Benjamin Franklin’s Popularity with French Women

Benjamin Franklin. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Benjamin Franklin’s popularity with French women happened long before he was appointed Ambassador of France. When he landed on French soil in December of 1776, having set sail on 26 October as agent of a diplomatic commission, women (and probably men too) wanted to catch a glimpse of the experimenter with lightning and the defender of the American cause. When they did, they were not disappointed.

Women in particular thought the 71-year-old Franklin was electrifying as they had never met anyone quite like him. He had a rustic appeal when he appeared wearing his marten fur cap, the same one that he had worn to protect himself as he crossed the freezing waters of the Atlantic. In the fashion capital of the world, Franklin stood out. He stood out even more so, when he appeared in his cap at the court of Versailles that was known for its strict court protocol. Continue reading

Three Mid-nineteenth Century Royal Beauties and Their Beauty Secrets

Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Three mid-nineteenth century royal beauties served as the glamorous ideal for women in the Victorian Era. These three beauties were the Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French), Princess Alexandra of Denmark (wife to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and heir apparent to Queen Victoria), and Elizabeth of Austria (wife to Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, and monarch of other states in the Austro-Hungarian Empire).

Newspapers, journals, and fashion magazines regularly referred to the three women. Portrait artists, such as the German painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter, known for his portraits of royalty in the mid-nineteenth century, also captured their beauty on canvas. However, what all Victorian women wanted to know was the beauty secrets of these three royal women. Continue reading

An 18th Century Bullfight and a Woman of Arles, France

Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait in 1887, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Vincent Van Gogh, self-portrait in 1887. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A gentleman by the name of Wilson Moore undertook a trip to Holland, France, and Italy in the late 1700s. During his trip he wrote letters, and, later, while at the table of Duke Humphrey, he decided to send “his work into the world,” by publishing a book that described his “rambles” and was based on the letters he wrote between 1791 and 1793. Among the interesting events that happened to Moore was a visit to the French city of Arles, a city situated on the Rhône River and famed for inspiring the paintings of the Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh.

Arles was also the spot where a bullfight was scheduled and where thousands of spectators arrived to watch Spaniard’s on horseback compete against wild bulls. Besides bulls, there were also plenty of beautiful women in Arles.

After arriving in Marseilles, Moore wrote a letter to Lady B., who was living on Harley-Street in London, detailing the bull fight and the beauty of Arles women. Part of that letter follows almost verbatim: Continue reading

How Paris Was Painted in the Victorian Era

How Paris was painted in the Victorian Era: Charles Carroll Fulton
Charles Carroll Fulton, Public Domain

An American editor of the Baltimore American newspaper, visited Europe in the 1870s. His name was named Charles Carroll Fulton. During Fulton’s visit to Europe, one of the places he traveled to was Paris, France. While there he made several interesting observations. One interesting observation was how Paris was painted in the Victorian Era. Here are Fulton’s observations almost verbatim:

It would astonish some of our old house-painters of Baltimore if they could witness the manner in which the painters of Paris climb over the fronts of these six- and seven-story houses and paint them from roof to door-sill without the use of ladder, scaffold, or any other wooden contrivance, either for themselves or the paint-pots. One man, without assistance of any kind, can paint the entire front of one of these tall houses in two or three days. Continue reading

The Actress La Clairon’s Ghost Story

The girl born Clair Josèphe Hippolyte Leris became the famous French actress known as Mademoiselle La Clairon. Because of her fame, La Clairon wrote her Mémoires, a book that contained many interesting tidbits about her acting career. However, what seemed to generate the most interest from her book was “the celebrated history of the lady’s ghost.”[1]

La Clairon, Author's Collection
La Clairon. Author’s collection.

The ghost was “the spectre of a young Breton whom she had pitilessly left to die of love.”[2] It seems the young Breton was so heartbroken when she refused to see him one last time, he vowed on his death-bed in 1743 to haunt her the remainder of her life. Supposedly, his vow came true because thereafter his ghost visited La Clairon in the most unexpected places, at the most unexpected times and was claimed to be “perpetual.” 

One English newspaper thought the story of La Clairon and the lovelorn ghost so interesting, they published the following (presented nearly verbatim) in 1854:

The worst point connected with ghosts is, that they usually frighten people too much to produce any good effect. This one, which tormented Mademoiselle Clairon, appears to have been exclusively malicious, and to have been disturbed in his rest by disappointed love. He was a young man who had sought her society soon after her first brilliant success. She received him with intimacy, liked his society, gave him certainly some encouragement, relieved him from pecuniary difficulty, when she had very little to spare, but refused to marry him under his most passionate and repeated entreaties. They were acquainted about two years, and a-half, when the ill-starred lover, finding himself on his death-bed, implored her to grant him a last interview, a request which those who surrounded her, warmly seconding her own repugnance, prevented her from complying with.

He died, attended by servants, and the only friend, a female whom he had latterly admitted to his confidence. On that same evening, as the clock struck eleven, Mademoiselle Clairon, being at supper with a large party of friends, a dreadful cry was heard by all present, which she immediately recognized as the voice of her deceased lover, and fainted, with terror and emotion.

For more than two years this same unearthly cry, which seemed to proceed from the empty air, was constantly heard by her, wherever she happened to be at the moment, and by all who were in company with her. In vain the police established the most diligent search, thinking it might be either a trick or a conspiracy, but nothing ever transpired to shake the certainty of its being a supernatural visitation. Sometimes the sharp report of a gun or pistol was substituted for the cry, accompanied by the loud and continued clapping of hands. The last demonstration she had been so long accustomed to, from the partiality of the public, that the effect was agreeable and consoling, rather than productive of terror.

All this continued for the time we have already named, and on the last occasion there was an accompaniment of melodious music, as if the ghostly visitant was taking his departure in a friendly and reconciled state of mind. Not long after this, an elderly lady was announced and admitted to the presence of La Clairon, appearing before her as a perfect stranger. They sat down, and gazed on each other in silence, and with instinctive interest. At length, the old lady explained who she was, and the object of her visit.

She was the friend of M. de S—, had attended him on his deathbed, and was now prompted by uncontrollably curiosity to see the woman whose cruelty had hastened his decease. After much circumlocution, and many explanations, “Mademoiselle,” said the visitor, “I do not blame your conduct, and my poor friend fully admitted his obligations to you; but his unhappy passion mastered his judgment, and your refusal to see him embittered, while it accelerated, his last moments. His eyes were fixed upon the clock, anxiously watching the motion of the hands, when at half-past ten, his valet announced to him your positive refusal to come. After a short silence, he seized me by the arm, in a paroxysm of despair, which nearly deprived me of my sense, and exclaimed, ‘Unfeeling woman! she will gain nothing by this; I will persecute her after death, as I have followed her throughout my life!’ I tried to calm him, but he died as he uttered these dreadful words.”[3]

Such is the account which Mademoiselle Clairon herself hast left of this very singular episode in her history. She states the fact without pretending to understand or account for it, but modesty admits that she feels herself too insignificant to suppose that she could be selected as an object or medium of supernatural communication.

If you are interested in learning more about La Clarion and her life click here.

References:

  • [1] Williams, Hugh Noel, Queens of the French Stage, 1905, p. 348.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] “An Actress’s Ghost Story,” in Commercial Journal, 3 June 1854, p. 3.

21 Interesting Facts For Travelers to France in the Regency Era

Travelers to France in the Regency Era were plentiful. In fact, one French newspaper published the number of English visitors to their country between the years 1815 and 1821. The London Magazine then reprinted the information in 1822 as follows:

“In 1815, 13,822; in 1816, 15,512; in 1817, 16,618; in 1818, 19,838; in 1819, 18,720; in 1820, 19,040; in 1821, 20,184!”

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

There were many sites for these English visitors 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

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.

Marie Antoinette and Donkey Riding
Marie Antoinette. Author’s collection.

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