21 Interesting Facts For Travelers to France in the Regency Era

Entrance to the Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique on the day of a free show. Painted by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1819). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Travelers to France in the Regency Era were plentiful. There were many sites to see and many places to visit that included public baths, palaces and hotels, hospitals, museums, literary societies, public libraries, manufacturing sites, theatres, halls and markets, squares, prisons, cemeteries, parks, gardens, cafes, triumphal arches, exhibitions and assembly rooms, eating establishments, and promenades and public walks. There were also at least 21 interesting facts that travelers to France might want to keep in mind during their visit. Continue reading

Singerie: 18th Century Arts Depicting Monkeys Aping Human Behavior

Antoine Watteau’s “The Monkey Sculpture.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Singerie is a French word for “Monkey Trick” and is the name given to arts depicting monkeys aping human behavior. The Singerie was popular as far back as Ancient Egypt, and, in medieval times, scribes frequently drew monkeys in the margins of manuscripts to mimic man and his foibles. Flemish engraver Pieter van der Borcht introduced the singerie around 1575 in a series of prints and this encouraged other Flemish artists to begin depicting monkeys dressed in human attire. By the 18th century, singeries found their way to France where they became extremely popular. Continue reading

Dwelling Numbers in Paris in the 1700 and 1800s

Dwelling Numbers in ParisWhen the 1700s began, Paris was divided into twenty quarters and there were no dwelling numbers on any houses. Streets acquired their name from either the name of a noble’s mansion, a monastery or convent in the area, or from a special shop or industry. At the local level, a dwelling on a street was easy to find as dwellings often had a plaque attached, although sometimes there might be several dwellings with the same name.

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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

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