Tuileries Garden Bird Charmers

Tuileries Garden bird charmer. Author’s collection.

Tuileries Garden bird charmers were street performers who appeared in the mid to late 1800s and enticed flocks of birds to come to them. Later, the bird charmers began appearing in other gardens or in public green spaces, such as the Champ de Mars. One of the earliest of the bird charmers at the Tuileries Garden was Edward du Peyron, “an old sub-prefect … [whose son] long continued his practices [of bird charming] in Diane Alley.”[1]

“[When Peyron arrived at the garden, ring-doves] left the branches of the tall chestnut trees and flew from the center of the grass plats, and … [sparrows] came in swarms from the smallest shrubs, and all followed him until he came to a standstill. The boldest at once alighted upon his shoulders, upon one of his outstretched arms, or one of his fingers, and took from his hand or lips, the food that he offered them, while the others arranged in a line upon the iron railings, or hopping about on the ground, or sustaining themselves in the air by rapid flaps of theirs, impatiently awaited their turn.”[2]

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Conjurors and Conjuring in the 1700s

William Hogarth’s a “Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism,” March 15, 1762. Courtesy of the British Museum.

Conjurors and conjuring existed long before the 1700s, and in its simplest form, conjuring was a performance of tricks that appeared to be magical and usually involved some sort of sleight of hand. Well before conjuring became popular in the 1700s, conjuring performances were given in antiquity and in the middle ages. However, there was never an overabundance of conjurors, even in the late 1800s, as one historian noted:

“I have said nothing concerning the manners and habits of conjurors, simply because there is nothing to be said. There are so few conjurors, as compared with circus performers, or members of the theatrical profession, that they do not contract those peculiarities of manner, language, and dress by which individuals of other classes of entertainers may almost invariably be distinguished. Performing singly, and each being (except occasionally in London or Paris) the only conjuror in the town which he is temporarily located, they have few opportunities of association, and those peculiarities which are the product of gregariousness are, in consequence, not developed. The conjuror, again, is very seldom trained to the profession from his youth, … and this being the case, as it has been with all the most eminent performers of legerdemain, they carry into the profession the habits and manners of the section of society in which they are born.”[1] Continue reading

Claude Villiaume Marriage Broker Extraordinaire in the Time of Napoleon


“Off for the Honeymoon” by Fred Morgan. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Claude Villiaume marriage broker extraordinaire established a marriage brokering monopoly in Paris in the early 1800s. Born in 1780, Villiaume’s early years did not indicate that matchmaking was in his future. That was because his first job was as a soldier. Moreover, soon after, he became a soldier he became involved in an assassination attempt against the First Consul Napoleon.

Villiaume’s assassination attempt against Napoleon failed. In fact, it landed Villiaume in the lunatic asylum of Charenton. It was an asylum that had been founded in 1645 by the Frères de la Charité or Brothers of Charity, and it was while incarcerated there, that Villiaume developed the idea of arranging marriages: Continue reading

Positions Within Marie Antoinette’s Household

Painting by Heinrich Lossow. Courtesy of Christie’s.

Marie Antoinette’s household, referred to in French as La Maison de La Reine, included not only servants but also a number of noblewomen. Obtaining a position within the Queen’s household was an honor, and positions were highly coveted because it allowed those who held them to have close access to the Queen. Even the most minute details were assigned to someone. For instance, there was the train-bearer who carried the Queen’s train or held her mantle or pelisse. 

The women selected for the prinicipal positions within the Queen’s household were selected carefully because they had to sometimes keep confidences to prevent intrigues or if they were entrusted with money, they could not be spendthrifts. Those who served in the Queen’s household also had certain perks. For instance, some of the Queen’s ladies had access to her discarded clothing. Candles, even if unused, were also divided among the ladies of the bedchamber. It was profitable to obtain the candles because it allowed “four of [them to receive] 50,000 livres a year each.”[1] Continue reading

A Georgian Footman’s Guide to Opening the Door and Announcing Names

Footman. Author’s Collection.

The Georgian footman’s job was to open the door and announce names, and this task began when someone knocked at the door. The footman was to go immediately to the door, and, if for some reason he was unavailable to answer the door, he was to arrange with a fellow-servant to perform the task because it was considered improper and unpleasant to keep someone waiting. Footmen were advised that

“A little time is of great consequence to some persons, and particularly to tradespeople who may have another appointment to attend to; consider also that whenever you delay unnecessarily going to the door, or answering the bell, you are off your duty and culpable for being so.”

If a double knock occurred at the street door, the footman was to inquiry as to who was on the other side of the door. However, before doing so, the footman was to have already inquired within the family whether they were willing to see anyone. If they were willing to see someone, there was to be no confusion when the footman asked the question as to who was at the door. When opening the street door to a visitor, the door was to be thrown wide open but not so wide or hard as to damage the door handle or the wall. The footman was then to stand with the door open at the sill of the door and receive the visitor or answer any message delivered. Continue reading

French Chimney Sweeps

French Chimney Sweep, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

French chimney sweeps, known as le ramoneur, were usually young boys between the age of eight and ten years old. They carried their licenses in their soot bag and lived a hard life. One nineteenth-century person called them “wretched little beings,” and another gave a description of the chimney sweep’s life in the following way:

“The poor child must resign himself to become, during an hour or two, dumb, blind, and half-choked and deafened by soot; he must entomb himself alive, in a kind of sepulchre; he must climb scratch and cling, and hoist himself up, until his comrade on the roof, perceives the tip of his little soot-begrimed nose over the ridge of the chimney pot.”

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Running Footmen

running footmen
A Footman in His Livery, Author’s Collection

Running footmen were used by some people in the 1700s, while other people claimed they were not particularly useful. For those that thought running footmen useful, they claimed they were a necessary part of traveling equipage and a dignified way to show a passenger’s importance. For those who thought otherwise, they said running footmen were selected based on their physical attributes alone. However, running footmen did sometimes help: They occasionally lifted a vehicle out of rut, assisted the coach or carriage as it crossed a river, or ensured the vehicle did not overturn because of ditches, tree roots, or other obstacles.

Up until the end of the eighteenth century roads were bad, and coach travel was usually slow (seldom above five miles an hour), which was one reason running footmen could keep up. Nevertheless, the running footman needed to be a healthy, agile man. Moreover, the footman needed to also wear appropriate clothing to perform his duties. His dress usually involved “a light black cap, a jockey coat, white linen trousers, or a mere linen shirt coming to the knees, with a pole of six or seven feet long.” On top of the pole was a hollow ball. The hollow was the spot where the footman kept a small refreshment, such as a hard-boiled egg or some sips of wine. Apparently, the pole originated from a long silver-headed cane and was still used in the 1800s by footmen who rode at the back of carriages of the nobility. Continue reading

Parisian Fortune-Tellers in the Eighteenth Century

Parisian fortune-tellers were plentiful in eighteenth century France, and many fortune seekers visited them during the French Revolution hoping to learn if they would keep their head or not. One man wrote that when he visited the Pont Neuf, fortune-tellers regular used a deck of cards to predict a person’s future. However, a deck of card was not the only way a person discovered his or her future. Some fortune-tellers used a long pipe which had one end placed on the ear of the fortune seeker and the other end near the fortune-teller’s mouth. The fortune-teller then explained in a quiet voice the fortune seeker’s “futurity … [and promised] lavish wealth and prosperity at the moderate price of deux sous.”[1] In addition, fortunes could also be obtained by a fortune-teller reading the dregs of a person’s coffee cup. Continue reading