SUNDRIES: An eighteenth century newsletter

N° 33 - June 3, 2006

TECH TALK: the Sony Readerinter textLINKS: Sauces
law scales THE OLD REGIME POLICE BLOTTER: Bastille suicides

inter cooking 18th CENTURY RECIPE: Bayonnaise/Mahonnaise/Mayonnaise

fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys
ARTICLES: Bayonnaise Bourgeoisie; Batcave; the royal chair inter text Magasin Pittoresque: No 37-1869


TECH TALK: the Sony Reader

Soon after I began Sundries, I mentioned a new electronic book, the Librie, from Sony, which at that point was only available in Japan. Now Howard Stringer has demoed the Reader, which is, says Rafe Needleman, "an electronic book that looks like something a real person would actually want. The Reader is very thin, lighter than a real book, and employs a backlight-free high-contrast display technology that makes text easier to read than on any other lightweight device I've seen. I'd line up to buy one if it'll cost less than the $300." A caption for this little wonder says "The Reader is wrapped in a leather, booklike cover." And it can show PDF's.

I'm guessing this will available for under $200 before another year is up.
Look for me reading Gallica downloads in my local cafe.

back to top

LINKS: Sauces

Yet another culinary site here - What's Cooking America, which includes a history of food and even a History of Sauces.

back to top

back to top


A number of suicides are recorded in the archives of the Bastille, not all of which occurred at the castle itself. It would be interesting to compare those that did with suicides at other prisons (most of which were far worse than the Bastille) but I know of no other records that are so complete. What makes some of the following accounts interesting is their bureaucratic precision, rare in other sources.

The first two accounts appear, from context, to concern events at Brest and Versailles.


A later mention of Legrand says that he threw himself from a window, which would have been difficult (though not impossible) at the Bastille. Since the orders are being sent to Brest, it seems likely the prisoner tried to kill himself there.

Pontchartrain to the Seneschal of Brest
Versailles, May 9, 1696

You have heard that M. Desclouzeaux had arrested at Brest, by order of the King, a spy, Legrand, who informed the enemy of activities at this port, that this man has since wanted to kill himself, and what he has done to that end. It seems very likely that he will not be cured of the wounds he gave himself. The intention of the King is that as soon as you have received this letter, you will try him, if he is not dead, or his corpse if he is.

If this man is still alive, you must interrogate him as ordered by these instructions, but note that you are to try him only for his last crime, of wanting to kill himself, but if he is completely cured and out of danger, it will not be necessary to start his trial, because in this case it would be more appropriate to try him as a State criminal.
Ravaisson, Archives de la Bastille, 1693-1702 (103)


This suicide probably happened at Versailles, since it involves one of several of the king's "Officers of the Mouth" accused of purloining plate.

Maurepas, a famous figure in the period, was then minister of the King's Household; Herault was the lieutenant of police.

Maurepas to Herault
August 24, 1733

It is right that you be informed that Préponnier, worker ["boy"] at the mouth, who is suspected of having participated in these thefts struck himself several times, on the seventeenth of this month, with his sword, dying two days later, but before dying he charged one person, whom he could trust, to openly warn those of the Mouth that those who had stolen plate should flee, that for himself he had nothing to fear since his wounds were mortal. Nothing was found at his home after the removal of the seals, on which to try him.
Ravaisson, 1726-1737 (431)

Aside from the human drama here and the studious efforts made by Charras in preparing to end his own life, it is striking that he seems to have been imprisoned in response to an English lord's request. The phrase 'by order of the King', by the way, was a conventional one for the Bastille - when prisoners arrived, their guards would shout 'order of the King' as they rode up to the gates, indicating they had a prisoner.

D'Argenson to Torcy
June 17, 1766

Yesterday morning, at 11 o'clock, Charras, prisoner in the B., by order of the King, stabbed himself with a knife twice above the heart; it is to be feared that one of the wounds may be mortal. He used for this a bad knife whose blade is broken four fingers from the handle, and which did not seem usable for this purpose; but this unhappy man was careful to prepare it, by sharpening it on an earthenware jug he had in his room. After having made it sharp at the end, he struck himself twice, and he had already lost a lot of blood when help came. He had, since the morning, taken the precaution of closing his door from behind with his garters, and with other fastenings, to make entry difficult; and he wrote, with coal, on the walls of his room, the following words: 'I take as a witness the great God before whom I will appear, that I die innocent. I pardon everybody generally; God bless the king of France and William, king of England. Lord Jesus, receive my soul, I die Protestant. For the love of God, ask my relatives to let my poor wife know of my death, and that I die praying for her.'

'Good Lord, pardon my sins.'

It was noted in bleeding him and in placing the first apparatus on him, that he had tried to cut the veins of his two arms with a bit of glass which he had broken for this purpose. He has even admitted to all these facts, and since yesterday in the evening he asked for a priest so fervently, that it was thought necessary to give him this consolation. The clergyman who spoke with him confirms that he follows all his instructions with a marvelous docility, and that he seems disposed to convert; but this change is too prompt to merit complete faith.

The surgeon who dressed his wounds adds that he is completely over his despair, and that he wants to recover, but that they are very concerned for his life, and the results from the first apparatus of which I have just had word increase this concern. You recall no doubt that this Charras is in the B. since last November, and that he was sent there by important instructions which were sent to you by my lord Middleton.
Ravaisson, 1693-1702 (192-193)


The prisoner in question here may be either Vissec, a pretended fomenter of sedition, or Allegre, better known for his involvement with Latude's escape.

Fontellian was the surgeon general; Bertin was the lieutenant general of police. This is an unusually methodical and medical description of an attempted suicide in the Bastille. "No 7" here is the prisoner, referred to (as was standard) by his room number.

Fontellian to Bertin
January 11, 1757 9 am

I have just been informed by the turnkey of No 7, that he just found him laid out on the floor of his room, bathing in his own blood, having gone there at once, I found him wounded on the upper part of the forehead at the spot we call the upper medium part of the coronal, the frontalis ['preparate'] vein which is the vein of the forehead is open, causing a great flow of blood. The wounded man told me he intended to kill himself to avoid the fury of his imaginary enemies. To achieve his purpose, he climbed on a chair, and threw himself on the floor, head first; having not succeeded to his liking, he used a log, with which he gave himself a quite considerable contusion on the right temple. Finally, despairing of killing himself by these different means, he wanted to open his veins with a wagon nail he had chanced to find, but which did not happen to be sharp enough. He also tried to crack his head against the walls, the wound is not dangerous, but his contusion could have dangerous consequences, all the more so because I would not know how to apply the appropriate remedies for such a case; I have from himself the details which I take the liberty of describing to you.
Ravaisson, Archives de la Bastille 1748-1757 (296)


In his "Memoirs of the Bastille", Linguet complains bitterly of the severe restrictions on sharp objects. The following case has been cited as one reason they were so tight. Drouhart was one of several prisoners who were to be transferred to Bicetre - despite the Bastille's sulfurous reputation, it was far preferable to the latter prison, which may be what prompted this desperate act.

Catholic prisoners who died in the Bastille were buried in the cemetery of St. Paul's, the Bastille being in that parish.

Chevalier to Sartine
November 19, 1767

Regarding Drouhart, after this prisoner had signed his exit form, all was finished with him; while going, he entered his tower like a bird. Bourguignon, his turnkey, followed him, where, going into his room, this prisoner gave him a thrust with a knife of which Bourguignon may die; then Drouhart stabbed himself and did not live ten minutes after. I have just informed M. Rochebrune so that he can come write an official report of this death, as is proper.

Annotation [Apostil] by Sartine
Write to M. the duke of Choiseuil to inform him of this event. - Write to the M. the Count of St. Florentin to inform him and to ask if this suicide should be put on trial. Write to M. the Major to reproach him for negligence during visits, that, if they were properly made, the prisoners would not have any knives with which to commit such crimes.

M. the Count of Rochebrune came by the c[astle] in the afternoon, awaiting your order to write the report on the suicide of Drouhart. M. le G[overnor - that is, warden] had M. de Pibrac come, who visited our poor Bourguignon, turnkey, who was administered [unction] this evening, who is very badly off, and who may not survive the night. Do you want, after M. de Rochebrune has done what is done in such cases, that we have this prisoner buried? because, until then, I do not think it can be done. As a result, we await your O[rders] on all this.

Annotation by Sartine
Write to M. the Major that he can have the prisoner and even the turnkey, if he dies, buried at Saint-Paul; that the minister wants this matter kept quiet.

Ravaisson, Archives de la Bastille, 1765-1769 (218)
back to top

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

back to top

18th CENTURY RECIPE: Bayonnaise/Mahonnaise/Mayonnaise

In the Dictionnaire General de la Cuisine Francaise Ancienne et Moderne, published in 1853, one item in the article on "Sauces" begins as follows: "Bayonnaise sauce (called 'mayonnaise' by ignorant teachers and hucksters)". Though unusually categorical (especially given that he cribbed the recipe itself), the author was not alone in suggesting that this sauce originated in Bayonne and so, like a woman from that city, was 'Bayonnaise'. Even today, a somewhat spicier version exists under that name in Bayonne. But the more common explanations are either that the word was a corruption of "mahonnaise" (for the duke of Richelieu's victory at Mahon) or "mayennaise" (for the duke of Mayenne):

Mayonnaise made its English-language debut in a cookbook of 1841, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Mayonnaise is generally said to have been created by the chef of Louis François Armand du Plessis, duc de Richelieu in 1756, to celebrate the Duke's victory over the British at the port of Mahon (the capital of Minorca in the Balearic Islands). The French spelling for this Spanish port is 'Mahón', and thus 'sauce from Mahon' is 'sauce mahónnaise', from which it was said the word 'mayonnaise' was derived. This often-repeated story seems flawed, however....

In fact it may appear more credible that sauce Mayonnaise was originally named for Charles of Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne (in northwest France), who presided over the meeting of the Estates General in January 1593 that had been summoned for the purpose of choosing a Catholic ruler for France. ...

Another proposed etymology points to the French city of Bayonne; 'mayonnaise' would be a corruption of bayonnaise.

If anyone wonders, there does not seem to be any French place called 'Mayon' - if there were, you can be sure they would have staked their claim as well. Also, as generally proves true for stories about the origin of any food, no one cites any contemporary accounts to support either the Mahon or the Mayenne version, and the first mentions of the sauce are to be found well after the events in question.

The Larousse Gastronomique suggests that the original word was "moyeunnaise" from (the author claims) the old French word "moyeu", for an egg yolk, since the sauce is essentially an emulsion of egg yolk and oil. But aside from the absence of either word in period dictionaries, there is one significant problem with this explanation: the earliest recipes for mayonnaise use jelly (made from meats or elk horn, and sometimes highly flavored itself), rather than eggs, as the main binding ingredient:

Chickens Mayonnaise Split up two cold chickens which have been cooked in a frying pan as perfectly as possible; put the pieces in a pot with some velouté, eight skimming spoons full, four of jelly, and two teaspoons of tarragon vinegar, a little coarse pepper; reduce all this by a third; if your sauce browns a little, put in an egg as binding; when it is reduced to the right degree, add a little parsley and tarragon chopped well; you will then bring your sauce to a boil twice; see if it is properly salted, and put it on your cold pieces of chicken; then let it cool; you will lay it out on your dish, and pour your sauce, which will be almost hardened, on your chickens; decorate this with jelly and croutons.
Viard, Le Cuisinier Imperial (1806) (326)

Mayonnaise Sauce

Put two or three teaspoons of fine oil in an earthen jar, and two of tarragon vinegar; add sufficient tarragon, shallots, salad burnet, chopped very fine, salt, coarse pepper, two or three spoonfuls of jelly or aspic; stir all this well with a spoon: the sauce will thicken and form a kind of pomade. Taste it; if it is too salty or too vinegary, mix in a little oil; if you would like it clear, crush up the jelly with your knife, and mix it lightly with your seasoning.
Beauvilliers, l'Art du Cuisinier (1814) (66)

As the nineteenth century began, mayonnaise still seems to have been a curiosity to those from other countries. Kotzebue, a German travelling in France in 1804, comments on the enormous variety of dishes, then says "the choice is that much more difficult, because one does not always know the technical terms. For example, who could guess what a chicken mayonnaise, a fowl galantine or an epigram of lamb is?" (Kotzebue, Souvenirs de Paris en 1804 (267))

By the thirties, mayonnaise had become the familiar egg and oil emulsion of today, though no source consulted here says how. Albert's Le Cuisinier Parisien (1838) includes a recipe which is almost exactly that offered (albeit irritably) by the Dictionnaire General fifteen years later:

Blend two egg yolks with the juice of a lemon; add mixed salt and spices; little by little pour oil on the eggs, stirring the whole time; the sauce will soon thicken; add from time to time a little strong aromatic vinegar. One can keep adding oil so long as the sauce does not lose consistency.
Dictionnaire General (437)

Anyone, by the way, who has never actually TRIED to make their own mayonnaise should be warned that the phrase "the sauce will thicken" should be considered optimistic. Making mayonnaise is one of those simple arts that requires some practice to become so.

Otherwise, if you simply must know more about the subject, it has its own Web page: How Products Are Made - Mayonnaise

back to top

fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys

ARTICLES: Bayonnaise Bourgeoisie; Batcave; the royal chair

I often wish I had more time to dig into the various regional journals which Gallica regularly adds each month. My research on mayonaisse led me rather fortuitously to the Bulletin de la Société des sciences, lettres et arts de Pau, specifically that for 1889 (1888-1889 (2e sér. / T. 18)) which, starting on page 89, includes a lengthy and very rich article on "The Bayonnaise Bourgeoisie under the Old Regime". Here is a sample of the entries within the article:

La cuisine la vaisselle l alimentation Description d une cuisine bayonnaise au XVI e siecle - Cheminee de la cuisine - L eclairage - Batterie de cuisine en airain et en cuivre - Repas dans la cuisine - La saliere et le l...
CHAPITRE VIII La salle a manger et les repas La salle a manger - Sa situation - Description d une salle a manger bayonnaise au XVIII e siecle - Livres de cuisine - Noms des plats - Diners du corps de ville au XVIII e siecle - Epices - Diner offert au Marechal de Gram...
... Bayonne au XVI e siecle - Le cabinet de travail d un chanoine au XVI e siecle - Les livres au XVII e siecle - La bibliotheque d une grande dame bayonnaise au XVIII e siecle - Un bibliophile bayonnais - Choix de ses livres - Livres rares de luxe et reliures en maroquin - Livres a figures - Estampes... ...sur gages - Le numeraire - Diversite des monnaies au XVI e siecle - Le numeraire aux XVII e et XVIII e siecles - Les medailles - Medaille d or bayonnaise - Les poids et mesures - Poids de pierre et poids de bronze 179
CHAPITRE XII L armement des bourgeois et du peuple...
...e - Les vetements au XVII e siecle - Garde-robe de bourgeois bayonnais vers 1750 - Unification du costume en France - Le costume d une bourgeoise bayonnaise au XVIII e siecle 195
CHAPITRE XIV Le linge et les etoffes Ordonnance sur le commerce de la draperie ... ...e en linge de table 204
CHAPITRE XV La toilette Rarete du linge de corps au moyen age - Le linge d une bayonnaise au XVIII e siecle - Objets de toilette - Les peignes et la table de toilette - Les gants d Espagne - L ambre gris et des parfums a la mode - Pro... ...utriche - Bains et etuves - Les perrugues - Le pichepot l urinal et la chaise-pe\rcee 211
CHAPITRE XVI La Societe bayonnaise Les promenades publiques - Les visites des bourgeoises chez les accouchees et dans les parloirs des couvents - Les reunions de la bour... ...e Bayonne par M l abbe DUBARAT 37 Les eaux potables de Pau par M le D r DUHOURCAU 67 La bourgeoisie bayonnaise sous l ancien regime par M DUCERE 89

It also includes an article on "Public Education at Orthez before 1789" (257) written by a certain Louis.... Batcave. (If he has any American descendants, I suspect they've changed their name by now.)

One advantage of reading regional information from our period is to see how far the influence of the Court extended, as witness this item on the chaise percee ('pierced chair' or close stool): "The close stool, become very fashionable under the great king, begin to reign among the rich bourgeoisie of our town, and there was not so to say a bedroom which did not have an ample supply of these." The same passage by the way credits no longer wearing linen cloth directly against the skin for ending a number of unpleasant skin conditions. (216)

back to top

Magasin Pittoresque: No 37-1869

REMINDER: The Magasin Pittoresque was a nineteenth century French magazine. Issues can be found on Gallica.Also, most articles are accompanied by at least one image, and so some may interest even those who do not read French.

A wealth of material on the eighteenth century here, including close-ups of two of the provincial Estates-General which are sometimes forgotten in a focus on Paris. This issue, like some of those preceding, includes anecdotes about people in some of the smaller trades of Paris - the stories may be fictional, but the glimpses of the trades themselves are intriguing. Nice to know that Paris Hilton could have bought one of her little toy dogs in the streets of Paris back then. Those who like old toys will be enchanted by the wind-powered baubles shown being sold by Jeanne Lormeau.

Given our recent references to Orientalism, interesting to see that this issue includes a number of 'Oriental' proverbs and other glimpses of Muslim life. And I'm sure some of us will recognize friends (or ourselves) in the curious catalogue of 'interruptors'.

Oh, and if you're thinking of having a French 18th century wedding, there's an invitation form here. Just fill in the blanks.

6 - livres de raison
16 - value of poverty to a country (i.e cheap labor, cannon fodder) (1764)
19 - history of clothing in France - more Louis XVI
23 - the Menechmes of Lorraine (twins)
25 - the Estates (General) of Brittany
56 - Polish generals' command batons
57 - 18TH century wedding invitation
64 - medallion by David d'Angers
67 - extracts from Chaldni's Treatise on Acoustics
68 - throne of the Shahs of Persia
80 - Cook and dacrydium plant
84 - tale of a water carrier
105 - a session of the House of Commons under Robert Walpole
121 - the Estates (General) of Languedoc
123 - tale of a public writer and a seller of skins
127 - travels and adventures of the wives of the emperor of Morocco in 1793
143 - (brief) origins of some noble families in England
147 - seller of dwarf cats and dogs/broom merchants
167 - A man from Rouen explores the town and its history [NOTE: pages missing here]
235 - Album amicorum of German travellers
238 - last words of Girondins
245 - the vinegar seller's wheelbarrow
265 - old houses and new houses
279 - ship prows
289 - Hogarth print: Lord Spendthrift's morning
305 - 17th c. literary and scientific conferences
315 - Frankfurt during the coronation (1741-1742) seen by a French cook
335 - lifesaving knives 1738
340 - complaining figures (Patience!)
354 - small German court in the 18th c
360 - luxury (with image of ornate carriage)
364 - James I's cradle
383 - 17th c. travel insurance
386 - Parisian lighting in 1741
397 - convent 'parloir'

38 - traveller Felix d'Azara's dedication to his brother
41 - Gianduja popular folk character in Piedmont
113 - Scottish philosopher Dugald Stewart
199 - spelling of Leibnitz's name
273 - Jeanne Lormeau (seller of children's propeller like toys)
320 - the guide of Charles XII in 1700
342 - the shoemaker lawyer Pierre Gouhier
346 - inventor Nicholas Leblanc

22 - sayings of Mohammed
32 - the interrupters (different styles of interrupting)
110 - 16th c fossilized man
119 - 8th century Chinese poetry
140 - fifteenth century miniatures of Paris
157 - Sixteenth century helmets
176 - educational institutions in US (stats)
182, 358 - Oriental proverbs
225 - Kabyl 'sofs' and rivalries
232 - the oldest bell in France (in Saint-Pol de Leon)
242 - extracts from Felix Mendelssohn's correspondance
260 - optical illusions: the fantasmagory (and others in subsequent articles)
326 - increasing use of asphalt
348 - Shakers of Mount Lebanon
383 - Kabyl fables
405 - difficulties of precocious children

back to top

End quotes

"They are carefully hiding everything that happened during the sortie... this month..; we have lost quite a few people; the letters of relatives and friends are held back."

Journal et mémoires du marquis d'Argenson. Vol. 9, 1755-1757. [2]

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