Saturday, 25 January 2020

A satire on wigs

L'enciclopédie perruquiere . Ouvrage curieux a l'usage de toutes sortes de têtes, enrichi de figures en taille-douce. Par M Beaumont, coëffeur dans les Quinze-Vingts

A Amsterdam. Et se trouve a Paris, chez l'auteur. Et chez Hochereau, libraire à la descente du Pont Neuf au Phenix. M. DCC. LVII

The Encyclopédie perruquière was a jeu d'esprit of 1757 by the lawyer and satirist Jean-Henri Marchand. Intended as a parody of the more pedestrian articles in the Encyclopédie, the work featured  illustrations of no less than forty-five (largely spurious) wigs.

 According to Grimm the piece was forgotten in eight days (Correspondance littéraire, January 1766). However, it was described in the Année littéraire  as one of the best "pieces of buffoonery" to appear for a long time and it was well-enough received for Marchand to publish a second edition in 1766. Certainly the joke would not have been lost on Marchand's readers: there was now a wig for every occasion, every profession, and every type of physiognomy.

The following summary is taken from the Année littéraire

The present work is one of the most amusing pieces of buffoonery that  has appeared for some time. It consists of a Dedication, of 7 pages, to the "illustrious and celebrated poet Monsieur André Perruquier", a Preface of 34 pages, forty-five engraved heads with wigs and a Postscript of 3 pages.  The author uses the name of Sieur Beaumont, Hairdresser, who is a real person, in order to allow full liberty to his imagination.  Despite the tone of carnival burlesque, this little Brochure of full of entertaining passages, imagination and wit;  in certain places, you find an ingenious parody of articles which appear in the famous Encyclopédie. 

The Dedicatory Epistle compliments M. André on a fine tragedy he has composed concerning the Lisbon Earthquake. "You 
shave the whiskers off the most famous poets of our time. ..Posterity will assign you a distinguished place on Parnassus.  Far removed from the caustic Boileau-Despréaux, your entertainments will powder Apollo, add curls to the Muses and refresh the mane of Pegasus"....The writer then offers to contribute to a subscription so that the Community can immortalise André with a plaster bust  on the Quai des Morfondus or Quinze-Vingt .... "Your agreement will ensure the support of the Public, not all of which is composed entirely of wigmaker's dummy heads.....You have gained more as the poet of wigmakers, than the wigmaker of poets, for I know that we are all at risk of being powdered white in comparison with you."

"M. Beaumont" begins his Preface by informing his reader how he took up the profession of Perruquier.  He recounts his wanderings in provincial villages and towns, and the exploits of his razor and curling tongs on land and sea.  He relates how he finally settled in Paris where, over several years, he worked for more than thirty different masters; in this way he got to know the fashions, nuances and delicacies of his art.  He did not confine himself to men's heads: still more agreeably, women's heads demanded his attention and zeal.  His profession conferred certain advantages, for he was able to participate in the mysteries of the toilette, with all it entertainments; often he was entrusted with amorous commissions, which he carried out with some success. 

Finally M, Beaumont, like M. André, became the proprietor of a Wigmaker's shop.  However, since he had no literary ambitions, he confined his ambition to perfecting his knowledge of wigs.  
He observed  the various different physiognomies and identified the hairstyles most suited them.  Individuals who are jolly / miserable / mad / serious / cantankerous / young /  old / healthy / sick / spotty / fat / thin / with wide or narrow foreheads / brunette, blond / chestnut or red-headed, cannot all be catered for in a uniform manner. There are different nuances for every category and M. Beaumont has studied them all with care.

In addition there are variations based on profession and circumstance.  A Churchwarden or a Musketeer must preserve his character; and a wig for a wedding is different from one for a funeral.

M. Beaumont then went in search of further enlightenment: 

"Wanting to join theory to practice, I consulted the Dictionnaire Encyclopédique, a treasury of knowledge which must immortalise its authors and the century we live in".  [He cites the article ACCOMMODAGE (vol. 1, p.74) which provided only a brief description of how to curl and powder hair.]  "This definition did not furnish me with the  in-depth knowledge I had hoped for, though I admired the authors' accuracy and attention to detail.!

In default of books that could help, M. Beaumont therefore set about his own research.  
By his own admission,  he achieved great knowledge in his art; indeed so high was his reputation, that he flattered himself the Encyclopedists would choose him for the great and important articles PERRUQUE, PERRUQUIER.  His name would appear on the glorious list of illustrious persons  who have worked on this Dictionary of genius.  But, whether through spite, or through ignorance of his ability, they  left him to suffer in obscurity.  It is this which determined him to give to the public his Encyclopédie perruquière, of which he has the glory to be the sole inventor, writer and artist.

This first part, adorned with forty-five diagrams, includes only wigs with sidepieces, as worn by young men.  The author hopes to complete the work at a future date by presenting other styles:  perruques naissantes, perruques quarrées, perruques à trois marteaux,  Chancellières,  Bonnets,  Brigadières, perruques d'Abbés, Financières, wigs made of wire wool, wood, glass, cow's tails; wigs of horsehair, women's wigs, and even les Moutonnes.  Fine heads, mad heads, green heads, heads with no brains, bird heads, weathercock heads - in short all the heads in the world apart from those of Choirboys and  Muhammadans - must applaud an accessory which protects the skull and compliments the features.  This is the plan which M. Beaumont sets himself, for the sole benefit of public utility.  In effect, every man who desires to be well dressed will be able to consult this Encyclopedia and chose the most advantageous style for his face.

Our hairdresser knows that he takes a risk by appearing in print.  Jealous voices have said of M. André that he is is a Barber who scorches the French language; that the sentiments in his play are pulled out of someone's hair or that his only aim is to throw powder in one's eyes. But envy and malice will not stand in the way of the author's homage to the Muses....He is enchanted above all with the Opera...As is often said, one barber shaves another;  he proposes to ask M. André to take up his idea and embellish it with the charms of versification.  The subject of the Prologue is to be the opening of Pandora's Box from which come sickness and old age, the causes of hair loss.  Jupiter, to console mortals, sends them the gift of Industry to repair their miseries.  The five acts of the Ballet represent Adolescence, Youth, Manhood, Old Age and Decrepitude - portrayed by the tête naissante, the perruque en bourse, the perruque nouée, the perruque quarrée and, finally,  what are known in general terms as "old wigs".  A wig with a tonsure might fall in love with a feminine hairpiece....Wire wool wigs, calf's tails, Moutonnes, beehives,  "magpie nests" might conspire against good taste and elegance,  to be put to flight  by Artistry and good taste. This subject should prove both honourable and lucrative.  If some critic opposes the success of the work, let them be pitilessly soaped, shaved against the nap of their hair and submitted to the comb "à la Turque"

With regard to the 45 engravings, you must admire them in the work itself.  You will see forty-five different hairstyles and discover for yourself what they are all called,

The postscript remarks that no work deserves more to have both a preface and postscript since its subject is the representation and adornment of "faces".  Only  man has a face; other animals have a beak, a muzzle or a snout.  If the Public turn against the Author, he promises not to take vengeance like the barber of King Midas; he will console himself that  he has 
at least been useful to his colleagues, who can use his Brochure to make paper curlers.
Letter dated Paris, 10 February 1757.

                   Plate from the 1762 edition

A note on Jean-Henri Marchand

Marchand is one of those writers who was quite well-known in his lifetime but had since sunk into almost complete oblivion. He has recently been rescued  by Anne-Sophie Barrovecchio, who in 2004 published a critical edition of five of his admiring parodies of Voltaire.  Among them is Le tremblement de terre de Lisbonne (1755), a "tragedy in five acts", attributed to maitre André, perruquier.  Apparently the play was still being staged in 1804.

Not much known about Marchand's life. He was a Parisian barrister, with a talent for writing. In 13 July 1745, a correspondent of the President Bouhier, mentions that Marchaud was not a poet by profession but amused himself by penning verses with "prodigious facility".  He himself later boasted: "After devoting myself to works which were serious and none too agreeable, I took to writing down my thoughts with an uncommon ease, attributing to them no other merit than the amusement of my friends" ("To Myself", 1782)

 Later he left the bar to become one of the royal book censors for Jurisprudence -  surviving registers for 1769 show him to have been one of the most active of the 128 censors.  He lived in the Marais in the rue Michel-le-Comte where d'Alembert was a neighbour. A letter from Voltaire to François-Louis-Claude Marin, dated  5th May 1769,  notes that an avocat named Marchand had written to him, to inform him that he had dined with M. de Sartine [of wig fame!] in the company of one of Voltaire's relatives.  Apart from these few mentions, there is little more to tell.  Grimm records that shortly before his death the old freethinker was reduced to "perfect simplicity" and fell prey to unwanted attentions of the local curé of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs.  He died "of old age" on 27th November 1785.

 It would seem that "le perruquier André" really existed. Charles André, born in  Langres in 1722, was a wigmaker in the rue de la Vannerie.  His various supposed compositions became something of a running joke.(Voltairomania, p.33-34)


Encyclopédie perruquière, 1st edition, 1757

2nd edition, 1762   

Voltairomania: l'avocat Jean-Henri Marchand face à Voltaire, edited by Anne-Sophie Barrovecchio, Université de Saint-Etienne, 2004 [extracts on Google Books]

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