Laufmaschine, Nicknamed the Dandy Horse

Laufmaschine, nicknamed the dandy horse: Karl Drais
Karl Drais, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Karl Drais was a prolific German inventor who invented the Laufmaschine (“running machine”), nicknamed the dandy horse. Later, the Laufmaschine was called the velocipede, draisine (English), or draisienne (French). Drais’s first rode his horseless invention on 12 June 1817. The ride took over an hour, involved a distance of less than 5 miles, and began at Mannheim and ended at a coaching inn named Schwetzinger Relaishaus.

An account of the velocipede and its management was given by Drais and published in 1819. It is provided below (nearly verbatim) and begins with four points related to the machine’s properties: Continue reading

Cholera in France in the 19th Century

Cholera in France in the 19thcentury
Duke of Orleans Visiting the Sick at the Hôtel Dieu Hospital During the Cholera Outbreak, Public Domain

The first cholera pandemic began in 1816 in India and eventually reached China before receding in 1826. In 1829, a second cholera pandemic occurred in Russia. This time it marched slowly towards Poland before hitting hard in London where it became known as “King Cholera.” Parisians thought they might avoid the cholera pandemic altogether, but, unfortunately, it took its first victim when it reached Paris on 26 March 1832.

Three days later, on 29 March, a mid-Lent masked ball was held at the Opera House in Paris. Some of the attendees at the ball decided to make light of the disease and appeared dressed as cholera. Later that same evening, around midnight, “suddenly … one dancer after the other fell to the ground with shrieks,” and, shortly thereafter, 50 victims were carried to Paris’s Hôtel Dieu Hospital, where a few hours later, many of those victims “were buried in their masquerade clothes.” Continue reading

A Glance at Parisians and Their Animals According to Louis-Sébastien Mercier

A Glance at Parisians and Their Animals According to Louis-Sébastien Mercier: Louis-Sébastien Mercier
Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Louis-Sébastien Mercier was a French dramatist and voluminous writer who was born on 6 June 1740 and died on 25 April 1814. He wrote plays, pamphlets, and novels and was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror but released along with many others after the fall of Maximilien Robespierre. Among the topics that he sometimes chose to write about was his surroundings in Paris. In fact, there is no better writer that describes what it was like to live or be in Paris during the eighteenth century. Among his writings are two volumes titled, Paris Delineated that provides information about the “edifices and curiosities” of this international city. Three interesting sub-stories — Confined Animals, Slaughter of Cattle, and Lap-dogs — are taken from these volumes, and they allow a glance at Parisians and their animals according to Louis-Sébastien Mercier. Here they are almost verbatim:

The Lapin or Rabbit. Author’s Collection

Confined Animals

“The more indigent people are in Paris, the greater number of dogs, cats, and birds they keep all huddled together in a small room; generally speaking, you can smell them before you see them; and it is a custom among them to breed rabbits, which they feed with cabbage leaves picked up in the street; they afterwards eat these rabbits, which makes them pale and yellow. Their hen roost is close to the bed, and the greatest distance from the rabbit hutches to the spit which is to roast them, is not more than four feet at most. The children of the family inhale this infectious atmosphere. All this is the result of extreme poverty; and when the tax-gatherer comes, with his handkerchief up to his nose, they will offer him a rabbit in payment.

Tailors, shoemakers, and men of all sedentary profession, keep some animal or other confined in a cages, as if they were determined to make it partner in their bondage. Perhaps it is a magpye shut up in a little cage, where the poor animal passes the whole day in hopping up and down, and endeavouring to escape. The tailor looks every now and then at the magpye, and is resolved he shall be his constant companion.

All the old maids have got their dogs, who deposit their ordure [odor] upon the stairs; but this is passed over in Paris, because the Parisians prefer dogs to cleanliness.

Have you never observed our affected and conceited dames taking their dogs under their arms to give them an airing, while the children are left at home to the care of a servant? When the poor man does not permit his dog to follow him, either from the fear of losing him, or that he is going farther than he chuses to take him, he shuts the poor animal up, where he howls and yelps till his master returns; in the mean time the adjoining houses are disturbed with the noise.

Another keeps a parrot in his window, and a studious man perhaps, a philosopher or an historian, is all day long tormented with the squalling of this animal.

All these animals, too numerous by far, neither contribute to the health nor quiet of the town; many of the rooms which contain them are full of infection; and what is worse than all, they consume the bread which ought to go to the children of these poor people, who seem to increase the number of these animals in proportion to the great expence of maintaining them.”

French Butchery, Author’s Collection

Slaughter of Cattle

“What can be more revolting to the feelings than the slaughter of beasts in the public streets! often we tread in their reeking blood as we walk! In some places they drive the ox under the meat-stalls, where other oxen have been just cut up; the poor animals sees it, smells it, and will not pass; he then is dragged; dogs are set on to bite his heels, till the butchers have forced him to enter the fatal place.

One day a sheep fell down under the blows in the street Dauphine; the blood streamed through his eyes: a young girl, who saw it, flung herself in tears upon the poor beast, supported his head with one hand, and with the other wiped the blood, and on her knees supplicated the inhuman butcher (whose arm was lifted up) not to strike yet — What a scene for a painter!

In walking the streets of Paris I once saw a butcher’s boy driving a calf, young, and just torn from its mother; it had not strength to go; he was about to fell it with his knotty club, when one of the common women cried out — Wretch! — kill — but do not strike.”

A Woman With a Dog (Identified as Marie Émilie Coignet de Courson) by Jean Honoré Fragonard, Courtesy of the Met Museum


“The folly of women in this particular is carried to excess, they become governantes to shock dogs, and bestow on them infinite pains; tread on a lap-dog’s paw, you are irretrievably lost in the good graces of its mistress, she may dissemble but she will never forgive, you have wounded her maniton. The most exquisite dishes are lavished on these favourites, whilst even a bason of broth is withheld from the sick sufferer languishing in the garret.

[B]ut there is one extravagance peculiar to Paris, where are great blockheads, who, with the view of paying court to the ladies, bear their dogs, publicly under their arms in the promenades and streets, which gives them an air so completely silly and stupid, that one is tempted to laugh in their face, in order to remind them they are men; when I see a beauty profane her lips with the kisses of a dog, not unfrequently ugly and hideous, and who were he even handsome has no claims to such lively affections, I find her eyes less brilliant; by receiving this animal the gracefulness of her arms diminished; I attach less value to her caresses, and in my eyes she loses the better part of her beauty and attractions.

When the death of her spaniel plunges her in despair, when she exacts commiseration for the terrible calamity, till time has softened it into oblivion, this absurdity annihilates the remnant of her charms, and divests her of all pretensions to empire. Never will a woman be a Cartesian, never will she submit to believe that her lap-dog, when caressing her, is neither a sensible nor a rational being; she would scratch Descartes’ face, were he living, for the ungenerous assertion; the fidelity of her dog alone, is in her estimation worth more than the united reason of all mankind.

I have known a pretty woman so seriously displeased to close her doors on a man who had adopted this preposterous and impertinent opinion — How can sensibility be denied to animals? Admitting however, that they are very sensible, and far from vindicating the barbarity they experience from men, let us injure them as little as possible; but whilst we receive nourishment from oxen, sheep, and turkey-cocks, let us beware how we load with senseless caresses, a lap-dog that forms no part of our food.

A physician’s wife, whose dog was sick, received from her husband the consoling assurance of his recovery; but he either did nothing, or nothing that produced effect! In extreme impatience, she sent for the famous Lyonese [a celebrated dog doctor], whose success was complete. What is your charge? said the grave doctor of the faculty to the preserve of the canine species. ‘Oh sir, between brethren there is no taking of fees.'”


  • Mercier, Louis-Sébastien, Paris Delineated, Volume 1, 1817
  • Mercier, Louis-Sébastien, Paris Delineated, Volume 2, 1802

Anecdotes about the Woman Known as Madame de Staël: Anne Louise Germaine Necker

Anecdotes about the Woman Known as Madame de Staël: Madame de Staël
Madame de Staël, Author’s Collection

There are many anecdotes about the woman known as Madame de Staël. Born Anne Louise Germaine Necker in Paris, France, but of Swiss origin, Madame de Staël’s father was Jacques Necker, a prominent Swiss banker and statesman who also served as the Director-General of Finance under King Louis XVI of France. Her Swiss mother was named Suzanne Curchod and was a no-nonsense woman who had no regard for practical jokes.

Madame de Staël and her father had an extremely close relationship. Part of their closeness was because they were compatible intellectually and had many traits in common, but they also loved the ridiculous. Their love the ridiculous is demonstrated by the following anecdote that happened one morning.

During breakfast, Madame de Staël did everything to get her father’s attention without her mother seeing, but not matter what she did she was unable to obtain even a glance from her father. Fortunately, Madame Necker was called out of the room. While she was absent, Madame de Stael’s threw her napkin through the air, her father caught it, and tied it around his head. He then began dancing around the table. Madame Necker’s footsteps put and ended to their fun as both Necker and his daughter “hastened back to their chairs like truant school-children, forgetting to observe that they were betrayed by the father’s wig, [still sitting on top of his head].” Continue reading

French Chimney Sweeps

French Chimney Sweep, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

French chimney sweeps, known as le ramoneur, were usually young boys between the age of eight and ten years old. They carried their licenses in their soot bag and lived a hard life. One nineteenth-century person called them “wretched little beings,” and another gave a description of the chimney sweep’s life in the following way:

“The poor child must resign himself to become, during an hour or two, dumb, blind, and half-choked and deafened by soot; he must entomb himself alive, in a kind of sepulchre; he must climb scratch and cling, and hoist himself up, until his comrade on the roof, perceives the tip of his little soot-begrimed nose over the ridge of the chimney pot.”

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Pioneering French Midwife: Angélique du Coudray

Pioneering French Midwive: Angélique du Coudray
Coudray Shrouded in Lace, a Furred Pelisse on Her Shoulders, and a Bouquet at Her Breast. Public Domain

The pioneering French midwife, Angélique du Coudray, gained fame in the 1700s. She was born in 1712, the same year as the King of Prussia (Frederick II, known as Frederick the Great) and the Enlightenment writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Little is known about Coudray’s early years. However, at twenty-five she graduated from the College of Surgery École de Chirurgie in Paris and completed her three-year apprenticeship that allowed her to become an accredited midwife.

Soon after Coudray’s graduation, schools began to bar women from gaining instruction in midwifery. Surgeons also began to expanded into the birthing field and this further reduced the medical community’s willingness to train female midwives. Women were upset and began to petition that they be allowed to receive proper instruction to become midwives.

Coudray was among those who supported female midwives. She argued that if proper training was not given to female midwives, midwives would continue to practice untrained and might cause harm to their patients. Moreover, she declared that without training, there would be shortage of midwives. Continue reading

Victorian Paris Street Cries

Victorian Paris Street Cries
Le Fiacre by Édouard Manet (1878), Courtesy of Wikipedia

Victorian Paris street cries were plentiful and had a charm all their own. In fact, supposedly, one musician named Kastner thought the sounds and cries of Paris so interesting, he collected them. From this strange collection, he then created the “les cries de Paris” (the cries of Paris). Thus, it became a popular tradition at the Grand Opera to hear the asparagus woman’s shriek: “Ma botte d’asperges!”

Among the common sounds of Paris was the cracking of a driver’s whip and his shouts of “Hé, la-bas!” (I say! down there!). This was also the same shout given by the fiacre (hackney cab) drivers.  However, that had not always been the case as prior to macadamized roadways being installed, block stone and cobblestone streets were so noisy all anyone could hear was the sound of vehicles coming and going. Continue reading

Luigi Lablache: An Operatic Megastar

Luigi Lablache, Author's Collection
Luigi Lablache, Author’s Collection

Luigi Lablache was a famous bass singer born in Naples on 6 December 1791. His father, Nicola Lablache, was a merchant from Marseilles and his mother an Irish woman named Franziska Bietak. Lablache displayed an unusual inclination for music at an early and captured the notice of Joseph Napoleon, who took an interest in the 12-year-old after Lablache’s father became a victim of the French Revolution.

Because of Lablache’s talents, Napoleon also procured a place for him at the Conservatorio della pieta de’ Turchini in Naples. However, Lablache was interested in the stage and decided that he didn’t want to devote himself solely to music. This resulted in him run away five times from the Conservatory and gaining employment at local theatres. Because of Lablache’s antics a royal law was issued that put an end to Lablache’s escape. The royal law stated: Continue reading

Smallpox Inoculation in 18th Century France

Smallpox Inoculation
Smallpox Virus, Courtesy of Wikipedia

In France in the 1700s, there was great opposition to a person getting a smallpox inoculation. Part of the problem was doctors could not ensure the inoculations worked because of too many variables. For instance, to create an inoculation, doctors collected pus or scabs from someone infected with smallpox and then introduced this infected matter into a person by scratching the surface of the skin (usually on the person’s arm). If the person was lucky, the inoculation worked, and, if unlucky, the person developed a full-fledged case of smallpox. Continue reading

Love Affair between Lafayette and Diane of Simiane

Love affair between Lafayette and Diane of Simiane
Marquis de Lafayette and Diane, Public Domain

The love affair between Marquis de Lafayette and Diane of Simiane began after Diane married Charles-Francois of Simiane, Marquis of Miremont. Charles-Francois was the son of François Louis Hector of Simiane and Marie Esther Emilie of Seveyrac. He had served in the American Revolutionary War with the famous French nobleman and general, the Count of Rochambeau, who had played a major role in helping the thirteen colonies win independence during the American Revolution. Continue reading