Saturday 28 March 2015

Scandalous Societies: The "Order of Aphrodite"

More from Nina Epton's splendid book Love and the French (1959) which has a particularly intriguing section entitled "Scandalous Clubs" (p.253-7) 

This extract features information on a supposed Order of Aphrodites and is based mostly on a 1906 book by, “Jean Hervez” [aka Raoul Vèze], Les sociétés d'amour au xviiie siècle.

Here is the relevant passage:

In addition, there were secret societies whose members met to make love in special establishments devised by refined debauchees. Such where the Aphrodites, under the patronage of the Marquise de Palmazère, whose headquarters remained in Paris until the Revolution, when most of its members dispersed, either to have their frivolous heads chopped off, or to pursue their activities elsewhere.

It was not be easy to be accepted by the Aphrodites and, moreover, it was expensive. Every new member of these Order was expected to make an entrance gift compatible with his financial status, and in addition the membership fee amounted to £10,000 for a gentleman and £5,000 for a lady. Bad debtors were pursued relentlessly, but as soon as the question of striking them off the roll arose, they generally paid up on the spot to, neglecting all their other debts rather than have to relinquish the extraordinary pleasures afforded by this unique club.

Enjoying the Temple of Love!
Frontispiece from vol. 4 of Nerciat's 
Les Aphrodites 

 The Aphrodites had a special ‘country house’ near Montmorency, with gardens specially planned for amorous pastimes. The site was well hidden from the outside by high walls. Inside, the grounds were cunningly divided into woods, shrubberies, mazes and groups of pavilions. The central building or Hospice, as it was called, was built in the style of the pastoral retreat; the dining-hall represented a copse with hand-painted breaches curving up to a blue glass dome. Lawns, tree-trunks, marble balustrades, were cleverly disposed so as to give guests the impression that they were dining in the gardens of a château.

 The architect of the Hospice, Monsieur du Bossage, invented a piece of furniture called an avantageuse, which was supposed to be more comfortable than the softest bed or divan and better adapted to the purpose of a rendezvous.....[For the description of this contraption, strictly in French, click here!]

Membership was limited to two hundred adepts from the aristocracy and high ranking clergy. Aspirants were thoroughly examined during a difficult amorous test that lasted for three hours, presided by incorruptible dignitaries who awarded crowns to the victors. New members who failed to win seven crowns within the three hours were not highly regarded. The admittance ceremony was a splendid affair, culminating in a fête worthy of Roman bacchanalia.

The Journal of one of the female Aphrodite has been preserved; the Lady gives the list of 4,959 amorous rendezvous for a period of twenty years—not excessive when one considers the club’s reputation. This figure includes 272 princes and prelates, 929 officers, 93 rabbis, 342 financiers, 439 monks (nearly all Cordeliers, with a sprinkling of ex-Jesuits), 420 society men, 288 commoners, 117 valets, two uncles and twelve cousins, 119 musicians, 47 Negroes, and 1,614 foreigners (during an enforced absence in London—probably during the Revolution). Like so many other debauchees, the lady had a bent for statistics

This account, with its mind-boggling furniture and staggering statistics, is to say the least improbable. Thanks to the sleuthing of Dr Patrick Spedding we now know what we suspected all along - poor Nina has been taken in! This is just a fantasy taken from a late 18th-century pornographic work, André Robert de Nerciat's Les Aphrodites ou Fragments thali-priapiques pour servir à l'histoire du plaisir (1793) - an immense rambling confection of indeterminate genre and much obscenity.

Dirty though it is, I quite like it. The immense entry fees, the playful paganism and the silly ritual echo the shenanigans of the Freemasons and the, far from respectable but real, "Order of Felicity". I particularly enjoyed the weird garden setting and the strange glass domed dining hall, which sounds remarkably like Ledoux's vision for the pavilion at Louveciennes. No wonder Madame du Barry dispatched those beautiful Fragonards!


Nina Epton, Love and the French Cleveland: World Publishing (1959), p.256-7

André Robert de Nerciat's , Les Aphrodites ou Fragments thali-priapiques pour servir à l'histoire du plaisir 8 vols.(1793-)
Most of the material seems to be in vol. 4.

"The English Aphrodites", posts from 2009 by Dr Patrick Spedding of Monash University Melbourne

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Scandalous societies: the "Order of Felicity"

The Marquis de Chambonas - founder of the Order

The "Order of Felicity" was one of a number of secret societies of dubious intent which grew up around the early flowering of French Freemasonry in the mid-century. It was founded around 1740 by Scipion-Louis-Joseph de La Garde, marquis de Chambonas (d.1765), a known Freemason, who is identified as its Grand Master. Chambonas belonged to an ancient noble family from the Auvergne and Gévaudan, with an attractive ancestral château in the Ardèche.  The family was closely allied with the duc and duchesse of Maine, and probably resided mainly at Sceaux, where Chambonas's father was Gentleman of the Bedchamber to the duke. Socially they were on the ascendant

Chambonas fils enjoyed a respectable military career. He was Lieutenant du roi to the Estates of Languedoc and colonel of the régiment du Maine, which in 1736 became the régiment d'Eu. He participated in the battles of Guastalla (1734), Dettingen (1743) and on the eve of Fontenoy was named Brigadier des armées du roi (1744). He finally rose to the rank of Maréchal de camp (1746).

A  youthful marquis is depicted in picture by  Nattier sold at auction in 2010 and which until 1973 hung over the staircase in the Château de Chambonas. It is a fashionable piece, with Chambonas dressed as an antique hunter, not looking terribly military.  It may commemorate his first marriage in 1722 to Claire-Marie de Ligne  - the spear is a symbol of virility and the dog denotes fidelity.  It has to be said, the existence of the Order of Felicity does not inspire confidence in the marquis's wedding vows!
 "Portrait présumé de Scipion Louis Joseph de la Garde par Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766)", post by Alain.R.Truong, 30th April 2012

Chambonas organised his society along Masonic lines and affected a maritime theme. The Order's symbol was an anchor, or an anchor attached to a heart by a green cord. There were three  grades of adherents: mousse (cabin-boy) , patron,  patron salé, and finally chef d'escadre  ("escadre" = a naval squadron).  Four "commissions" ("brevets") survive, issued by Chambonas to his chefs d’escadre; all, like Chambonas himself, were Freemasons; some, were fellow infantry officers.  They can be situated in Paris and  a variety of  provincial towns: Lyon, Valence, Crest, Romans,as well as  Metz, Ay en Champagne, Chalons, Yverdon, Avignon, Nice Bordeaux, and Caen.

Diploma of chef d'escadre signed by the marquis de Chambonas

The Felicity - an "ordre mixte"

The distinguishing feature of the society - and the source of its dubious reputation - was its admission of women. This ties in with similar experiments elsewhere:  Margaret Jacob, the historian of early Freemasonry, suggests that the first Masonic lodges to receive women appeared in the middle of the century, at Marseille, Bordeaux (L'Anglaise) in 1746, at Brioude (Saint-Julien) in 1747; at Iena in 1748 at Copenhagan in 1750 and at the Hague (Loge de Juste) in 1751.  Unlike the later Loges d'adoption, these were mixed gatherings and did not have separate female rites. Significantly,Valentin-Philippe Bertin du Rocheret (1693-1762), who was  Chambonas's chef d'escadre in Ay, was author of an early Apologie for Freemasonry addressed to the "beau sexe" in 1736.

Women received in the mixed Masonic "Order of Mopses", founded c.1740 in Bavaria
Engraving of c.1775

Was the "Order of Felicity" a respectable, if not altogether serious, forerunner of the later Masonic Loges d'Adoption or just an excuse for debauchery?  Later commentators were divided. Among contemporary references, the Mercure de France for May 1746 alludes simply to "the Order of Felicity, a new association that has laws and gatherings which are more gallant than those of the Freemasons".  In a similar vein a letter of March 1746 from the chef d'escadre at Châlons reports that the reception of "tout ce qu'il y a de plus jolies dames et demoiselles" had caused much excitement in the town.  Somewhat more  damning is a Police report for 1745 which denounces a project by five or six seigneurs to enroll actresses from the Opéra, including the famous dancer "la Carton" in the Order which has as its object "to drink well, eat well etc."(presumably with emphasis on the etcetera!).

Writings on the Order

Despite the aura of secrecy, the Order was not short of apologists and publications intended to give a titillating flavour of the goings-on.  Evidence of authorship is not watertight; there is even some question that there may have been two separate "Orders of Felicity".(see the article by Jean-Luc Quoy-Bodin).  The main protagonist was the  journalist Jean-Baptiste Moët, remembered today chiefly as the French translator of Swedenborg. In the 1760s  Moët was to rise to giddy heights in the world of Masonry as General Secretary, Grand Orator then President of the Grande Loge de France. At this time, however, he was a young man of twenty five.
Dictionnaire des journalistes: "Jean Pierre MOET (1721-1806)"

In the pamphlets ascribed to him,  Moët  insists (possibly disingenuously) that the Felicity was not "an Order of the bottle and of debauchery " at least not in its well-regulated branches. Every effort was made not to offend Religion, the State or “bonne moeurs”.(L'Antropophile, p.45)  He defends the admission of women and claims that  the solidarity of the Order depends on "perfect equality".   Women are received as "brothers" since they are "the touchstone of character and good taste”. In ceremonies they are decently covered to prevent jealousies and  avoid lecherous male eyes  (p.49-50).

The sole aim of the Order, says Moët, is happiness:  “The world is my brother and my friend, with a stroke of the pen I want to banish the shadows and reveal without diversion or trickery, the secret of making men as happy as I am."  He advocates a restrained hedonism, "the sweet and agreeable scent of pleasant, easy and benevolent virtue, which captivates all hearts and makes them love their chains.” (Apologie p.33)

The various sources describe a great deal of silly ceremonial and mystic nonsense very similar in tenor to that of the the later Loges d'Adoption.  An anonymous pamphlet of 1748 - sometimes ascribed to the parlementaire Jacques Fleury -  reproduces a speech made by an “orator” of the Order. He has two basic conceits:  the nautical theme of navigation to an “Island of Felicity” and, more ambitiously,  the recovery of the lost happiness of the Garden of Eden.  In a mischievously blasphemous version of Genesis, Adam becomes the first chevalier of the Order and  Eve the first chevalière;  the Reception ceremony renews the original oath of Adam and Eve before the Fall;  thus, we are told, the delights of Eden are regained  under the guidance of "our sublime Grand-Maitre Mr. de Chambonas” (p.30-34)  The speaker makes much of oaths, mysteries and the secret language of signs.  However, the reference to "nos saintes orgies" doesn't seem too sinister; it would appear that the main aim of the "Brothers and Sisters"  is merely to "sing, dance, laugh and drink" (etcetera?)

Apart from its arcane rites the main activity of the Order seems to have been feasting, with members participated in regular dinners which they financed jointly.  They were supposed to converse using coded nautical terms, with fines for non-adherence. Moët was quite happy to reproduce a dictionary of this maritime vocabulary, despite its preoccupation not only with banqueting but with sexual innuendo.  There are titillating references to the  female anatomy -  "promontory" for breasts,  "capstan" for thighs, "dry dock" for belly and the like - to say nothing of "reefing the sails" for lifting up a skirt!   The hierarchy of the Order was also referred to with special passwords based on acronyms; "felicitas" for the chefs d'escadre seems harmless but for patron salé the acronym is of "Fenouil, Orange, Violette, Thym, Renoncule, Épine-vinette" (Spell it out; it is not polite!).  The songs of the Order - again from  Moët - are equally bawdy.  This feels more schoolboy humour than serious debauchery. But added to the component of blasphemy, we can safely conclude that the Order was far from respectable!

The heyday of the Order of Felicity was shortlived. It reached its apogee in the late 1740s and fell swiftly into decline, despite a brief attempt at revival by Chambonas's son in the early 1770s; thus Bachaumont, writing in 1770, dismisses it as "The Order of Felicity which fell into contempt and no longer exists".

List of 18th-century works

Jean-Baptiste Moët(?) Apologie de la Félicité, qui doit servir d'introduction à son histoire, 1746, 26

Jean-Baptiste Moët L'antropophile, ou Le secret et les mistères de l'Ordre de la Félicité dévoilés pour le bonheur de tout l'univers .Arctopolis (Paris), 1746

 Anonymous, L’Ordre hermaphrodite, ou les Secrets de la Sublime Félicité, Au Jardin d’Eden, Nicolas Marin, 1748, 54 p.

Other references

" L'Ordre de la Félicité" in  Musée virtuel de la musique maçonnique    07-Jan-2014
This website also reproduces some songs:    24-Nov-2013    07-Jan-2014

Hugues Plaideux, "Claude Bourgelat, la Franc-maçonnerie mixte et l'Ordre de la Félicité"éd.sci.vét., 2013, 13 : 109-130.
Claude Bourgelat, who was  an 18th-century pioneer of veterinary science, was a member of the Order in Lyon - the article has a good summary of the evidence for the Order.

Jean-Luc Quoy-Bodin"Autour de deux sociétés secrètes libertines sous Louis XV: l'Ordre de la Félicité et l'Ordre Hermaphrodite"Revue Historique  (1986) 276(1): pp. 57-84 [available on JStor]

Monday 23 March 2015

Buffon's chimpanzee

Here is another episode from "The Incredible treasures of history" TV series.....

Hand tinted plate  from 
Buffon's Histoire Naturelle, 1770
"Jacko" the chimpanzee is the oldest exhibit of the Museum of Natural History in Paris.  It was probably captured in Angola around 1740 and presented to Buffon who was surintendant of the Jardin du Roi.  It remained alive for a short time  - presumably it is the "orangutan" described by Diderot in Le Rêve de d'Alembert as in the Jardin du Roi "under a glass dome".

 Chimpanzees were very rare in Europe at this period;  in 1641 the famous anatomist Nicolas Tulp  dissected one that had been kept in the menagerie of the prince of Orange, and identified  it as an "orangutan"  (meaning "bush man" or "forest man" in Malay)  This became a generic name for the known great apes with much resultant confusion. In his Histoire naturelle  Buffon distinguishes two sorts of orangutan - "pongos"(derived from an early description of a gorilla) and "jockos"(chimpanzees). The Dutch anatomist Petrus Camper who systematically dissected several genuine orangutans from the Dutch East Indies in the 1770s, pointed out Buffon's errors but they were only corrected in the posthumous editions of the  work.

Saturday 21 March 2015

Beaumarchais's desk

Not quite a second "Important Table", but here is Beaumarchais's desk from Waddesdon Manor:

Cylinder-top desk made for Pierre-Auguste Caron de Beaumarchais (1733-1799)
Date: Circa 1777 – 1781
Place: Paris, France
Materials and Techniques: Oak, decorative woods and gilt-bronze
Dimensions: Height 133.5cm, Width 210cm, Depth 113.7 cm 

Although the desk is not stamped, the high quality of the marquetry and complexity of the mechanisms have led to the general consensus that it was the work of the master cabinet maker Jean-François Leleu.  It was made between 1777 and 1781.   Inlaid on the writing slide is a trompe l'oeil  depicting the title pages of two pamphlets in support of American independence, once of which is known to have been penned by Beaumarchais in 1779.

The marquetry reflects Beaumarchais's tastes; scenes which depict Roman ruins after Hubert Robert and Giovanni Paolo Panini echo pictures in his collection. The top of the desk has three panels  based on engravings after Panini -  they can be raised to resemble prints or paintings on stands. Scenes on the themes of  Astronomy and Optics, from engravings after Jacques Lajoue, decorate the lid and back of the desk, and  testify to Beaumarchais's interest in science.

Beaumarchais's ownership is a strong presumption but it is not absolutely proven. The 19th-century commentators are not consistent. Beaumarchais's biographer Louis de Loménie writing in 1856 describes a "secrétaire" in Beaumarchais's study, adorned with marquetry, which had cost over 30,000 francs. Other 19th-century sources say he received it as a gift from "friends".  If the desk had indeed belonged to Beaumarchais it would have been among the furnishings his hôtel on the Boulevard Saint-Antoine.  Yet it is not included either in the description of the contents of the house made when the Revolutionary sequestration order on the property was lifted in February 1794 or in the inventory made after Beaumarchais's death.

The desk was offered as a prize in the national lottery in Paris in 1831, each ticket costing 50 francs. The tickets stated that the desk had been made by Reisener for Beaumarchais at a cost of 85,000 francs but did not give the name of the present owner. It was acquired shortly afterwards by Edward Holmes Baldock, an English dealer in French furniture and porcelain, and was subsequently purchased by the Duke of Buccleuch, then by the Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild.


Waddesdon Manor Collections - Roll-top desk
Waddesdon Manor Collections French Cylinder top desk

Wednesday 18 March 2015

The Parnassus of Titon du Tillet

Poilly Nicolas De, Le Jeune, Parnasse français
Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon

 Imagine instead of the Arc de Triomphe a overcrowded sixty-foot mountain on the place d'Etoile!

The Parnasse français of Titon du Tillet belongs to the very beginning of the 18th century; and seems on the cusp between the 17th century world of masque and monument and the wilder sculptural imagination of a later era. The sculpture was to represent a "French Parnassus" glorifying the golden age of Louis XIV and populated with the writers and musicians of the grand siècle.  It was a grandiose and obsessive project which consumed dreams and the energies of its originator for much of his adult life.

The man

Évrard Titon du Tillet was the fourth son of Louis XIV's colossally wealthy director general of royal armaments,  Maximilien Titon,  builder of the "folie Titon" rue Montreuil, later to be reincarnated as the Réveillon mansion and wallpaper factory. Évrard was born on 16th January 1677 and baptised in the Jesuit Église Saint-Paul nearby in the rue Saint-Antoine. At fifteen he acquired a commission in the infantry and shortly afterwards became a captain in the dragoons; this military career - for which he was probably ill suited - was abruptly cut short when his company was disbanded after the Peace of Riswick.  Titon du Tillet then set upon making his mark at Court.  In 1696 at the age of twenty, he acquired for the considerable sum of 31,400 livres the office of maître d'hôtel  to Marie-Adelaide of Savoy, duchess of Burgundy and future Queen of France.  There was every expectation that this was the road to preferment, but  Évrard's hopes were again dashed, this time by the smallpox which in 1712 carried away both the Duke and Duchess of Burgundy leaving only their infant son, the future Louis XV, to inherit the throne.  

At this point Titon du Tillet seems to have given up any idea of public life. He left Versailles, bought the sinecure of commissaire provincial des guerres (for the sum of 100,000 livres) and gave himself over to the leisured cultivation of the arts.  He settled permanently at Titonville, where he had inherited part of the property and in due course bought out the share owned by his grand-nephew.

Titon du Tillot was, by all accounts, a gentle, well-liked and highly cultivated man, who spoke several languages fluently and played the bass viol "passably". He travelled extensively in France, Italy and Switzerland.  He commissioned paintings, sculptures and prints and amassed a large library, acquired in due course by the unfortunate Réveillon. He also set up a small private theatre in the grounds of Titonville.  Ever dogged by bad luck, he lost a substantial part of his fortune to John Law and "le fatal systeme du Papier de 1719". He remained unmarried and died in the rue de Montreuil on 26th December 1762 at the grand age of eighty-six. He was buried close by in the chapel of the Religieuses Hospitalières de Saint-Mandé.

The project

Titon du Tillot seems to have first conceived the idea of the Parnassus as long ago as the 1700s;  it began life as a courtier's project to glorify the Sun King in the conventional  fashion of the age.  A penchant for monumental sculpture ran in the family. In 1701 his father presented Louis XIV with an equestrian statue in the newly-invented cast steel (acier fondu) which was favoured with a place in the petits appartements at Versailles.  His elder brother,Louis-Maximilien Titon, a royal and civil procurateur, had already helped to erect royal statues in Paris, in the Place des Victoires and the Place Vendôme, as well as outside the  Hôtel de Ville. Titon began by drawing up a list of figures to include: he reports his preliminary discussions with the poets Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux and Jean-Baptiste Rousseau

The sculptor Louis Garnier was commissioned to produce a maquette in 1712, which he duely  completed in 1718, though it took a further three years for the figures to be assembled. Nicolas de Largillière advised on the portraiture. This bronze, seven-and-a-half feet high, is the only surviving three-dimensional representation of the Parnassus.  A rocky mountain decorated with laurel, myrtle and palms is surmounted by a rearing Pegasus. Louis XIV, personified as Apollo, sits at the summit, receiving  the homage of Mesdames de la Suze, de Scudéry, and Deshoulières as the Three Muses.  Further down are Corneille, Molière, Racine, La Fontaine, Boileau, Chapelle, Segrais, Racan, with Lully, lone representative of the musical arts.

Judith Colton has written a book giving details of artistic and iconographic precedents, although it would seem from the reviews that there is no direct evidence for influence by particular pieces. On the whole, Louis Garnier's sculpture is considered a pedestrian piece of late Baroque, not far different in inspiration from the fountains at Versailles. On this scale it is striking; at sixty feet it would be truly monstrous!  

Titon du Tillet was a man with a mission. Stripped of serious money by the Mississippi Bubble, he was obliged to canvas for backers. He commissioned medallions, printed prospectuses and exhibited Garnier's maquette in a " Sallon du Parnasse" at Titonville (It was admitted into the Royal Collection only in 1766 some time after his death).  A painting was commissioned from Nicolas de Poilly and presented to Louis XV. The project was aired in the pages of the Mercure de France, the Journal des Savants and the Jesuit Journal de Trévoux.  By the time of his death Titon was affiliated to twenty eight European academies and fourteen in provincial France.

His determination seemed to have been rekindled by the appearance of Voltaire's Siècle de Louis XIV in late 1739; he admired Voltaire but their correspondence reveals that they did not see eye to eye on the merits of the monument, nor on the prospective incumbents, particularly Voltaire's great enemy Jean-Baptiste Rousseau.  They were finally reconciled sufficiently for Titon to commission a statuette of Voltaire from Pajou. In 1757 Titon commissioned a final engraving by Alexandre Maissonneuve, which shows the projected monument in his imagined setting with a reflective pool and vista of trees.

Alexandre Maissonneuve, engraving of 1757

The Book.

As part of his campaign Titon published a Description du Parnasse français nowadays considered an important source for the biographies of lesser known writers and musicians of the seventeenth century. The first and largest installment appeared in 1732, prefaced with an engraving bJean Audran after Pouilly's painting; there were further additions in  1743, 1755 and 1760.

From Tom Nealon, Hilobrow post of 01/08/2010
He also published an "Essay on the Honours and Monuments accorded to Illustrious Savants through the Ages" (1734), a wide-ranging study of historical antecedents, which gives an insight into his mode of thought.  In a notable passage Titon imagines a revived Olympic games ("Jeux Lodoïciens") in Paris which, he claims could be held without cost to the state.  His vision is closer to the extravagances of Imperial Rome than to the modern Olympiad, with  massive amphitheatres in the Faubourgs, naval combats on the Seine and chariot races along the  Champs-Élysée.  Alas, like his Parnassus, it was not to be!


Évrard Titon du Tillet  Parnasse françois, dedié au roi (1732)

_________, Essais sur les honneurs et sur les monumens accordés aux illustres sçavans, pedant la suite des siécle (1734)

"Famille Titon" and "La Folie Titon" on Portraits de familles (genealogical website)

"Titon du Tillet (1677-1762)"  Bulletin de la Société historique et archéologique des VIIIe et XVIIe arrondissements de Paris, nouv. série, no.2, 1922

Review by Anita Brookner of 'The Parnasse françois':  Titon du Tillet and the origins of the monument to genius by Judith Colton.  The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 122, 1980.  [On JStor]

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Philidor takes on The Turk

Here is Wolfgang von Kempelen's  famous chess-playing automaton, the Turk. There is loads and loads written on it. This account of the Turk's tour to Paris in 1783 and its encounter with the great Philidor is taken mostly from Thomas Standage's book of 2002 The Mechanical Turk (p.42-46).

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Jean-Jacques plays chess

Chess set in the "Régence" style which was standard in France in the 18th and 19th century.  The design was possibly that of  the furniture make Charles Cressent  (1685-1768).  See

 Rousseau discovers chess

Of all the Enlightenment lovers of the game, it was Jean-Jacques Rousseau who was the most enthusiastic chess player.  According to the Confessions he was introduced to chess at Chambéry, during his séjourn with Madame de Warens, in about 1737 by a Genevan called Gabriel Bagueret who had perhaps been employed by Peter the Great as a secret agent - according to Rousseau ,he was  a "rogue" and one of the biggest fools he had ever met:

He got the idea of proposing to teach me chess, which he could play a little.  I tried almost against my will, and after i had more or less learned the moves, my progress was so rapid that before the end of our first sitting I could give him the rook which at first he had given me. 

Rousseau being Rousseau, he instantly became a chess fanatic, bought himself a board and a copy of Gioachino Greco's manual and sat up night and day committing chess moves to memory. He relates that, nonetheless, when he went to the local café, he was repeatedly beaten by Bagueret:

Every time I have tried to practise by studying games with Philidor's book or Stamma's the same thing has happened to me; I have completely worn myself out and found my play weaker than before.  For the rest, whether I have given up chess for a time or kept myself in practice by playing, I have never improved a jot since that first sitting; I have always found myself just where I was when I got up from it.  I might practise for thousands of centuries, and at the end I should be capable of giving Bagueret his rook, but that is all.  Time well spent, do you think?
Confessions Book 5 (Penguin Classics ed. p.211)

Rousseau - chess champion in the making

In 1742 Rousseau came to Paris  with the hope of making his fortune with a new scheme of musical notation and, when, that fell through, briefly fancied he could make a name for himself as a chess player. He seems to have played chiefly not at the Régence, but at the Café Maugis in the rue Saint-Séverin (remembered today only because it featured in a police report). 

There I made the acquaintance of M. de Légal, of M. Husson, of Philidor, and of all the great chess players of that time, without however improving my game thereby. But I had no doubt that in the end I should be better than any of them; and that, in my opinion, would a sufficient resource."
Confessions Book 7 (Penguin Classics ed. p.271)

The over-confident Rousseau's potential career as a chess player was cut mercifully short when he left for Venice in 1743 as secretary to the French ambassador.

On his return in 1745 Rousseau turned once more to music and managed to fall out with the amicable Philidor who arranged his opera, Les Muses galantes, for performance in the private theatre of the financier La Pouplinière at Passy.  The work was a disaster, though Grimm admired Philidor's overture. Family tradition has it that Philidor conscientiously wrote his musical accompaniment to showcase Rousseau's melodies,but the score has long since disappeared. Rousseau jealously disparaged his contribution and complained that Philidor failed to commit himself to the work.(Allen Life of Philidor p.14-17) 

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Philidor - continued

By Charles- Nicolas Cochin, 1772

In the 1750s Philidor,  once more back in Paris, began to make a name for himself as a composer of comic operas.  According to his son, it was Rameau who advised him to abandon Church music to devote himself to the music of the stage. It was at this time too that he came into contact with Diderot, with whom he was probably acquainted from the circles of the financier  La Poupelinière, and with Grimm.  In 1760 he married Angélique-Henriette-Elisabeth Richer, daughter of a composer and herself an accomplished singer.  The couple had four surviving sons and a daughter. In 1766 Philidor composed an operatic tragedy, Ernelinde, princesse de Norvège, which, despite mistakes by both  musicians and performers, was a great success; he was subsequently awarded a royal pension of twenty-five louis d'or.

Sunday 8 March 2015

Philidor - chess phenomenon

The career of the musician and virtuoso chessmaster François-André Danican Philidor is interesting both in itself and for the light it shines on 18th-century society, its systems of patronage and modes of sociability, and the opportunities it afforded to an exceptional gifted individual.

Saturday 7 March 2015

A snuffbox with secrets....

From the Wallace Collection: a beautiful  gold and cornelian snuffbox dating from about 1775, probably made by the Dresden goldsmith Johann Christian Neuber (1736 - 1808).  The box contains fine concealed portraits of Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet attributed in a 1865 catalogue to "Drouais".  The box first appeared for sale in Paris in 1863  and was acquired by Sir Richard Wallace in 1872.  Apparently, although the portraits were mentioned in the sale catalogues, no-one could find them until fairly recently when one of the Wallace curators pressed a button and out they popped!


Charles Truman, "Gold boxes at the Wallace Collection"
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