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

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

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.

Before their hydrogen balloon lifted off in August, the scientist Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier noticed the basket underneath the balloon. He made a proposition to the King. Rozier stated that he wanted to go up with the balloon, but Louis XVI was so horrified, “he nearly lost his appetite, and absolutely forbade so a rash a venture.”

Because the French King, Louis XVI, had been intrigued by the idea of balloon flight, he held a grand fete to celebrate a lift off at Versailles that was planned on 19 September 1783. This hot air balloon carried no humans. It did however have a duck, sheep, and rooster as its passengers. The flight lasted just 8 minutes, covered 2 miles, and obtained a height of about 1,500 feet. Continue reading

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

Duel Between the Count of Artois and Duke of Bourbon

Comte d'Artois in 1798, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Count of Artois in 1798, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Duels were a popular way to settle insults in the eighteen century. One famous duel involved Louis XVI’s younger brother, the Count of Artois, and his cousin, the Louis Henri of Bourbon-Condé (known as the Duke of Bourbon). The incident began with an insult during a masked ball on Shrove Tuesday in 1778.

Madame Carrillac had been mistress to the Duke of Bourbon, but she left the Duke for the Count of Artois. In addition, the Duke’s wife, the Duchess of Bourbon had feelings for the Count of Artois. One night at a masked ball the Count offered his arm to Madame Carrillac, and the Duchess of Bourbon, who was upset about Madame Carrillac, recognized the Count and Madame Carrillac. She then began following the pair spewing sarcastic remarks at Madame Carrillac. 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

A French Subscription Ball in 1801

French Subscription Ball: La Walse, Le Bon Genre, Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
“La Walse, Le Bon Genre,” Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Balls were a popular diversion in Paris in 1801, and an English traveler to Paris attended a public subscription ball held by a society known as le salon des étrangers in December 1801. The ball was held in a popular hotel in the Rue de la Grange Bateliere, which is today in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. The Englishman noted attendees included not only Frenchmen but also “most of the foreign ambassadors, envoys, &c … and many of the most distinguished persons of both sexes in Paris.” Frenchmen were admitted by ballot, and foreigners were introduced by a member and paid the annual subscription rate of five louis to attend. Continue reading

Parisian Fortune-Tellers in the Eighteenth Century

Parisian Fortune-Tellers, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fortune-Tellers, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

Parisian fortune-tellers were plentiful in eighteenth century France, and many fortune seekers visited them during the French Revolution hoping to learn if they would keep their head or not. One man wrote that when he visited the Pont Neuf, fortune-tellers regular used a deck of cards to predict a person’s future. However, a deck of card was not the only way a person discovered his or her future. Some fortune-tellers used a long pipe and placed one end in the ear of the fortune seeker and the other end near the fortune-teller’s mouth. The fortune-teller then explained in a quiet voice the fortune seeker’s “futurity … [and promised] lavish wealth and prosperity at the moderate price of deux sous.” Fortunes could also be obtained by the fortune-teller reading the dregs of a person’s coffee cup.

Yet, perhaps, what was more interesting than fortune-tellers using cards, pipes, or coffee dregs to predict the future, was how the fortune-tellers were able to accomplish it. Their abilities and success caused more than one curious person to investigate the field of fortune-telling closely. It also resulted in three stories about Parisian fortune-tellers in the eighteenth century. Continue reading