Jean-Baptiste Biot and L’Aigle Meteorite in 1803

Jean-Baptiste Biot and L'Aigle Meteorite in 1803
Jean-Baptiste Biot. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jean-Baptiste Biot was a French physicist, astronomer, and mathematician who had a fascination with meteorites. He was born in Paris on 21 April 1774 to a treasury official named Joseph Biot. Like many other Frenchmen, Biot was educated at the École Polytechnique, a prestigious school founded by Lazare Carnot and Gaspard Monge, during the French Revolution.

Part of the reason he was fascinated by meteorites was because stories about them seemed unbelievable. For instance, at Barbotan, in the South of France, inhabitants reported that they sought refuge in their houses after a hail of stones rained down upon them on the evening of 24 July 1790. Most of the people in the area did not believe stories about meteorites, even though some specimens of the stones from this shower were preserved in people’s private collections. Continue reading

The Trials of Teething: Soothing Infants in the Nineteenth Century

Mallory James

My guest today is Mallory James. Mallory has long been interested in the nineteenth century and set up her blog, Behind The Past, to indulge this passion. Her blog is made up of a series of how-to guides and lifestyle hints, aimed at any aspiring Regency and Victorian ladies and gentlemen. Here is her post on Victorian teething:

Early on in A Treatise on First Dentition, Jean Baptiste Timothée Baumes repeated a statistic which was seemingly accepted at the time: one sixth of infants lost their lives to ‘the accidents of dentition.’ While we may not be able explore the history of that figure here, and it should be added that Baumes’ text originally dates to the eighteenth century, it is not difficult to grasp the danger that illnesses such as fever and diarrhoea – which were commonly associated with teething – would have posed to infants during the nineteenth century. Clearly, the trials of teething are not to be taken in jest. Continue reading

The Asylum Pitié-Salpêtrière in the Georgian Era

Salpêtrière in 1822. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

On the eve of the French Revolution, what had originally been a gunpowder factory and arsenal became the largest hospital and asylum in Europe. It was called Pitié-Salpêtrière. Professor of History Mark Micale noted that “this remarkable hybrid institution housed for over two centuries every imaginable form of social and medical ‘misfit’ from the lowliest sectors of Parisian life.”[1] Because of it strange mixed population, the French writer Albert Camus once referred to it as a “frightful sewer.” Continue reading

Wolf Attacks in France in the Early 1800s

The Eurasia wolf of today. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Wolves were considered a problem in France as early as Charlemagne’s reign, and Charlemagne was the first to institute a special corps of wolf hunters (called the louveterie) to deal with them between 800 and 813. The louveterie was abolished after the French Revolution but was then reestablished in 1814. The wolves in France during this time were mainly the Eurasian wolf (the common wolf) native to Europe, which had been widespread throughout Eurasia prior to the Middle Ages. By 1800, in most areas throughout France, there were reports of wolves causing problems and stories were regularly printed in newspapers highlighting their attacks against people. Here are seven stories reported between 1809 and 1829.  Continue reading

The French Actress Charlotte Vanhove

Charlotte Vanhove in her 50s. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Charlotte Vanhove (also known as Caroline Vanhove, Caroline Petit-Vanhove, or Cécile Caroline Charlotte Vanhove) was the daughter of two actors of the Comédie-Française named Charles-Joseph Vanhove and Andrée Coche. Vanhoe was born at the Hague on 10 September 1771, and many people claimed she was destined for the stage from an early age.

Vanhove made her stage debut at the Théâtre-Français at the age of 14 in 1785 and was well-received. She starred in Jean Racine’s Iphigenia, a dramatic five-act play, in the role of Iphigenia. While young, she also performed in the role of the dumb boy in Jean-Nicolas Bouilly’s 5-act comedy, L’Abbé de L’Epée. Her performance was so moving spectators cried, and a writer at the time was so touched, he wrote, ” If … she can affect us so deeply without the aid of words, what would she do with them?”[1] Continue reading

Madame Romain or La Belle Limonadière of France

La Belle Limonadière, Courtesy of the National Gallery of Arts, Washington D.C.

Lemonade was a popular drink in the 1700 and 1800s, and of all the lemonade sellers in France, Madame Romain, or La Belle Limonadière, as she was called, was said to be the most popular. La Belle Limonadière was also a Parisian personality known for her striking beauty during the First Empire and the early years of the Restoration. One visitor who saw her in Paris in 1815 described her thusly:

“A complexion like Parisian marble, and black eyes and hair in striking contrast with it. The usual aids of colour to the cheek were not forgotten, but quite what the French call au natural — a word merely meaning something less artificial than the last stage of artifice.”[1]

Continue reading

The French Conjuror Val in England

The French conjuror Val made his first appearance in London in the spring of 1803 at Willis’s Rooms, charging an admission of seven shillings. Val, like other conjurors, performed tricks that usually involved some sort of sleight of hand and appeared to be magical. However, those who saw Val quickly discovered he was no ordinary conjuror and that his performance was superb. They loudly praised him stating: Continue reading

Frisky Matrons of the Victorian Era

A ballroom scene by James Tissot in 1873 titled “Too Early.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One reporter declared in 1863 that there were too many “frisky matrons” of the Victorian Era. He claimed that married women were become all too common a sight at London balls and at English country houses. To justify his position, he wrote the following piece that he titled “Frisky Matrons,” which is provided nearly verbatim:

Whoever had charge of the Japanese Ambassadors last year must have attempted to explain to their puzzled Excellencies the object and meaning of a ball. It is intended, he probably said, to enable the youth and beauty of each sex to mingle in the dance. Hither fair maidens flock, for the purpose of captivating their future husbands. Their mothers attend, at the cost of much physical suffering, not so much from the promptings of parental instinct, as from a high, perhaps exaggerated, sense of decorum. Continue reading

Claude Villiaume Marriage Broker Extraordinaire in the Time of Napoleon


“Off for the Honeymoon” by Fred Morgan. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Claude Villiaume marriage broker extraordinaire established a marriage brokering monopoly in Paris in the early 1800s. Born in 1780, Villiaume’s early years did not indicate that matchmaking was in his future. That was because his first job was as a soldier. Moreover, soon after, he became a soldier he became involved in an assassination attempt against the First Consul Napoleon.

Villiaume’s assassination attempt against Napoleon failed. In fact, it landed Villiaume in the lunatic asylum of Charenton. It was an asylum that had been founded in 1645 by the Frères de la Charité or Brothers of Charity, and it was while incarcerated there, that Villiaume developed the idea of arranging marriages: Continue reading

Princesse de Lamballe’s Shell Cottage: Chaumière des Coquillages

The Princesse’s Shell Cottage at Rambouillet. © G.L. Walton.

The Princesse de Lamballe’s shell cottage, known in French as chaumière des coquillages, was built for her by the Duke of Penthièvre between 1779 and 1780. The Duke was her father-in-law and father to her dead husband, the Prince of Lamballe. The Prince had died of syphilis on 6 May 1768, and her father-in-law, who had lost his wife years earlier in 1754, insisted that the Princess come and mourn at his fine estate in Rambouillet, France.

Rambouillet’s close proximity to Paris and Versailles (about 30 miles southwest) allowed it to serve as an occasional seat of government. Moreover, it was a picturesque spot used by the Duke and the Princess to escape the formality and etiquette of Versailles. It was also the perfect spot to relax as Rambouillet’s forests were populated with game and thick with verdant green glens. Continue reading