Wednesday, 18 December 2019

The policeman and his wig

Portrait of Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir, Conseiller d'Etat and lieutenant général de police.
Engraving by N. Courteille, "en sanguine", 1778, Musée Carnavalet

To judge from this splendid engraving from the Musée Carnavalet, the lieutenant de police, Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir was very particular about his wigs. The journal Correspondance littéraire  (by Louis-François Metra; various re-editions) has the following macabre little anecdote:

[17 March 1777] In default of political news, we like to publish stories to make you laugh: here is one which will amuse you.  The lieutenant general of police had a new wig made for his daughter's wedding; the wig was brought in a box by the  wigmaker's boy. Once work was finished, he asked for the box from his valet-de-chambre; but imagine his surprise when, in place of a senatorial wig, he found a dead infant!  M. Le Noir went immediately to find the Master Wigmaker.  The latter, realising what had happened, was full of apologies;  he recounted that his wife had given birth the evening before, the infant had died shortly afterwards;  apparently the two boxes had  been become confused, and the one containing the wig had been buried.  This case of mistaken identity - quiproquo - made the magistrate and his guests laugh hugely, and we are assured that the wig was exhumed and the dead infant buried in its place.

Stories like this remind us, the 18th-century world was a little different from our own!


Anecdotes secrètes du dix-huitième siècle,  rédigées avec soin d'après la correspondance secrète, politique et littéraire, vol. 1, p.281

Understandably, 19th century writers often preferred to attach this anecdote to Lenoir's predecessor Sartine, the well-known aficionado of wigs:  see, for example, Gustave Desnoiresterres,"La perruque de M. de Sartine", in  Les Talons rouges (1854)

For details of the Lenoir wedding, see Sylvie Nicolas, Les derniers maîtres des requêtes de l'Ancien Régime (1771-1789), 1998, p.117
 Lenoir's daughter Anne Pauline married Augustin Marie François Boula d'Orville, Conseiller au parlement de Paris, then Maître des requêtes, on 26th February 1777 at the church of Saint-Roch.

The wedding party was possibly in extra need of light relief as the duc de La Vrillière dramatically collapsed on arrival at the festivities and subsequently died.

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