There was always something interesting happening in France in the early 1800s. Among the headlines in newspapers was information about Louis Braille who was blinded as a child and who first presented his writing system for the blind, known as Braille, in 1824 to his peers. Another invention publicized was achieved by physician René Laennec in 1816. He invented the stethoscope at a hospital in Paris after rolling up a quire of paper into a cylinder and apply one end to the person’s heart and the other end to his ear. There was also the idea of canning that was invented by Nicolas Appert in 1809. But there were many other interesting things besides inventions that were grabbing French headlines. Headline grabbers included a vicious hail storm, custom problems, a murder in Albi, a suicide and murder in Lyons, a New Year’s poisoning attempt, Charles X’s hunting activities, and a crazed wolf.
In July of 1828 one of the headlines was a report about a severely damaging hail storm that occurred throughout many parts of France. Although much damage was done to vineyards in various areas, one area ravaged was Bassigny where it was reported:
“Such was the violence of the wind, that in some places houses were thrown down — roofs blown off — trees of the largest size torn up by the roots – and carts, laden and drawn by several horses overturned. The hailstones in several places were as large as a pidgeon’s egg, and many persons who were on the roads or the fields were severely wounded. Such a severe storm has not been remembered in that country – never has hail at any place caused great disasters; of 80 villages over which this storm hath passed, more than 40 have lost every hope of deriving the lease produce from the harvest.”
Besides violent hail storms, France was also dealing with a customs problem. Ship captains were being warned that that they were not to have ANY illegal cigars on board. This was because Captain de Boer from Hamburg arrived with his ship at the Bordeaux port and custom officials seized 12,000 cigars that were “concealed in the cabin and the hold.” Punishment for the offense could have amounted to confiscation of his ship and its cargo, along with a fine of 550 francs. However, in de Boer’s case, he escaped by paying a hefty fine of 3050 francs.
In 1826, the same years that the painting of French socialite, Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David entered the Louvre, a murder made headlines that occurred in Albi, France. It was determined to be “justifiable homicide” and involved an industrious laborer name Brand. He married a beautiful young woman, and after six day of feasting and marry-making in celebration of his wedding, Brand returned to work. He then got into an argument with another man, who claimed Brand’s wife was pregnant by her lover and that if Brand went home he was bound to discover his wife’s duplicity. Brand instantly left work and rushed home, where, according to reports:
“The door was bolted within, but observing a ladder in the yard, he placed it against the window, and pushing it with violence, broke into a bed-room, when he beheld his guilty wife a man named Carpentier. They had been breakfasting. Brand, seeing a knife upon the table seized it, and rushing towards the villain, stabbed him through the heart.”
That wasn’t the only murder committed in France in 1826. Another murder that made headlines involved a whole family and occurred because of a wife’s fondness for expensive dresses. it all began when the wife went to visit a relative and on the way home she stopped and made a dress purchase. Unfortunately, the dress she purchased arrived home before she did. The husband refused to pay for it and ordered the porter to return it to the shop. When the wife arrived home a short time later, she and her husband began fighting. Then unexpectedly “she ran out of her house, and proceeding towards one of the bridges, threw herself over the parapet into the Rhone and was drowned.” Her 21-year-old son was so distraught over his mother’s death that he confronted his father and shot him. The shot hit his father in the shoulder, seriously wounded him, and as there was no hope that the father would recover, the son was conveyed to prison.
Two years later, a fiendish New Year’s present was sent to the mistress of a respectable family that lived in Lyons. The present arrived on 1 January and when the pasteboard was opened it contained “a pot of superb white carnations, and a note announced that the donor (anonymous) would call and spend the evening in the family.” The family waited in vain for this visitor, but no one appeared. The next morning, a servant noticed the flowers had faded and were exuding a horrendous smell. Upon closer examination it was determined the flowers were covered with a white powder, later determined to be arsenic.
Hunting was also an important activity of French kings. It was so important that an account was given every year of the Charles X’s hunting activities and summarized in a publication known as the “Livet des Chasses du Roi.” The book contained the history of the King’s field excursions, an exact inventory of the heads of games destroyed by him, and the persons who were permitted to join Charles X in these hunts. In 1826, it was reported:
“[The] king killed 11,954 heads of game, in which are included three rats, who had the misfortune to quit their holes and expose themselves to the royal lead.”
One particularly interesting story that grabbed the headlines occurred in 1809 and involved a wolf and the villagers of Prenieores. The wolf ate through the door of the home of a woodcutter and entered the cottage. The woodcutter gave the wolf several blows hoping to drive it out, but instead it rushed furiously around his cottage, ran into his stable, bit his dog, and assailed his cow. In the meantime, the woodcutter got help from nearby neighbors, and as they were driving the wolf out of his stable, the wolf bit a neighbor’s pig and then entered another cottage where it almost snatched a child out of bed. However, a dog that was owned by a man named Tabard intervened and saved the child. The dog seized the wolf and dragged it, fighting all the way, to his master’s house. When Tabard heard the commotion outside, he opened his door and found his dog and the wolf engaged in ferocious battle that then moved inside his cottage. Tabard began screaming while trying to aid his dog, and it was then that his two daughter appeared. One began looking for a light and while doing so was seized by the wolf. Her sister then stabbed the wolf with a knife, and when the light was procured, the wounded wolf immediately fled. Fortunately, however, “Tabard had time to get his gun before it was out of sight. With the first shot he brought it to the ground, and then finished it with a heavy club.”
-  “Terrific Hail Storm,” in Saunders’s News-Letter, 05 July 1828, p. 2.
-  The Atlas, Volume 1, 1828, p. 11.
-  “Murder in France,” in Berkshire Chronicle, 15 July 1826, p. 3.
-  “Murder in France,” p. 3.
-  The Atlas, p. 227.
-  The Atlas, p. 372.
-  “France,” in Perthshire Courier, 23 November 1809, p. 2.