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

Théroigne de Méricourt and Charlotte Vanhove: The Political Activist and the Actress

Théroigne de Méricourt on the eve of the French Revolution. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Théroigne de Méricourt was a political activist during the French Revolution. In 1793, she composed a series of placards that called for the political involvement of women, and on 15 May 1793, as she crossed the Feuillants Terrace to deliver a speech when female supporters of the Jacobins attacked her. They stripped her naked and beat her so severely she could have died had she not been rescued by Jean-Paul Marat, a political theorist, radical journalist, and icon to the Jacobins.

After the beating, Théroigne was never the same. She suffered from headaches, mental troubles, and erratic behavior. On 20 September 1794, she was certified insane and spent more than twenty years institutionalized. Ultimately, she became a patient at one of the leading mental institutions at the time, the Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris and survived intermittently lucid but constantly speaking about the Revolution. Continue reading

Silhouettes and Étienne de Silhouette

Example of a Silhouette. Public Domain.

Silhouettes acquired their name from a French minister of finance under Louis XV named Étienne de Silhouette. De Silhouette had studied finance and economics and had spent a year in London learning about the British economy. According to one nineteenth century reporter, de Silhouette “introduced several parsimonious fashions during his administration a la Silhouette,”[1] and among these parsimonious fashions was severe taxes.

It began in 1760 when de Silhouette forecast a bleak budget and attempted to restore the finances of the kingdom using the English method of taxing the rich and privileged. He devised what was called “general subvention,” or in other words, any signs of external wealth (luxury goods, servants, etc.) were taxed. He went further when he became melting down gold and silver and criticized the nobility (including Voltaire) who objected to his extreme taxation measures. Continue reading

Parisian Gaming Houses in the Early 1800s

French Roulette Wheel in 1800. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Gaming houses were first licensed in Paris in 1775 with the idea that the profits would be applied to aid Parisian hospitals. Soon there were twelve gaming houses, with a couple of illegal ones tolerated. Although gaming houses were primarily a man’s place for fun and relaxation, women were permitted to enjoy themselves as such establishments two days a week.

Three years after gaming houses were licensed, gaming was banned, but gaming still occurred in these houses and in the hotels of ambassadors, where police did not have jurisdiction. When punishment was meted out for gaming, it was always trivial. For that reason, gaming houses continued to exist during the French Revolution, but they were frequently “prosecuted and licenses withheld.”[1]

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Nine Singing Rules for 18th Century Singers

The Note A or La, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Singing was a popular activity in the 1700s. One writer noted that when there was a large group of singers, the worst singer was often the person who got the greatest pleasure from the activity. To ensure people got the most pleasure out of singing, numerous song books were published. Among them was one that maintained when a person was in society, it was the person’s duty to be “conformable and good-humoured.” To accomplish that, there were nine singing rules for 18th century singers. Continue reading

First Humans in an Untethered Balloon Flight

The first hot-air balloon flight occurred in June of 1783, and the first hydrogen balloon flight happened on 27 August 1783. The hydrogen balloon had been created and launched by Professor Jacques Charles and and two engineering brothers — Anne-Jean Robert and Nicolas-Louis Robert — known collectively as Les Frères Robert (Robert brothers), who invented the lightweight, airtight gas bag.

First Humans in an Untethered Balloon Flight
World’s First Manned Hydrogen Balloon. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Marie Antoinette’s Daily Schedule

Marie Antoinette's daily schedule
Marie Antoinette Getting Her Hair Dressed, by Heinrich Losslow, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Court etiquette at Versailles was one of the most important factors in Marie Antoinette’s life. To get through a day meant the Queen had to adhere to excessive etiquette, regulations, and protocols, and these began from the moment she opened her eyes. Marie Antoinette disliked much of the pomp and circumstance associated with her position as Queen, and this was one reason why she often fled to her beloved Petit Trianon, a small homey palace given to her by Louis XVI shortly after he became King. At Petit Trianon, the Queen did not have to suffer the same strict etiquette applied at Versailles, and, in fact, she was often seen strolling through the gardens incognito, wearing a muslin dress and sporting a floppy hat.

To understand what a regular day at Versailles might entail and how etiquette ruled the Queen’s life, I have provided a daily schedule that Marie Antoinette might typically follow: Continue reading

Freemasonry and the “Masonry of Adoption” in 18th Century France

Freemasonry Masonic Square and Compass
Masonic Square and Compass, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Freemasonry membership in France included French nobles and many military men, but the largest portion of membership was the bourgeoisie who liked the idea of being members because they appreciated Freemasonry’s motto of equality. Those excluded from joining included Jews, actors, employees, workers, and servants, as well as women. 

Fortunately for women, sometime in the 1730s or 1740s, the idea developed to create a mixed-sex form of Freemasonry known as Maçonnerie d’Adoption or “Masonry of Adoption” or “Rite of Adoption.” One person later wrote that the reason men allowed females to join was because the practice of Freemasonry was “a practical means of giving to their wives and daughters some share of the pleasures which they themselves enjoyed in their mystical assemblies.” Moreover, the Freemasonry assemblages included “commendable fidelity and diligence … [and were] distinguished by numerous acts of charity.” Continue reading

Hanging Out at La Morgue in 19th Century Paris

Morgue, Author's Collection
Visitors to the Morgue, Author’s Collection

Seeing dead bodies for free became an entertaining fad in Paris in the nineteenth century, but before it was a fad, one grammarian of the seventeenth century, defined morgue as an old French word that meant “face.” With that in mind, it was claimed that prisons formerly had small rooms near the entrance where “prisoners were first locked up in order that the goalers might take a good look at their morgues or faces, and recognize them in case of escape.”  In addition, supposedly the word morgue came from the French word morguer, which meant to stare, have a fixed gaze, or look at solemnly, and, thus, the word morgue came to have its more modern meaning as a place to store corpses and as a place where the living identified the dead. Continue reading