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

Marie Antoinette and Donkey Riding

Marie Antoinette and Donkey Riding
Marie Antoinette, Author’s Collection

In my book, “Marie Antoinette’s Confidante,” one of the things I talk about is Marie Antoinette and donkey riding. It all began after Marie Antoinette arrived in France, became bored, and developed a strong desire to ride horses. Her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, was an excellent horsewoman, and as Marie Antoinette’s new husband, the Dauphin and future Louis XVI, loved to hunt, Marie Antoinette thought that riding horses might be way to spend more time with him.

When Marie Antoinette voiced her desire to ride horses, she was immediately met with opposition. Among those opposing her riding horses was the Austrian diplomat named the Count of Mercy-Argenteau, but better known simply as Mercy. Mercy was the person who had cemented Marie Antoinette’s marriage to the Dauphin, and when he arrived in France with Marie Antoinette, Mercy found himself in a position of power. He could impress the Empress by revealing everything that Marie Antoinette was doing, thinking, or feeling, and then influence Marie Antoinette in the ways that her mother wanted. Continue reading

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

The Turk: An Automaton Chess Player Hoax

automaton chess player hoax: Marie Theresa
Maria Theresa, Courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1767, an extraordinary automaton was designed. The inventor was a Hungarian gentleman named Wolfgang von Kempelen who promised the Empress Maria Theresa that he would construct an automaton within six months that would amuse, astound, and excite “the liveliest astonishment.” Six months later it appeared Kempelen had succeeded when he presented “The Turk.”

The Turk was a life-sized model with a human head and torso, wearing a Turban and dressed in Turkish robes. The Turk was seated behind a large cabinet with a chessboard placed in front, and it seemed able to beat any human opponent. However, in actuality, The Turk was an automaton chess player hoax because inside the cabinet was a concealed puppeteer described by one newspaper as a sort of “Jack-in-the-box.” The puppeteer by means of levers, moved the chess pieces and used strategy to win against his opponents. Continue reading

Ventriloquism and France’s Royal Academy of Sciences in 1773

Ventriloquism and France's Royal Academy of Sciences: Members of Royal Academy of Sciences in 1667
The Royal Academy was Founded in 1666 by Louis XIV. Here are its Members in 1667. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Prior to the eighteenth century ventriloquism was often thought to be related to some spiritual force. The study of ventriloquism and France’s Royal Academy of Sciences did not come together until the Academy decided to study the subject in 1773. What piqued the Academy’s interest about ventriloquism was a well-known ventriloquist named Monsieur St. Gille.

St. Gille was a grocer who lived near Paris at St. Germain-en-Laye. Apparently, he possessed “astonishing powers” when it came to ventriloquism. The Abbé de la Chapelle heard so much about St. Gille’s marvelous powers, he decided to visit him and discover how St. Gille was able to produce such phenomena, and for that reason he called upon St. Gille. Continue reading

A Disagreement Between Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

Disagreement Between Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
Portraits of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1775, Public Domain

During the reign of King Louis XVI, many Frenchmen disliked the King’s wife, Marie Antoinette. In fact, they often blamed Marie Antoinette for coercing her husband into making unpopular decisions. While Louis XVI often agreed with her and allowed Marie Antoinette’s to give gifts and rewards to her favorites, he did not allow her to coerce or sway his decisions when it came to matters of state.

Illustrative of this is a disagreement that occurred between the couple and was reported by Scots Magazine in 1776 and follows almost verbatim: 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

Marie Antoinette’s Last Letter

Widow Capet 1793 by Sophie Prieur, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Widow Capet 1793 by Sophie Prieur, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Widow Capet, as Marie Antoinette was called after her husband’s death, was tried by the the Revolutionary Tribunal on October 14, 1793, and condemned to death. One of her last acts was to write a letter to her dear sister-in-law, the youngest sibling of Louis XVI, Madame Élisabeth. It was dated October 16 and written at half past four in the morning

In her letter to Madame Élisabeth, Marie Antoinette shows no animosity or wrath. Rather one person stated she was “subdued, but not exhausted by her adversities, she retains the memory of her blood and station, only to add a higher gracefulness to the calm and uncomplaining meekness with which she mediates upon her wrongs.”

Her letter follows almost verbatim: Continue reading

Dogs During the French Revolution: What Became of Them

Portrait by J. B. Charpentier of the Duke of Penthièvre, his son Prince de Lamballe, the Princesse de Lamballe, daughter (the future Duchesse d’Orleans), and Maria Theresa Felicitas d’Este with Their Pedigreed Dog

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