Mineral Springs and Watering-Places of Georgian Times

Mineral Springs and Watering-Places of Georgian Times
Unidentified Mineral Springs from the 1600s. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

From early times, mineral waters were used to remove or alleviate disease. Waters at watering-places were often ascribed to the occult and sometimes said to be miraculous in their abilities to cure disease, both chronic and acute. Some people had such belief in the mysterious agency of mineral waters they entertained exaggerated notions of their capabilities and power and used mineral waters whenever they were ill. However, other patients found that mineral waters did not alter or alleviate their sufferings, and these people tended to claim that such waters cured people because of a “mere change of air, scene, and mode of life.” Continue reading

Heroine of the Seas, Grace Horsley Darling

Heroine of the Seas, Grace Darling
Grace Darling. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The heroine of the seas, Grace Horsley Darling, was the daughter of a lighthouse keeper. Grace was born in the month of November on the 24th in 1815, and she was twenty-four when fate came knocking at her door. It happened at daybreak on 7 September 1838. At the time, Grace was sleeping but a noise awoke her. She then looked out her bedroom window from the Longstone lighthouse, and in the distance, she noticed the wreckage of the Forfarshire.

The Forfarshire was a 300-ton steamer that left Hull heading to Dundee with 62 people aboard. However, before it left, Mrs. Dawson, a passenger in steerage, realized something was not right. She thought about leaving the ship but did not. In the end, her concerns were justified because once at sea the steamer struggled. The boiler was not working properly, and when the storm began, the ship was left to mercy of the tempestuous sea. Continue reading

Horace Walpole on Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Queen Charlotte
Queen Charlotte in 1761, Courtesy of Wikipedia

When King George III succeeded to the throne he decided it to take a wife. The wife he chose was 17-year-old Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. That was because he, his mother, and his advisors liked her because she had no experience with politics or party intrigues. In fact, when Princess Charlotte arrived in England, George III instructed her to avoid meddling in such things. Although Princess Charlotte spoke little English, she was happy to comply.

Charlotte arrived on 8 September 1761 and within six hours of her arrival, she and the King were married. Everyone was curious about the new Queen, and the famous art historian, man of letters, antiquarian, and Whig politician, Horace Walpole, wrote a letter to General Thomas Conway to satisfy his curiosity. At the time, Conway was visiting in Ireland and wanted to know everything about her. In the letter to Conway, Walpole provided some interesting tidbits. Here is his letter almost verbatim: Continue reading

Dwelling Numbers in Paris in the 1700 and 1800s

Dwelling Numbers in ParisWhen the 1700s began, Paris was divided into twenty quarters and there were no dwelling numbers on any houses. Streets acquired their name from either the name of a noble’s mansion, a monastery or convent in the area, or from a special shop or industry. At the local level, a dwelling on a street was easy to find as dwellings often had a plaque attached, although sometimes there might be several dwellings with the same name.

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French Midwife and Doctor Named Marie Boivin

French Midwife and Doctor Named Marie Boivin
Madame Boivin. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Born Marie-Anne Victoire Gillain on 9 April 1773 at Versailles, Marie was educated by nursing nuns at a nunnery located about 29 miles from the center of Paris in a commune called Étampes. There she displayed medical skill, and, in fact, her skills were strong enough she attracted the attention of Louis XVI’s sister, Madame Élisabeth. Unfortunately, when the French Revolution broke out, the nunnery was destroyed.

After the nunnery was destroyed, Marie began studying anatomy and midwifery, but then, in 1797, Marie married Louis Boivin, stopped her medical studies, and had a daughter. Unfortunately, Madame Boivin’s husband died, and to support herself, she returned to her medical studies at the Parisian teaching hospital, Hôtel-Dieu, in the Hospice de la Maternité in 1796. Hôtel-Dieu was the largest public hospital in Paris at the time and considered one of the most well-respected obstetric hospitals, renowned for its school of midwifery. Continue reading

Grace Dalrymple Elliott and the French Revolution

Grace Dalymple Elliott and the French Revolution
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott was considered a great beauty in her times, but a bad omen accompanied her birth in 1754. She had been educated in France at a convent, returned to Scotland, and met and married Sir John Elliot,* a respected physician. Yet, despite being married, she fell in love with a Lord Valentia, whom she ran away with in 1774. Elliot was bitter over the affair and divorced her. Soon after her divorce, Grace found herself back in France at the convent, but convent life was not for her, and after a short stay, she returned to England.

It was around this time that the Prince of Wales saw a miniature of Grace. The miniature so enamored the Prince that when Grace arrived in England, he met her. He found to his delight a warm-hearted, well-mannered, and fascinating young woman. His interest in her also resulted in them having an affair and a daughter, who was born on 30 March 1782 and baptized at St. Marylebone as Georgiana Augusta Frederica Seymour.

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Voltaire Anecdotes

Voltaire Anecdotes
Pastel of Voltaire by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1735. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Voltaire (born François-Marie Arouet) was a French Enlightenment writer, philosopher, and historian who became well-known for being outspoken and for his witty satirical writings. In his writings, he attacked the Catholic Church, advocated for civil liberties, and criticized French institutions. Voltaire also produced a variety of works that included everything from plays and poems to novels and historical works. To better understand Voltaire, it is helpful to know something about his personality. His personality can best be explained by his contemporaries and associates, who, over the years, shared many stories about his temperament and character. Here are some of the best Voltaire anecdotes.

The Duke of Orleans was the French regent to young Louis XV from 1715 to 1723. During this period, one satirical verse that Voltaire wrote accused the Duke of incest with his own daughter. The Duke became so angry with Voltaire, he ordered him imprisoned at the Bastille. However, after the Duke saw Voltaire’s tragedy Oedipus (Œdipe), he was so moved, he ordered Voltaire’s immediate release. Upon Voltaire’s release the Duke was waiting and said, “Be more prudent for the future, Voltaire … and I’ll watch over your fortune.” As Voltaire was quick-witted and quick-tongued, he could not resist and replied:

“I humbly thank your royal highness … but I shall consider myself greatly honoured by your generosity, provided you don’t furnish me with the same board and lodging again.” Continue reading

An 18th Century Experiment on Cats

An 18th Century Experiment on Cats
Julie Manet with Cat, 1887, by Renoir, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Supposedly, the French have always had a mania for cats. Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known better by his stage name Molière, is said to have had a favorite cat, and a celebrated harpist named Madame de Puis, so loved her furry feline she left a pension for it in her will. There was also French impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir born in the mid-1800s. He painted several paintings with cats, including “Young Girl with Cat,” “Geraniums and Cats,” and “Julie Manet with Cat.”

Another cat lover was Louis-François Fontenu (called l’Abbe de Fontenu). In the eighteen century, he was curious about cats (or as the French call them les chats) and because he was curious, he observed them daily. One day while observing them, he noticed something rather interesting:

“Having remarked how cats often habituate themselves, and oftener than one could … to dry warrens … he fancied that these animals could do for a very long time with drinking.”

This was a light bulb moment for Fontenu because he decided to conduct an experiment to determine how long a cat could go without water. Continue reading

Napoleon’s Coffee Obsession

Napoleon's coffee obsession
Louis XV by Louis Michel van Loo. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Many French people from history have loved coffee. For instance, the famous Enlightenment writer Voltaire credited coffee as the inspiration behind his philosophies and purportedly drank somewhere between 40 and 50 cups a day. King Louis XV, who ruled France until he died in 1774, adored the aromatic drink. In fact, Louis XV had his own coffee beans grown at the Palace of Versailles in green houses. France’s populous also became great lovers of coffee because of Louis XV and from the end of his reign, “the number of Coffee-houses rapidly increased in Paris and the provinces, and … [could be found on] the table of the rich and the poor.”

Among those in France who developed a love for coffee was Napoleon. Napoleon’s coffee obsession was not instantaneous. He at first consumed only “two cups of coffee pure, one in the morning after breakfast, and the other directly after dinner.” Over time, however, his love for coffee increased, and while some people may have argued about whether coffee was beneficial or not, one person claimed its beneficial effects could be powerfully illustrated by Napoleon. Continue reading

The French Ballerina Marie-Madeleine Guimard

The French Ballerina Marie-Madeleine Guimard
Marie-Madeleine Guimard. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Marie-Madeleine Guimard was a celebrated French ballerina who dominated the Parisian stage for almost thirty years. She was born on 27 December 1743 and was the love child of Anne Bernard and a manufacturing cloth inspector named Fabien Guimard. She joined the Comédie-Française at the age of fifteen and made her debut at the Opéra on 9 May 1762 as Terpsichoré, the muse of dance.

It was hard work to be a dancer. This was because at the Opéra, “the discipline and organization … was at the time … like a regiment; the dancers form[ed] several classes, promotion [was] difficult; the work … very hard … and the salary … very small.” Despite all the challenges, Guimard excelled. She was said to be “much admired for her extraordinary grace in dancing and pantomime,” and she was described as “exquisitely graceful and fascinating.” In addition, Guimard’s dancing abilities were “characterised by Noverre as the poetry of motion, and in such ballets as ‘Les caprices de Galathée,’ composed expressly for her … she was generally allowed to be inimitable.”

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