Explorer, Naturalist, and Ornithologist Extraordinaire François Levaillant

Explorer, naturalist, and ornithologist extraordinaire named François Levaillant
François Levaillant. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Explorer, naturalist, and ornithologist extraordinaire François Levaillant was born on 6 August 1753 in Paramaribo, the capital of Dutch Guiana (Surinam). His father, originally from Metz, was a rich merchant and served as French Consul. His parents had a great interest in collecting objects related to natural history, and because of their interest, they frequently traveled to various parts of the colony taking him with them.

Initially, Levaillant began collecting insects and caterpillars. By the age of ten, he had a collection, which he arranged according to his own system in order to identify insects. Later when he focused on birds and used a similar system to identify them, giving only French names to species that he discovered and refusing to use the systematic nomenclature introduced by Carl Linnaeus. Thus, some of the names he used remain in use today as common names for birds. Continue reading

Battlefield Medicine and Triage Innovator Dominique Jean Larrey

battlefield medicine and triage innovator Dominique Jean Larrey
Portrait of Dominique Jean Larrey by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, in 1804. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Battlefield medicine and triage innovator Dominique Jean Larrey was at one time forgotten as much as Napoleon was immortalized. Yet, Larrey’s contributions to military medicine and his care and compassion towards wounded soldiers on both sides while he served in Napoleon’s Grande Armée, enabled hundreds of soldiers to survive. It also resulted in him earning the envious title as “the first modern military surgeon.”

Larrey was born on 8 July 1766 in a small village named Beaudéan, in the Pyrenees. He was the son of a shoemaker, orphaned at 13, and raised by his Uncle Alexis Larrey, who was the chief surgeon in Toulouse. His uncle’s occupation set the stage for Larrey’s future as Larrey served a 6-year apprenticeship before going to Paris to study under the chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris named Pierre-Joseph Desault. Continue reading

Lady Atkyns’s Plot to Save Marie Antoinette

Lady Atkyns's Plot to Save Marie Antoinette
Lady Charlotte Walpole Atkyns. Public Domain.

After Marie Antoinette was imprisoned, Royalists and friends were always on the lookout hoping to free the imprisoned Queen. Although there were many plots to save the Queen, some appear to be more legend than fact. One plot that seems to be more legend than fact is a plot by Lady Charlotte Walpole Atkyns, who is supposedly related to Britain’s famous Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.

The story goes that Atkyns had a short-lived career as an actress on the London stage at the Drury Lane Theatre. Her career lasted for two years, beginning in 1777 and ending in 1779, and it ended because Sir Edward Atkyns, of Ketteringham Hall, Norfolk fell in love with her and married her in June of 1779. Unfortunately, Atkyns was not accepted by Norfolk society and as her husband was suffering under heavy debts, the couple decided to move to France. Continue reading

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Sex Life

Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s sex life began when he was young. His story begins when he was born on 28 June 1712 in Geneva to a watchmaker named Isaac Rousseau and a woman named Suzanne. Suzanne died of puerperal fever nine days after his birth, so Rousseau and his older brother, François, were brought up by their father and a paternal aunt, also named Suzanne.

Around the age of ten, Rousseau’s father experienced legal troubles and he left town, taking Suzanne with him. Rousseau and François saw their father little after that and were left in the care of their mother’s brother, a Calvinist preacher named Samuel Bernard. Bernard soon shipped them off to Bossey where a Calvinist minister named Monsieur Lambercier, lived with his son and a daughter named Mademoiselle Lambercier. Rousseau wrote of his time at Bossey, stating: Continue reading

Cécile-Aimée Renault and Attempted Assassination of Robespierre

Cécile-Aimée Renault, Public Domain
Cécile-Aimée Renault, Public Domain

Born in 1774 in Paris, Cécile-Aimée Renault arrived at the foot of the guillotine on 17 June 1794 in what is now the Place de la Nation. It all began one day when the 20-year-old seamstress presented herself at the home of the Duplay family, where Maximilien Robespierre was temporarily staying. She asked to speak to him, and as she was young and appeared harmless, she was ushered into his anti-chamber. She waited for a long time and was eventually told that he was unavailable and that she should leave. She replied:

“A public man … ought to receive at all times, those who have occasion to approach him.”

Because Renault would not leave and because she became insistent that she needed to see Robespierre, a guard was called. He conducted a search and supposedly discovered she was carrying two small knives. Although the knives were hardly large enough to kill anyone, it was decided she had intended to murder Robespierre and was taken before the Committee of Public Safety where she was asked to explain herself. Eventually, the committee learned her name and that she was the one of seven children and the daughter of a paper maker, who was a royalist supporter. Continue reading

Voltaire’s Death and Burial

Voltaire, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Voltaire. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Voltaire was a controversial man who possessed immense talent and whose versatile and prolific writings criticized religious dogma and intolerance. In fact, it was many of his ideas that lit the way for the Age of Enlightenment. However, Voltaire’s light that had shone so bright for so many years began to dim soon after he returned to Paris in February 1778, having been absent from Paris for 25 years.

It began around the end of April when Voltaire complained he was suffering from severe pain in his lower abdomen. To gain relief, he took wine and quinine. A few weeks later, Voltaire was tired and knew he would not be able to attend a meeting he had scheduled for Monday. However, to make sure his voice was heard, he stayed up and worked most the night on Saturday, 9 May, aided by excessive amounts of coffee to prevent himself from falling asleep. Continue reading

French Midwife and Doctor Named Marie Boivin

French Midwife and Doctor Named Marie Boivin
Madame Boivin. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Born Marie-Anne Victoire Gillain on 9 April 1773 at Versailles, Marie was educated by nursing nuns at a nunnery located about 29 miles from the center of Paris in a commune called Étampes. There she displayed medical skill, and, in fact, her skills were strong enough she attracted the attention of Louis XVI’s sister, Madame Élisabeth. Unfortunately, when the French Revolution broke out, the nunnery was destroyed.

After the nunnery was destroyed, Marie began studying anatomy and midwifery, but then, in 1797, Marie married Louis Boivin, stopped her medical studies, and had a daughter. Unfortunately, Madame Boivin’s husband died, and to support herself, she returned to her medical studies at the Parisian teaching hospital, Hôtel-Dieu, in the Hospice de la Maternité in 1796. Hôtel-Dieu was the largest public hospital in Paris at the time and considered one of the most well-respected obstetric hospitals, renowned for its school of midwifery. Continue reading

Grace Dalrymple Elliott and the French Revolution

Grace Dalymple Elliott and the French Revolution
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott was considered a great beauty in her times, but a bad omen accompanied her birth in 1754. She had been educated in France at a convent, returned to Scotland, and met and married Sir John Elliot,* a respected physician. Yet, despite being married, she fell in love with a Lord Valentia, whom she ran away with in 1774. Elliot was bitter over the affair and divorced her. Soon after her divorce, Grace found herself back in France at the convent, but convent life was not for her, and after a short stay, she returned to England.

It was around this time that the Prince of Wales saw a miniature of Grace. The miniature so enamored the Prince that when Grace arrived in England, he met her. He found to his delight a warm-hearted, well-mannered, and fascinating young woman. His interest in her also resulted in them having an affair and a daughter, who was born on 30 March 1782 and baptized at St. Marylebone as Georgiana Augusta Frederica Seymour.

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Voltaire Anecdotes

Voltaire Anecdotes
Pastel of Voltaire by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1735. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Voltaire (born François-Marie Arouet) was a French Enlightenment writer, philosopher, and historian who became well-known for being outspoken and for his witty satirical writings. In his writings, he attacked the Catholic Church, advocated for civil liberties, and criticized French institutions. Voltaire also produced a variety of works that included everything from plays and poems to novels and historical works. To better understand Voltaire, it is helpful to know something about his personality. His personality can best be explained by his contemporaries and associates, who, over the years, shared many stories about his temperament and character. Here are some of the best Voltaire anecdotes.

The Duke of Orleans was the French regent to young Louis XV from 1715 to 1723. During this period, one satirical verse that Voltaire wrote accused the Duke of incest with his own daughter. The Duke became so angry with Voltaire, he ordered him imprisoned at the Bastille. However, after the Duke saw Voltaire’s tragedy Oedipus (Œdipe), he was so moved, he ordered Voltaire’s immediate release. Upon Voltaire’s release the Duke was waiting and said, “Be more prudent for the future, Voltaire … and I’ll watch over your fortune.” As Voltaire was quick-witted and quick-tongued, he could not resist and replied:

“I humbly thank your royal highness … but I shall consider myself greatly honoured by your generosity, provided you don’t furnish me with the same board and lodging again.” Continue reading

The French Ballerina Marie-Madeleine Guimard

The French Ballerina Marie-Madeleine Guimard
Marie-Madeleine Guimard. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Marie-Madeleine Guimard was a celebrated French ballerina who dominated the Parisian stage for almost thirty years. She was born on 27 December 1743 and was the love child of Anne Bernard and a manufacturing cloth inspector named Fabien Guimard. She joined the Comédie-Française at the age of fifteen and made her debut at the Opéra on 9 May 1762 as Terpsichoré, the muse of dance.

It was hard work to be a dancer. This was because at the Opéra, “the discipline and organization … was at the time … like a regiment; the dancers form[ed] several classes, promotion [was] difficult; the work … very hard … and the salary … very small.” Despite all the challenges, Guimard excelled. She was said to be “much admired for her extraordinary grace in dancing and pantomime,” and she was described as “exquisitely graceful and fascinating.” In addition, Guimard’s dancing abilities were “characterised by Noverre as the poetry of motion, and in such ballets as ‘Les caprices de Galathée,’ composed expressly for her … she was generally allowed to be inimitable.”

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