing, a deaf man might have understood her meaning; for the lustre of her large blue eyes was so communicative, that it imparted every sentiment of her soul. All nature, as far as I have ever seen, hath brought forth nothing comparable to the vermillion of her lips — which, when she meant to open her whole battery of charms; became dissevered by a smile, and displayed the ivory plantations that were reared within. —

The originality of her dress added dignity to her person — she wore a flat black hat, encircled with a rim of gold three inches deep — a profusion of fine auburne hair hung down upon her shoulders, loosely tied with a revolution ribbon — about her neck she had a velvet collar, fastened with a ruby; from which a golden cross, studded with brilliants dropped down upon her bosom — her left arm was confined by a bracelet of solid gold, fastened by two padlocks* of the same — and on her fingers she had many previous rings, which her taper joints scarcely prevented from flipping off. — The fine linen which she wore about her neck was bordered deep with costly lace — her gown (or rather jacket, for it came no lower than her hips), was of green taffety — her petticoat, was sky-blue silk, fringed with gold lace, which dropped no farther than within two inches of her knee, from whence a pair of snow white stockings sheltered her fair flesh from the impertinent and roving eye of man. And these were fastened by a rich embroidered garter, which the word liberté emblazoned upon it. Strange motto for a lady’s garter! — Her leg was much too finely turned to be completely handsome; and her foot, fitter to balance a fairy on, than to support the noble structure that was raised upon it.—

Such was the woman of Arles — modest — extremely so — and such a one as I imagine God intended Eve to be.

The first animal that was turned out of the den, gave little entertainment — the second became exasperated and very savage — A Spaniard rode at him, and managing his lance with admirable dexterity, brought him to the ground — this man was frequently victorious, but being at last dismounted, must have instantly fallen a sacrifice to the fury of the beast, which he had wounded in several places, had not the figure of a man been thrown into the ring — this expedient is frequently the recourse to success in cases of extreme danger; and takes off the attention of the bull; being made upon the plan of the Dutch toy, which is no sooner down than it again starts upon its legs.

The bull fight is a diversion that keeps the chords of sensibility too much upon the stretch; having been therefore witness to the death of several horses — seen one man’s thigh ripped up, and many escaped destruction by the most unexpected and astonishing activity, I took my departure for Marseilles. —

*After marriage, the husband was entitled to the key of one of these padlocks.

References:

  • Moore, Wilson, A Ramble Through Holland, France, and Italy, Volume 1, 1793

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