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

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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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

Accused Glasgow Murderess Known as Madeleine Smith From the 1850s

Accused Glasgow Murderess Known as Madeleine Smith: Madeleine Smith
Madeleine Smith, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The accused Glasgow murderess known as Madeleine Smith was alleged to have killed Frenchman Pierre Emile L’Angelier (or Emile L’Angelier) in 1857. L’Angelier originally came from the Channel Islands, an archipelago in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. The two began a secret love affair in 1855 that involved hundreds of love letters and clandestine meetings at her bedroom window. One of these clandestine meetings resulted in Madeleine losing her virginity to L’Angelier.

L’Angelier had left the Channel Islands to seek his fortune in Scotland in 1851. When he first arrived in Scotland, he lived in grinding poverty and depended on the charity of inn keepers. Eventually, he began working as a clerk at a warehouse and then began assisting a gardener as an apprentice for moderate wages. By steadiness and assiduity, he improved his lot over time. Continue reading

French Victorian Feminist Hubertine Auclert

French Victorian Feminist Hubertine Auclert
A Young Hubertine Auclert, Courtesy of Wikipedia

French Victorian feminist Hubertine Auclert was born to a middle-class family on 10 April 1848. At age 13, when her father died, she was sent to a Roman Catholic convent. She initially intended to become a nun, but she left the convent permanently after being rejected because of her vivacious personality. She then went to Paris, and shortly thereafter, Napoleon III was ousted and the Third Republic established. These changes encouraged activism by women, and women began to demand changes and greater rights. Inspired by others, Auclert then became involved in securing rights for women and because of her time spent in the convent, she became a militant anti-cleric. Continue reading

The French Tightrope Walker, Charles Blondin, a Daredevil

Charles Blondin Carrying His Manager, Harry Colcord, on His Back As He Crossed the Tightrope, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The French tightrope walker, Charles Blondin, as he was called, was born at St. Omer, Pas-de-Calais, France on 28 February 1824 under the name of Jean-François Gravelet. When Blondin was about four, a traveling company of equestrian and acrobatic performers came to town. It “produced a powerful and abiding effect upon his infantile mind,” and Blondin fell in love with the idea of acrobatics and tightrope walking. It also encouraged him to attempt to duplicate these acrobatic and gymnastic feats, and before long, he succeeded.

Because Blondin proved to have uncommon agility and a strong desire to perform as an acrobat, at the age of five, his parents placed him in the École de Gymnase at Lyon. Blondin’s first instructor was a man named Blondin and it was from this elder Blondin that he took the name Blondin. The elder Blondin was a man who used kindness to get the best out of the young Blondin, and the young Blondin quickly became recognized as a prodigy. In fact, it was noted that whatever feat he desired to achieve, “he … practised with unflagging pertinacity until he achieved complete success.” Continue reading

Rue de la Harpe Murders, Cannibalism, and Folktales

Rue de la Harpe murders, Cannibalism, and Folktales
Rue la de Harpe Today, Courtesy of Wikipedia

This folktale is about the Rue de la Harpe murders and begins in 1800 when two rich business men decided to travel to Paris together. They went to the Rue de la Harpe, an ancient street in the Fauxbourg of St. Marcell. One of the men was accompanied by his faithful companion, a dog. Before visiting the more fashionable streets of Paris and upon their arrival at the Rue de la Harpe, the two friends went to the shop of a barber to be shaved.

The barber’s name was Becque. The first business man (whom I shall call Henry for clarity’s sake) was shaved and then Henry told his friend that he needed to complete a small errand. Henry promised to return before the second man finished his shave, but when Henry returned, to his great surprise, he discovered his friend had left and that his friend’s dog was waiting for him outside the barber’s door. Continue reading

Fortune-Telling and the Meaning of Food in Dreams in the 1800s

Meaning of food in dreams in the 1800s
Courtesy of www.mycutegraphics.com

One popular way to determine a person’s fortune in the 1800s was through dreams. Dreams supposedly could foretell what would happen to a person and whether the person would have good or bad luck. For instance, if a person had a dream about barking dogs it was considered a sign of misfortune whereas a dream about playing cards signified good luck in the future. People also had dreams about food, which could indicate good or back luck, as indicated below:

ALMONDS – Dreaming about these nuts signified embarrassment, although it was also said that embarrassment could be avoided with care. Moreover, to eat them in a dream foretold good fortune.
APPLES – It was stated that “if you take them from the tree, it signifies that you will be persecuted. If they are ripe and ruddy, and you eat them, it will bring much happiness. If they are sour, you will shortly quarrel with someone.”
APRICOTS – To see them in a dream meant that person would be disappointed in whatever if was he or she hoped for, but to eat them meant good fortune. That is, unless it was the time of year when almonds were out of season, then it denoted great misfortune and if they were dry, it was thought they would bring sorrow.
ARTICHOKES – To see artichokes in a dream meant secret trouble whereas eating them in a dream meant you should expect trouble. Continue reading

Masturbation Among Victorian Youth in Boarding Schools

Masturbation Among Victorian Youth in Boarding Schools: The Secret Companion
“The Secret Companion” by R J Brodie, 1845, Courtesy of Wellcome Images.

The term masturbation was first introduced in the 18th century. At the time, however, the terms onanism or self-pollution were more frequently used. Victorians later used those same terms to refer to masturbation. Additionally, in the 19th century, masturbation was more politely referred to as self-abuse or sometimes manualization, as it was done by hand. 

One article published in 1870 noted that the practice of masturbation among Victorian youth in boarding schools was “much more frequent than … generally imagined.” According to the article there was nothing more “detestable or ruinous.” Masturbation was also called a “baneful habit,” and it was noted that such a pernicious habit could easily spread from one student to another until the whole boarding school was affected. Moreover, the effects of it could supposedly result in the following:

“Health, intellect, morals — all purity, dignity, and self-respect — sink beneath it in promiscuous and hopeless ruin. When carried to excess it produces idiotism in the most deplorable and disgusting form, accompanied by impaired vision and hearing, paralysis, and other distressing infirmities, and terminates in death.”

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First French Celebrity Chef Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême

First French Celebrity Chef Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême
Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The first French celebrity chef Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême was born on 8 June 1784. It is rather surprising Carême achieved such wonderful success as his initial beginnings did not seem to indicate such an illustrious future. He was one of fifteen children, and, in 1794, at the height of the French Revolution, his father left him on the streets of Paris and told him to go and seek his fortune. 

Hungry and in despair, Carême begged for shelter. The following day he was admitted into the service of a man who owned a cheap eating house or chop-house, and, at that point, he began working as a kitchen boy. Four years later, in 1798, he was apprenticed to Sylvain Bailly, a famous pâtissier with a shop near the Palais-Royal. Bailly immediately noticed Carême’s talents, and Carême quickly gained fame for the works that he created and displayed in Bailly’s shop window.

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