Breastfeeding or Nursing with Wet Nurses in the Eighteenth Century

Visit to the Wet Nurse by Belgian painter Basile de Loose. Public domain.

Breastfeeding or nursing with wet nurses in the eighteenth century was a common occurrence. That was because by medieval times the idea of breastfeeding was often regarded as too menial a task for royal women and they began to use wet nurses. Other reasons for the use of wet nurses was that mothers sometimes were unable to produce enough milk, died during child birth, or suffered some physical ailment. There were also some women who claimed breastfeeding was time consuming or they argued that it ruined their figures. Sometimes a woman’s husband might not support her breastfeeding activities, or sometimes a woman wanted to quickly get pregnant again and thought it would happen faster if she didn’t nurse. Continue reading

William Corder and the Red Barn Murder

William Corder. Author’s collection.

In 1827, 24-year-old William Corder committed a notorious murder when he shot his lover, the daughter of a mole-catcher, 26-year-old Maria Marten. The murder came to be known as the Red Barn Murder because it happened after Corder arranged to meet Marten at a local landmark in Polstead, Suffolk, England, called the red barn. Corder pretended that he was going to elope with Marten and go to Ipswich to marry her.

Corder and Marten began a relationship in March of 1826. At the time Corder was well-known for being a ladies’ man and for being a fraudster. One fraud he committed was against his own father, when he sold his father’s pigs, and another fraud occurred when he helped a local thief named Samuel “Beauty” Smith steal a pig. There was also a third incident where Corder passed some fraudulent checks. Nonetheless, no sort of punishment by his father or anyone else seemed to induce Corder to behave, and, so, his father finally shipped him off to London.

Shortly after Corder arrived in London, one of his brothers drowned. Corder’s father then recalled his son so he could help on the farm. However, misfortune again occurred because within 18 months of his return, Corder’s father and three other brothers died. This left Corder and his mother to run the farm. Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Novel Persuasion

Jane Austen. Public domain.

The first draft of Jane Austen’s novel “Persuasion,” a romantic novel that examines human foibles and flaws, was completed on 18 July 1816. Apparently, however, according to her nephew and biographer, James Edward Austen-Leigh, she was unhappy:

“[H]er performance did not satisfy her. She thought it tame and flat, and was desirous of producing something better. This weighed upon her mind, the more so probably on account of the weak state of her health; so that one night she retired to rest in very low spirits.”[1]

Her low spirits encouraged her to revise it and she finished it on 6 August 1816 (two chapters of her manuscript that were cancelled can be viewed by clicking here). However, according to Jocelyn Harris, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Otago, New Zealand, Jane continued to tinker with it and probably didn’t actually finalize it until 27 January 1817. After it was completed, Jane made a cryptic mention of “Persuasion” in a letter she wrote to her niece, Fanny Knight that was dated 13 March 1817: Continue reading

The House Napoleon Owned as a Private Citizen

Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Napoleon owned one house as a private citizen and that house was situated at no. 6 rue Chantereine, which is also the place where some people say he met his future wife Josephine. The story is that after Parisians were ordered to give up their swords, Josephine’s son Eugene went to Napoleon and appealed to keep his father’s sword because his father had been guillotined. Eugene’s appeal so touched Napoleon, he asked to meet the boy’s mother and went to her home.

Although there are several other versions of how Josephine and Napoleon met, what is most important is that after they met, Josephine thoroughly captivated Napoleon. He was so captivated he began to visit her frequently. She was leasing a house in a fashionable district of Paris known as the Chaussee d’Antin located at no. 6 rue Chantereine. The street was so named because chantereine translates in French to “singing frogs,” and there were reportedly many croaking frogs that lived in the nearby marsh. Continue reading

The Legendary French Drummer Boy Joseph Bara

Jean-Joseph Weerts “Portrait de Joseph Bara.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The legendary French drummer boy Joseph Bara was raised to the status of hero in the 1790s. His story begins with his birth on 30 July 1779 to a woodranger and a domestic servant, both of whom worked at the Palaiseau estate of the Condés. Unfortunately, while Bara was still a youth, his father died, and, so, when the French politician Lazare Carnot appealed for men and created the conscription called levée en masse to raise any army, Bara’s mother enrolled him as a volunteer in the army at the tender age of twelve. He was then attached to a unit that fought counter revolutionaries in Vendée, and, it was during this time that he was killed. A General J.B. Desmarres gave a written account of his death to the Convention that stated:

“Yesterday this courageous youth, surrounded by brigands, chose to perish rather than give them the two horses he was leading.”[1] Continue reading

Tales of Charlotte Corday’s Head

Charlotte Corday. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After Charlotte Corday’s execution for assassinating Jacques-Jean Marat, her body and guillotined head were said to have been buried in Ditch No. 5 of the cemetery of the Madeleine on rue Anjou Saint-Honore in Paris. Ditch No. 4 held the body of Louis XVI, and Ditch No. 6 would be readied shortly for Marie Antoinette and Philippe Egalite. However, that was not the end of the story, as years later Corday’s skull allegedly appeared in the possession of Prince Roland Bonaparte, grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Lucien.

The neighborhood where Corday was buried was supposedly “infected by the putrefaction of the bodies buried there,”[1] and because of that the cemetery was closed sometime after 1794. Around that same time a Monsieur Descloseaux bought the cemetery. Most of the bodies were moved, and the cemetery transformed into a pleasure garden. However, Corday’s body supposedly remained there, and, in 1804, Descloseaux claims he added a cross to mark the spot of her grave. Continue reading

The 19th Century French Hashish Club Called Club des Hashischins

Example of hashish next to a penny. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The nineteenth century French Hashish Club called Club des Hashischins (also spelled Club des Hashishins or Club des Hachichins) was a club of hashish users dedicated to exploring drug-induced experiences, primarily with a resin that comes from the female cannabis plant called hashish (or nicknamed hash). The club was founded in about 1844 and included members from the literary and intellectually elite of Paris. Monthly séances (the French word for meetings) were held at the gothic Hôtel Pimodan (afterwards known as the Hôtel de Lauzun) in the rooms of Fernand Boissard, a nineteenth century painter and musician who was considered the figurehead of the club. At the time, also living at Pimodan in a rented upstairs apartment was the poet and translator of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, Charles Baudelaire. Théophile Gautier, a poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, and art and literary critic also rented apartments there. Continue reading

The First Morphine Murderer Edme Castaing

Auguste Ballet, Hippolyte Ballet, and Edme Samuel Castaing. Public domain.

The opiate and pain medication morphine began to be marketed to the public in 1817, and, four years later, in 1821, a young man by the name of Edme Samuel Castaing graduated from the School of Medicine in Paris as a physician. He had been an outstanding student during his school years and won many awards. Many people considered him to be an upstanding and honest person, but problems for Castaing began when he found himself facing financial difficulties. A few years earlier, in 1818, he had vouched for a friend on a loan and when it came due in 1820, his friend could not pay the required 600 francs. Thus, the burden fell upon Castaing, but he was already under financial pressure having fathered two children with his mistress.

Castaing had befriended two brothers, Auguste and Hippolyte Ballet. Auguste was the older of the two having been born on 21 March of 1798, while Hippolyte was born a year later on 17 August 1799. The brothers had received a handsome inheritance when their parents died. Although Hippolyte was thrifty Auguste was not. Thus, soon after their parent’s deaths, Hippolyte visited the family lawyer, a man named Lebret, and told him that he planned to make a will to protect his money. Continue reading

Parisian Luxury Shoe Manufacturer Jean-Louis François Pinet

Late 19th century Pinet boots. Courtesy of Bata Shoe Museum Toronto.

Jean-Louis François Pinet’s career as shoemaker began almost from birth. He was born on 19 July 1817 in Chateau la Vallière commune to a shoemaker from whom he learned the trade. When his father died in 1830, Pinet went to live in the home of a master shoemaker, and, by age sixteen, he was working in Tours earning five francs a week. A few years later, in 1836, he was a declared an accredited journeyman shoemaker (compagnon cordonnier bottier du devoir).

During these early years, Pinet worked hard. He also saved his money and purchased his own tools so that he could become an independent shoemaker with his own atelier. He then left Tours for Bordeaux and then moved from Bordeaux to Marseilles, where he was appointed head of the Société des Compagnons Cordonniers (Workers’Association of Shoemaker Companions). However, by 1844, Pinet had settled in Paris. Continue reading

Bastille Day or Fête de la Fédération in 1792

Storming of the Bastille. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bastille Day or Fête de la Fédération was first celebrated in 1790. It was a day set aside to commemorate the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille that occurred on 14 July 1789. That event ushered in the French Revolution and each year thereafter people celebrated their patriotism for their new republic with a fete.

The second Fête de la Fédération happened in 1791 and was nothing like the first as it was said to have passed without hardly a notice. That was because that year, a few weeks prior to the celebration, the King and the royal family made their ill-fated escape attempt. Unfortunately for them, they were captured at Varennes and brought back to Paris. Continue reading