All sorts of events were associated with dogs during the French Revolution and many stories exist. The French Revolution was a chaotic time not just for people but also for the dogs. Sometimes dogs suffered danger and sometimes they were the danger. They also helped to maintain prisoner morale, functioned as messengers, and sometimes served as watchdogs or comforting companions.
Of all the dogs that suffered during the Revolution, pedigreed dogs probably suffered the most. Pedigreed dogs were usually the pets of royalty or nobility, and when these people fled France, their pedigreed dogs, called lexicons, were abandoned. Some of these dogs became outcasts, some mourned the loss of their owners, and some were disguised to prevent them from being taken or destroyed. However, many lexicons were gathered up and burned at the Place de Greves, the spot said to be used for the “vilest malefactors.” Continue reading →
Last year was a great year for me. I published my book, Marie Antoinette’s Confidante, and I published many interesting posts on topics related to the 18th and 19th centuries. Looking at the past year, here are the twelve most popular posts, by month, for 2016:
Two young elephants were captured in 1785 in Sri Lanka. They eventually ended up in the Netherlands with William V, Prince of Orange, and during the revolution, they were confiscated by France and sent to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. The two elephants were male and female. Hans was the male and the female was called Parkie (or sometimes Peggy), but she was renamed Marguerite in France.
After two attempts to leave Sri Lanka with the elephants — one attempt in June of 1795 and the other in November 1795 — the elephants finally left for France on 25 September 1797. To convey Hans and Marguerite to Paris, numerous crates were constructed. Hans and Marguerite were unhappy about the trip and the crates. They “made incredible efforts to break down the partition [between them]; but having found that their endeavors were vain, they became resigned and remained tranquil during the rest of the journey.” Continue reading →
The first giraffe in France arrived at the port of Marseilles (Marseille in French) on 23 October 1826. The strange animal with spots, long legs, bulging eyes, eighteen-inch tongue, and horn-like structures on its head, was a gift from the Viceroy of Egypt to Charles X. Everyone who saw her thought she was marvelous. In fact, she “excited the public’s curiosity for several days.” One English reporter said the giraffe was something he had “never witnessed, and he claimed there was nothing “more beautiful than the large, bright, and mild eyes of this elegantly-formed creature.” Because of her undeniable beauty, the giraffe quickly acquired the nickname of “Belle Africaine” or “le bel animal du roi” (The Beautiful Animal of the King).
Belle Africaine was small and young when captured by Sudan hunters. In fact, she was so small, she was taken to Khartoum on the back of a camel and cows traveled with her so she could be fed with their milk. From Khartoum she sailed down the Nile to Alexandria. There she boarded a ship. Her sea journey lasted thirty-two days, and to transport her on the ship, Belle Africaine traveled standing up in the hold. Her long neck and head protruded through a hole in the deck, shaded by a tent. (A male giraffe arrived at the same time in Marseilles. However, the male giraffe headed to London as a gift for George IV and went to “Windsor … [where it was] kept … in the Great Park.”) Continue reading →
Animals were an integral part of people’s lives in the 1800s and Frenchman had plenty of stories to share about them. For instance, while Englishmen were busy being amazed by the “Learned Pig” called Toby, people in Montpellier, France, were being entertained by a learned dog. One gentleman traveler saw the dog firsthand and wrote that the dog’s intellectual skills were “baffling.” One demonstration of the dog’s skill involved cards. The dog would bring back to his master any card thrown on the floor that anyone in the room called by name after “his master showed him the fellow to it, which he held in his hand.” Another demonstration with cards involved cards painted various colors. These too were thrown on the floor and then the dog’s master “directed the dog’s attention to the gown of some lady present, and the animal immediately sought out, and brought the card of the same color.” But the demonstration that had everyone speechless was the dog’s “arithmetical performance.” Anyone present could write any mathematical problem — addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division — on a slate. “Each time going up to the slate, for a minute to study his lesson, he successively brought up the figure which made the difference.” Continue reading →
For years French people reported on toad showers. French toad showers seemed to occur most frequently in the months of August and September. In fact, in the 1800s, in the northern provinces of France, it was claimed toad showers were not “unfrequent.” One man wrote about a toad shower he remembered from his youth. He noted that he “saw the Place de la Ville [in the little town of Ham] covered with small toads. Astonished at their appearance, he stretched out his hand and received the shock of many of these animals.” Another man who was temporarily residing in France was also surprised by a toad shower:
“[Once] after taking an evening walk in some of these prairies’ … did I return home with the brim of my hat swarming with many of these little animals, which were hopping about, and appeared as merry as grigs? They could not have climbed up my body, crawled upon my face, and by some ‘soubresaut‘ (summerset) alighted on my hat, and all this unknown to me. Therefore I had the best reason possible to suppose that they had positively ‘dropped, as other adventurers, from the clouds.’ I am aware that there is a class or family of small frogs, which ascend the stems of trees and lodge in the branches, but I had passed under no tree whatever; therefore this explanation of the fact could not be admissible.”
In 1765, newspaper headlines screamed of a monstrous creature that became known as la bête de Gevaudan (The Beast of Gévaudan). The beast made its first appearance 20 December 1764, when it devoured a little girl herding cattle at St. Flour in Provence. The second attack occurred a week later on the 27th of December. This time a woman (19 or 20 years old) was “torn to pieces … at Bounesal, near Mende. The next day [the beast] appeared in the woods of St. Martin de Born, and was about to spring upon a girl of twelve years.” It would have eaten her too, if not for her father. He was nearby and kept the animal at bay until some horned cattle came along and scared the beast away. Continue reading →
Many people desired a pet monkey in the 1700 and 1800s. One nineteenth century gentleman claimed a pet monkey was “a mischievous beast … but affording so much amusement as to compensate for the trouble,” and another person wrote, “there is no pet which can be so interesting or amusing as a monkey.” Because of the monkey’s popularity, in 1888, Arthur Patterson published a book called Notes on Pet Monkeys and How to Manage Them. In the book besides noting how to choose a monkey, what to feed them, and how to care for them, Patterson wrote, “Persons who have a strongly-developed propensity for keeping of pets, have, in most cases, at some time or other included a monkey in their list of specialties; but with few exceptions, from some mishap or devilry on the part of the little imp, the fancy in that line has come to an abrupt, and, to the rest of the household, a very welcome termination.” Continue reading →
Marie Antoinette was known to love dogs. When she first traveled from Austria to France to marry the Dauphin, her beloved pug Mops was with her. Unfortunately, she had to leave Mops at the border, although she did later manage to retrieve him. But Mops wasn’t the only dog that Marie Antoinette owned and neither was it the only dog at Versailles. There were many other dogs, and just like their masters or mistresses, they received royal treatment.
One way royal canines were pampered was with their furniture. Dogs did not just sleep on the floor or on top of a cushy pillow, they slept in what the renown Dr. Samuel Johnson defined as a “little hut or house for dogs.” Typically these were a basket or some sort of container that allowed the dog to enter and exit from one or two sides. However, among the well-heeled aristocrats and the royals, it became common practice to provide them with furniture that was sometimes elaborate. Continue reading →
In 1828, there was a tremendous problems with rats in Montfaucon. The rat problem was located in an area that neighbored the villages of Pantin and Romainville and is today located in the eastern suburbs of Paris. Part of the rat problem was attributed to a slaughter-house located in the area owned by a man named Dussaussois. Authorities conducted discussions about moving the slaughter-house because they thought moving it might eliminate or reduce the rat problem. However, residents in the immediate area argued against it. They believed moving the slaughter-house a great distance from Paris would result in dangerous consequences if the rats were suddenly deprived “of their accustomed sustenance.” Continue reading →