SUNDRIES: An eighteenth century newsletter

N° 32 - May 27, 2006

LINKS: The (partially) translated Encyclopedia; Napoleon's site


inter cooking 18th CENTURY RECIPE: A meal for Marie-Antoinette - cold chicken and chicken blanquette with cucumber

fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys
Magasin Pittoresque: No 36 - 1868


LINKS: The (partially) translated Encyclopedia; Napoleon's site

I had somewhat forgotten the volunteer effort to translate the Encyclopedie: The Encyclopedia of Diderot & D'Alembert: Collaborative Translation Project. It seems to be moving along nicely, as witness this English version of the Encyclopedie's article on "Suicide', which includes this citation of Smollett:

In 1732, London witnessed an example of a memorable suicide, reported by Mister Smollett in his history of England. One Richard Smith and his wife, put in prison for debt, both hanged themselves after having killed their child. In their room were found two letters written to a friend to ask him to take care of their dog and cat. They took care to leave something to pay the carrier of these notes, in which they explained the motives for their conduct, adding that they did not believe that God could take pleasure in seeing his creatures unhappy and without resources and that, moreover, they resigned themselves to what it pleased him to command about them in the next life, entrusting themselves entirely to his goodness. A very strange mixture of religion and crime!

(This article is classed under "Ethics", which is fair as far as it goes, but may mislead those looking for items such as the one above.)

It's not surprising that there's a site devoted to Napoleon: (It's more surprising it took me so long to happen upon it.) This URL takes you to a front page offering the site in one of four languages: Russian, Spanish, English or French. When you choose one, the URL rather disconcertingly changes - don't worry, you're in the right place.

back to top

back to top


Last week I quoted Grimm's idea that suicide was something of a fashion in France in our time. Apparently, Bachaumont (see below) shared this idea, though he seems to regard it as an English import. The risk that it will serve as an example hovers over these three items.


Though a Swede who committed suicide in Germany, Robeck seems to have made an impression in France (and I would guess all through Europe.)

Jean Robeck, Swede, born in 1672, after having made his last arrangements and left to one of his friends the sum required to print a manuscript, disappeared, going to bury himself in an unknown retreat, then nine years later boarded a boat at Bremen, and threw himself in the Weser, in 1739. Professor Franck, following the wish of Robeck, published his work, which was nothing more than an apology for suicide, but added notes, refuting it: 'Joh. Robeck Exercitatio philosophica de morte voluntaria philosophorum et bonorum virorum, etiam judaeorum et christianorum'; 1736." [The note does not explain why the publication date precedes his death.]
Grimm, Correspondance Litteraire, January 1774 (n. 342)


The two notes left by these friends gave their act a cool philosophical cast. Grimm adds a note further on however saying that both were "noted on police registers in a less than honorable manner for their conduct and their morals." Does this arch remark imply that they were homosexual? If so, this suicide of two young men - Bourdeaux, not yet twenty, and Humain ('Human'), twenty-four - may have had a more passionate, and painful, cause.

Since the example of the famous Robeck, a suicide has not been committed with more sang-froid, with more gaiety, than that of two young dragoons who killed themselves on Christmas Day, in an inn in Satin-Denis, near Paris. They had gone there the evening before asking for supper and a place to sleep. In the morning, having paid their bill, they go walking in the town. At noon, they return, dine in their room on a brioche and wine. They come back down, and ask for a second bottle with some paper. Sometime after, noise is heard in the house; the innkeeper goes up to their room, finds the door locked from the inside, his knocks useless; then, frightened, he sends for officers of the law, who come to his place. The two dragoons are found dead, each at one end of a table, from the shot of a pistol they have put in their mouth. Two pieces of writing found before the dragoon from Belzunce, show all the tranquility which they maintained up to the last moment.


'During your story at Guise, you seemed to honor me with your friendship; it is time that I thank you. I believe I have told you several times, in our conversations, that my current situation displeased me: this admission was sincere, but not precise. I examined myself more seriously, and I realized that this disgust spread over everything, and that I was equally surfeited with all possible states, of men, of the entire universe, of myself; from this discovery it was necessary to reach a conclusion.

'When one is weary of everything, one must renounce all. This is not a long calculation, I have done it without calling on geometry; in a word, I am about to cast off this patent of existence which I have owned for almost twenty years, and which has weighed upon me for fifteen.

'At the moment that I write, a few grains of powder is going to break the springs of this mass of moving flesh which our proud fellows call the king of beings.

[He covers some practical details.]

'Farewell, my dear lieutenant; be faithful to your love for Saint-Lambert and for Dorat. For the rest, flit still from flower to flower and continue to carry off the nectar of all learning as of all pleasures....

'When you receive this letter, at most twenty-four hours will have passed since I will have ceased to be, with the most sincere esteem, your most affectionate servant,

'Once student of schoolmasters, then aide-chicane, then monk, then dragoon, then nothing.'

A second letter, signed by both, contains more practical details, as well as some thoughts on suicide and this comment: "We have tasted every pleasure, even that of obliging our fellow men; we could still procure others, but all pleasures have an end, and this end is what poisons them."

Grimm follows these items with several pages discussing suicide, including the remark that he admires Cato, Petronius and Socrates but that "all these great examples of an heroic death take away nothing of the esteem I have for life" and later this quote from a valet in Grasset's "Sidney":

Today we're badly off; we'll be better tomorrow;
Whatever state we're in, there's nothing like being.

Correspondance Litteraire, January 1774 (341-345)


Bachaumont's coda here brings to mind modern warnings against certain Internet sites promoting self-destructive behavior.

June 16, 1775 - Two Englishman killed themselves here recently, and seem to have come to strengthen themselves in this mania, which the French brought from their country, and of which they today give the example. But a more interesting event of this kind of thing, and which is talked about in Paris, is the heroic audacity of a well known young courtesan, named Mlle. de Germancé. In a fit of jealous despair, seeing herself abandoned by the lord of Flamanville, officer of the guards, with whom she was madly infatuated, on whom she had long showered caresses, she could not resist her pain. She could not find among the blooming youth surrounding her and courting her, any mortal to replace him in her heart, or to console her for her loss. She coldly decided to remove herself from all the pleasure of the life she enjoyed and last week she took enough opium to put her to sleep forever. Before undertaking this operation, she wrote a very touching letter to the traitor, in which she announced this fatal news, and told him he must consider himself the cause of her death; that she would no longer be alive when he received the note; that nonetheless if her loss inspired any pity in him, she demanded that he come to her place and hear her last sighs. This military man regarded this epistle as a joke; he did not want to go to his lover's house, but sent one of his friends, who found her too truly in the arms of medicine, busy trying to bring her back to life. After 14 hours of efforts, the effect of the poison was stopped. She recognized her unreasonable behavior, and appeared yesterday at the vauxhall of Torré, more charming, more engaging than before. One can imagine the sensation her story has caused. What is unfortunate is that she is telling all her friends that death is nothing; that the method she chose is very pleasant; that at the moment of falling asleep, one feels the most delicious sensations. This moral, spread among the courtesans and petit-maitres of Paris, can cause a thousand similar incidents.
Bachaumont, Memoires Secretes No 8 (79-80)
back to top

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

back to top

18th CENTURY RECIPE: A meal for Marie-Antoinette - cold chicken and chicken blanquette with cucumber

The next to last item in the list of sixteen entrees for this meal is... cold chicken. If there was a special way of preparing this, no cookbook I've seen so far mentions it. And so we move to the last item on the list: chicken blanquette with cucumber.

The only time I can remember having cucumber used in a sauce was either in Cameroon or in a Parisian housing project with some African friends. Either way, the cucumbers in question were probably African. In our period, however, cucumbers (presumably the European kind) were frequently used in sauce and appear in the names of a number of recipes.

The Dons de Comus refers all blanquettes back to veal blanquette (still the most common today):

Cut veal up very thin. Brown mushrooms. Dust them with a little flour and add bouillon. Simmer. Put in your veal, with salt and pepper. Bind the sauce with four egg yolks, parsley chopped fine, a little nutmeg, a loaf of butter if you have it. To finish, lemon juice, or vinegar, or verjus in the seasoning.

While this recipe can be readily adapted to use with chicken, I have not seen any blanquette that also uses cucumbers. One approach would be to replace the mushrooms in the recipe above with thinly sliced cucumbers. Another might be to make the following recipe with chicken, using egg yolks and butter with the other ingredients above to thicken the cucumber sauce:

Slivers of duck chopped fine with cucumbers

Cut your slivers thin and then crosswise, to make the flesh more tender. Take cucumbers, peeled and sliced thin. Marinate with some onions, also cut thin, salt, and some vinegar, a little water. Once sufficiently marinated, press them in a cloth, and brown them in melted lard until they begin to darken. Then dust them with flour and pour veal juice over them, and let simmer. Finish with white veal stock. When this is well thickened, put in your slivers without letting them boil. A touch of vinegar to finish.
(II, 246-247)

This completes the list of sixteen entrees from the meal served to Marie-Antoinette for dinner (now our lunch) on Thursday, July 24, 1788 at the Trianon. Bear in mind there are six other courses as well. But for a modern household without its own kitchen staff, the recipes covered so far should provide more than enough dishes for anyone who would like to offer guests a taste of what was served the queen.

I may yet be tempted to research some of those other courses. For now, we'll leave Marie-Antoinette to her upcoming moment of modern stardom.

back to top

fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys


Magasin Pittoresque: No 35 - 1867

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

Sometimes in going through this 19th century periodical seeking out 18th century references, it is so tempting to stop en route for 'contemporary' observations, while trying to remember that they were themselves written over a hundred years ago - as Louis Reybaud's remark on the Universal Exposition of 1867: "What is most striking in this show is less the evidence of the power of man than the profusion of useless things for which he has developed a need." (7)

Want some basic lessons in drawing? Images included. It is a little surprising on the other hand to see a coin showing the face of a ruler named 'Mahomet'. What about labels on... Roman wine? More modern than mixing wine and milk (per Hippocrates). The issue of how to properly quote seems to have already provoked some controversy in the nineteenth century.

For our own period, lots of images of street vendors - and of a post office sorting room!

7 - automatic head on convent organ (image)
61 - 17th c trades in Bologna (image)
97 - Costume in France - under Louis XVI (image)
103 - Dutch sea captains in Japan 'grow fat'
103 - history of charcutiers (image)
165 - old signs (images)
169 - post office under Louis XV (image)
171 - Lutherian envelopes from Augsbourg (images)
199 - drapers and shearers (images)
236 - the burning of Smolensk (image)
243 - tale of a ribbon vendor and a cocoa vendor (images)
281 - compliments on turning 50 (image)
316 - iron lantern from Louis XVI period (image)
324 - the museum of arms (near the Bastille) (image)
340 - street vendors (with anecdote) (images)
347 - engraving on fine stones (images)
405 - young girls' rhetoric lesson (image)


1 - Marshal de Catignat (military man) (image)
7 - "forgotten savant" Couplet
113 - painter Mlle. Gerard (image of "Inn valet")
119 - Goethe's mother (image)
154 - Necker (image)
161 - sculptor Louis Hubac (image)
176 - Goethe's sister (image)
265 - the Abbe Saint-Pierre (image)
345 - precocity of musicians (with examples)
377 - the exalted fortune of a woman of the market (image)
(wife of Martin, major general in the Company of the Indies?)
385 - the baker's wife of New Windstein (image)

Off-topic, but of interest
12 - archaeopteryx (image of fossil)
44 - shell jewelry found at Dijon (images)
46 - millionaires and the economy
81 - "Negro idyll" - freed slaves relaxing (image)
83 - Icelandic sayings ("When children swear, they get a black mark on their tongue")
116 - lightship (image)
128 - coin showing Mahomet II (image)
182 - Drawing from nature (images)
222- Horace Mann (image)
250 - Daguerre's house (image)
298 - wine among the ancients
342 - discussion of quoting in texts
359 - comparison of British and French agricultural populations
361 - Durer's drawing of monkeys (image)
363 - ringing of bells in Paris 14th c.
386 - Goetz of Berlichingen and his arm of iron (image)
407 - possibility of flight using wings (image)

back to top

End quotes

"He, the uncouth object of such wide-spread adulation, the sitter at great men's feasts, the roc's egg of great ladies' assemblies, the subduer of exclusiveness, the leveller of pride, the patron of patrons,... the recipient of more acknowledgment within some ten or fifteen years, at most, than had been bestowed... upon all peaceful public benefactors, and upon all the leaders of all the Arts and Sciences, with all their works to testify for them, during two centuries at least--he, the shining wonder, the new constellation to be followed by the wise men bringing gifts... --was simply the greatest Forger and the greatest Thief that ever cheated the gallows."

Dickens, "Little Dorrit"

"We believe that God in fact is in control and indeed he does work all things for good for those who love the Lord."

Ken Lay after his trial

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.


Questions? Comments? Corrections? Write:

Chez Jim

Memoirs of

the Bastille

Return to
Welcome to

the Bastille
Chez Jim