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.”
The ghost was “the spectre of a young Breton whom she had pitilessly left to die of love.” 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.” Continue reading →
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 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 →
When 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.
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →