SUNDRIES: An eighteenth century newsletter

N° 19 - February 25, 2006

inter text LINKS: Africa and Slavery inter text ON-LINE ARTICLES: West Indies Plantations; an Islamic scholar inter text MONARCHY: Louis XV's mulatto son?

inter cooking 18th CENTURY RECIPE: Napoleon's Breakfast

fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys
JOURNAL DES SAVANTS: From "Oedipus" to Hotel Mommy; other cultures; bells inter text Magasin Pittoresque: No 22-1854


GALLICA: Discourse of a negro to a European

This poem may be well known to those who study this history: Discourse of a negro to a European Piece which competed for the prize of the French Academy in 1775 by Monsieur Doigni (Doigny du Ponceau). But it was new to me, and surprising first of all for its date. The fact, too, that it was presented in the most official context, and well-received, implies that its ideas were more welcome than controversial. Says the introduction:

The subject of this Piece, of which the French Academy made honorable mention the day of the public session, has interested the Wise: it must interest all men...
A sensitive and enlightened man will never understand by what abuse of force a species similar to his own has been degraded to the point of no longer thinking, no longer feeling and no longer reacting but at the will of a tyrant, who, with gold, buys this infernal right. The Negro, stupid from suffering and humiliations, barely conserves the awareness of his existence. He has lost everything, in losing his liberty; the horror of his situation is plain to all who approach him; his industry dies in his servitude, and his sweats seem to make more sterile the soil he is given to clear...

The (somewhat idealizing) poem itself begins:

You have just bought me; but I could not [be sold].
In your chains, you will only see me depend on myself.
You betray nature, and I, I hear its voice,
Which, better than in your cities, cries to us from the depths of the forest
That the proud, free man, armed with his courage,
Must always prefer death to slavery.

The last lines are footnoted at the start:

We know that the wise inhabitants of Pennsylvania, who, with the ways of the golden age, realize its happiness, have restored liberty to their Slaves. They think that all men must be equal. What a sublime lesson! May this great trait of benefaction, consecrated in this feeble Work, be kept in humanity's celebrations!

They read:

In a happy land, dedicated to peace,
Seemingly apart from perverse men,
It is said that a People both just and sensitive,
Governed by manners far more than by laws,
Has blushed to be free, seeing Slaves;
It wants its blessing to be their only shackles;
It wants to receive us, fly all to its breast.
Let us go cover with tears its fraternal hand;
We will be allowed to feel that we exist,
And we will be able at last to again be men.
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LINKS: Africa and Slavery

Though it may be natural that 18th century studies center on those parts of the world which were already dominating and otherwise influencing much of the rest of it, I do sometimes find it, not quite frustrating, but vaguely unnatural that large parts of the world are missing (or satirically distorted) in sources on the period. A search for sites on Africa, in particular, for our period, yields little more than the following:

British Views Of 18th Century Africa

Ottobah Cugoano

Ancient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu

What information does exist is often bound up with the history of slavery (which is hardly the whole African story):

Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism

The following genealogical database while in one sense limited, may also offer insights into the places of origin of those included:

Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy

The Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy 1699 - 1820 Database, a user-friendly, searchable, online database that is freely accessible to the public.
In 1984, a professor at Rutgers University stumbled upon a trove of historic data in a courthouse in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. Over the next 15 years, Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, a noted New Orleans writer and historian, painstakingly uncovered the background of 100,000 slaves who were brought to Louisiana in the 18th and 19th centuries making fortunes for their owners.
Poring through documents from all over Louisiana, as well as archives in France, Spain and Texas, Dr. Hall designed and created a database into which she recorded and calculated the information she obtained from these documents about African slave names, genders, ages, occupations, illnesses, family relationships, ethnicity, places of origin, prices paid by slave owners, and slaves' testimony and emancipations. In March 2000, the Louisiana State University Press published Dr. Hall's databases on a CD-ROM.
The data has amazed genealogists and historians of slavery with the breadth of its information. Because the French and Spanish proprietors of Louisiana kept far more detailed records than their British counterparts at slave ports on the Atlantic coast, the records show valuable historical data. For historians who thought such information was lost or could never be collected and analyzed, the database is a once-unimaginable prize.
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ON-LINE ARTICLES: West Indies Plantations; an Islamic scholar

This 1926 article is available on Roots Web:

Article: Slavery in the West Indies in the 18th Century Slavery on British West Indies Plantations in the Eighteenth Century, by Pitman, Frank Wesley, Journal of Negro History, Volume Number: 11 Issue Number: 4, October, 1926 Pages: p. 584-668.

The following is a bit casual, being an interview, rather than a formal article:

An Interview on Uthman dan Fodio

"Uthman Ibn Fodio is probably the most influential Islamic scholar in the history of Islam in west Africa..."
What is it about this scholar that makes him worthy of study? Who is he and what exactly is significant about him? Questions such as these can be answered once an individual takes a moment to look into the life of this 18 century scholar, who is known as Sheikh Uthman ibn Fodio in Arabic or Dan Fodio in Foulani (a West African) language.

This passage is particularly striking:

Female circumcision was another major social issue the Sheikh delved into. This practice was in the Sudan, Somalia and was going across to his country and he stopped people from doing it. He brought the hadith of the Prophet showing that only a little bit was allowed to be removed from the tip of the clitoris, but was by no means necessary as it wasn't really part of Islam. His argument against it, once again went into graphic details of how if men allowed this to happen then a woman would not be able to achieve her climax in a physical relationship, which would then cause their relationship to deteriorate. To have a more fulfilling relationship, they should allow her to retain what Allah gave her. This obviously was a heavy argument for the Sheikh to be making, especially in the 18th century!
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MONARCHY: Louis XV's mulatto son?

A report by the police under the French Revolution (8 frimaire, year VII) listing visitors to a suspect house - refractory priests, emigrants, etc. - includes this man: "A mulatto five feet eight inches tall, claiming to be an illegitimate son of Louis XV, who expects one day to wear the crown". The person who asked about this in the Intermediaire des Chercheurs (1907-2, (160)) seemed faintly shocked by the very idea.

Certainly, this brief mention cannot be considered hard evidence. But the one person to respond (293) hardly dismisses the claim: "The illegitimate children of Louis XV are numerous. M. Nauroy has enumerated them. M. de Fleury, in turn, has spoken of them (See "The intimate Louis XV and little mistresses") [NOTE: "Les petites maitresses" is probably a play on "petits maitres", a very different term.] He goes on to say that few actually claimed any royal heritage (with the notable exception of a - white - butcher's son.)

The response ends with another query: "Were there negresses at the Parc-Aux-Cerfs?" Those who don't follow French history will find this reference obscure. In a word, Louis XV - unlike any other French king that I know of, and certainly unlike his priggish grandson, Louis XVI - kept a kind of revolving harem in a residence near Versailles called "Stag Park" - a name which had more to do with hunting than the convenient modern pun. Many rumors have swirled around what seems to have been a one client bordello, but J. A. Le Roi (in Curiosities Historiques sur Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV... etc.) shows by accounts and other concrete evidence that it was neither as costly nor as active as if often said. (He also locates it, at 4 rue St. Mederic.) Still, he does say that most women left it only to give birth. And it is easy to imagine that a man as cold-bloodedly focused on sexual variety as this institution suggests might have welcomed racial variety as well.

The idea then, though far from proven, is not so unlikely as to be ludicrous. Would it be well received in today's Royalist circles? I won't venture to say.

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From CHEZ JIM Books:
and a history of the CROISSANT:

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18th CENTURY RECIPE: Napoleon's Breakfast

The English version of Bourrienne's Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, in R. W. Phipps's 1891 edition, says:

At ten o'clock the 'maitre d'hotel' entered, and announced breakfast, saying, "The General is served." We went to breakfast, and the repast was exceedingly simple. He ate almost every morning some chicken, dressed with oil and onions. This dish was then, I believe, called 'poulet a la Provencale'; but our restaurateurs have since conferred upon it the more ambitious name of 'poulet a la Marengo.'

The French word here is 'dejeuner' and this is an excellent example of the ambivalence of that word in the nineteenth century. At the start of the eighteenth, it clearly meant 'breakfast'. By the twentieth century it clearly meant 'lunch'. But in Napoleon's time it was in flux. Was this a late breakfast, or an early lunch?

In another English edition (Walter Clarks', 1895), Constant, his valet, writes:

Most frequently the Emperor breakfasted alone, on a little mahogany candle-stand with no cover, which meal, even shorter than the other, lasted only eight or ten minutes.
I will mention, later on, the bad effects which the habit of eating too quickly often produced on the Emperor's health. Besides this, and due in a great measure to his haste, the Emperor lacked much of eating decently; and always preferred his fingers to a fork or spoon. Much care was taken to place within his reach the dish he preferred, which he drew toward him in the manner I have just described, and dipped his bread in the sauce or gravy it contained, which did not, however, prevent the dish being handed round, and those eating from it who could; and there were few guests who could not.
I have seen some who even appeared to consider this singular act of courage a means of making their court. I can easily understand also that with many their admiration for his Majesty silenced all repugnance, for the same reason that we do not scruple to eat from the plate, or drink from the glass, of a person whom we love, even though it might be considered doubtful on the score of refinement; this is never noticed because love is blind. The dish which the Emperor preferred was the kind of fried chicken to which this preference of the conqueror of Italy has given the name of poulet a la Marengo.

Later though Constant says: "On rising, the Emperor habitually took a cup of tea or orange water." Some might say THIS was Napoleon's true breakfast, and the next meal... brunch?

The dish both mention also presents some issues. Marengo - conveniently for this Olympic week - was near Turin, and the site of one of his most famous victories. Legends surround the dish named for it, including the idea that it might have been invented at the battle itself:

But others protest that tomatoes wouldn't have been used at the time and that the chronology (unspecified) is wrong for Napoleon's cook, Dunan, to have invented it there:

Today's Chicken Marengo is in fact characterized by one key ingredient: tomatoes. Which Bourrienne does not mention at all.

In trying to locate this recipe, I was surprised to find it missing from a number of post-Napoleonic cookbooks - until I remembered that Napoleon LOST. Referring to one his most famous victories might not have been politic under the Restoration*. For whatever reason, the first mention of the recipe I found is from 1885, in Marcel Butler's La Bonne Cuisine Pour Tous. The versions it gives for both Poulet Marengo and Sauce a la Provencale echo Bourienne's (tomato-free) version, though with shallots or spring onions rather than plain onions:

Chicken Marengo (122)

Put salt, pepper and a good lump of butter in a pot. Heat it, then put in your chicken cut up in pieces, brown it over a brisk flame, stirring well.
Then let it simmer to finish cooking. When the chicken is almost done, add a glass of white wine, spring onions and parsley chopped up fine, pieces of mushroom, salt and pepper. Let it boil a quarter of an hour, adding a little wine if the sauces boils away too much. This done, lay your pieces of chicken out on a dish, and cover them with the sauce. You can also add a little lemon juice.

Sauce Provence-style (48):

Chop up mushrooms and shallots, put in a pot two or three spoonfuls of olive oil. Add two cloves of garlic, with a little flour, and moisten with bouillon and a glass of white wine. Put in a bouquet garni, salt, pepper and spring onion, boil half an hour. When serving, take out the garlic and the bouquet garni.

*Though, according to this site:

its appearance on the menu of one popular restaurant was a pretext for arguments over the relative merits of Napoleon and his successors: "..histoire évidemment de relancer la guerre entre nostalgiques de l'Empire et revenants de l'ancien régime. On s'amuse comme on peut, sous la Restauration."

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fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys

JOURNAL DES SAVANTS: From "Oedipus" to Hotel Mommy; other cultures; bells

In 1719, the Journal reviewed (216) the first big success ("Oedipus") of a young (25) author: Voltaire, or, as he is referred to here more than once, "M. Arouet". The review summarizes and quotes from the play, as well as ten letters which are included with it.

So, which do you find more believable: a fetus that stayed in its mother's belly for 25 years without rotting (1679 (22)) or a live infant that stayed in its mother's womb for five years (1686 (179ff)). Serious experts seem to have confirmed these at the time. An article about a girl born without a tongue (1722 (205)) is more believable. Some modern medical concerns appear in an article on occupational illnesses (1717 (133ff)) and another on the negative effects of tobacco (1666 (335ff)). (Those early warnings really made a dent, eh?)

But then there's also an article warning (not very energetically) against the abuse of chocolate (1666 (29)).

An article from 1747 (435) tells how two deaf children were taught to speak.

From time to time, the Journal glanced at other cultures. A 1720 review (69ff) of a work on national characters shows how long some stereotypes have been around, even when it combats them: The Germans "are not very quick, but they are steady and bear long tasks with courage", although they "have so much talent and taste, they are so skilled in sciences and arts, that those who reproach them with heaviness and crudity in this regard, seem unaware, says the Author, that this Nation is superior to all the others as well in what regards wit as in what regards value"; "the people of the Low Countries are incapable of committing or bearing dishonesties"; "the French seem made to charm all other Nations by their manners"; "the Spanish have high opinion of themselves"; "the Irish are such enemies of work, that they prefer to live miserably in a good Country, than to cultivate it"; "the people of Denmark, once so bellicose, are now principally given over to commerce"...

A review (1731 (350ff)) of a French translation of Engelbert Keampfer's Natural, Civil and Eccelsiastic History of Japan helpfully summarizes that long and detailed work. Articles on England include one on a history of Oxford (1675 (235) and a 1666 look at Whigs and Tories (46, 623). A review (1555 (202ff)) of a book on funeral customs by Muret only offers some information on classical times, but suggests there's more in the book itself.

The striking thing about a review (1725 (335-336)) of the Duties of Wives Towards Husbands is the very reserved (though not quite disapproving) tone it takes towards what seems a fairly predictable work.

Finally, there is a review (1721 (139) of a treatise on bells. A pedestrian subject perhaps, but not one frequently seen.

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Magasin Pittoresque: No 22-1854

REMINDER: The Magasin Pittoresque was a nineteenth century French magazine. Copies can be found on Gallica.

Both French and English merchants get some attention here. Also, an 18th century Impressionist.

22 - Some thoughts from Sterne
27 - history of French troops
83 - English merchants of former times
111 - history of the Third Estate
118 - Statues of Bernardin St. Pierre and Casimir de la Vigne
149 - Major Martin's will (1756)
168 - Benevolent miser (with image)
163 - How Linneaus took revenge on Buffon
170 - 1709 famine
194 - 17th c. criminal case
215 - 1720 party with golden olives
273 - article on French 18 c. merchants (with print)
330 - engraving of rats found in Strasbourg 1683

29 - naturalist Aime Bonpland
34 - an anecdote of Laplace
49 - painter Francois Desportes
225 - Francois Arago (first person account)
235 - painter Joseph-Williams Mallad (Mallord)Turner
252 - composer Dezede
297 - prodigy Jean Baratier
319 - philanthropist John Howard
332 - painter William Collins
356 - 18th c. English murder
371 - traveler Mme Godin des Odonais
385 - writer Charles Rollin

Off topic but of interest:
54 - table of different speeds
75 - protest against lotteries
88 - Chinese magnetic chariots
95 - tables of strength relative to age
159 - Men of Color
166 - difference between black and green tea
395 - Gypsies
- plus "A Fine Action by a Black Servant" (he sacrificed himself for his white master...)

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End quote

"To my mind a nation that believes people are made decent by belief in God and not by good laws is in a sorry state of backwardness....Sooner or later the moment comes when the concept that prevented the theft of one ecu causes the cutting of the throats of a hundred thousand men."

Diderot (Nancy Amphoux's translation)

FROM CHEZ JIM BOOKS Three works on eighteenth century subjects:

For some sample 18th century vegetarian recipes, click here.

copyright 2006 Jim Chevallier.
When using brief extracts from this site, please credit properly and provide a link back to this site.
(NOTE: Most translations, except where otherwise noted, are by Jim Chevallier and are copyrighted as such.)
Please do not reproduce extended pieces (recipes, translated pieces, etc.) without prior permission.


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