Preferred Citation: Metzner, Paul. Crescendo of the Virtuoso: Spectacle, Skill, and Self-Promotion in Paris during the Age of Revolution. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.


Crescendo of the Virtuoso

Spectacle, Skill, and Self-Promotion in Paris during the Age of Revolution

Paul Metzner

Berkeley · Los Angeles · London
© 1998 The Regents of the University of California

To Ann

Preferred Citation: Metzner, Paul. Crescendo of the Virtuoso: Spectacle, Skill, and Self-Promotion in Paris during the Age of Revolution. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.

To Ann


Every human endeavor is an endeavor of many human beings. A person cannot become an author without other people raising, inspiring, encouraging, educating, training, advising, and assisting that person; similarly, a person’s writing cannot be made into a book without other people expanding, cajoling, massaging, correcting, cutting, prodding, and nudging that writing.

Ann Le Bar, companion and historian, helped me in innumerable ways at every stage in the creation of every part of this book.

Helen Low Metzner and Charles Metzner, my parents, began my instruction in critical thinking and enabled me to pursue my scholarly interest to this distant conclusion.

Stephen Cuffel, Joy Markham, and Ken Wong, friends and originals, gave me inspiration over a long period of time.

John Toews, Scott Lytle, and George Behlmer, professors of history, contributed greatly to whatever virtues I can claim as a historian.

Mark Scholz, friend and historian, assisted me considerably at a late stage in the composition of this book.

Alice Loranth and her staff, led by Motoko Reece, at the Fine Arts and Special Collections Department of the Cleveland Public Library, went out of their way to aid me in my research. Many of the librarians and other staff persons I had contact with at the Library of Congress aided me generously; I would like to mention by name Joan Higbee of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division and Charles Sens of the Performing Arts Division. Leslie Overstreet of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and Meta Lytle also gave me extra aid with research materials.

The University of Washington Graduate School provided me with a Western European Studies Fellowship that facilitated my spending a full year in Paris conducting research.

I thank these individuals and organizations and all the other relatives, friends, educators, historians, librarians, and organizations who contributed to this book for their help. And I hope that I have helped others in their endeavors as much as they have helped me in mine.


The Historical Background

From late-eighteenth-century Paris the world’s first aeronauts arced skyward in gas-filled balloons of their own making above crowds of earthbound onlookers.[1] Then and there human beings began to place themselves in the previously forbidden open air, to successfully defy the consensus of the possible, to fly. Revolutions in the appropriation of space, in the valuation of practical knowledge, and in the projection of the self conditioned these unprecedented ascents of a few bold individuals.

Virtuosos are ordinarily taken to be people who exhibit great technical skill in an art, a craft, or any other field of human activity. This study employs a somewhat narrower and more precise definition. Here virtuosos are taken to be people who exhibit their talents in front of an audience, who possess as their principal talent a high degree of technical skill, and who aggrandize themselves in reputation and fortune, principally through the exhibition of their skill.

During the Age of Revolution, individuals with these characteristics appeared in a wide variety of fields, including chess, cooking, crime detection, musical performance, and automaton-building. Their diversity of occupation may have obscured but did not preclude their development of fundamentally similar drives to excel in spectacle-making, technical skill, and self-promotion. More specifically, these virtuosos had a theatrical bent and loved to perform. They sought to find or gather an audience and then to expand it. In so doing, they modified the exercise of their arts to make them more striking to the eye or ear—that is, more spectacular. They presented the marvelous and the outré. They developed large rep-ertoires of techniques. They improved or invented instruments used in their art. They performed often, with rapidity, and from memory. In general they showed their technical skill through the overcoming of difficulties. They advertised their activities in newspapers and on posters. They wrote about themselves or hired or encouraged others to write about them in books and magazines. They solicited for themselves honors, awards, large fees, and other manifestations of social and material advancement. Such were the common characteristics of the virtuosos of the Age of Revolution.

During the Age of Revolution, Paris became the center of a cyclone of virtuosity, as increasing numbers of highly skilled performers arrived from around Europe and the rate of their exhibitions accelerated. Paris was at the same time the center of an anticyclone, as native or naturalized virtuosos flew out from there to tour Europe.

How did it happen that individuals in divergent occupations acquired convergent characteristics? How did it happen that Paris became their focal point? And how did these things happen specifically during the Age of Revolution? The answer in a package is that spectacle-making was encouraged by the proliferation of public spaces, that the cultivation of technical skill was encouraged by the appreciation in the value of practical knowledge, and that self-promotion was encouraged by the dissemination of the self-centered worldview, all of which took place during the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries throughout the Western world but with particular intensity in Paris.

The Age of Revolution is the standard label for a period of Western history that has no standard bracket dates. Here it will refer to the last quarter of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century, encompassing the American Revolution of 1776–83, the French Revolution of 1789–99, the sporadic revolutions around Europe around 1830, the continent-wide Revolution of 1848, the Industrial Revolution, the Romantic Revolution in the arts, and various other little-studied and unlabeled revolutions.

A revolution in the appropriation of space accompanied the political and economic revolutions. “Space” here means both physical space, defined by location and material characteristics, and social space, defined by common activity of a group of people. For just as “office” may refer to a room, a place in a building, it may also refer to an occupation, a place in society; likewise, “position” may refer to a location or to an occupation. In most countries government is associated with particular buildings in a particular city, but it is more a social than a physical space. Government is the space in which designated people make, execute, and judge adherence to law. In general the political revolutions gave access to this space to many more people, as public officials, as jurors, and as voters. Even more important than this quantitative change was the qualitative, conceptual change: Subjects became citizens and government became self-government. Areas formerly ruled from outside became independent: The United States gained independence from Great Britain in 1783, Norway from Denmark in 1814,[2] Greece from Turkey in 1829, Belgium from the Netherlands in 1830, and both Hungary and northern Italy from Austria temporarily in 1848–49 and permanently in the 1860s. Elected legislative and consultative bodies sprang into existence or, where such bodies already existed, they acquired real power. Kings and queens continued to rule in almost all the countries of Europe, but many of them now ruled over constitutional or limited rather than absolute monarchies. Thus, during the Age of Revolution more and more people could feel that their government was more and more collectively theirs. Put another way, during the Age of Revolution a large number of governments were wrested from the private domains of family dynasties and converted into public spaces.

This happened in France, which went through a whole series of political revolutions. These followed a long series of kings, many of them named Louis, who ruled during a period afterward termed the Old Regime, extending back from 1789 into the Middle Ages. In 1789 broke out the first of the political revolutions, known variously as the French Revolution, the Great French Revolution, the Great Revolution, or simply the Revolution. It started rather peacefully, but gradually, from one representative assembly to the next—the Estates General, the National Assembly, the Legislative Assembly, and the National Convention—it became more radical and violent. The successive assemblies progressively restricted the powers of King Louis XVI until finally the National Convention abolished the monarchy, put the deposed king on trial, and executed him. Shortly thereafter, the Committee of Public Safety, a group of twelve Convention representatives led by Maximilien Robespierre, took control of France and from June 1793 to July 1794 waged a Reign of Terror against its real and perceived enemies, around seventeen thousand of whom were executed by summary justice.[3] Other Convention representatives finally overthrew this brutally effective regime and drew up a new constitution that resulted in a corrupt, ineffective regime called the Directory, after the name of the five-member executive council at its head, which governed during the last four years of the Revolution, from 1795 through 1799.

The revolutionaries made government a public space and then used the space for public spectacles. Discussion in the representative assemblies became oratorical fireworks. Votes became judgments executed by the guillotine, set up in large city squares for the accommodation of large audiences. Fêtes and processions decreed by the assemblies flooded the newly laid-out parks and boulevards of Paris with hundreds of thousands of people celebrating a funeral, an anniversary, a religious belief, a military victory, or a new sense of nationhood.

The revolutionaries also opened up many public spaces in the economy. The Old Regime had had a labyrinth of regulations protecting established patterns of economic activity but obstructing economic development. Most trades, for example the food service trades of cookery, butchery, and patisserie, operated under the guild system, a rigid system of laws, rules, and traditions according to which one could open a pastry shop only after becoming a master pastrycook, one could become a master only after working for several years as a journeyman, and one could become a journeyman only after successfully completing a years-long training program as an apprentice. Impresarios of theaters and publishers of books, periodicals, and newspapers had to have a license from the government, which issued only a limited number of them and then censored the limited output of those few licensees. A network of internal customs barriers had grown up over the centuries, so that to import goods from the French provinces into Paris, for example, one had to pay a duty at the city gate where one entered. The revolutionaries abolished the guild system, so that anyone could open any business; they abolished the licensing and censorship of organs of communication, so that anyone could write or say anything in public as well as in private; and they abolished all internal tariffs, so that any product could be moved freely within the country.[4]

Cafés and restaurants, theaters and exhibition halls, concert series and serial publications are some of the sorts of public spaces that perforated the private quarters of Paris during the Revolution. Taking advantage of all the new public spaces, the practitioners of various arts and crafts became performers and used these spaces as settings for the playing of multiple simultaneous blindfold chess games, for the presentation of huge decorative sugar-sculpture centerpieces, for the exposure of the underworld of crime, for the performance of impossibly difficult pieces of music, and for the exhibition of mechanical marvels that imitated human beings in appearance and movement. In sum, they used these spaces to stage an expanding spectrum of spectacles.

A revolution in the valuation of practical knowledge accompanied the social and economic revolutions. In broad terms, the social revolution of late-eighteenth- and early-to-mid-nineteenth-century Western Europe consisted of the slow but pervasive change from aristocratic society to bourgeois society. In aristocratic society one’s place was largely determined by the circumstances of one’s birth: the social class of the family into which one was born, the occupation of the father of the family, the place of one’s birth, the order of one’s birth in relation to siblings, one’s sex. In bourgeois society what mattered most was the size of one’s assets. As a result of this difference, the two societies also differed in the opportunity they offered to individuals to change situations. In the former society one’s situation had been substantially fixed, while in the latter society one had the potential for considerable social mobility. Money was of course the principal means of social mobility in bourgeois society, but one could acquire enough of it to move upward in any of several ways. One could inherit it, earn it in business as an entrepreneur, or earn it in business or government as a professional—that is, as someone with specialized practical knowledge.

The abolition of the guild system, of the licensing and censorship of the organs of communication, and of internal tariffs, although they laid the foundations of the laissez-faire economic system, constituted a legal rather than an economic revolution. The real engine of economic development in the Age of Revolution was industrialization, the conversion from animal power to machine power in the production of goods. Making this conversion required technological innovations and the commercial reproduction of those technological innovations. In reproduction France lagged somewhat behind Great Britain and the United States, but in innovation France led. French science was second to none for at least the first half of the Age of Revolution. In Paris, Lavoisier founded modern chemistry; Champollion deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics; Foucault measured the speed of light; Buffon, Lacépède, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, and Cuvier headed the advance of biology; and Monge, Laplace, Lagrange, and Fourier made innovative applications of mathematics to hydraulics, astronomy, thermodynamics, and other branches of physics. The French also made innovative applications of new knowledge to technology. The balloon ascents of the late eighteenth century arose out of the new chemistry, for example. But while the first gas light was constructed by Philippe Lebon, it was the British who made gas lighting commercially successful. And while the French marquis de Jouffroy d’Abbans built and demonstrated the first operational steamboat as early as 1783, the year of the first manned balloon ascent, it was the American Robert Fulton who built the first commercially successful steamboat, two decades later.

The government of Napoleon Bonaparte was almost as much a technocracy as a military dictatorship. General Bonaparte overthrew the Directory in a coup d’état in 1799, initially calling his regime the Consulate and himself first consul, five years later proclaiming France an empire and himself Emperor Napoleon. As chief of state, he conducted a long series of military campaigns in which he conquered many European countries and intimidated most of the rest into signing treaties favorable to France. But he had been trained as an artillery expert and had almost as much respect for mathematics as he had for tactics. He conducted a domestic modernization campaign, encouraging industry, founding technical schools, and appointing scientists and technical experts as well as generals to head his ministries.

The reorganization of society on the basis of wealth rather than birth, industrialization, and Napoleon’s experiment in technocracy all contributed to the increasing value of practical knowledge in French society. Inventors attracted great celebrity. The École Polytechnique, the national engineering school founded during the Revolution, quickly became the most prestigious school in France and the model for a series of “Grandes Écoles.” Practitioners of every art and craft imagined themselves mechanicians, tinkering with the tools of their trade. Or they imagined themselves authors, publishing handbooks, manuals, encyclopedias, and repertoires of techniques. Or they imagined themselves performers, making agility the basis of a new theatricality. In sum, the appreciation in the value of practical knowledge encouraged individuals to strive to master their world through the cultivation and demonstration of technical skill.

A revolution in the projection of the self accompanied the intellectual and economic revolutions. The Enlightenment is the name of a radiation of ideas that illuminated France and other parts of the Western world in the eighteenth century, more brightly in the second half than in the first. Among the leading lights of the French constellation were Diderot, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire, La Mettrie, and Condorcet. In general they opposed organized religion and advocated that individuals formulate their own creeds; hence, they were anti-priest but not for the most part antireligious, although they undoubtedly contributed to the secularization of French society. They championed tolerance for dissenting beliefs and opinions, education for a larger proportion of the population and a less dogmatic curriculum, a more equitable legal system with more rights for commoners and fewer privileges for aristocrats and clerics, and the free exchange of ideas. They strongly believed in and encouraged progress in the arts, sciences, and crafts, and they preached the dignity of all useful labor, whether spiritual, mental, or physical.

Partly in reaction to the Enlightenment, another radiation of ideas be-gan in the second half of the eighteenth century but did not reach full intensity until the first half of the nineteenth. If the ideas of Romanticism consisted more of heat than of light, this did not make them any less important. No significant improvements could have occurred in French or Western society without ardent supporters of such improvements. Rousseau was the leading early- or pre-Romantic in France, where, later, Hugo in literature, Berlioz in music, and Delacroix in painting figured among the most productive generators of Romanticism, which issued from the fine arts. Romanticism propagated among a large number of individuals the idea that one’s own life and activities have great value, and that the more energy and feeling one puts into one’s life and activities the better; and it propagated in society at large the idea that people of accomplishment are society’s real aristocrats and that a genius is a demigod.

Both the Enlightenment and Romanticism, through their emphasis on the value of personal achievement at the expense of the values of family tradition and social hierarchy, contributed to the democratic revolution, to the industrial revolution, to the bourgeois revolution, and most of all to the new self-centered worldview. Before the Age of Revolution, most people’s social worldview had at its center the king or the pope, the local lord or priest, or the head of one’s family. One saw oneself more or less distant from, dependent on, subordinate to—in short, revolving around—that center. But during the Age of Revolution many people began to believe that self-fulfillment rather than obedience to another was their proper function, and to see themselves at the center of their world.

The transformation of the economy worked in conjunction with intellectual movements to spread the new self-centered worldview. Handle in hand with the industrial revolution went an agricultural revolution. In the second half of the eighteenth century, for the first time in history, a human society succeeded in increasing the yield of its food crops to the point of making itself immune from famine for the foreseeable future. Over the past two hundred years there has always been sufficient food in the Western world to feed the entire population; what starvation there has been has resulted from unequal distribution. Similarly, there has always been sufficient means to distribute the food, only occasionally unequal will. Concentration of land ownership, introduction of new crops and new winter crops, rotation of different crops on the same plot of land, specialization in cash crops, increased fertilization of crops, selective breed-ing of livestock, and of course new machinery, all contributed to the agricultural revolution. With more food being produced by fewer people, the “surplus labor” of the countryside migrated to the cities to tend the engines of industry rather than the animals of agriculture, thus contributing to industrialization. More people could also be fed, so many more in fact that the population exploded. The population of Europe expanded from 105 million in 1700 to 120 million in 1750 to 180 million in 1800 to 265 million in 1850, increases of 15 million, 60 million, and 85 million in successive half-centuries. The population of France expanded slightly less rapidly, from 19 million in 1700 to 22 million in 1750 to 27 million in 1800 to 35 million in 1850, increases of 3 million, 5 million, and 8 million in successive half-centuries. The real explosion took place in the largest cities, such as Paris, which only grew from 530,000 in 1700 to 550,000 in 1800, or less than 5 percent in a full century, but then grew from 550,000 in 1800 to 1,300,000 in 1851, or more than 100 percent in just half a century.[5]

More people, people living closer together, and a rising standard of living, if not yet for the majority then at least for a substantial minority, brought about a phenomenal intensification of communication. Books, magazines, newspapers, broadsheets, engravings, plays, concerts, exhibitions, and expositions rained down, saturating the public with the ideas of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. The swollen media, press and theater, bearing a new message, the self-centered worldview, produced waves of advertising, upstaging, and autobiography in a whirlpool of self-promotion.

Like industrialization, the conversion to bourgeois society, and the radiation of new ideas, democratization in France took place over a long period of time in France. These were revolutions not in the sense of rapid change but in the sense of radical change. The transition to democracy that began with the Revolution of 1789 took most of a century to complete. In 1814 the Great Powers of Europe, having deposed Napoleon, restored the old monarchy in France, with Louis XVIII as the first king of this Restoration. But the monarchy was now a constitutional monarchy as in Britain, not an absolute monarchy as it had been, or as still existed in Austria, Prussia, and Russia. When King Charles X, who succeeded to the throne in 1824, tried to make the monarchy absolute again he was overthrown in a popular revolution, called the Revolution of 1830 or the July Revolution. That event marked the end of the Restoration and the beginning of the July Monarchy. The July Monarchy had only one monarch, King Louis-Philippe, a close relative of the preceding kings but quite reconciled to constitutional government. However, his regime favored the interests of the wealthy, the only segment of the population with the right to vote. Yet another revolution, the Revolution of 1848, overthrew him and led to the founding of the Second Republic, in which the government was to be elected by universal men’s suffrage. This enlarged electorate chose as president Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon I, who in 1851 reestablished authoritarian government in a coup d’état, calling his regime the Second Empire and himself Emperor Napoleon III. Only in 1871 did France become a democracy more or less permanently, upon the founding of the Third Republic. Like the revolution in politics, the three revolutions that are examined in this study—the revolution in the appropriation of space, the revolution in the valuation of practical knowledge, and the revolution in the projection of the self—were prolonged but profound.

The present study elaborates the conventional concept of the virtuoso, most commonly applied to musicians, into a more carefully defined type, and applies it to individuals in a wide variety of occupations.[6] Doing this enables us to perceive patterns that histories of a single art, a single aspect of society, or a single revolution do not show. We discover in the same place at around the same time but in very different social spheres common behaviors: spectacle-making, the cultivation of technical skill, self-promotion. We discover in association with the various political, economic, social, and intellectual revolutions in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Western society common developments: a proliferation of public spaces, an appreciation in the value of practical knowledge, a dissemination of the self-centered worldview. Moving back and forth across the conventional boundaries that have been laid down between disciplines, we discover a more variegated and verisimilar texture of life than histories that respect those boundaries show us. We see an original picture of the Age of Revolution.

History that is deeply interdisciplinary is not common, but it does exist. Carl E. Schorske’s Fin-de-siècle Vienna (1980), which treats literature, architecture and urban design, politics, psychology, painting, and music as they developed in Vienna around the turn of the twentieth century, is a model of interdisciplinary history. Professor Schorske gives this explanation of his method:

The conviction that, to maintain the analytic vitality of intellectual history as a field, I would have to approach it by a kind of post-holing, examining each area of the field in its own terms, determined the strategy of my inquiry. Hence these studies took form from separate research forays into distinct branches of cultural activity—first literature, then city planning, then the plastic arts, and so on.

Like Schorske’s, the present history proceeds from one post-hole to the next. It takes up chess in chapter 1, cooking in chapter 2, crime detection in chapter 3, musical performance in chapter 4, and automaton-building in chapter 5. The focus in each chapter is on one or a few of the leading practitioners and their places in the history of their fields. Schorske’s explanation continues:

But had I attended only to the autonomy of fields and their internal changes, the synchronic relations among them might have been lost. The fertile ground of the cultural elements, and the basis of their cohesion, was a shared social experience in the broadest sense.[7]

He fulfills his implied promise, reconstructing in convincing fashion his subjects’ common ground. He does this in the same chapters that consider “distinct branches of cultural activity,” while the present history uses a separate set of chapters to give an account of a “shared social experience.” Chapter 6 situates the virtuosos’ spectacle-making in the context of the proliferation of public spaces; chapter 7, their cultivation of technical skill in the context of the appreciation in the value of practical knowledge; and chapter 8, their self-promotion in the context of the dissemination of the self-centered worldview. All together then, the present history consists of a set of five diachronic essays that emphasize “the autonomy of fields and their internal changes” and another set of three essays that cross the boundaries between fields in order to establish the “synchronic relations among them.” Each of the eight essays elaborates its own individual thesis and also serves the aims of the study as a whole.

There are three principal aims of the study as a whole. The first is to show that a variety of prominent individuals working at around the same time but in different fields had certain striking similarities, justifying the categorization of them under one rubric: virtuosos.

The second aim is to suggest that Paris during the Age of Revolution was exceptionally rich in virtuosity. Other individuals with the same characteristics have of course worked in other places at other times. Their numbers, their loci, and how they may have differed from the subjects of this study would require other studies to determine. Since “rich” is a comparative term and since studies of virtuosity in other historical locations are lacking—in short, since there are no good bases for comparison—this study can only hypothesize that Paris during the Age of Revolution was unusually rich in virtuosity.

The third aim is to connect the common characteristics of the virtuosos studied here to the social and cultural tendencies of the historical milieu that favored their appearance. More specifically, the aim is to show that certain developments permeating Paris during the Age of Revolution nurtured what appears, at least, to have been an unusual growth of virtuosity. Again, nothing more than a hypothesis can be advanced. It is difficult to imagine what would constitute proof of connections between such phenomena as are the subject of this study. Yet to refuse to hypothesize about them would be to sacrifice a large part of the interest of it. Whence came the contemporaneous and strikingly similar shoots of virtuosity, if not out of a common ground of social and cultural elements?

The temptation is great, greater than in the case of many other historical subjects, to judge the virtuosos either heroes or villains. A certain ambivalence is associated with the very words “virtuoso” and “virtuosity” and their French cognates virtuose and virtuosité. These words all derive from the Italian word virtù, or rather from a particular Italian Renaissance meaning of virtù: “will power, moral energy, a bold and informed resoluteness of purpose, overcoming every difficulty” (forza d’animo, energia morale, decisione coraggiosa e cosciente per cui l’uomo persegue lo scopo che si è proposto, superando ogni difficoltà). Virtù could also mean, of course, “disposition to do good” (disposizione a fare il bene).[8] Similarly, “virtue” in modern English and vertu in modern French can mean either “effective force or power” or “goodness; conformity to standard morality.” [9] Because of the moral and aesthetic ambiguity of their activities, inherent in the word used to characterize them, the virtuosos of the Age of Revolution inspire in their observers now attraction, now aversion, now both simultaneously.

As human beings observing other human beings in another time, place, or culture, our first task is to try to understand what the values of those others are. We should not judge before we understand what we are judging. The first task of a historian is to try simply to describe the people of another period of history and their culture.

Of course we frequently cannot avoid reacting favorably or unfavorably to what we see almost as soon as we see it. But when we have a strong reaction we should ask ourselves why that is. When we are observing a distant world, we often react favorably or unfavorably to something in it because that something reminds us, usually unconsciously, of something in the world immediately around us for which we have a well-established preference or aversion. In other words, we feel the same emotion when we see a familiar color, shape, or texture on a strange object as when we see it on a familiar object. Turning our gaze from our own world to the distant world of Paris in the Age of Revolution, we will repeatedly see familiar characteristics and a familiar virtue.


All translations of quotations from other languages into English are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

1. The first manned balloon flight took place over Paris on 15 October 1783, when Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier ascended in a balloon made by Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier. Pilâtre de Rozier later ascended in balloons of his own making, as did several other French aeronauts. Henry Dale, Early Flying Machines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 12–18.

2. In the process of gaining independence from Denmark, Norway, as “a free, independent, and indivisible kingdom,” was united with Sweden under the same king; only in 1905 did it get its own king.

3. Historians differ somewhat in their dating of the beginning of the Reign of Terror; the beginning date used here is taken from Jean Tulard, Jean-François Fayard, and Alfred Fierro, Histoire et dictionnaire de la Révolution française, 1789–1799 (Paris: Laffont, 1987), pp. 1113–14. The authoritative body count, 16,594, is that of Donald Greer, The Incidence of the Terror during the French Revolution: A Statistical Interpretation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1935), p. 26.

4. Regimes subsequent to the Revolution revived licensing and censorship with varying degrees of restrictiveness, but the guild system and the internal customs network were dead.

5. For population figures for Europe: Colin McEvedy and Richard Jones, Atlas of World Population History (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1978), p. 18. For population figures for France: R. R. Palmer and Joel Colton, A History of the Modern World (New York: Knopf, 1984), p. 966; Gordon Wright, France in Modern Times (New York: Norton, 1981), pp. 14, 179; B. R. Mitchell, European Historical Statistics (New York: Facts on File, 1975), p. 30. For population figures for Paris: Tertius Chandler and Gerald Fox, Three Thousand Years of Urban Growth (New York: Academic Press, 1974), pp. 17–20; Louis Chevalier, Laboring Classes and Dangerous Classes in Paris During the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, trans. Frank Jellinek (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973), pp. 181–82.

6. This procedure is modeled on Max Weber’s methodology of the “ideal type.” For an explanation of this methodology: Max Weber, “‘Objectivity’ in Social Science and Social Policy,” in Max Weber, The Methodology of the Social Sciences, trans. and ed. Edward A. Shils and Henry A. Finch (New York: Free Press, 1949). For an example of its use: Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Scribner, 1958).

7. Carl E. Schorske, Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York: Vintage, 1981), pp. xxii–xxiii.

8. Nicola Zingarelli, Il Nuovo Zingarelli: Vocabolario della lingua italiana (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1988), p. 2155. One can see very clearly in Benvenuto Cellini how virtù in the Italian Renaissance sense of “will power” may have evolved into “virtuoso” in the modern sense (in English, French, German, and Italian) of “a person with masterly technique or skill in the arts.” In his autobiography, Cellini frequently uses the word virtù to mean “will power,” and the word virtuoso to mean “a person with will power.” He also frequently shows himself exercising great virtù in this sense, advancing his own claim to be a Renaissance virtuoso. He exercised this virtù especially in his artistic practice, where his acquisition of great technical skill in goldsmithery and sculpture made him a virtuoso in the modern sense.

9. William Morris, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (New York: American Heritage, 1969), p. 1432; A. Rey and J. Rey-Debove, eds., Le Petit Robert: Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française (Paris: Le Robert, 1988), p. 2084.

1. Some Models of Excellence

Chess, cooking, crime detection, musical performance, and automaton-building are five arts—as we may call them, lacking a better generic term—whose histories all intersected at Paris during the Age of Revolution. Specifically, the histories of these arts each presented at least one outstanding master, one model of excellence, at that particular place and time. The observation of this striking convergence serves as the point of departure for the present study. The first half of the study will sketch the careers of this cluster of standouts each in turn and place them historically, but not so much in the context of Paris during the Age of Revolution as in the context of the evolution of their respective arts. It begins with some chess players.

Lifespans of the subjects of this study

1. Philidor and the Café de la Régence Chess Masters

§ 1. The Second Career of François-André Danican Philidor (1726–1795) as a Chess Player

Rain or shine, it is my regular habit every day about five to go and take a walk around the Palais-Royal.…If the weather is too cold or rainy, I take shelter in the Café de la Régence, where I entertain myself by watching chess being played. Paris is the world center, and this café is the Paris center, for the finest skill at this game. It is there that one sees the clash of the profound Légal, the subtle Philidor, the staunch Mayot; that one sees the most surprising combinations and hears the most stupid remarks. For although one may be a wit and a great chess player, like Légal, one may also be a great chess player and a fool, like Foubert and Mayot.[1]

Thus begins Denis Diderot’s famous work of indeterminate genre, Le Neveu de Rameau (Rameau’s Nephew, 1760s). Whether considered a work of fiction or nonfiction, its opening passage certainly contains much that is true to life. The Café de la Régence was a real café, established in 1681 and later renamed for the Regency period, from 1715 through 1723, when it won great popularity. It was in fact widely regarded as the site of the best chess-playing in Europe, if not the world, from Philidor’s rise to prominence around 1740 until Labourdonnais’s death in 1840. And Diderot did indeed frequent the place.[2]

Several others among the philosophes, those eighteenth-century intellectuals who led the movement known as the Enlightenment, also entertained themselves there. Montesquieu perhaps, Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin very likely, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau most definitely paid regular visits during one period or another in their lives. Spectators assembled there in crowds after Rousseau became famous and the police had to station guards at the door to control them. For their part, the philosophes did not go to the Café de la Régence only to watch or to converse; they went to play chess.[3]

Portrait of Philidor. Courtesy of the John G. White Collection, Special Collections, Cleveland Public Library. Photograph by the Cleveland Public Library Photoduplication Service

The “royal game” had been accepted for hundreds of years at face value, as just a game, an amusement, a diversion. The few who ascribed a deeper significance to it considered it a symbolic representation of war, an activity generally associated with the aristocracy, and the game itself was also generally thought to belong to the aristocracy. In the eighteenth century, however, intellectuals took an increasing interest in chess, so that by the end of the century it had become as much or even more their game than the nobility’s. The philosophes, who had a collective reputation for questioning everything, began to wonder whether there might be something in the game other than mere amusement or symbolic war.

Diderot appears to have been undecided on the matter, to judge from Le Neveu de Rameau. The Encyclopédie (1751–80), the great literary monument of the Enlightenment edited by Diderot and his friend d’Alembert, expresses the same uncertainty in its article “Échecs” (Chess). The author of the article, the chevalier de Jaucourt, concedes that some people,

struck by the fact that chance has no part in this game, and that skill alone brings victory, have regarded good chess players as endowed with superior minds; but if this reasoning is correct, how is it that one sees so many mediocre thinkers, indeed even a few near-imbeciles, excel at the game, while geniuses of all sorts have not been able to reach the level of a mediocre player?

Nevertheless, both Jaucourt and his editors must have felt that the game had some significance beyond its obvious entertainment value, otherwise why devote an article to it at all, and why admire people who excel at it, such as Philidor?

We have had at Paris a young man aged eighteen, who used to play two games of chess at once without looking at the boards, beating two players of better than average ability, to each of whom he could only give odds of a knight when playing with sight of the board, although he himself was a player of the first rank. To this feat may be added something that we witnessed with our own eyes: In the middle of one of these matches, an illegal move was deliberately made; after a rather large number of subsequent moves, he recognized the error and had the piece put back where it belonged. This young man is a M. Philidor; he is the son of a musician of some renown; he is himself a great musician, and perhaps the best player of Polish checkers there ever was or ever will be. This is one of the most extraordinary examples of the power of memory and imagination.[4]

The German philosopher and mathematician Leibniz, another representative of the Enlightenment, unhesitatingly recommended chess: “I strongly approve the study of games of reason, not for their own sake, but because they help to perfect the art of thinking.” [5] Thus, unlike Jaucourt, Leibniz did expect good chess players to be good thinkers. Philidor, perhaps misunderstanding him, wrote in the preface to his chess treatise: “I believe I have improved the theory of a game that many famous authors, such as Leibniz, consider a science.” [6]

Others believed that chess could teach morality. In a letter, Diderot drew attention to the chess master Légal’s maxim that when a misplay occurs, the rectification “in doubtful cases should always be against the player who might have been in bad faith.” Diderot did not credit the game as much as the player, however: “What is so frivolous that it cannot inspire a few serious reflections?” [7] While living in Paris, the didactic autodidact Benjamin Franklin composed a short essay entitled “The Morals of Chess” (1779). He asserted therein that playing chess was “not merely an idle amusement” but a constructive activity that fostered the virtues of foresight, circumspection, caution, and perseverance.[8]

Le Neveu de Rameau first appeared in print not in French but in German, in a translation made by the ennobled literary giant Goethe, who did not really belong to the Enlightenment, although his lifetime overlapped those of most of the philosophes. In one of his early dramas, he had a character say of chess that “the game is the touchstone of the intellect.” [9] These eighteenth-century intellectuals, whatever the diversity of their views on chess, all seem to have considered it more than just a game. Perhaps they could have reached agreement on the limited conclusion advanced by the salon aphorist Chamfort: “A good heart is not sufficient to play chess.” [10]

François-André Danican Philidor had two careers. His first career, in music, during which he played chess as a second occupation, accorded well with Old Regime French society. But when tastes changed and his career in music began a decrescendo, he composed a second career out of chess, which struck Old Regime society as a dissonance.

The Danican family acquired the name Philidor when François-André’s great-grandfather or great-uncle moved to Paris in the early seventeenth century and joined the orchestra of the French court, replacing a distinguished Italian oboist named Filidori. King Louis XIII, after hearing his new oboist play, is supposed to have remarked in delight: “I have found a second Filidori.” The Danicans adopted the royal compliment as a sort of title and subsequently supplied many musicians to the kings of France. François-André grew up in the ambience of the royal chapel, where he served as a page de la musique, studying music and singing in the choir. At the age of eleven he composed a motet that was performed in the cha-pel before Louis XV, who rewarded and encouraged him. The precocious composer wrote several more motets before he turned fourteen, when he retired from his official post. At that point he became self-employed, copying music and giving private lessons. He continued to produce motets and to have them performed at Versailles.[11]

Meanwhile, Philidor had discovered chess. His eldest son, who started to write his biography but did not get very far, passed along this anecdote:

At the age of six, he was allowed to join the children of Louis XV’s chapel. The musicians, while waiting for the king to arrive for [daily] mass, customarily played chess on a long table that was inlaid with six checkerboards. Philidor used to entertain himself by watching the games, to which he gave his entire attention. He had scarcely turned ten when one day an old musician, having arrived before any of the other players, complained to him of their lateness and expressed annoyance at not being able to begin a game. Hesitantly, Philidor offered to play; the musician responded first by laughing and then by accepting. When the game began the musician’s disdain for his young opponent soon gave way to astonishment. The game progressed, and it was not long before irritation appeared, quickly swelling to such proportions that the child, fearing the consequences of wounded pride, began to watch the door. He pursued his successful course of play, edged imperceptibly toward the end of the bench, and fled suddenly after advancing the winning piece and crying “Checkmate!” The old musician was left to curse his leaden legs and swallow his rage.

According to Philidor’s son, he rapidly surpassed all the other musicians. After he left the royal chapel in 1740, he began to frequent the Café de la Régence. At the time, according to Philidor himself, chess enthusiasts played in many of the cafés of Paris. But M. de Kermur, sire de Légal, held court at the Régence.[12]

Born around the turn of the eighteenth century in Brittany, Légal was the founder of the Café de la Régence dynasty. As we have seen, the narrator of Le Neveu de Rameau refers to him as “a wit and a great chess player”; the character “Rameau’s nephew” calls him, somewhat indirectly, a chess genius. For countless years he sat in the same chair and wore the same green coat, taking large quantities of snuff and attracting a crowd with his equally brilliant conversation and combinations. He had already established his reputation as the best in France when Philidor first walked into the Régence in 1740, and he continued playing into the 1780s, his own eighties, without ever having to acknowledge a superior, although he lost at least one match. Philidor persisted as Légal’s chess student for three years, during the course of which he increasingly neglected and finally lost his own music students. But by the end of this period he could hold his own against his master without having to accept odds. He also learned about blindfold play from Légal, who, however, apparently did not attempt it more than once or twice himself.[13] As the Encyclopédie attests, Philidor could soon play two blindfold games simultaneously.

Philidor traveled to the Netherlands in 1745 with the father of a child-prodigy harpsichordist in preparation for a series of concerts to be given there. The harpsichordist died suddenly, however, obviously putting an end to the whole project. But Philidor stayed on in the Netherlands anyway, playing chess and Polish checkers for stakes and giving chess lessons for a fee. Not only the Dutch supported him in this way; so too did some English army officers—noblemen, of course—who were on the Continent to play out the intricate endgame of the War of the Austrian Succession. It was undoubtedly the latter’s encouragement that prompted Philidor to go to England in 1747.[14]

In London, Philidor boosted his international reputation by winning two important matches. He defeated Sir Abraham Janssen, the top-rated English player, three games to one, and Philippe Stamma, a native of Syria and author of a well-known chess treatise published a decade earlier, eight games to one, with one draw. In 1748, Philidor returned to the Netherlands, where he composed his own chess treatise, Analyse du jeu des échecs (Analysis of the Game of Chess), and then in 1749 went back to London, where he published it. Again he bested Stamma, this time in the bookstalls. The number of copies of the Analyse that sold over the course of the next two centuries cannot even be estimated. All told, it has appeared in at least one hundred editions, in at least ten languages. And it sold well immediately, probably in large part because of its novel attempt to build a bridge between general principles of good play and the bare record of moves made in model games. Like previous writers on chess, Philidor provided both abstract theory and records of games, but unlike them he also annotated the records at key points in the games, telling his readers which possible moves at those junctures he judged good and which bad, and on the basis of what principles. In another break with tradition his book emphasized good use of one’s pawns, pieces relatively neglected in the royal game until then. In a revolutionary maxim Philidor wrote that pawns “are the soul of chess.” [15]

After perhaps two years’ residence in England, Philidor left to visit Germany, at that time an irregular checkerboard of more than a hundred independent principalities. Frederick the Great of Prussia welcomed him to Potsdam and observed some of his games, but the martial king, although a chess player, did not himself venture into the field against such a formidable adversary. It was there in 1751 that Philidor’s first-known three-game simultaneous blindfold exhibition took place. The mathematician Leonhard Euler, in nearby Berlin, unfortunately missed the entire visit, although he mentioned it in a letter, calling Philidor a great chess player and thereby giving posterity some idea of the latter’s international fame. Besides Frederick, at least two other German princes castled Philidor before he returned to England.[16]

He remained in England until 1754, when he at last went home to Paris, which, to the best of our knowledge, he had not seen in nine years. Although Philidor played a lot of chess during this long vagabondage, he did not entirely neglect music. We recall that he had set out from Paris to assist with a musical tour that ended before it started. The fact that he never played an instrument and that he apparently ceased singing after he left the royal chapel raises the question of what his role in the tour was supposed to have been. He may have been asked to do some arranging. Whatever the original plan, nothing indicates that he had anything to do with music while in the Netherlands. In Prussia, he was reported to have taken some lessons in counterpoint and studied the works of German composers. In England, he did some composition of his own. His son said that he managed to have one of his pieces performed in London in 1753, and that “the famous Handel gave it a benevolent welcome and found its choruses well-constructed.” [17] That same year he placed this curious notice in the 9 December issue of the London Public Advertiser:

Mr. Philidor begs leave to acquaint the public, that in order to justify himself of the calumny spread about town, that he was not the author of the Latin Music he gave last year, as likewise to convince the world that the Art of Music has been at all times his constant study and application, and Chess only his diversion, he has undertaken to set an Ode to Music, in praise of harmony, wrote by the celebrated Mr. Congreve.[18]

This public statement tells us not how Philidor actually lived but rather how he saw himself, or how he wanted to be seen, in his society. And it probably says as much about Western society in the mideighteenth century as it does about Philidor as an individual within that society. Scarcity of evidence prevents us from being able to make an independent assessment of the relative importance to Philidor of chess and music, in terms of, for example, hours spent or income derived, during his nine years as a knight errant. It is quite likely that Philidor supported himself, even comfortably, playing chess. It is also likely that chess occupied a good part of his waking day for large portions of that period. But whether or not it was in some objective sense his occupation, he did not consider it such. Some intellectuals might have gone beyond considering chess merely a diversion, to the point of considering it a useful or instructive diversion, but almost no one in the Western world could yet conceive of it as an occupation.

Philidor may also have earned money during those nine restless years by giving music lessons, copying music, or composing. But certainly chess more than music provided him with adventures, opened doors for him, and enabled him to see the world and learn about life, including musical life, outside of France; perhaps chess even supported further musical study and paid his bills while he composed. And if he thought of it only as a means to an end, he never suggested that he did not enjoy playing chess.

Chess players almost always staked money on their games in the eighteenth century. This was gambling, to be sure, but because chess engaged the intellect and reduced the role of chance to insignificance, it was a much more respectable form of gambling than most others. These two circumstances, money at risk and the absence of chance, made it a necessity for a stronger player to offer odds to a weaker player. In general, a player gave odds to his adversary by giving pieces, that is, by beginning the game with one or more of his own pieces removed from the board; by giving opening moves, that is, by allowing his adversary the first move and perhaps a free move preceding the first move; or by giving a combination of pieces and opening moves. The same scale of values of the pieces that is used today for the purpose of analysis had already been established in the eighteenth century for the purpose of giving odds. The scale runs, from the least valuable to the most valuable piece: pawn, knight, bishop, rook, queen, and king, the last of whose value, by the rules of the game, is absolute. The opening move was and is considered to be worth some fraction of a pawn. One pawn and the first move constituted the minimum that Légal, his reputation established, or Philidor, having caught up with his master, ever gave to other players.[19]

This system may have developed in response to necessities within the eighteenth-century chess microcosm, but it also reflected the social macro-cosm of eighteenth-century France. French society, or at least its upper 10 percent of aristocrats, clergymen, large landowners, merchants, civil servants, and professionals, was acutely status-conscious. If a stronger player offered odds to a weaker player partly to draw him into a game, he also did it partly to maintain his own superior status. For the stronger player, it was considered more honorable to lose while giving odds than to win while playing without odds, which constituted an admission that the presumed inferior actually had the rank of an equal. Of course if the presumed superior player lost consistently while giving odds to the presumed inferior, eventually he had to give up his pretense, or at least his fortune. Or he could refuse to play his presumed inferior any longer when he saw a disturbing trend developing, and this does not appear to have been a particularly unusual course of action, or inaction, to take. Which may explain a 1787 reference to Légal and Philidor: “The last match these gentlemen played was in 1755 when the Scholar beat his Master.” [20] That is, the two best players in France, habitués of the same café, had not played each other for more than thirty years.

When Philidor, soon after returning to Paris from his nine years abroad, defeated his former teacher Légal in that last match of theirs, he became in all likelihood the best chess player in Europe. But during the next fifteen years he conducted a productive and successful career in music and we hear little about “his diversion.” Philidor stayed in Paris, wrote a long string of comic operas, and acquired a reputation as one of France’s leading composers. His success began with Le Diable à quatre (1756) and Les Pèlerins de la Mecque (1758), and peaked with Le Sorcier (1764), Tom Jones (1765, based on the novel by Henry Fielding), and Ernelinde (1767). Companies throughout Europe staged these operas.[21] He also married a musician. Angélique-Henriette-Elisabeth Richer sang, occasionally as a concert soloist, and played keyboard instruments. Her three brothers were all musicians, and one of them, Louis-Augustin Richer, had attained contemporary celebrity as a singer and singing master. Often Philidor’s wife, and sometimes one or more of his brothers-in-law, rehearsed his compositions for him so he could hear how they sounded, since he himself neither played nor sang.[22]

The beginning of this period in Philidor’s life coincided with one of the many civil wars of French cultural history. Its theater happened to be the opera, and since the invading forces championed an Italian form known as opera buffa, it was called the querelle des bouffons. Paris society cleaved into two camps, favoring either the French traditionalists or the Italianizing innovators. Led by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the philosophes generally sided with the latter.

Rousseau and Philidor were friends, at least for a short while. Philidor helped the philosophe with the music for his first opera, Les Muses galantes (1745). Rousseau reported that Jean-Philippe Rameau, the reigning monarch of French music and the uncle of “Rameau’s nephew,” said of the opera that “a part of what he had just heard was the product of a consummate artist, and the rest that of an ignoramus who knew nothing of music.” Rameau himself corroborated this report of his judgment. A biographer of Philidor, not surprisingly, concludes that Philidor’s contribution was the part singled out for praise by Rameau. Rousseau, in contrast, wrote that Philidor came twice to work on the opera, “but he could not commit himself to laboring diligently for a distant and uncertain profit. He did not return again and I finished the task myself.” Since the score of the opera has long since disappeared, the last word may have been had by the music historian who declined to judge between them, musing, “it would be interesting to know whose genius intermittently flashed.” [23]

In the querelle des bouffons, Rousseau won the biggest victories both on and off the stage. His second opera, Le Devin du village, composed with no help from Philidor, attracted legions of listeners and piled up four hundred performances between its début in 1752 and 1829. His pamphlet salvo of 1753, Lettre sur la musique française, provoked a huge outcry by targeting the “fictitious ‘style’” of the French: “To make up for the lack of song, they have multiplied accompaniments…[and] to disguise the insipidity of their work, they have increased the confusion. They believe they are making music; but they are only making noise.” [24] Contemporaries generally counted Philidor among the Italianizers, although in music he was not a theorist.[25]

From a later perspective, Philidor’s music seems ambiguous with regard to the querelle des bouffons, especially if one accepts Rousseau’s drawing of the battle lines. Rousseau associated the Italianizers with melody, “pure song,” and freedom from both affectation and ornamentation, and the French traditionalists with harmony, “style,” and artful accompaniment. F.-J. Fétis, a highly influential nineteenth-century conductor, composer, teacher, critic, and historian of music, judged that “Philidor showed himself to be a much more skillful harmonist than the [other] French composers of his time, and despite what has been said, he did not lack melody.” [26]

Rousseau had previously tried his hand at chess and, as in music, sought Philidor’s assistance early. In a passage whose echoes we will hear repeatedly, Rousseau confesses:

I made the acquaintance of M. de Légal, of a M. Husson, of Philidor, of every great chess player of the time, and did not become, for all that, any more skillful. Nevertheless, I had no doubt that in the end I would become stronger than all of them, and that was enough for me to keep me playing. I always reasoned in the same way about every foolish thing that infatuated me. I said to myself: Whoever is the best at something is sure of being well known and sought out. Let me be the best then, at no matter what; I will be sought out, opportunities will present themselves to me, and my natural abilities will make me a success.[27]

Diderot’s character “Rameau’s nephew” expresses a similar attitude toward chess and other activities:

Ah ha! There you are, monsieur philosophe. And what are you doing here among this crowd of good-for-nothings? Do you also waste your time pushing wood? (That’s how one scornfully refers to playing chess or checkers.)


No, but when I have nothing better to do, I entertain myself by watching those who push well.


In that case you are rarely entertained; leaving aside Légal and Philidor, the others don’t know what they’re doing.


And M. de Bissy?


He is to chess what Mlle Clairon is to acting: As players, they both know everything that one can learn.


You are difficult to please; I see you spare from criticism only sublime genius.


Yes, in chess, checkers, poetry, eloquence, music, and other nonsense of the sort. What good is mediocrity in those endeavors?[28]

Shortly after this exchange, “Rameau’s nephew” calls himself mediocre and says that he envies genius. It turns out that he once thought of himself as a genius but eventually ceased believing it.

The relentless drive to become the best that Diderot ascribes to a younger “Rameau’s nephew” and that Rousseau ascribes to his own younger self stands in sharp contrast to the wit and irony that most of the philosophes brought to their activities. Another striking and related similarity between the two youths, and again contrasting with the philosophes, is their idea that chess is equivalent to other arts, in the sense that it is worthwhile to devote one’s life to it and that a great chess player is comparable to a great artist. It has been argued that Diderot’s character “Rameau’s nephew” is in large part a caricature of Rousseau. Diderot and Rousseau were in fact introduced to each other in the Café de la Régence; perhaps they became acquainted across a chessboard, and perhaps Diderot chose this scene of their meeting as the setting for a satire of the opinions of his former friend and current enemy. Other commentators have interpreted the character “Rameau’s nephew” as one side of Diderot’s own personality.[29] In any case, if a few advanced thinkers such as Rousseau and “Rameau’s nephew” could consider making almost any activity at which one excelled a full-time occupation, Philidor still considered chess, though worth study, “only his diversion.”

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the Age of Revolution began and Philidor’s music became passé, so he set up chess in its place. Europe’s first chess club may have been the one founded by a group of English players in 1770 in London. A second club appeared there four years later, whether in competition with or as a replacement of the first is not clear. In any case, it immediately acquired an aura of fashionability, attracting as members enlightened intellectuals, politicians, and aristocrats such as Edward Gibbon, Charles James Fox, and the marquess of Rockingham. In the early 1770s Philidor traveled to England twice. He undertook the first trip, at least in part, for the purpose of trying to secure the publication of an expanded edition of his chess treatise, which Diderot had helped him plan; the second for unknown reasons. A convergence of interests manifested itself in 1775 when the new chess club induced Philidor to cross the Channel and stay for the duration of the London season, February to June. He subsequently made a similar sojourn every year until his death in 1795. In exchange for his coming to London to provide them with first-rate competition, the English players arranged for him to earn, in addition to his honorarium, a comfortable living teaching, giving exhibitions, and publishing new editions of his book. He may also have taught music independently. All this enabled him to take money home to Paris for the support of his family.[30]

Thus, for the last twenty years of his life, Philidor spent from mid-February to mid-June in London playing chess and—until the Reign of Terror—from mid-June to mid-February in Paris giving music lessons and composing. He had less and less success with his compositions. No new works of his seem to have been performed in public in the four years from 1775 through 1778. In the latter year he composed music for Horace’s choral hymn Carmen seculare, the original music for which had been lost in antiquity. He managed to have it staged three times in London in 1779, three times in Paris a year later, and several more times in Paris in subsequent years; it received high praise from critics in both cities.[31] Through careful preparation, Philidor made the Paris premiere into a society event. He secured a hall in the Tuileries Palace; he chose a Wednesday, when no classes were held at the University of Paris; he sold tickets in advance; and he had a program printed up giving the text in both Latin and French. A contemporary chronicler reported before the concert:

M. Philidor is doing his best to excite the public, through his own efforts and those of his friends, to purchase tickets for the performance that he is putting on today; he has had one of his partisans write a letter, printed in the Journal de Paris, no. 17, in which the report of the prodigious success his Carmen sæculare had in the capital of England is reiterated; and he has gathered together the support of the three factions into which music lovers are divided.

The same chronicler reported after the concert that it had been attended by “a numerous and distinguished assembly,” who had listened to it “with sustained interest and often with outbursts of enthusiasm.” [32] Then passed another stretch of four years, 1781 through 1784, when again no new works of Philidor were performed. In the last decade of his life, he scored two more successes with a Te Deum (1786) and a comic opera, La Belle esclave (1787), but also several failures.[33] There is no evidence of his playing chess in Paris during this period, although the French players founded a club of their own in 1783. It met in some rooms of the Palais-Royal, a palace being renovated by the enlightened duc de Chartres—called “Philippe Égalité” during the Revolution—quite near the Café de la Régence.[34]

Philidor expanded his Analyse du jeu des échecs twice, doubling the original size of the book in 1777 and then redoubling it to two volumes in 1790, both times bringing out the new edition in London. The list of subscribers to the 1777 edition resembled the membership list of the London chess club in its social mix, although it contained French names as well as English. Among intellectuals, Diderot, Voltaire, Marmontel, and Gibbon subscribed for copies. The first expansion consisted mostly of endgame analyses. With these he took another long stride ahead of his predecessors. He specified whether the side with the material advantage would win or could only draw, if both sides played the best possible moves, for certain generalized advantages. For example, he said that a side having a rook and bishop left with its king, facing a side with only a rook and king, should win, whatever the placement of the pieces on the board, with the exception of a few extreme cases. He did this for many more kinds of advantage than his predecessors had done; he was usually correct; and for some of them, for example the rook and bishop against rook ending, he gave the definitive analysis. That is, he explained correctly how one can always checkmate with a rook and a bishop against a rook.[35] Incidentally, the piece that the anglophone world calls a bishop is known in France as a fou (jester)—scant difference, from the point of view of the anticlerical philosophes. The 1790 edition contained both more opening and more endgame analyses, as well as the records of some of Philidor’s recent blindfold matches.

Philidor’s music distinguished itself above all by its technical perfection. Musicologists return to this point again and again. Composition classes at the Conservatoire de Musique used his works as models for many years. The fact that Rossini praised Philidor’s music to the latter’s granddaughter perhaps shows nothing but social grace, but the nature of the praise is significant: “All composers make mistakes, and I count myself first; Madame, none have ever been found in the works of your illustrious grandfather; he never made any.” [36] André Grétry, Philidor’s successor as the leading comic-opera composer in France, struck more of a balance in his eulogy of his predecessor:

To invent something entirely new in the arts is impossible; but to add some new beauties to those already known is sufficient to succeed and to merit the title of genius. Philidor is, I believe, the inventor of that kind of piece which uses several contrasting rhythms; I had never heard such things in the theaters of Italy before coming to France. How easily the vigorous intellect of this justly famous and sorely missed artist could grasp difficult combinations is well known. He would arrange a succession of sounds with the same facility that he followed a game of chess. None could vanquish him at this game of combinations; no musician will ever put more power and clarity into his compositions than Philidor put into his.[37]

Did some common skill in fact connect Philidor’s achievement in chess with his achievement in music? Unfortunately, he himself left us no thoughts on so interesting a subject. A few other chess masters have also excelled at music: The mid-nineteenth-century Café de la Régence master Lionel Kieseritzky, a man of many talents, was an excellent amateur pianist, as was the Hungarian master Vincenz Grimm of the same era; Mark Taimanov, one of the top grand masters in the world in the early 1950s, was a concert pianist, and Vassily Smyslov, world champion in 1957–58, an opera singer.[38] Some sort of correlation seems to exist, although certainly not every great chess player has also been a great musician. Likewise probable appears an association between a particular kind of skill in chess and a particular kind of skill in music, but this, too, remains nebulous.

Philidor gave simultaneous blindfold exhibitions during his annual sojourns in London probably beginning in 1782. As far as we know, he had not given such an exhibition since 1751 in Potsdam, and never before in front of a paying audience. These performances, sponsored by the chess club, undoubtedly had the purpose of contributing to Philidor’s earnings and of adding another incentive to induce him to continue making his regular visits. The club advertised the events in the London newspapers, inviting the public to attend. Thirty-three people came to one of them, in 1787, and forty-three to another, in 1790, not counting club members. Several of the exhibitions attracted reporters.

Yesterday, at the Chess-club in St. James’s-street, Mr. Philidor performed one of those wonderful exhibitions for which he is so much celebrated. He played at the same time three different games, without seeing either of the tables. His opponents were, Count Bruhl, Mr. Bowdler (the two best players in London), and Mr. Maseres. He defeated Count Bruhl in an hour and twenty minutes, and Mr. Maseres in two hours. Mr. Bowdler reduced his game to a drawn battle in an hour and three quarters. To those who understand Chess, this exertion of Mr. Philidor’s abilities, must appear one of the greatest of which the human memory is susceptible.

After his début in 1782, Philidor gave at least two performances in 1783, at least one in 1787, at least two in 1788, at least four in 1789, and at least fifteen in the 1790s. In some of these matches, he played three simultaneous blindfold games; in others, three simultaneous games, two blindfolded and one with sight of the board; in a few of them, only two simultaneous blindfold games. To infer from the frequency and dates of the known exhibitions, they probably began as exceptional events and gradually increased in regularity up to a rate of once every two weeks during his annual four-to-five-month stay in London.[39]

Philidor approached these exhibitions almost as if they were athletic contests, putting himself through a sort of regimen in preparation for them. He invariably played at the same time of day and took care to eat only lightly before the event, reserving dinner until afterward. In fact, he regulated his diet for several days previously and refused to play on short notice.[40]

Considering his annual visits to the London chess club, the revisions of his chess treatise, and his blindfold exhibitions, Philidor was putting a lot more energy into chess than he had at any period of his life since the three youthful years he spent studying with Légal. He also increased his personal investment in it. He gave no odds in England, from the 1770s onward, of less than a knight. This was for ordinary games; the odds were reduced for blindfold play. A later Café de la Régence master observed: “He showed just as much superiority at checkers, but he did not stake as much of his pride on it as he did on chess.” [41]

Philidor, the composer of comic operas, had always struck his contemporaries as a bit too serious. He was so accustomed to deliberate thinking that for the most part jokes were lost on him. Instead, he became their target. One of his relatives liked to amuse himself at Philidor’s expense: “‘Mon Dieu, how I would like to have a carriage! I would seat myself at my window and enjoy watching myself drive by.’ ‘That’s stupid, my friend,’ Philidor said to him quite seriously, ‘you couldn’t be in your carriage and at your window at the same time; thus you couldn’t see yourself pass by.’” His principal occupations had a tendency to absorb him completely. He twisted his body continually whenever he was deep in composition or chess play, a habit his wife referred to as “playing the silk-worm.” [42]

His contemporaries did not find him an engaging conversationalist. An article on Philidor in a biographical dictionary of musicians that was published a few years after his death reported: “He had a reputation for lack of wit; thus Laborde, one of his greatest admirers, hearing him make a large number of trite remarks at a dinner party, extracted him from his embarrassment by interjecting: ‘See this man, he has no common sense; he’s all genius.’” [43]

Philidor was no boor, but neither did he take the trouble to cultivate the social graces beyond the point of simple politeness. This made him an exception among eighteenth-century French intellectuals. Most of his energy went into his composing and his chess playing. We hear very little about him amusing himself. He was happily married and seems to have been a conscientious and loving father to his children. He gave assistance generously to struggling young musicians.[44] But he also thought highly of his own powers and pushed himself to develop them.

Philidor’s seriousness and his commitment to chess intensified in tandem in his later years. He wrote to his wife in 1788: “There are astonishing panegyrics in all the newspapers, on the subject of the three blindfold games I played last Saturday; they say that the clarity of my thinking increases with my years; it is true that never have I had such a clear head.” The following year he wrote: “I have a great desire to prove that old age has not yet extinguished my genius.” And after another year, when he was giving blindfold exhibitions every two weeks: “I assure you that this does not tire me as much as many people would believe,” although a month later he admitted, “I am exceeding my strength at present.” [45] Undoubtedly his faltering career in music, its sharp contrast with his spectacular success in chess, and his need to earn money one way or another all contributed to the reorientation of his attention and pride toward the latter activity.

In its report of a simultaneous blindfold exhibition given in 1837 by a later Café de la Régence master, Labourdonnais, the newspaper La Presse naturally referred to Philidor’s exhibitions and mentioned that the spectators had paid a guinea per person to attend them. Philidor’s son replied in a letter to the editor that his father’s purpose had not been to make money. The controversy flared up again in a chess journal a decade later when it fell to Philidor’s grandson to defend his honor: “These matches, far from being the pretext for a benefice maintained by taxing the spectators at the rate of a guinea per person, were only engaged in by Philidor out of condescension for the members of the Chess Club, who pestered him relentlessly that they might enjoy such an astonishing spectacle.” [46] Reluctant as his descendants were to admit it, Philidor had become a professional chess player.

He himself had shown the same reluctance: “It is ridiculous that the composer of Ernelinde should be obliged to play chess for half of the year in England in order to keep his numerous family alive.” [47] Philidor had his moments of unhappiness and, while contemplating the decline of his once-glorious musical career, even bitterness. But everything indicates that he both enjoyed chess and relished his success at it. Regrets or no regrets, he dedicated himself to making a second career out of it. His arrangement with the London chess club anticipated in a striking way that of a twentieth-century tennis pro with a racquet club or a golf pro with a country club.

According to legend, the Café de la Régence became a favorite resort of Robespierre and other Jacobins, forcing out the devotees of the royal game for the duration of the Revolution. In February 1793 the revolutionary government declared war on England, where Philidor happened to be at the time. He found himself stranded there, first by the outbreak of war, then by the Reign of Terror that soon followed, and finally by the appearance of his name on a list of proscribed émigrés. The latter were people, theoretically aristocrats and their sympathizers, who had fled the country at various points in the course of the Revolution and were considered traitors by the revolutionaries. As might be expected of someone with friends among the philosophes, Philidor warmly approved the reforms of the early phase of the Revolution. When demonstrations erupted in the streets of Paris, he would call to his wife, “bring me my cane, I want to go out to watch the uprising.” But it is not likely that he supported the Terror, especially after it made him an exile from his home and family. Perhaps the Anglophile Philidor adopted, or was by nature predisposed to that belief in gradual change characteristic of the British intelligentsia. In 1790 he had expressed hope that France might become the model for British reforms, thus repaying the loan of liberal political ideas. In sum, there were many reasons for him to be heartbroken at the turn of events since February 1793. After living for almost three years in exile in London under ban of death, Philidor died there on 31 August 1795, just days before his family succeeded in having his name removed from the proscription list.[48]

Some years earlier, when he was beginning to give blindfold exhibitions, Diderot had written him a letter advising him to stop. Diderot and Philidor had been friends for many years, though not particularly close friends. Philidor tutored Diderot’s daughter in music. Their families visited each other frequently, especially when Philidor himself was away in London. Diderot’s letter points up the differences between the philosophe’s view of chess and Philidor’s, in the final period of the chess master’s life.

I am not at all surprised, monsieur, that in England all doors should be closed to a great musician and open to a master chess player; people are scarcely more reasonable over here. You will agree, nevertheless, that the reputation of Greco [a chess player] will never equal that of Pergolesi [a composer]. If you have played the three blindfold games without concerning yourself with remuneration, so much the worse. I would be more prepared to pardon you for these dangerous experiments if you were to earn five or six hundred guineas in making them. But to risk one’s reason and one’s talent for nothing; that is inconceivable. I have spoken of it to M. de Légal, and this was his response: “When I was young, I dared to play a single game of chess without sight of the board; and at the end of that game, my head was so exhausted that it was the first and last time of my life. It is madness to run the risk of becoming an imbecile through vanity.” When you lose your mind, will the English come to the rescue of your family? And do not assume, monsieur, that what has not happened yet will not happen. Take my advice, write some more of your excellent music for us, write it for many more years, and do not expose yourself again to the risk of becoming what so many are born, an object of scorn. At best, people would say of you: “There is Philidor, he’s nothing any more; he lost everything he had, moving little pieces of wood over a board.” [49]

Philidor did not become an imbecile, even though he continued the public exhibitions for more than a decade, in fact right up to the end of his life. Twenty years after Le Neveu de Rameau, Diderot was beginning to sound like an old philosophe. He contemplated the limits of the human mind while Philidor actively tested them. To the former, chess was still just a game; to the latter, it had become an occupation, a way of life, perhaps even a form of art. While Diderot approved of Philidor’s profiting by his exhibitions, the philosophe had in mind one or two highly lucrative performances, not a continuing series as part of a career in chess. Diderot had the perspective of a wide-ranging intellectual, Philidor the perspective of a professional chess master—maybe the first.

Incidentally, for many of his blindfold exhibitions, while Philidor, sightless, called out his moves, the person who executed them—that is, the person who pushed his pieces on the chessboards for him—was Jean-François Rameau, better known to Diderot and to posterity as the famous composer’s nephew.[50]

§ 2. Philidor’s Followers: Deschapelles, Labourdonnais, and the Dethroned Dynasts

While many Europeans who lived before the Age of Revolution had looked upon chess as merely a game, others had regarded it as a symbolic representation of battle. “Everyone knows that this noble and ancient game is a model of war,” asserted Philippe Stamma’s Essai sur le jeu des échecs (1737), echoing Gioachino Greco’s Jeu des eschets (1669) and Joseph Bertin’s Noble Game of Chess (1735), these three being the most important chess books of the second half of the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century.[51] The three books also agreed in referring to chess as a “noble game.” If playing chess was like conducting a war, and the people who conducted wars were noblemen, then chess was logically a noble game. And indeed, we have seen that English aristocrats serving as army officers in the Netherlands in the 1740s took chess lessons from Philidor. But the decline in the conception of chess as merely a game, exemplified by the biography of Philidor, was paralleled by a decline in the conception of chess as symbolic battle, similarly exemplified by the biography of Deschapelles. Both declines took place gradually from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, as increasing numbers of intellectuals encroached on the aristocrats’ pastime.

Alexandre-Louis-Honoré Lebreton Deschapelles (1780–1847), Philidor’s successor in the Café de la Régence dynasty, was both an aristocrat and an army officer.[52] Given his interest in chess and his place in French society, he might appear at first glance a social atavism. But even as late as the Napoleonic era, the aristocracy and the officer corps had not given up the game.

Pushed hard the wood,
From childhood on.
As young cadet,
On bivouacs,
Up mountain tracks,
On camels’ backs;
Behind the fray,
On palace tiles,
‘Cross countless miles,
On far-flung isles;
He pushed his Would,
He pushed attack,
Until at last,
The wood pushed back.
Napoleon’s secretary Bourrienne, his stepson Prince Eugène, his chief of staff Berthier—all, like the emperor himself, of noble birth—his cavalry commander Marshal Murat, and various of his generals likewise took to the microcosmic battlefield. Napoleon played badly, however, and no one else in his entourage particularly distinguished himself.[53]

Nor were all aristocrats and army officers reactionary; many, including both Napoleon and Deschapelles, had republican views and supported the Revolution. For Deschapelles, this represented a rebellion not only against society at large but also against his own community, and not only against his social class but also against his own family. Like Légal, Deschapelles was an aristocrat whose family had its roots in Brittany, one of the most counterrevolutionary of the former provinces of France. Deschapelles’s family emigrated from France rather than accept the new republic.

The chess master’s youth resembled Napoleon’s. Born near Versailles in 1780, he was sent as a boy to Brienne, in Champagne, to attend the collège there. In France a collège is a secondary school, generally a prestigious one; Brienne’s was reserved exclusively for sons of the nobility. Napoleon had attended the same school, graduating in 1784. Ten years later, with revolutionary France at war against most of Europe, the school closed and its students dispersed. Deschapelles joined the army and fought in the northern campaign, notably in the important battle at Fleurus. During that battle he suffered a saber wound in the head and lost his right hand. A regiment of Prussian cavalry subsequently galloped over him, he said, for good measure. In recognition of his bravery, he received the cross of the Légion d’Honneur at its first distribution, under the Consulate. Later, not only soldiers but also cooks, musicians, and mechanicians would be admitted into the Légion d’Honneur. Deschapelles’s injuries prevented him from pursuing what promised to be a successful career as a field officer. As soon as he recovered, he was transferred into military administration.

Deschapelles discovered chess while on leave in Paris in 1798. He happened upon the Café Morillon, where a lawyer named Bernard was holding court, surrounded by other refugees from the Café de la Régence. The revolutionaries had taken over the latter venue, as previously mentioned, sending into exile the advocates of ludic trials. Bernard had been one of the few players who had only had to accept odds of a pawn and the first move from either Légal or Philidor. He had also coauthored a chess treatise in 1775 and participated in the founding of the Paris chess club in 1783.[54] Deschapelles learned the game from Bernard and created a legend out of the process: “I acquired chess in four days. I learned the moves and played with Bernard, who had succeeded Philidor as the sovereign of the board. I lost the first day, the second, the third, and beat him even-handed on the fourth, since which time I have never either advanced or receded. Chess to me has been, and is, a single idea, which once acquired cannot be displaced from its throne while the intellect remains unimpaired by sickness or age.” Sometimes he said it took only three days. Otherwise he stuck to this account to the end of his life. One critic, drawing on contemporary apologetics for the biblical account of creation, suggested that it should be taken as a parable in which the four days stand for four years or four ages.

In his capacity as supply officer, Deschapelles accompanied the Grande Armée on its campaigns through Europe. Out of the 1806 campaign against Prussia came another story he used to tell about himself, subsequently published in the chess journal Le Palamède under the title “Supplément au bulletin de la bataille d’Iéna” (Supplement to the Bulletin of the Battle of Jena). Napoleon, a pioneer in the use of propaganda, regularly sent “bulletins” back to France from foreign battlefields. The bulletin from Jena described the French victory that marked the culmination of the Prussian campaign. After the battle, the French army marched directly to Berlin, and Deschapelles marched directly to the headquarters of its chess club. There he suffered two disappointments: The Germans were not in the habit of playing for stakes, and they refused to accept odds of a pawn and two moves. Their three strongest players did, however, agree to contend against him as a team. Deschapelles defeated them in both games played. Back in Berlin after the February 1807 Battle of Eylau, near the Baltic coast city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), he returned to the chess club. “I declared to them that I no longer wanted to play even with them, that it was time to give up the joke, and that I would not play another game without imposing odds on them.” He gave odds of a rook and won two out of three games, drawing the third. It was also around this time that he later claimed to have offered his “permanent challenge” to the world at odds of a pawn and two moves.[55]

A year and a half later Deschapelles found himself in the opposite corner of Europe in opposite circumstances. Spanish guerrillas forced a French army to which he was attached to surrender at Baylen. Taken from there to Cadiz, on the Atlantic side of the Straits of Gibraltar, he escaped and returned to France. Whether resentful of the failure of Napoleon’s regime to reward him according to what he felt were his merits, or of the humiliating treatment by Napoleon of the army that had surrendered, or of the behavior in general of that “liberticide,” he retired from public service and thenceforth refused to wear his Légion d’Honneur cross. In 1812, however, Marshal Ney arranged for him to be offered the post of commissioner of the government tobacco monopoly at Strasbourg, and he accepted it. There, during Napoleon’s brief return to power in 1815, known as the Hundred Days, Deschapelles helped to organize the resistance in the eastern part of France to the second invasion of the allies, a year after their first invasion and first expulsion of Napoleon. This does not necessarily mean that Deschapelles had converted to Bonapartism in the interim, even though he received a general’s rank: Many republicans, and opponents of the Bourbons of all kinds, joined in opposing this second, longer-lived restoration of France’s old dynasty by the allies.

After Napoleon’s second abdication, Deschapelles entrenched himself in the Café de la Régence and successfully defended his right to impose on all players the odds proclaimed in his “permanent challenge.” Meanwhile the young Louis-Charles de Labourdonnais was rising rapidly through the ranks. Deschapelles decided to commission him as his lieutenant but soon lost his ability to command him. When he could no longer compel him to accept odds, he withdrew in Labourdonnais’s favor, announcing, “in his hands the reputation of France is safe.” Deschapelles doubtless preferred to step down in a dignified manner rather than suffer overthrow by force. Moreover, his conquest of chess had brought him only modest fame and wealth. Thus, he retired from the game, sometime around 1824, when he could still claim to be its best player.[56]

The two leading British players came to Paris on separate occasions to test their strength against Deschapelles. John Cochrane made an extended stay in 1820–21 and engaged both Deschapelles and Labourdonnais in a round robin, receiving from the former his standard odds of pawn and two moves and going even against the latter. Cochrane lost to Deschapelles by an unknown score and to Labourdonnais six games to one. Labourdonnais, also receiving odds of pawn and two moves from Deschapelles, defeated his mentor seven games to none.[57] Then Cochrane managed to persuade Deschapelles to play without odds on the board, by accepting odds of two to one on the stakes for each game. The Scotsman won more than a third of these games, thus proving himself the better gambler if not the better chess player. Cochrane’s strength was in the openings, which Deschapelles readily conceded: “During the first twenty moves, I always had a bad game, and all the games I won were considered hopeless.” William Lewis arrived in 1821, and again difficulties arose in negotiating the terms of play. Eventually a temporary agreement was reached, Lewis accepting a pawn and one move from Deschapelles and winning at those odds one out of three games, with two draws. After this short series, however, they could not settle on terms to continue.[58]

For Deschapelles, chess represented just one stop on a tour of games. He actually took up Polish checkers first, but his interest in it lasted only three months. At the end of that period he addressed the following discourse to the Paris checkers champion: “I have looked through your game, and I find but little in it. At one time, played by gentlemen, it might have been worth practicing; but it is now kicked out of the drawing room into the antechamber; and my soul is above the place of lackeys. In three months I have become your equal, in three months more I could give you a man; but I renounce the pursuit, and bid you farewell. I shall never play checkers again!”

From checkers Deschapelles jumped to chess, and from chess to whist. Whist is a card game that is still played today but whose popularity has been eclipsed by its descendant, bridge. At some point Deschapelles also became a very good billiards player; at another, a master at backgammon. In whist, however, he seems to have found his game. He began to win substantial sums, allowing him at last to assume something like his rightful place in society, and eventually elevating him to the rank of rentier, someone who lives on the income from his investments, which in Deschapelles’s case amounted to thirty or forty thousand livres annually. He bought a “country house” on the outskirts of the Faubourg du Temple, a suburb of Paris, where he gave large luncheons. Afternoons and evenings he devoted to playing cards in town. Pierre-Charles de Saint-Amant, a younger Café de la Régence chess master who wrote a biographical sketch of Deschapelles, speculated that “chance” gave Deschapelles his financial success. “What was required for that was a less mathematical arena than chess, a game where…chance might permit weakness to sustain its hopes, and mediocrity its illusions.” Saint-Amant’s implication is that Deschapelles found more victims at whist than at chess, and victims willing to risk more money. The card players of that era do not appear to have rated themselves systematically the way the chess players did, so a claim of supremacy for Deschapelles at whist would be difficult to substantiate. He certainly made himself well known in clubs, cafés, and spas throughout Europe in the 1820s and 1830s. His career in cards culminated in the publication of his fragmentary Traité du whiste (Treatise on Whist) in 1839, and in the general adoption of a tactic of his invention, known to bridge players even today as “the Deschapelles coup.”

In the 1830s, Deschapelles’s thoughts returned to politics. He told a British chess enthusiast: “I am of no country. Show me a good man, and I will try to be his brother. But were I to choose, though I have never seen England, and understand not your language, I am more a Briton than anything else. I love your country, in the firm belief that your admirable political constitution gives to man all of the liberty which he is as yet sufficiently civilized to enjoy without running into licentiousness.” A democrat in principle, he envisioned himself a dictator. Or at least so the prosecutor claimed when Deschapelles was brought to trial following the Paris insurrection of June 1832. He had entangled himself in a small republican party known as the Gauls, one of many groups discontented with the outcome of the Revolution of 1830. Saint-Amant believed that Deschapelles, in his “disordered ambition,” had expected to be summoned to lead the government after a new revolution: “He believed himself called to the post of commander, of lawgiver; because of his superiority of intelligence, he judged himself destined for the top, one day or another.” [59] Deschapelles’s conceits were not as strange as they might appear, arising as they did out of the same heady milieu that produced the dreams of the comte de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Auguste Comte, and the other “prophets of Paris.” [60] He emerged from the episode unchastened by the memory of a month or two spent in jail and assorted bruises to his ego. Clinging to his pretensions, he wrote constitutions for refugees from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and various American republics to take back home from Paris with them. He distilled his political ideas into La Loi du peuple (The People’s Law), published in 1848, a few months after his death, when revolution again broke out in France, and in many other European countries as well.

Periodically, at long intervals, Deschapelles’s interest in chess resurfaced. This happened in 1836, roughly a dozen years after his retirement from regular play. One day he walked into the Paris chess club, apparently with no preparation, to challenge Labourdonnais. They played four games of “pawns,” a variant of chess invented by Légal in which one of the contestants plays without his queen, in exchange for which he begins with sixteen pawns, double the number with which he would ordinarily begin. Giving no odds, Deschapelles won two games, lost one, and drew one. A few days later, he played ordinary chess with Saint-Amant, one of the strongest players after Labourdonnais, giving his customary odds. Each of them won a game and a third was drawn. Deschapelles seemed to be proving his theory that chess is a “single idea,” acquired all at once and forever.[61]

That same year an article in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle dared to doubt the historical accuracy of his just-published “Supplément au bulletin de la bataille d’Iéna.” Offended, he responded by challenging England to a duel at chess, a challenge he made public in Bell’s Life, and by dispatching Saint-Amant as his second to London to arrange the terms. Specifically, he sought to battle England’s best player for the stake of £1,000. The negotiations began promisingly, but soon faltered for no apparent reason and were finally broken off by Deschapelles. Had he suddenly lost interest in chess again? Saint-Amant wrote later: “I accepted responsibility for taking his conditions to the English. The innumerable obstacles that he subsequently raised have always made me wonder whether he really wanted to undertake this rash attempt.” [62]

Deschapelles returned to chess just as suddenly in 1842, when he again played Saint-Amant. In five games at varying odds, all in Saint-Amant’s favor of course, Deschapelles won three and Saint-Amant two.[63] Additional encounters of the sort probably took place unrecorded.

At the end of his life Deschapelles adopted Candide’s point of view and retired to tend his garden. Literally. Growing fruit became his new game. His melons won prizes and were served at the table of King Louis-Philippe. The secretary of the London Chess Club summed up his interview with the éminence grise of serious play:

M. Deschapelles is the greatest chess player in France;

M. Deschapelles is the greatest whist player in France;

M. Deschapelles is the greatest billiard player in France;

M. Deschapelles is the greatest pumpkin-grower in France; and

M. Deschapelles is the greatest liar in France.[64]

New and old attitudes coexisted uneasily in Deschapelles. One could with equal justice describe him as an aristocratic dilettante or a professional gambler. He was a stickler on the matter of rank and a revolutionary republican. Perhaps his insistence on the strict observation of rank in chess—refusing to play without giving proper odds—was a compensation for his lost prestige as an aristocrat in increasingly republican times and for his own republican political views.

As a chess player he was a “natural,” having learned the game rapidly without ever formally studying it. He did not read chess books. His knowledge of the openings, the phase of the game most thoroughly analyzed in his day, was not at all up to contemporary standards. As a consequence he often got into trouble early, and from beginning to end he played very slowly. While others could open games mechanically, pursuing lines of development that had been established as sound, Deschapelles had to think out every move for himself, even the first ones. He was the last master to achieve the highest rank without the aid of accumulated knowledge. And of course he published nothing on chess himself. In these ways, he was a chess anachronism.

Nevertheless, Deschapelles did contribute to the future of the game. His condescension passed from champion to champion like a conqueror’s mantle, enlarging the popular image of great chess players. Like the young Rousseau, he felt that to be the best was the main thing; what to be the best at was not so important. Like the young Rousseau, but with more success, he cultivated one field after another. Again like Rousseau, this time the mature Rousseau of Du contrat social (On the Social Contract) and the Projet de constitution pour la Corse (Draft of a Constitution for Corsica), he felt that having become the best in a field made him a superior human being, qualified to dictate laws and social organization to an entire nation. This represented in a way a throwback to the ideas of the philosophes, who believed chess to be a useful or instructive game that taught skills applicable elsewhere. But Deschapelles did not make this argument. He played chess, as well as checkers, whist, billiards, and backgammon, because he liked games, because he could be the best at them, and because being the best at them made him, modestly, wealthy and well known. Through chess and the rest he acquired the social position to which his aristocratic birth no longer automatically entitled him.

The chessboard remained a battlefield, but from a symbolic one it had become a real one. To be sure, few died there. Many, however, in a country exhausted by more than two decades of almost continuous warfare, could see virtue in peaceful combat, and increasing numbers fought for laurels in that manner. And a “disabled” veteran officer, who refused to wear his military cross, proudly accepted for victories won on the chessboard real fame and real fortune.

Louis-Charles Mahé de Labourdonnais (1795 or 1797–1840) led a much less picturesque life than either Philidor or Deschapelles.[65] Essentially it consisted of playing chess and, for variety, writing about chess. Although born into the nobility, Labourdonnais never showed any serious interest in the military, or in anything else, really, other than chess. Chess he took very seriously, never regarding it either as a mere game or as a symbolic battle, but always as an end in itself.

Labourdonnais’s grandfather, Bertrand-François Mahé de Labourdonnais, had had a distinguished career as an admiral, serving as governor of the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean in the 1730s and 1740s, capturing Madras from the British in 1746, and making an appearance as the benevolent governor of idyllic isles in the popular Rousseauist novel Paul et Virginie (1788). Appropriately for a young nobleman of such ancestry, Labourdonnais attended the prestigious Collège Henri IV in Paris. But within a few years of graduation, sometime around 1820, he strayed into the Café de la Régence. There he first learned the moves of chess, studied under Deschapelles, and was crowned king of the French players, all in the space of about three years. For a while he continued to live like the aristocrat he was born, dividing his time between Paris and the château he had inherited at St.-Malo. Gradually, though, chess took over his life. He traveled to London several times in the 1820s in order to test himself against the leading British players. In 1826, probably on one of those trips, he married an Englishwoman. He committed his last infidelity to chess the following year when he edited and published the memoirs of his grandfather. He himself fathered no children, only masterpieces of abstract strategy.

Labourdonnais and Deschapelles were the obverse and reverse sides of the same medal. After noting that they both died of hydropsy, Saint-Amant remarked: “But what a contrast in physique! Labourdonnais was large, fat, well-fed, sanguine; Deschapelles on the other hand was delicate, thin, sombre, and bilious. In one, there was intemperance of every sort, abuse of a strong constitution; in the other, abstinence and restraint in everything.” With regard to the latter, “One had to have seen his cold, calm, severe bearing, saturated with punctiliousness, to have a real conception of it. It was the last conversation of Socrates with his disciples, to judge by the attention and reverence with which one had to listen to him. At the least interjection, the slightest remark, he stopped, and did not begin again until total silence had been restored.”

Labourdonnais, in contrast, was described as Rabelaisian by the contemporary English chess enthusiast George Walker. The gourmand of his circle, Labourdonnais took trencherman honors at the luncheons given by Deschapelles at his Faubourg du Temple home.[66] In the Café de la Régence, he smoked cigars, drank heavily, and carried on boisterously, jok-ing, singing, gesticulating, and emitting bon mots—all the while piling up victories on the checkered board. Walker gives us an admirable illustration of the excesses of the romantic period:

His chess hours are from noon till midnight, seven times a week. He seems to be a species of chess-automaton, wound up to meet all conceivable cases with mathematical accuracy.…He would snatch a hasty dinner by the side of the chessboard, and in ten minutes be again enthroned in his chair, the hero of the hundred fights, giving rook, or knight, or pawn, as the case might be, to any opponent who presented; fresh as the dewy morn, and vigorous as though ‘twere breakfast-time.…I recollect that upon one occasion he played above forty games of chess at a sitting, with amateurs of every grade of skill.

Not only did Labourdonnais have great stamina, he also moved speedily and without hesitation; he combined intensive with extensive play. This was how he could steam through so many games in one session. Walker writes that Labourdonnais made holes “like a cribbage machine” in the margin of the chessboard, using pegs to keep track of the total. Another member of the Westminster Chess Club corroborated Walker’s characterization:

He played with marvelous rapidity, yet rarely made a mistake. “Tout ce que je demande,” he used to say, “c’est une petite position.” The moment he had got his petite position, his opponent’s doom was sealed. I could never play my best against him; his rapidity dazed me. Although talking and laughing all the time, no sooner had I made my move than his at once came down with a loud impact on the board, as though he meant to break it. I was fascinated, and fell an easy prey to the huge python.[67]

The foregoing accounts make it clear that the intimidation exercised by Labourdonnais was not confined to the chessboard. Able to decide on his own moves in a flash, he had little patience for more deliberate players. He expressed his impatience “by sundry very plain gestures and shrugs,” and even by drumming his fingers on the tabletop. When the game was going his way, he “talked and laughed a good deal”; when going against him, he “swore tolerably round oaths in a pretty audible voice.” Walker, by no means a Francophobe, complained that in his time the French chess players displayed little sportsmanship. When they lost a game, they shouted, threw the chessmen, and often failed to pay their wagers. When they observed a game, they commented on it freely, second-guessing the players and criticizing their moves out loud.[68] One may take it that Walker’s charges had some foundation, without necessarily accepting his implied comparison of national characters. Players in Britain, Germany, or Italy may or may not have been more polite. But whatever the case elsewhere, French chess circles clearly no longer recognized the social graces even as minor deities.

Labourdonnais played fast and accurately in part because he played a lot. In chess, speed and practice are mutually reinforcing: the more games one plays, the faster one’s decision making becomes; and the faster one plays, the more games one plays in a given period of time. Nowadays, all top contenders play “speed chess” as part of their training in order to learn recurring configurations through frequent exposure to them. Twentieth-century grand masters, it has been estimated, can distinguish “some 50,000 basic ‘building-block’ configurations—small groupings of pieces by which the board’s more complex structures are erected.” [69]

Labourdonnais played fast and accurately also because he studied. Unlike Deschapelles, he was abreast of contemporary opening and endgame theory. He read chess books and in 1833 produced one of his own, the Nouveau traité du jeu des échecs (New Treatise on the Game of Chess). Although several translations and a second French edition followed within a few years, his book is not very highly regarded. Perhaps it is because he did not introduce many new ideas or annotate his games very instructively. Unlike Philidor, Labourdonnais does not seem to have been good at communicating his knowledge. But there is no doubt that he had great knowledge and could apply it. Deschapelles was the last of the great pure improvisers and in his own time an exceptional case. After Philidor, codifying one’s knowledge in a book had become de rigueur for European players of the first rank. Many who were not of the first rank also published, and translations and reissues of the classic works began to proliferate as well.

The championship chess match was a creation of the nineteenth century. The eighty-five-game series, actually constituting six matches, that Labourdonnais and Alexander MacDonnell played from June to October 1834, has been generally regarded as the first championship ever since it took place: It was the first long series of games between two opponents each of whom had the reputation as the best in a circle of dedicated players. The fact that the opponents came from different countries and that the circles they represented became identified with those countries added to the interest and prestige of the event, making it not merely the first championship but also the first international championship. The British players invited Labourdonnais to London specifically for the purpose of staging the event, which soon attracted the attention of newspapers and the general public. Accounts of the outcome differ; collating them yields something on the order of forty-five wins for Labourdonnais and twenty-seven for MacDonnell, with thirteen draws.[70] Considering the number of games it encompassed, the length of time it lasted, and the competitive intensity it generated, this first championship must have been as grueling as any subsequent one. The daily sessions lasted from eleven A.M. or noon until six or seven P.M., after which MacDonnell often retired exhausted, sometimes “walking his room the greater part of the night in a dreadful state of excitement.” He died the following year of a kidney disorder at the age of thirty-seven. By contrast, Labourdonnais often spent the evening after a session playing more games against other opponents.[71] A prolific but now forgotten writer, Joseph Méry, celebrated the Frenchman’s victory in a long poem entitled Une Revanche de Waterloo (A Revenge for Waterloo).

Curiously, Philidor is generally considered to have been the first European chess champion, even though Labourdonnais won what is generally considered to have been the first European chess championship. Philidor won his unofficial posthumous title by playing a lot of chess outside of France and never meeting his equal. The second match to be widely recognized as a championship was again one pitting the best of Great Britain against the best of France, the Staunton–Saint-Amant match of 1843. Fully organized championships, with time limits for play and tournaments to determine challengers for an official title, began in the 1860s. Since then, such matches have been held every few years.

In 1836 Labourdonnais founded Europe’s first chess journal, Le Palamède, named for Palamedes, the mythical Greek inventor of the game. Labourdonnais’s deteriorating health forced him to suspend publication in 1840, but within a year of his death Saint-Amant revived it and kept it going through 1847. This experiment established the viability of the genre. Beginning in 1841, British enthusiasts could read Howard Staunton’s Chess Player’s Chronicle, which lasted until 1902. In Germany, the Schachzeitung (Chess Times), later called the Deutsche Schachzeitung (German Chess Times), began in 1846 and continues to this day, interrupted only by World War II. The longest unbroken run is probably that of the British Chess Magazine, which has been coming out regularly since 1881. Since these pioneers opened up the territory, two thousand more have appeared and, mostly, disappeared. In 1950 there were more than one hundred chess periodicals in print worldwide.[72]

One gambit that has been particularly successful for these publications from the first issue of Le Palamède to Advances in Computer Chess is the chess problem. In the most common of the various kinds of chess problem, the reader is presented with a chessboard situation, which may or may not arise in the course of an actual game, and challenged to use the white pieces to force checkmate on the black pieces in a specified number of moves, usually two, three, or four. Chess problems, unlike chess journals, were hundreds of years old, but they too began to multiply in the nineteenth century. Philidor’s Analyse du jeu des échecs contained no chess problems. Labourdonnais’s Nouveau traité du jeu des échecs contained sixty, although the author himself had composed only eight of them. Periodicals provided an ideal format for chess problems, since they could withhold the solution from the reader for a tantalizing space of time. In the new era signaled by the appearance of journals, it became possible to specialize in composing problems, just as it became possible to specialize in writing chess literature—poetry, short stories, biographical sketches, travel pieces, and the like on chess subjects. For example, P. A. d’Orville made his name as a composer of problems, and Joseph Méry, coeditor with Labourdonnais of Le Palamède, as a writer; neither distinguished himself as a player.[73]

Thus, during Labourdonnais’s reign as champion, several signs marking the onset of professionalization first appeared. The accelerating intensity with which chess has been cultivated in the Western world since then cannot be more strikingly illustrated than through the simultaneous blindfold exhibition. Such demonstrations of chess skill had lapsed since Philidor’s death in 1795, but Labourdonnais revived them in 1837. Attending a performance in the spring of that year “were peers, parliamentary deputies, generals, colonels, artists, men of letters; it was a convention.” That was how Le Palamède trumpeted the event, muting the disparity between Philidor’s frequent performances of three blindfold games at once and Labourdonnais’s mere two. But Labourdonnais began to play blindfolded only in the last few years of his life, and he seems to have been working up to three games just before his final illness.[74] More significant, since his revival of the exhibition, a continuous stream of performers has maintained it. Indeed, in terms of the number of games played at once, they have steadily escalated the level of achievement. A younger Café de la Régence master, Lionel Kieseritzky, played four simultaneous blindfold games in 1851. The American master Paul Morphy played eight in the Café de la Régence in 1858. Louis Paulsen, an American originally from Germany, played fifteen in 1859. After a succession of intervening record holders, Harry Pillsbury, yet another American, played twenty-one in 1902, with the added difficulty that all his opponents were top-ranked masters against whom he was competing in a championship tournament. Still later, an American originally from Belgium, Georges Koltanovski, a specialist in such feats, played thirty-four blindfold games simultaneously in 1937, fifty in 1952, and finally fifty-six in 1961 in San Francisco, winning fifty of them and drawing the other six.[75]

In the mid-1830s, Labourdonnais lost most of his fortune in a building speculation. The rest of it he spent on a luxurious holiday with his wife in the south of France. Only a loan from Captain Guingret, a fellow chess enthusiast, later commandant of the École Militaire and president of the Paris chess club, whom they happened upon, enabled them to return to the capital.[76] From that point forward, Labourdonnais had to live on his earnings at chess.

Unfortunately, both his earnings and his health soon went into decline. He was diagnosed as dropsical and submitted to twenty-one drainings in the space of eighteen months. In the last month of his life, December 1840, he traveled to London in the hope of improving at least his financial situation, if not his health. But after a few days he was too sick to appear in public and too poor to be able to afford either food or medical attention. The British players took up a collection so that he did not have to die literally in a garret. Like Philidor, he died in London; also like Philidor, he died on the verge of his deliverance. He had just been voted two pensions, one from the French government as a “man of letters,” for his contribution to culture, and another from the île de la Réunion, the largest of the Mascarenes still under French control (as it remains yet today), in appreciation for his grandfather’s service as governor there.

Maintaining the tradition of the Café de la Régence masters, Labourdonnais continued to give odds to the end. The Hungarian master József Szén arrived in Paris in 1838, and Labourdonnais measured his inferiority at a pawn and two moves. After imposing that handicap, the Frenchman proceeded to lose thirteen of twenty-five games.[77] Making even more questionable use of the principles of the Old Regime, Labourdonnais ranked himself above Philidor. Once in a conversation with the chevalier de Barneville, who was born a half-century before him and died after him, he asked:

“Let us converse a little about distant history, my dear chevalier; on what terms did you play with Philidor?”

“He used to give me a knight and a pawn.”

“I would have given, then, a pawn and two moves to Philidor?”


Brushing aside Barneville’s advanced age, all differences in styles of play, and all changes in the competitive environment, Labourdonnais concluded from the fact that he gave greater odds to Barneville than Philidor had given him that he, Labourdonnais, was the better player. The conversation continued:

“And how did you play against Jean-Jacques Rousseau?”

“I used to give him a rook.”

“He was a weak player then.”

“But on the other hand,” said the chevalier, “he had colossal pride, and the most frightful character of any chess player who ever lived.” [78]

Despite the vestige of rank-consciousness, Labourdonnais had abandoned his aristocratic and warrior heritage, or perhaps he had sublimated it into chess. He had lost, sold, or given away all of his inherited possessions. He never saw the Mascarenes.[79] He had no apparent talents or skills, and cultivated no interests or friendships, outside of chess. Chess provided almost his only connection to the world. His success at chess determined not just his career but eventually his whole life and his very identity.

In the 1840s, French chess lost not only Labourdonnais but also an important correspondence match and the second international championship match. In the previous decade the Paris players had twice defeated the London players in correspondence games, that is, games played by mail, necessarily lasting many months, in which the moves were decided upon through consultation among the members of a team. But the Paris players’ century-long tradition of superiority proved to be a dead letter in the mid-1840s, when they lost two correspondence games to the Budapest team of József Szén, the victor over Labourdonnais in 1838, Vincenz Grimm, the pianist, and János Löwenthal.[80] In 1843, Howard Staunton of England stormed the fortress of the Café de la Régence itself, defeating Saint-Amant there eleven games to six, with four draws, in the second match to be generally recognized as a championship. Staunton carried the flag of European chess back to London, where both Philidor and Labourdonnais had found their last refuge, and where the first international championship tournament, with not just two but a whole field of contenders for the championship, was to be held in 1851.

Saint-Amant had positioned himself to inherit the Café de la Régence throne and thus, presumably, to rule over French and European chess.[81] Born at the turn of the nineteenth century in his family’s ancestral château in Gascony, he moved to Paris in his early twenties and began to frequent the famous café. There he studied with the Alsatian master Wilhelm Schlumberger, who soon afterward sailed to America to become, in a mechanical disguise, one of the chess world’s first touring professionals. Saint-Amant steadily improved his game so that by the early 1830s he was second only to Labourdonnais, Deschapelles having long since retired. It was Saint-Amant who led the Paris club in its victories over the London club at correspondence chess. Labourdonnais’s death in 1840 made Saint-Amant the best active player in France and allowed him to become the editor of Le Palamède, still the only chess journal in Europe. His upward course continued in 1843 when he visited London and defeated Staunton three games to two, with one draw.

This “informal match” led to the “championship match” won by Staunton in Paris later the same year. The French players disputed this characterization of the two series of games, however. Toward the end of 1844, Staunton returned to Paris for a third match that would settle the matter for good, but he fell ill with pneumonia before it started and went home to England without having played a single game. The dispute flared up anew and then smoldered for years.[82] In their separate capitals, Staunton continued to focus on chess, while Saint-Amant, still at the top of his game, reduced his playing to once a week, allowing Staunton’s claim to be the international champion to accrue legitimacy. In the late 1840s Saint-Amant retired from chess altogether, returning to it only intermittently during the last twenty-five years of his life. He had always had diverse occupations, including secretary to the governor of French Guyana, journalist, actor, wine dealer, captain in the National Guard, governor of the Tuileries Palace, French consul in California, and author of several nonfiction books, none of them on chess. A popular man, he was known for his sociability and civility. In sum, he had neither an intense drive to cultivate his skill in chess nor an intense drive to promote himself.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Café de la Régence attracted players from every corner of Europe. Some sought only to joust with French knights on level ground. This wish was not always granted: Labourdonnais, as we have seen, imposed unreasonable odds on Szén, and Saint-Amant avoided the Hungarian altogether.[83] Other, bolder paladins took up permanent residence in the palace of the royal game. But the valiant foreigners scarcely even postponed, let alone prevented, the collapse of its battlements in the 1840s.

Aaron Alexandre, a Bavarian trained as a rabbi, arrived in 1793.[84] Gratified by the Revolutionaries’ policy of religious toleration he decided to become a French citizen. At first, he taught German for his livelihood, and made mechanical inventions and played chess as pastimes. Eventually, however, chess became his principal occupation. He set himself the task of making a complete survey of the openings that had been analyzed up to then, publishing his findings as the Encyclopédie des échecs (Encyclopedia of Chess, 1837). Then he made a survey of endgame analyses and a compilation of almost two thousand chess problems, which he published in London as The Beauties of Chess (1846). Both books set new standards of comprehensiveness for their specialties and showed Alexander’s great technical knowledge. In chess as in his other activities, he preferred erudition to performance.

Lionel Kieseritzky arrived in Paris in 1839 from Dorpat, Livonia (now Tartu, Estonia), in the Russian Empire.[85] As previously mentioned, Kieseritzky was an excellent amateur pianist and, an acquaintance later recalled, “through his active literary and artistic propensities, the social center, so to speak, of Dorpat; he staged dramatic and musical performances frequently and with great enthusiasm.” On the eve of his departure from his hometown he produced in a public garden a game of “living chess,” in which costumed people took the place of the chessmen. In Dorpat he had been teaching mathematics but once in Paris began to teach chess instead, giving lessons for a fee in the Café de la Régence. By the time of his arrival there he had already progressed to a level only slightly below that of Labourdonnais and about equal to that of Saint-Amant. In 1846 he visited London and engaged in a curious triangular match with Staunton and a German player named Harrwitz, each of the three playing the other two in simultaneous games, Staunton giving rook odds to both of the others, who played blindfolded; Harrwitz won his two games and Kieseritzky lost both of his. In 1849 Kieseritzky launched a new chess journal, La Régence, Saint-Amant having abandoned chess and allowed Le Palamède to expire in 1847. Kieseritzky invented a three-dimensional version of chess, but it failed to attract much interest. He played a lot of blindfold chess, including one simultaneous blindfold exhibition of four games, a new record, in which he called out his moves for each game in a different language, French, German, English, or Italian. In 1851 he again traveled to London, to participate in the first international championship tournament, where he was knocked out in the first round. A contemporary described him as “essentially a gallery player, dealing chiefly in fireworks against weak opponents.” [86] He cultivated chess as a spectacle intensively but did not cultivate chess as a skill comparably.

The careers of these relatively unsuccessful successors to the Café de la Régence dynasty signaled the end of an era. It had lasted roughly a century, from about 1740 to about 1840. What the Age of Revolution was to European society at large, the Café de la Régence era was to chess: the childhood of many of its most characteristic present-day institutions. The chess club; the chess journal; the international championship match; subspecialties such as imaginative writing on chess subjects, problem composition, and simultaneous blindfold exhibitions; the study and publication of systematic analyses as an essential part of mastering the game; and, in general, a commitment to chess commensurate with that to any art or science: These are some of the distinctive institutions of modern chess that took form during the Café de la Régence era. The glory years of the Café de la Régence, whose traditions prevailed until the new institutions established themselves, were indeed those of a regency.

Before the Café de la Régence era, it had been aristocrats who constituted the social group in Europe most identified with chess; during that era, it was intellectuals; since then, it has been quite simply professional chess players. Before that era, many Europeans regarded chess as a mere game; during that era, a useful or meaningful game; since then, a serious pursuit. Before that era, chess was played by some people as symbolic war; during that era, by many army officers as a pastime; since then, by many people as a real battle for fame and fortune.

In a broader societal context, out of the Café de la Régence period emerged the idea that chess greats are cultural heroes. A prominent French poet wrote that Labourdonnais had avenged Waterloo with his victory over MacDonnell in 1834. The French government bestowed a pension on Labourdonnais for his contribution to the national culture. Since then, becoming a great chess player has been regarded as a great accomplishment, without qualification. And one need not be a great chess player to justify taking a serious interest in the game: Playing chess has become a legitimate activity in and of itself. Prefaces to chess books no longer argue for the game as they once did, adducing such reasons as that it teaches military science or moral values. Arguments for chess, no longer deemed necessary, are no longer made. The development of the idea that playing chess is self-justifying ran parallel to or perhaps was an offshoot of the development of the idea of art for art’s sake. It reached its epitome at the end of the nineteenth century in the formula of Ernst Cassirer: “What chess has in common with science and fine art is its utter uselessness.” [87]

Simultaneous blindfold chess exhibition, given by Paul Morphy at the Café de la Régence. Courtesy of the John G. White Collection, Special Collections, Cleveland Public Library. Photograph by the Cleveland Public Library Photoduplication Service.

In 1852 the Café de la Régence lost its original home on the place du Palais-Royal, where it had opened in 1681 as one of the first coffeehouses in Paris. It found temporary quarters on the rue de Richelieu for two years, then moved permanently to the rue Saint-Honoré, where it remains to this day, though under a different name.[88] The removal of the café from its time-honored location symbolized its removal from the history of chess. When the immortal American master Morphy gave a fantastic exhibition in the café’s new home in the late 1850s, playing eight blindfold games simultaneously, it was the visit of Morpheus, and the Café de la Régence has slept peacefully ever since.


All translations of quotations from other languages into English are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

1. Denis Diderot, Le Neveu de Rameau, in Oeuvres, ed. André Billy (Paris: Pléiade, 1951), p. 395. For help with the translation of all passages drawn from this work, the author consulted Denis Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew, trans. Jacques Barzun (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964).

2. Denis Diderot, Correspondance, ed. Georges Roth, 16 vols. (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1958), vol. 3, pp. 115–17, 357; vol. 4, p. 204; Madame de Vandeul [née Marie-Angélique Diderot, daughter of Denis Diderot], “Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de la vie et des ouvrages de Diderot,” in Denis Diderot, Mémoires, correspondance et ouvrages inédits de Diderot, 4 vols. (Paris: Paulin, 1830), vol. 1, p. 21.

3. George Walker, “The Café de la Régence,” Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country 22, no. 132 (December 1840): 670–71. Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, Lettres persanes, in Oeuvres complètes, ed. Daniel Oster (Paris: Seuil, 1964), p. 80. Voltaire’s correspondence contains many references to his playing chess, mostly at Ferney. Ralph K. Hagedorn, Benjamin Franklin and Chess in Early America: A Review of the Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1958), p. 39. On the crowds who went to see Rousseau at the Café de la Régence: Louis Petit de Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets pour servir à l’histoire de la république des lettres en France depuis 1762 jusqu’à nos jours, 36 vols. (London: Adamson, 1777–89), vol. 5, pp. 133–34, 136; Jacques-Louis Ménétra, Journal of My Life, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, ed. Daniel Roche (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 182–83 n. 228.

4. Chevalier de Jaucourt, “Échecs,” in Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts, et des métiers, ed. Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, 35 vols. (Stuttgart: Frommann, 1966–67; reprint of 1st ed., 1751–80), vol. 5, pp. 247–48.

5. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Die Philosophischen Schriften von Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, ed. C. J. Gerhardt, 7 vols. (Hildesheim: Olms, 1960), vol. 3, p. 304.

6. [François-]A[ndré] D[anican] Philidor, Analyse du jeu des échecs, new ed. (London: n.p., 1777), unpaginated pref.

7. Diderot, Correspondance, vol. 4, p. 205.

8. Benjamin Franklin, “The Morals of Chess,” in The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Albert H. Smyth, 10 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1905–7), vol. 7, pp. 357–62.

9. Jacques Barzun, trans., pref. to Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew, p. 3; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Götz von Berlichingen” (1772–1773), in Der Junge Goethe, ed. Hanna Fischer-Lamberg, 6 vols. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1963–74), vol. 3, p. 211.

10. [Sébastien-Roch Nicolas] Chamfort, Maximes et pensées, caractères et anecdotes (Paris: Gallimard, 1970), p. 148.

11. Jean-Benjamin de Laborde, “Philidor,” in Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne, 4 vols. (New York: AMS, 1978; reprint of 1st ed., Paris, 1780), vol. 3, pp. 461–62; Richard Twiss, Chess, 2 vols. (London: Robinson, 1787–89), vol. 1, pp. 149–50; Ernst Ludwig Gerber, “Philidor (André Danican),” in Historisch-biographisches Lexicon der Tonkünstler (Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1966; reprint of 1st ed., Leipzig, 1790–92), 2 parts, pt. 2, cols. 126–27; J Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” incorporating the fragment “Biographie de Philidor par son fils aîné,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1 (January 1847): 3; F[rançois]-J[oseph] Fétis, “Philidor (François-André Danican),” in Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie générale de la musique, 2d ed., 8 vols. (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1870–75), vol. 7, p. 28; Julian Rushton, “Philidor,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, 20 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1980), vol. 14, p. 625.

12. Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1, pp. 4–5; Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, pp. 150–51. The chess master’s name is variously spelled Kermur, Kermeur, or Kermuy; his title, Légal, Legall, or Legalle.

13. Diderot, Neveu de Rameau, in Oeuvres, pp. 395, 398; David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 181–82; Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, pp. 150–51, 165; Diderot, Correspondance, vol. 15, p. 294.

14. Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, pp. 154–55.

15. Ibid., pp. 155, 157, 163. The title of the first edition of Philidor’s book was Analyze des échecs (London: n.p., 1749); most of the many subsequent French editions bear the title Analyse du jeu des échecs, which will be used here in reference to any and all editions in order to avoid confusion. A bibliography of the hundred-plus editions of this book may be found in Charles Michael Carroll, “François-André Danican Philidor: His Life and Dramatic Art” (Ph.D. diss., Florida State University, 1960), pp. 433–41. Philidor himself pointed out many of his innovations in the preface to the first edition of his book, which also contains the famous phrase quoted here. Discussions of the originality of the Analyse may be found in Jean Biou, “La Révolution philidorienne,” in Le Jeu au XVIIIe siècle: Colloque d’Aix-en-Provence (Aix-en-Provence: EDISUD, 1976), pp. 61–68; H. J. R. Murray, A History of Chess (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1913), pp. 866–67; Richard Eales, Chess: The History of a Game (New York: Facts on File, 1985), pp. 114–15.

16. Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, pp. 157–58; Gerber, “Philidor,” Historisch-biographisches Lexicon der Tonkünstler, pt. 2, col. 127; Leonhard Euler and Christian Goldbach, Briefwechsel, 1729–1764, ed. Juskevic and Winter (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1965), pp. 336–37.

17. Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1, pp. 14, 7 (quotation); Laborde, “Philidor,” in Essai sur la musique, vol. 3, p. 462; Gerber, “Philidor,” Historisch-biographisches Lexicon der Tonkünstler, pt. 2, col. 127; George Allen, The Life of Philidor: Musician and Chess-Player (New York: Da Capo, 1971; reprint of 1st ed., Philadelphia, 1863), p. 21.

18. Quoted in Twiss, Chess, vol. 2, pp. 215–16.

19. Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, pp. 165–66.

20. Ibid., p. 165.

21. Carroll, “Philidor,” pp. 120–26, 154–204, 301; Rushton, “Philidor,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 14, p. 628. Donald Jay Grout, in A Short History of Opera (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), p. 491, says that they were produced in America as well.

22. Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1, pp. 9, 14; Michel Brenet, Les Concerts en France sous l’ancien régime (New York: Da Capo, 1970; reprint of 1st ed., Paris, 1900), pp. 241, 272, 294; Fétis, “Philidor,” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 7, p. 31; Carroll, “Philidor,” pp. 134–35.

23. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Les Confessions, in Oeuvres complètes, ed. Bernard Gagnebin and Marcel Raymond, 4 vols. (Paris: Pléiade, 1959–69), vol. 1, pp. 333–34; Carroll, “Philidor,” pp. 98–101; Henry Raynor, A Social History of Music, from the Middle Ages to Beethoven (New York: Taplinger, 1978), pp. 234–35.

24. Raynor, Social History of Music, p. 236; Grout, Short History of Opera, pp. 254–59; Maurice Cranston, Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712–1754 (New York: Norton, 1982), pp. 262–88.

25. Diderot, Correspondance, vol. 11, p. 38; Charles Burney, quoted in Frances Burney, The Early Diary of Frances Burney, 1768–1778, ed. Annie Raine Ellis, 2 vols. (London: Bell, 1907), vol. 1, p. 123; Mercure de France, January 1766, p. 212, quoted in Brenet, Concerts en France, p. 283; Raynor, Social History of Music, p. 240; Carroll, “Philidor,” pp. 116–17, 124; Rushton, “Philidor,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 14, p. 629.

26. Fétis, “Philidor,” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 7, p. 30.

27. Rousseau, Confessions, in Oeuvres complètes, vol. 1, p. 288.

28. Diderot, Neveu de Rameau, in Oeuvres, pp. 397–98.

29. Donal O’Gorman, Diderot the Satirist: “Le Neveu de Rameau” and Related Works: An Analysis (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1971), pt. 3, chap. 7, “The Caricature of Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” and pp. 214–15; Arthur M. Wilson, Diderot (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 420. The two philosophes met in the Café de la Régence in 1742; Diderot, Correspondance, vol. 1, p. 27. Diderot later wrote that Rousseau “always beat me at chess”; Denis Diderot, “Salon de 1767,” in Oeuvres complètes, ed. J. Assézat and M. Tourneux, 20 vols. (Paris: Garnier, 1875–77), vol. 11, p. 127.

30. Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, pp. 160–64; Burney, Early Diary of Frances Burney, vol. 1, p. 123, including footnotes; “Autographes de Philidor,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 4 (April 1847): 172–78; Allen, Life of Philidor, pp. 69–81; Murray, History of Chess, p. 863; Carroll, “Philidor,” pp. 230–31, 265–66.

31. Brenet, Concerts en France, p. 343 n. 1; Carroll, “Philidor,” pp. 231–47; Charles Michael Carroll, “A Classical Setting for a Classical Poem: Philidor’s Carmen Sæculare, ” in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, ed. Ronald C. Rosbottom (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1977), vol. 6, pp. 97–111; Rushton, “Philidor,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 14, pp. 628–29.

32. Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 15, pp. 16–17, 25–27, 28–30.

33. Carroll, “Philidor,” pp. 248–64.

34. Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, p. 166; [Luc-Vincent] Thiéry, Guide des amateurs et des étrangers voyageurs à Paris, 2 vols. (Paris: Hardouin and Gattey, 1787), vol. 1, pp. 279–80; Robert M. Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy: Popular Entertainment in Eighteenth-Century Paris (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 237.

35. The example given is from Biou, “La Révolution philidorienne,” in Jeu au XVIIIe siècle, p. 66. It also appears in Reuben Fine, The World’s Great Chess Games, from Morphy to Fischer and Karpov (New York: McKay, 1976), p. 4.

36. Carroll, “Philidor,” passim, e.g., p. 90; Rushton, “Philidor,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 14, p. 628; Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1, p. 15.

37. [André-Ernest-Modeste] Grétry, Mémoires, ou Essais sur la musique, 3 vols. (Paris: Verdiere, 1812), vol. 3, pp. 253–54.

38. Ludwig Bachmann, Aus vergangenen Zeiten: Bilder aus der Entwicklungsgeschichte des praktischen Schachspiels, 2 vols. (Berlin: Kagan, [1920–22]), vol. 1, fasc. 5, p. 95; Adrianus Dingeman de Groot, Thought and Choice in Chess, trans. uncredited (The Hague: Mouton, 1978), pp. 361–70.

39. The source of the quotation, from an unidentified contemporary newspaper: Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, p. 153. See also Diderot, Correspondance, vol. 15, pp. 293–95; Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, pp. 152–54, 167–70; vol. 2, p. 217; Richard Twiss, Miscellanies, 2 vols. (London: Egerton, 1805), vol. 2, pp. 105–8; “Chess,” London Chronicle, 28 May 1787, p. 507; Morning World, 28 May 1787, quoted in Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, p. 167; “Autographes de Philidor,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 4, p. 176; Allen, Life of Philidor, p. 79; Carroll, “Philidor,” pp. 266–75.

40. “Autographes de Philidor,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 4, p. 176; Charles Tomlinson, ed., The Chess-Player’s Annual for the Year 1856 (London: Hall, Virtue, 1856), p. 160; Allen, Life of Philidor, pp. 76 n, 77 n.

41. Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, pp. 164–65; Pierre-Charles Fournier de Saint-Amant, editor of Le Palamède, footnote to Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1, p. 15 n.

42. Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1, pp. 10–11; Allen, Life of Philidor, pp. 58–59.

43. Al. Choron and F. Fayolle, “Philidor (André),” in Dictionnaire historique des musiciens, artistes, et amateurs, 2 vols. (Paris: Valade, 1810–11), vol. 2, p. 142.

44. Allen, Life of Philidor, pp. 75–77, 53–57; Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1, pp. 10–15.

45. “Autographes de Philidor,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 4, pp. 174–78. For the translation of the first quotation: Allen, Life of Philidor, p. 81.

46. A. Danican Philidor, “Les Joueurs d’échecs.—Philidor,” La Régence, 1st ser., 3, no. 4 (April 1851): 123. See also Allen, Life of Philidor, pp. 79–81.

47. Unpublished letter of Philidor, 10 February 1784, quoted in Carroll, “Philidor,” pp. 277–78.

48. Walker, “Café de la Régence,” Fraser’s Magazine 22, no. 132, pp. 670–71; Jean Gay, Bibliographie anecdotique du jeu des échecs (Paris: Gay, 1864), p. 124; Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1, pp. 8, 12; Twiss, Miscellanies, vol. 2, pp. 110–12; obituary of Philidor in the Times (London), 2 September 1795, p. 3; “Autographes de Philidor,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 4, p. 175; Allen, Life of Philidor, pp. 92–101; Carroll, “Philidor,” pp. 283–89.

49. Diderot, Correspondance, vol. 10, p. 158; vol. 11, pp. 37–39; vol. 15, pp. 293–95, 312. For help with the translation: Carroll, “Philidor,” pp. 270–71.

50. “Chess Match at Mr. Parsloe’s, St. James’s-street,” Sporting Magazine 2, no. 1 (April 1793): 8; “Chess Club at Mr. Parsloe’s, St. James’s street,” Sporting Magazine 3, no. 5 (February 1794): 282.

51. Philippe Stamma, Essai sur le jeu des échecs (The Hague: Van Dole, 1741; first published in Paris, 1737), p. 150; Gioachino Greco, Le Jeu des eschets (Paris: Pepingué, 1669), dedication page; Joseph Bertin, The Noble Game of Chess (London: Author, 1735), p. iii.

52. There are two principal biographical sketches of Deschapelles: [Pierre-Charles Fournier de] Saint-Amant, “Deschapelles,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 11 (November 1847): 500–515; [George Walker], “Deschapelles, the Chess-King,” Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country 19, no. 111 (March 1839): 310–19. Two others contain some additional information: Anon., “Deschapelles,” in Biographie universelle et portative des contemporains, ed. A[lphonse] Rabbe, Vieilh de Boisjolin, and Sainte-Preuve, 5 vols. (Paris: Editors, 1836), vol. 5, pp. 149–50; Anon., “Deschapelles,” Cahiers de l’échiquier français, no. 21 (1st trimester 1930): 132–42. Unless otherwise noted, all information on Deschapelles in this section, including quotations, derives from the articles by Saint-Amant and Walker.

53. [Joseph] M[éry], “Napoléon, amateur d’échecs,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 1, no. 1 ([15 March] 1836): 12–13; Walker, “Café de la Régence,” Fraser’s Magazine 22, no. 132, pp. 671–73.

54. Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 22, pp. 305–6; Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, p. 166; [Verdoni, Léger, Carlier, and Bernard], Traité théorique et pratique du jeu des échecs par une société d’amateurs (Paris: Stoupe, 1775).

55. [A.-L.-H. Lebreton] Deschapelles, “Supplément au bulletin de la bataille d’Iéna,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 1, no. 1 ([15 March] 1836): 23–25; letter of Deschapelles published in Le Palamède, 1st ser., 1, no. 8 (15 October 1836): 292.

56. Walker, “Café de la Régence,” Fraser’s Magazine 22, no. 132, p. 682; George Walker, “The Battles of M’Donnell and de La Bourdonnais,” in Chess and Chess-Players (London: Skeet, 1850), p. 367.

57. Anon., “Deschapelles,” Cahiers de l’échiquier français, no. 21, p. 135.

58. Editor(s) of Le Palamède, “Défi entre M. Deschapelles et M. Lewis,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 1, no. 9 (15 November 1836): 318–22.

59. Saint-Amant, “Deschapelles,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 11, pp. 500–515; Walker, “Deschapelles, the Chess-King,” Fraser’s Magazine 19, no. 111, pp. 310–19; Joseph Gisquet, Mémoires de M. Gisquet, 3 vols. (Paris: Marchand, 1840), vol. 2, pp. 240–41.

60. Frank E. Manuel, The Prophets of Paris: Turgot, Condorcet, Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Comte (New York: Harper, 1965).

61. “Club des Panoramas,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 1, no. 3 ([15 May] 1836): 108; Walker, “Deschapelles, the Chess-King,” Fraser’s Magazine 19, no. 111, pp. 312–13. On the invention of “pawns”: Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1, p. 5 n. 1.

62. Saint-Amant, “Deschapelles,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 11, pp. 500–515; Walker, “Deschapelles, the Chess-King,” Fraser’s Magazine 19, no. 111, pp. 310–19; Le Palamède, 1st ser., 1, no. 4 (1836): 147–48; no. 5, pp. 186–91; no. 6, pp. 208–16; no. 7, pp. 256–58; no. 8, pp. 292–94.

63. “Chronique,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 2, no. 12 (15 November 1842): 233.

64. Quoted in William Hartston, The Kings of Chess: A History of Chess Traced through the Lives of Its Greatest Players (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), p. 25.

65. There are three principal biographical sketches, and they are quite sketchy, of Labourdonnais: George Walker, “Derniers moments de Labourdonnais,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 1, no. 1 (15 December 1841): 11–14 (trans. of “The Last Moments of Labourdonnais,” which first appeared in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle sometime in 1841); [Pierre-Charles Fournier de] Saint-Amant, “Mort de M. de Labourdonnais,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 1, no. 1 (15 December 1841): 15–19; Walker, “Café de la Régence,” Fraser’s Magazine 22, no. 132, pp. 680–82. Three others contain little additional information: [first name unknown] Fayolle, “Labourdonnais (Mahé de),” in Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne, 2d ed., ed. Michaud, 45 vols. (Paris: Desplaces, 1843–65), vol. 22, pp. 319–20; O. Koch, “Louis Charles Mahé de la Bourdonnais,” Deutsches Wochenschach und Berliner Schachzeitung 28, no. 1 (7 January 1912): 1–7; Anon., “La Bourdonnais,” Cahiers de l’échiquier français, no. 2 (2d trimester 1925): 35–45. Concerning the question of when Labourdonnais was born, Walker says the inscription on his gravestone reads “mort le 13 décembre 1840, à l’âge de 43 ans,” implying a birth year of 1797, while Saint-Amant says explicitly that he was born in 1795. Unless otherwise noted, all information on Labourdonnais in this section, including quotations of him, derives from the two articles by Walker and the one by Saint-Amant.

66. Saint-Amant, “Deschapelles,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 11, pp. 504, 509, 510.

67. Auguste Mongredien, quoted in G. H. Diggle, “The Labourdonnais-MacDonnell Matches of 1834,” British Chess Magazine 54, no. 7 (July 1934): 281.

68. Walker, “Café de la Régence,” pp. 677, 681–82; idem, “Battles of M’Donnell,” in Chess and Chess-Players, p. 372.

69. Brad Leithauser, “Computer Chess,” New Yorker 63, no. 3 (9 March 1987): 48.

70. Murray, History of Chess, p. 882, including footnotes.

71. [Louis-Charles de Labourdonnais], intro. to “Une Partie d’échecs, poème par M. Méry,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 1, no. 1 ([15 March] 1836): 26; [Pierre-Charles de Saint-Amant], “Labourdonnais et MacDonnell,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 4, no. 6 (June 1844): 265–66; Walker, “Café de la Régence,” Fraser’s Magazine 22, no. 132, p. 681; idem, “Battles of M’Donnell,” in Chess and Chess-Players, pp. 364–84; Diggle, “La Bourdonnais-MacDonnell Matches,” British Chess Magazine 54, no. 7, pp. 277–86.

72. Hooper and Whyld, Oxford Companion to Chess, p. 245; B. H. Wood, “Books about Chess,” in The Treasury of Chess Lore, ed. Fred Reinfeld (New York: Dover, 1959), p. 269.

73. For three capsule accounts of the history of chess problems: Murray, History of Chess, pp. 870–72; Eales, Chess, pp. 205–7; Hooper and Whyld, Oxford Companion to Chess, pp. 256–59.

74. [Joseph] Méry, “Deux parties d’échecs sans voir,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 2, no. 1 (15 March 1837): 5–8; George Walker, “Chess, without the Chess-Board,” Fraser’s Magazine 21, no. 123 (March 1840): 312; Joseph Méry, “Let-tre sur Philidor,” La Régence, 1st ser., 3, no. 5 (May 1851): 129–32.

75. For a contemporary engraving of Morphy’s eight-game exhibition: David Lawson, Paul Morphy: The Pride and Sorrow of Chess (New York: McKay, 1976), p. 133; Hartston, Kings of Chess, p. 47. On Paulsen’s fifteen-game exhibition: Anne Sunnucks, ed., The Encyclopedia of Chess (New York: St. Martin’s, 1970), p. 347. On Pillsbury’s twenty-one-game exhibition: Hooper and Whyld, Oxford Companion to Chess, pp. 37, 253. On Koltanovski’s exhibitions: Ridka Belkadi, Les Échecs, de l’initiationà la maîtrise (N.p.: Société Tunisienne de Diffusion, 1972), p. 279.

76. “Revue,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 3, no. 12 (15 December 1843): 538–39.

77. Murray, History of Chess, p. 885.

78. Joseph Méry, “Les Joueurs d’Échecs—Le Chevalier de Barneville,” La Régence, 1st ser., 3, no. 4 (April 1851): 118. The chevalier Brisout de Barneville was born in 1747 and died in 1842; “Nécrologie,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 1, no. 5 (15 April 1842): 234.

79. [First name unknown] Saint-Elme Le Duc, letter to the editor, Le Palamède, 2d ser., 4, no. 4 (April 1844): 167–68.

80. On the Paris-London correspondence games: “Un Défi par correspondance,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 1, no. 1 ([15 March] 1836): 14–17; “Défi entre le cercle des échecs de Paris et le club de Westminster,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 2, no. 1 (15 March 1837): 10–16. On the Paris-Budapest correspondence games: “Chronique,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 2, no. 11 (15 October 1842): 183; see also “Chronique” in many subsequent issues of Le Palamède, concluding with “Défi par correspondance, entre Paris et Pesth (Hongrie), commencé en novembre 1842,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 5, no. 5 (15 May 1845): 202; 6, no. 2 (February 1846): 70–71.

81. There are two principal biographical sketches of Saint-Amant: J[ean-Louis] Préti, “A la mémoire de M. de Saint-Amant,” La Stratégie 5, no. 12 (15 December 1872): 353–55; G. H. Diggle, “Pierre Charles Fournié [sic] de Saint-Amant,” British Chess Magazine 53, no. 10 (October 1933): 405–9; no. 11 (November 1933): 449–56. There is also quite a bit of information about him in the columns of Le Palamède, 2d ser. (1841–47), and in George Walker’s chess columns (1835–73) in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, especially the column of 24 November 1872, an obituary of Saint-Amant.

82. Since Saint-Amant was the editor of Le Palamède and Staunton the editor of the Chess Player’s Chronicle, innumerable reports, letters, proposals, claims, challenges, charges, and countercharges were published in those two journals concerning the three matches, counting the two that were actually played and the one that was only planned. There was also one pamphlet, published by the English side: [Thomas J. Bryan], Jeu des échecs; historique de la lutte entre l’éditeur du “Palamède” et l’éditeur du “Chess Player’s Chronicle” (Paris: Tresse, 1845).

83. Walker, “Café de la Régence,” Fraser’s Magazine 22, no. 132, p. 675.

84. The principal biographical sketch of Alexandre is [Pierre-Charles Four-nier de] Saint-Amant, “Nécrologie: A. Alexandre,” La Régence, 1st ser., 3, no. 1 (January 1851): 3–13.

85. There are two principal biographical sketches of Kieseritzky: F[riedrich] Amelung, “Lionel Kieseritzky,” Baltische Schachblätter, no. 2 (1890): 55–87 (including selections from Kieseritzky’s letters); Bachmann, Aus vergangenen Zeiten, vol. 1, fasc. 5, pp. 90–101 (chap. entitled “Lionel Kieseritzky”). There is also quite a bit of information about him in La Régence, 1st ser. (1849–51), edited by Kieseritzky himself.

86. The source of the quotation: Rev. W. Wayte, quoted in Diggle, “Pierre Charles Fournié de Saint-Amant,” p. 408. On Kieseritzky’s four-game simultaneous blindfold exhibition: “Mélanges” and “Quatres parties jouées simultanément par M. Kieseritzky, sans voir les échiquiers,” La Régence, 1st ser., 3, no. 5 (May 1851): 135 and 149–54, respectively. On earlier simultaneous blindfold exhibitions given by Kieseritzky and his contemporaries: Henry Cohen, “Un Mot sur les deux parties jouées simultanément à Glasgow, par M. Harrwitz, sans voir l’Échiquier,” La Régence, 1st ser., 1, no. 11 (November 1849): 329–30.

87. Quoted in Reinfeld, ed., Treasury of Chess Lore, p. xii.

88. Jacques Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris, 2 vols. (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1963), vol. 2, pp. 217, 342, 426–27.

2. Carême, Chef de Cuisine

Marie-Antoine Carême (1783–1833)

Like a caffeine-induced vision, out of the small cup of black liquid swirled the tranquil coffeehouse, then the serious chess game in a circle of enthusiasts, then again the thronged simultaneous blindfold exhibition of two, three, four, eight, sixteen,…eventually fifty-six chess games played con-currently and purely mentally, projecting the infinite expandability of the human mind. Early in this spiraling of the imagination, Montesquieu had written: “Coffee is very popular in Paris: there are a large number of public houses where it is sold. In some of these houses, the news is discussed; in others, chess is played. There is one where the coffee is prepared in such a way that it bestows wit on those who drink it; at least there is no one who leaves the place without believing himself four times as intelligent as he was when he entered.” [1] A few decades later, when there were a still larger number of such “public houses,” the Encyclopédie, after pointing out that partakers of café had extended the meaning of the word from the drink itself to the places where they consumed it, characterized the cafés of Paris as “factories of wit, both good and bad.” [2] Almost forgotten in the proliferation of cafés was the fact that their existence was predicated on gustatory, not mental, excitement.

Cafés constituted just one of many sorts of eating and drinking establishments that percolated through eighteenth-century Paris. Restaurants constituted another sort, a new one if we define them as places where one can order a meal from a range of choices at a range of times and eat it on the premises. About 1765, people rounding the corner of the rue Bailleul and the rue des Poulies, just a few blocks east of the Café de la Régence, passed by the innovator’s sign: “Boulanger débite des restaurants divins” (Boulanger sells divine restaurants). Boulanger was originally a soup vendor and certain soups were known as restaurants—literally, “restoratives.” The Encyclopédie defined restaurant as “a medical term; it is a remedy whose purpose is to give strength and vigor.” Thanks to Boulanger and his imitators, these soups moved from the category of remedy into the category of health food and ultimately into the category of ordinary food. Since the Encyclopédie listed among its examples of restaurants not only soups, but also arugula, herbal teas, and chocolate, all of which are ordinary food today, this process has clearly repeated itself. As with café, with restaurant the name of the featured commodity soon became as well the name of the sort of place that featured it. Diderot wrote to his mistress concerning the new trend: “Have I acquired a taste for the restaurant? Yes, indeed, a boundless taste. One eats well there, a bit expensively, but at the hour of one’s choosing.” [3] Almost forgotten in the spread of restaurants was the fact that their existence was predicated on health, not gustatory, requirements.

Portrait of Carême. Courtesy of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. Photograph by Justin Davis-Metzner.

In a familiar pattern, the meaning of cuisine expanded from “cooking” to “kitchen,” the place where it is done. Then it expanded further, for the Encyclopédie defined cuisine, or rather “cuisine par excellence,” as “the secret, reduced to systematic knowledge, of inducing people to eat more than what is necessary; since the cuisine of temperate people and the poor refers only to the most ordinary skill of preparing food in order to satisfy one’s bodily needs.” As indicated by this quotation from the article “Cuisine,” written by the chevalier de Jaucourt, the philosophes drew a distinction between haute cuisine, the cuisine based on excess, and ordinary cuisine, the cuisine based on health. Voltaire wrote that “a good cook is also a fine doctor.” The articles on food subjects in the Encyclopédie commended plain fare and moderation:

Hippocrates recommended simple preparations. He advocated attempting to make dishes healthy, to prepare them in such a way as to facilitate digestion. We are a long way from that and one can even assert that nothing is more rare, especially on well-furnished tables, than healthy food.…One can almost assert that there are two sorts of people in society: some, our domestic chemists, who work unceasingly to poison us, and others, our doctors, to cure us; and there is a disparity in that the former are much more accomplished than the latter.

Voltaire concurred:

There are quite old and quite good foods that used to keep all the wise men of antiquity in good health.…I cannot tolerate sweetbreads swimming in a spicy sauce that rises an inch above the poor little sweetbread. I cannot eat a hash composed of turkey, hare, and rabbit that is intended to pass for a single sort of meat.…As for cooks, I cannot tolerate the essence of ham nor the excess of morels, mushrooms, pepper, and nutmeg with which they disguise dishes perfectly healthy in themselves and that I would prefer to see not even larded.

Diderot, too, advocated the simple provisions of Nature; naturally, “Rameau’s nephew” disagreed:


A poor table.


It’s abundant.


But badly presented.


It is, however, the one we all take from, in order to furnish our own.


But you have to admit that the efforts of our cooks, bakers, broilermen, caterers, and confectioners add something to it. Your Diogenes, with his austere diet, must not have had very rebellious intestines.


You’re mistaken.

Exasperated by “Rameau’s nephew” and his rejection of the virtues of austerity, Diderot calls him “a lazy bum, a gourmand, a coward, and a base soul,” as if “gourmand” had the same negative value as the other three characterizations. Rousseau expressed disgust with the sort of Frenchman who might “die of hunger abroad if he did not take with him in his entourage a French chef” because he believes that “one knows how to eat only in France.…As for myself, I would say on the contrary that it is only the French who do not know how to eat, since they had to develop a special art to make their food palatable to them.” Almost forgotten in the development of French haute cuisine, the philosophes wanted to point out, was the fact that the existence of cuisine was predicated on health, not artistic, considerations.[4]

Thus, the development of French haute cuisine consisted of the expansion of cuisine into an art and the concomitant neglect of cuisine as an aspect of health. When and how did haute cuisine, cooking as an art, develop in France?

The philosophes had ideas about that, too. According to the interpretation of history presented by the Encyclopédie, haute cuisine was introduced into France from Italy during the Renaissance, like so many other innovations in the arts. Jaucourt blamed in particular Caterina de’ Medici—whose name translates as “Catherine of the doctors”—Queen of France in the second half of the sixteenth century, and the chefs she brought with her to Paris from Florence. This explanation predominated for the next two hundred years, although sometimes blame became credit and sometimes Caterina became Maria de’ Medici, Queen of France in the early seventeenth century. Montaigne may have contributed to the myth with an anecdote recounted in his essay “De la vanité des paroles” (On the Vanity of Words). The anecdote, cited by Jaucourt, tells of a conversation Montaigne had with the steward of an Italian nobleman’s house:

I asked him about his responsibilities and he delivered a discourse on the science of the gullet with magisterial gravity and bearing, as if he had been expounding some important point of theology. He spelled out for me the different kinds of appetite: the one we have before eating and the one we have after the second or third course; the means of simply satisfying it and the means of arousing and stimulating it; the organization of sauces, first in general and then the qualities of the ingredients and the effects of each in particular; the different kinds of salad according to the season, those which should be heated and those which should be served cold, and how they should be garnished and presented in order to make them more appealing to the eye. After that, he went into the order of the courses.[5]

Nowadays historians of French cuisine generally date the beginning of haute cuisine from the third quarter of the seventeenth century and largely discount the Italian influence. The principal form of evidence is cookbooks. Few cookbooks seem to have been published in France in the first half of the seventeenth century. Suddenly, in the 1650s and 1660s, a cascade of cookbooks fell from the presses. Then came another drought that lasted until the 1730s, 1740s, 1750s, and 1760s, during which another flood took place. This apparent alternation between droughts and floods becomes even more pronounced when one looks at the production not of all cookbooks, including reissues, but of just new cookbooks. Reducing the field of observation from all cookbooks to just new cookbooks increases the drought preceding the first flood from a half to an entire century.[6]

Of still greater significance, however, is the fact that the new cookbooks of the third quarter of the seventeenth century revealed a substantial number of changes and innovations in French cuisine since manuscript and early printed cookbooks had last presented it in written form. The new cuisine was distinguished by these features: a decreased use of the spices of the “East Indies” that had become so coveted since regular global trade began in the late fifteenth century; an increased use of indigenous French flavorings, such as herbs, wild mushrooms, and various bulbs of the onion family; a decreased use of large birds such as swans, storks, herons, and peacocks; an increased use of small birds such as wood-cocks, ortolans, thrushes, and larks; a decreased use of wild game in general and an increased use of meat from domestic animals; a greater discrimination among cuts of meat and a smaller range of cuts considered desirable; the frequent use of butter where formerly lard would have been called for; directions to cook meats only to rare or medium rare and vegetables not so long as to remove all their crispness; directions to cook the various ingredients in complicated dishes separately and then to combine them afterward rather than to cook them all together in one big pot; an aesthetic that aimed at highlighting and intensifying individual flavors rather than mixing or masking them; the introduction of roux as a thickener; and the systematization of culinary knowledge into fonds de cuisine—basic building blocks such as roux, beef bouillon, and mayonnaise, and preparations incorporating them.[7] The authors of the most popular cookbooks of the 1650s and 1660s, which presented these new practices and helped to inaugurate haute cuisine, were François-Pierre de La Varenne, Nicolas de Bonnefons, and Pierre de Lune.

The idea of progress was beginning to waft into the kitchen as early as 1674, the publication date of L’Art de bien traiter (The Art of Good Entertaining) by “L. S. R.,” who wrote in his preface:

I know well that with new things it is not easy to please everyone and that, just as with personalities, tastes differ. But if one makes the comparison, if one takes the trouble to reflect on the subject that I am treating today in a way that is completely opposed to that which several old authors have spoken of it, one will not be able to disagree with me, indeed one will admit that I am right to reform this old and disgusting manner of preparing food, and of serving it, whose unsuitability and whose backwardness are only productive of pointless and uneconomical expenses, excessive and disorderly profusion, and embarrassing superfluities, which have no advantages and confer no honor.

L. S. R. even criticized La Varenne’s Le Cuisinier françois (The French Cook), which had been published only two decades earlier: “One will not see here the absurdities and disgusting lessons that M. de [La] Varenne has dared to advocate and to give, and with which he has so long deceived and lulled silly and ignorant people, passing off on them his inventions as so many infallible truths.” [8] L. S. R. seems to have been articulating an as yet incompletely formulated notion of progress or perfectability in the art of cooking.

The advocates of the “nouvelle cuisine”—the term is their own—of the 1730s and subsequent decades had a more developed, and different, sense of culinary history. Vincent La Chapelle wrote in the preface to The Modern Cook (1733): “A cook of genius will invent new delicacies to please the palates of those for whom he is to labour; his art, like all others, being subject to change: for should the table of a great man be served in the taste that prevailed twenty years ago, it would not please the guests, how strictly soever he might conform to the rules laid down at that time. This variation in cookery is the reason for my publishing the ensuing work.” Similarly, the introduction to François Marin’s Les Dons de Comus (The Blessings of Comus, 1739), a book designed “for the use of people who are desirous of knowing how to give dinners…according to the seasons, and in the very latest taste,” distinguished between “old cuisine” and “modern cuisine”: “Old cuisine is that which the French made fashionable all over Europe and which was generally practiced not even twenty years ago. Modern cuisine, built on the foundations of the old, but with less awkwardness and less apparatus, and with as much variety, is simpler, cleaner, and perhaps even more scientific.” [9] By the time of the “nouvelle cuisine,” as the term itself almost implies, some of the leading chefs had become aware that cuisine experienced changing fashions, just as dress and music did.

The leading chefs of haute cuisine also had a new consciousness of their own importance. Already in 1651, La Varenne, dedicating Le Cuisinier françois to his employer, the marquis d’Uxelles, wrote in an access of pride: “I have learned in your household, during ten years of employment, the secret of preparing refined dishes. I dare to say that I have practiced this profession to the approbation of princes, marshals of France, and a host of individuals of rank.” In fact, the members of the upper aristocracy now discussed the leading chefs among themselves and competed to employ them, as chefs and as maîtres d’hôtel—better known in English as butlers, who had the oversight of the kitchen and dining room as their chief responsibility. The marquise de Sévigné, whose letters have become part of the French literary canon, immortalized one Vatel in them: “Vatel, the great Vatel, maître d’hôtel to M. Fouquet, and presently to M. the Prince [de Condé], the man with an ability unlike anyone else’s, whose excellent head was capable of keeping track of all the cares of a nation; this man then, whom I knew, learning this morning at eight o’clock that the fish [for a state dinner] had not arrived, could not stand the disgrace that was going to engulf him and, in a word, stabbed himself.” [10]

It is curious that the three cookbook authors of the 1650s and 1660s generally singled out as inaugurators of haute cuisine have names containing the particle “de,” which often indicates nobility. It was not unusual for a maître d’hôtel, the head of the household staff with the authority of command, to have been an impoverished nobleman forced to find employment, functioning more as an administrator than as a servant, and still wearing his épée.[11] None of the three cookbook authors, so far as we know, worked as a maître d’hôtel: Pierre-François de La Varenne identified himself as écuyer de cuisine (kitchen steward) to the marquis d’Uxelles, Nicolas de Bonnefons as premier valet (first valet) to Louis XIV, and Pierre de Lune as écuyer de cuisine to the duc de Rohan and then to the marquis de Mauregart. But they occupied high positions in the servant ranks; they were literate, a fact of some significance in the seventeenth century; and their employers perched atop or near the top of the social hierarchy. These circumstances all contribute to the plausibility of their having been poor relations of nobility, which, if true, would undoubtedly have contributed to their sense of self-worth and personal honor.

The conquest of the European aristocracy by French haute cuisine had begun by the turn of the eighteenth century. A French traveler in England at that time reported: “There are some noblemen that have both French and English cooks, and these eat much after the French manner.” La Chapelle, a leader of the nouvelle cuisine of the 1730s, first published The Modern Cook in England, where he worked for the Earl of Chesterfield. He later published an expanded French edition in the Netherlands, where he worked for the prince of Orange. In the mid-century novel Tom Jones, Henry Fielding, that most English of authors, referred to Clouet, the French chef of his patron the Duke of Newcastle, as “the best cook which the present age, or perhaps that of Heliogabalus, hath produced!” In the 1750s and 1760s, Frederick the Great had a French chef named Noël of whom he was so fond that he wrote a poem in his honor, calling him “the Newton of cuisine.” One of Noël’s pâtés, however, killed the philosophe La Mettrie, whom Frederick had invited to Berlin to join his Academy of Sciences. La Mettrie was the notorious materialist who concluded that “man is a machine”; among other arguments, he adduced the fact that certain foods have predictable effects on people’s moods and behavior: “What power there is in meal!” Noël’s father was also a chef and like the mythical Père Noël—Father Christmas—famous for distributing goodies throughout Europe, but not without prior payment. By the 1790s, according to the English travel writer Arthur Young, “every man in Europe, that can afford a great table, either keeps a French cook, or one instructed in the same manner.” [12]

As it was becoming an art, and a widely recognized one, French cuisine was also becoming important enough to have a history. From the outside, the Encyclopédie imposed a superficial, mythical history on it; from the inside its practitioners were becoming increasingly aware that it had been undergoing a progressive development. Finally, in 1782, Pierre-Jean-Baptiste Le Grand d’Aussy published what was probably the first book-length study of the history of French cuisine, his three-volume Histoire de la vie privée des français (History of French Private Life). Le Grand d’Aussy had originally planned to cover the history of housing, dress, and pastimes as well, but found so much to say about cuisine that he never got to any of his other topics.[13]

Carême was born the following year.[14] Thus, when he entered the kitchen as a boy, chefs had for some time been thinking of themselves as artists but had only just begun to think of themselves as situated in the history of cuisine.

Over the course of his life Carême wrote his given name variously: Marie-Antoine (the masculine form of Marie-Antoinette), just Antoine, Marie-Antonin, Antonin, and, in one case, Marc-Antoine (Mark Antony).[15] He invariably spelled his family name “Carême,” the same as the French word for Lent, the season of abstinence and restraint, especially in eating.

A story Carême told and retold as an adult tells us all that we know about the chef’s early childhood in Paris. His secretary, Frédéric Fayot, recorded the most complete version of it that has survived:

His parents, who had had twenty-five children, lived in the most abject poverty; his father [an unskilled laborer] frequently got drunk, perhaps out of disgust with life, and the irregularities of his conduct increased the misery and the distress of those for whom he was responsible. One Monday he came home before dinnertime and took his young son out for a walk. They went out of the city into the fields. After the walk, they came back in through the Maine gate, near which they ate dinner. At the end of the meal, the father spoke to the poor child of his future, which was to be divorced from that of the family. “Go, my little one, go now; there are good trades in the world; leave us, misery is our lot; this will be an age of many fortunes [the Revolution was under way]; all that is required to make one is intelligence, and you have that.…This evening or tomorrow, perhaps, some good place will welcome you. Go with what God has given you.”…The young Carême was left in the street, quite literally. He never saw his parents again; his mother and father died some years later; his brothers and sisters dispersed.[16]

A tavern owner, nameless despite having given the eleven- or twelve-year-old Carême his first break in life, took him in that same evening. And the next day he offered the boy a job. Thus did fate whisk Carême into French cuisine, broadly speaking.

He worked for a few years in the tavern; then, at the age of about fifteen, in about 1798, he moved to a restaurant. Two years later, around 1800, he moved again, this time to Bailly’s patisserie, known as one of the best in Paris, on the rue Vivienne, just north of the Palais-Royal. Carême later recollected that when he was around eighteen years old he began to make regular trips to the library, for which Bailly gave him leave from work, to his lasting gratitude. After three years, around 1803, he left Bailly.

More important than the dates is what Carême was learning then. He implied that he left home barely literate. According to Fayot, he began at the age of thirteen to study at night, teaching himself to read and write. Later he discovered the Bibliothèque Nationale (National Library), where he went only occasionally at first, but eventually twice a week. Travel books in particular seem to have attracted him; at the beginning he had difficulty following the text, but he loved the engravings. He was probably fluent in reading, writing, and drawing by the time he left Bailly’s establishment at about twenty. While working for Bailly, his trips to the library concentrated on drawing. He sketched pictures of buildings, to be used as models for his pièces montées, large decorative centerpieces made of pastillage, a paste concocted from edible substances, principally sugar. He made a smooth transition from travel books to books on architecture through his interest in buildings, and he maintained his taste for the exotic while also reading up on the classical European styles. Of course, the principal skills Carême developed at Bailly’s were those of a pastry cook. The establishment was a patisserie, and Carême was learning to be a pâtissier; it was only later that he learned to cook the other courses of a meal, to be a cuisinier, too. Chez Bailly, Carême rose to the rank of premier tourtier (first piemaker). He had gone as far as he could go, working for someone else.

Carême always attributed his success to hard work. Concerning this period of his life, he boasted:

I succeeded in my plans; but how many nights I stayed up in order to do so!—because I could only really devote myself to my sketches after the work [at Bailly’s] was finished, after nine or ten o’clock at night. I worked for myself three-quarters of the night; and when I saw that I had a dozen different designs, all suitable for my large pièces montées, I wanted to have twenty-four, then fifty, and then one hundred; finally I completed two hundred, each one more original than its predecessor while remaining easy to execute in pastry. Such was the fruit and the happy result of three years of application, of laborious and assiduous study.

Bailly’s was no ordinary patisserie. It concentrated on catering, and in that domain its reputation and its pastry had risen to the level of highsociety balls and state banquets. These special events were called extraordinaires, or simply extras. Thus working for Bailly offered a wonderful opportunity to gain recognition in high places. Carême’s chance came when Bailly began to allow him to construct what he had been designing. Up to two feet across and four feet tall, his pièces montées usually represented buildings, for example, pyramids, temples, lighthouses, or classical ruins, but some of them also depicted scenes from nature, for example, waterfalls, cliffs, or palm trees, and a variety of other objects, for example, vases, lyres, baskets. Both Talleyrand, the minister of foreign affairs, and Napoleon, the first consul, regularly called upon Bailly’s services, and Fayot avers that some of Carême’s centerpieces were “destined for the table of the consul.” [17] Carême was making his first entry into history.

The months immediately following his departure from Bailly were a period of transition for Carême. He went to work as the “chef for the successor of Gendron” on the understanding that he would be free to take time off to work on extras. The phrase “the successor of Gendron” probably means that the person who bought Gendron’s business also acquired the right to continue to use his name. Gendron’s patisserie, in the Palais-Royal, dated from before the Revolution, when it was already gaining renown. Carême’s own name on a pastry shop would eventually also attain a certain value, and the right to its use was sold thirty-four years after his death by his daughter and son-in-law, who had inherited it from him.[18] Thus, he began dividing his time between the patisserie where he was the chef, but still only an employee, and extras, where he was an independent artisan. He was detaching himself from the names of well-known chefs and beginning to make his own name.

The period in which Carême learned to wield the copper saucepan of haute cuisine was also the period in which its lid blew off. In 1803 the celebrated food writer Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière reflected on the changes of the previous decade and a half:

There had to emerge a new art. That of the chef was up to this point only a simple craft: concentrated in a small number of opulent residences, belonging to the world of the court, of finance, of public administration, they exercised in obscurity their useful talents, and the number who could appreciate them was rather circumscribed. The Revolution, ruining all these former property owners, threw all the good chefs out onto the pavement. At that point, in order to make use of their talents, they transformed themselves into merchants of good cheer under the name of restaurateurs. One could not have counted a hundred of them before 1789. Today, there are perhaps five times as many.

Over a slightly longer period of time the number of cafés in Paris more than doubled, according to other sources, from approximately 1,800 in 1788 to approximately 4,000 by 1807. Unfortunately we have no figures for prerevolutionary patisseries, but Carême says their numbers were small in comparison with the 258 in Paris in 1815; it seems likely that their proliferation paralleled that of restaurants and cafés. They also underwent a transformation: “Before the Revolution no one would have thought of displaying their pâtés and brioches in glass cases as they do today,” Grimod observed. All in all, he estimated that for every ten new shops that opened in early-nineteenth-century Paris, four had to do with “gourmandise.” His gastronomical survey concluded: “To a man absent from this capital since 1789, it presents itself as an entirely new city.” [19]

This boom had manifold causes. For one, guild regulations had severely restricted commerce before the Revolution. Only limonadiers, members of the guild licensed to sell liquor by the glass, could legally do so; only cafetiers could sell coffee by the cup; only aubergistes (innkeepers) could sell prepared food for on-premises consumption; only traiteurs (caterers) could sell certain kinds of prepared food for off-premises consumption; and so on, up to around two dozen guilds in the food-service sector alone. Boulanger, the restaurant pioneer, was legally a soup vendor; that is, he was in the guild whose members had the exclusive right to sell soup to take away. When he expanded his repertoire from restaurants (soups) to ragoûts (stews), the caterers sued. Successfully arguing that his stews were only especially thick soups, Boulanger won the case.[20] Since restaurateurs before the Revolution also offered food to be eaten on their own premises, one wonders how they fought off the advocates of the innkeepers. In 1791 the revolutionary government did away with the guilds and the regulations surrounding them, instituting the system of laissez-faire.

Two years before that important event, a more famous one, the fall of the Bastille, marked the beginning of the emigration of the nobility out of France. As Sébastien Mercier pointed out a few years before his friend Grimod: “The cooks of princes, of counselors to the parlement, of cardinals, of canons, and of farmers general, did not remain a long time out of employ after the emigration of the imitators of Apicius. They became restaurateurs, and advertised that they were going to prefer and practice, for whoever would pay, the ‘science of the gullet,’ as Montaigne says.” It is interesting that the highest nobility had employed the chefs whose restaurants became the most prestigious: Either the chefs carried the prestige of their former positions with them into their new establishments or the upper nobility had had the taste and the inclination—there is no question about their having had the means—to hire only the best. To cite a few examples, Antoine Beauvilliers quit the service of the comte de Provence (the future Louis XVIII) a few years before the Revolution to open his Grande Taverne de Londres (Grand London Tavern); Les Frères Provençaux (The Brothers from Provence) likewise opened before the Revolution, but two of the three partners continued to work for the prince de Conti until he emigrated; both Robert and Méot opened their eponymous restaurants after their employer, the prince de Condé, departed; previously Robert had cooked for the archbishop of Aix and Méot for the duc d’Orléans. Louis-Eustache Ude, cook to Louis XVI, subsequently worked for English noblemen and then ended up at Crockford’s Club in London.[21]

Exit the aristocracy; enter the revolutionaries. Wave upon wave of elected representatives—to the Estates General, the National Assembly, the Legislative Assembly, the National Convention, the Council of Five Hundred—all descended on Paris within the space of a few years. At the same time or shortly afterward came their friends and relatives and fortune-seekers of every variety, in search of favors, jobs, and contracts. Almost none of these people had households waiting for them in Paris, and all of them had to eat. They began by frequenting modest taverns and the like, but the tastes of many of them developed as rapidly as their wealth. “These revolutionary mushrooms,” wrote Grimod, “were thus one of the principal causes of the restoration of the fortunes of the Old Regime’s out-of-work chefs.” [22]

With the accession to power of Napoleon in 1799, and particularly with the advent of the Empire in 1804, the situation of haute cuisine became more complex. Some chefs stayed at their restaurants. Others went to work for the new Napoleonic nobility. Méot, for example, was hired by Joseph Bonaparte and went with him to Naples and Madrid when Napoleon made his oldest brother first king of Naples and then king of Spain. Napoleon’s mother, Letizia Bonaparte, employed Ude for a couple of years. Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Marshal Murat, employed both Robert and one Laguipière, a former chef to the comte d’Estaing under the Old Regime and to Napoleon himself under the new, who froze to death during the disastrous retreat of the Grande Armée from Moscow late in the year 1812.[23]

Still other leading chefs worked as freelances, to use a late-twentieth-century metaphor derived from the Middle Ages to describe an early-nineteenth-century situation. Aristocrats had been hiring well-known chefs on an occasional basis to work on extras since at least the late seventeenth century. One of the most famous chefs from that early period of haute cuisine, François Massialot, author of the often-reissued Le Cuisinier roial et bourgeois (Cooking for Royalty and for the Middle Class, 1691), seems to have been primarily an extra chef.[24] But most chefs had probably worked on extras only to supplement more regular employment. Napoleon’s Empire, which during its decade of existence did everything on a grand scale, offered unprecedented opportunities to make a living from extras. Thus, for haute cuisine the quarter century encompassing the Revolution, the Consulate, and the Empire constituted a period of explosive growth.

Carême’s independent career began in this period of ubiquitous opportunity that encouraged mobility, and even after the period ended his career continued to be a restless quest for the most benevolent situation in which to develop his art. After a short stint at Gendron’s, just about the time Napoleon proclaimed the Empire, Carême followed Massialot’s example: “I quit pastry houses for good, in order to pursue my work on extras. ” He had plenty to do: “Upon leaving M. Bailly in order to set up in the extra business, I counted 150 pièces montées that I had already constructed. During my ten years of working extras in the great houses of the Empire, I made more than double that number.” “In 1805, I worked 53 extras without taking a day off, on the occasion of the Peace of Pressburg”; and each extra took up to several days to produce.[25]

Carême particularly valued extras for giving him professional contact with the best chefs of the time. He called the extras of the Empire the “grande école” for cooks, a reference to the technical institutes for advanced study in various fields of learning that were founded by the revolutionaries and Napoleon and known collectively as the Grandes Écoles. Often, several master chefs participated in the production of an extra, each one overseeing a different part of the banquet. There would be a chef for the pastry, Carême’s usual role, another for the main courses, yet another for the sauces, still another for the cold food,…and one supervising the whole. The most lavish extras took place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Talleyrand; at the Hôtel de Ville, home of the Paris city government; and at the Élysée Palace, then Marshal Murat’s residence, today that of the president of France. At the Hôtel de Ville, the observant and industrious Carême learned to prepare cold dishes from the veteran chef Lasne. At the Élysée Palace, he worked under Laguipière and Robert, the latter of whom had brought his assistants with him all the way from the prerevolutionary kitchen of the prince de Condé to his own restaurant and then to Marshal Murat’s household, where they taught sauces to Carême.[26]

Enormous budgets were another advantage extras afforded chefs. Carême cited as one of the principal reasons for what he called the “renaissance” of French cuisine the opportunity and the will to spend freely that the victories of the revolutionary and Napoleonic armies created. By contrast, “since that era the great houses have found themselves constrained by a certain economy, unquestionably unfavorable to the science [of cooking]; the men of talent who remain employed find themselves partially paralyzed, and those who are not employed vegetate, being unable to find suitable positions.” Thus, to Carême, the fall of Napoleon marked the beginning of at least a temporary decline in French haute cuisine.[27]

Our knowledge of Carême’s other professional activities during the Empire is fragmentary. Talleyrand, the longtime minister of foreign affairs, employed him often and apparently sometimes for longer than the few days of an extra, but probably never as his regular chef. Carême seems to have first opened his patisserie on the rue de la Paix, near where the Opéra stands today, sometime in this period, although it probably functioned primarily or exclusively as a kitchen for the preparation of extras rather than as a retail shop. His first book, Histoire de la table romaine (History of the Roman Table), which made an implicit if not explicit comparison between two empires, probably came out during Napoleon’s reign. He had continued or resumed his studies at the Bibliothèque Nationale and also corresponded with a Vatican librarian in charge of some relevant manuscripts. The chef of the French Empire concluded, according to his secretary Fayot, for no copy of the work appears to be extant, that “the famous cuisine that developed in the splendor of the Roman Empire was fundamentally bad and atrociously heavy.” [28]

Shortly after the advent of the Restoration in 1814, Carême, like many of his colleagues, went abroad: “It is painful for me to admit that foreigners took possession of the most distinguished and most accomplished of our talented young practitioners and sustained the splendor of our calling; I myself, since that time, have traveled in England, Austria and Russia.” Carême was well compensated throughout the entire decade and a half of the Restoration for whatever pangs of homesickness or wounded national pride he suffered. Ambassadors, princes, even monarchs of the Great Powers competed for his services, and he accepted their offers or not at his own pleasure. It began in 1814–15 when a host of foreign dignitaries arrived in Paris subsequent to the defeat of Napoleon. Several of them, after employing Carême for extras there, wanted to employ him permanently abroad. Carême initially turned down all of their offers, preferring to continue working on extras and to complete his two complementary books on pastry.[29]Le Pâtissier pittoresque (Picturesque Pastry, 1815) contained 124 designs for pièces montées and a short instructional introduction, while Le Pâtissier royal parisien (Royal Parisian Pastry, also 1815) consisted of two volumes of pastry recipes. Eventually, however, he agreed to enter the service of the prince-regent of Great Britain, the future King George IV, and set out on what would become a grand tour of the capitals of Europe.

Carême went to work for the prince-regent in the fall of 1816 but left him after only about eight months, blaming constant gray skies and homesickness for the brevity of his stay in England. In 1818, he traveled to Aix-la-Chapelle (now Aachen) for the diplomatic congress there, where he was employed by Tsar Alexander I, one of those who had employed him in Paris in 1814–15. Then he went to Vienna in the service of Lord Stewart, the English ambassador to Austria. When Stewart was summoned back to London, Carême accompanied him, but almost as soon as they arrived the diplomat continued on to his country estate while the chef stayed in the capital, waiting for him. For some reason they never connected and Carême returned to Paris. In 1819, Carême accepted a permanent position with the tsar and sailed to St. Petersburg. “I accepted the position of maître d’hôtel; but noticing that it was debased, after having been abused, by a humiliating surveillance, I changed my mind almost immediately.…It was in vain that they attempted to keep me there; my colleagues could not believe that I would leave St. Petersburg without taking advantage of any of the offers that were made to me.” The return voyage alone of this fruitless trip took thirty-nine days. Back in Paris, Carême went to work for the Russian Princess Bagration, but when she contracted an illness that left him idle for an extended period of time, he obtained her permission to leave. This was in order to go to work for Lord Stewart again, again in Vienna. But when Carême arrived there, the ambassador was gone. The chef pursued him westward across Austria and Switzerland, and then eastward across northern Italy, stopping in Laibach (now Ljubljana), the site of the 1821 diplomatic congress, the day after Stewart’s departure. He ultimately caught up with him back in Vienna, but they soon left for London to attend the coronation of George IV, which they missed. From there, Stewart again retreated to the country while Carême again returned to Paris. Prince Esterházy of Hungary, who had attended George’s coronation in a suit of diamonds, and who was expecting to be named Austrian ambassador to France, engaged him next, but the chef waited fifteen months in vain for his arrival. During that time he turned down many offers before finally accepting one from baron James de Rothschild, the founder of the Paris branch of the banking family. He stayed with the financier from 1824 through 1829.[30]

The last few years of his life Carême spent in semiretirement, tending his reacquired patisserie and his literary legacy, with the assistance of his wife and daughter.[31] Before this semiretirement, he had published two more books, Le Maître d’hôtel français (The French Maître d’Hôtel, 1822) and Le Cuisinier parisien (The Parisian Cook, 1828), demonstrating his successive mastery of two more culinary fields after pastry, his original specialty. The first of these works, principally a calendrical repertoire of menus, contains a long essay contrasting “old cuisine” with “modern cuisine.” As in his earlier Histoire de la table romaine, Carême criticizes “old cuisine,” but in this case his target is the French nouvelle cuisine of the middle of the eighteenth century.[32]Le Cuisinier parisien was his initial attempt at a comprehensive cookbook. He was working on a greatly expanded version of it, called L’Art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle (The Art of French Cooking in the Nineteenth Century), when he died in 1833: Its first two volumes appeared later that same year; the third two years later; the fourth and fifth, completed by one of his students, a decade later.

Carême’s career seems to have been guided by conflicting needs. He needed the independence to do what he wanted, but also the means to execute large projects; a highly cultivated audience, but an undemanding one; work to be able to develop his talent and present its products, but leisure to be able to leave a record of them in his books. Since no single situation satisfied all of these requirements, the chef was constantly stirring.

That Carême did not fit well into any social niche had as much to do with his society as it did with him as an individual. French society in the Age of Revolution was a fluid society in which the old aristocratic structure was dissolving and the new bourgeois structure was only beginning to crystallize. From the beginning of haute cuisine to the eve of the French Revolution, from the 1650s to the 1780s, the leading chefs were for the most part domestic servants working in the kitchens of aristocrats and financiers, and many of the latter, such as Grimod’s grandfather and James Rothschild, were eventually ennobled. From the 1880s to the present, the leading chefs have generally been proprietors of their own restaurants or patisseries, that is, entrepreneurs. In the intervening century, chefs found themselves in diverse and unstable situations.

Beginning with La Varenne, Vatel, and the other luminaries of the second half of the seventeenth century, the chefs of French haute cuisine enjoyed ever-increasing prestige. Shortly before the Revolution, in his Tableau de Paris (Picture of Paris, 1782–88), Sébastien Mercier observed: “It is almost to the point today where chefs will assume the title of culinary artist. They do not yet receive salaries of 20,000 livres, as they did formerly, in Rome; but they are pampered, they are humored, they are appeased when they are angry, and all the other servants of the household are generally sacrificed to them.” [33] This undoubtedly had something to do with French culture’s conquest of the upper strata of European society during the second half of the seventeenth and the entire eighteenth century. In that period the French language served as the lingua franca of the Continent, much the way English does today worldwide. French dances and French dress radiated outward from Paris across Europe in waves of fashion just as French cuisine did. Yet somehow French dancing masters and tailors never received the same recognition as chefs. Who invented or popularized the minuet in the 1650s, the écossaise in the 1780s, the quadrille in the 1800s, the galop in the 1820s?[34] Who in the early 1800s designed classical revival clothes, including the high-waisted dresses that are still known today as empire?

While the prestige of French chefs steadily increased, for whatever reason, to the level of artists’, their social status remained until the Revolution at the level of servants’. Thus, the tension between their prestige and their social status also steadily increased. The Revolution released some of this tension by allowing chefs to become their own masters as restaurateurs. Beauvilliers, Robert, and other chefs of the Age of Revolution made the transition from servant of the aristocracy to entrepreneur. Carême’s career trajectory was different, however. He followed a normal upward path from employee to freelance to supervisor of others, but as he went upward he also went backward, from business establishments to extras to aristocratic households. If one counts his last years as the proprietor of a patisserie, then he did end up as an entrepreneur, but it seems likely that he assumed that role only on account of failing health, not as a matter of preference or because he saw it as a step forward.[35] The dilemma was this: As entrepreneurs, chefs had the independent status of artists but the means only to be craftsmen; as employees of the aristocracy, chefs had the means to be artists but the status only of servants. Carême made his choice, consistently arguing that the true home of haute cuisine was private households rather than business establishments, but the tension remained. On the one hand, he objected to the idea that chefs such as Beauvilliers and Baleine, the proprietors of two of Paris’s most highly regarded restaurants, had been responsible for the renaissance of the art of cooking. On the other hand, he apostrophized the nobility on behalf of their chefs “not to confound us with the servant class!” Rather than a servant, the chef was an independent artist: “The master chef has only himself to answer to in his work.” Both of these quotations are taken from the same book, Carême’s last; the tension stayed with him to the end. He dealt with it, as observed above, by changing positions frequently and by exercising almost as much discretion in his choice of masters as his employers did in their choice of chefs—and by occasionally crying out that he was not a servant.[36]

The Empire was a short period of stability between the dissolution of aristocratic society and the crystallization of bourgeois society. Individuals who excelled had the best of both the old and the new societies. The nobility created by Napoleon enjoyed both the privileges of aristocratic society and the social mobility of bourgeois society. The extra chefs enjoyed both the means provided by aristocratic society and the independence provided by bourgeois society. It was the best of both worlds, but necessarily brief, based on two mutually incompatible forms of social organization, and on the exploitation of the rest of Europe.

Eventually, in the twentieth century, French clothing designers would become as celebrated as French chefs. And the prestige of the latter did not decline. But while a few twentieth-century chefs have received the cross of the Légion d’Honneur, an award created by Napoleon, Carême remains the only chef to have been quasi-ennobled, when Louis XVIII granted him the privilege of calling himself “Carême de Paris.” Legend has it that Talleyrand once repeated to Louis XVIII the chef’s rhetorical question, “Isn’t the science of nourishment more valuable than the science of killing?” to which the king replied, “Carême is right, but I’m afraid it will be a long time before I am able to appoint a minister of cuisine!” [37] The chef remained, until the permanent crystallization of bourgeois society in the late nineteenth century, a social paradox.

Carême’s cuisine, the haute cuisine of this transitional period, was “grande cuisine.” Just as the seventeenth-century founders of French haute cuisine were criticized by the eighteenth-century chefs of nouvelle cuisine, so the latter, in turn, were criticized by Carême, representing a new, nineteenth-century culinary aesthetic. Carême wrote of Marin’s Les Dons de Comus, “What meager inspiration!”; of the anonymous Les Soupers de la cour (Court Suppers, 1755), “It is not possible that the nobility of the period had the taste for these sorts of dinners”; and of La Chapelle’s The Modern Cook, “What astonishes me is to see the profusion with which he covered the most refined tables of that time; this is not elegance.” He faulted nouvelle cuisine above all for its excess: Eighteenth-century chefs served too many dishes at once, and those dishes, particularly the roasts, were too large, leaving little table space for the diners. Their thematic meals in which, for example, all the dishes contained beef in one form or another, he judged excessively monotonous. As for the seven or more full courses they often served at supper, the late evening meal: “What a space of time this series of courses must have required…; truly this was excessive feasting.” Carême also found much of their food still too heavily spiced—which he blamed on the lingering influence of the Italian Renaissance chefs who had come to France—their fish strangely garnished with cuts of meat and poultry and vice-versa, and their stocks similarly confused. He pointed out as symptomatic of the confusion of nouvelle cuisine chefs the term potage de ragoût, “stew soup.” [38]

In general, Carême’s reforms aimed at reducing confusion or increasing clarity, both in the flavor of dishes and in French cuisine as a body of knowledge. He made it a principle to keep fish, poultry, and meat separate, to garnish fish dishes only with other fish, for example, or with fruit or vegetables, but never with meat or poultry. This rule, incidentally, to which there are of course exceptions, remains in force today. He stressed again and again the need for chefs to be literate, perhaps partly as a way of underlining his achievement as an autodidact, but also because he knew from his own experience that one can more easily utilize and increase one’s knowledge when it is accessible in an organized, comprehensive form. And once culinary knowledge were reduced to a system, there would be no more abominations like potage de ragoût. As early as 1815, Carême proposed the formation of a chefs’ association that would, among other things, taste and judge new dishes and compile a multivolume encyclopedia of modern cuisine. He eventually undertook to carry out the latter project himself with his five-volume L’Art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle.[39]

Paris must have stunk badly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the city was beginning to become crowded yet still had cesspools rather than indoor plumbing, still had dumps inside the city walls, and still had few sewers, often clogged. Heavy spicing helped to cover up foul odors, whether ambient or from the food itself, which, lacking refrigeration and rapid transportation, was not always radiantly fresh. By the nineteenth century, haute cuisine was ripe for an olfactory revolution. Carême dispensed with combative and overpowering aromas and emphasized simple and subtle scents. Cakes and biscuits flavored with the distilled essence of orange, lemon, bergamot, rosewater, or orris distinguished his pastry.[40] Once he baked some wafer for Napoleon’s sister Pauline: “When it was unveiled in church, I found that it had something sublime and religious about it, especially in conjunction with the incense that was burning in some little vases and in a golden cup; its sweet fragrance perfumed the sacred vault for an instant and entered into our heads!” [41] No doubt Carême’s scenting of the body of Christ inspired exalted visions, but of heaven’s kingdom or of worldly empire?

Grande cuisine emphasized the concentration of individual flavors in isolation, followed by the harmonious blending of a small number of them. Tournedos Rossini, consisting of a flat crouton, a thick slice of filet mignon, a slice of pâté de foie gras, and Madeira sauce, with pieces of truffle either on top or in the sauce, is a creation of grande cuisine. Pâté de foie gras by itself is grande cuisine and dates from the eve of the Revolution. It contains, in addition to goose liver, both Madeira and truffles, flavors reinforced in the sauce in tournedos Rossini. The basis and only other ingredient of the sauce is demiglace, a reduction of stock made from beef and veal bones. The complete dish is thus a classic illustration of intensification and restraint in flavors. We do not in fact know who created tournedos Rossini, but it is Carême’s style and he had a more than passing acquaintance with the composer. He baked pâtés as presents for him, gave him cooking lessons, and received musical homages in return. Rossini, contemplating a tour of the United States, which he never made, is supposed to have said, “I will go if Carême will accompany me.” Carême probably also invented some of the dishes bearing the names Bagration and Talleyrand.[42]

Carême’s systematization of the repertoire of haute cuisine, in addition to reducing confusion and aiding menu composition, also facilitated the enumeration and creation of a large variety of dishes. Every dish could be classified as either a basic preparation or a variation of one, or a variation of a variation, on an organizational tree. The size of the trees is one of the things that made grande cuisine “grande.” Carême introduced his five-volume magnum opus with a survey of this arboreal luxuriance:

This work, entirely new, includes more than 250 meat soups and the same number of Lenten and fish soups; more than 150 sauces, both meat and Lenten; more than 150 stews, meat and Lenten; more than 50 kinds of garnish; more than 50 purees; more than 25 essences; more than 500 large fish dishes; and a considerable number of dishes of beef, poultry, game, ham, and pork.

A gastronome and contemporary of the chef commented: “It’s innumerable; this fabulous superabundance can have reality only for a wealthy man and the guests at his feasts.” [43]

Carême’s practice was not entirely consistent with his criticism of the excess of the nouvelle cuisine chefs. He observes, it is true, that the preceding generation had already scaled back the number of courses in an haute cuisine banquet from seven or more to three or four, and that entrees were served during only one or two of them. But fewer courses did not mean fewer dishes. He vaunts Talleyrand’s state dinners with their forty-eight different entrees. Carême might have dispensed with large roasts, but he served other large dishes instead. He certainly employed and may even have invented two classic confections, the croquembouche and the sultane. A croquembouche, which must be assembled just before serving, is a tall, careful stacking of chestnuts or orange slices or small pastries, each piece of which has just been glazed with sugar cooked to the crack stage. A sultane also calls for precisely cooked sugar, which is spun and formed into plumes and a lattice with which to crown a piece of pastry.[44]

Another indication of Carême’s predilection for three-dimensional presentations was his frequent use of hâtelets, a kind of ornamental skewer whose purpose was to be decorative in the dining room rather than functional in the kitchen. To garnish large fish that he served whole on platters, he lined up shrimp on hâtelets and lodged their points in the fish so that the rows of shrimp ran vertically or at an angle above the platter. And each hâtelet had a small metalwork design, such as a lyre, a wreath, or an eagle, at its blunt end. Carême created his own designs, which he took to a smith to be executed.[45]

Visual appeal has often played a part in cuisine and has almost always played a large part in haute cuisine. What cooks call presentation can be as simple as arranging food neatly on a plate or planning a meal with an eye to how the colors, shapes, and textures will complement one another on the plate. It can take into account serving dishes and utensils as well as the food itself. In addition to his hâtelets, Carême designed bowls, platters, and molds.[46] Presentation can make use of both the edible and inedible portions of a food plant or animal. Medieval feasts featured large birds such as swans, herons, and peacocks, the preparation of which, in a crossing of cuisine and taxidermy, consisted of removing the skin with the feathers still attached, cooking the meat, and then stuffing the meat back into the feathered skin. Presentation can also involve the use of edible ingredients to make an inedible product, whose sole appeal is visual. Elaborate centerpieces made of sugar date from at least as early as the Renaissance. When Maria de’ Medici arrived in France on her way to marry King Henri IV, she was given “a collation laid out on three tables, replete with several sorts of fish, beasts, and birds, all made of sugar, and fifty statues in sugar, two hands tall or thereabouts, naturalistically representing various gods, goddesses, and emperors.” [47]

Carême’s pièces montées monumentalized this tradition. They were on a grand scale in proportion to other table ornaments and had a wealth of detail. They appear to have surpassed their predecessors both in number and, at least in some instances, endurance. One may compare pièces montées to modern-day ice sculptures in several respects, including their normally ephemeral, one-evening, existence. But several that Carême executed for a dinner at Lord Stewart’s residence in Vienna remained there preserved under glass cylinders, and others made for Louis XVIII in 1823, in celebration of recent French military victories in Spain, found shelter in the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers (Arts and Crafts Conservatory).[48]

Carême regarded his centerpieces as miniature, but nevertheless authentic, works of architecture: “The fine arts are five in number: painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and architecture—whose main branch is pastry.” Between 1821 and 1826 he published a series of six folio-sized pamphlets of designs for public monuments, one set for St. Petersburg and the others for Paris. This was the final result of his long study of buildings undertaken for the immediate purpose of developing ideas for pièces montées. The pastry chef’s drawings of columns, fountains, temples, arches, and the like got a smiling reception. He dedicated the set of proposals for St. Petersburg to Tsar Alexander, sent a presentation copy to him, and received in return a diamond ring. He showed some of his proposals for Paris to the official architect of the French government and to an author of a history of architecture, both of whom made positive comments. The last of these folios contains an “homage to Charles X,” a design for a “large military trophy, consecrated to the glory of the Grande Armée,” and a design for a “large column honoring the Paris National Guard,” thus offering something to each of the three mutually hostile major political groups, the monarchists, the Bonapartists, and the republicans.[49]

Carême’s cuisine was clearly as excessive in its own way as nouvelle cuisine had been. The novelist Balzac, his contemporary, imagined “a sort of culinary science of love. The virtuous and worthy woman, then, would be a Homeric repast, flesh rudely roasted over hot coals. The courtesan, on the other hand, would be the work of Carême, with all its sauces, spices, and refinement.” However, it must be added that the well-known novelist was also a well-known gourmand, who frequented some of the most luxurious restaurants of Paris, and that he drank an estimated fifty thousand cups of coffee during his fifty-year lifespan.[50] It was an age of expansive visions and commensurate creations: the Grandes Écoles, Napoleon’s Grande Armée, Carême’s grande cuisine, Balzac’s Comédie humaine.

Grande cuisine represented the apogee of French haute cuisine: the high point of cuisine considered from the perspective of art and the point furthest distant from cuisine as nutrition. Cuisine’s high trajectory during the era of grande cuisine seemed to be acknowledged within the corps of critics—that is, literary critics, music critics, art critics, and others—by the creation of a new division of food critics. The students and followers of Carême extended grande cuisine into the second half of the nineteenth century, steadfastly resisting the adoption of Russian service and other rational reforms. Finally, toward the end of the century, a new generation of chefs began to bring haute cuisine down to earth again.

Grande cuisine attracted the first gastronomers, people for whom food came to be just as much a matter of contemplation as of eating. Grimod de La Reynière had been a theater critic but after the Revolution turned his gaze from the boards to the board, becoming the first professional critic of French cuisine. He began to produce his annual Almanach des gourmands (1803–12), another milestone in the development of cuisine as an art, two decades after the publication of Le Grand d’Aussy’s history and four decades after the opening of Boulanger’s restaurant. Grimod had gourmandise in his ancestry: His grandfather died of suffocation while gorging himself on a pâté. The almanacs gave gastronomical tours of Paris, and Grimod, the prototype of the modern restaurant critic, developed the power to make or break through his recommendations the reputation of restaurateurs, caterers, pastry cooks, and bakers. He based his recommendations on the findings of the Jury Dégustateur, a group of gastronomes that met regularly to taste the works of local chefs, and subsequently to award or deny them légitimations, certificates of commendation like those that the Académie des Sciences had been issuing for more than a century to inventors and discoverers. Carême, however, refused to credit Grimod and his associates with having contributed to the renaissance of his art.[51]

Grande cuisine resisted the Copernican revolution in service that took place during the nineteenth century. Since its beginning, haute cuisine had been operating according to what became known as “French service.” In this system, each dish arrives at the table on a platter, from which the diners help themselves or are served by the host and the host’s staff. All the dishes in a course are brought at once and later removed at once to make way for the next course. The fewer the courses, the more the dishes to be served in each of them, given a fixed total number of dishes. And the number of dishes could be fairly large, we have had occasion to note. Thus, French service, especially for a banquet consisting of only a few courses and a large number of dishes, has the drawback that a lot of food arrives at once and the diners end up eating much of it at room temperature, whether they want to or not. In Russian service, the dishes arrive at the table already distributed on plates and the diners eat more of the hot food while it is still hot and the cold food while it is still cold. On the other hand, this system sacrifices the great displays that French service permits. Russian service appeared in Paris in the 1810s but gained adherents there only gradually, not winning full acceptance until after mid-century. Carême, for one, never adopted the new system.[52]

Grande cuisine continued for two generations after Carême, through the Second Empire. Several of the period’s leading chefs, such as Armand Plumerey, Charles-Elmé Francatelli, and Jules Gouffé, had trained under Carême. Plumerey, who completed Carême’s L’Art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle from notes left by him, had worked for Talleyrand and then became the chef to Princess Poniatowski and later to the comte de Pahlen, Russian ambassador to France. Francatelli spent most of his career in England, where he directed in succession the kitchens of several aristocrats, Crockford’s Club, Queen Victoria, Coventry House Club, the Reform Club, and finally Freemason’s Tavern. Gouffé remained in Paris, where he had his own restaurant, retired young, and then came out of retirement to take charge of the Jockey Club. Félix-Urbain Dubois and Émile Bernard, both chefs to the king of Prussia, and above all Alexis Soyer, chef to several English aristocrats before taking over the Reform Club, were three more important practitioners and cookbook authors influenced by Carême. Significantly, grande cuisine continued to flourish in private households and private clubs and had a much smaller presence in restaurants. It could also be found in the United States beginning in the antebellum period and especially in the Gilded Age. Lorenzo Delmonico, originally from Marengo, Switzerland, opened a series of restaurants in New York where he employed other emigrating European chefs, many of whom eventually moved on, spreading French haute cuisine in America. Delmonico’s created such classics as baked Alaska and lobster Newburg, and became a regular stop for visiting dignitaries; the prince of Wales’s banquet there in 1860 had as its centerpiece a sugar sculpture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.[53]

Eventually, inevitably, a new generation of haute cuisine chefs, beginning in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, criticized grande cuisine for its excesses. For the most part these chefs either had their own restaurants or oversaw large hotel restaurants. Since they moved easily from a hotel or restaurant in one country to another in another, and thus contributed to the breaking down of culinary borders, their cuisine is sometimes called International Hotel and Restaurant Cuisine. Their acknowledged leader and representative figure was Auguste Escoffier, who spent his illustrious career in hotel kitchens in Paris, Monte Carlo, and London. These fin-de-siècle chefs made final the conversion to Russian service. They also emphasized speedier service and lighter fare, and deemphasized the purely visual displays that had become such a large part of haute cuisine. Henri-Paul Pellaprat, who headed the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris at the turn of the century, wrote:

Carême left a considerable body of work on the basis of which we are still operating, although we have brought to it modifications in detail and in service, and above all simplifications, that our times and circumstances have imposed on us. The foundation of cuisine is unchanged. Just imagine, when Carême was officiating in the temple of Comus, it was filled with allegorical pièces montées bearing multiple symbols. The chef had to be a draftsman, an architect, a turner, a sculptor and…a cook; the main event almost disappeared beneath a mass of decorations, and whole teams of cooks were required to execute a grand dîner.[54]

Grande cuisine was the grand art of cuisine.

The grand artist of cuisine was how Carême thought of himself and wanted to be thought of by posterity, which obligingly fulfilled his desire. He wrote of himself that he doubted “a cook has ever made as many pecuniary sacrifices in order to further the progress of the culinary arts.” It is true that he was not wealthy when he died. “The cooks of our time are not always appreciated in France; only love of the field sustains them in their practice.” One of his compensations was the thought that his Art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle would “produce the same effect” on cooking as his earlier Pâtissier royal parisien had produced on pastry-making.

When I take a look around Paris, I see with pleasure in every neighborhood the improvements and the growth that the pastry shops have undergone since this work appeared.…The pastry cooks of the suburbs, having my book in their hands, have not feared to move into the heart of the capital; those who had formerly worked in private households have set up in business for themselves, which they would never have dared to do without the aid of my volume.[55]

Another compensation was his belief, and in this he echoed Voltaire, although probably unconsciously and indirectly, that “the cook who has lived among the great is their doctor;…a good cook will prolong their existence.” Referring specifically to his experience working in England, Carême wrote with pride: “In the space of the eight months that I remained there, for seven of them I did not leave the service of his Brittanic Majesty, who had not during that period a single attack of gout, although before my arrival in this royal household the cooking was so overpowering and spicy that the prince was frequently afflicted for whole days and nights at a time.” Although Voltaire paid lip-service to the idea of the cook as doctor, his letters indicate that he expected his cook to provide him with pleasurable rather than healthy food and that his real conception was more on the order of the cook as artist. He once wrote to Grimod de La Reynière’s grandfather, the one who killed himself with a pâté, requesting that his cook be allowed to serve in the latter’s kitchen for a while as a sort of master class: “It is not that I aspire to serve fare as good as yours. But a cook gets rusty…and it is necessary to encourage the fine arts.” It is possible that in writing “a good cook is also a fine physicien ” Voltaire meant “physicist” rather than “physician,” since the French word had both meanings; that is, he may have been alluding to the cook’s ability to transform foodstuffs by such means as fire and ice, pressure and acidity, and dissolution and trituration, rather than the cook’s ability to aid in the maintenance and recovery of one’s health. If so, the focus here too would be on the cook’s skill or art in preparing food and not on the food’s salubriousness. Likewise, Carême betrayed his real conception of the chef’s role: “One day, a great lord whom I was serving addressed these words to me: ‘Carême, you will make me die from overeating. I desire everything that you present to me, and, in truth, these are too many temptations.’ ‘My lord,’ I responded to him, ‘my chief business is to stimulate your appetite by the variety of my service, and it is not my job to regulate it.’” [56]

“Taste,” a concept fundamental to Western art since the second half of the seventeenth century, has its origin in haute cuisine. Before the midseventeenth century, the equivalents “taste,” gusto (Italian), Geschmack (German), and goût (French) referred only to the flavor of food. The first known use of the word goût in the sense of connoisseurship, the ability to make fine distinctions in quality, occurred in Nicolas de Bonnefons’s Les Délices de la campagne (Country Delicacies, 1654), one of the founding texts of haute cuisine. Soon afterward, this meaning was carried over into other aesthetic realms. Montesquieu received the assignment to write the article “Goût” for the Encyclopédie, but he died before completing it; his long fragment became an appendix to the short article by Voltaire, who wrote:

This sense, this ability to discriminate in our food, has produced in every known language the metaphor that expresses, by the word “taste,” the feeling for beauty and deficiency in all the arts. It is a power of discernment that operates as rapidly as those of the tongue and the palate and that, like them, precedes reflection; like them, it is sensitive and voluptuous regarding the good; like them, it rejects the bad with disgust; like them, it is often uncertain or mistaken.[57]

Incidentally, the politically unpalatable Encyclopédie would not have been published if it had been contrary to the particular taste of Grimod de La Reynière’s uncle, Malesherbes, directeur de la librairie (director of the book trade).[58]

The French developed two different conceptions of cuisine, cuisine as nutrition and cuisine as art. Thus French chefs experienced the pressure of two different demands, the demand to prepare healthy food and the demand to produce aesthetically satisfying food, in regard to both appearance and taste. But this became clear only with the development of haute cuisine, a culinary practice in which cuisine as art emerged as the dominant conception. By the mid-eighteenth century, people were complaining that haute cuisine had gone so far in the direction of cuisine as art that it stood in contradiction to cuisine as nutrition.

But when the people who did the complaining were themselves artists, they only reinforced the contradiction. Rousseau, on the one hand, argued that people should eat and live more temperately. On the other hand, he himself had intemperate aspirations for greatness, as we have already seen. Even while writing that people should be more moderate in their desires and that society should be more egalitarian, Rousseau sought to be distinguished above others for his unique talents as a writer. Chefs could put into practice Rousseau’s ideas or they could follow his example. Small wonder, since by the mid-eighteenth century the best chefs had already attained the stature of artists, that some of them chose the latter course, “that all parts of the world were forced to pay tribute, that perhaps twenty million hands worked long hours, that perhaps thousands of lives were spent, and all in order to serve him [the gourmand] luxuriously at noon what he is going to leave in his chamber pot that evening.” Even while deploring this situation, Rousseau admitted that he was among those “for whom civil society is necessary and who are no longer able to forgo eating people.” It is not only our consumption of what others have produced at the expense of their lives that makes us cannibals, but also our feeding of our egos at the expense of others’ egos. Rousseau boasted in and of his Confessions, “I embark upon an enterprise that has no model and whose execution will never be imitated.” Carême boasted in his last work that it was “the most difficult and the most laborious task that a man of cuisine has ever dared to undertake,” and, referring to others in his profession, “my career in no way resembles theirs.” [59]

Three designs by Carême for pièces montées

Once cooking came to be considered an art and the best cooks artists, historians and critics of the art and biographers of the artists soon appeared. Le Grand d’Aussy published the Histoire de la vie privée des français; Grimod de La Reynière, the Almanach des gourmands; and Fayot, the “Notice biographique sur Carême.” Carême’s own memoirs, only partly completed, may have been the first attempt by a chef to leave a permanent record not of his recipes but of his own life, in a genre once restricted to the political and social elite. Carême was certainly not the first chef to aspire to fame, but since cuisine had only recently acquired a history, he may have been the first to consciously seek a permanent place for himself in it. In his writings, just as in his cuisine, he clearly intended to monumentalize himself as a great artist.


All translations of quotations from other languages into English are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

1. Montesquieu, Lettres persanes, in Oeuvres complètes, p. 80.

2. [Urbain de Vandenesse], “Caffé,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 2, p. 529. For the author attribution: John Lough, The “Encyclopédie” (New York: McKay, 1971), app. B.

3. [Pierre-Jean-Baptiste] Le Grand d’Aussy, Histoire de la vie privée des français, 3 vols. (Paris: Pierres, 1782), vol. 2, pp. 213–14; Alfred Gottschalk, Histoire de l’alimentation et de la gastronomie depuis la préhistoire jusqu’à nos jours, 2 vols. (Paris: Hippocrate, 1948), vol. 2, pp. 243–45; Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 1, pp. 138–39; Anon., “Restauratif ou Restaurant,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 14, p. 193; Diderot, Correspondance, vol. 7, pp. 151–52.

4. The sources of the quotations, in order: chevalier de Jaucourt, “Cuisine,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 4, p. 537; Voltaire, Voltaire’s Correspondence, ed. Theodore Besterman, 107 vols. (Geneva: Institut et Musée Voltaire, 1953–65), vol. 33, p. 120; Anon., “Assaisonnement,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 1, p. 765; Voltaire, Voltaire’s Correspondence, vol. 59, pp. 59–60; Diderot, Neveu de Rameau, in Oeuvres, pp. 472–73; Rousseau, Émile, ou De l’éducation, in Oeuvres complètes, vol. 4, p. 409. For discussions of the philosophes and cuisine: Jean-Claude Bonnet, “The Culinary System in the Encyclopédie, ” trans. Elborg Forster, in Food and Drink in History, ed. Robert Forster and Orest Ranum (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), pp. 139–65; Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, “Voltaire as Host and Diner,” in Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), pp. 212–19; Jean-Claude Bonnet, “Le système de la cuisine et du repas chez Rousseau,” Poétique 6, no. 22 (1975): 244–67.

5. Jaucourt, “Cuisine,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 4, p. 538; Michel de Montaigne, Essais, ed. Pierre Michel, 3 vols. (Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1972), bk. 1, chap. 51.

6. Alain Girard, “Le Triomphe de ‘la cuisinière bourgeoise’: Livres culinaires, cuisine et société en France aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 23, no. 4 (October–December 1977): 499–508; Jean-Louis Flandrin, Philip Hyman, and Mary Hyman, “La Cuisine dans la littérature de colportage,” introductory essay to François-Pierre de La Varenne, Le Cuisinier françois (Paris: Montalba, 1983; first published 1651), p. 12.

7. Jean-Louis Flandrin, “Le distinction par le goût,” in Histoire de la vie privée, ed. Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby, 5 vols. (Paris: Seuil, 1985–1987), vol. 3, pp. 274–80, 285–86; Flandrin, Hyman, and Hyman, “La Cuisine dans la littérature,” in Cuisinier françois, pp. 14–35; Wheaton, Savoring the Past, chap. 6; Stephen Mennell, All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present (London: Blackwell, 1985), pp. 71–77.

8. L. S. R., L’Art de bien traiter (Paris: Du Puis, 1674), pp. 1–2, 4–5.

9. Vincent La Chapelle, The Modern Cook, 3 vols. (London: Author, 1733), vol. 1, p. i; [François Marin], Les Dons de Comus (Paris: Prault, 1739), title page, pp. xix–xx.

10. La Varenne, Cuisinier françois, p. 110; Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné, Recueil des lettres de Madame de Sévigné, 9 vols. (Paris: Libraires Associés, 1806), vol. 1, pp. 159–60 (letter of 24 April 1671). A subsequent letter, dated two days later, gives the Vatel story in more detail.

11. Girard, “Le Triomphe de ‘la cuisinière bourgeoise’” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 23, no. 4, p. 512.

12. The source of the first quotation: [Henri] Misson, M. Misson’s Memoirs and Observations in His Travels over England, trans. John Ozell (London: Browne et al., 1719; first published 1698), p. 314. For information on La Chapelle: La Chapelle, Modern Cook, title page; idem, Le Cuisinier moderne, 4 vols. in 2 (The Hague: Author, 1735), title page. For Fielding on Clouet: Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (New York: New American Library, 1963), bk. 1, chap. 1, p. 29; Martin C. Battestin, Henry Fielding, A Life (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 149. For information on the Noëls: Giacomo Casanova, chevalier de Seingalt, History of My Life, trans. Willard R. Trask, 12 vols. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970), vol. 10, pp. 56–57, 302–3, 335–36. The source of La Mettrie’s quotation: Julien Offroy de La Mettrie, Man a Machine, dual-language edition, trans. Gertrude C. Bussey et al. (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1953), pp. 21 (French), 93 (English). The source of Young’s quotation: Arthur Young, Travels during the years 1787, 1788, and 1789, 2 vols. (Bury Saint Edmunds, Eng.: Richardson, 1792), vol. 1, p. 277. On this whole subject: Wheaton, Savoring the Past, chap. 9.

13. Le Grand d’Aussy, Histoire de la vie privée, vol. 1, p. vii.

14. There is disagreement over Carême’s birthdate. The date carved on his tombstone is 8 June 1783. The official registration of his death on 12 January 1833 lists his age as forty-nine years and six months; based on this, a biographer places Carême’s birth in “the first ten days of the month of July of 1783”; Louis Rodil, Antonin Carême de Paris: 1783–1833 (Marseille: Laffitte, 1980), p. 19. Many other sources give 1784 as the year of his birth; several give the date of his birth as 8 June 1784.

15. Carême’s contemporaries and later writers have generally referred to him as Marie-Antoine or Antonin; thus the form Marie-Antoine at the head of this chapter. However, his books are almost always listed in catalogues under Marie-Antonin; thus the form Marie-Antonin in the notes to this chapter.

16. Frédéric Fayot, “Notice biographique sur Carême,” in Les Classiques de la table, ed. Justin Améro, new ed., 2 vols. (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1855), vol. 2, pp. 178–79.

17. On Carême at Bailly’s patisserie: ibid., pp. 178–84; Marie-Antonin Carême, Le Pâtissier pittoresque, 3d ed. (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1828), pp. 18–23; Frédéric Masson, Napoleon at Home, trans. James E. Matthew, 2 vols. (London: Grevel, 1894), vol. 1, pp. 169–70.

18. Carême, Pâtissier pittoresque, p. 23; Fayot, “Notice biographique sur Carême,” in Classiques de la table, 1855 ed., vol. 2, p. 183; [Agricol] B[eynet] Saint-Marc and the marquis de Boubonne, Les Chroniques du Palais-Royal; Origine, splendeur et décadence (Paris: Belin, n.d.), pp. 224–25; Christian Guy, Almanach historique de la gastronomie française (Paris: Hachette, 1981), unpaginated, 21 June (the book is organized as an almanac, with articles entered in the order of the days of the year).

19. Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière, Almanach des gourmands, 8 vols. (Paris: Maradan, 1803–12), vol. 1, pp. 163–68; Daniel Mornet, Les Origines intellectuelles de la Révolution française (1715–1787) (Paris: Colin, 1933), pp. 281–82; L[ouis-Marie] Prudhomme, Miroir historique, politique et critique de l’ancien et du nouveau Paris, 6 vols. (Paris: Prudhomme fils, 1807), vol. 1, p. 283; Marie-Antonin Carême, Le Pâtissier royal parisien, 2d ed., 2 vols. (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1828), vol. 1, pp. xli–xliii (“Discours préliminaire,” which, to judge from internal evidence, probably also formed part of the first edition of 1815, no copies of which seem to be extant); see also Pierre Lacam, “Nos grands hommes,” La Salle à manger 2, no. 10 (March 1892): 184 n. 1.

20. See the following articles from Encyclopédie: Anon., “Auberge,” vol. 1, p. 865; Anon., “Caffetier,” vol. 2, p. 529; Anon., “Limonadier,” vol. 9, p. 545; chevalier de Jaucourt, “Traiteur,” vol. 16, p. 536. See also Wheaton, Savoring the Past, pp. 72–73; Mennell, All Manners of Food, pp. 138–39.

21. [Louis-]Sébastien Mercier, The New Picture of Paris, trans. not credited, 2 vols. (London: Symonds, 1800; first published as Le Nouveau Paris in Paris, 1798), vol. 2, p. 119; Aoine] Beauvilliers, L’Art du cuisinier (Paris: Pilet, 1814), title page; Prosper Montagné, The New Larousse Gastronomique, trans. Marion Hunter, ed. Charlotte Turgeon (New York: Crown, 1977), pp. 765–71; Mennell, All Manners of Food, pp. 141, 150; Barbara Norman [Makanowitsky], Tales of the Table: A History of Western Cuisine (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972), p. 146; A[braham] H[ayward], The Art of Dining; or, Gastronomy and Gastronomers (London: Murray, 1853), pp. 73–75.

22. Grimod de La Reynière, Almanach des gourmands, vol. 1, p. 164.

23. Gottschalk, Histoire de l’alimentation, vol. 2, p. 348; Hayward, Art of Dining, p. 75; Marie-Antonin Carême, Le Maître d’hôtel français, 2 vols. (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1822), vol. 1, pp. 7–9; Masson, Napoleon at Home, vol. 1, pp. 170–71; Christian Guy, Une Histoire de la cuisine française (Paris: Productions de Paris, 1962), p. 103; Jean-Paul Aron, Le Mangeur du XIXe siècle (Paris: Laffont, 1973), pp. 28, 41; Marie-Antonin Carême, Le Cuisinier parisien, 2d ed. (Paris: Author, 1828), p. 5.

24. We may deduce this from the fact that Massialot’s book begins with a repertoire of menus by month, each menu of which is specified as having been used for a dinner given at the home of a particular aristocrat on a particular date, presumably under the supervision of Massialot himself. [François Massialot], Le Cuisinier roial et bourgeois, 3d ed. (Paris: Sercy, 1698); Wheaton, Savoring the Past, pp. 151–52.

25. Carême, Pâtissier pittoresque, p. 23; idem, Pâtissier royal parisien, 2d ed., vol. 1, pp. xxxiii–xxxiv; idem, Le Pâtissier royal parisien, 3d ed., 2 vols. (Paris: Renouard et al., 1841), vol. 2, p. 385.

26. Carême, Pâtissier royal parisien, 2d ed., vol. 1, p. xxxix; idem, Pâtissier royal parisien, 3d ed., vol. 2, pt. 7, “Revue critique des grands bals de 1810 et 1811”; idem, Maître d’hôtel français, vol. 1, pp. 4–9.

27. Carême, Cuisinier parisien, pp. 30–31; idem, Maître d’hôtel français, vol. 1, pp. 1–14, “Discours préliminaire: Parallèle de la cuisine ancienne et moderne.”

28. Carême, Maître d’hôtel français, vol. 1, pp. 9–11; idem, Pâtissier royal parisien, 2d ed., vol. 1, p. xli; Rodil, Antonin Carême de Paris, pp. 16, 21–22, 42–43; Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 1, p. 209; Guy, Almanach historique, 21 June; Fayot, “Notice biographique sur Carême,” in Classiques de la table, 1855 ed., vol. 2, pp. 180–81. Carême’s patisserie was located at no. 17, rue de la Paix, according to Hillairet; at no. 25, rue de la Paix, according to Guy.

29. Carême, Maître d’hôtel français, vol. 1, p. 10; idem, “Souvenirs écrits par lui-même,” in Les Classiques de la table, ed. Frédéric Fayot (Paris: Dentu, 1844), pp. 455–56.

30. Carême, Maître d’hôtel français, vol. 1, pp. 12–13; vol. 2, pp. 100–101, 153–54; idem, “Souvenirs écrits par lui-même,” in Classiques de la table, 1844 ed., pp. 455–63.

31. Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 1, p. 209; Guy, Almanach historique, 21 June.

32. Carême, Maître d’hôtel français, vol. 1, pp. 1–62, “Discours préliminaire: Parallèle de la cuisine ancienne et moderne,” and chap. 1, “Traité des menus de la cuisine ancienne.”

33. L[ouis]-S[ébastien] Mercier, Le Tableau de Paris, abr. (Paris: Dentu, 1889), p. 157.

34. Willi Apel, Harvard Dictionary of Music (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 252, 340, 531–32, 711; New Grove Dictionary, vol. 2, p. 323 (minuet); vol. 5, pp. 828–29 (écossaise); vol. 7, pp. 132–33 (galop); vol. 12, pp. 353–54 (minuet); vol. 15, pp. 489–91 (quadrille). Pierre Beauchamp (1636?–1719?), dancing master to Louis XIV, may have invented or popularized the steps to the minuet, and he was probably as well known in his time as any chef. No names seem to have been associated with any of the other dances mentioned. Beauchamp, however, gained fame as a ballet choreographer. So too, in the eighteenth century, did Jean-Georges Noverre (1727–1810). With regard to the prestige of the conductors of dance, there is a great contrast between dance as a form of theatrical performance and dance as a form of social intercourse—that is, between dance as an art, composed by artists, and dance as a social grace, taught by skilled servants. Chefs were coming to be considered more like choreographers, or artists, and less like dancing masters, or skilled servants.

35. Carême, “Souvenirs écrits par lui-même,” in Classiques de la table, 1844 ed., pp. 462–63.

36. Carême, Maître d’hôtel français, vol. 1, pp. iv, 57; idem, Cuisinier parisien, pp. 28–31; idem, L’Art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle, 5 vols. (Paris: Kerangué and Pollès, 1981; reprint of 2d ed., Paris, 1843–47), vol. 1, pp. xv, xviii, xx (“Aphorismes, Pensées et Maximes de l’Auteur”). Carême’s contemporary, Louis-Eustache Ude, who has been mentioned several times in this chapter, expressed similar sentiments in The French Cook (New York: Arco, 1978; reprint of Philadelphia ed., 1828; first published London, 1813), pp. xix–xxv (“Advice to Cooks”).

37. Montagné, New Larousse Gastronomique, p. 362; Mennell, All Manners of Food, p. 172; Jean-Robert Pitte, “Carême,” in Dictionnaire Napoléon, ed. Jean Tulard (Paris: Fayard, 1987), p. 371; Gottschalk, Histoire de l’alimentation, vol. 2, p. 360. A facsimile of a letter signed “Carême de Paris” may be found in Pierre Lacam, Le Mémorial historique et géographique de la pâtisserie (Vincennes: Author, 1895), insertion between pp. 504 and 505.

38. Carême, Maître d’hôtel français, vol. 1, pp. 13–14, and chap. 1, “Traité des menus de la cuisine ancienne”; idem, Art de la cuisine française, 1981 ed., vol. 2, pp. 7, 287.

39. Carême, Art de la cuisine française, 1981 ed., vol. 2, pp. 7, 287; idem, Pâtissier royal parisien, 2d ed., vol. 1, pp. xviii–xxi (“Discours préliminaire,” which probably also formed part of the lost first edition of 1815; see note 19 above). That Carême eventually decided to write the encyclopedia of modern cuisine himself is suggested in idem, Cuisinier parisien, p. 7, and idem, Art de la cuisine française, 1981 ed., vol. 1, p. lvi.

40. Donald Reid, Paris Sewers and Sewermen: Realities and Representations (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991), chap. 1; Montagné, New Larousse Gastronomique, p. 908. Two books treat at length the subject of smells in eighteenth-century France: a history by Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination, trans. Miriam L. Kochan, Roy Porter, and Christopher Prendergast (Leamington Spa, N.Y.: Berg, 1986); and a novel by Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, trans. John E. Woods (New York: Knopf, 1986). Corbin, pp. 14–15, 56, locates the olfactory revolution in French society at large in the period 1760–80; on p. 77, presumably speaking of that same period, he writes, “Cooks busily perfumed their dishes,” although he offers no supporting evidence.

41. The source of the quotation: marquis de Cussy, “L’Art culinaire,” in Classiques de la table, 1855 ed., vol. 1, p. 367.

42. Jean-François Revel, Culture and Cuisine: A Journey through the History of Food, trans. Helen R. Lane (New York: Doubleday, 1982), p. 240; [Frédéric Fayot and Elzéar Blaze], Causeries de chausseurs et de gourmets (Paris: Dépôt de librairie, 1851–59), pp. 24–25; Giuseppe Radiciotti, Gioacchino Rossini: Vita documentata, opere ed influenza su l’arte, 3 vols. (Tivoli: Chicca, 1927–29), vol. 1, p. 27 and n; Carême, “Souvenirs écrits par lui-même,” in Classiques de la table, 1844 ed., p. 464; Montagné, New Larousse Gastronomique, p. 393. One source credits a famous Paris restaurant, the Café Anglais, with the invention of tournedos Rossini; Luigi Bosia, intro. to Eugène Briffault, Paris à table (Geneva: Slatkine, 1980; reprint of Paris ed., 1846), unpaginated.

43. Carême, Art de la cuisine française, 1981 ed., vol. 1, p. lxvi; Cussy, “L’Art culinaire,” in Classiques de la table, 1855 ed., vol. 1, p. 361.

44. Carême, Maître d’hôtel français, vol. 1, pp. 7, 56–57, 187; vol. 2, pp. 85–86; Montagné, New Larousse Gastronomique, pp. 290, 674, 908.

45. Carême, Cuisinier parisien, p. 47; idem, Art de la cuisine française, 1981 ed., vol. 2, pp. 9, 13.

46. Carême, Pâtissier royal parisien, 2d ed., vol. 1, pp. xxvii–xxviii; idem, Art de la cuisine française, 1981 ed., vol. 2, p. 13.

47. Anon., Le Ménagier de Paris, traité de morale et d’économie domestique composé vers 1393 par un bourgeois parisien, ed. Jérôme Pichon, 2 vols. (Paris: Société des Bibliophiles François, 1846), vol. 2, p. 184 and n; Le Grand d’Aussy, Histoire de la vie privée, vol. 2, p. 280 (the quotation, reproduced here, of Pierre-Victor-Palma Cayet, La Chronologie septennaire [Paris, 1605]); vol. 3, pp. 246–49. On seventeenth- and eighteenth-century centerpieces, including sugar sculptures: Le Grand d’Aussy, Histoire de la vie privée, vol. 3, pp. 249–62. On French medieval and Renaissance cuisine in general: Wheaton, Savoring the Past, chaps. 1, 2, 3.

48. Carême, “Souvenirs écrits par lui-même,” in Classiques de la table, 1844 ed., pp. 459–61.

49. Montagné, New Larousse Gastronomique, p. 186; Marie-Antonin Carême, Projets d’architecture, dédiés à Alexandre Ier (Paris: Author, 1821), pp. 5–6; idem, Projets d’architecture pour les embellissements de Paris (Paris: Author, 1821), p. 10; idem, Projets d’architecture pour les embellissements de Paris (Paris: Author, 1826).

50. Honoré de Balzac, Cousine Bette, in La Comédie humaine, ed. Marcel Bouteron, 10 vols. and index vol. (Paris: Pléiade, 1949–55), vol. 6, p. 394; V. S. Pritchett, Balzac (New York: Harmony, 1983), p. 111.

51. Carême, Cuisinier parisien, pp. 30–31. For several biographical sketches and biographies of Grimod: Anon., “Reynière,” in Biographie universelle et portative, vol. 4, pp. 1093–94; L. Louvet, “Grimod de La Reynière,” in Nouvelle biographie générale, ed. [Jean-Chrétien-Ferdinand] Hoefer, 46 vols. (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1852–66), vol. 22, cols. 102–7; Charles Monselet, “Grimod de la Reynière,” in Les Oubliés et les dédaignés (Paris: Poulet-Malassis and de Broise, 1859), pp. 173–291; Gustave Desnoiresterres, Grimod de la Reynière et son groupe (Paris: Didier, 1877); Ned Rival, Grimod de La Reynière, le gourmand gentilhomme (Paris: Près aux Clercs, 1983); Giles MacDonogh, A Palate in Revolution: Grimod de La Reynière and the “Almanach des gourmands” (London: Clark, 1987).

52. Different sources give different dates for the introduction of Russian service in Paris; the one used here is from Guy, Histoire de la cuisine française, pp. 132–33. For Carême’s views on French service: Carême, Maître d’hôtel français, vol. 1, pp. 41–57. On Russian service: ibid., vol. 2, p. 150.

53. “Préface de l’éditeur,” in Marie-Antonin Carême, Art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle, 5 vols. (Paris: Author and Dentu, 1833–44), vol. 4, p. viii. For Francatelli’s obituary: “An Illustrious Chef,” Times (London), 19 August 1876, p. 4. See also Hayward, Art of Dining, pp. 75–76; Mennell, All Manners of Food, pp. 149–57; Montagné, New Larousse Gastronomique, pp. 120, 431–32; Colin Clair, Kitchen and Table: A Bedside History of Eating in the Western World (London: Abelard-Shuman, 1964), pp. 235–44; “Lorenzo Delmonico Dead,” New York Times, 4 September 1881, p. 7; Betty Wason, Cooks, Gluttons, and Gourmets: A History of Cookery (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962), pp. 287–89.

54. Mennell, All Manners of Food, pp. 157–63; H[enri]-P[aul] Pellaprat, Le Cuisinier (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1942), p. 28 (ellipsis in the original).

55. Carême, Art de la cuisine française, 1981 ed., vol. 2, pp. 9, xvii, 323; idem, Pâtissier royal parisien, 2d ed., vol. 1, pp. xxv–xxvi.

56. Carême, Maître d’hôtel français, vol. 1, pp. 12–13; idem, Art de la cuisine française, 1981 ed., vol. 2, pp. xix (citing Mercier rather than Voltaire as his source for the idea that a good cook is like a doctor), xxvii; Voltaire to Gaspard Grimod de La Reynière, [October 1745], and Voltaire to the comte de Tressan, 13 February [1758], in Voltaire’s Correspondance, vol. 13, p. 244, and vol. 33, p. 120, respectively; Wheaton, Savoring the Past, pp. 212–19 (“Voltaire as Host and Diner”); Carême, Cuisinier parisien, pp. 12–13.

57. Flandrin, “Le Distinction par le goût,” in Histoire de la vie privée, vol. 3, pp. 299–302; Voltaire, “Goût,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 7, p. 761. The published article “Goût (Gramm., Littérat. et Philos.),” which follows the article “Goût (Physiolog.)” by Jaucourt, consists of Voltaire’s one-page article, then Montesquieu’s six-page fragment, and finally three pages of “Réflexions sur l’usage et sur l’abus de la philosophie dans les matières de goût” by d’Alembert. On the authorship of this article: Lough, “Encyclopédie,” pp. 40, 51, 55; according to Lough, this was Montesquieu’s only contribution to the Encyclopédie.

58. Anon., “Reynière,” in Biographie universelle et portative, vol. 4, p. 1093; Monselet, “Grimod de la Reynière,” in Oubliés et les dédaignés, p. 179.

59. Jean-Claude Bonnet, “Le Système de repas et de la cuisine chez Rousseau,” Poétique 6, no. 22, pp. 244–67; Rousseau, Émile, in Oeuvres complètes, vol. 4, pp. 463, 831; idem, Confessions, in Oeuvres complètes, vol. 1, p. 5; Carême, Art de la cuisine française, 1981 ed., vol. 1, p. lvi; vol. 2, p. 318. See chapter 1 above, pp. 26–27.

3. Vidocq, Detective

Eugène-François Vidocq (1775–1857)

The emperor Napoleon, several members of his family, and a number of public officeholders of his regime, including Eugène-François Vidocq, the founder of the detective branch of the Paris police, were outlaws turned law enforcers, obsessed with eradicating outlaws. Napoleon’s outlaw career began during his years as a young artillery officer. Of his first eight years in the French army, beginning in the fall of 1785 when he received his commission, he spent three and a half years on duty and four and a half years on leave in his native Corsica, fomenting there, along with other members of his family, intrigues and uprisings against the island’s governors, the representatives of France, in whose army he was ostensibly serving.[1] After these efforts ended in failure and the Bonapartes had to flee Corsica, Napoleon rejoined the French army, where he conducted operations independently of his superior officers, associated with radical revolutionaries such as Robespierre’s younger brother, negotiated a peace treaty in northern Italy without consulting the French government, led a semi-official semi-rogue military expedition to Egypt, and finally overthrew the revolutionary regime known as the Directory in a coup d’état in 1799. From 1799 until he in turn was overthrown in 1814, he was France’s chief executor of the law, and a severe one.

In Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène (The St. Helena Memorial, 1823), dictated on the island of his terminal exile, Napoleon presents himself as an outlaw-hero. He had grown up reading Rousseau, the most famous outlaw-hero of the eighteenth century. As a young Corsican patriot, Napoleon’s hero was the leader of the island’s independence movement, Pasquale Paoli, who had asked Rousseau to write a constitution for the aspirant nation. Napoleon eventually turned away from Rousseau, Paoli, and Corsica but continued to set himself in opposition to constituted society in mainland France. In Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, Napoleon justifies his rebellious actions as an army officer on the grounds that his superior officers, the government of Louis XVI, and the Directory were either incompetent or corrupt or both. He supported the Revolution, which he praises as “the true cause of the regeneration of our morals.” As chief of state immediately following the Revolution, his policy was, he declares, to institutionalize the reforms of French society carried out by the revolutionaries. For his progressive efforts he was cast into a distant, lonely, miserable exile by the reactionary kings of Europe, and he compares himself to the peoples oppressed by those same reactionary kings. “What a novel my life has been!” Napoleon exclaimed at one point in his dictation, presumably referring not only to his life as he was describing it but also to his life as he had lived it.[2] He does not say what genre of novel he thought his life most resembled; an apt choice would be “picaresque.”

Portrait of Vidocq. Courtesy of the University of California Libraries. Photograph by Paul LeBar.

The picaresque novel evolved in Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the eighteenth century the most distinguished examples of the genre were French and British, although the authors of some of the early ones still made their protagonists Spanish, as in René Le Sage’s Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane (1715–35). By the time of Daniel Defoe’s The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1722), Pierre de Marivaux’s Le Paysan parvenu (1735), and Tobias Smol-lett’s The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748), the picaro was a native son or daughter of France or Britain. The distinctive characteristics of a picaresque novel are: a picaro, a vagabond rogue who is an outsider in his society, able to survive in it by having few moral restraints and great cunning; his adventures, a loosely connected sequence of episodes related autobiographically; a series of masters, each of whom he is temporarily subject to but eventually outwits; a hostile and unjust society, shown to be so by the predicaments into which it forces him; and a style that features satirical treatment of the social types the picaro encounters, plain language, and realistic details of everyday life. Naturally, definitions of the picaresque vary, and applications of the definitions range from narrow to broad. Broad interpreters have counted, for example, both Diderot’s Neveu de Rameau and Rousseau’s Confessions as picaresque.[3]

Outlaw-hero narratives gained enormous popularity in Europe in the eighteenth century. Broadly construed, a picaro is a kind of outlaw-hero. Picaresque novels were popular, but in terms of sheer numbers, publications about imaginary outlaw-heroes were overwhelmed by publications about real-life outlaw-heroes. Widely celebrated real-life outlaw-heroes included Rob Roy (1671–1734), Louis-Dominique Cartouche (1693–1721), Dick Turpin (1706–39), Louis Mandrin (1725–55), and Schinderhannes (1783–1803). Their exploits were made known, exaggerated, and idealized not only by word of mouth but also through broadsides, ballad sheets, prints, and chapbooks. These popular-culture publications reached a very large audience extending all the way to the boundary of literacy and even beyond, where their pictures and out-loud readings gave them access that high-culture publications did not have. The anonymous pamphlet, Histoire de la vie et du procès du fameux Louis-Dominique Cartouche (History of the Life and Trial of the Famous Louis-Dominique Cartouche), first published in the year of Cartouche’s execution, may have been reproduced over the course of the following century and a half in as many as forty thousand editions and forty million copies. Likewise anonymous, the pam-phlet Histoire de Louis Mandrin depuis sa naissance jusqu’à sa mort (History of Louis Mandrin from His Birth to His Death), likewise first published in the year of Mandrin’s death, was reproduced in somewhat more modest numbers: hundreds of editions and hundreds of thousands of copies. High-culture literature also treated real-life outlaw-heroes. Cartouche became the subject of two contemporary plays, which had successful runs at the Comédie-Française and the Théâtre-Italien, and a contemporary poem published in numerous editions. Mandrin became the subject of a contemporary comic-heroic poem and a contemporary biography, Rob Roy the subject of a famous novel by Sir Walter Scott, and Turpin the subject of a popular mid-nineteenth-century novel. The eighteenth century was a golden age for outlaw-heroes.[4]

What makes an outlaw also a hero? First, an outlaw-hero generally possesses some outstanding personal traits or accomplishments, such as candor, audacity, cunning, strength, horsemanship, or marksmanship, that make him seem heroic if one disregards his criminality. As “Rameau’s nephew” put it: “You spit on a petty thief, but you cannot refuse a kind of respect to a great criminal. His courage astounds you. His outrageousness awes you. People admire consummate examples of anything.” Cartouche had bravery, or more specifically, effrontery; proficiency in sleight-of-hand, specifically in picking pockets and manipulating cards; and great administrative ability, specifically as a leader and organizer of several hun-dred thieves. Mandrin was charming, always in good humor, an entertaining and persuasive speaker, likewise audacious, and—as the leader of a highly mobile band of smugglers—a great tactician and “captain” of “cavalry.” Second, an outlaw-hero generally represents a challenge or a rebuke to a society perceived as unjust. Cartouche was supposed to have stolen an épée from Philippe II d’Orléans, regent of France during the minority of Louis XV, and then returned it to him in pieces with a note calling him “the number-one thief in the kingdom.” Mandrin’s career culminated in the assembling of a small army, perhaps three hundred men, who in addition to their smuggling activities made a series of attacks on the tax farmers of southeastern France, a short-lived rebellion in the 1750s against this notorious system of collecting taxes that may ultimately have contributed to its demise in 1790. These are clues as to why the eighteenth century was a golden age for outlaw-heroes in Europe and particularly in France. In a recent study of the phenomenon of outlaw-heroes, a sociologist has concluded: “When large numbers of people feel that the law and political office are tools in the hands of special interest groups, and these tools are seen as being wielded against the interests of ‘the people,’ then there exists an ideal market for symbols of justice outside the law: Robin Hood criminals.” “Robin Hood criminals,” “social bandits,” “outlaw-heroes”: Whatever their label, their category is the intermediate one between unprincipled thieves and idealistic revolutionaries.[5]

The Rousseau of Les Confessions has perhaps a greater resemblance to a picaro in a picaresque novel than to a social bandit in a chapbook biography; however that may be, he certainly presents himself as an outlaw-hero. He confesses, among other things, that he lied to, stole from, dodged the work of, and eventually ran away from an engraver to whom he was apprenticed; that he blamed a cook for a theft he himself had committed while employed as a secretary in the home of a countess; that he lived for years at the expense of a wealthy divorcée while her fortune dwindled; and that he availed himself of prostitutes while posted at the French embassy in Venice. Yet, in spite of all his sins, indeed because he is candid enough to acknowledge them, he judges himself a superior person: “Here is the sole portrait that exists or probably ever will exist of a man painted exactly according to nature and with complete truth.” In any case, the blame lies not so much with him as with the corrupt state of social relations. The engraver was a brutal tyrant of a master; the countess treated him like a lackey and her domestics conspired against him; the divorcée took a new lover, and it was the latter, together with a speculator, who ate up her fortune; and, “apropos of prostitutes, it’s not in a city such as Venice that one abstains.” Rousseau promises only “my confession, not my justification,” but in fact he delivers both. Whatever his behavior, he declares, his heart was always pure: “I was certain that behind my errors and weaknesses, behind my inability to tolerate any yoke, one would always find a man who was just, good, without bitterness, without hatred, without jealousy, quick to acknowledge his own faults.” [6]

“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains,” Rousseau famously proclaimed in 1762 in Du contrat social (On the Social Contract). There and in his earlier Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of the Inequality among Men) he denounced the “slavery” of modern European society. The French government banned Du contrat social as soon as it appeared, and Rousseau had to flee the country to avoid arrest. Thus Rousseau both lived in rebellion against eighteenth-century European society, as he later recounted in his Confessions, and also preached against it. He became the best-known outlaw-hero of his century, his name a symbol of revolt.

The first half of Vidocq’s Mémoires, like Rousseau’s Confessions, reads like a picaresque novel.[7] According to his Mémoires, Vidocq as a boy led an extremely disorderly life. He was born in 1775 in Arras, the capital of Artois, a county in the extreme north of France, the son of a baker. While quite young, he ran away from home to join a circus, the director and featured performer of which was the famous magician Nicolas-Philippe Ledru, who called himself “Comus,” after the Roman god of revelry. After a while Vidocq defected to a Polichinelle (Punch and Judy) show and then went to work for an itinerant peddler. Eventually he returned home but could not stay away from fights, taverns, or girls. Not yet sixteen, he and his family agreed that he would try to acquire some discipline in the army.[8]

Vidocq acquired the same sort of discipline in the French army that Napoleon did, and at about the same time. Soldier Vidocq participated in the victorious northern campaign of the French revolutionary forces in the fall of 1792, fighting in the battle at Valmy and perhaps also at Jemmapes. Shortly thereafter he deserted to the Austrian camp, at around the same time as the commanding general, Dumouriez. Unlike Dumouriez, however, Vidocq quickly returned to the French camp. Wounded in battle, he obtained leave to recover in Arras, where he resumed his old civilian pursuits and ended up in jail. By this time the Reign of Terror was under way, making it dangerous to be incarcerated, but thanks to the intercession of a leading revolutionary of Arras—Robespierre’s hometown—Vidocq was released. When the Terror ended, he married the daughter of his protector, but since she proved unfaithful to him, he soon left her. Meanwhile, he enrolled as an officer in a new army unit then being formed and went back to the front. One of his occupations in the army was that of fencing master; he fought many duels and may even have killed a couple of his opponents. In the fall of 1794 he again deserted, or perhaps he was discharged.[9]

Vidocq writes in his Mémoires that he next enlisted in the armée roulante—“the roving army, composed of officers without commissions, not attached to any unit, who, furnished with false papers and false authorizations, imposed themselves easily on the army’s quartermasters, as the military administration was in a state of great disorder.” [10] Until he joined “the roving army” at the age of nineteen, Vidocq had lived as an adventurer, showing no particular regard for the norms of society, whether in adherence or in opposition to them. Now, however, he began to align himself with the opposition to society. Between the ages of nineteen and thirty-four, he repeatedly fell afoul of the law and found himself frequently in prison. In prison, he was often at sea, on “galleys,” hulks kept in various ports to house convicts while they did forced labor in the harbor. Out of prison, he was often at sea as well, on one warship or another, regular or irregular. On terra firma he was often on the run.

When Vidocq turned against society by joining the roving army in the fall of 1794, he assumed the alias Lieutenant Rousseau. Roving with some of his fellow “officers” toward Brussels, he was billeted, thanks to his “authorizations,” with a baroness. She fell in love with him, he writes, and he lived for some time at her expense. He claims that his conscience finally convinced him to put an end to his parasitism, so he left the baroness, though with his wallet well padded. Several more gallant affairs followed on both sides of the Franco-Belgian border. Eventually, in the fall of 1795, Vidocq again wound up in jail, this time in Lille for fighting a rival for the affections of his latest lover.[11]

Vidocq’s only conviction for a serious crime, complicity in a forgery, resulted from events that took place during his incarceration in Lille. He always contended, at his trial, in his Mémoires, and for the rest of his life, that he was innocent. The forgery had been done in the jail at Lille and consisted of a counterfeit release order for one of the prisoners. Vidocq claimed that the prisoner to be benefited was an impoverished father who had stolen food to feed his family. He also claimed that he had only loaned his cell to the actual forgers so that they could work undisturbed, on exactly what he did not know. Unfortunately for him, it came out in the trial that he had furnished the stamp used to put an official-looking seal on the false document; the stamp was that of a military unit to which Vidocq had belonged. From Douai, the site of the trial, he was sent by way of Bicêtre, a holding jail near Paris, to the galleys at Brest, arriving in January of 1798.[12]

Most of the few firm dates we have in the subsequent decade of Vidocq’s life are the dates of his incarcerations: Recording dates is a function of established society, and established society had little knowledge of Vidocq except when it held him captive. After a short time in Brest, Vidocq escaped disguised as a sailor and eventually made his way back to Arras. En route, he successively impersonated a milk porter, a sailor, and a nun. He found brief employment as a schoolteacher in a village nearby, until “one night, when, driven by classical zeal, I was preparing to give a lesson in a hayloft to a schoolgirl of sixteen, four apprentice brewers from the vicinity seized me.” He prudently left the area, but then imprudently allowed a “recruiter” to get him drunk and press him into the Dutch navy. After leading a successful revolt of pressed sailors, he continued his service on proper terms. Landing at Ostende, annexed to France during the Revolution, his ship was boarded by French gendarmes looking for a mur-derer. Vidocq claimed to be Dutch but had no papers, so the gendarmes took him to Douai where he was identified as an escaped convict. Sent to the galleys again in August of 1799, he went this time to the Mediterranean port of Toulon.

In the early 1800s, Vidocq began to make occasional conciliatory gestures toward society. After a few months in Toulon, he escaped and found his way to Lyon, where he took lodging in a house that turned out to hold some other escapees. When he refused to join them in a burglary, they informed on him and he was arrested. But Vidocq made a deal with the police commissioner of Lyon, leading him to two bands of robbers in exchange for safe conduct to Paris. Free again, Vidocq returned to his home town of Arras. He lived there without being recaptured, initially by spending most of his time in hiding in his mother’s house—his father had recently died—and then by going out disguised as an Austrian soldier. After some close brushes with the Arras police, Vidocq moved with a mistress to Rouen where they opened a mercer’s shop together. She too betrayed him, as did an old acquaintance who recognized him there one day and called the attention of the authorities to him. Once again he landed in jail.

And once again he escaped. In Boulogne a fellow Artesian introduced him to the captain of a corsair and Vidocq joined the crew. When another crew member resembling him died in a raid, Vidocq adopted his identity and his papers. Thus equipped, he joined the regular French navy, which in 1804–5 was massing men and materiel in Boulogne in preparation for an invasion of England, ultimately aborted. After a friend asked Vidocq to join the armée de la lune (army of the moon), an association of brigands, and he refused, the friend denounced him to the police. Transported back to Douai, he learned that his almost-forgotten wife, the daughter of the Arras revolutionary, was divorcing him.

While in jail, Vidocq began his own legal action, drawing up a petition for the commutation of his sentence on the grounds that after his escapes he had taken up legitimate occupations rather than returning to crime. When no action seemed to be forthcoming, he jumped from an unbarred window several stories above the Scarpe River and swam away. This time he traveled disguised as an army captain returning wounded from the Battle of Jena. He settled in Paris and there met Annette, who became his companion for many years and occupied “the first rank in the loves of my life.” They engaged in several small businesses together, eventually buying a tailor’s shop. But again Vidocq’s past caught up with him. He was recognized and blackmailed by some former prison-mates and by his ex-wife’s family, who threatened to report him.

Vidocq himself went to the police in March of 1809, in order to break the cycle of arrest, escape, flight, reestablishment, denunciation, and rearrest, and to reintegrate himself fully into society. As a way of turning to advantage the dangerous criminal contacts he seemed unable to avoid renewing, he offered to serve as an informer in exchange for his liberty. The official to whom he was referred, M. Henry, declined his offer, forcing him to go into hiding again. After extorting clothes and money from his blackmailers, Vidocq moved in with a tanner who turned out to be a counterfeiter as well. The police came, found Vidocq, and returned him to Bicêtre.

Anywhere one might have found four ex-convicts, at least three of them would have heard of me; there was nothing extraordinary about that since the feats of others from the galleys were generally associated with my name. I was the general to whom one accorded the honor of the soldiers’ deeds: not that one spoke of the fortifications I had captured by assault, but there was no jailer whose vigilance I had not eluded, no sort of chain that I had not broken, no wall that I had not pierced.

The thoughtful reader of Vidocq’s Mémoires is frequently led to wonder whether the author has exaggerated the accomplishments of his criminal career. There are several plausible reasons why he might have done so. He might have magnified his misdeeds in order to sharpen the contrast between his errors as a young man and his later achievements as a policeman, so as to make his rehabilitation seem more impressive. Or, he simply may not have entirely reformed his old habits, those of criminals who, “being able to escape the depths of poverty only by taking refuge in the depths of perversity, have been obliged to seek the amelioration of their lot in the real or apparent exaggeration of all the usages of crime. In society at large, notoriety is shunned; in the society of prison inmates, the only shame is in not being notorious.” The late-twentieth-century maxim “there is no such thing as bad publicity” is a refinement of this principle. As those who make outlaws into heroes vaunt the latter’s outstanding abilities without regard for their moral value, the convicts of Vidocq’s day vaunted their own outstanding abilities.

But Vidocq himself only boasts of his skill at certain kinds of misdeeds: fighting with men who have wronged him, assuming false identities, escaping from jail. These were victimless crimes, or, to Vidocq’s way of thinking, not crimes at all, since he was only avenging offenses against himself and since society had no legitimate reason to keep him locked up. Similarly, glorifiers of outlaws generally take care to present their heroes as having committed only certain kinds of crime—justifiable ones.

Probably the most common justification offered is that society gave them no real choice. At the beginning of his criminal phase, following his first escape from the galleys, Vidocq tried to reform: “It did not enter at all into my plans to enroll myself in a band of thieves; although I had been associating with crooks and living by swindles, I felt an unconquerable repugnance to starting a career of crimes, my precocious experience of which had begun to reveal to me the perils.” But he found it impossible to go straight. His conviction for aiding and abetting a forgery had ruined his life, made him an outcast. Criminal society sought him out and upright society refused to accept him. “The persuasion that it would be forbidden to me to become an honest man brought me to the brink of despair.” [13] In diverse ways, then, Vidocq in his Mémoires seeks to turn his criminal younger self into an appealing character. He exalts his misdeeds; he excuses them as harmless or justifiable; and he extenuates them as having been done against his will, indeed against his strong resistance. Whatever the means, the end is always to make him look more like an outlaw-hero. Society weighed on him as it had on Rousseau, like chains.

In the second half of the eighteenth century there were many in France who wanted to break their chains. Thieves, soldiers of fortune, pirates, smugglers, black marketeers, sharpers, adventurers, rogues, adulterers, pornographers, libelists, clandestine publishers, social critics, prophets, deists, Freemasons, physiocrats, republicans, and other rebels teemed there. In 1789 these rebels broke out in revolution. The French Revolution was the overturning of constituted society, not just by forward-looking idealists but also by reactionaries in the literal sense of the word, by all sorts of people opposed in all sorts of ways to constituted society.

Soon the rebels began to celebrate the triumph of the outlaw-hero. In their most potent symbolic action, the revolutionaries tore down the Bastille, a notorious prison. Then they renamed a domed church that had just been completed in the heart of Paris “the Pantheon” and declared that it would house “the ashes of the great men of the epoch of French liberty”—four people ultimately, including Voltaire, who had spent a year in the Bastille himself, and that famous outlaw-hero Rousseau. The revolutionaries hailed Rousseau in festivals, plays, speeches, songs, poems, pamphlets, engravings, busts, and statues. Even before the Revolution, thousands had made pilgrimages to his tomb at Ermenonville, twenty miles northeast of Paris, and some even to more distant sites mentioned in his books. His outlawed books had proliferated in the old society like weeds.[14] But the Revolution made outlaw-heroes more popular than ever.

When rebels such as Maximilien Robespierre began to reconstitute society, they turned into anti-rebels. Early in the Revolution, Robespierre rebelled against the power of the monarchical government by championing restrictions on its officials and the abolition of the death penalty. Later in the Revolution, he incited the insurrection that overthrew the Paris city government and the monarchy (10 August 1792), argued for proceeding without a trial directly to the execution of the king (21 January 1793), and incited the insurrection that resulted in the arrest and guillotining of twenty-two fellow deputies to the National Convention (2 June 1793). Having at last arrived in power himself, he saw rebels everywhere, denounced them daily, and to detect and deter them unleashed the Reign of Terror.[15]

The former rebel Napoleon, during his fifteen-year reign as first consul and then emperor, was likewise obsessed with rebels. Real rebels did exist. The Vendée, a strongly royalist area, had been in revolt against the Revolution since it began. Napoleon brought the area back under the control of the central government. Several years later a group of royalists conspired to overthrow him and were arrested, tried, and executed. But one of the leaders died mysteriously in prison, and Jean-Victor Moreau, a successful and popular revolutionary general, who was also arrested and against whom there was no substantial evidence, received a senseless sentence of two years in jail, commuted by Napoleon to exile. On the basis of even less evidence, Napoleon had a Bourbon prince, a member of the deposed royal family, kidnapped in Germany, brought back to France, tried in a kangaroo court, and executed. He shut down a large number of newspapers, printing presses, and theaters and imposed a strict censorship on those he allowed to continue in operation. He created the Imperial University, by which public education at all levels throughout France was placed under the control of a grand master and private education discouraged. He purged the Senate and the Legislative Body of opposition and reduced them to rubber stamps.[16]

Above all, Napoleon had a Ministry of Police, a large department of the government given over to internal security, plus a Gendarmerie and, just for Paris, a Prefecture of Police, a Municipal Guard, a Palace Police, and so on. For extra security, the jurisdictions of these various polices overlapped. The Ministry of Police had in fact been created during the Revolution, when its last annual budget was 1.1 million francs; under Napoleon, its budget began at 1.5 million and climbed over the course of a decade to 2.0 million, not counting secret expenditures. Napoleon inherited, along with the Ministry of Police, its minister, Joseph Fouché. Fouché immediately added three hundred informers for Paris alone to his payroll, and he hired spies in every corner of France to watch for signs of disaffection; using these sources he composed daily bulletins for Napoleon’s perusal. Napoleon and Fouché have been called two of the founders of the modern police state.[17]

The crepuscular Fouché was another rebel turned anti-rebel. Before the Revolution he had been a teacher in Nantes and Arras, where he met Robespierre. During the Revolution he was a moderate deputy in the National Assembly and National Convention until the trial of the king, whom he voted to execute; a radical Jacobin thereafter and one of two men responsible for conducting the Reign of Terror in Lyon, where at least two thousand were executed in five months; and finally a leader, perhaps the leader, of the shadowy group that overthrew Robespierre on the ninth of Thermidor. As minister of police under the Directory, the Consulate, and the Empire, Fouché thwarted numerous groups of rebels, such as the Olympiens, an anti-Bonapartist secret society within the armed forces whose demise Vidocq recounts in his Mémoires. After learn-ing of the society’s existence, Fouché sent a man named Bertrand to infiltrate it. Bertrand was an interrogation specialist whose handiwork was exhibited at the trial of the twelve executed royalist conspirators against Napoleon; one of them appeared in court with his fingers crushed. Vidocq claims to have heard the story of the Olympiens from Bertrand in Boulogne, where he was serving in the navy at that time, but he probably heard it later, when he joined Bertrand at the Prefecture of Police in 1811.[18]

It may be ironic but it also makes perfect sense that successful rebels, who know from their own experience how dangerous such people can be, will, once in power, devote a lot of energy to law and order in general and to preventing in particular the rise of such people as they themselves have been. The first attempt to create a national police force in England was made by Oliver Cromwell.[19] In France, the quarter-century between the outbreak of Revolution and the fall of Napoleon was a period in which many sorts of rebels won victories against lawful society, and after their victories many of the rebels turned into anti-rebels.

They also hired outlaws as law enforcers. The Napoleonic regime hired the outlaw Vidocq as a prison informer, promoted him to undercover police officer, and then put him in charge of a new detective department, the first such department in the history of European policing, all within the space of three years. Vidocq describes the turning point in his life, which took place in 1809, in his Mémoires:

The more I looked into the souls of criminals, the more they revealed themselves to me, the more I was persuaded to sympathize with the society on which these parasites fed.…Resolved, whatever might come of it, to take my stand against them in the interests of decent people, I wrote to M. Henry to offer him my services again, making no other condition than that I not be sent back to the galleys, and resigning myself to finishing my sentence in any jail he might choose.…M. Henry submitted my offer to the prefect of police, M. Pasquier, who decided that it would be accepted.

Actually Dubois held the post of prefect in 1809, but Pasquier was prefect in 1811 when Vidocq, after having served in the interval as an informer in the prisons of Bicêtre and La Force, was allowed to escape, so that he could continue his undercover work on the outside.[20]

Thus, in March 1811, Vidocq secretly joined the Paris police force. He captured several elusive counterfeiters, including the one with whom he had been staying at the time of his own capture two years earlier. He foiled several robbery attempts in flagrante delicto, including one in which he pretended to be shot by police agents swooping in, so as to preserve his undercover status: “Not a single day went by that I did not make the most important discoveries; not a single crime was committed or was soon to be committed of which I did not know all the circumstances; I was everywhere, I knew everything, and the authorities, when I called upon them to intervene, were never misled by my information.” [21]

Official recognition came quickly to Vidocq. Within a year of his joining the police, the Prefecture created a new unit, the Brigade de Sûreté (Security Brigade), specifically to assist him in his work. Vidocq received the title chef de la Sûreté and offices near those of the Prefecture itself, in the Palais de Justice, at the opposite end of the île de la Cité from Notre Dame cathedral. To start with, the new chef de la Sûreté had only four agents. However, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814–15, Vidocq recalls in his Mémoires, unemployed former soldiers and prisoners of war began to stream back to a country and a capital already in economic distress, threatening to produce a serious crime wave. In part as a levee against this surge, and in part because the Brigade de Sûreté was taking on tasks formerly done by other units, the Prefecture expanded it. By 1827, when Vidocq resigned, the brigade had twenty-eight agents.

The brigade’s expansion resulted above all from its success. Despite having been promoted to chef de la Sûreté, Vidocq still descended into the streets himself in order to track down and arrest particularly wanted and notorious criminals. “Without wishing to seek glory for what I did, I can say that the boldest were seized by me.” Thus Vidocq alone captured the fugitive younger Delzève, after his tracing of a horse’s nosebag left at the scene of a robbery had already led to the seizure of the elder Delzève and the rest of their gang of thieves. The gang had been pursued since 1810; Vidocq presented Delzève to Henry on 1 January 1813, as a holiday gift. Vidocq had spent a cold New Year’s Eve waiting outside his quarry’s door in a dung heap, keeping warm and hidden until the latter showed himself, whereupon the policeman emerged. He made a similar gift to Pasquier on New Year’s Day 1814, following a long and painstaking search for the escapee Fossard, during which he assumed the disguise of a prison escapee himself, then of a businessman, and finally of a coal dealer.[22] Vidocq’s Mémoires effervesce with anecdotes of such arrests.

In 1823, Vidocq and several of his agents climbed aboard a Lyon-Paris stagecoach that was due to be held up, he had learned, in the Forest of Sénart, a short distance southeast of the capital. When the robbers struck, he and his men burst out of the coach, guns blazing away. The affair gained Vidocq a lot of publicity: Newspapers covered the trial of the robbers, and street hawkers sold prints and broadsides describing the sylvan adventure. Vidocq himself was injured in the arm during the attack, whether by a bullet or by a fall from the coach is not clear.[23]

Vidocq proved as adept at gaining convictions as at finding malefactors and making arrests. He continued to work undercover and sometimes contrived to get involved with a group planning a “job,” which enabled him to be on the scene at the crucial moment to catch the crooks red-handed. It was in this manner that he caught the Corvets, husband and wife: “I quite simply went along with their proposal.” On other occasions it was necessary to get arrested suspects to make damaging admissions. Once he posed as a political prisoner and had himself locked up for a couple of weeks in a cell with a counterfeiter in order to win the latter’s confidence and learn where his machinery was being stored. Another time Vidocq managed, in separate interrogations, to get four thieves to incriminate one another by telling each of them that one of his confederates had already informed on him. In a third instance, Vidocq persuaded the twenty-year-old murderer of a prostitute to confess by telling him that, as a minor, he could only be punished with a short prison term. On the basis of his confession, the murderer received the death sentence.[24]

In order to show the readers of his Mémoires “the importance of the operations of the Brigade de Sûreté,” Vidocq presents a “recapitulation of arrests made during the year 1817”: 15 murderers; 341 thieves; 38 receivers of stolen goods; 14 escaped convicts; 43 parole violators; 46 forgers, swindlers, confidence men; 229 vagabonds and suspicious types expelled from Paris; 46 objects of the prefect’s warrants; 39 searches and seizures of stolen goods; 811 total. In less than seven years, Vidocq estimates, the brigade had arrested more than four thousand lawbreakers and had nearly wiped out whole categories of crime. By the mid-1820s, the brigade was keeping twelve hundred ex-convicts under surveillance and executing four hundred to five hundred warrants annually.[25]

Vidocq was a controversial figure in the Prefecture. Henry, who remained his superior after his promotion to chef de la Sûreté, steadfastly supported him while collecting a box full of complaints against him made by other policemen. Vidocq’s previous career spent on the other side of the law cast a long shadow. He mainly, or perhaps even exclusively, hired ex-convicts to serve in his police unit. Defendants in robbery cases tried several times to implicate him in crimes. In a celebrated instance, four of Vidocq’s own agents, who were taken in the act of committing a theft in 1823, accused him of furnishing both the suggestion and a tool used in the attempt. Nothing was ever proven against him, however. In 1818, Pasquier, by then minister of justice, arranged for Vidocq to receive, as a sign of confidence in him and of his regained state of innocence, a pardon for the Lille forgery conviction. “The court of Douai proclaimed that the rights that had been taken away from me by an error of justice were finally restored to me,” Vidocq writes, mistaking a pardon for a correction.[26]

By the time Vidocq resigned from the police in 1827 he had built up a successful career, a modicum of celebrity, and a fortune of around half a million francs. Although he received bonuses and rewards for bringing particularly important cases to a satisfactory conclusion, his annual salary was only five thousand francs, so it is evident that he had other sources of income. At one point he owned a tavern, and he may also have invested in property. He may have lent money to bad credit risks, and he may also have bought bills of credit for loans that were past due and judged to be uncollectible. For conscripts seeking to avoid military service he arranged to provide substitutes, a legitimate business, although he was accused of acquiring the substitutes at no cost from among his arrestees.[27]

Just as Vidocq’s activities earlier had caused honest society to expel him toward outlaw society, so his activities later caused outlaw society to expel him back in the direction of honest society. As informer, undercover agent, disloyal accomplice, and perhaps provocateur, then as head of police detectives, purveyor of substitute conscripts, and perhaps loan shark, he preyed on outlaw society as he had earlier, while a confessed thief and swindler, preyed on honest society. Born a member of honest society, he became an outlaw, then a member of outlaw society, and eventually an outlaw to outlaw society. At that point, not surprisingly, honest society showed a reluctance to reassimilate him; it received him only provisionally, on the negative principle that “an enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Since he was determined to live by taking advantage of people, better that he take advantage of other malefactors than of honest citizens. Vidocq the detective came into being not as the negation but as the mirror-image of Vidocq the outlaw.

An unusual government provided the mirror. The revolutionary regime headed by the ex-rebel Napoleon, and seconded by other ex-rebels such as Fouché, manifested a singular indifference toward the pasts of talented people offering their services to it. With his criminal history, Vidocq’s chances of becoming a policeman during any other regime would have been slight. He proved to be a good risk for the outlaw regime, however, since he faithfully followed the pattern established by the regime’s leaders: Once in office he became an inveterate enemy of outlaws. “In general, a thief who considers himself reformed is pitiless toward his former colleagues; the more enterprising he used to be among them, the more implacable he is now against them,” Vidocq writes, justifying his own hiring of ex-convicts.[28]

The same government facilitated Vidocq’s career in another way. Napoleon’s dramatic expansion of the police provided employment opportunities for more people and allowed for greater specialization among them than ever before. For the first time the police had a special detective department. “Is it not astonishing,” asked Louis Canler, chef de la Sûreté during the 1850s, “that so many years had passed before the authorities thought of this simple idea, to gather into a single unit a group of individuals solely concerned with tracking crime, foiling thieves, and arresting criminals?” [29] But ideas, even simple ones, grow out of contexts, and the context necessary to produce this idea did not exist until the Napoleonic regime.

Although Vidocq the outlaw had acquired his job as a policeman in an outlaw regime, when the regime of Louis XVIII, which regarded itself as the legitimate one, replaced the Napoleonic regime in 1814, it retained Vidocq. He had been an outlaw, but not a political one. His apolitical stance benefited him at the beginning of the Restoration and then harmed him at the end of it. By 1827, Henry had retired, and others who had supported him were gone as well. In their places were partisans who expected their subordinates to be both royalists and good Catholics. Vidocq, for his part, did not respect their professional abilities.[30] Thanks to his outlaw past, he had a thorough knowledge of criminals, their methods, their milieu, and their mentality, which was essential to his success as a police detective. The lesson of Vidocq was that to duplicate this success one had to acquire that knowledge. It may be ironic but it also makes perfect sense that an accomplished outlaw would have introduced into the police the specialty of detective.

The modern detective had forerunners in the eighteenth-century police. But the specialty did not develop then. For one thing, Vidocq writes:

The police did not imagine what use could be made of thieves, considering them solely as a means of recreation, and only later thought of entrusting to them some of the vigilance that it is necessary to exercise for the common security.


Whenever a notable foreigner came to visit the capital, the lieutenant-general immediately put the best thieves on his trail, and promised a respectable reward to the one among them who was sufficiently adroit to steal his watch or some other valuable piece of jewelry. Once the theft had been committed, the lieutenant-general was informed of it, and when the foreigner presented himself to make his complaint, he was stupefied, for no sooner had he described the object than it was returned to him.

I have read, in memoirs from the reign of Louis XV, that they [thieves] used to be invited to perform at soirées, just as today one invites, for a fee, the famous prestidigitator M. Comte, or some well-known soprano.[31]

The lieutenant-general of police was the eighteenth-century equivalent of the nineteenth-century prefect of police, and the particular one referred to by Vidocq in this passage was M. de Sartine, who held the office under Louis XV. Sartine, incidentally, also held the office of director of the book trade for a time and protected the Encyclopédie during the middle years of its publication. Among the singularities of Sartine, an early-nineteenth-century police archivist and historian informs us, was

a special taste for wigs; he possessed a collection that was quite remarkable for its size and variety. He had a wig for every occasion, for every one of his functions, for every ceremony, for visiting people of every sort, for receiving people of every sort; he operated on the principle that “all the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players”; he understood that his duties would place him on the boards with other players, who for their part would not be lacking in skill and talent, with whom he would have to struggle.…Were he called upon to interrogate a criminal, he shrouded himself in an enormous wig, put on a stern countenance, and made himself up like the judge in a courtroom drama. To the convict he presented the imperturbability, the theatrical sobriety called for by the role he wanted to play. The convict was his public.

In his use of thieves and in his efforts to overawe them, Sartine was a forerunner of Vidocq. But the mentality of his age precluded him from making use of them in an official capacity, as police detectives.[32] Indeed, he could not have imagined having detectives at all, of whatever background.

The first detective force in Europe may have been London’s Bow Street Runners. In 1749, Henry Fielding, the novelist turned magistrate who heard cases in a courtroom on Bow Street, organized a group of “thief-takers.” It is one of the peculiarities of English history that London had no regular police force until 1829, when Sir Robert Peel’s “bobbies” began making their rounds. Instead, each magistrate had a few unsalaried constables as assistants, conscripted from the citizenry for terms of one year. In addition, private persons had the right to arrest suspected thieves and bring them into court. If a suspect was convicted, the apprehender received a bounty, paid by the government. As a result, some private persons made their livings as thief-takers. Fielding persuaded six men who had been among his constables to continue working for him as thieftakers after their terms of service had expired. He used these Bow Street Runners as plain-clothes investigators. Although it had had some notable successes, his detective force was hardly launched when he died in 1754 at the age of only forty-seven. But his half-brother, John Fielding, succeeded him as Bow Street magistrate, presiding there for twenty-five years, continuing the Runners, and organizing the citywide uniformed Horse Patrol, a predecessor of Peel’s bobbies. With their policy of “quick notice and sudden pursuit,” the Bow Street Runners, working in conjunction with the constables, broke up several gangs of thieves and brought many criminals to justice. The Fieldings boasted that, on learning of a crime, they “would immediately despatch a set of brave fellows in pursuit, who…are always ready to set out to any part of this town or kingdom, on a quarter of an hour’s notice.” Bow Street became known as the place to report crimes, the records of which were catalogued in a central registry and in the mind of John Fielding, who, although having lost his sight in an accident at age nineteen, was supposed to have been able to recognize three thousand recidivists by their voices alone. The Bow Street courtroom, where “blind justice” could be seen in person, attracted throngs of spectators from every class of society.[33]

Despite the many and celebrated successes of Bow Street, the Fieldings failed to establish their detective force on a permanent basis. The Runners existed only intermittently and even then generally numbered no more than six. The British government was unwilling to provide regular funding; its citizens were suspicious of the very idea of police; and both were constitutionally resistant to change. And the irregular system of funding on which the Runners relied, whereby they received their pay from crime victims who enlisted their assistance and from government bounties, encouraged abuses—that is, the provocation of crimes or the framing of innocent people in order to collect rewards.[34]

Jonathan Wild is the most notorious example in eighteenth-century England of a criminal thief-taker. His main business was organizing the sale of stolen goods back to their owners, the proceeds of which he shared with the thieves. Daniel Defoe, in his True and Genuine Account of the Life and Actions of the Late Jonathan Wild (1725), explains how Wild worked both with and against thieves: “And sometimes…he has officiously caused the thief or thieves to be taken with the goods upon them, when he has not been able to bring them to comply, and so has made himself both thief and chapman, as the proverb says; getting a reward for the discovery, and bringing the poor wretch to the gallows too, and this only because he could not make his market of him to his mind.” Wild served as the model for the character Peachum in John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera (1728). In addition to Defoe’s short biography and Gay’s play, a full-scale satirical novel, The Life of Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great (1743) was written by Henry Fielding, who witnessed Wild’s hanging in 1725. None of these works presents Wild in a favorable light. In the case of Fielding, although the picaresque form exerted a strong influence on his composition of both Jonathan Wild the Great and Tom Jones (1749), the novelist was soon to be a magistrate and already incapable of seeing an outlaw as a hero. Still less could he imagine the mirror image of the outlaw-hero, the detective-hero.[35]

Though Fielding had been a rather dissolute young man, frequenting brothels, drinking heavily, and gambling away large sums, he always saw criminal society from the outside. He satirized Prime Minister Robert Walpole in Jonathan Wild the Great, comparing him to that notorious governor of thieves, but Walpole’s government was not constituted of former rebels and was not seen as an outlaw regime. It had no impetus to organize a large and repressive police force. Thus, in spite of Fielding’s initiative in assembling a detective force and his great skill as a novelist, he created neither Scotland Yard nor the detective story, both of which, like the word “detective” itself, had to wait for the nineteenth century to appear.[36]

The emergence of the detective as a specialist within the police and the detective-hero as a distinctive figure in literature took place during a period in which outlaws triumphed over established society, that is, during an age of revolution; for the triumphant outlaws, once in power, became obsessed with ferreting out new outlaws. Thus it was Vidocq who, during his tenure as chef de la Sûreté, established the detective department as an enduring part of Western police forces, and who, in his Mémoires, established the detective-hero as an enduring type in Western literature.

Vidocq’s name had occasionally appeared in newspaper and broadsheet accounts of sensational arrests. But his Mémoires, which came out sequentially in four volumes in 1828–29, soon after his resignation from the police, made him famous. Their splash generated waves of supplements and rebuttals, abridgments and revisions, authorized and pirated editions, almost immediately and for long afterward. Vidocq himself realized a small fortune from their sale, something on the order of twenty thousand to forty thousand francs.[37]

Just as in his life Vidocq made a successful transition from outlaw to policeman and in the process created the métier of detective, so in his Mémoires he made a successful transition from sympathetic outlaw to sympathetic policeman and in the process created the detective-hero. The same advantages served him in both cases: his own thorough knowledge of the criminal milieu and mentality as well as unexpected support from within honest society’s institutions, in the first case the police and in the second the publishing industry. That the police would pay a convict such as Vidocq to be an informer was normal; that they would later hire him as a regular agent, irregular. Similarly, for a publisher to turn a convict such as Vidocq into an outlaw-hero was, as we have seen, common; to contract with him to do it himself and to turn himself into a sympathetic policeman later in the same set of memoirs, novel.[38] But just as his transition from criminal to policeman, however unusual, consisted more of his translation than of his transformation, so the parallel literary transition from outlaw-hero to detective-hero consisted primarily of treating the same material from a different point of view.

Thus it did not take much adventurousness on the part of M. Tenon to continue publishing the volumes of Vidocq’s Mémoires after their story had reached the point of their hero’s conversion, especially when the first two volumes were already selling so well. A contemporary court reporter who wrote a biography of Vidocq called the reception of the latter’s Mémoires “an unprecedented succès de curiosité.” That often judicious observer failed to perceive how deep were the roots of the new growth from which would flower the roman judiciaire (crime novel). The above brief look at the tradition and popularity of the outlaw-hero narrative suggested that its relative popularity in a given society seems to be associated with the relative unpopularity of those in power in that society. Tales of Cartouche and Mandrin flourished in the last century of the Old Regime of the Bourbon kings that ended in the French Revolution. Vidocq’s Mémoires appeared late in the Restoration, the fifteen-year span during which the Bourbons ruled again and which ended in the Revolution of 1830. But during the Restoration, together with the bad old government, there was a new industrial economy. As the pace of both industrialization and immigration into Paris began to accelerate, the new capital seemed to be producing above all unemployment, poverty, and crime.[39] A hero who stood for resistance to the injustices of the powerful was again welcome, and one who stood for resistance to both the criminals above and the criminals below was doubly so.

Crime became the object of increasing fear in the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s, and also of increasing fascination. These were the decades when the many popular theaters founded since the 1790s began to set their violent melodramas locally rather than in exotic places, and when their own locale began to be known as the Boulevard du Crime. Reassuringly, in melodramas the good guys always won. Likewise, in his Mémoires, detective Vidocq always got his man. These were also the decades when sociological studies and social reform proposals began to focus on the problem of crime. In Les Voleurs, physiologie de leurs moeurs et de leur langage (Thieves, an Anatomy of their Mores and their Language, 1837), Vidocq published a new collection of crime anecdotes from his seemingly inexhaustible supply, this time organized as a systematic, quasi-scholarly treatise on the subculture of criminals, with particular emphasis on the modus operandi of thieves. A perfect record has characterized fictional detectives, and a mastery of methods—of criminal techniques, of disguise, of reasoning from clues, of identification—has characterized both fictional and factual detectives ever since.[40]

Vidocq acquired his mastery of methods with the help of experience gained during his criminal past. Attempting to escape jail, convict Vidocq had taken on whatever identities were plausible and at hand: prison guard, prison doctor, prison inspector. Detective Vidocq assumed the parts of women as well as men, foreigners as well as Frenchmen, older as well as younger people. He impersonated porters, craftsmen, soldiers, businessmen. And, of course, Vidocq continued to play thieves. They had their own styles of dress: earrings, fur hats half brushed flat and half brushed up, and necklaces made from the hair of a lover, for example; and certain groups of thieves had favorite tailors. The success of a disguise depends not only on dress but also on language. Escapee Vidocq’s knowledge of German helped make him a convincing Austrian soldier; detective Vidocq’s knowledge of the signs, verbal and gestural, used by the homosexual underground enabled him to be taken for one himself; and his knowledge of the argot of criminals helped him continue to gain their acceptance. Linguists and criminologists interested in French argot have drawn heavily on Vidocq, particularly on Les Voleurs, whose overall organization is that of a dictionary of argot, into which an anatomy of thieves’ mores and methods is incorporated.[41]

Vidocq vaunted his skill with clues in a variety of vainglories. In one case, at the end of which he persuaded two would-be murderers to confess, he used the scrap of an envelope found at the scene of the crime as a clue to lead him to them. The scrap showed only the left half of the address, but Vidocq reconstructed it with the aid of his knowledge of criminal hangouts. A horse’s nosebag found at the scene of another crime facilitated his capture of the Delzève gang. Tracing it to a cab, he had the driver arrested, and the latter’s information eventually enabled the police to locate the gang. On a third occasion, Vidocq found a bootprint in the mud near where a robbery had been committed and matched it to a boot of his suspect.[42]

Vidocq’s thorough knowledge of the criminal world was as important to his successful use of clues as his ability to reason from them. Several times he was able to determine who had been responsible for a theft immediately upon learning what was stolen and how. A former prison official, by no means an uncritical admirer of Vidocq, told this story:

I remember that, having gone on prison business to the office of M. Lecrosnier, head of the first division at the Prefecture of Police, the very morning of the day on which the theft was committed, I found him and Vidocq busy examining a piece of a panel from a door. The piece, which contained the door’s lock, had been removed by the method known as “theft à la gimlet” and had just been brought from the Bibliothèque Royale. “What beautiful work!” exclaimed Vidocq, rotating the piece of panel, which was as round as a full moon and fringed with a thousand tiny holes artistically cut on the circumference. “What craftsmanship! What perfection! I know of only one artist capable of doing such pretty work; if he weren’t in prison, I’d say it was him!” “Who, then?” asked M. Lecrosnier. “The famous Fossard,” answered Vidocq. “Fossard! But he escaped eight days ago,” replied M. Lecrosnier, “the Prefect just received the news from Brest.” “Then it’s him.”

Two days later, Vidocq arrested Fossard, who had indeed been responsible for the celebrated robbery of the medal room of the Bibliothèque Royale in 1831.[43] Thus, Vidocq knew thieves’ methods, as he demonstrated at length in Les Voleurs, as well as their characteristic costumes and speech.

He also knew the criminals themselves. In 1833 he opened up a private detective agency with the aid of the files that he had gradually assembled while chef de la Sûreté. By 1842 he had accumulated information on “30,000 crooks of all countries.” This was before the invention of photography or any other reliable means of identification. Vidocq’s files marked a first step toward developing a system for the rapid identification and retrieval of information about criminals. Fingerprinting did not become widely used until the first decade of the twentieth century, and its predecessor, anthropometry, had only caught on in the 1880s. Vidocq systematically memorized faces as an indispensable complement to keeping extensive files. Detectives continued this practice at least until the mid-twentieth century, making regular visits to prisons and carefully observing the prisoners as they walked in a circle in the exercise yard, just as Vidocq had done:

It seemed to me that it would be useful to file away in my memory, as well as possible, the descriptions of all those who had been seized by justice.…Therefore, I asked M. Henry for the authorization to go to Bicêtre with my agents.[44]

Of course, Vidocq had already met many of the convicts at Bicêtre when he had been one of them.

The prosecution of Vidocq in 1843 for some of the activities of his private detective agency reaffirmed his status as detective-hero. Dozens of satisfied clients testified in court to the efficacy of his work. Dr. Koreff, a fashionable physician, suspected spy, salon lion, and mesmerist, told how Vidocq had recovered a pet parrot that had flown away from his house. The detective himself testified with perfect poise, even against hostile questioning. The trial was well attended, monitored by major newspapers, and covered extensively by the courtroom press. The spectators greeted Vidocq’s acquittal with wild applause.[45]

Doubtless encouraged by this public show of support, Vidocq mounted an exhibition in London in 1845, which had such success that he repeated it the following year. Favorable reviews appeared in several newspapers, including the Times:

In another room are to be seen the costumes of all the various grades of society in Paris amongst which swindlers, rogues, thieves and plunderers may be suspected to associate, which costumes are understood to be the actual ones worn by M. Vidocq in his professional capacity, and used by him in discovering and arresting the criminals obnoxious to justice. There is also a variety of daggers, sanguinary weapons, knives, and other horrible implements of murder or mutilation, taken from the perpetrators of crime; and in addition, instruments of torture, as they are called, and manacles, or fetters, with which, it is stated, M. Vidocq himself was secured to prevent his own escape from durance, when, during the vicissitudes of his adventurous life, he fell under the displeasure of the French government. But the principal curiosity in the collection will be found to be M. Vidocq himself, whose appearance is very much what might be anticipated by those who have read his memoirs or heard of his exploits.

In sum, Vidocq had no sooner retired from the police than his own shadow, projected in the newspapers, in his Mémoires, in translations of them, in stage adaptations of his life, and in his own Les Voleurs, began to overtake and obscure him.[46] The detective-hero was born.

Vidocq’s celebrity as a sleuth guaranteed that he would be followed. He became the model for a long line of fictional detectives, some of whom eventually passed the original in notoriety. Balzac, a personal friend of Vidocq, put several of his most prominent features into the reappearing character Vautrin, a famous criminal in a few of the earlier novels of La Comédie humaine (1829–48), the chef de la Sûreté at the end of a late one. Émile Gaboriau introduced the police detective of five best-sellers (1866–69), Monsieur Lecoq, as “an old offender, reconciled to the law.” Pierre-Alexis Ponson du Terrail’s Rocambole began his career as a private detective (1866–70) after many novels in which he had been a criminal (1857–65). While still a criminal he had been pursued by Timoléon, whose author described him as “a thief; then the old police employed him as they had employed Vidocq; then they dismissed him because he continued to steal.” Obviously exasperated by this trend, Edward Bulwer-Lytton created M. Favart, “one of the most renowned chiefs of the great Parisian police—a man worthy to be the contemporary of the illustrious Vidocq,” in order to have a counterfeiter see through his disguise and kill him. O. Henry was satisfied merely to ridicule “Tictocq, the great French detective.” [47]

Literary historians who have studied the detective story credit Vidocq’s Mémoires with having had a decisive influence on the creation of that genre. They define the detective story, or novel—the only difference between the two is length—as a narrative that centers on a mystery, generally surrounding a crime or crimes, that is eventually solved by the reasoning of a detective-hero. Poe, they agree, created the first examples worthy of the name (1841–44). He did not set them in Paris by accident. His hero, C. Auguste Dupin, exhibited an understandable ambivalence toward his predecessor, calling Vidocq “a good guesser and a persevering man. But, without educated thought, he erred continually by the very intensity of his investigations.” The ambivalence of Dupin, or Poe, toward Vidocq was due not only to the fact that the latter had in large part anticipated him, but also to the long-standing French and Anglo-American cultural antipathy to the police; significantly, Dupin was an amateur detective. Vidocq’s success in making himself a hero as a policeman marked only the beginning of a change in attitudes. A continuing if steadily diminishing dislike of the police probably restrained the population of detective-heroes and the popularity of detective stories for some time.[48]

In the meantime—after the languishing of the old picaresque novel with its outlaw-hero, and before the flourishing of the new detective novel with its detective-hero—sprouted the crime novel, often in feuilletons, foliating the naked struggle between criminals and police or just the milieu and mentality of crime. Vidocq’s Mémoires nourished this genre too, providing Eugène Sue, for example, with many ideas for Les Mystères de Paris (The Mysteries of Paris, 1842–43), the enormous success of which prompted Vidocq to respond with his own novel, Les Vrais mystères de Paris (The True Mysteries of Paris, 1845). Balzac effectively defined the crime novel in “La Dernière incarnation de Vautrin” (The Last Incarnation of Vautrin, 1847): “This antagonism between people who seek and avoid each other reciprocally constitutes an immense duel, eminently dramatic, sketched in this study.” [49]

Vidocq’s Mémoires influenced most directly other policemen, who subsequently wrote theirs. Memoirs were published by Henri-Joseph Gisquet (1840), prefect of police during Vidocq’s second term as chef de la Sû-reté; by Marc Caussidière (1849), another prefect; by Louis Canler (1862), another chef de la Sûreté; and others. Jacques Peuchet, a police archivist, showcased his more active colleagues in a six-volume set of Mémoires tirés des archives de la police de Paris (1838). A former policeman named Louis Guyon, a contemporary of Vidocq, produced rather than memoirs several books criticizing the police, including the Brigade de Sûreté, in the process of which, however, he related many of his own experiences. In fact, Gisquet, Canler, and Peuchet, as well as Guyon, all criticized Vidocq personally, often at some length.[50] But just as significantly, Gisquet, Canler, and Guyon each vaunted his own abilities as a detective.

The Sûreté has been regarded as an essential branch of the police ever since it began with Vidocq (in 1811 or 1812). The Metropolitan Police of London copied the idea thirty years later (in 1842), when it founded its Criminal Investigation Department in Scotland Yard. Vidocq’s private detective agency, the Bureau de Renseignements (Information Office, 1833) has also had many imitators, for example, Allan Pinkerton’s North-Western Police Agency (1850), later called the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.[51]

From the robust trunk of Vidocq, the detective-hero ramified in literature and crime-fighting agencies everywhere; and his outlaw-hero roots continued to grow as well. Balzac, for example, glorified many criminals but no detectives. We learn at the end of “La Dernière incarnation de Vau-trin” that the famous outlaw’s last incarnation will be as chef de la Sûreté, but he is never presented in any of Balzac’s novels in that role. In Père Goriot (1834), when he is discovered under the alias Jacques Collin, he defiantly proclaims: “A convict of the stamp of Collin, yours truly, is less of a coward than other men, and he protests against the profound deceptions of the social contract, as did Rousseau, of whom I am proud to call myself the disciple.” And the celebrated poet-thief Lacenaire, awaiting execution (1836) for committing murder during a robbery, recalled: “For a long time I had been unaware of what it was to be a professional thief. But eventually I happened to read the Mémoires of Vidocq and conceived some idea of that class living in a constant state of war against society.” [52]

When Vidocq resigned in 1827 he had completed fifteen years as chef de la Sûreté, after which he wavered between outlaw-hero and detective-hero for the rest of his life. In the first half of his Mémoires (1828–29), as the owner of a paper factory that employed ex-convicts (1828–31), and in a social-reform tract (1844) he played the role of outlaw-hero. In the second half of his Mémoires (1828–29), in his short second term as chef de la Sûreté (1832), and in Les Voleurs (1837) he played the role of detective-hero. As the proprietor of a private detective agency harassed by the police (1833–43), he appeared as outlaw-hero and detective-hero at the same time.

Immediately upon leaving the police in 1827 he became a champion of oppressed ex-convicts. One of the reasons ex-convicts returned to a life of crime after their release from prison was that employers were reluctant to hire them. So in order to give them honest work, Vidocq used part of his fortune to buy a paper and cardboard factory in Saint-Mandé, a suburb of Paris, where he employed them exclusively. Victor Hugo, who also drew heavily on Vidocq in some of his novels, portrayed the difficulty ex-convicts had in reintegrating themselves into honest society in Les Misérables (1862), in which a policeman, Javert, relentlessly pursues the ex-convict hero, Jean Valjean. Javert is introduced as “implacable duty, conceiving the police in the same way the Spartans conceived Sparta, a pitiless watch-dog, a fierce integrity, an informer made of marble, Brutus combined with Vidocq.” Valjean is also drawn after Vidocq in some of his features, including his great physical strength. In the symbolic scene that immediately follows the introduction of Javert, Valjean lifts up by himself an overturned, heavily loaded wagon so that a man trapped underneath can escape. Two decades earlier, immediately after the appearance of Vidocq’s Mémoires, Hugo had dispatched Le Dernier jour d’un condamné (The Last Day of a Condemned Man, 1829), a novel in which he dramatized what he considered the cruelty and inhumanity of capital punishment.[53] Vidocq himself put out a social-reform tract, called Quelques mots sur une question de l’ordre du jour: Réflexions sur les moyens propres à diminuer les crimes et les récidives (A Few Words about a Pressing Matter: Reflections on the Means by Which to Reduce Crime and Recidivism, 1844). Among many other criticisms of the way society treated exconvicts, Vidocq censured the hazardous white-lead industry, one of the few industries that did employ them, many of whom however died of poisoning after only a few years of work there. Unfortunately, Vidocq’s business also had a short life, due at least in part to the prejudice of his neighbors and customers against his employees.[54]

Vidocq returned to his post as chef de la Sûreté for a few months in 1832. The Revolution of 1830 had once again brought about sweeping personnel changes in many branches of administration, including the Pre-fecture of Police.[55] The new prefect, Gisquet, hired Vidocq back as an agent in 1831. After Vidocq arranged a spectacular arrest of eight suspected thieves in a cabaret in March 1832, Gisquet promoted him into his old position. His most striking success in his brief second term consisted in his breaking down barricades and seizing one of the leaders of the Paris insurrection of 5–6 June 1832. Gisquet himself conducted the checkmate of Deschapelles and his republican secret society, whose ill-planned moves on the same occasion represented a less serious threat. Vidocq, for his part in quelling the rebellion, received formal commendations from the inhabitants of the Cité, from Gisquet, from Interior Minister Louis-Adolphe Thiers, and perhaps even from King Louis-Philippe. But his second term ended almost as soon as it began. The trial in the autumn of 1832 of the eight whose arrests had led to his reappointment put him in a bad light. One of his own agents was convicted of complicity in the attempted theft and sentenced to two years in prison; the agent may also have acted as a provocateur. Gisquet forced Vidocq to resign, instituted strict rules regarding the operations of the Brigade de Sûreté, and determined never again to hire ex-convicts as agents. This policy became permanent, thus closing the brief two-decade window of opportunity that had allowed Vidocq to create the profession of police detective.[56] Ironically, Vidocq was permanently shut out of a specialty that had become permanent thanks to his demonstration of its usefulness.

So in 1833 he opened his own detective agency, the Bureau de Renseignements dans l’Intérêt du Commerce (Commercial Information Office), in the galerie Vivienne, just north of the Palais-Royal.[57] At first he simply offered to inform clients whether a prospective trading partner was a legitimate businessman or a swindler. In order to indicate the magnitude of this problem, and thus the potential magnitude of his help, Vidocq in his prospectus estimated at “36 to 40 millions, at the least, the sum that they [swindlers] annually siphon away from honest commerce.” For his part, he was looking for a use to which to apply his vast knowledge of the population of criminal society. A few years later he began to offer his detective skills as well as his knowledge: “I accepted all sorts of surveillance, research, and investigation work, not only in the interests of commerce, but also in the interests of families.” He built up his agency to the point where he had eight thousand clients and twenty employees. Unfortunately for Vidocq, the police regarded it as a kind of unofficial, indeed illegal, rival. They made two major efforts to close it down and ultimately succeeded. Twice, in 1837 and again in 1842, the police seized his files, the heart of his operation, and took him to court. And twice the public acclaimed his acquittal, but the ravagings of his files, the interruptions in his business, the months he spent in jail waiting for his trials to begin, and the cost of mounting his defenses ruined his agency. It is clear from the description of contemporary journalists that if Vidocq suffered a material defeat, he won at the same time a moral and popular victory.[58] He made himself a detective-hero and an outlaw-hero simultaneously.

During the Second Republic (1848–51) Vidocq was reduced to taking jobs as a political spy in Paris and London, where he monitored the activities of various intriguers, including the ambitious Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the first Napoleon’s nephew. Louis-Napoleon had spent several years in French prisons following failed coup attempts, but in 1851 he succeeded and named himself Emperor Napoleon III. As he began to create what one historian has called “the police state of Louis-Napoleon,” Vidocq importuned him with letters in which he professed his total commitment to Bonapartism and solicited a government pension. Vidocq died in poverty a few years later.[59]

Americans may be interested in the origins of their own famous police detective agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation: It was founded in 1908 by the attorney general of the United States, Charles Joseph Bonaparte, second cousin of Napoleon III and great-nephew of Napoleon I.


All translations of quotations from other languages into English are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

1. Frédéric Masson and Guido Biagi, eds., Napoléon inconnu: Papiers inédits (1786–1793), 2 vols. (Paris: Ollendorf, 1895).

2. On Paoli’s request for a constitution: Rousseau, Confessions, in Oeuvres complètes, vol. 1, pp. 648–52. See also comte de Las Cases, Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, ed. Marcel Dunan, 2 vols. (Paris: Flammarion, 1951), vol. 1, pp. 111–16 (Napoleon’s scorn for his superior officers); vol. 2, pp. 301–2 (Napoleon’s scorn for Louis XVI); vol. 1, pp. 698–99 (Napoleon’s scorn for the Directory). The source of the “regeneration” quotation: Jean Tulard, Napoléon, ou Le mythe du sauveur (Paris: Fayard, 1977), p. 448. The source of the “novel” quotation: Las Cases, Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, vol. 1, p. 806. On Napoleon’s claim to be the heir of the Revolution: ibid., passim—e.g., vol. 1, pp. 495–96; vol. 2, pp. 544–46; Jean Tulard, Le Mythe de Napoléon (Paris: Colin, 1971), passim, esp. the chap. entitled “La Création du mythe”; idem, Napoléon, ou Le mythe du sauveur, passim, esp. the chap. entitled “La légende.”

3. Pícaro is Spanish for “rogue.” A vestige of the picaresque’s origins appears even in Smollett’s Roderick Random, where the hero’s father is a Scot turned Spanish don. On characteristics of the picaresque novel: William Rose Benét, The Reader’s Encyclopedia (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), p. 785; Northrop Frye, Sheridan Baker, and George Perkins, The Harper Handbook to Literature (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), pp. 347–48; Ulrich Wicks, “Picaresque,” in Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs, ed. Jean-Charles Seigeuret, 2 vols. (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1988), vol. 2, pp. 974–83. On Le Neveu de Rameau and Confessions as picaresque: A. R. Strugnell, “Di-derot’s Neveu de Rameau: Portrait of a Rogue in the French Enlightenment,” in Knaves and Swindlers: Essays on the Picaresque Novel in Europe, ed. Christine J. Whitbourn (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), pp. 93–111.

4. For examples of how the outlaw-hero was portrayed in the eighteenth-century popular press: Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits (New York: Pantheon, 1981), illustrations 1–10 between pp. 80 and 81, and the illustrations on pp. 57 and 128. On the popularity of the pamphlet Histoire de Cartouche: Barthélemy Maurice, Cartouche, histoire authentique recueillie pour la première fois (Paris: Laisné, 1859), cited in Frantz Funck-Brentano, Les Brigands (Paris: Hachette, 1924), p. 182. On the popularity of the pamphlet Histoire de Mandrin: Frantz Funck-Brentano, Mandrin, capitaine général des contrebandiers de France (Paris: Hachette, 1908), p. 530. This pamphlet, perhaps the most widely disseminated of those on Mandrin, vilified him, but other publications glorified him; ibid., chap. 40, “Remous d’opinion.” On the popularity of plays about Cartouche: Funck-Brentano, Brigands, p. 213. On the treatment of outlaw-heroes in high-culture literature: Marc-Antoine Le Grand, Cartouche; ou, Les voleurs (play, staged 1721); Nicolas Racot de Granval, Le Vice puni; ou, Cartouche (poem, 1723); François-Antoine Chevrier, La Mandrinade, poeme heroi-comique (1758); [Joseph Terrier de Cléron], Abbrégé de la vie de Louis Mandrin, chef des contrebandiers en France (1755); Sir Walter Scott, Rob Roy (novel, 1817); William Harrison Ainsworth, Rookwood (novel about Turpin, 1834). Hobsbawm, Bandits, p. 127, calls the eighteenth century “the golden age of bandit-heroes.”

5. The source of the quotation on “Robin Hood criminals”: Paul Kooistra, Criminals as Heroes: Structure, Power, and Identity (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University, 1989), p. 38. See also ibid., chap. 2, “Theories of the Heroic Criminal”; Hobsbawm, Bandits, chap. 1, “What Is Social Banditry?”; Diderot, Neveu de Rameau, in Oeuvres, p. 446; Funck-Brentano, Brigands, pp. 183–85 (character of Cartouche), 232, 234, 240 (character of Mandrin), 201 (Cartouche and Philippe II); idem, Mandrin, pt. 3, “La Carrière de Mandrin” (the six “campaigns” of 1754–55 made by Mandrin’s “army”), pt. 5, “La Fin des fermiers généraux” (their effect on the system of taxfarming).

6. The source of the “sole portrait” quotation: Rousseau, Confessions, in Oeuvres complètes, vol. 1, p. 3; he expresses the same idea on p. 516; again and again he emphasizes both his candor and his uniqueness, although not always, as in these two passages, in the same breath. On Rousseau’s meting out of blame: ibid., pp. 31 (engraver), 82–83 (countess), 271, 219–220, 391–92 (divorcée), 316 (prostitutes). The sources of the last two quotations: ibid., pp. 359 (“my confession”), 639 (“behind my errors”).

7. A twentieth-century biography of Vidocq is titled Vidocq, Picaroon of Crime; at least that is the title that appears on the book’s cover; see Philip John Stead, Vidocq, A Biography (this is the title as it appears on the title page) (New York: Roy, [1954?]). “Picaroon” is an alternative form of “picaro.”

8. [Eugène-François] Vidocq, Mémoires, ed. Jean Burnat (Paris: Les Productions de Paris, 1959; first published in 4 vols. in Paris, 1828–29), pp. 67–78. On “Comus,” see the works cited below, chapter 6, note 30.

9. Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 78–89; Jean Savant, La Vie fabuleuse et authentique de Vidocq (Paris: Seuil, [1950]), chap. 2.

10. Vidocq, Mémoires, p. 93.

11. Ibid., pp. 93–106.

12. Ibid., pp. 106–8, 132–53; [Eugène-François Vidocq], À M. le Président et MM. les Conseilleurs composant la Chambre des appels de police correctionelle de la Cour royale de Paris (Paris: Beaulé, [1843]), p. 4; idem, Le Procès de Vidocq, documents originaux présentés et commentés par Jean Savant (Paris: Club du Meilleur Livre, 1956), p. 26.

13. On events in Vidocq’s life, 1798–1809: Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 153–296. The sources of Vidocq’s quotations: ibid., pp. 177 (“classical zeal”), 277 (“loves of my life”), 296 (“anywhere one might have found four ex-convicts”), 142 (“to escape the depths of poverty”), 166 (“it did not enter at all into my plans”), 279 (“the persuasion that it would be forbidden”).

14. The source of the quotation: “Bulletin de l’Assemblée nationale,” Le Moniteur universel, 5 April 1791 (no. 95), p. 390 (décret de l’Assemblée nationale, 4 April 1791). The remains of Mirabeau, Voltaire, and Beaurepaire were placed in the Pantheon in 1791; Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, Marat, and Rousseau between 1792 and 1794; Mirabeau’s remains were removed in 1794, Marat’s in 1795, leaving only four “great men of the epoch of French liberty.” Since the Revolution, the remains of several heroes of later periods of French history have been installed in the Pantheon. See Tulard, Fayard, and Fierro, Histoire et dictionnaire de la Révolution, p. 1017.

On Rousseaulatry: Joan McDonald, Rousseau and the French Revolution, 1762–1791 (London: University of London, 1965), chap. 12, “The Revolution-ary Cult of Rousseau”; Daniel Mornet, Rousseau (Paris: Hatier, 1950), pt. 4, chap. 4, “L’Influence générale de Rousseau avant la Révolution,” and pp. 88, 105.

15. Gérard Walter, Robespierre (Paris: Gallimard, 1946), pp. 99–100 (restrictions on the power of government officials), 110–12 (abolition of the death penalty), 307–15 (insurrection of 10 August 1792), 353–59 (debate on fate of king, executed on 21 January 1793, after a trial did in fact take place, at which Robespierre voted for the death penalty), 369–71 (insurrection of 2 June 1793). See also François Furet and Denis Richet, La Révolution française (Paris: Hachette, 1973), pp. 155 (insurrection of 10 August 1792), 178–80 (debate on execution of king), 199–202 (insurrection of 2 June 1793). Robespierre, of course, was also an admirer of Rousseau; Walter, Robespierre, pp. 22–24, 72, 565–67; McDonald, Rousseau and the French Revolution, p. 171.

16. Tulard, Napoléon, ou Le mythe du sauveur, pp. 131–34 (Vendée), 168–70 (royalist conspiracy, Moreau, Bourbon prince), 278–79, 319 (censorship), 317–18 (Imperial University), 164–65 (Senate, Legislative Body). See also these articles in Dictionnaire Napoléon: idem, “Vendée,” pp. 1708–9; idem, “Cadoudal,” p. 322; Jean-Paul Bertaud, “Pichegru,” p. 1329; idem, “Moreau,” pp. 1198–99; idem, “Enghien,” pp. 663–65; Tulard, “Censure,” p. 395; Alfred Fierro-Domenech, “Édition,” pp. 641–43; André Cabanis, “Presse,” pp. 1397–1404; Tulard, “Théâtres,” p. 1634; Jean-Louis Halperin, “Sénat,” pp. 1562–65; idem, “Corps législatif,” pp. 511–14.

17. For Ministry of Police figures: Louis Madelin, Fouché, 1759–1820, 2 vols. (Paris: Plon, 1930), vol. 1, pp. 481–82, 287. On Fouché’s bulletins: Ernest d’Hauterive, ed., La Police secrète du premier Empire: Bulletins quotidiens adressés par Fouché à l’Empereur, 5 vols. (vols. 1–3: Paris: Perrin, 1908–22; vols. 4, 5: Paris: Clavreuil, 1963–64). On the First Empire as the prototype police state: Peter de Polnay, Napoleon’s Police (London: Allen, 1970), pp. 1, 40; Brian Chapman, Police State (New York: Praeger, 1970), pp. 27–33. The most balanced and knowledgeable historian of the First Empire refers to “le caractère policier pris peu à peu par le régime”; Tulard, Napoléon, ou Le mythe du sauveur, p. 320.

18. On the events of Fouché’s life: Madelin, Fouché, vol. 1, pp. 13–20 (teacher in Arras), 15–17 (acquaintance with Robespierre), 41–54 (moderate deputy), 54 (vote for king’s execution), 54–144 (radical Jacobin), 119–44 (Reign of Terror in Lyon), 148 (at least two thousand executed), 144–80 (leader of overthrow of Robespierre). On the Olympiens and Bertrand: Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 260–67; Ch[arles] Nodier, Souvenirs, épisodes et portraits pour servir à l’histoire de la Révolution et de l’Empire, 2 vols. (Brussels: Hauman, 1831), vol. 2, pp. 38–40; Jean Tulard, “Bertrand,” in Dictionnaire Napoléon, p. 207.

19. Patrick Pringle, Hue and Cry: The Story of Henry and John Fielding and Their Bow Street Runners ([New York:] Morrow, [1955]), p. 16.

20. Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 299–300; Savant, Vie fabuleuse et authentique, pp. 156–60; Jean Tulard, “Dubois” and “Pasquier,” in Dictionnaire Napoléon, pp. 620 and 1312, respectively.

21. Vidocq, Mémoires, p. 320.

22. For information on Vidocq’s police career: ibid., pp. 308–61 (Vidocq’s quotation is on p. 361).

23. [Eugène-François] Vidocq, Les Voleurs; histoires de voleurs et autres criminels, portraits de voleurs, les spécialités des voleurs, le langage de voleurs, ed. Jean Savant (Paris: Éditions de Paris, 1957; first published 1837), pt. 1, chap. 14, “L’Affaire de la forêt de Sénart”; [Louis-François L’Héritier de l’Ain], Supplément aux Mémoires de Vidocq, 2 vols. (Paris: Marchands de Nouveautés, 1831), vol. 2, chap. 14, “Les Bandits,” chap. 15, “L’Attaque,” chap. 16, “L’Enterrement”; Le Moniteur universel, 16–21 March 1824, pp. 301–22, passim; Froment [pseud. of Louis Guyon], La Police dévoilée, depuis la restauration, 3 vols. (Paris: Lemonnier, 1829), vol. 1, chap. entitled “La Forêt de Sénart”; Stead, Vidocq, A Biography, pp. 96–99. A contemporary popular engraving entitled “Vidocq arrète des brigands qui attaquaient la diligence, dans la forêt de Sénart” is reproduced in Vidocq, Procès de Vidocq, between pp. 32 and 33.

24. On the Corvet case: Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 376–79. On the counterfeiter case: idem, Voleurs, 1957 ed., pt. 1, chap. 1, “L’Affaire Marie”; L’Héritier de l’Ain, Supplément aux Mémoires de Vidocq, vol. 2, chap. 1, “Le Prévenu,” chap. 2, “L’Intimité,” chap. 3, “La Trahison.” On the four thieves case: Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 422–33. On the twenty-year-old murderer case: idem, Voleurs, 1957 ed., pt. 1, chap. 3, “L’Assassinat de la Belle Normande”; L’Héritier de l’Ain, Supplément aux Mémoires de Vidocq, vol. 1, chap. 17, “La Minorité.”

25. Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 356–57, 439, 361.

26. On complaints and accusations against Vidocq: Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 369–84; Barthélemy Maurice, Vidocq, vie et aventures (Paris: Laisné, 1858), p. 70. The source of Vidocq’s quotation: Vidocq, Mémoires, p. 366. Concerning the pardon: Maurice, Vidocq, vie et aventures, p. 139; Stead, Vidocq, A Biography, pp. 87–88. It was not until 1828 that the court of Douai publicly confirmed the pardon that Vidocq had received ten years earlier.

27. Maurice, Vidocq, vie et aventures, pp. 76–78; Stead, Vidocq, A Biography, pp. 117–20; [Louis] Guyon, Biographie des commissaires de police et des officiers de paix de la ville de Paris (Paris: Goullet, 1826), pp. 234–37.

28. Vidocq, Mémoires, p. 382.

29. Louis Canler, Mémoires de Canler, 2 vols. (Paris: Roy, 1882), vol. 1, p. 185.

30. Maurice, Vidocq, vie et aventures, pp. 140, 158; Canler, Mémoires, vol. 1, pp. 43–44, chap. 14, “La Congrégation à la préfecture de police”; Froment, Police dévoilée, vol. 1, “Essai historique”; Anon., Le Livre noir de MM. Delavau et Franchet, 4 vols. (Paris: Moutardier, 1829), vol. 1, pp. 3–4 and n; J[acques] Peuchet, Mémoires tirés des archives de la police de Paris, 6 vols. (Paris: Levavasseur, 1838), vol. 5, pp. 308–11.

31. Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 369, 368.

32. The source of the quotation: Peuchet, Mémoires tirés des archives, vol. 2, pp. 362–63. For information on Sartine: Joseph Le Gras, Diderot et l’Encyclopédie (Paris: Malfère, 1942), pp. 137–38, 147, 159–60; Philip John Stead, The Police of Paris (London: Staples, 1957), pp. 56–57. Sartine, like many other police officials, did hire ex-convicts as informers; Léon Ameline, Ce qu’il faut connaître de la police et de ses mystéres (Paris: Boivin, 1926), p. 51.

33. The source of the quotation: Battestin, Henry Fielding, p. 579. See also Jürgen Thorwald, The Century of the Detective, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965), pp. 37–38; Pringle, Hue and Cry, passim, esp. p. 115; Gilbert Armitage, The History of the Bow Street Runners, 1729–1829 (London: Wishart, [1932]), intro. and chaps. 1, 2, 3; Battestin, Henry Fielding, pp. 499–502, 577–80; [Alexander] R[onald] Leslie-Melville, The Life and Work of Sir John Fielding (London: Lincoln Williams, [1935]), passim.

34. Armitage, History of the Runners, pp. 258, 263, 266; Pringle, Hue and Cry, pp. 13–15, 129, 209.

35. The source of the quotation: Daniel Defoe, The True and Genuine Account of the Life and Action of the Late Jonathan Wild, included in the Penguin edition of Henry Fielding, Jonathan Wild (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1982), pp. 234–35. On Wild as a model for Peachum: William Henry Irving, John Gay, Favorite of the Wits (New York: Russell and Russell, 1962), p. 203; Pringle, Hue and Cry, p. 29. On Fielding at Wild’s hanging: Battestin, Henry Fielding, p. 46. On the influence of the picaresque form on Fielding: Frye, Baker, and Perkins, Harper Handbook to Literature, p. 348; Benét, Reader’s Encyclopedia, pp. 785–86. The source of the idea that the detective-hero began as the mirror image of the outlaw-hero: Frank Wadleigh Chandler, The Literature of Roguery, 2 vols. (New York: Franklin, 1958; reprint of 1st ed., 1907), vol. 2, p. 524.

36. On Fielding as a dissolute young man: Battestin, Henry Fielding, pp. 145–48. On Jonathan Wild the Great as a satire of Walpole: ibid., pp. 280–81, 372–73; Pringle, Hue and Cry, p. 29. The first occurrence in print of the word “detective” was in 1843, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

37. Vidocq, Procès de Vidocq, pp. 64–65; Maurice, Vidocq, vie et aventures, p. 141.

38. Vidocq’s Mémoires were put into final form by professional writers, vol. 1 by Émile Morice, and vols. 2, 3, and 4 by Louis-François L’Héritier de l’Ain; Joseph-Marie Quérard, Les Supercheries littéraires dévoilées, 3 vols. (Paris: Daffis, 1869–70), vol. 3, p. 945.

39. The source of the quotation: Maurice, Vidocq, vie et aventures, p. 141. On the fears of the new Paris: Chevalier, Laboring Classes and Dangerous Classes, bk. 2, intro., “The Contemporary Diagnosis.”

40. On the Boulevard du Crime: [François-] Victor Fournel, Le Vieux Paris: Fêtes, jeux et spectacles (Paris: Valtat, 1979; reprint of Tours ed., 1887), pp. 147–48; Robert Baldick, La Vie de Frédérick Lemaître: Le lion du boulevard, trans. Roger Lhombreaud (Paris: Denoël, 1961), pp. 39–41. On the new criminology of the first half of the nineteenth century: Chevalier, Laboring Classes and Dangerous Classes, bk. 1, chap. 5, “The Social Literature.” On Vidocq’s contribution: E F[rançois] Vidocq, Les Voleurs, physiologie de leurs moeurs et de leur langage (Paris: Author, 1837). The method used by detectives has traditionally been referred to as “deduction,” perhaps most famously by Sherlock Holmes. Some have argued that it is rather “induction”; Régis Messac, Le “Detective novel” et l’influence de la pensée scientifique (Paris: Champion, 1929), pp. 33–38. A historian has proposed that it represents a third paradigm of reasoning, which he refers to as the “evidential paradigm” or “firâsa”; Carlo Ginzburg, “Clues: Roots of an Evidential Paradigm,” in Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, trans. John and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), pp. 96–125.

41. Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 528 (thieves’ styles), 220 (Vidocq’s German), 459–60 (homosexuals’ signs). For books drawing on Vidocq’s knowledge of argot: Francisque Michel, Études de philologie comparée sur l’argot (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1856), intro.; Louis-Mathurin Moreau-Christophe, Le Monde des coquins, 2 vols. (Paris: Dentu, 1863–65), vol. 1, pp. 211–25; Albert Barrère, Argot and Slang: A New French and English Dictionary (London: Bell, 1911), passim; L. Sainéan, Les Sources de l’argot ancien, 2 vols. (Paris: Champion, 1912), vol. 2, pp. 4–12, 104–8.

42. Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 481–87 (envelope), 331 (nosebag), 416–22 (bootprint).

43. The source of the quotation: Moreau-Christophe, Monde des coquins, vol. 2, pp. 44–45; see also Jean Savant, “Le Vol du Cabinet des médailles,” Historia, no. 79 (June 1953): 619–26.

44. The source of the quotation (“it would be useful to file away in my memory”): Vidocq, Mémoires, p. 405. Vidocq, À M. le Président, p. 10 (“30,000 crooks”); Thorwald, Century of the Detective, pp. 4–8 (Vidocq’s files), chap. 1, “The Ineradicable Mark” (anthropometry and fingerprinting); idem, La Grande aventure de la criminologie, trans. J. M. Ursyn (Paris: Michel, 1967; French ed. of Century of the Detective), plate facing p. 16 (detectives observing prisoners in exercise yard). Louis Daguerre took the first photographs in 1839.

45. On Vidocq’s trial of 1843: Vidocq, À M. le Président; Vidocq, Procès de Vidocq, pts. 3, 4; Eugène Roch, “Procès de Vidocq,” L’Observateur des tribunaux 11 (1843): 209–344; Maurice (also a court reporter), Vidocq, vie et aventures, pp. 225–85; Le Moniteur universel, 6 May 1843, p. 1000, and 23 July 1843, p. 1922. On Dr. Koreff: Marietta Martin, Un Aventurier intellectuel sous la Restauration et la Monarchie de juillet: Le docteur Koreff (1783–1851) (Paris: Champion, 1925).

46. The source of the quotation: Times (London), 9 June 1845, p. 6. For contemporary translations of Vidocq’s Mémoires: Eugène-François Vidocq, Memoirs of Vidocq, 4 vols., trans. uncredited (London, 1828–29; vols. 1 and 2 published by Hunt and Clarke, vols. 3 and 4 by Whittaker, Treacher, and Arnot); idem, Aus dem Leben und den Memoiren eines ehemaligen Galeerensclaven…, 8 vols. in 2, trans. uncredited (Stuttgart: n.p., 1829); idem, Anteckningar af Vidocq, chef för säkerhets-polisen i Paris till år 1827…, 2 vols., trans. uncredited (Stockholm: Carlson, 1829–30). For stage adaptations: Douglas William Jerrold, Vidocq, The French Police Spy, first performed at the Surrey Theatre, London, 1829; Honoré de Balzac, Vautrin, first performed at the Théâtre Porte-Saint-Martin, Paris, 1840.

47. On Balzac’s friendship with Vidocq: Léon Gozlan, Balzac in Slippers, trans. Hughes, Hughes, Boyd, and O’Neill (New York: McBride, 1929), pt. 5. Balzac’s character Vautrin has a large role in three novels: Père Goriot (1834), Les Illusions perdues (1837–43), and Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes (1838–47); pt. 4 of the last named is entitled “La Dernière incarnation de Vautrin,” at the end of which he becomes chef de la Sûreté. The source of Gaboriau’s quotation: Émile Gaboriau, The Widow Lerouge (New York: Scribner, 1900; first published as L’Affaire Lerouge in Paris, 1866), p. 10. The source of Ponson du Terrail’s quotation: Pierre-Alexis Ponson du Terrail, La Résurrection de Rocambole (1866), quoted in Messac, Le “Detective novel,” bk. 5, chap. 5, “Les Exploits de Rocambole,” p. 487. The source of Bulwer Lytton’s quotation: Edward Bulwer Lytton, Night and Morning (New York: Cassell, n.d.; first published 1845), p. 196. On O. Henry’s character Tictocq: O. Henry [pseud. of William Sydney Porter], “Tictocq, the Great French Detective in Austin” and “Tracked to Doom, or The Mystery of the Rue de Peychaud,” in Collected Stories of O. Henry, ed. Paul J. Horowitz (New York: Avenel, 1979), pp. 1–5 and 5–8, respectively. These two stories were first published in Rolling Stone, 1894 and 1895.

48. On Vidocq’s influence on the detective story: Messac, Le “Detective novel,” passim; A. E. Murch, The Development of the Detective Novel (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat, 1968), pp. 41–48; Julian Symons, Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel, a History (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), pp. 29–30. On the definition of the detective story: Messac, Le “Detective novel,” pp. 9–12; the definition of Murch, Development of the Detective Novel, p. 11, follows closely that of Messac. On Poe’s primacy: Messac, Le “Detective novel,” pp. 376–77; Murch, Development of the Detective Novel, pp. 66–67; Symons, Bloody Murder, pp. 33–34. For Poe’s character Dupin on Vidocq: Edgar Allen Poe, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), in Poetry and Tales (New York: Library of America, 1984), p. 412. On the influence of antipathy toward the police on the detective story: Messac, Le “Detective novel,” pp. 410–11; Murch, Development of the Detective Novel, esp. pp. 19–20, 64–66, chap. 5.

49. Messac, Le “Detective novel,” pp. 399–406; Balzac, “La Dernière incarnation de Vautrin,” pt. 4 of Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes, in Comédie humaine, vol. 5, pp. 1046–47.

50. Gisquet, Mémoires, vol. 2, pp. 103–12; Canler, Mémoires, vol. 1, chap. 26 and others; Peuchet, Mémoires tirés des archives, vol. 4, pp. 292–93; Froment, Police dévoilée, pp. 355–57 and elsewhere; Guyon, Biographie des commissaires de police, pp. 227–38.

51. On the founding of Scotland Yard: Thorwald, Century of the Detective, pp. 38–39. On the founding of the North-Western Police Agency: James D. Horan, The Pinkertons: The Detective Dynasty That Made History (New York: Crown, 1967), pp. 25–27.

52. For observations on Balzac: Messac, Le “Detective novel,” pp. 409–11, 297; Murch, Development of the Detective Novel, p. 52. The sources of the quotations: Balzac, Père Goriot, in Comédie humaine, vol. 2, p. 1016; Pierre-François Lacenaire, Mémoires, in Mémoires et autres écrits, ed. Jacques Simonelli (Paris: Corti, 1991), p. 104.

53. On Hugo’s debt to Vidocq: Messac, Le “Detective novel,” pp. 287–92 (Dernier jour), 453–56 (Les Misérables); Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, pt. 1, bk. 5, chap. 5 (description of Javert), pt. 1, bk. 5, chap. 6 (Valjean’s lifting up of the overturned wagon).

54. [Eugène-François] Vidocq, Quelques mots sur une question à l’ordre du jour (Paris: Author, 1844); idem, À M. le Président, p. 7; Maurice, Vidocq, vie et aventures, pp. 162–66.

55. David H. Pinkney, The French Revolution of 1830 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972), chap. 9.

56. Gazette des tribunaux 7, nos. 2225–26 (30 September–2 October 1832): 1181–86; Eugène Roch, “Procès de Vidocq,” L’Observateur des tribunaux 11 (1843): 338–40; Gisquet, Mémoires, vol. 2, pp. 103–12, 239–41, 249–55; Can-ler, Mémoires, vol. 1, pp. 194–99; Maurice, Vidocq, vie et aventures, pp. 176–200; Moreau-Christophe, Monde des coquins, vol. 2, pp. 203–4. On Deschapelles and the insurrection of June 1832, see this volume, chapter 1, p. 40.

57. No. 13, galerie Vivienne; Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 2, p. 654.

58. The source of the quotations: Vidocq, À M. le Président, pp. 8, 11. This pamphlet contains reproductions of the texts of the Bureau’s first prospectus, printed in 1833, and of its compte rendu of 1835. See note 45 in this chapter for the sources of information in this paragraph.

59. Maurice, Vidocq, vie et aventures, pp. 291–98; Stead, Vidocq, A Biography, pp. 228–50; Howard C. Payne, The Police State of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, 1851–1860 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966).

4. Paganini and Liszt, Musicians

§ 1. Nicolò Paganini (1782–1840)

Today we revere the composers rather than the performers among European musicians of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century, but during that period the performers received more recognition than the composers. Soloists performing pieces designed to show off their skills appeared in operas in the baroque period, when princes and aristocrats rewarded them; in public concerts in the classical period, when small audiences of music lovers acclaimed them; and in extensive concert tours in the romantic period, when masses of ravished auditors idolized Nicolò Paganini, Franz Liszt, and their successors.

The soprano castrato Farinelli may have been the most celebrated and most generously treated musician in eighteenth-century Europe. Born Carlo Broschi, his nickname originated in its singular form, “Farinello,” perhaps as an affectionate diminutive of Farina, the family name of his aristocratic patrons; as a common noun, the word means either “fodder” or “rogue.” [1] Was he raised solely for the purpose of entertaining the members of the social elite? Or did he achieve wealth, fame, and power at their expense? Was he mutilated, or was his music?

In the first half of the eighteenth century a handful of opera singers were caressed as international stars. Almost all of those beloved souls grew up and learned their art in Italy. Many went abroad as adults to perform for long periods. Some of them were female. Few had testicles. “Signor Farinelli,” reported Abbé Prévost in his London review Pour et contre (For and Against), “who came to England with the highest expectations, has the satisfaction of seeing them fulfilled by generosity and favor as extraordinary as his own talents. The others were loved: this man is idolized, adored; it is a consuming passion.” The composer Handel, in England at the same time, “is admired, but from a distance, for he is often alone; a spell draws the crowd to Farinelli’s.” [2]

Portrait of Paganini. Lithograph by Sharp from a drawing by Maurin. Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Photograph by the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service.

Farinelli passed his early childhood in several towns of southern Italy, where his father served as a government official of the Spanish, later Austrian, Kingdom of Naples.[3] His father, also a musician, was his first teacher and the one who called for the knife. In Farinelli’s later childhood, spent in the city of Naples, the Farinas replaced his father as protector and provider and Nicola Porpora, teacher of several of the most renowned eighteenth-century castratos, replaced him as music teacher. Farinelli made his début at the age of fifteen, in 1720, when he sang a serenata composed by Porpora. Two years later he moved to Rome and starred in his older brother Riccardo Broschi’s new opera:

There was a struggle every night between him and a famous player on the trumpet, in a song accompanied by that instrument: this, at first, seemed amicable and merely sportive, till the audience began to interest themselves in the contest, and to take different sides: after severally swelling out a note, in which each manifested the power of his lungs, and tried to rival the other in brilliancy and force, they had both a swell [crescendo] and a shake [trill] together, by thirds, which was continued so long, while the audience eagerly waited the event, that both seemed to be exhausted; and, in fact, the trumpeter, wholly spent gave it up, thinking, however, his antagonist as much tired as himself, and that it would be a drawn battle; when Farinelli, with a smile on his countenance, showing he had only been sporting with him all this time, broke out all at once in the same breath, with fresh vigor, and not only swelled and shook the note, but ran the most rapid and difficult divisions and was at last silenced only by the acclamations of the audience. From this period may be dated that superiority which he ever maintained over all his contemporaries.[4]

So, at least, reported the early musicologist Charles Burney after visiting Farinelli at his retirement villa in Bologna and hearing him describe the event, a half-century after its occurrence. Johann Joachim Quantz, flute player, prolific composer, and flute teacher to Frederick the Great, gave a first-hand report of Farinelli’s singing in this early, Italian phase of the castrato’s career:

His intonation was pure, his trill beautiful, his lungs extraordinarily strong in sustaining breaths, and his throat very flexible, so that he could leap the widest intervals rapidly and with the greatest ease and security. Broken passages were just another run to him, providing absolutely no difficulty. He was very inventive in his improvisational embellishment of adagios. The fire of youth, his great talent, the universal applause, and an agile throat led him now and then to excess. His appearance was advantageous to him in the theater, but his acting did not come from the heart.[5]

Farinelli stayed in Italy, with the exception of a few leaps to nearby Vienna and back, until 1734, when he traveled to England.

In rehearsal before his first performance in London, the members of the orchestra spontaneously broke off their accompaniment to listen to him in astonishment. According to Burney, when he embarked on stage with a piece called Son qual nave (I am That Ship), composed by his brother Riccardo as a musical representation of a voyage by sea, “The first note he sung was taken with such delicacy, swelled by minute degrees to such an amazing volume, and afterwards diminished in the same manner to a mere point, that it was applauded for full five minutes. After this he set off with such brilliancy and rapidity of execution, that it was difficult for the violins of those days to keep pace with him.” [6]

In England he was “idolized, adored,” as we have already heard. Once, after he had finished singing, a woman’s voice called out from the boxes of the Haymarket Theater, “one God, one Farinelli.” [7] He spent three years in London with the Opera of the Nobility, divided by a summer’s intermission of performing in Paris and Versailles.

Accepting an invitation from the queen of Spain, Farinelli went to Madrid in 1737. The queen hoped that his singing might cure King Philip V’s chronic depression. It seemed to help at least, so every night for the next ten years, until Philip’s death, Farinelli sang the same four songs to him before the king went to bed at dawn. The program consisted of two opera arias, a minuet, and a piece called Quell’ usignuolo (That Nightingale), an imitation of birdsong. Farinelli stayed on at the Spanish court under Ferdinand VI, Philip’s successor, staging sumptuous operas, remodeling the royal opera house, organizing aquatic extravaganzas, redirecting the Tagus River, receiving riches and a knighthood, importing Hungarian horses, and perhaps making foreign policy. Upon the accession of Charles III to the Spanish throne in 1759, Farinelli retired to his villa in Bologna, where for the last two decades of his life he entertained a parade of distinguished visitors, including the musicologist Burney, the composers Mozart and Gluck, the adventurer Casanova, the electress of Saxony, and Emperor Joseph II. His principal role in the history of music was as “the prime mover towards the new florid style of vocal composition and performance characteristic of so much opera seria, especially in the period after 1730. A broad variety of contemporary manuscripts and prints identifying Farinelli as performer, and spread all over western Europe, testifies to both the ornamental complexity and the wide influence of that repertory.” [8]

While Farinelli was resting in luxurious retirement in Bologna, in Paris an impoverished “Rameau’s nephew” improvised a theory of music history. The songs of Duni and Philidor trilled from his lips, and from everyone else’s, announcing the imminent victory of the bouffons. Old Rameau, Diderot wrote, “will be buried by the Italian virtuosos, as he foresaw, and it made him sad, depressed, and sullen.” “Rameau’s nephew” looked forward to the demise of the music of his uncle and the older generation of French composers. Already, he noted, French musicians

have renounced their symphonies in order to play Italian ones. They thought they would be able to accustom their ears to the latter without its having any effect on their vocal music, as if the symphony were not to the song—except for liberties inspired by the range of the instrument and the dexterity of fingers—what the song is to declamation. As if the violin were not the ape of the singer, who will one day become, when the difficult takes the place of the beautiful, the ape of the violin. The first to play Locatelli was the apostle of the new music. Tell it to someone more gullible than I am. We’ll get used to hearing the sounds of human passions and natural phenomena imitated in song, by voices and by instruments, because that’s the whole purpose of music.

Diderot responded to his oracular interlocutor with cautious ambivalence: “There is some sense, or something like it, in everything you’ve said.” [9]

Nicolò Paganini, the most celebrated violinist of the first half of the nineteenth century, was strongly influenced by Locatelli and has often been accused of substituting the difficult for the beautiful. Locatelli’s L’Arte del violino (1733), a set of twenty-four caprices for solo violin, inspired Paganini’s more famous set of 24 capricci per violino solo (1820), which contains citations from the earlier work. Paganini’s 24 capricci came to represent, as they still do, the ne plus ultra of technical challenges among violin performance pieces. And they in turn inspired several well-known piano pieces, including Schumann’s 6 Studien nach Capricen von Paganini (1832) and 6 Konzert-Etüdien nach Capricen von Paganini (1833), Chopin’s 12 études, opus 10 (1833), Liszt’s Grandes études de Paganini (1832–51), and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934).[10]

Although Paganini gave public concerts all through his teens, he spent most of his twenties employed at the court of Lucca and thus seemed to be settling into the traditional social niche for musicians. Paganini grew up in Genoa, where he learned music and little else from his father.

He soon recognized my natural talent and I have him to thank for my first knowledge of the art. His dominant passion kept him much occupied at home determining by certain calculations and combinations lottery numbers which he convinced himself would win substantial sums. He labored very industriously at this and would not let me leave his side, so that I had to keep the violin in my hand from morning to evening. It would be hard to imagine a father stricter than he was. If he didn’t think I was diligent enough, he withheld food from me until I doubled my exertions; physically I had much to endure and my health began to suffer.

This passage comes from one of two short autobiographical sketches dictated by Paganini, which together provide us with most of the little first-hand information we have about his childhood.[11]

After this harsh initiation by his father, he received lessons from local musicians. He gave his first public performances at the age of eleven in several churches of Genoa. The following year his father took him to Parma to study with Alessandro Rolla, leader of the ducal orchestra and a distinguished violinist.

Since he was sick and in bed, his wife led us into an adjoining room where I found a violin and the maestro’s latest concerto lying on a table. A sign from my father was all I needed to take the instrument in hand and sight-read the concerto all the way through. The sick composer suddenly perked up and asked who was playing like that; he absolutely would not believe it was only a little boy. However, when he was persuaded of it, he exclaimed: “I cannot teach you anything either. For God’s sake, go to Paer; here you would only be wasting your time.”

So Paganini studied composition with Ferdinando Paer, a prolific opera buffa composer and at that time maestro di cappella at the court of Parma. He said that he learned a lot from Paer, and “I am happy to call myself his grateful pupil.” Evidently he did not feel the same way about Rolla, for his story contradicts the testimony of another Parmesan musician who said that Paganini did indeed take lessons from the distinguished violinist. Some of Paganini’s biographers have concluded, as one of them put it: “However much Paganini the musician may have owed to his teachers, Paganini the violinist was self-made and self-taught.” [12] This is certainly what he wanted people to believe.

At the beginning of 1797, after granting him a year of study in Parma, Paganini’s father took him on tour in northern Italy. They stopped at home in Genoa for a brief sojourn, following which Paganini set off again, at last without paternal supervision, in the company of his older brother Luigi, also a violinist. He discovered gambling and sex: “I must admit that my youth was by no means free from the errors of all young people who feel suddenly freed from every constraint and left to their own devices after long years of an almost slave-like upbringing, and from long deprivation want to rush from pleasure to pleasure.” He continued touring in northern Italy until 1801, although his brother had returned home earlier. “In many cities they tried to shackle me either as a concert performer or as orchestra director; but my ardent, indeed I may say my unbridled, temperament shunned any such fixed position; I liked to travel and it was impossible for me to stay any length of time in one place.” The income from his concerts enabled him to support his new, dissipated way of life and to send a considerable amount of money home to his family. During this period he acquired what was to be his favorite concert instrument, a 1742 Guarneri (now owned by the city of Genoa), from a French merchant and amateur violinist then living in Leghorn. After loaning it to Paganini for a local performance, the Frenchman refused to take it back, saying, “I will not profane it, so keep the instrument, dear Paganini, and remember me.” [13]

Paganini himself spoke French, the only foreign language he knew. Many Genoese took an interest in French affairs, and many supported the Revolution, as did Paganini, although he seems to have expressed political opinions only during his younger years and few of them have come down to us. At his first public concert, given in 1794, he played variations on La Carmagnole, an old French folk song that with new words had become an anthem of the Revolution.[14] Much of northern Italy was conquered by Napoleon during his campaign of 1796–97. Except for a brief period in 1799–1800, it continued to be effectively part of the French Empire until 1814. In 1805 Napoleon placed the city of Lucca and in 1809 all of Tuscany in the hands of his sister Élisa. Paganini settled in Lucca in 1801 and remained there, with the exception of some brief interruptions, until 1809. Thus, the violinist spent his adolescence and early manhood in the brilliant glow of Revolutionary and Napoleonic France.

It is not clear why Paganini first established himself in Lucca, or what he did during the first half of his stay, from 1801 to 1805. He may have fallen in love with a wealthy woman there and set aside his violin in favor of the guitar, an account supported by an ambiguous statement in one of Paganini’s autobiographical sketches. Or he may simply have accepted an appointment as first violin of the court orchestra of Lucca, spent his time practicing intensively and composing, and begun work on the 24 capricci. During the second half of his residence in Lucca, from 1805 to 1809, Paganini definitely had an official position in the entourage of Princess Élisa Bonaparte Bacciochi: “I had to conduct the opera every time the ruling family came to the theater, to play three times a week at court, and to put on a large concert every fortnight at their fêtes.” He also taught the violin to Élisa’s husband, Felice. Paganini complained not that the princess gave him so many responsibilities but that she often could not suffer his playing and left in the middle of it; his harmonics grated on her nerves. And that she did not pay him very well for his many duties. One can only guess what kept him in her employ, given his proven ability to tour successfully and his self-acknowledged taste for freedom—perhaps his new lover at her court.[15]

Paganini’s trademark one-string pieces, which he played frequently in concert over the course of his career as a soloist, had their origin in Lucca. Inspired by his new lover, whose identity he kept discreetly veiled, he planned for her a Scena amorosa (Love Scene), “a sort of dialogue in which would be represented little quarrel-and-reconciliation scenes,” requiring only the two outer strings of the violin, the G-string representing the man and the E-string the woman. His performance of it at court provoked surreptitious glances, unrestrained applause, and a challenge from Princess Élisa to compose a piece for only one string. He accepted and produced on the name day of the French emperor, Élisa’s brother, the Sonata Napoleone: “This is the first and true cause of my predilection for the G-string.” His later G-string compositions include the Sonata Maria Luisa, in honor of Napoleon’s second wife, and the Sonata militare. Also at Lucca, on a bet, he directed an entire opera while playing a violin mounted with only two strings. Paganini may have developed this genre without any knowledge of them, but he did have predecessors. Michael von Esser composed a G-string concerto and performed it, Leopold Mozart wrote to his son, “with the greatest skill and technique.” Franz Clement, for whom Beethoven composed his famous Violin Concerto in D, and who gave its première at a concert in the Theater an der Wien (Vienna) in 1806, also played at the same concert a one-string sonata, holding his violin upside down.[16]

Paganini’s duties at Lucca gradually dwindled away between January 1808, when the orchestra was disbanded, and December 1809, when all that remained were his lessons to the prince. Meanwhile the court moved to Florence, following Napoleon’s promotion of Élisa to grand duchess of Tuscany, and Paganini began to give public concerts in other towns nearby. In Leghorn, he related, fate seemed to be against him: he entered the theater limping, after stepping on a nail; the candles on his music stand went out as he began to play; and his E-string broke. But: “I played the concerto on three strings and created a furor.” Because he often broke strings in concert subsequently, some accused him of doing it deliberately, in order to recreate the sort of sensation he had produced in Leghorn. It is doubtful that he ever knowingly began a concert with a frayed string, however, since this would have made it almost impossible for him to produce some of his acclaimed effects, such as long glissandos and harmonics. But the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, who often heard Paganini play and also made his acquaintance, claimed that he did use strings that were for his day unusually thin, precisely in order to enhance some of his effects.[17] If he did not plan to snap a string in concert, then, neither could he have been surprised when it happened. In any case, he almost invariably chose to finish on three strings rather than break off playing in order to replace the string or the violin.

Even before Paganini settled in Lucca he had begun to perform pieces imitative of “the sounds of human passions and natural phenomena,” as did many other violinists at least through the first half of the nineteenth century. An early example is his Fandango spagnuolo (1800?), perhaps inspired by Farinai’s Capriccio stravagante, which mimics the sounds made by dogs and cats, fifes and drums, etc. His mimicking of a donkey on stage in Ferrara in 1812 nearly precipitated an assault on him by the audience. To avenge a singer whose performance at his concert the audience had hissed, Paganini ended his imitative piece and the concert by stepping to the front of the stage and loudly making with his violin the sound of a braying ass, “hee-haw.” [18] The German violinist Ludwig Spohr met Paganini in Venice in 1816, although he did not hear him play:

What he enraptures the Italians with, however, and has won for him the sobriquet of “incomparable” that even appears under his portraits, is—I have learned after careful enquiry—a collection of marvels that in the dark ages of good taste the famous Scheller used to entertain the small towns (and even princely seats) of Germany with, and which were so much admired by our countrymen. Namely: flageolet tones; one-string variations, in which, to make them more impressive, he removes the other three strings from his violin; a kind of pizzicato with the left hand, accomplished without the aid of the right hand or bow; and many sounds that are unnatural on the violin, such as bassoon tones, the voice of an old woman, etc.[19]

Farinelli, Locatelli, Scheller, Paganini: The prophecy of “Rameau’s nephew” that the violin would ape the singer and that the difficult would replace the beautiful in music seemed to be coming true.

Meanwhile, the public concert was replacing the prince’s command performance as the place to acquire celebrity in music, and the touring soloist was replacing the prince’s music master as the possessor of celebrity. Two violinists of the second half of the eighteenth century, Jakob Scheller and August Duranowski, paved the way for Paganini as a performer both in their careers and in their aesthetics.

Born in Bohemia, Scheller studied music in Vienna and Munich, joined the illustrious Mannheim orchestra for two years, toured Switzerland, Italy, and France, honed his skills in Paris for three years, and finally settled down as concertmaster at the court of Württemberg, where he remained happily for seven years until the French Revolutionary Wars forced the duke out of his duchy and Scheller out on tour again. He produced harmonics on his violin like those of a flute or pipe organ, called flageolet tones; an imitation of a nuns’ choir singing in church, using his violin case to produce the echoes; and four-part harmonies, by turning the bow upside down and loosening the hair so as to allow it to curve over all four strings while the stick passed underneath the body of the violin. According to a contemporary, he also played extraordinarily fast runs and leaps with great accuracy and mastered all manner of other difficulties “with an evenness, clarity, and fullness of tone such that even auditors unversed in music were moved.” “A tendency to drink…had no harmful effect on his art, but an increasing one on his behavior and economic condition.” Eventually he sold his violin, continued for a while to give concerts with borrowed instruments, then disappeared from history’s stage.[20]

Paganini probably did not hear Scheller, since the latter’s concerts in Italy took place either before he was born or soon after, but he did hear Duranowski, also known by the French version of his name, Durand. Born in Poland, Duranowski moved to Paris in his teens, toured in Germany and Italy, joined the French Revolutionary Army as an officer, resigned his commission and took up the violin again, played in various German orchestras, and finally landed in Strasbourg as first violinist of the orchestra of that city, where he lived well into the nineteenth century. He probably played in Paganini’s Genoa in 1794 or 1795. The musically omniscient F.-J. Fétis described him as an “astonishing” and “prodigious” technician: “He drew a large tone out of his instrument, had incredible bowing power, and put into his playing an inexhaustible variety of effects. Paganini, who had heard Durand in his youth, told me that this virtuoso had revealed to him the secret of what one could do on a violin, and that he owed his talent to the light shed by this artist.” [21]

In the first half of the eighteenth century even the most highly regarded musicians in Europe generally sought a position at a princely or aristocratic court. They might give occasional concerts somewhere else, often at another court, or change their employment from one court to another, but they remained court musicians. Farinelli is a good example. It is true that when he moved to London to sing for the Opera of the Nobility he ceased to be a court musician, although as the name of the company implies, he remained in the employ of aristocrats. And this lasted for only three years, after which he moved to Madrid to join the Spanish court, where he stayed for twenty-two years. Quite simply, there were few public concerts in Europe at the time. Some cities had civic or even entrepreneurial opera companies that gave public performances of opera, and many courts gave private concerts of different kinds of music, but the staging of nonoperatic music as a business had barely begun. Thus, the opportunity to make a career as a touring soloist did not exist.

By the middle of the eighteenth century one could at least imagine such a career. More and more cities had regular public concerts. In London, a series that began in 1672 may have been the first. In Paris, the first series may have been Anne Danican Philidor’s Concert Spirituel (Sacred Concert), beginning in 1725, followed by his Concert Français (French Concert), beginning in 1727. This Philidor was the chess master-composer’s older half-brother. In Germany, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Leipzig also began to have regular public concert series in the first half of the eighteenth century. Many other European cities followed suit later in the century. More and more cities had concert halls, or “rooms specifically built for the public performance of music without acting or stage presentation.” By this definition, the first concert hall may have been the York Buildings erected in London in the 1680s, followed by halls built in Berne around 1700, Dublin in 1742, Oxford in 1748, etc. More and more cities, and no longer just the cities with princely or aristocratic courts, formed professional or semiprofessional orchestras.[22] Guest soloists added interest to their concerts. Extraordinary performers such as Scheller and Duranowski could actually make a living traveling from city to city performing at public concerts, at least for a few years. Significantly, both retired to more stable employment, but also significant is the difference that for Scheller this meant a court orchestra, while for Duranowski, born eleven years later, it meant a civic orchestra. Paganini, born twelve years later than Duranowski, needed no further employment of any kind after his years as a touring soloist.

Paganini metamorphosed from court musician to public performer over the winter of 1809–10 and gradually became the most celebrated violinist of the first half of the nineteenth century. Before his sojourn in Lucca, he had been only one of many child-prodigy musicians that had hatched like larvae everywhere in Europe during the last third of the eighteenth century, ever since the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had toured the Continent scattering his notes. “Too many notes,” commented Mozart’s patron Emperor Joseph II of Austria. When Mozart’s father took him on tour, he had him perform on the harpsichord with a cloth spread out over both the keyboard and his hands in a sort of blindfold exhibition. Unlike Mozart, most of the larval prodigies were soon forgotten by the public and ended up simply as orchestra players. In Lucca, Paganini succeeded, if only locally, in perpetuating and even increasing the modest renown he had acquired as a child performer. After he left Lucca, his renown spread gradually—first regionally, then nationally, and finally internationally. Until 1818 he fluttered among the towns and cities of northern Italy. Between 1818 and 1828 he expanded his range to the entire length of Italy. Finally, in 1828, he flew away to Austria, Bohemia, Poland, Germany, France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Belgium, and the Netherlands.[23]

In October 1813 Paganini gave his first concert in Milan, including in it the début of his soon-to-be-famous piece, Le Streghe (The Witches). The concert was reviewed by Peter Lichtenthal, who later also recorded one of Paganini’s two dictated autobiographical sketches. Lichtenthal’s review appeared in the Leipzig-based Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (World Times for Music), the most important music journal in Europe of the period:

Herr P. is without a doubt, in a certain respect, the foremost and greatest violinist in the world. His playing is genuinely incomprehensible. He performs certain runs, leaps, and double stops that have never been heard before from any violinist…in short, he is—as Rolla and other famous men maintain—one of the most artful violinists that the world has ever known. I say artful, for when it comes to simple, expressive, beautiful violin playing, there are indeed everywhere a few violinists as good as he is, and certainly here and there, and not infrequently, some who surpass him—such as our Herr Rolla.[24]

In 1816, Paganini performed again in Milan. His authorized biographer and the recorder of his second autobiographical sketch, Julius Schottky, reported Paganini’s later recollection of the occasion:

In Genoa, where I was then staying, I heard that Lafont was going to give some concerts in Milan, and I set out at once. His performance gave me great pleasure indeed, and eight days later I also gave a concert at La Scala so that he might hear me. Thereupon Lafont suggested that we play together, which however I tried to refuse, saying: “such a combination is always dangerous because the public takes it for a duel; and so much more so in the present case because you are France’s foremost violinist and I have the honor of being described, though much too generously, as Italy’s foremost.” [25]

At the time, however, Paganini wrote in a letter: “Yesterday evening there was a concert at La Scala given by Monsieur Lafont. That excellent musician received no indication of wanting to be heard again. He plays well, but does not astonish.” Whatever Paganini’s attitude toward Lafont may have been, the two did give a double concert and the public did take it for a duel. The audience probably favored the Italian violinist, both out of patriotism and out of preference for his “Italian style” of playing, to use Paganini’s own expression. Lichtenthal reported predictably that “Herr P. has no equal in artful and difficult playing, in which respect Herr L. is much his inferior.” But then he added, surprisingly, that “for beautiful playing, the two must be considered nearly equal to one another, Herr L. perhaps surpassing Herr P. in this.” [26]

From the early 1820s on, Paganini was plagued with health problems, and concert tours alternated with convalescences. He does not seem to have performed during the years 1822–23, which he spent recuperating from syphilis. He had chronic intestinal difficulties. In 1828 he went to a dentist to have a tooth pulled, after which he developed an infection, lost all the teeth in his lower jaw, and even contracted an inflammation of the larynx. In 1831 a physician who had seen him repeatedly over the preceding decade, and had treated him continuously during one stretch of several months, delivered a “Notice physiologique sur le célèbre violoniste Nicolo Paganini” to the Académie des Sciences in Paris, listing among Paganini’s maladies measles, scarlet fever, pneumonia, catarrhal fever, and a throat disease, which deprived him of his voice during the last few years of his life. The “Notice physiologique” disputed the diagnosis of consumption made by another physician, however. Adding injury to illness, Paganini’s doctors submitted him to the common but dangerous treatments of mercury and bleeding. Each time he reappeared on stage after a convalescence, his pallid skin, sunken cheeks, shallow chest, and general emaciation became more apparent.[27]

As Paganini’s renown grew, stories about him swelled into legends that haunted him. They seem mostly to have been either descriptions of incredible performances or ascriptions of his spectacular playing to incredible causes. In Verona, using a reed cane in place of a violin bow, Paganini was said to have sight-read perfectly a complicated concerto composed by a local musician who had defied him to play the piece correctly under normal conditions. In Padua, the day after he gave a concert there he was dining unnoticed in a restaurant when he overheard someone say: “Paganini’s skill should not surprise us in the least: he owes it to a term of eight years spent in a prison cell, where he had only his violin to while away the time. He had been sentenced to this long confinement for having cowardly murdered one of my friends, who was his rival in love.” Challenged by Paganini to give the details, the speaker admitted that the victim had not been one of his friends and that the story was known to him only by hearsay. It persisted nevertheless. The novelist Stendhal in his Vie de Rossini (Life of Rossini, 1823), for example, also tells of Paganini practicing in prison. Another version of the tale had Paganini murdering the woman rather than the rival; yet another had his violin strung with the intestines of his victim. A different tale had Paganini ceding his soul to the devil in exchange for supernatural playing ability. Some storytellers claimed to have seen the devil at Paganini’s concerts guiding his bow arm. In a Trieste restaurant, Paganini

stood up suddenly, shouting desperately: “Save me, save me, from that ghost that has followed me here. Look at it there, threatening me with the same bloody dagger that I used to take her life…and she loved me…and she was innocent.…Oh no, two years of prison are not enough; my blood should run to the last drop…,” and he picked up a knife that was lying on the table. It is easy to imagine how quickly someone seized his hand. Meanwhile everyone was left stupefied and astonished; but they soon recovered from their amazement. Seeing the Ligurian Othello sit down again and resume eating, most of them understood that he had intended to ridicule those who were spreading falsehoods about him. The fact is that on the following evening the theater proved too small to hold everyone who wanted to get in, and more than a thousand people had to wait for the next concert.

Some of Paganini’s friends suspected that he himself had originated a few of the strange and gruesome stories told about him and that he did so, if not to attract more people to his concerts, then simply to enliven the conversation while traveling or to amuse himself by testing the gullibility of new acquaintances.[28]

In early 1824, Paganini set out from Milan on a tour with a soprano named Antonia Bianchi. They spent four years together, performing at the same concerts, although separately, and living as husband and wife, in Paganini’s closest approach to marriage. In 1825, Bianchi gave birth to his only child, Achille, whom he loved as much as playing the violin and whom he raised by himself after he and Bianchi parted company. Curiously, after Paganini had been living in sin for three years and fathered an illegitimate son, Pope Leo XII made him a knight of the Order of the Golden Spur, putting him in the company of Michael von Esser and Mozart, among others.[29]

Thus, when Paganini traveled to Vienna in 1828 for his first concerts outside Italy, the local music lovers expected someone out of the ordinary. But he still astounded them. The critics wrote: “Paganini can be compared only to himself”; “Paganini occupies his own sphere, unique and alone, unsurpassed by any of his contemporaries”; “Paganini is being called the greatest instrumentalist known to the history of music.” His audiences’ enthusiasm spilled out into the streets, where “the artist’s portrait quickly became available in every size, even in a pocket format, which one might call the bonbon format, since the confectioners sold Paganini-bonbons, as well as whole, though miniature, sugar-Paganinis just like the Rossinis made of sugar that are brought from Paris.” Taxi-drivers began to call a five-gulden note a Paganinerl, in reference perhaps to the usual price of a ticket to one of his concerts or to his usual payment for cab fare. The Theater an der Wien mounted The False Virtuoso, or the G-String Concerto, a farce in two acts, before Paganini had even left town. The city presented him with a gold medal, and the Austrian emperor bestowed on him the honorary title of K. K. Kammervirtuose (Imperial and Royal Court Virtuoso).[30]

Paganini gave fourteen concerts during this first sojourn in Vienna. There, as elsewhere on his tours, he generally played three pieces per concert: one of his concertos, of which he would eventually compose six; one of his G-string pieces; and a set of variations on a theme from an opera, a ballet, or other large work. He had a performance repertoire of around twenty pieces and rarely played works written by anyone else: “It is against my nature to perform borrowed compositions; not that I am not capable of playing anything put in front of me. It is well known that I can sight-read the most difficult solo; but I want to maintain my singularity, a desire which should arouse all the less suspicion in that it seems to be entirely satisfactory to the public.” An opera overture or some other orchestral piece played by the local symphony generally opened his concerts, and two more pieces in which he was not involved, often featuring vocal soloists, alternated with his own three offerings. For four years Antonia Bianchi’s voice had relieved Paganini’s violin, but the now harmonious, now dissonant couple separated forever in a Viennese courtroom. He agreed to pay her a lump sum in exchange for her giving up all claims on him and to their son, Achille.[31]

In the winter of 1828–29, Paganini played six times in Prague to progressively smaller audiences. He received favorable reviews but did not generate the furor that he had in Vienna, perhaps in part owing to resentment at his having quintupled the usual ticket prices in the Bohemian capital. Paganini drastically increased the normal admission charges almost everywhere he went, tripling them in Leipzig and Paris, and doubling them in London. To the assertion that he had favored Italy by always playing for the normal price there, he replied: “What, didn’t double it? That’s false. I’ve never played for the normal price.” Occasionally he was forced to reduce his inflated fees, as in London, or to settle for smaller crowds, as in Prague, but often he got what he wanted. From Prague he wrote to a friend in Genoa, “in two or three years I shall have around two million [scudi]. My fame demands it; but what will I do with so much money?” [32]

In the Bohemian capital, Paganini met Professor Julius Schottky, who during the violinist’s three months there had the opportunity “for days at a time and often half the night to listen to his conversation, to study his opinions and sentiments.” By assuming the role of Paganini’s Boswell, Schottky won Paganini’s authorization to write his biography. Boswell had demonstrated how one could become famous by attaching oneself to someone who is already famous: “I have an enthusiastic love of great men, and I derive a kind of glory from it.” He sought out Rousseau, hoping to make the French philosophe his confessor; then Paoli, helping to promote the Corsican nationalist’s cause in England; and finally Samuel Johnson, writing a biography of the London man of letters that overflowed with luminous details and thereby gaining immortality.[33] Schottky, as well as attending and taking notes on Paganini, collected articles, reviews, poems, and stories, published and unpublished, about his hero. Schottky’s book turned out to be more of a scrapbook than a narrative, but since he put into it his pile of press clippings, many of the violinist’s own words, and letters from friends and acquaintances of Paganini to whom he had written for information, he managed to earn a place in the history of music as an archivist if not as a biographer.

The capital of Prussia received Paganini in 1829 as the capital of Austria had the previous year. “Paganini is driving men and women insane with his cursed violin concerts,” wrote Karl Zelter, director of the Berlin Singakademie, to Goethe in Weimar. The Prussian king, like the Austrian emperor, awarded Paganini an honorary musical title. Paganini’s ambitions had grown, however, and he turned to a prince to help him solicit from the king another knighthood, or even, he dared hope, a title of nobility, but to no avail. In Warsaw, the tsar of Russia, potentate of that portion of partitioned Poland, presented him with a diamond ring. In Weimar, Goethe heard him and classified him with Napoleon as “a demonic type,” inspired by genius but also besieged by his genius, “because of which he produces such a great effect.” In Munich, thousands of leaflets containing a poem in his honor floated down from the top of the hall, and the orchestra conductor crowned him with a laurel wreath. In Hamburg, reported Paganini’s business manager, “often fifty to eighty people a day came to see or to speak to him” at his hotel. He had become more famous than the magician Bosco, who was also performing in Hamburg then, much to Paganini’s delight.[34] By the time he arrived in Paris in 1831 he was the most famous violinist in Europe.

Paris was the place in Europe most favorable to musical celebrity in the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1814–15, the Great Powers had demolished Napoleon’s empire, thus putting an abrupt and decisive end to France’s long political domination of Europe, originating in the seventeenth century. France’s cultural hegemony, which also dated from the seventeenth century, declined more slowly, however, and Paris remained for the time being the Continent’s high-fashion and fine-arts capital. French continued to be the lingua franca of its educated and upper classes. Paris was still its second most populous city, after London, and still attracted large numbers of its artists, as well as ambitious people of all sorts. The most famous composer in Europe when Paganini arrived in Paris was Gioacchino Rossini, who had preceded him there. According to a history of music reception in Paris, “The revolution of Rossini, which did more than anything else in France to break the perceived bond between musical meaning and determinate content, was in the pure musical virtuosity he summoned.…It’s the brilliance that leaves the strongest impression. Rossini’s acrobatic demands—the turns and trills, the chromatic runs, the rapid-fire diction and intricately coordinated ensembles—are explosive.” Paganini had known Rossini in Italy and had even successfully launched one of the composer’s operas in Rome when the orchestra conductor died suddenly during the rehearsals.[35]

Paris led Europe in many areas of musical activity. The Continent’s first conservatory, defined as an institution whose main purpose is the teaching of music, and where this purpose is not subordinated to a religious, charitable, or other ulterior purpose, was founded in Paris in 1795. In contrast, a conservatory was founded in Milan only in 1807, in Prague in 1811, Graz in 1815, Vienna in 1817, London in 1822, Brussels in 1832, Leipzig in 1843, Berlin in 1850, St. Petersburg in 1862, Moscow in 1866.…Whole schools of musicians washed up on the banks of the Seine. Paris had only sixty-eight piano teachers in 1788, but by 1832 the number had swelled to eighteen hundred. Finding himself in the middle of this migration, Chopin observed soon after his, and Paganini’s, arrival: “I really don’t know whether any place contains more pianists than Paris, or whether you can find anywhere more asses and virtuosos.” [36]

Paris was also a center of instrument making. Adolphe Sax, who invented the saxophone, made brass instruments there. Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume made stringed instruments. Once Paganini’s beloved Guarneri took a fall, fortunately while in its case, and he took it to Vuillaume to be repaired. Staying to watch the operation, he winced with pain every time the luthier made an incision or used force. The violin recovered completely and Paganini presented Vuillaume with a valuable snuffbox: “I’ve had two boxes like this made, one for the physician of my body, the other for the surgeon of my violin.” Érard and Pleyel, both of Paris, eclipsed Broadwood of London and Stein of Vienna in the first half of the nineteenth century as the manufacturers of the best pianos. With their seven octaves and technical innovations such as Érard’s double escapement mechanism, the pianos made by the two French companies came close to the range and responsiveness of today’s Steinways.[37]

Performing in a Concert Spirituel, the series of public concerts mentioned above as one of the first such institutions, had become by the second half of the eighteenth century what playing at Carnegie Hall is today, the goal of every aspiring soloist. Although the Concert Spirituel did not survive the Revolution, the reputation of Paris as the place to be heard did, and many other series arose in its stead, notable among them the Concerts du Conservatoire (Conservatory Concerts). Érard and Pleyel competed as music publishers, as piano makers, and finally as concert impresarios. In order to show off their new pianos, they built small concert rooms and brought in the best pianists to perform on them. Liszt, Thalberg, and others played at the Salle Érard and became identified with Érard pianos, which they also played on elsewhere; Chopin, Kalkbrenner, Marie Pleyel, and others played at the Salle Pleyel and became identified with Pleyel pianos.[38]

Concerts in Paris received excellent press coverage. The Revue et gazette musicale de Paris (Paris Musical Gazette and Review), formed from the merger of the Revue musicale and the Gazette musicale de Paris, rivaled Leipzig’s Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in the authority of its contributors and in the European scope of its reporting. In addition, the Revue des deux mondes, Paris’s most important literary review, and the Journal des débats, one of the city’s principal dailies, also gave space to musical matters. The latter had on its staff for many years Hector Berlioz, as good a critic and nearly as good a writer as he was a composer.[39]

Franz Liszt, another immigrant musician living in Paris, tried to account for France’s cultural domination in the Revue et gazette musicale de Paris:

It would be absurd, it seems to us, to attribute the supreme intellectual authority exercised by the French nation only to its real moral superiority. The English are better statesmen, the Germans better philosophers, and the Italians better artists than we are; but besides the fact that in Italy and in Germany the absence of a unique capital must dim the splendor of any reputation, no people are as well endowed as the French are with a need for sympathy, with a sort of outwarddirectedness, for which we do not know the proper word, but which we humbly propose to Messieurs the phrenologists to locate in the bump of communicativity. A Frenchman is not sure of having experienced an emotion or a pleasure until he has communicated it to his neighbor and the latter has either shared it or envied it. It is easy to see that this instinct for propagation helps considerably in the publicizing of a name; and if one adds to it the charlatanism that has truly been brought to the pinnacle of perfection in France, the multiplicity of newspapers, the ostentatiousness of public announcements, and the graceful facility for exaggeration that the French language possesses, one can well imagine how in a short space of time reputations become colossal and universal in a country whose idiom is spoken in the four corners of the earth.[40]

Because of Paris’s favorability to musical celebrity and because in Paris he began to affect the performance practices of other leading musicians, Paganini’s concerts there more than anywhere else made his name synonymous with virtuosity. His Paris début took place at the Opéra, not the present building, which opened in 1875 on a different site, but a large-for-its-time two thousand-seat auditorium on the rue Le Peletier, about eight blocks due north of the Palais-Royal, built in 1821 for the use of the Académie Royale de Musique and not usually available to touring soloists. “It would be impossible to describe the enthusiasm with which the public was seized hearing this extraordinary man; it was delirium, frenzy,” reported the Revue musicale. “Let us rejoice that this enchanter is our contemporary,” mused the Journal des débats; “let him be glad of it himself; if he had played his violin like that two hundred years ago, he would have been burned as a magician.” The Moniteur universel concluded, “Paganini is a being apart.” [41]

Paris responded to Paganini with plaudits and more: books about him, analyses of his effects, and imitations of his playing. His first, unauthorized biographer was a Parisian hack writer who had managed, before Paganini came within a hundred leagues of the French capital, to scoop the more scrupulous Professor Schottky. After Paganini’s arrival, a pamphlet appeared entitled Paganini et Bériot, comparing the two violinists, arguing the superiority of the latter, and warning young violinists to avoid taking the former for their model, as Bériot himself did soon thereafter. Another second-hand biography fueled the debate about Paganini’s “secret.” Paganini had told Schottky that he had a secret method enabling string players to learn very rapidly how to play very well.[42]

Secretive though Paganini was—he rarely played his solo parts when rehearsing with an orchestra and generally used a mute when practicing in hotel rooms—he had no such secret. The most successful of his few students called him “probably the worst teacher of the violin who ever lived.” [43] But he did have an assortment of unusual techniques, which musicians began to analyze shortly before he arrived in Paris. The violinist Karl Guhr, after attending several concerts given in Frankfurt by Paganini and playing quartets with him, published a careful study that was immediately translated into French, republished in Paris, and subjected to a detailed review by Fétis in the Revue musicale. In Guhr’s judgment,

Paganini distinguishes himself from other violinists principally:

  1. by the way in which he tunes his instrument;
  2. by a bowing technique that is his alone;
  3. by the mixture and the linking of tones produced with the bow and with left-hand pizzicato;
  4. by his frequent use of harmonics, either double or simple;
  5. by his execution on the G-string;
  6. by his incredible tours de force. No living violinist dares to attempt as much as he does.

Guhr explained that sometimes Paganini tuned all four strings of the violin up a half-step, which facilitated the execution of certain difficult passages. For his G-string pieces, he often tuned that string up a minor third. Guhr felt that Paganini had so completely mastered his bow that he could play anywhere on it with any degree of force and for any note value. He also called attention to Paganini’s “ricochet” style of playing staccato passages with amazing rapidity by bouncing his bow off the strings. Left-hand pizzicato was not new, Guhr pointed out, but an old technique that had been forgotten in France and Germany; the way in which Paganini revived it, however, employing it in conjunction with bow strokes, produced spectacular results. In order to generate harmonics, another old effect fallen into neglect, one pressed down lightly on a string, so as not to bring it into contact with the fingerboard, as when playing an ordinary note. Paganini could play what Guhr called “double artificial harmonics”—that is, with two fingers acting separately press down strongly on two strings, as in an ordinary double stop, and then with two more fingers acting separately press down lightly farther up the same two strings, to create the harmonics. He played whole passages in this manner. In explaining these tours de force, Guhr pointed out that “Paganini’s hand is nothing less than large, but he has also learned, like pianists who from childhood exercise their hands in order to achieve a great extension, to stretch it to the point where he can embrace an interval of three octaves.” [44]

Unlike musicians in other capitals, many of whom admired Paganini but remained uninfluenced, musicians in Paris responded to him by making his forte—technique—the basis of a revolution in performance that spread widely. Jolted out of an adolescent depression, the twenty-year-old Franz Liszt wrote to a friend:

It has been two weeks now that my mind and my fingers have been working like two damned souls.…Ah! provided that I don’t go crazy, you will find me an artist! Yes, an artist, such as one expects, such as one must be today! “And I, I too am a painter,” cried Michaelangelo the first time that he saw a masterpiece,…however poor and insignificant he may be, your friend hasn’t ceased repeating to himself these words of the great man since the last performance of Paganini. René, what a man, what a violinist, what an artist![45]

The unknown twenty-two-year-old Norwegian violinist Ole Bull also heard Paganini play in Paris; thirty or forty years later, after a hugely successful career touring Europe and the United States, he wrote: “I have the whole scene before me as if it were today.” Bull made it his goal to duplicate Paganini’s mastery of the violin and then to develop his own style from there. After two or three more years of practice he played in the Opéra, the only violin soloist other than Paganini to have done so. After another year he performed Paganini’s variations on Nel cor non più mi sento in London. The Times reported:

The air with variations is the first instance in which Ole Bull has challenged a direct comparison with Paganini, by playing a movement of his own composition every note of which, as delivered by that great master, is fresh in the recollection of the musical audiences of this metropolis. To say that he bore up manfully under the comparison is sterling praise and he deserves it. His arpeggio passages had less tone than Paganini, but were equal to him in neatness, rapidity and distinctness; and in his pizzicato, in alternate use of the bow and the finger, the difference of effect, if any, was extremely small.

The Norwegian violinist even did a few things, such as playing on all four strings at once, that his Italian predecessor had not done. As for the native French violinists and the neighboring Belgians who came to Paris to study, they were “quick to absorb and assimilate the technical advances of Paganini.” Lafont, Habeneck, Alard, Léonard, Bériot, and Vieuxtemps all oriented or reoriented themselves in the direction of virtuosity.[46]

Paganini gave twelve concerts in Paris in the spring of 1831, earning more than 165,000 francs, and then headed for Great Britain, giving several concerts in northern France on the way. In London, he created a furor once again. The Times called him “the greatest musical wonder, without question, of this or any previous age.” After London, he made an extensive tour of the British Isles, including more than a hundred concerts, and returned to Paris for the spring of 1832. Over the next two-and-a-half years he made three more tours, the first through England and northern France, the second through England and Scotland, and the third through the Low Countries and England, with rests in Paris after each of them. Finally, in the fall of 1834, in poor health and thoroughly exhausted, Paganini decided to retire to a villa near Parma that a friend had found for him. He gave occasional concerts in northern Italy and directed for a few months the court orchestra of the Duchy of Parma. He honored the duchess, who had been Napoleon’s second wife and the empress of France, with the composition of a G-string piece, the Sonata Maria Luisa. In 1837 he returned to Paris for the opening of the Casino Paganini.[47]

Paganini made and lost several fortunes in Paris. He spent one on a title of nobility. The seller was an obscure German princeling who, like many of his peers, had lost sovereignty over his statelet during the remappings of the Napoleonic era, and who consoled himself by squandering his patrimony in Europe’s pleasure capital. The violinist had calling cards printed with the legend, and announced himself in the Moniteur universel as, “Baron Paganini.” He found out only later that the princeling’s loss of sovereignty also meant the loss of his authority to confer such honors. Paganini gave away another fortune to Hector Berlioz. In 1833 he introduced himself to Berlioz and requested the composition of a symphonic work that would allow him to display his talents on the viola, an instrument he had recently taken up. Berlioz wrote in his Mémoires:

I attempted, therefore, in order to please the illustrious virtuoso, to write a viola solo, but a solo combined with an orchestra in such a way as not to restrict the action of the instrumental mass, certain as I was that Paganini, by the incomparable force of his execution, would always be able to maintain for the viola the leading part. The proposition attracted me by its novelty, and soon I had an agreeable outline in mind, which I was eager to convert into a finished work. The first movement was barely written when Paganini wanted to see it. At the sight of the rests for the viola in the allegro, he cried, “That’s not it! I am silent for too long there; I must be always playing.” [48]

The two musicians do not seem to have spoken of the matter again, and Berlioz eventually turned the piece into a symphony, Harold in Italy (1834). When Paganini first heard it in Paris in 1838, he was so impressed that he gave the struggling composer twenty thousand francs. A third for-tune disappeared into the Casino Paganini. Some Parisian entrepreneurs persuaded the violinist to invest in a new gambling casino/music hall by promising to name it for him and by assuring him that it would attract large crowds if he periodically performed there. The casino opened in 1837, but it was grossly mismanaged and Paganini too ill to play. It collapsed in a tangle of lawsuits after a few months of operation and eventually cost Paganini, all told, more than a hundred thousand francs and much emotional distress. Some of the lawsuits were still not settled when he died in Nice in May 1840.[49]

He nevertheless left a fortune of some two million lire, his villa in Parma, various other properties scattered around Europe, and probably the most valuable collection of musical instruments ever assembled by a private individual. It consisted of 15 violins, including 7 Stradivari, 4 Guarneri, and 2 Amati; 4 cellos, including 2 Stradivari and a Guarneri; 2 Stradivari violas; and a guitar.[50]

He also left a famous name: There is a Paganini Quartet of instruments, four of his Stradivari now owned by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; a Quartetto Paganini of people, four string players based in Genoa who perform and record his chamber music; an Istituto di Studi Paganiniani in Genoa; and a street named after him in Paris. Far better known today than Farinelli, he was one of the first European musicians to achieve immortality through performance rather than composition. The only pieces of Paganini’s that have found a place in today’s concert repertoire are his Concerto no. 1 and several of the 24 capricci. He lived in an age of great composing, and his musical judgment was sound. He was an early advocate of Beethoven, his senior by twelve years, and one of the first to recognize the genius of Berlioz, his junior by twenty-one years. In private, with friends in Italy or with musicians in the towns he visited on his tours, he loved to play Beethoven string quartets. He also composed quite a few quartets of his own. But in concert he played only his own pieces and only those pieces of his in which he could perform as soloist.

Who benefited more from Paganini’s celebrity, the bearer of it or the public that did so much to create and shape it? Who was more responsible for his performance of inferior music? This lifelong celibate had two great loves: playing the violin and his son. He took great care with Achille’s upbringing and left most of his huge fortune to him. And he vowed: “I know what is involved in being a violin virtuoso. So long as I live, my son will never pick up a violin.” [51]

§ 2. The Early Career of Franz Liszt (1811–1886) as a Concert Pianist

The most celebrated pianist of all time grew up celebrated. The father of Franz Liszt took his child prodigy to Paris and installed him there at the age of twelve. After the young pianist had lived and concertized there for twelve years, that is, at the age of twenty-four, he was made the subject of a long biographical sketch in the Gazette musicale de Paris, as though he had already had a full career as a public figure. Indeed, as was noted in this second sketch of his life—the first had appeared in a French biographical dictionary published five years earlier, when Liszt was only nineteen—his celebrity had matured with celerity, beginning with his arrival in the capital:

For an entire year the young Liszt was like a new doll to all the young women of Paris. Everywhere he was sought out, flattered, caressed, spoiled; his exclamations, his quips, his caprices were all repeated, reported, retailed; everything he did was adorable. At twelve, he had excited passions, caused rivalries, stimulated hatreds; all heads were turned by him, infatuated by him.…We believe that this adulation had some influence on certain usages his talent developed and on the turn of his spirit.[52]

Liszt’s father served as his first music teacher, beating time and sometimes the boy himself as he practiced. Adam Liszt worked as a petty bureaucrat for the Esterházys, a princely family with enormous land holdings in western Hungary, and he relaxed by playing music and cards at the Esterházy court, often with the composer Franz Joseph Haydn, who was employed there for thirty years. He provided little education for his son in anything other than music.[53]

Portrait of Liszt. Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Photograph by Justin Davis-Metzner.

But he was conscientious in that, and therefore conducted ten-year-old Franz to Vienna to study with Carl Czerny. Czerny, a well-known piano teacher, had had Beethoven as his own teacher and in addition to teaching composed more than a thousand pieces of music, including many piano études, with such titles as 40 études célèbres de la vélocité (40 Famous Études of Velocity), Die Kunst der Fingerfertigkeit (The Art of Finger Dexterity), and Die Höhere Stufe der Virtuosität (The Higher Levels of Virtuosity). In his Errinerungen aus meinem Leben (Recollections from My Life), Czerny describes Liszt’s audition for him:

He was a pale, delicate-looking child and while playing swayed on the chair as if drunk so that I often thought he would fall to the floor. Moreover, his playing was completely irregular, careless, and confused, and he had so little knowledge of correct fingering that he threw his fingers over the keyboard in an altogether arbitrary fashion. Nevertheless, I was amazed by the talent with which Nature had equipped him.

Naturally, Czerny agreed to instruct him.

Never before had I had so eager, talented, or industrious a student.…Within a short time he played the scales in all keys with a masterly fluency made possible by a natural digital equipment especially well suited for piano-playing.…I instilled in him for the first time a firm feeling for rhythm and taught him beautiful touch and tone, correct fingering, and proper musical phrasing.…He finally became such an expert sight-reader that he was capable of publicly sight-reading even compositions of considerable difficulty and so perfectly as though he had been studying them for a long time.

The Liszts spent a year and a half in Vienna. Czerny complains that his student was removed from his care too soon and that Adam Liszt was exploiting his son’s talent for “pecuniary gain.” [54]

Properly or improperly, Adam Liszt orchestrated his son’s early career. Even before the trip to Vienna—in order to raise money for that trip—he had several times arranged for him to perform publicly in Hungary. In the Austrian capital, the child prodigy gave more concerts, from the very first receiving the attention and approbation of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. Soon his father decided that they should move again, this time to Paris, so that he could attend the conservatory there. Back in Hungary in the spring of 1823, three further public concerts raised money to help finance this new venture. The Liszts also profited from stops in Munich, Augsburg, Stuttgart, and Strasbourg on the trip west, during which the young pianist was taxed with the title “a new Mozart.” [55]

Immediately upon his arrival in Paris in December 1823, Liszt applied for admission to the Conservatoire de Musique. The director, Luigi Cheru-bini, told him that foreigners were not admitted under any circumstances. Liszt nevertheless stayed in Paris and found good teachers, including the opera buffa composer Paer, the same Paer who had taught composition to Paganini in Parma before being invited to France by Napoleon. Meanwhile, the pianist continued to give concerts. According to a letter written by his father, he performed in public thirty-eight times between December 1823 and March 1824. The press again compared him to Mozart and remarked upon “the most astonishing difficulties that he seems to create in a spirit of play, simply in order to give himself the pleasure of triumphing over them.” [56]

Although Liszt was born in Hungary and spent his early childhood there, his parents were Austrian; thus, he grew up speaking German and in fact never learned more than a few words of Magyar. However, as soon as he got to Paris he abandoned his German, which was of course only the half-formed German of a twelve-year-old, for French. He spoke French almost exclusively well into his thirties. Liszt’s mother moved to Paris a few years after he and his father did, and she remained there until her death forty years later. In short, he soon came to regard the French capital as home and continued to do so until sometime in his thirties, though he was often abroad traveling. Wherever he happened to be, he wrote his letters, even to his mother, in French.[57]

After less than six months in Paris, Adam Liszt showed his son across the English Channel. Already on this first of many concert tours, the young pianist commanded princely fees for his appearances and the attention of King George IV, for whom he played at Windsor Castle. Prince Esterházy, the Austrian ambassador to Great Britain, who had worn a spectacular suit of diamonds to the coronation of the former dandy three years earlier, probably facilitated the royal reception, which the prince attended. The Liszts returned to England in the spring of 1825 and again in the spring of 1827 in order to give more concerts there. They also toured the provinces of France at the beginning of 1826 and Switzerland at the end of the same year.[58]

Meanwhile, discord between the pianist and Paris began to be heard. With more or less help from his teacher Paer, the fourteen-year-old Liszt composed an opera, Don Sanche, ou Le château d’amour, which found a big stage, the Opéra, but a small welcome, closing after only four performances.[59] And for the first time, five years after his Paris début, there was open criticism of his piano playing. Fétis wrote in the Revue musicale:

How sad that natural gifts as rare as those possessed by M. Liszt are only used to convert music into a shell-game and conjuring show! That is not at all the destiny of this enchanting art. It should touch us, move us, not astonish us. The emotions are inexhaustible, but astonishment soon wears off. M. Liszt, you are very young; you are an excellent sight-reader and already a very skilled musician; you possess wonderful fingers; unfortunately, however, you were born at a time when pianists have made music into silliness and you have been carried away by the torrent.…Renounce these brilliant frivolities in favor of more solid advantages.[60]

Personal difficulties compounded the professional ones. Liszt’s father, who had always managed both the private and public sides of his life, died abruptly in 1827 at Boulogne, leaving him stranded. His mother immediately moved to Paris to rejoin him after more than four years of separation, but she did not replace his father in his life. The young pianist quit touring and performed in Paris only infrequently. In order to earn a living he began to give lessons; among his students was the daughter of a count and minister in the government of King Charles X. He fell in love with her, but the count did not consider that this social inferior should be on such terms with his daughter and closed the door to him. His depression deepened.[61]

He turned to religion for solace, not for the first time nor for the last. Adam Liszt had spent two years in a Franciscan monastery and had named his son after St. Francis, thus bequeathing him a tendency to conspicuous displays of devotion. The pianist never used his full given name, Franciscus, but later in his life, when he was living in Rome, he took the four minor orders—acolyte, reader, doorkeeper, and exorcist—and became Abbé Liszt. He also took to wearing a cassock. During his childhood his father had occasionally had to restrain him from excessive religiosity and remind him that his vocation was music and not the Church. After his father died, he began to attend mass frequently. He cultivated the friendship of Chrétien Urhan, a mystical violinist at the Opéra whose religious scruples prevented him from looking at the stage when the orchestra played for ballets, the work of the devil.[62]

Liszt’s episode of grave adolescence coincided with the envelopment of Paris in the clouds of Romanticism and reflected its dark underside, its fascination with suffering and especially death. According to the mother of one of his piano students, who sat in on the lessons he gave to her daughter, “Liszt avidly seeks out all the emotions. He confronts himself, so to speak, with suffering nature, he observes the expression of every pain. He visits hospitals, gambling casinos, and insane asylums. He descends into prison cells; he has even seen those condemned to death.” This was shortly after the arch-Romantic Victor Hugo, a friend of the pianist, had published the novel Le Dernier jour d’un condamné (The Last Day of a Condemned Man). Paris was so accustomed to seeing and hearing Liszt, or at least reading about and hearing about him, that when months went by without his giving a concert the capital pronounced him dead. The newspaper Le Corsair published an extensive obituary, and his portrait appeared in shop windows with the legend “né le 22 octobre 1811, mort à Paris, 1828.” [63]

Public concerts in the first half of the nineteenth century were often celebrations of technique. Since technique depends in part upon the instrument, concert performers of that era keenly desired the most technologically advanced instrument, at least those whose instrument was not their own throat. Upon his arrival in Paris, Liszt had taken up residence in an apartment on the rue du Mail, a couple of blocks northeast of the Palais-Royal and right across the street from the piano factory, or better, since pianos then were made as well as played by hand, manufactory, of Sébastien and Pierre Érard. The Érards immediately gave the child prodigy one of their new prodigies, a seven-octave double-escapement piano, only the fourth instrument of its kind yet made. The double-escapement mechanism allowed the keys to be “more readily adjusted for touch and was capable of very rapid repetitions of notes.” Rapid repetitions of notes became one of Liszt’s trademarks.[64] In the 1840s, when Liszt was carrom-ing like a billiard ball from every cushioned bank in Europe, performing here, there, and everywhere, the Érards made sure that one of their pianos was waiting for him at every stop. This was the beginning of the relationship between star performer and equipment manufacturer so conspicuous today.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, especially the piano and to a lesser degree orchestral instruments still had flexibility of form; they had not yet rigidified into their twentieth-century invariability. Contrary to myth, the great piano players, in their technical demands on the instrument, often followed, rather than led, the piano makers. For example, Beethoven expanded the range of pitches in his piano compositions from five to five and a half octaves after 1803, when he received a five-and-a-half-octave Érard as a gift from the manufacturer; to six octaves after 1809, when he began to play regularly on a six-octave Streicher (a descendant of Stein); and to six and a half octaves after 1818, when he received a six-and-a-half-octave Broadwood. Thus, as in the case of rapidly repeating notes, the instrument that allowed for the new usage preceded the musician’s demand for it. Of course the direction of influence in other instances did go the other way. Both Beethoven and Liszt were notorious abusers of pianos in general and snappers of strings in particular. Manufacturers gradually made their strings stronger in response to such treatment. Count von Bruhl, an amateur mechanician and the ambassador of Saxony to England, where he was a frequent chess opponent of Philidor, may have been the first to use steel instead of iron or brass strings in a piano. That was in 1786, but steel strings did not become common until the 1820s or 1830s.[65]

Around 1800, leading performers began to take an active interest in the construction of the instruments on which they played. Early in his touring career Paganini modified, or had modified, his concert Guarneri, so that in addition to its unusually thin strings it was equipped with an unusually flat bridge, in order to facilitate triple stops and string crossings, and a fingerboard unusually close to the strings to facilitate difficult fingerings. Late in his career he was reported to have invented a new stringed instrument, the “contraviola Paganini.” Ole Bull, like Paganini, took his violin to the luthier Vuillaume in Paris and, unlike Paganini, collaborated in the work on it. Once the Norwegian designed and built a violin all by himself. On another occasion he worked with a mechanician on a new kind of piano. Liszt, in addition to championing the innovative Érard piano, commissioned the building of a keyboard instrument that he called a “clavecin-orchestre” (harpsichord-orchestra) and which he predicted would bring about a “complete transformation of the piano.” Later he supported an inventor’s new keyboard for the standard piano consisting of six rows of keys, but it, too, failed to gain acceptance.[66]

A lot of experimentation with keyboard instruments took place in the first half of the nineteenth century. Parisian inventors came up with a series of organs using free reeds that gave performers greater control over the expression of notes than conventional beating-reed organs did; the series included the Orgue Expressif (1810), Aérophone (1828), Poikilorgue (1834), Mélophone (1837), and finally the harmonium (1840), an instrument that achieved considerable popularity. What Liszt referred to as a clavecin-orchestre was probably the large combination piano-harmonium, as others have described it, that was made by the Paris organ builder Alexandre and that Liszt had with him in Weimar during his tenure as kapellmeister there in the 1850s. J. N. Maelzel incorporated around forty standard percussion, woodwind, and brass instruments into his acclaimed keyboard-orchestra, the Panharmonicon—and then to operate the keyboard employed a pegged cylinder instead of a person.[67] These are the ancestors of the twentieth century’s electric organs and synthesizers.

The technological innovations then being applied to keyboard and somewhat less creatively to other instruments encouraged the composition of certain kinds of pieces. Liszt’s commissioning of the now-forgotten clavecin-orchestre was one way he sought to duplicate the fullness of sound of an orchestra on a single instrument. He also made many piano transcriptions of orchestral works, including all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. Another nineteenth-century pianist recalled: “At an orchestral concert given by him and conducted by Berlioz, the ‘Marche au supplice’ [March to the Scaffold] from the latter’s Symphonie fantastique, that most gorgeously instrumented piece, was performed, at the conclusion of which Liszt sat down and played his own arrangement, for the piano alone, of the same movement, with an effect even surpassing that of the full orchestra, and creating an indescribable furore.[68]

Equally significant in this regard was the promotion of the piano étude from the practice room to the performance hall. “Étude” is simply the French word for “study” and a musical étude simply a piece of music composed for the practice, or “study,” of one or a small number of difficult techniques. Gradually composers of études became more and more concerned with making them musically interesting as well as technically challenging. At the same time, the high-culture music world’s tastes were changing in such a way that the technically challenging in itself became more and more interesting to it. Chopin’s 12 études, opus 10 (1833), dedicated to Liszt, are widely considered the first concert études for piano. They were in part inspired by Paganini’s famous 24 capricci, which are essentially concert études for violin. Liszt followed the example of both Paganini and Chopin, the latter of whom wrote of his fellow pianist, “I would like to steal from him his way of playing my own études.” Two of the most famous pieces of music Liszt ever composed are sets of concert études: the Études d’exécution transcendante (Transcendental Études) and the Grandes études de Paganini (Paganini Études); both sets are still performed, the former quite frequently. Yet another immigrant to Paris, the poet Heinrich Heine, complained that “technical perfection, the precision of an automaton, the identification of the musician with stringed wood, the transformation of a man into an instrument of sound, is what is now praised and exalted as the highest art.” [69]

Liszt snapped back to life in the Opéra’s celebration of the presence of the age’s most celebrated violinist. He immediately set to work composing the Grande fantaisie de bravoure sur “La Clochette” de Paganini, a fantasia based on the final movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto no. 2, and in general set out to become the Paganini of the piano.[70] Liszt’s sudden attraction to Paganini was followed shortly by his sudden attraction to the comtesse Marie d’Agoult. D’Agoult collaborated anonymously with Liszt on the many articles appearing in the Revue et gazette musicale de Paris in the 1830s that bore Liszt’s name and served as his verbal organ of expression.[71] Liszt’s feelings toward Paganini, d’Agoult, and Paris remained strong through the 1830s, but his feelings toward them also developed ambivalence as his own celebrity grew steadily.

In 1833 Liszt reappeared on stage after a five-year absence. But at least for a while, he played only in ensembles or at others’ concerts, such as those of Berlioz, whose friendship he cultivated after hearing a performance of the composer’s new Symphonie fantastique. Meanwhile, he practiced like a man possessed. Another resident of his apartment house reported:

Liszt was the most annoying neighbor one could have. He never played either a written piece or an improvisation. He gave lessons to the wealthy, and as for himself, he played for hours on end, double time, with both hands, on the same note!…One night it was the beginning of the Dies Irae and he never went any further. It was enough to drive you crazy, I assure you. Thus the whole house got together to ask for his eviction. We would have obtained it, but he saved us the trouble: He left on his own.[72]

The love affair of Liszt and d’Agoult slowly swelled into an overwhelming passion, and in 1835 they eloped to Switzerland. Liszt left behind his mother and his piano students; d’Agoult, a husband and child. For a while they settled in Geneva, where Liszt helped to open a music conservatory and d’Agoult began a long and successful if not brilliant career as an author with the articles articulating Liszt’s ideas that she wrote for the Revue et gazette musicale de Paris.

These articles included a seven-part series entitled “De la situation des artistes et de leur condition dans la société” (On the Situation of Artists and their Position in Society). A second series that often treated the same theme, the “Lettres d’un bachelier ès musique” (Letters from a Graduate in Music)—an ironic reference to the Conservatoire’s refusal to admit Liszt a decade earlier—presented the views of a musician who had “graduated” to a certain level of understanding but who still had his career in front of him. In the first “Lettre” Liszt discussed a Russian musician named Gusikow, who had constructed out of wood and straw a sort of xylophone, on which he performed all over Europe during a very successful tour in 1836–37. Liszt described Gusikow as,

the musical juggler who plays an infinitely large number of notes in an infinitely short period of time, and draws the most possible sound out of two of the least sonorous materials. This is the prodigious overcoming of difficulty that all of Paris is now applauding. It is greatly to be regretted that M. Gusikow, the Paganini of the boulevards, has not applied his talent, one could even say his genius, to the invention of some agricultural instrument or to the introduction into his country of some new crop. He would then have enriched an entire population; instead, his talent gone astray has only produced a musical puerility, and the charlatanism of the newspapers will not succeed in endowing it with a value it cannot really have.[73]

While in Geneva in 1835–36, Liszt had heard reports about a Viennese pianist named Sigismund Thalberg who had recently given a series of concerts in Paris. The French capital had become a whirlwind of ivory and ebony. During the season of 1835–36, the Salle Érard and the Salle Pleyel, the auditoriums of the rival piano manufacturers, alone hosted more than two hundred concerts. And of course concerts took place elsewhere as well, for instance at the Conservatoire, where Berlioz heard Thalberg: “As to his technique, there is no one who has seen him who did not recognize immediately that it is prodigious. The frequent use that he makes of two fingers of his right hand (the ring and smallest fingers) to play the melody and even to add the most rapid embellishments, while the three others execute quite complicated accompaniments, almost authorizes us to say that M. Thalberg has three hands instead of two.” In Liszt’s absence the Paris press crowned Thalberg the king of the keyboard. That alarmed him such that he made a brief descent on the French capital in May and June 1836 to hear the new prodigy for himself, but Thalberg had already gone on to England. Liszt had to content himself with giving some concerts of his own. Berlioz wrote:

The Liszt that we all knew, the Liszt of last year, has been left far behind by the Liszt of today.…All that I have been able to distinguish in the way of new technique, in those infinite choruses born under the fingers of Liszt, is limited to nuances and accents that have been unanimously declared to be, and have in fact remained until now, inaccessible to the piano. There were broad and simple melodies, sustained and perfectly linked phrases, and whole sheaves of notes, hurled in some cases with extreme violence, yet without coarseness and losing nothing of their harmonic luxuriousness. There were melodic progressions in minor thirds, and diatonic embellishments in the bass and mid-range of the instrument (where, as is well known, the vibrations continue the longest) executed with the most incredible rapidity in staccato, such that each note produced only a flat sound, extinguished as soon as it had been emitted, absolutely detached from those that preceded and followed it, and rather like the sounds which would be produced in embellishments of this nature were they executed with the heel of the bow on an excellent bass-viol by a steam-engine.

Liszt returned to Paris again several months later, determined to stay until he heard Thalberg. While impatiently awaiting him, Liszt reviewed some of his published music in the Revue et gazette musicale. He went on at some length but concluded simply: “Impotence and monotony; such is, in the last analysis, what we find in the publications of M. Thalberg.” The director of the journal added a footnote to the beginning of the review: “We insert here unedited the article of M. Liszt, while maintaining our reservations concerning this subject on which the opinion of our collaborator differs so markedly from that which the Gazette musicale has expressed about M. Thalberg.” On the last day of March 1837, both Liszt and Thalberg played at a soirée for charity that took place in the salon of the Princess Belgiojoso, a musical amateur and longtime friend of Liszt. The consensus had it that the contest in pianism was a draw.[74]

But there was a winner in press, the princess-impresario. Her name figured above those of the pianists in the published accounts of the event. And she won further recognition by commissioning, also for charity, the Hexaméron, a piece in which six of the era’s best-known pianists, Liszt, Thalberg, Chopin, Czerny, Heinrich Herz, and Johann Pixis, each contributed variations on a theme. All six were in Paris at the time, though none was of French origin. Liszt made the Hexaméron his own, composing an introduction, bridge passages between the variations, and a finale, and then playing the piece in concert all over Europe.[75]

In the summer of 1837 Liszt and d’Agoult resumed their shared exile-idyll, traversing Switzerland to spend the fall and winter in the Italian Alps on the shores of Lake Como. Then they descended into Milan, where Liszt performed at La Scala.

In order to enliven my concerts a little bit, which were reproached with being always too serious, I had the idea of offering to improvise on themes proposed by the music lovers and chosen by acclamation.…When I proceeded to examine the ballots, I found, just as I had expected, a considerable number of motifs of Bellini, and of Donizetti; then, to the great amusement of the audience, I read on a piece of paper carefully folded by an unknown who had not doubted for a moment the superiority of his proposal, “the dome of the Milan cathedral.”…But the public showing no particular desire to see me erect my bell-towers out of 32nd-notes, my galleries out of scales, and my spires out of tenths, I went on. They became ever better, ever bolder:…“the railroad”…“Is it better to be married or single?”

Milan seems to have given Liszt’s playing a warm, if not excessively enthusiastic, reception. D’Agoult recorded in her journal that Rossini, who was also there at the time and who had formerly praised Liszt highly, was heard saying that “Thalberg consisted of three-quarters feeling and one-quarter skill, and Liszt three-quarters skill and one-quarter feeling.” [76]

From Milan the couple traveled in the spring of 1838 to Venice, where d’Agoult wrote in her journal, “at the Giardino, a quincunx of trees, a me-diocre promenade that the Venetians owe to Eugène [Eugène de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s stepson and viceroy in Italy from 1805 to 1814]. Always this abominable merit of difficulty overcome.” When Liszt read in a German newspaper that thousands in Hungary had been left homeless by the flooding of the Danube, he had the idea of taking a side trip to Vienna in order to give some benefit concerts. He thought the Viennese might be curious to hear the pianist who had last played there fifteen years previously as a wunderkind. D’Agoult waited for him in Venice.[77]

In Vienna, Liszt foresaw a future of fabulous fame and fortune, touring the cities of Europe. Never before had he had such applause. He wrote d’Agoult after one concert: “Enormous success. Acclamations. Recalled 15 to 18 times. Hall full. Universal amazement. Thalberg barely exists anymore in the memory of the Viennese.” After another: “In living memory, there has never been such a success in Vienna, not even Paganini.” “Not even Thalberg,” “not even Paganini,” chanted the letters he sent to d’Agoult from everywhere in Europe over the course of the next few years.[78]

In Vienna that spring of 1838, Liszt played publicly and privately many times. He contributed twenty-four thousand gulden to the cause of the homeless of Hungary, more than any other private donor. Still, his detour embittered d’Agoult. “Franz abandoned me for petty motives. It was neither for a great work, nor for charity, nor for patriotism; it was for salon successes, for newspaper glory, for invitations from princesses.…He had amassed gold with ease; he had left it for the victims of the flood; but he had seen that in two years he could make a fortune.” Liszt of course felt differently: “In front of an audience so intelligent, so benevolent, I was never held back by the fear of not being understood; there it was not rash of me to play the most serious compositions of Beethoven, Weber, Hummel, Moscheles, and Chopin; portions of the Symphonie fantastique of Berlioz, the fugues of Scarlatti, and those of Handel; and finally, my dear études, those beloved offspring that had appeared so monstrous to the habitués of La Scala.” [79]

Liszt and d’Agoult must have reached some sort of an understanding, for they continued to travel together in Italy for another year and a half, during which time Liszt gave few concerts. The couple continued to produce articles for the Revue et gazette musicale, and children. Their first daughter had been born in Geneva in December 1835; their second, Cosima, the future wife of Richard Wagner, in Como in December 1837. Their third and last child, a son, was born in Rome in May 1839. During his years with d’Agoult, Liszt also produced his first important compositions. He composed two sets of program-music pieces, one a set of “romantic landscape paintings,” originally titled Album d’un voyageur (Traveler’s Album), composed in and “depicting” Switzerland, the other a set of “commentaries” on great works of Italian art and literature, composed in Italy. He later revised and incorporated both sets into Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage). He also made piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s fifth, sixth, and seventh symphonies and the overture to Rossini’s opera William Tell. He composed several fantasias, free-form pieces based on themes from operas or other works, for example, the fantasia on Pacini’s Niobe that he played in his contest with Thalberg. And there were virtuoso pieces pure and simple, or rather, complex and difficult. These included the Grand galop chromatique and the two sets of “transcendental” études. Actually, the two sets of études were published three times each in different versions. The Étude de 48 exercices of 1826 became 12 grandes études in 1839 and then Études d’exécution transcendante in 1852. Similarly, the Grande fantaisie de bravoure sur “La Clochette” de Paganini of 1832 became Études d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini in 1838 and then Grandes études de Paganini in 1851. In both cases, the third versions were simplifications of the second versions. The second, late-1830s versions of both sets of études were such fantastic elaborations of the first versions as to be almost unplayable and in fact are rarely played today.[80]

By 1839, no woman, no city, no model could satisfy Liszt. From Florence, Liszt and d’Agoult went their own ways; although they spent a few weeks together every summer during the early 1840s, their separation there in October 1839 was definitive. And Paris was no longer home to Liszt; although he returned to the French capital periodically in the course of his restless touring in the 1840s, he was no longer satisfied to see himself at the top of the heap of Paris pianists. For the next eight years Liszt rode from city to city, concert hall to concert hall, salon to salon, aristocratic hostess to aristocratic hostess, on an endless wave of applause. Paganini’s death in the spring of 1840 provided the occasion for Liszt’s last article for the Revue et gazette musicale, which concluded: “Let the artist of the future renounce then, and with all his heart, this egoistic and vain role of which Paganini was, we believe, a last and illustrious example; let him place his end, not in himself, but outside of himself; let virtuosity be a means, not an end; let him always remember, that as much as noblesse, indeed more than noblesse, génie oblige.[81]

If public concerts in the first half of the nineteenth century were sometimes celebrations of technique, they were also sometimes celebrations of competition, or competitions for celebrity. Competitiveness, at least as much as any other drive, propelled Liszt in the 1830s. In his friendly rivalry with Chopin he “outplayed” the Franco-Polish pianist at the latter’s own études; in his striving to equal on the piano the rich texture of sound produced by a full orchestra, he outplayed an orchestra in consecutive performances of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique; and in his constant comparison of his own audience receptions with those of other performers, he tried to outplay Thalberg in a dual concert.

Already in the eighteenth century Farinelli had participated in several informal singing contests, such as the one described above in which he bested in breath an unidentified trumpet player during the performance of an opera in Rome. By the first half of the nineteenth century, such informal contests had become common among instrumentalists. Paganini, we have seen, referred to his onstage encounter with the French violinist Charles Lafont in Milan in 1816 as a duel. Paganini also performed on the same stage with the Polish violinist Karol Lipinski twice in Piacenza in 1818. In 1829 they appeared together again, in Warsaw, where the press treated it as a competition. In Marseilles in 1837, the chronically ill Paganini played in concert with Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, a violinist who had earlier followed Paganini on tour from city to city in the hope of learning his “secret.” Ernst wrote that “his previous infallibility on the fingerboard had declined so much that I can say without boasting that I performed many of his showpieces as well as, if not better than, he himself.” [82]

Even Beethoven, as a young pianist, participated in such competitions. At the turn of the nineteenth century his playing was often compared to that of Joseph Wölffl, a student of Leopold Mozart. A contemporary Vien-nese conductor and composer wrote:

It was, in a way, a revival of the old Parisian quarrel of the Gluckists and the Piccinists, and the numerous friends of the fine arts in the Imperial City divided into two parties.…There, and not infrequently, the interesting matches of the two athletes provided indescribable enjoyment to a numerous and thoroughly select gathering; each of the two presented the latest product of his inspiration; now one or the other of them gave free, unrestricted course to his ardent imagination; now they sat at two pianos, improvised alternately, and exchanged themes, thus creating many four-handed capricci which, could they have been immediately put to paper, would certainly have proven immortal.[83]

While Beethoven and Wölffl felt mutual respect, Beethoven and the Berlin pianist Daniel Steibelt felt mutual hostility. They played together twice, with an interval of a week, in the same Viennese salon. A student of Beethoven reported of the second concert:

Steibelt played another quintet with a good deal of success. Furthermore, he had prepared (as one could easily tell) a brilliant “improvisation” and chosen for its theme precisely the one on which Beethoven had composed variations for his Trio. This incensed Beethoven’s admirers and himself; it was now his turn to go to the piano to improvise; he went in his usual rude way (if I may say so) over to the instrument as if half-pushed, picked up the cello part of Steibelt’s quintet in passing, placed it (intentionally?) on the stand upside down, and with one finger drummed out a theme from the first few measures. Insulted and angered, he improvised in such a manner that Steibelt left the room before he finished, would never again appear together with him, and indeed even made it a condition of future engagements that Beethoven not be invited.[84]

Liszt’s contest with Thalberg has already been recounted; it only remains to be added that arguments over “who won” continued in the press for months, in private for years, and in scholarship to this day. Liszt seems to have rarely been able to resist an opportunity to outperform another pianist. At a social gathering in which they were both present, he showed up the composer Felix Mendelssohn in successive renderings of one of the latter’s own caprices. The pianist Charles Hallé recollected in his autobiography that Liszt once

did me the honour to ask me to play a duet for two pianos with him, and chose Thalberg’s well-known Fantasia on Norma. We had no rehearsal, but he said to me: “Let us take the theme of the variations at a moderate pace, the effect will be better.” Now the first part of this theme is accompanied on the second piano (which Liszt had chosen) by octaves for both hands, which octaves in the second part fall to the lot of the first piano. What was my horror when, in spite of the caution he had given me, Liszt started his octaves at such a pace that I did not conceive the possibility of getting through my portion of them alive. Somehow I managed it, badly enough, but if I ever understood the French saying “suer sang et eau” [to sweat blood and water] it was then.

William Kuhe, another nineteenth-century pianist who wrote an autobiography, recalled that Alexander Dreyschock “created a furor” in Vienna in 1846, when he played a difficult Chopin étude in octaves. The following year, Kuhe writes, Liszt also played a Chopin étude in Vienna:

After repeatedly bowing his acknowledgments, he was compelled, by irresistible plaudits, to resume his seat, when he again played the first bar of the study, doing so, with marked deliberation, in octaves. Repeating the same passage again and again, each time accelerating the tempo, he at last attained the speed at which he had played it in single notes, and he then proceeded to render in octaves the entire study, with all the crescendos, decrescendos, etc., as though he were playing the piece as it was originally written. The consummate skill with which he accomplished this remarkable feat amazed even an audience accustomed to his flights of bravura playing, and completely put into the shade the previous achievement in the same direction of Dreyschock.[85]

Competitions in musical performance have been around for a long time. In the Middle Ages, at least according to legend, masters of the musicians’ guild held singing contests at which they awarded a prize to the winner. However, the tendency for formal concerts to turn into informal contests seems to have developed more recently and risen sharply in the first half of the nineteenth century with certain performers’ reconception of the public concert as a sort of athletic event.

Beginning in November 1839, Liszt toured Europe almost ceaselessly for eight years, generating an unprecedented celebrity for a musician: “Lisztomania.” He no longer had a model to copy, nor a city to call home, nor a lover to live with, except—and she was as faithful to him as he was to her—Fame. The grandest of tours yet undertaken began in Vienna, where Liszt’s concerts again had the purpose of raising money for a special cause. This time he played for the benefit of the Beethoven Memorial, consisting of both a large statue of the composer and musical performances to commemorate its installation in Bonn, his birthplace, in 1845, the seventy-fifth anniversary of his birth. Reading about the project in the Revue et gazette musicale de Paris earlier in 1839, Liszt wrote to the review to say that he would raise whatever was still needed by the Memorial Committee and then gave enough benefit concerts over a two-year period to produce the needed twenty thousand francs.[86] He was as free with money as he was jealous of fame.

From Vienna, Liszt went in December 1839 back to Hungary, which he had not seen since leaving it as a child of eleven. In Budapest he earned ten thousand francs in four concerts for himself, and another ten thousand francs in three benefit concerts for the local music society, the Theater of Hungary, and the future National Conservatory. He was crowned with laurel, honored at a banquet, and given a ball by sixteen noblewomen, each of whom presented him with a bouquet. In Pressburg (now Bratislava), he received a golden trophy. The Esterházy family made him several gifts, including a Hungarian hat and a valuable collection of pipes. It was the return of the prodigal son: “I’m bankrupting myself at tailors’ shops; my elegance is becoming prodigious.” The Paris press, exaggerating Liszt’s pounding of keys and snapping of strings, reported with amuse-ment that this “piano slayer” had been presented with a Hungarian saber in an elaborate ceremony. He responded to the Revue des deux mondes (Two Worlds Review):

In your music review of October 15th, my name having been mentioned on the occasion of the excessive pretensions and exaggerated successes of several performing artists, I take the liberty of addressing to you an observation on the subject. The crowns of flowers thrown at the feet of Mlles. Elssler [a dancer] and Pixis [a singer] by the music lovers of New York and Palermo are signal manifestations of the enthusiasm of a public. The saber that was given to me in Budapest is the recompense awarded by a nation in an entirely national manifestation.[87]

Liszt concertized westward from Budapest to London, where in the spring of 1840 he gave some of his revolutionary recitals. A year earlier the pianist had written to the Princess Belgiojoso in Paris from Rome:

What a contrast to these boring “musical soliloquies” (I don’t know what other name to give to this invention of mine) with which I have imagined to be able to gratify the Romans, and which I am even capable of importing into Paris, so limitless has my impertinence become!—Tired of the battle, and no longer being able to compose a program that showed any common sense, I dared to give a series of concerts by myself alone, borrowing from Louis XIV and saying to my public cavalierly, “le concert, c’est moi.”

Liszt may or may not have made the “invention” of giving formal concerts alone, but he did begin a new tradition of doing so. Paganini, as mentioned, interspersed his own playing with orchestral works, performed by whatever group happened to be native to the locale where he found himself, and with vocal works, often performed by a singer who was traveling with him. That way of organizing formal concerts was the old tradition. In London in 1840 Liszt began another new tradition with his onemusician concerts by calling them “recitals.” The English pianist Charles Salaman later recalled:

At these recitals Liszt, after performing a piece set down in his programme, would leave the platform, and, descending into the body of the room, where the benches were so arranged as to allow free locomotion, would move about among his auditors and converse with his friends, with the gracious condescension of a prince, until he felt disposed to return to the piano. The manner of the man was very different from that of the charmingly simple boy I remembered in 1827–1828; the flattery of the world had apparently not left him untouched, and he had developed many eccentricities and affectations. But as pianist the wonderful boy was father to the wonderful man; his genius had matured, and during that season of 1840 and the following, when he again visited England, he performed almost miracles on his instrument.

At first the London critics resisted him, as they had previously at first resisted Paganini, but they eventually conceded, as a reviewer in the Times put it, that “Liszt leaves every other performer, whether on the pianoforte or any other instrument, at an immeasurable distance behind him.” He toured Great Britain on and off for a year, sometimes giving two concerts a day, and though many of them were of the older sort, with orchestras and singers relieving his fingers, he still played four or five pieces per concert.[88]

In the second half of 1841 Liszt concertized eastward across Europe, arriving in Berlin in December. In the capital of Prussia audiences became nearly hysterical and women scrambled for souvenirs: broken strings from his piano, shreds of his velvet gloves, locks of his hair, even his cigar butts. When he finally left Berlin after having given twenty-one concerts there, it was in a triumphal procession of thirty coaches cheered by thousands of onlookers. From then on, success followed success in a swelling stream. Now restrained, now bursting out of its bed, the throbbing river roared through Russia, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany in 1842, Poland, Russia, and Germany in 1843, France and Spain in 1844.[89]

Seeing a delirious Paris in Liszt’s wake in 1844, Heinrich Heine called the enchantment “Lisztomania.”

What a strange thing, I thought: These Parisians, after having seen Napoleon, the great Napoleon, fight battle after battle—and what battles!—to attract their interest and keep their support, these same Parisians are now overwhelming our Franz Liszt with acclaim! And what acclaim! A veritable frenzy, which has no equal in the entire history of madness! But what is the cause of this prodigy?

It seems to me sometimes that all this sorcery can be explained by the fact that no one in the world knows as perfectly as our Franz Liszt how to organize his successes, or rather how to stage them. In this art, he is a true genius, a Philadelphia, a Bosco, a [Robert-]Houdin.…The most eminent people serve gratis in his claque, and the less-distinguished, hired enthusiasts are admirably trained to applaud him as well. The sparkling foam of champagne and a reputation for lavish generosity, trumpeted in the most respectable newspapers, are the lures that are used to attract recruits in every town.

To assemble his claques Liszt employed a factotum, a “general superintendent of his stardom” by the name of Belloni, who was also instructed to spend freely for the “crowns of laurel, bouquets of flowers, poems of praise, etc.” that were bestowed upon him at his concerts.[90]

Liszt’s finest staging effort may have been his production, as quasiofficial artistic director, of the Beethoven Memorial commemoration in Bonn in 1845. Many problems arose. Upon arriving in Bonn, Liszt found that the city lacked a decent concert hall and had to raise more money to have one built. The statue of Beethoven turned out to be in bronze, instead of the marble he had wanted; it had been done by an undistinguished German sculptor instead of the eminent Italian he had suggested; and it was unveiled with its back to the crowd. Berlioz reported that the festival orchestra was weak, while great players from all over Europe sat in the audience. Like Berlioz himself, they had not been asked to participate. But in spite of everything, Berlioz considered the event a success, for which “it is necessary to thank the city of Bonn, and above all Liszt.” Liszt made his public début as a conductor and also performed Beethoven’s E-flat Piano Concerto. “To say that Liszt played it, and that he played it in a grandiose, sensitive, poetic, and yet faithful rendition, is to be guilty of redundancy,” wrote Berlioz. The festival was well attended and the king of Prussia, in whose domain Bonn lay, personally thanked the pianist for his leading role in its realization. But precisely because Liszt took such a large part, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Hiller, and other leading musicians stayed away, and for the centennial commemoration of Beethoven’s birth in 1870, Liszt was not invited.[91]

To add luster to his name, Liszt wanted a title of nobility from Hungary and the cross of the Légion d’Honneur from France. He felt that he had two claims on the title of nobility: according to a genealogist who had written to him, he was legitimately descended from aristocratic ances-tors; failing that, he expected the Hungarian Diet to elevate him for his achievements. He never received the title, but it would probably have been superfluous to him anyway. In the first half of the nineteenth century the aristocracy of genius was already well on its way to replacing the aristocracy of birth. Not only did artists such as Paganini and Liszt become famous, wealthy, and respected outside of aristocratic and princely courts; they even held their own courts. Like a prince, the soloist in a concert hall was a being apart, elevated above everyone else, the center of attention, a ruler, if only for a couple of hours. Liszt, as we have seen, received the homage of the nobility and had a countess for his mistress. In the last of his series of articles entitled “De la situation des artistes,” Liszt told of what he felt had been his humiliation as a child in the salons of high society in the 1820s. True, he had been spoiled by titled women, but they had treated him simply as an “amusoir,” someone to amuse them, a mere entertainer. And they had invited him into their homes although, not because, he was an artist. But by the 1840s he had nothing more to complain of: “Everywhere, all the women and aristocrats favor me, warmly and violently.” He got his Légion d’Honneur cross in 1845.[92]

However carefully Liszt husbanded his fame, he gave generously of his money, his time, and his talents. Sometimes, as at Leipzig in 1840, Paris in 1841, and Berlin in 1841–42, people protested against the high prices of tickets to his concerts. But his contribution to the Beethoven Memorial alone constituted a fortune. And he was almost constantly raising funds for one cause or another: the musical society of Geneva, the unemployed of Lyons, the flood victims of Hungary, the dilapidated cathedral of Cologne.…Particularly eleemosynary was that over the course of fifty years, from 1835 until his death, Liszt gave thousands and thousands of piano lessons to dozens and dozens of students in Geneva, Weimar, and Budapest and never charged a centime.[93]

The Beethoven commemoration marked only a short pause, and not a restful one, in Liszt’s frenetic itinerary. He concertized in Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Germany in 1845, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and the Balkans in 1846, Ukraine, Rumania, and Turkey in 1847. In his travels he sometimes used the fast new means of transportation, the railroad. He established the schedule for the modern touring performer, seeing the world in a blur, living out of a suitcase. The number of concerts he gave between 1839 and 1847 amounted to more than a thousand. He had a huge repertoire, playing everything from Bach to Beethoven, the compositions of many of his contemporaries, and of course his own works. At his twenty-one concerts in Berlin in the winter of 1841–42, he played eighty different pieces. Thalberg, performing a few of his own compositions, may well have been Liszt’s equal, but the narrowness of his repertoire considerably limited his appeal. Liszt had a stupefying capacity for learning music: The anecdotes that a wide variety of contemporary musicians have related suggest that he was probably the greatest sight-reader who ever lived; and he performed almost everything at his concerts from memory. Paganini and he were among the first to do so. Liszt’s large hands, with long fingers and no webbing between them, were engineered for the piano. He had a predilection for wide and rapid leaps, rapid note repetition, chromatic scales in glissando, and interlocking hands, and he sometimes adopted Thalberg’s acclaimed “three-handed” technique. He did keyboard exercises several hours a day for long years, reading books at the same time to prevent boredom and using a dumb keyboard while traveling. Charles Hallé wrote that “one of the transcendent merits of his playing was the crystal-like clearness which never failed for a moment even in the most complicated and, to anybody else, impossible passages; it was as if he had photographed them in their minutest detail upon the ear of his listener.” Liszt was the ideal type of the touring virtuoso.[94]

Finally, to satisfy his desire to compose and conduct orchestral music, and to live with the Princess von Sayn-Wittgenstein, whom he had met while performing in Kiev in 1847, Liszt accepted the position of kapellmeister of Weimar in January 1848. He quit touring abruptly and permanently. Not surprisingly, Liszt’s compositions during his eight years of touring were relatively slight: songs; dances; transcriptions, fantasias, and paraphrases of songs, marches, and overtures. But, writes a musicologist, “Though Liszt undoubtedly wasted a great deal of time during this period on brilliant trifles, his progress as a composer did continue to showa steady development, and culminated in the full-scale flowering of the Weimar years.” The Weimar years, from 1848 through 1861, were those in which Liszt set down his greatest compositions: the final versions of the first two Années de pèlerinage; the final versions of the Études d’exécution transcendante and the Grandes études de Paganini; the Piano Con-certo no. 1 and no. 2; the Piano Sonata in B Minor; the Mephisto Waltz no. 1 and the Totentanz; the first twelve Symphonic Poems; the Dante Symphony and the Faust Symphony; and much more.[95] Liszt far surpassed Paganini as a composer, but he never became another Mozart. And the works of his that are most often performed today are not his symphonic works but those for solo piano and for piano and orchestra. Like Paganini, he acquired fame more through his performance of his works than through their composition. An appreciative Balzac wrote of “the sort of magic practiced by Paganini and Liszt, in which performance indeed changes all the conditions of music, while making out of it a kind of poetry beyond music.” [96]

Liszt’s careers as kapellmeister in Weimar in the 1850s, as an abbé in Rome in the 1860s, and as the “trifurcated” maestro shuttling between Weimar, Rome, and Budapest in the 1870s and 1880s lie outside the scope of this study. These were the careers of a new Liszt: orchestra conductor, composer of “music of the future,” husband in all but name of the Princess von Sayn-Wittgenstein,[97] Central European. Dead and gone, a victim of his own success, was the old Liszt: solo pianist, spell-weaving performer, lover of many women or none, cosmopolitan Parisian.

Shortly after he died in 1886, Liszt got his own memorial. The princess’s daughter donated seventy thousand marks toward the realization of a proposal of the grand duke of Weimar for a Liszt Foundation there, including a Liszt museum established in the pianist’s rooms in the Hofgärtnerei, which is still in existence. Of Liszt’s own children, two had died young and the third, Cosima, was busy fanning the fame of another deceased musician, her husband Richard Wagner. Like Paganini, Liszt also had a street named for him in Paris.[98]

Spectacular as Liszt’s eight-year tour of Europe was, it was not the most celebrated musical tour of the nineteenth century. “Lindomania” broke out only a few years later, from 1850 through 1852, when Jenny Lind, “the Swedish Nightingale,” concertized in the United States under the management of P. T. Barnum. The director of the Lower Rhine Music Festival in 1857, Franz Liszt, refused to invite her, saying, “With this magnet [there], everything else, and I cannot be indifferent to it, becomes entirely superfluous; for just as Louis XIV was the real presence of the State, so Frau Lind forms the real Music Festival.” [99]

Lind was born in Stockholm in 1820 to a sanctimonious, unsuccessful teacher-mother and a music-loving, work-avoiding father, who married fifteen years later. She spent the first four years of her life in the country house of foster parents, the next four years in her mother’s city apartment, two years in the Stockholm Widows’ Home with her grandmother, and the rest of her youth in the Swedish Royal Theater, where her promising voice obtained her entry at the age of ten. Trained in acting as well as in singing and destined for opera, she made her leading-role début at age eighteen. At twenty-one she broke off the beginning of an assured career as the prima donna of Swedish opera to travel to Paris to expand her horizons and to study with Europe’s premier voice coach, Manuel Garcia. After taking lessons and giving no performances for a year she returned to Sweden, but the Royal Theater could no longer satisfy her. In 1843 she began to sing abroad, first in Copenhagen, then in Berlin and other German cities, and at length in London and Great Britain. She never sang publicly in Paris.[100]

Despite having grown up in the theater, that bastion of immorality, Lind became a devout Lutheran, owing mostly to the influence of her grandmother. She had no lovers. She felt some affection for the leading tenor of the Royal Theater, but this may have resulted from the confusion of private life with stage roles, and anyway he did not reciprocate. In Copenhagen, she became friends with Hans Christian Andersen, who fell in love with her and was inspired by her to write several of his most famous fairy tales, including “The Nightingale” and “The Angel.” In this case, she did not reciprocate. Abroad her triumphs began to acquire for her a Continental reputation and the more money she made, the more she gave to charity, becoming as renowned for her religion and benevolence as for her singing. She finally decided that “the theatre was nothing but lies and delusions” and in 1849 swore off opera, from then on singing only in concerts.[101]

P. T. Barnum induced Lind to travel to the United States in 1850 for a concert tour, which he managed. He presented her as an angel of virtue as well as an angel of song, and she pursued her usual course of avoiding anything like a romantic attachment and of giving frequent charity concerts. Some twenty thousand people turned out to welcome her when her ship docked in New York. Her New World début, the tickets for which Barnum had sold at auction, drew five thousand people, seven-eighths of them men. She gave six concerts in New York, where there soon appeared Jenny Lind gloves, bonnets, riding hats, shawls, mantillas, robes, parasols, combs, jewelry, pianos, chairs, sofas, sausages, even Jenny Lind teakettles, “which, being filled with water and placed on the fire, commenced to sing in a few minutes.” Delmonico’s created a Jenny Lind pancake that could still be ordered in restaurants fifty years later. Men bought strands of her hair, or so they supposed them to be, from enterprising hotel chambermaids who claimed to have procured them from her brush. So it went, from New York to Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Charleston, Havana, New Orleans, and up the Mississippi River. The most prominent authors, businessmen, ministers, politicians, and even President Fillmore attended Lind’s concerts and made personal calls on her. In 1852 she returned to Europe with $176,000, the equivalent of several million of today’s dollars, leaving behind $50,000 to $100,000 distributed among a wide variety of charities. Knowledgeable music critics placed Lind in the first rank of contemporary sopranos, but this rank included a half-dozen or so others of comparable ability. Barnum, who had never heard Lind sing and in any case had a tin ear, said that he had been prompted as much by her personal reputation as by her artistic one in bringing her to the United States.[102]

On her American tour, Lind sang arias from the operas in which she no longer performed, religious hymns, traditional and modern Scandanavian songs, and American songs, such as some of the early works of Stephen Foster, whom she met. Her audiences particularly liked: a trio she sang with two flutes, composed with her in mind by Meyerbeer for his opera Das Feldlager in Schlesien (The Silesian Camp), in which her voice could not be distinguished from the sound of the flutes; “Herdegossen” (The Herdsman’s Song), composed by her Swedish music teacher Berg, in the last stanza of which she gradually reduced the volume of a high note until it was “as faint as a sigh, but with a carrying power that made it distinctly audible at the most extreme limits” of a large hall, and then swelled it out again until the walls of the hall seemed to vibrate; “The Norwegian Echo Song,” a folk tune, in which she accompanied herself on the piano and turned her head back and forth, sending echoes back and forth across the hall and creating an effect like ventriloquism; and “Ich muß singen,” imitative of birdsong and called in English “The Bird Song,” written by the contemporary German composer Taubert. About her singing in general she wrote, “I sing after no one’s méthode—only, after that of the birds (as far as I am able).” Lind also helped to propel “Home, Sweet Home” on its career as probably the most popular American song of the entire nineteenth century.[103]

The most celebrated musical tour of the nineteenth century brought back some old questions, newly formulated and disconcertingly loud. Did Barnum, in managing the tour, achieve the goal he set of promoting himself from showman to impresario? Or did he demote Lind from artist to entertainer? Did he exploit her or did he facilitate her reception of the recognition she deserved? Was she exploiting the audience or the audience her talent, when she sang, for example, “The Echo Song”?


All translations of quotations from other languages into English are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

1. “Farinello” meaning “fodder” dates from the fourteenth century; mean-ing “rogue,” from the seventeenth century; Carlo Battisti and Giovanni Alessio, Dizionario etimologico italiano, 5 vols. (Firenze: Barbèra, 1975).

2. Antoine-François Prévost d’Exiles, Le Pour et contre 90 (May? 1735), quoted in Otto Erich Deutsch, Handel, a Documentary Biography (London: Black, 1955), p. 390.

3. The sources of this biographical sketch of Farinelli: Charles Burney, A General History of Music, from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period, ed. Frank Mercer, 2 vols. (New York: Dover, 1957; first published London, 1776–89), vol. 2, pp. 788–817, passim; idem, The Present State of Music in France and Italy (New York: Broude, 1969; reprint of 2d ed., London, 1773), pp. 204–5, 210–25; Jacques Casanova de Seingalt, Histoire de ma vie, 12 vols. (Wiesbaden/Paris: Brockhaus/Plon, 1960–62), vol. 12, pp. 137–38; Robert Freeman, “Farinelli,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 6, pp. 397–98; Gerber, “Broschi,” in Historisch-biographisches Lexicon der Tonkünstler, pt. 1, cols. 209–12; Franz Haböck, Die Gesangskunst der Kastraten, vol. 1, Die Kunst des Cavaliere Carlo Broschi Farinelli (Vienna: Universal-Edition, 1923); John Hawkins, A General History of the Science and Practice of Music, 2 vols. (New York: Dover, 1963; first published London, 1776), vol. 2, pp. 876–79; Henry Pleasants, The Great Singers, from the Dawn of Opera to Our Own Time (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1966), chap. 4; Giovenale Sacchi, Vita del cavaliere Don Carlo Broschi (Vinegia: Coleti, 1784).

4. Burney, Present State of Music, pp. 213–14; see also idem, General History of Music, vol. 2, p. 919. While Burney placed this contest in a performance of Riccardo Broschi’s opera L’Isola d’Alcinea, others placed it in Nicola Porpora’s opera Eomene; Haböck, Kunst des Cavaliere Carlo Broschi Farinelli, pp. xv–xvi.

5. Johann Joachim Quantz, “Johann Joachim Quantzens Lebenslauf, von ihm selbst entworfen,” in Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, Historisch-kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme der Musik, 5 vols. (Hildesheim: Olms, 1970; reprint of Berlin ed., 1754–55), vol. 1, p. 234.

6. Burney, Present State of Music, p. 216; see also idem, General History of Music, vol. 2, p. 790.

7. Hawkins, General History of Science and Practice, p. 877 n.

8. Freeman, “Farinelli,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 6, p. 398.

9. Diderot, Neveu de Rameau, in Oeuvres, pp. 397, 452–53, 454. Of the reciprocal influence of violin and vocal music, Manfred Bukofzer writes: “Some extraordinary vocal cadenzas, for example those sung by the ‘divine’ Farinelli, have come down to us. They look as though they had been lifted bodily out of a violin concerto”; Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, from Monteverdi to Bach (New York: Norton, 1947), p. 373.

10. Boris Schwarz, “Paganini” and Nicholas Temperley, “Chopin,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 14, p. 86, and vol. 4, p. 305, respectively; Geraldine I. C. de Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, 2 vols. (New York: Da Capo, 1977; reprint of 1st ed., Norman, Okla., 1957), vol. 1, p. 46.

11. One of the autobiographical sketches was recorded by Peter Lichtenthal, the other by Julius Schottky. The Lichtenthal version first appeared in Italian under the heading “Nachrichten,” in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 32, no. 20 (19 May 1830), cols. 324–27; then in Italian and French parallel texts under the title “Notice sur Paganini, écrite par lui-même,” in La Re-vue musicale, 1st ser., 9 (August–November 1830): 138–45; more recently in English in Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 2, pp. 366–68; it will henceforth be referred to as the “autobiographical sketch recorded by Lichtenthal.” The Schottky version first appeared in German under the title “Paganini als Knabe und Jüngling, und ein Wort über seine Familie” in Julius Max Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben als Künstler und als Mensch (Prague: Taussig and Taussig, 1830), pp. 249–59; more recently in English in Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 2, pp. 368–73; it will henceforth be referred to as the “autobiographical sketch recorded by Schottky.” The source of the passage quoted here: Paganini, autobiographical sketch recorded by Schottky.

12. Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, pp. 32–33. The source of Paganini’s quotations: the autobiographical sketch recorded by Schottky. See also Carlo Gervasoni, Nuova teoria di musicaa cui si fanno precedere varie notizie storico-musicali (Parma: Blanchon, 1812), p. 214; Jeffrey Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso (New York: Da Capo, 1970; reprint of 1st ed., London, 1936), p. 31.

13. The source of all the quotations in this paragraph: Paganini, autobiographical sketch recorded by Schottky. Since Paganini identified the Leghorn gift only as “a Guarneri” and he had several Guarneri violins, certainty is lacking that it was the 1742 Guarneri, his favorite concert instrument. F.-J. Fétis says it was, both in “Paganini,” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 6, p. 407, and in Biographical Notice of Nicolo Paganini, with an Analysis of His Compositions, trans. uncredited (New York: AMS, 1976; reprint of London edition, 1876; first published Paris, 1851), p. 30.

14. Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, pp. 21, 40–41; Harry Hearder, Italy in the Age of the Risorgimento, 1790–1870 (London: Longman, 1983), p. 45; Carlo Botta, History of Italy during the Consulate and Empire, 2 vols., trans. uncredited (London: Baldwin and Craddock, 1828), vol. 1, pp. 33, 46, 242; Paganini, autobiographical sketch recorded by Schottky.

15. Fétis, “Paganini,” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 6, p. 408; idem, Biographical Notice of Nicolo Paganini, p. 32; Paganini, autobiographical sketch recorded by Lichtenthal; Paganini, autobiographical sketch recorded by Schottky. The source of Paganini’s quotation: Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, pp. 368–69. See also Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, pp. 51–56; Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, pp. 66–80, 95–101.

16. The source of Paganini’s quotations: Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, pp. 368–69. See also Paganini, autobiographical sketch recorded by Lichtenthal; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart et al., The Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. and ed. Emily Anderson, 2 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1966), vol. 2, pp. 683–85; Paul David and David Charlton, “Clement,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 4, p. 482; Marc Pincherle, The World of the Virtuoso, trans. Lucile H. Brockway (New York: Norton, 1963), pp. 26–27.

17. The source of Paganini’s quotation: Paganini, autobiographical sketch recorded by Lichtenthal (Courcy’s rendering of this passage is inaccurate in her translation of the autobiographical sketch). See also Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, pp. 102–12; Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, pp. 58–68; Ole Bull, “Violin Notes,” an app. to Sara C. Bull, Ole Bull, a Memoir (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1886), p. 370.

18. Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, pp. 47, 67, 113, 234. On the incident in Ferrara: Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, pp. 286–96.

19. Ludwig Spohr, Lebenserinnerungen, ed. F. Göthel, 2 vols. (Tutzing: Schneider, 1968), vol. 1, p. 268.

20. Ernst Ludwig Gerber, “Scheller,” in Neues historisch-biographisches Lexicon der Tonkünstler, 4 parts (Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1966–77; reprint of 1st ed., Leipzig, 1812–14), pt. 4, cols. 46–48; Gerber twice heard Scheller perform in concert.

21. Fétis, “Durand,” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 3, p. 87. On Durand, see also Gerber, “Durand,” in Neues historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler, pt. 1, col. 959; Spohr, Lebenserinnerungen, vol. 1, p. 219; Barbara Chmara-Zaczkiewicz, “Duranowski,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 5, p. 740.

22. Percy M. Young, “Concert,” and Ronald Lewcock, “Acoustics, §1: Rooms,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 4, pp. 616–25, and vol. 1, pp. 62–63 (quoted passage), respectively; Percy M. Young, The Concert Tradition, from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century (New York: Roy, 1969), pp. 34–36, 39–40, 63, 94–97; Brenet, Concerts en France, pt. 2, chap. 1.

23. The source of Joseph II’s quotation: Franz Xaver Niemetschek, Ich kannte Mozart: Leben des k. k. Kapellmeisters Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart, ed. Jost Perfahl (Munich: Bibliothek zeitgenössischer Literatur, 1984; first pub-lished Prague, 1798), p. 23. See also Pincherle, World of the Virtuoso, p. 25; Otto Jahn, The Life of Mozart, trans. Pauline D. Townsend, 3 vols. (London: Novella, Ewer, 1891), vol. 1, p. 27; Geraldine I. C. de Courcy, Chronology of Nicolo Paganini’s Life (Wiesbaden: Erdmann, 1961), passim.

24. [Peter Lichtenthal], “Nachrichten: Mayland,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 16, no. 14 (6 April 1814), col. 232 (emphasis in the original).

25. Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, p. 300.

26. Arturo Codignola, Paganini intimo (Paganini’s correspondence, annotated by Codignola) (Genova: Il Municipio, 1935), pp. 125–27; Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, pp. 121–26, 147; Fétis, Biographical Notice of Nicolo Paganini, pp. 39–40; [Peter Lichtenthal], “Nachrichten: Mayland,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 18, no. 21 (22 May 1816), col. 344. The debate over “who won” continued for many years; see, e.g., G. Imbert de Laphalèque [pseud. of Louis-François L’Héritier de l’Ain], Notice sur le célèbre violiniste Nicolo Paganini (Paris: Guyot, 1830); The Harmonicon, a Journal of Music 8 (April 1830): 177–78, and (May 1830): 184.

27. Letter of Paganini, quoted in Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, p. 215; Codignola, Paganini intimo, pp. 210–13, 274–75; Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, p. 236; Docteur Bennati, “Extraits d’une notice physiologique sur le célèbre violoniste Nicolo Paganini,” La Revue musicale, 1st ser., 11, no. 15 (14 May 1831): 113–16; Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, pp. 163–64; John Sugden, Niccolo Paganini: Supreme Violinist or Devil’s Fiddler? (Neptune City, N.J.: Paganiniana Publications, 1980), lithograph on p. 90. A twentieth-century physician has written an entire book about Paganini’s medical problems: Pietro Berri, Il Calvario di Paganini (Savonna: “Liguria,” 1941).

28. For the Verona story: Imbert de Laphalèque [L’Héritier de l’Ain], Notice sur le célèbre violoniste Nicolo Paganini, pp. 58–61; The Athenæum [of London], no. 121 (20 February 1830): 109; no. 190 (18 June 1831): 395. For the Padua and prison stories: Letter of Paganini, in La Revue musicale, 1st ser., 11, no. 12 (23 April 1831): 95; Stendhal, Vie de Rossini, 2 vols. (Paris: Le Divan, 1929), vol. 2 (vol. 30 of the Le Divan edition of Stendhal’s works), p. 149. For the devil story: Franz Liszt [and Marie d’Agoult], “Sur Paganini, à propos de sa mort,” La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris 7, no. 50 (23 August 1840), p. 431. For the Trieste story: Francesco Regli, Storia del violino in Piemonte (Torino: Dalmazzo, 1863), pp. 91–92. On Paganini as propagator of stories about himself: Ludolf Vineta [pseud. of Ludolf Wienbarg], Paganini’s Leben und Charakter nach Schottky (Hamburg: Hoffman and Campe, 1830), pp. 23–24.

29. Codignola, Paganini intimo, pp. 226–74. On Paganini’s brevet from the Pope: Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, pp. 319–20. See also Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, pp. 118–31; Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, pp. 229–53.

30. For the quotations from Viennese critics: Österreichische Beobachter of 19 April 1828, quoted in Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, p. 18; “Nachrichten: Wien,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 30, no. 19 (7 May 1828), col. 309; Vienna Theaterzeitung of April 1828, quoted in Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, p. 18, respectively. For information on Paganini’s stay in Vienna: ibid., pp. 28–41 (the quotation is on p. 29).

31. The source of Paganini’s quotation: Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, p. 278. See also Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, p. 276; Imbert de Laphalèque, Notice sur le célèbre violoniste, p. 21; Codignola, Paganini intimo, pp. 272–74.

32. Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, pp. 151–54 (in which a passage from a Prague newspaper concerning the ticket prices is quoted), 187, 213, 232–36; Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, pp. 292–93. The sources of the quotations: Georg Harrys, Paganini in seinem Reisewagen und Zimmer (Tutzing: Schneider, 1982; reprint of 1st ed., Braunschweig, 1830), p. 29; Codignola, Paganini intimo, p. 281.

33. The source of Schottky’s quotation: Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, pp. iii–vi. The source of Boswell’s quotation: Frederick A. Pottle, James Boswell: The Earlier Years, 1740–1769 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), p. 152. For Paganini’s authorization of Schottky: Codignola, Paganini intimo, p. 281. See also Pottle, James Boswell, chap. 11 (Boswell and Rousseau), chaps. 15–16, 20–23 (Boswell and Paoli).

34. The source of Zelter’s quotation: Karl Friedrich Zelter, Selbstdarstellung, ed. Willi Reich (Zurich: Manesse, 1955), p. 391. See also Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, pp. 176–77 (Paganini and king of Prussia), 195 (Paganini in Munich); Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, pp. 324–26 (Paganini and king of Prussia), 367 (Paganini in Munich). For Paganini and tsar of Russia: Codignola, Paganini intimo, p. 291. The source of Goethe’s quotation: Johann Peter Eckermann, Gespräche mit Goethe, 2 March 1831. See also Harrys, Paganini in seinem Reisewagen und Zimmer, pp. 20 (Paganini’s man-ager’s quotation), 58 (Paganini and Bosco).

35. The source of the quotation: James H. Johnson, Listening in Paris: A Cultural History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), p. 219. Lon-don and Paris were the first and second cities in Europe to accumulate a million inhabitants, which happened in the first half of the nineteenth century; Tertius Chandler and Gerald Fox, Three Thousand Years of Urban Growth (New York: Academic Press, 1974), pp. 19–20. Paganini and Rossini first met in the late 1810s in Milan or Bologna; Fétis, Biographical Notice of Nicolo Paganini, p. 39; Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 1, pp. 175–76. Paganini launched Rossini’s opera Mathilde de Shabran in Rome in 1821; Radiciotti, Gioacchino Rossini, vol. 1, pp. 418–19, 426–27.

36. On conservatories: Denis Arnold, “Education in Music, §V: Conservatories,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 6, pp. 18–21. On piano teachers: Boris Schwarz, French Instrumental Music between the Revolutions (1789–1830) (New York: Da Capo, 1987), p. 223. The source of Chopin’s quotation: Frédéric Chopin, Correspondance de Frédéric Chopin, ed. B. E. Sydow, S. Chainaye, and D. Chainaye, 3 vols. (Paris: Richard-Masse, 1981), vol. 2, p. 39.

37. David Charlton and John Trevitt, “Paris, §VI, 6: 1789–1870, Criticism, Publishing and Instrument Making,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 14, p. 219. On Paganini and Vuillaume: Codignola, Paganini intimo, pp. 392–93; [Louis-]Antoine Vidal, Les Instruments à archet: Les feseurs, les joueurs d’instruments, leur histoire sur le continent europé , 3 vols. (Paris: Claye, 1874–78), vol. 2, pp. 186–88. On Érard and Pleyel: [F.-J.] Fétis, “Esquisse de l’histoire du piano et des pianistes,” pts. 3, 4, La Revue musicale, 1st ser., 8 (May–August 1830): 225–33, 257–67, respectively; Edwin M. Good, Giraffes, Black Dragons, and Other Pianos: A Technological History from Cristofori to the Modern Concert Grand (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1982), chap. 6, “The French Take the Lead,” esp. pp. 137–44, 155–65.

38. On the concert series: David Charlton and John Trevitt, “Paris, §VI, 4: 1789–1870, Concert Life,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 14, pp. 215–18; Young, Concert Tradition, pp. 126–29, 175–78; Schwarz, French Instrumental Music, chaps. 1, 2, esp. pp. 1, 36. On the firms Érard and Pleyel: Margaret Cranmer et al., “Érard,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 6, pp. 219–20; Rita Benton, “Pleyel (i),” and Margaret Cranmer, “Pleyel (ii),” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 15, pp. 6–11 and 11–12, respectively.

39. Hector Berlioz, Mémoires, 2 vols. (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1969), vol. 2, pp. 17–20.

40. Franz Liszt [and Marie d’Agoult], “Revue Critique. M. Thalberg,” La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris 4, no. 2 (8 January 1837): 18.

41. On the 1821 Opéra: Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 2, pp. 37–38. The sources of the quotations: [F.-J.] Fétis, “Premier concert de Paganini,” La Revue musicale, 1st ser., 11, no. 6 (12 March 1831): 41–43; [François-Henri] Castil-Blaze, “La Chronique musicale,” Journal des débats, 15 March 1831, reproduced in [François-Henri] Castil-Blaze, L’Académie impériale de musiquede 1645 à 1855, 2 vols. (Paris: Castil-Blaze, 1855), vol. 2, pp. 222–23; Le Moniteur universel, 10 March 1831, p. 501.

42. Paganini’s first biography, 1830: Imbert de Laphalèque, Notice sur le célèbre violiniste. See also Fr[ançois-Joseph-Marie] Fayolle, Paganini et Bériot; ou, Avis aux jeunes artistes qui se destinent à l’ seignement du violon (Paris: Legouest, 1831). For Paganini’s influence on Bériot: Boris Schwarz, Great Masters of the Violin, from Corelli and Vivaldi to Stern, Perlman and Zuckerman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), pp. 207–9. On Paganini’s secret: G. E. Anders, Nicolo Paganini: Sa vie, sa personne et quelques mots sur son secret (Paris: Delaunay, 1831); Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, pp. 280–82.

43. The source of the quotation from Camillo Sivori, a student of Paganini: David Laurie, Reminiscences of a Fiddle Dealer (London: T. W. Laurie, 1924), pp. 60–62. On Paganini’s secretiveness: Harrys, Paganini in seinem Reisewagen und Zimmer, pp. 13–14, 47–48; Andreas Moser, Geschichte des Violinspiels, 2 vols. (Tutzing: Schneider, 1966), vol. 2, pp. 138–40.

44. Charles Guhr, L’Art de jouer du violon de Paganini, trans. not credited (Paris: Schott, [1830]), passim, esp. pp. 5 (the longer quotation), 50 (the shorter quotation). For review by Fétis: La Revue musicale, 1st ser., 10 (November 1830–<$f$>January 1831): 44–50, 78–85.

45. Franz Liszt, Briefe, ed. La Mara [pseud. of Marie Lipsius], 8 vols. (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Härtel, 1893–1905), vol. 1, p. 7.

46. The source of Bull’s quotation: Bull, “Violin Notes,” in Ole Bull, a Memoir, p. 374. On Bull and Paganini: Fétis, “Bull,” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 2, pp. 107–8; John Bergsagel, “Ole Bull,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 3, pp. 445–48. The source of the Times quotation: “King’s Theatre,” Times (London), 2 June 1836, p. 6; see also the review of Ole Bull’s first London concert, “King’s Theatre,” Times (London), 23 May 1836, p. 5. The source of the “absorb and assimilate” quotation: Schwarz, “Paganini,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 14, p. 89. For Paganini’s influence on French and Belgian violinists: idem, Great Masters of the Violin, pp. 207–11.

47. On Paganini’s totals for Paris in 1831: Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 2, pp. 20–21 n. 42. The source of the Times quotation: “Paganini’s Concert,” Times (London), 6 June 1831, p. 7; see also the reviews of Paganini’s London concerts in the Times, 11 June 1831, p. 3, 14 June 1831, p. 2; Courcy, Chronology of Nicolo Paganini’s Life, pp. 46–70. The Sonata Maria Luisa may have been written as early as 1816; idem, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 2, pp. 381–82.

48. The source of the quotation: Berlioz, Mémoires, vol. 1, pp. 297–98. On “Baron Paganini”: Le Moniteur universel, 15 January 1833, p. 98; Lillian Day, Paganini of Genoa (New York: Macaulay, 1929), plate facing p. 250 (photograph of calling card of “Baron Paganini”); Codignola, Paganini intimo, pp. 374–76; Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 2, pp. 116–23.

49. On Paganini’s gift to Berlioz: Berlioz, Mémoires, vol. 2, pp. 31–33; La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, vol. 5, no. 51 (23 December 1838), p. 516; Codignola, Paganini intimo, pp. 575–79. On Casino Paganini: ibid., pp. 516–646, passim; Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, pp. 292–304; Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 2, chaps. 32–37; idem, Chronology of Nicolo Paganini’s Life, pp. 68–73.

50. Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, p. 304; Courcy, Paganini the Genoese, vol. 2, app. 5, “List of Instruments in Paganini’s Possession at the Time of His Death.”

51. Harrys, Paganini in seinem Reisewagen und Zimmer, p. 32.

52. The source of the quotation: Joseph d’Ortigue, “Études biographiques: Frantz Listz” [sic], Gazette musicale de Paris 2, no. 24 (14 June 1835): 199. The first biographical sketch of Liszt: Anon., “Litz” [sic], in Biographie universelle et portative, vol. 3, pp. 310–11.

53. d’Ortigue, “Études biographiques,” La Gazette musicale 2, no. 24, p. 198; Émile Haraszti, “Le Problème Liszt,” Acta musicologica 9, nos. 3–4 (June–December 1937): 130.

54. The source of the quoted passages: Carl Czerny, “Recollections from my Life” (written in 1842), trans. Ernest Sanders, Musical Quarterly 42, no. 3 (July 1956): 314–16 (emphasis in original). For information on Czerny: Alice L. Mitchell, “Czerny,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 5, pp. 138–41. For a chronology: d’Ortigue, “Études biographiques,” p. 198.

55. “Nachrichten: Wien,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 25, no. 4 (22 January 1823), cols. 53–54; unidentified Munich newspaper of 17 October 1823, quoted in J. Duverger [pseud. of Marie d’Agoult], “Franz Liszt,” Le Biographe universel 5, no. 2 (April 1843): 121 (“a new Mozart”). For a chronology: Alan Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, The Virtuoso Years, 1811–1847 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987), pp. 68–92.

56. On Liszt’s not being admitted to the Conservatoire: d’Ortigue, “Études biographiques,” La Gazette musicale 2, no. 24, p. 199; Franz Liszt [and Marie d’Agoult], “De la situation des artistes et de leur condition dans la société” (first published as a series of seven articles in La Gazette musicale de Paris in 1835), in Franz Liszt [and Marie d’Agoult], Pages romantiques, ed. Jean Chantavoine (Paris/Leipzig: Alcan/Breitkopf and Härtel, 1912), pp. 38–40. On Liszt as a student of Paer: J.-G. Prod’homme, “Liszt et Paris,” La Revue musicale, new ser., 9, no. 7 (1 May 1928): 106–7. On the number of concerts: Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, p. 96. For the Paris press on young Liszt: A. Martinville, “Concert du jeune List” [sic], Le Drapeau blanc, 9 March 1824, quoted in Pierre-Antoine Huré and Claude Knepper, Liszt en son temps: Documents choisis, présentés et annotés (Paris: Hachette, 1987), p. 97, and in Duverger, “Franz Liszt,” Biographe universel 5, no. 2, pp. 126–27 (from which the quotation here is taken); Anon., “Litz [sic],” in Biographie universelle et portative, vol. 3, p. 311.

57. On the Frenchness of Liszt during his career as a concert pianist, see, for example: Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 13–14, 96; Émile Haraszti, Franz Liszt (Paris: Picard, 1967), pp. 9–10, 22; Sacheverell Sitwell, Liszt (London: Faber and Faber, 1934), p. 12. There is general agreement on this among Liszt’s biographers.

58. d’Ortigue, “Études biographiques,” La Gazette musicale 2, no. 24, pp. 199–200; Huré and Knepper, Liszt en son temps, pp. 83–84; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 103–22.

59. On Liszt’s opera: Émile Haraszti, “Liszt à Paris,” La Revue musicale, new ser., 17, no. 165 (April 1936): 253, says Liszt had a lot of help from Paer; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 114–16, says Liszt had little help from Paer; Anon., “Litz [sic],” in Biographie universelle et portative, vol. 3, p. 311, calls the opera a “mystification.”

60. F.-J. Fétis, “Nouvelles de Paris: Concerts spirituels,” La Revue musicale, 1st ser., 3 (February–July 1828): 254.

61. Duverger, “Franz Liszt,” Biographe universel 5, no. 2, pp. 133–34; d’Ortigue, “Études biographiques,” La Gazette musicale 2, no. 24, pp. 200–201; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 124–33.

62. Émile Haraszti, “Deux franciscains: Adam et Franz Liszt,” La Revue musicale, new ser., 18, no. 174 (May 1937): 269–71; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 39–41, 56; Duverger, “Franz Liszt,” Biographe universel 5, no. 2, pp. 131–36; d’Ortigue, “Études biographiques,” La Gazette musicale 2, no. 24, pp. 199–201; Charles Hallé, The Autobiography of Charles Hallé, ed. Michael Kennedy (London: Elek, 1972; first published as The Life and Letters of Sir Charles Hallé in London, 1896), p. 103.

63. The source of the quotation from his student’s mother: Mme Auguste Boissier, Liszt pédagogue: Leçons de piano données par Liszt à Mlle Valérie Boissier à Paris en 1832 (Paris: Champion, 1928), pp. 39–40. On Liszt’s friend-ship with Hugo: Antoine Fontaney, Journal intime (1831–36), ed. René Jasinski (Paris: Presses Françaises, 1925), pp. 117, 133, 135, 148, 164. Haraszti, Franz Liszt, p. 9, writes: “Génie hongrois, Liszt n’ a pas moins été formé entièrement par le romantisme français.” The obituary of Liszt published by Le Corsair is reproduced in Émile Haraszti, “Liszt à Paris” (suite et fin), La Revue musicale, new ser., 17, no. 167 (July–August 1936): 9; English translation in Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 134–35, whence, too, the reference to Liszt portraits bearing the death date 1828. Guy de Pourtalès, La Vie de Franz Liszt (Paris: Gallimard, 1983; first published Paris, 1926), p. 46, says that the newspaper L’Étoile also ran an obituary of Liszt around this time.

64. On the rue du Mail: Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 2, p. 88. On the Érards’ gift to Liszt: Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 92–93. On the advantages of the double-escapement mechanism: Good, Giraffes, Black Dragons, and Other Pianos, p. 142. On Liszt’s use of rapid repetition of notes, see the following articles in Franz Liszt: The Man and His Music, ed. Alan Walker (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1970): Arthur Headley, “Liszt the Pianist and Teacher,” p. 27; Louis Kentner, “Solo Piano Music (1827–1861),” pp. 110–14; David Wilde, “Transcriptions for Piano,” p. 184.

65. On Beethoven’s pianos: Good, Giraffes, Black Dragons, and Other Pianos, chap. 3, “Beethoven and the Growing Grand.” On steel piano strings: Ad, comte de Pontécoulant, Organographie; essai sur la facture instrumentale, art, industrie et commerce, 2 vols. (Amsterdam: Knuf, 1971; reprint of 1st ed., Paris, 1861), vol. 1, p. 231; Good, Giraffes, Black Dragons, and Other Pianos, pp. 153–54.

66. On the modifications to Paganini’s concert violin: Guhr, L’Art de jouer, pp. 3–4. On the “contraviola Paganini”: untitled short item in La Gazette musicale de Paris 1, no. 27 (6 July 1834): 220. On Ole Bull as an instrument maker: Bergsagel, “Ole Bull,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 3, p. 447. On Liszt’s commissioning of a new keyboard instrument: Franz Liszt, Franz Liszt, l’artiste, le clerc; documents inédits, ed. Jacques Vier (Paris: Éditions du Cèdre, 1950), p. 68. On Liszt’s favoring of a new keyboard: Apel, “Keyboard,” in Harvard Dictionary of Music, pp. 451–52; Good, Giraffes, Black Dragons, and Other Pianos, pp. 220–25.

67. On organs with free reeds: Alfred Berner, “Harmonium,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 8, pp. 169–74; Apel, “Harmonium,” in Harvard Dictionary of Music, p. 371. On Liszt’s “clavecin-orchestre”: Richard Pohl, Gesammelte Schriften über Musik und Musiker, vol. 2, Franz Liszt: Studien und Erinnerungen (Walluf bei Wiesbaden: Sä–ig, 1973; reprint of 1st ed., Leipzig, 1883), pp. 63–71; Haraszti, Franz Liszt, p. 166; Alan Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 2, The Weimar Years (1848–1861) (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 77, 79. On Maelzel’s Panharmonicon, see chapter 5 in this volume.

68. On Liszt’s piano transcriptions: Humphrey Searle, “Liszt,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 11, pp. 33–35; idem, The Music of Liszt (New York: Dover, 1966), pp. 36, 7–8. The source of the quoted passage: Hallé, Autobiography of Charles Hallé, p. 57; see also the rave review in La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris 2, no. 2 (11 January 1835): 15.

69. For Chopin’s quotation: letter written by both Chopin and Liszt to pianist Ferdinand Hiller, 20 June 1833, in Liszt, Briefe, vol. 1, p. 9. For Heine’s quotation: letter dated Paris, 20 March 1843, and published in the Augsburger Gazette shortly thereafter, in Heinrich Heine, Lutèce: Lettres sur la vie politique, artistique et sociale de la France (vol. 19 of Heines Werke, Säkularausgabe) (Berlin/Paris: Akademie-Verlag/Éditions du C.N.R.S., 1977; first published 1855), p. 176.

70. d’Ortigue, “Études biographiques,” La Gazette musicale 2, no. 24, p. 201; Duverger, “Franz Liszt,” Biographe universel 5, no. 2, pp. 137–38; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 173–77.

71. On the respective contributions of Liszt and d’Agoult to these articles: Émile Haraszti, “Franz Liszt: Author Despite Himself,” trans. John A. Gutman, Musical Quarterly 33, no. 4 (October 1947): 490–516; Jacques Vier, La Comtesse d’Agoult et son temps, 6 vols. (Paris: Colin, 1955–63), vol. 1, pp. 190–91, 274, 395, 409–10; Serge Gut, Franz Liszt: Les éléments du langage musical (Paris: Klincksieck, 1975), chap. 3, “Liszt écrivain”; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 20–23; Robert Wangermée, “Conscience et inconscience du virtuose romantique: À propos des années parisiennes de Franz Liszt,” in Music in Paris in the 1830s, ed. Peter Bloom (Stuyvesant, N.Y.: Pendragon, 1987), pp. 557–58.

72. The source of the quotation: comtesse Dash [pseud. for vicomtesse de Poilloüe de Saint-Mars], Mémoires des autres, 6 vols. (Paris: Librairie Illustrée, 1896–97), vol. 4, pp. 149–50. On Liszt’s appreciation of La Symphonie fantastique: Berlioz, Mémoires, vol. 1, chap. 31; idem, Correspondance générale, 5 vols. to date (Paris: Flammarion, 1972–<$f$>), vol. 1, pp. 384–85. On Liszt in concert with others: idem, Mémoires, vol. 1, pp. 293–95; La Gazette musicale de Paris 1, no. 49 (7 December 1834): 393–94; no. 52 (28 December 1834): 427.

73. The source of the quotation: Liszt [and d’Agoult], “Lettres d’un bachelier ès musique” (first published as a series of twelve articles in La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris in 1837–39), in Pages romantiques, p. 108. On Gusikow: Fétis, “Gusikow,” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 4, pp. 165–66; Sigmund Schlesinger, Joseph Gusikow und dessen Holz- und Stroh-instrument (Vienna: Lendler, 1836); numerous reports of Gusikow’s tour in La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris in 1836 and 1837. Thanks to Prof. Heidi Tilghman for her help with Schlesinger’s book.

74. On the concert count for Salles Érard and Pleyel: Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, p. 235. For Berlioz on Thalberg: Hector Berlioz, “Premier concert du Conservatoire,” La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris 3, no. 5 (31 January 1836): 38–39. For Berlioz on Liszt: idem, “Le Retour de Liszt,” La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris 3, no. 24 (12 June 1836): 198–200. For Liszt on Thalberg: Franz Liszt [and Marie d’Agoult], “Revue Critique. M. Thalberg,” La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris 4, no. 2 (8 January 1837): 17–20. Three reviews called the Liszt-Thalberg contest a draw: Jules Janin, Feuilleton, Le Journal des débats, 3 April 1837; Anon., “Concert donné…dans les salons de Mme la princesse de Belgiojoso,” La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris 4, no. 15 (9 April 1837): 125–26; Fétis, “MM. Thalberg et Liszt,” La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris 4, no. 17 (23 April 1837): 137–42. In 1840, three years after the contest, the composer Mendelssohn judged that Liszt and Thalberg were still about equal; Felix Mendelssohn, Letters, ed. G. Selden-Goth (New York: Pantheon, 1945), pp. 289–90.

75. Franz Liszt, Marie d’Agoult, de Vigny, Ollivier, and Belgiojoso, Autour de Mme d’Agoult et de Liszt (a collection of letters), ed. D. Ollivier (Paris: Grasset, 1941), pp. 135–36, 141; Searle, Music of Liszt, pp. 33–34; idem, “Liszt,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 11, p. 36; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 240–42.

76. The source of the quotations: Liszt [and d’Agoult], “Lettres d’un bachelier ès musique,” in Pages romantiques, pp. 214–16; comtesse [Marie] d’Agoult, Mémoires (1833–1854) (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1927), p. 129.

77. d’Agoult, Mémoires (1833–1854), pp. 135–147 (the quotation is on p. 135).

78. The source of the quotations: Liszt and d’Agoult, Correspondance, vol. 1, pp. 218, 220. For other letters of Liszt to d’Agoult, comparing his reception to that of Thalberg or Paganini: Liszt and d’Agoult, Correspondance, vol. 1, pp. 223, 224, 225, 280, 406, 421, 439; vol. 2, p. 212; see also the letter of Liszt to Lambert Massart in Liszt, Franz Liszt, l’artiste, le clerc, p. 45.

79. The source of d’Agoult’s quotation: d’Agoult, Mémoires (1833–1854), p. 147. The source of Liszt’s quotation: Liszt [and d’Agoult], “Lettres d’un bachelier ès musique,” in Pages romantiques, p. 236. On Liszt’s contribution: Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, p. 254.

80. On the children of Liszt and d’Agoult: Huré and Knepper, Liszt en son temps, pp. 115–16. On Liszt’s compositions: Searle, Music of Liszt, chap. 1, “The Early Works.”

81. Liszt [and d’Agoult], “Sur Paganini, à propos de sa mort,” La Revue et gazette musicale 7, no. 50, pp. 431–32.

82. On Paganini and Lipinski: Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, p. 190; Józef Powrozniak, “Lipinski,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 11, p. 14; Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, pp. 101, 179; Day, Paganini of Genoa, p. 88. On Paganini and Ernst: Moser, Geschichte des Violinspiels, vol. 2, pp. 138–40 (Ernst’s quotation); Schwarz, Great Masters of the Violin, p. 203; idem, “Ernst,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 6, p. 238.

83. Ignaz von Seyfried, “Ludwig van Beethoven, eine biographische Skizze,” in Ludwig van Beethoven, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Studien in Generalbasse, Contrapunkte und in der Compositionslehre, ed. Ignaz von Seyfried (Hamburg: Schuberth, [1853?]; first published Vienna, 1832), p. 5 (biographical sketch separately paginated); help with the translation from Alexander Wheelock Thayer, Life of Beethoven, rev. and ed. Elliot Forbes (1866–79; Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 206.

84. Franz Wegeler and Ferdinand Ries, Biographische Notizen über Ludwig van Beethoven (Berlin: Schuster and Loeffler, 1906; first published in Coblenz, 1858), p. 97; help with the translation from Thayer, Life of Beethoven, p. 257.

85. On Liszt v. Thalberg in La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris: Fétis, “MM. Thalberg et Liszt,” vol. 4, no. 17 (23 April 1837): 137–42; Franz Liszt [and Marie d’Agoult], “À M. le Professeur Fétis,” vol. 4, no. 20 (14 May 1837): 169–72; Fétis, “À M. le Directeur de la Gazette musicale de Paris, ” vol. 4, no. 21 (21 May 1837): 173–75; Liszt [and d’Agoult], “Lettre d’un bachelier ès musique,” vol. 4, no. 29 (16 July 1837): 339–43; Henri Heine, “Lettres confidentielles. II.,” vol. 5, no. 5 (4 February 1838): 41–44. On Liszt v. Thalberg in contemporary scholarship: Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, p. 240. On Liszt v. Mendelssohn: Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists, from Mozart to the Present (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), p. 169. On Liszt v. Hallé: Hallé, Autobiography of Charles Hallé, p. 105. On Liszt v. Dreyschock: William Kuhe, My Musical Recollections (London: Bentley, 1896), pp. 137–39.

86. La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, vol. 6, no. 52 (20 October 1839): 415; vol. 7, no. 1 (2 January 1840): 10; vol. 7, no. 2 (5 January 1840), p. 19; Liszt and d’Agoult, Correspondance, vol. 2, pp. 106, 178; Ernest Newman, The Man Liszt: A Study of the Tragi-Comedy of a Soul Divided against Itself (London: Cassell, 1934), pp. 289–90, including footnotes.

87. Liszt and d’Agoult, Correspondance, vol. 1, pp. 341 (“my elegance” quotation), 345, 355, 364. The source of the “excessive pretensions” quotation: Revue des deux mondes 24 (15 November 1840): 612–13. On the saber episode: Liszt and d’Agoult, Correspondance, vol. 1, p. 410; vol. 2, pp. 43–47. On Liszt in Hungary in the winter of 1839–40: Franz von Schober, Briefe über F. Liszt’s Aufenthalt in Ungarn (Berlin: Schlesinger, 1843).

88. For the quoted letter of Liszt to Belgiojoso: Liszt, Briefe, vol. 1, p. 25; Liszt et al., Autour de Mme d’Agoult, pp. 152–53 (the letter appears in both of these collections). On Liszt’s London recitals: Liszt and d’Agoult, Correspondance, vol. 1, p. 428; Charles Salaman, “Pianists of the Past; Personal Recollections,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 170, no. 1031 (September 1901): 314–15 (Salaman’s quotation); “Liszt’s Recitals,” Times (London), 2 July 1840, p. 6 (the Times quotation); Schonberg, Great Pianists, pp. 129–30. The French word récital, which has no other meaning than that of a concert given by one musician alone, was not adopted from English until the 1870s. On Liszt’s concerts in Great Britain: Liszt and d’Agoult, Correspondance, vol. 2, pp. 25, 74.

89. On Liszt’s itinerary: Liszt and d’Agoult, Correspondance, vol. 2, passim; Huré and Knepper, Liszt en son temps, pp. 116–18; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 294–95. On Liszt in Berlin, winter 1841–42: Rudolf Schade, ed., “Le Voyage de Liszt à Berlin (extraits des papiers posthumes d’un témoin, le poète et nouvelliste Rudolf von Bayer),” La Revue musicale, new ser., 9, no. 7 (1 May 1928): 73; Abendzeitung of Berlin, 1842, no. 8, quoted in Huré and Knepper, Liszt en son temps, p. 292; L Rellstab, Franz Liszt (Berlin: Trautwein, 1842), pp. 37, 43.

90. Heine, “Saison musicale, Paris, 25 avril 1844,” in Lutèce, pp. 223–24.

91. Hector Berlioz, “Fêtes musicales de Bonn” (originally published as two articles in Le Journal des débats, 22 August 1845, and 3 September 1845), in Les Soirées de l’orchestre (Westmead, Eng.: Gregg, 1969; reprint of 1st ed., Paris, 1853), pp. 367–86 (the quotations are on pp. 380, 375); Henry F. Chorley, Modern German Music, 2 vols. (New York: Da Capo, 1973; reprint of London ed., 1854), vol. 2, pt. 4, chap. 3, “The Beethoven-Festival at Bonn, 1845,” chap. 4, “Beethoven’s Music at Bonn”; Léon Kreutzer, “Grands festivals de Bonn, à l’occasion de l’inauguration de la statue de Beethoven,” La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, 17 August 1845, reproduced in Huré and Knepper, Liszt en son temps, pp. 337–47; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 418–26; Newman, The Man Liszt, p. 101 n. The 1845 festival was reviewed at length in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung but received only passing mention in Schumann’s Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.

92. On Liszt’s hoped-for title of nobility: Liszt and d’Agoult, Correspondance, vol. 1, pp. 331, 382; vol. 2, p. 273. On Liszt as “amusoir” (the word is a neologism of Liszt or d’Agoult): idem, “Encore quelques mots sur la subalternité des musiciens,” La Gazette musicale de Paris 2, no. 46 (15 November 1835): 369–72. On “all the women and aristocrats”: idem, Correspondance, vol. 1, p. 382. On Liszt’s Légion d’Honneur cross: Huré and Knepper, Liszt en son temps, p. 117.

93. On Liszt’s high ticket prices: R[obert] Sumann], “Liszt,” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 12, no. 30 (10 April 1840): 118–20; “Nouvelles,” La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris 8, no. 23 (21 March 1841): 183–84; “Nachrichten: Berlin,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 44, no. 14 (6 April 1842), cols. 291–93. On Liszt’s benefit concerts: Robert Bory, Une Retraite romantique en Suisse; Liszt et la comtesse d’Agoult (Geneva: Sonor, 1923), pp. 50–58; La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris 4, no. 32 (6 August 1837): 370; no. 33 (13 August 1837): 378; Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 43, no. 40 (6 October 1841), col. 822; Chorley, Modern German Music, vol. 2, p. 245. On Liszt’s giving free piano lessons: Liszt, Briefe, vol. 2, p. 281; Bory, Retraite romantique en Suisse, pp. 39–42; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, p. 17.

94. On Liszt’s itinerary: Huré and Knepper, Liszt en son temps, pp. 117–18. Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 285 (Liszt’s concert count and Liszt’s performing from memory), 292–95 (Liszt’s itinerary), 297–305 (Liszt’s technique), app. entitled “Catalogue of works which Liszt played in public, 1838–1848, compiled by himself” (Liszt’s repertoire). On Liszt’s Berlin concerts: Rellstab, Franz Liszt, p. 41. On Liszt’s capacity for learning music: Schonberg, Great Pianists, pp. 175–76. On Paganini’s performing from memory: Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, p. 134. On Liszt’s technique: Searle, “Liszt,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 11, pp. 33–35. The source of Hallé’s quotation: Hallé, Autobiography of Charles Hallé, p. 57.

95. Searle, Music of Liszt, p. 53 (quotation), chap. 3, “The Weimar Years (1848–61).”

96. Balzac, Gambara, in Comédie humaine, vol. 9, p. 453.

97. Liszt, “Mon Testament,” in Briefe, vol. 5, p. 53.

98. On the Liszt Foundation and Museum: Ernst Burger, Franz Liszt: A Chronicle of His Life in Pictures and Documents, trans. Stewart Spencer (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 328. On the street named for Liszt: Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, 1972 suppl., p. 62.

99. Liszt, Briefe, vol. 1, p. 250.

100. The sources of this biographical sketch of Lind: Hans Christian Andersen, The Story of My Life, [trans. Horace Scudder] (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1871), passim; P[hineas] T[aylor] Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs; or, The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself, 2 vols. (New York: Knopf, 1927), vol. 1, pp. 317–90; Julius Benedict, “Jenny Lind,” Scribner’s Monthly 22 (1881): 120–32; August Bournonville, My Theatre Life, trans. Patricia N. McAndrew (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1979; first published Copenhagen, 1848–78), passim; Joan Bulman, Jenny Lind (London: Barrie, 1956); Henry Chorley, Thirty Years’ Musical Recollections (New York: Knopf, 1926), passim; Elizabeth Forbes, “Lind,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 10, pp. 865–66; Richard Hoffman, “Some Musical Recollections of Fifty Years,” Scribner’s Magazine 47, no. 4 (April 1910): 428–33; Henry Scott Holland and W. S. Rockstro, Memoir of Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt: Her Early Art-Life and Dramatic Career, 1820–1851, 2 vols. (London: Murray, 1891) (Lind’s authorized biography); C[harles] G. Rosenberg, Jenny Lind in America (New York: Stringer and Townsend, 1851); Gladys Denny Shultz, Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1962); George P. Upton, Musical Memories: My Recollections of Celebrities of the Half Century 1850–1900 (Chicago: McClurg, 1908), passim; M. R. Werner, Barnum (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1923), pp. 114–97; Nathaniel Parker Willis, Famous Persons and Places (Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1972; reprint of 1st ed., New York, 1854), pp. 392–432; idem, Memoranda of the Life of Jenny Lind (Philadelphia: Peterson, 1851).

101. Bournonville, My Theatre Life, pp. 664 (Andersen and Lind), 214 (quotation).

102. On twenty thousand people’s welcoming Lind to New York: Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, vol. 1, p. 332; Rosenberg, Jenny Lind in America, p. 9, says thirty to forty thousand welcomed her. On five thousand people’s attending Lind’s New York début: Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, vol. 1, p. 340; Willis, Famous Persons and Places, p. 394, says six thousand attended; John S. Dwight, concert review in the New York Tribune, quoted in Willis, Memoranda of the Life, p. 109, says seven thousand attended. On the audience being seven-eighths male: John S. Dwight, concert review in the New York Tribune, quoted in Willis, Memoranda of the Life, p. 110; Rosenberg, Jenny Lind in America, p. 19, says it was nine-tenths. On Jenny Lind’s gloves, bonnets, riding hats, shawls, etc.: Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, vol. 1, p. 333; Upton, Musical Memories, pp. 20–21; Rosenberg, Jenny Lind in America, p. 57 n. On Delmonico’s Jenny Lind pancake: Shultz, Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, p. 188; Upton, Musical Memories, p. 21. On the sale of “Lind’s” hair: ibid., p. 23. On Lind’s earnings: Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, vol. 1, pp. 388–90; Rosenberg, Jenny Lind in America, passim. On Barnum’s attraction to Lind’s dual reputation: Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, vol. 1, pp. 378–79.

103. For Lind’s enumeration of the most popular songs of her tour: letter of Lind quoted in Holland and Rockstro, Memoir of Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt, vol. 2, p. 421. For descriptions of the songs: ibid., vol. 1, pp. 181, 188, 222; vol. 2, pp. 32–33 (Meyerbeer’s trio with two flutes), 296, Appendix of Music, pp. 21, 24 (“The Norwegian Echo Song”); Hoffman, “Some Musical Recollections of Fifty Years,” Scribner’s Magazine 47, no. 4 (April 1910): 430 (Berg’s “Herdegossen” and “The Norwegian Echo Song”); Andersen, The Story of My Life, p. 401 (Taubert’s “Ich muß singen”); Shultz, Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, pp. 243–46 (“Home, Sweet Home”). The source of the quotation “I sing after no one’s méthode ”: letter of Lind quoted in Holland and Rockstro, Memoir of Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt, vol. 2, pp. 445–47.

5. Robert-Houdin and the Vogue of the Automaton-Builders

§ 1. Predecessors of Robert-Houdin: Vaucanson, Jaquet-Droz, Kempelen, Maelzel

The vogue of the automaton-builders, that period when the public showed its greatest interest in automata and mechanicians built the most elaborate models, began with a contemporary of Philidor and ended with a contemporary of Liszt. The chronology of this chapter, therefore, retraces the chronology of the preceding four chapters, running from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. Like each of the preceding chapters, this chapter treats a new field of activity, but as it retraces the familiar chronology, familiar names reappear.

An automatic machine is a machine that “acts by itself,” that is, a machine that has its own engine as part of its machinery. If it also looks like an animal or a human being and acts like one, it is called an automaton. The more skilled the activity an automaton imitates, the more skilled must be the automaton-builder. In the preceding chapters, particularly in the immediately preceding one, we observed the prodigious progress of the cultivation of technical skill. We also heard complaints from critics of the cultivation of technical skill that its ultimate goal seemed to be to turn people into machines. When automaton-builders began to make mechanical imitations of skilled human beings, they were simultaneously demonstrating their own supreme technical skill as mechanicians and parodying the technical skill of those professionals whom their machines imitated. Thus, these automaton-builders pushed the cultivation of technical skill to the sublime and to the ridiculous at the same time, in a trick of deception.

The three automata built by Vaucanson. Courtesy of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. Photograph by the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service.

Automaton-builders began to make imitations of skilled human beings only late in the history of automata, during the period of their vogue that preceded their decline into near extinction, and it is no accident that this was the same period when magic shows, which often featured automata, also had their vogue. Automaton-building goes back to ancient times and down through the centuries has generally been associated with clockmaking. Ctesibius of second century B.C. Alexandria constructed water clocks and also water-powered automata. Water entering a sealed compartment beneath a carved figure of a bird, for example, forced the air in the compartment up through a tube inside the figure and across a sound hole to produce in the bird’s mouth something like a whistle. Sometime around the fourteenth century medieval craftsmen started to install weight-powered clocks on church towers. Shortly thereafter they added jaquemarts or “jacks-of-the-clock” or simply “jacks,” hammer-wielding human figures that pivoted to strike a large bell, marking the hour, and driven by the same weight that drove the clock. The Renaissance contributed spring-powered clocks and watches that gave the impulse to wind-up toy automata originating in the seventeenth century. Around 1730 one of the many clockmakers of the Black Forest in southwestern Germany, perhaps Franz-Anton Ketterer, had the idea of marking time’s progress with a mechanical cuckoo, in which he was much imitated. In fact, toward the middle of the eighteenth century the creative spirit began to reveal itself in makers of automata with increasing frequency. They constructed more complex works, which in appearance and action more closely resembled animals and humans, and which more and more often were independent of timekeeping. Some of the new artisans were no longer or had never been clockmakers. And some of their masterpieces were such as to entitle us to call the period from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century the “sixth day” in the Genesis of automata.[1]

The transcendent moment in the life of the mechanician Jacques Vaucanson (1709–1782) came in 1738 when he amazed the savants and the curious of Paris with a display of his three mechanical marvels, the Flûteur (Flute Player), the Canard (Duck), and the Tambourinaire (Drummer). The Flûteur, in its outward appearance, duplicated in wood an Antoine Coysevox marble sculpture, well known at the time, prominently displayed in the Tuileries Gardens, and representing a life-size faun sitting on a rock and playin-g a transverse flute. This kind of flute, similar to our present-day concert instrument, was something of a novelty in the first half of the eighteenth century, when what we call a recorder was still the standard concert flute. What was inside Vaucanson’s Flûteur was even more novel: a complicated arrangement of axles, cords, pulleys, levers, chains, bellows, pipes, and valves. When activated by his creator, the faun’s mechanical musculature caused his fingers to move up or down, uncovering or covering the airholes of the flute; his mouth to emit a stream of air, blowing with greater or lesser force across the mouth of the flute; his tongue to go up or down, interrupting the stream of air or allowing it to continue; and his lips to open or close or push out or pull back, forming different embouchures. The mechanician had perfectly harmonized all of these movements so that the Flûteur played the notes exactly as a human or faun flautist would. Because the transverse flute was still relatively unknown, little had been written concerning its technique, requiring Vaucanson, who was not a musician, to discover it for himself, for his satyric creation, and for future generations of flute teachers. The Flûteur played not just individual notes, of course, but whole pieces of music. “Indeed,” reported the Mercure de France,

One has the pleasure of being able to listen to this mechanical figure for more than a quarter of an hour, as it performs like a master fourteen airs, each of them different in character, in range of notes, and in tempo.

Variations, so attractive on this instrument, have not been omitted, and everything, including crescendi, diminuendi, and even sustained notes, is executed with the most perfect good taste.

In order to produce the successive notes of a piece, Vaucanson employed a rotating cylinder studded with pegs, each of which triggered a particular movement of the automaton’s anatomy. Such cylinders, on a larger scale, had been used in carillons and mechanical organs since the fifteenth century and, on a smaller scale, were to be used in music boxes from the late eighteenth century onward. The whole apparatus was driven by a weight, as clocks had been driven since the fourteenth century.[2]

Vaucanson’s Canard, likewise life-size, raised itself up on its legs, flapped its feathered wings, moved its head from side to side, extended its neck, and quacked. It also dabbled realistically with its bill in water, drank, and took seed out of one’s hand. The mechanical viscera inside this automaton, however, heralded an advance in naturalism over that in the Flûteur. It produced an imitation not just of outward bodily movements but also of the processes of digestion. Shortly after swallowing food and water, the Canard expelled its waste with an authenticity that could only have been admired by the visitors to the exhibition hall.[3]

The third figure, the Tambourinaire, represented a shepherd of Provence playing two instruments indigenous to that region of southern France. With one hand, the shepherd beat a tambourin, or small drum, while with the other he held to his mouth a galoubet, a kind of small recorder, or old-style flute. In the exhibition prospectus, Vaucanson justified his construction and presentation of this second mechanical flute player:

At first glance one would imagine that the difficulties to overcome were less than in the Flûteur; but, without wanting to overrate the one at the expense of the other, I would ask the reader to recall that the instrument in question is among the most intractable and the most inherently out of tune; that it was necessary to give expression to a flute with only three holes, in which the holes are sometimes half-covered, and in which everything depends on the force of the air passing through them; that it was thus necessary to produce a variety of windspeeds, in such rapid succession that the ear can barely follow them, and to give tongue articulation to every note, even sixteenth-notes, without which this instrument has no appeal.[4]

Vaucanson’s automata struck a major chord with the public. After he had exhibited them in a rented hall in the Hôtel de Longueville, one long block south of the Café de la Régence, and perhaps at the annual Saint-Germain Fair on the Left Bank, he took them on a tour of France and Italy. A few years later, in 1743, he sold them to some entrepreneurs from Lyon, who toured with them for nearly a decade, showing them throughout Europe. Admission was always charged at these exhibitions and the automata appear to have brought in considerable revenue.[5]

They also brought recognition to Vaucanson from the scientific community. The Académie Royale des Sciences sent an official delegation to the exhibition hall and following the delegation’s report voted to award him a certificate of commendation. The Académie was not only a prestigious group of scientists but also a quasi-governmental body. Its coveted commendations frequently led to an official position or pension, as happened in Vaucanson’s case. To crown his success, King Louis XV also saw and admired his masterpieces.[6]

Thus, in 1740 Vaucanson was appointed inspector general of silk works, the silk industry being a logical place for him to put his mechanical talents to good use. Even though textile production in the eighteenth century was still labor-intensive, differences in technology already contributed significantly to differences in quality and efficiency, and because of its inferior machinery the French silk industry had fallen behind its English and Piedmontese rivals. Vaucanson spent the next forty years striving valiantly, but for the most part vainly, to help it catch up. He fulfilled his early promise of genius, inventing the first automatic loom (later perfected by Jacquard), the first automatic mechanism for weaving patterns, a new type of silk reeler and a new silk thrower (two machines involved in spinning silk thread), and a new calender (a kind of mangle to smooth finished cloth). But he lacked an attendant power of persuasion, and for a while the only thing he succeeded in conveying to either masters or workers in the French silk industry was that his machines threatened their livelihoods. The radically conservative canuts of Lyon, the industry’s capital, chased him out of their city in 1744 and probably would have killed him if they had been able to catch him. On the whole, the attempt he made to reform the silk industry proceeded very slowly and remained incomplete.[7]

But Vaucanson’s fame and fortune survived the vicissitudes of his career as inspector general. Voltaire praised him in his long poem Discours en vers sur l’homme (Discourse in Verse on Man, 1738):

Tandis que, d’une main stérilement vantée,
Le hardi Vaucanson, rival de Prométhée,
Semblait, de la nature imitant les ressorts,
Prendre le feu des cieux pour animer les corps.
With a hand on which all praise falls sterile,
Vaucanson the bold, Prometheus’ rival,
Took, while imitating nature’s projects,
Heaven’s fire to animate cold objects.
La Mettrie also compared him to Prometheus in his landmark of materialist philosophy, L’Homme machine (Man a Machine, 1748). The Académie Royale des Sciences inducted him into its ranks in 1746 and frequently called upon him to pass judgment on the inventions of others. Jean-François Marmontel asked him to construct a mechanical asp for his play Cléopâtre (1750). The play was not a success, but the automaton was: Its hiss prompted a member of the audience to remark approvingly, “I agree with the asp.” [8]

The marquis de Condorcet’s official eulogy of Vaucanson to the Académie predicts that his name “will be famous for a long time.” At the time of his death in 1782, and for many years previous, his home had been the opulent Hôtel Mortagne on the outskirts of Paris, where he also had a large workshop. As Condorcet explained, “He believed that works useful to the nation should be paid for by it, and he used to say this frankly; if someone raised the objection that he already had a respectable fortune, he responded that others who did nothing useful were much better paid.” He bequeathed to the government the contents of his workshop: his inventions, including many unrelated to silk production; his drawings, such as one set representing the gearing for a differential; and his tools, some of which themselves were inventions. This collection was one of three gathered together during the Revolution to furnish the new Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers (Arts and Crafts Conservatory), still in existence today.[9]

In his ascent, Vaucanson never got entirely beyond the reach of the three automata he had constructed in his twenties. Condorcet’s prediction that his name “will be famous for a long time” concluded: “among the vulgar, for the ingenious productions that were his youthful amusements; among the enlightened, for the useful works that were his lifelong occupation.” And a friend, whose letter to the editor the Journal de Paris published as an obituary notice of Vaucanson, complained on behalf of his memory: “I was surprised to read, Messieurs, in a periodical dated 23 November, the strange and laconic eulogy of the late M. de Vaucanson. The editor had reduced it to this: ‘He immortalized himself through his automata.’ When one knows nothing else about a man so famous, one should limit oneself to giving the date of his death, and pass over the rest in silence.” It is clear that Vaucanson’s contemporaries regarded his automata as masterpieces, but whether they were early or mature masterpieces, and whether masterpieces of imagination or of craftsmanship or of learning, was debatable. In its report on their exhibition the Mercure de France referred equivocally to “this curious branch of mathematics.” [10] How did Vaucanson himself regard them?

There is evidence to suggest that when he began working on them he had something a little different in mind from what he eventually produced. While still a child in Grenoble he had constructed a clock, and, according to Condorcet, “some automaton-priests that duplicated a few of the ecclesiastical offices,” but his parents steered him toward more intellectual pursuits, sending him first to Lyon to study theology, then to Paris to study medicine. It was probably as a medical student that he discovered and became interested in anatomies mouvantes. “Moving anatomies” were working models of parts of the human body whose use many seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century physicians advocated for purposes of instruction and research. Some physiologists believed that if one constructed an accurate working model of a bodily organ, one could learn things about how the organ functioned in a living being by experimenting on the model. In the early 1730s, before he exhibited his soon-to-be-famous automata in Paris, Vaucanson showed one or two of them in the towns of Brittany and Normandy, together with “a machine containing several automata in which the natural functions of several animals are simulated through the action of fire, air, and water.” This oracular description appears in a contemporary contract and lacks further elaboration. In 1741, the year Vaucanson became involved with the silk industry, the Académie des Beaux-Arts of Lyon recorded in its minutes that “M. Vaucanson…informed the Académie of a project that he had conceived, to construct an automaton figure that simulated in its movements the animal functions, the circulation of the blood, respiration, digestion, the operation of muscles, tendons, nerves, etc.” In 1762, he began to work on the more modest project of a machine that would simulate just the circulation of the blood, using rubber tubes for veins. But this project, too, remained unrealized, because of inadequacies in contemporary rubber technology.[11]

Thus, Vaucanson may have originally conceived his celebrated automata as anatomies mouvantes. He borrowed heavily to fund his work on them. Persistent financial difficulties may have led him eventually to alter his course away from the purely scientific and toward something with greater popular appeal. The finished automata certainly had popular appeal, but their builder, in his exhibition prospectus, emphasized the science. The twenty-three-page prospectus began with five pages describing the physics of sound generation in the transverse flute. Apropos of the Provençal flute, the galoubet, he boasted, “I have also made discoveries that one would never have suspected.” For example: “The muscles of one’s chest make an effort equivalent to fifty-six pounds of pressure, since I had to produce this same force of air, that is, a stream of air pushed by this force or this pressure, in order to generate a high B, which is the highest note this instrument can reach.” Joining a debate among contemporary physiologists, Vaucanson explained of his Canard that “the food is digested there as it is in real animals, by means of dissolution and not by trituration, as some doctors claim.” [12] But as we have seen, for example in the remarks of Condorcet and in the attitude of the periodical press, Vaucanson’s own claim that his automata represented a contribution to science was only partly digestible.

The purpose of Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz (1752–1791) in constructing and exhibiting his three famous automata of the 1770s was frankly commercial.

His father, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, had already gained a small measure of fame as a master clockmaker in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel, on the French border, where clockmaking, including watchmaking, had grown in the course of the eighteenth century to become the major industry. It was practiced throughout the canton but was concentrated particularly in the two principal towns, after the town of Neuchâtel itself, of Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds, where the elder Jaquet-Droz lived. Although in the third quarter of the century those two towns still contained only a few thousand inhabitants apiece, more than three hundred of them in Locle and more than four hundred in La Chaux-de-Fonds were clockmakers, and uncounted hundreds more were metalsmiths, jewelers, gilders, enamelers, engravers, cabinetmakers, and workers at other crafts tributary to the principal industry. Johann Bernoulli, astronomer at the Academy of King Frederick the Great of Prussia and a relative of the famous Bernoulli mathematicians who lived in Switzerland, visited Neuchâtel and reported that “every year in Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds combined, approximately 40,000 gold and silver watches are prepared for export, not counting a large quantity of plain and fancy clocks.” [13]

King Frederick was also prince of Neuchâtel, for Neuchâtel was under Prussian suzerainty from the early eighteenth century through the first half of the nineteenth. Frederick practiced the cosmopolitanism preached by the Enlightenment philosophes: He welcomed Philidor and his blindfold chess to Berlin; he invited Vaucanson, who declined, however, to join the many other foreigners at his academy; and he appointed an eccentric Scotsman governor of Neuchâtel in 1754. The Scotsman, likewise cosmopolitan, had been employed previously by the king of Spain, and he encouraged the elder Jaquet-Droz, furnishing him with letters of introduction and recommendation, to go to Madrid to offer some of his luxury clocks to Ferdinand VI, whose tastes we have already become acquainted with in the context of his patronage of the castrato Farinelli. Jaquet-Droz made the trip in 1758 and returned to Neuchâtel a year later with a small fortune and the beginnings of a continental, and eventually worldwide, reputation.[14]

The most elaborate clock bought by the Spanish king was described in detail by Bernoulli, who undoubtedly received the description from Jaquet-Droz himself when he visited the latter’s workshop; the piece is generally referred to as the Berger (Shepherd), because of the figure that surmounts it.

It indicates hours, minutes, and seconds, sounds the hours and quarter-hours, and will also rehearse as desired the hours and quarter-hours. In the middle of the clock face one sees these equivalent time measurements: the day of the year and month (taking into account the different lengths of the months); the phase of the moon; the sign of the zodiac, which appears at the time when the sun begins to traverse it; the season of the year; and an artificial sundial with an apparent shadow, that indicates the hours with the same irregularity as other sundials. Above this one sees the vault of the heavens, where the stars appear and disappear at the same time that they do in the sky.…A set of bells plays nine pieces…while a lady moves to the rhythm of the pieces.…After the bells play an artificial canary sings eight pieces…after which a shepherd plays various pieces on the flute.

It should be explained that there were two windows in the housing of the clock below the dial: In one stood the mechanical lady holding a book of music in her hand; in the other was the canary, perched on the fist of a cupid. The largest figure, the shepherd, sat on top of the clock housing next to a tree; he actually played his recorder, his mouth blowing air into it, his fingers covering and uncovering the sound holes. At the feet of the shepherd two cupids oscillated on a small see-saw; and next to the shepherd, for good measure, sat a lamb that bleated and a dog that barked.[15] Style Louis XV.

Encouraged by this success, the elder Jaquet-Droz began to conceive more ambitious projects in which he would apply his mastery of clockwork to other purposes. We see from the description of the Berger that some of his luxury clocks were already sprouting mechanical figures and mechanical music devices. His new idea was to evolve these offshoots into autonomous entities. In 1769 Pierre Jaquet-Droz was joined by his seventeen-year-old son, Henri-Louis, just returned from two years’ study of mathematics and physics at Nancy. By 1773 they had constructed three androids—automata representing human beings, often in life size, and du-plicating one or more human functions—the Écrivain (Writer), the Dessinateur (Sketcher), and the Musicienne (Musician), as well as a piece four feet square called La Grotte (The Grotto), which contained a multitude of small mechanical figures, celestial, human, and animal. The exhibition prospectus credited the Écrivain to the father and the other three pieces to the son, but it seems likely that they were all to some degree creations of both of them.[16]

Here is how the prospectus described the Écrivain:

First Piece

A figure representing a child of two years, seated on a stool and writing at a desk.

This automaton moistens his pen himself [in an inkwell], shakes off the excess, and writes distinctly and correctly everything one cares to dictate to him, without anyone touching him either directly or indirectly. He places the capitals appropriately and leaves a suitable space between the words he writes. When he has completed one line, he moves on to the next, maintaining an appropriate distance between the lines. While he is writing, his eyes are fixed on his work; but as soon as he has finished a letter or a word, he glances at a writing primer, as if he wanted to imitate the model.

One could “program” the Écrivain ahead of time to write any message composed of up to forty letters and spaces. Or, more impressively, one could “dictate” to him messages of any length, selecting the letters for him to write one at a time. Programming the Écrivain necessitated opening up his body; dictation could be conducted from outside, apparently by means of a hidden wire or wires. The second piece, the Dessinateur, was quite similar to the Écrivain, likewise representing a two-year-old, but wielding a pencil instead of a pen, and producing only a very limited number of drawings in contrast to the limitless possibilities of the writer, who benefited from being able to combine at will the twenty-six letters of the alphabet.

Third Piece

The third figure represents a girl of ten to twelve years, seated on a stool and playing a harpsichord.

This automaton, whose body, head, eyes, arms, hands, and fingers make various natural movements, performs on her harpsichord, by herself, various pieces of music in two or three parts, with considerable precision. Since her head has complete mobility, as do her eyes, she glances equally at her hands, at her music, and at her spectators; her flexible body bends forward from time to time in order to look more closely at her music; her breast alternately swells and falls, in order to show her breathing.

It should be added that all the figures were carved, painted, dressed, and wigged so as to resemble human beings as closely as possible. Their machinery was hidden inside their bodies and could be accessed through a door built into their backs.[17]

It is not clear whether or not the Jaquet-Drozes had planned initially to exhibit their androids. Quite possibly they had intended to follow the course the father had taken fifteen years earlier, that is, to offer their creations as luxury items to one or another of the crowned heads of Europe, preferably one with a taste for unique works of artifice and a treasury to match. But as word spread of their mechanical offspring, a steadily mounting stream of visitors arrived at their door asking to see them. This despite the fact that they lived in out-of-the-way La Chaux-de-Fonds, ten miles from Neuchâtel, not exactly a metropolis itself, in mountains of the Jura, and not on the road to any other capital. The governor of Neuchâtel, who happened to be in Berlin in the summer of 1774, received this account in a letter:

People came from everywhere, as though on a pilgrimage. Every day the yard and the road were filled with carriages; the rains deterred very few of them. It began at six o’clock in the morning and lasted until eight in the evening. The Jaquet-Drozes, aided by two of their workers, took turns presenting the automata. Among those parading through were the nobility of the surrounding lands and the bailiffs of the cantons with their families; the ambassador of France himself went there incognito.

If it had not been before, the commercial potential of an exhibition was now obvious. Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz shepherded his young charges to Paris. Vaucanson saw the automata there and was extremely impressed, although he declined the offer of an explanation of how they worked; the venerable academician did not want to be lectured to by a twenty-two-year-old. Jaquet-Droz was invited to court, where his Dessinateur sketched the portraits of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette. Later that same year, 1775, the automata traveled to London, whence they embarked on a tour of Europe, revisiting Paris many times and finally returning to Switzerland about a decade after their departure. In 1789 they were sold to some French speculators.[18]

The fortunes of the Jaquet-Droz family imitated the fortunes of the mechanical family. Requests for products came to the creators after requests for demonstrations came to the world’s most sophisticated creatures; the renown of the progenitors followed on the heels of the renown of the progeny; the gains of the artisans reflected the gains of the little artists. The Jaquet-Drozes established ateliers in Geneva and London to supplement the output of their original workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The son revolved regularly from one to the next. He also communicated directly with agents scattered around the globe eager to participate in his family’s business, and sent things to them in Paris, Madrid, Constantinople, and Canton.[19]

The Jaquet-Drozes designed, constructed, and sold luxury goods. Commercially, they were to the late eighteenth century what Benvenuto Cellini had been to the sixteenth century and what Carl Fabergé was to be to the turn of the twentieth century; artistically, they were perhaps a notch below those two master craftsmen. They produced “admirable watches, snuff-boxes, toiletry boxes, and decanters, leaved with gold, ornamented with precious gems and pearls, and concealing in their interiors small automata with incredibly tiny mechanisms; wonderful birds which even today spring up out of their boxes and sing their sweet melodies; richly decorated clocks with the most unexpected complexities, astronomical timepieces of real scientific value.” [20]

Among their products, then, some were essentially frivolous, some combined the ornamental with the practical, and some, such as artificial limbs, had great utility. Probably the most celebrated of these were the hands fabricated for Grimod de La Reynière, the gastronome whose Jury Dégustateur awarded certificates of commendation for culinary concoctions in imitation of the certificates awarded by the Académie Royale des Sciences for inventions. Grimod had been born with deformed hands that were almost totally dysfunctional, but fortunately his family was wealthy. The artificial hands designed by the younger Jaquet-Droz while he was in Paris in 1775, and then constructed by his craftsmen, allowed Grimod to lead a normal life. Vaucanson saw this new mechanical masterpiece of the Swiss artisan and reportedly said to him, “Young man, you start where I would like to finish.” [21]

It does not appear that the Jaquet-Drozes ever mounted another exhibition or took any of their creations on tour again. Even on that unique tour, the younger Jaquet-Droz only accompanied the androids as far as Paris and London, at that point leaving them in the hands of several of the family’s employees for the rest of their long journey. But the Jaquet-Drozes did construct at least four more androids in the 1780s when their fortunes were climbing toward the heavens. They made two replicas of the Musicienne, one of which played sixteen or eighteen pieces instead of just five as the first one had. And they made two combination Écrivains-Dessinateurs, that is, two androids each of which both wrote and sketched. His Celestial Majesty the Emperor of China bought one of them and perhaps one of the Musicienne replicas as well.[22]

The construction of androids must have presented a challenge to the skill and ingenuity of the Jaquet-Drozes, and it brought them a renown that did not seem to be unwelcome. But it was above all a commercial venture. It wound up their family business to spirited activity in the 1770s and 1780s, with orders for their expensive luxuries coming in from courts all over Europe and beyond, driving an expansion of their operations. In 1789, however, around the time they sold their last android, the mechanisms of commerce came unsprung. They had advanced too much credit to their agents and associates and were forced to liquidate a large portion of their holdings to cover their debts. Pierre Jaquet-Droz died a year later; his son Henri-Louis, the following year at the age of thirty-nine.[23]

Vaucanson and the Jaquet-Drozes inspired many imitations of their imitations of animals and humans engaged in characteristic activities. That is, the success of their exhibitions of their automata encouraged others to build and exhibit similar automata. While neither Vaucanson nor the Jaquet-Drozes were in the first instance showmen, many of their imitators were.

In 1746 a mechanician named Defrance exhibited at the Tuileries several automaton flute players and mechanical birds of his making, the latter of which, he announced in the Affiches de Paris (Paris Advertiser), “sang several airs with a marvelous delicacy.” A sculptor-physicist named Lagrelet acquired them subsequently and presented them in 1750 at the Saint-Germain Fair on the Left Bank, advertising with a more detailed description,

two life-size figures representing a shepherd and a shepherdess playing thirteen different airs in two parts on the transverse flute. The shepherd beats time with his feet; both figures move their lips, through which passes the variable-strength wind that they blow into their flutes, producing the notes; they provide articulation and rhythm by using their tongues and by altering the positions of their fingers on the flute, just as living persons do; they are accompanied by several birds that add their chirping to the little concert.

Among the entertainments offered by the Palais Magique in 1748 were three automata: a peasant woman with a pigeon on her head that rendered red or white wine as desired through its beak into a glass presented by the woman; a grocer seated at his counter who got up to fetch merchandise requested of him; and a Moor who played a tune by striking a bell with a hammer. It was probably in the 1750s that the inventor Abbé Mical, who two decades later was to exhibit to much acclaim a pair of mechanical talking heads, constructed two mechanical flute players he called Annette and Lubin. He was reported to have followed this up with “an entire orchestra in which the figures, large as life, played music from morning till evening; and those who have seen it attest to the superiority of this work over everything else of the sort that has appeared. It would, by virtue of its size, the beauty of its sculptured figures, and the perfection of its highly varied execution, grace the largest hall.” Friedrich von Knauss, working in Vienna in the 1750s, built a mechanical musician that played the flageolet, a kind of recorder, and, before the Jaquet-Drozes built their Écrivain, a series of four automaton writers. The latter, however, were much smaller than life-size and did not attempt to imitate the motions of a human being in the act of writing, aspiring only to produce a good script, which they did. Knauss had a prestigious post as K.-K. Hofmechaniker (Imperial and Royal Court Mechanician) and does not seem to have presented any of his works to the public. Returning to Paris, we find that another ensemble of automaton musicians was exhibited around 1770 by Robert Richard, whose Concert Mécanique consisted of a harpsichord player, a violinist, and a cellist. At the turn of the nineteenth century François Pelletier had a small science museum containing an automaton that played the galoubet and the tambourin.[24]

The foregoing all seem to have been more or less, directly or indirectly, inspired by Vaucanson. Others, beginning in the 1780s, clearly followed the example of the Jaquet-Drozes. Like the latter, the Maillardets were a family of talented clockmakers, and for a while they also worked in La Chaux-de-Fonds. In fact, the two families worked together on some projects, and the atelier that the Jaquet-Drozes established in London in 1774 became in 1783 the atelier Jacquet-Droz-Maillardet. This atelier, under the direction of Henri Maillardet, completed the two Jaquet-Droz Écrivain-Dessinateurs (Writer-Sketchers) and at least one of the two replica Musiciennes, projects that had been started in Switzerland. It is possible that Henri Maillardet also made a third Écrivain-Dessinateur and another Musicienne, for two such pieces ascribed to him alone formed part of an exhibition of automata that he and an impresario mounted in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The exhibition had in addition a small automaton rope-dancer and a small automaton magician that displayed the appropriate answer to a question chosen by a spectator from among a prepared set. The group passed through the hands of one impresario after another and continued to be shown intermittently until at least 1833. In the 1840s in La Chaux-de-Fonds, two later Maillardets presented some of the automata made by members of their family; they had no Écrivain-Dessinateurs or Musiciennes but they did have one of the magicians, for there were several of these too. Meanwhile, in China, a French missionary constructed for the emperor a replica of the Jaquet-Droz Écrivain-Dessinateur that had been sent there. Both could write Chinese.[25]

Another mechanical masterpiece made in the 1780s was the Joueuse de Tympanon (Dulcimer Player) of David Roentgen and Pierre Kintzing. The mechanism in this two-foot-high musician who actually played the dulcimer, striking its strings with hammers she held in her hands, was similar to that in the Jaquet-Droz Musiciennes, whose fingers really depressed the keys of their instruments. And she too moved her head and eyes in a lifelike manner. The Joueuse de Tympanon had a repertoire of eight tunes. Her creators were craftsmen whose secluded atelier lay in a tiny principality on the lower Rhine, but they were well known in the world at large. In fact, Roentgen held the title of Ébeniste-Mécanicien de la Reine de France (Cabinetmaker-Mechanician to the queen of France). Perhaps Marie-Antoinette thought of commissioning the Joueuse de Tym-panon from him after seeing the original Jaquet-Droz Musicienne in 1775. In any case, the commission was executed and when the queen had enjoyed the piece sufficiently she offered her to the Académie Royale des Sciences for examination and inclusion in its collection. After the Revolution, together with much of the rest of the Académie’s collection and the contents of Vaucanson’s workshop, the piece ended up in the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers.[26]

One did not have to be quite a queen to own canaries in France in the eighteenth century, but they were luxury items. They had to be imported, as their name suggests, from the Canary Islands. Among the birds’ attractions was their ability to learn new songs. It could be taxing for an owner, however, to play a tune over and over on a flageolet—the usual mode of teaching—until a canary learned it. This led to the invention of the flageolet organisé, or organ-ized flageolet, an instrument with a keyboard and bellows that one could play, and before that, learn to play, more easily than the ordinary flageolet. To teach one how to teach one’s pet, J.-C. Hervieux de Chanteloup wrote his Nouveau traité des serins de Canarie (New Treatise on Canaries from the Canaries), which first appeared in 1705 and went through more than a dozen editions before the end of the century.[27]

Around mid-century there appeared a new labor-saving device for canary owners called the serinette (little canary). The serinette was a small table-top machine with a crank that one had only to turn to play popular melodies for the songbird to imitate. This saved its owner from having to learn anything, if not quite from having to do anything. The early serinettes were relatively simple even in eighteenth-century terms, relying on miniature organ pipes or small whistles to produce the notes.

Mechanicians, therefore, did not find them very interesting to make. Furthermore, the focus of attention in the whole affair remained the canary; the performance was given by the canary; the artist was the canary. But this subhuman competitor might be eliminated by applying a little ingenuity to the new invention. After all, Black Forest craftsmen had been building cuckoo clocks since the 1730s. Any reasonable clockmaker could replace the serinette’s crank with a wind-up mechanism. Any reasonable sculptor could duplicate the appearance of a canary or other avian species, and certain mechanicians could duplicate the natural staccato movements of a bird’s head, beak, wings, and tail. For the song, one could use instead of a set of pipes a single pipe with a sliding piston and a valve, which occupied less space, produced just as wide a range of notes, and in addition reproduced the roulades, trills, and tremolos that made birdsong particularly attractive. One could do this, all this, and put it into production, if one were named Jaquet-Droz.

Beginning in the late 1770s or early 1780s, the Jaquet-Droz ateliers constructed hundreds of wobbling warblers, popping up out of clocks, snuffboxes, and decanters, and, most spectacularly, hopping from perch to perch inside of proverbial, but absolutely literal, gilded cages. Birds of a feather, the Maillardets flew after them into this branch of the trade as well, and continued to produce such luxury pieces until they fell out of fashion, around 1840. So did quite a few other master craftsmen, for there were many more imitators of the Jaquet-Drozes’ line of singing and dancing canaries, nightingales, finches, and hummingbirds than of their line of androids.[28]

Of course, the one was much easier to duplicate than the other. In the avian pieces, the mechanical singing bird did not actually contain the singing mechanism. This was located elsewhere in the piece, in a compartment in the snuffbox or decanter or clock separate from the compartment out of which the bird sprang. The body of the bird contained the mechanism that effected its movements but not its song. Furthermore, the singing mechanism only imitated the sounds of a bird singing, not the bird’s own manner of producing these sounds. By contrast, the Jaquet-Droz Musiciennes, like the Flûteur and the Tambourinaire of Vaucanson and the Joueuse de Tympanon of Roentgen and Kintzing, produced music by actually playing an instrument in the manner of a human being. Thus, the Jaquet-Droz singing birds were only quasi-automaton musicians, while their keyboard-playing androids were true automaton musicians, requiring greater mechanical skill to produce. Similarly, the writing automata of Knauss, which produced a fine script but did not reproduce the motions of a human being in the act of writing, were quasi-automaton writers, while the Jaquet-Droz Écrivain, which did both of these things, was a true automaton writer.[29]

Many of the pieces exhibited in the eighteenth century as automaton musicians should be categorized as quasi-automaton musicians rather than true automaton musicians. That is, they consisted of a representational sculpture that gestured automatically and a music machine that played automatically, but there was no organic connection between the two. We can be reasonably certain that Richard’s Concert Mécanique was of this sort: The right arms of his violinist and his cellist may have drawn real bows, but it is unlikely that their real bows drew real music from the strings of real instruments. The same might have been the case for Abbé Mical’s mechanical orchestra, although one source indicates that it was an ensemble of flutes rather than an orchestra, in which case he might “simply” have made many copies of Vaucanson’s mechanism or one of his own and thereby produced a true automaton concert.[30]

And many of the pieces exhibited in the eighteenth century as automaton writers or sketchers should not be counted as automata at all. They were articulated sculptures of human beings whose hands grasped a pen or pencil and traced words or drawings, but they were activated and guided by a human being. That human being, the real writer, hid behind the wall or beneath the floor against which rested the pseudo-automaton. The wood-and-wire figure wrote exactly what his flesh-and-blood counterpart did, their two pens being connected by a simple mechanical contrivance called a pantograph, the levers of which were concealed in the body of the sculpture.[31]

It was logical that some of the imitations of the imitation animals and humans of Vaucanson and the Jaquet-Drozes would turn out to be fake imitations. For the makers of these pseudo-automata were not endeavoring to imitate the actions of living beings with machinery, as Vaucanson and the Jaquet-Drozes had done, but rather to imitate in turn the machinery that imitated the actions of living beings. Given what this machinery did, the natural short cut for those endeavoring to imitate it was to employ living beings. The makers of pseudo-automata were more exhibitors than builders, since their purpose in making imitations was not to demonstrate their expertise in science or technology, expertise they often did not have, but merely to put on a good show.

Many late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Europeans knew of Wolfgang von Kempelen (1734–1804) as a mechanician employed at the Court of the Holy Roman Empire in Vienna. He was this in fact and perhaps also in spirit, but not in name or in substance. For he did not hold the title of K.-K. Hofmechaniker—Knauss had that—but the title of K.-K. Hofrat (Imperial and Royal Court Councillor) and his principal occupation consisted of helping to administer the Hungarian portion of the polyglot Hapsburg empire. Equally polyglot himself, Kempelen spoke Latin, German, Magyar, French, Italian, English, Romanian, and one or more Slavic languages. His official duties included such things as translating Empress Maria Theresa’s legal code from Latin into German, supervising the operation of the Hungarian salt mines, directing the construction of a royal palace in Ofen (now Budapest), and organizing a campaign against brigandage in Hungary. When he was not engaged in state business he was likely to be writing drama or poetry or painting landscapes. In his spare time he was a mechanician.[32]

Nevertheless, despite Kempelen’s status as a senior official in the Hungarian government, despite the production of his plays at the Hoftheater (Court Theater), and despite his membership in the Akademie Bildender Künstler (Academy of Pictorial Artists), the substantial fame that descended upon him in the 1780s and what little of it that has survived came to him through his mechanical inventions.

His potentially very useful printing press for the blind gained him little attention. The eighteenth century saw the beginnings of mass literacy in Western Europe, but the blind were left behind. Touched in particular by the plight of a sightless musician of his acquaintance who had already devised a system of musical notation for herself, Kempelen designed a press that printed German Fraktur type in relief and had it built for her.[33] Louis Braille did not develop his more efficient system of patterns of raised dots until 1829.

Kempelen’s civil engineering projects contributed more to the advancement of his career than to making his name known in the wider world. Ever since the Renaissance, European princes great and small had adorned their palace grounds with fountains, engaging in a low-pressure competition in which each sought to dampen the splendor of his rivals by making his own jets and cascades more impressive than theirs. Kempelen stepped into a waterfall project on the grounds of the palace at Schönbrunn (pretty spring), the Austrian monarchy’s response to Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles, and devised a recycling apparatus for it. The falling water turned a wheel, which drove pumps that returned the fallen water back to the top of the falls. A contemporary praised the system to the skies, calling it “one of the most important and extraordinary inventions of this century” and describing it as if it were a kind of perpetual motion machine.

Kempelen also tinkered with the new steam engine, known to his compatriots as the englische Feuermaschine (English fire machine). He constructed one that was used successfully to help dig canals in Hungary. He constructed another, it was reported, that he “started up, and it did what K. intended it to do, but only for a few minutes, and then broke down or exploded, which sounds a bit like a fairy tale.”

In 1769 there appeared in Vienna a Frenchman named Pelletier, probably the same Pelletier who later in Paris operated a small museum of scientific curiosities containing an automaton galoubet player. He performed before the Imperial and Royal Court some tricks that depended on magnetism, which seem to have impressed Empress Maria Theresa but not Kempelen, who was also present. Kempelen boasted to the empress that he could create something far more impressive, and she encouraged him to do so. Six months later he produced his Chess Player.[34]

The Chess Player was a life-size sculpture of a man dressed as a Turk, or at least as the Western stereotype of a Turk, complete with turban, drooping moustache, and flowing robe, and holding in his left hand a two-foot-long pipe. He sat in permanence behind a cabinet approximately four feet wide, two and a half feet deep, and three feet high, which rested on four casters and had a chessboard fixed to the top. The side of the cabinet facing the spectators had built into it at the bottom a shallow drawer that was almost as wide as the cabinet itself, and above the drawer two doors of equal height but of unequal width, corresponding to a larger compartment on the right and a smaller one on the left; on the opposite, that is the Turk’s, side of the cabinet, there were two more doors, one to his right and one to his left. Kempelen developed a ritual of presentation: He wheeled the Turk-and-cabinet into the room; opened and closed the doors of the cabinet in turn, showing that the smaller compartment contained a mass of machinery while the larger compartment contained much less of it; pulled out the drawer, extracted a set of chessmen and a cushion, and pushed it in again; wheeled the cabinet around, lifted the robe of the Turk to reveal the machinery in his incompletely enclosed body and wheeled the cabinet back again; removed the pipe from the Turk’s playing hand, placed the cushion under that hand’s arm, and set up the chessmen.[35]

Like a spring-driven clock, the Chess Player’s mechanism had to be periodically wound up, after which it functioned by itself. The Turk raised his arm, extended it over the board, grasped a piece with his hand, and moved it to a new square. He waited for his opponent to move before moving again, nodded his head twice to indicate a check to his opponent’s queen, three times for a check to the king, and shook his head when his opponent made an illegal move. He always played first and usually won. Sometimes when he closed his hand while reaching for a piece he failed to grasp it, if it was not precisely in the middle of the square, but he moved his arm anyway as if he held it, opening his hand again over the destination square. In such cases the Turk’s intention was clear and Kempelen intervened to move the piece. Otherwise the creator kept himself stationed several paces away, standing at a little side table and looking secretively into a small box placed there, except when he had to rewind the machinery.

The empress congratulated him on making good on his boast, and the entire court expressed its admiration. Kempelen first began to show the Chess Player in Vienna and then at his home in Pressburg (now Bratislava), attracting a certain amount of attention, in 1769. Several newspapers, including the Mercure de France, ran reports, and several speculators wanted to buy the piece. Kempelen judged his own creation as “not without merit as regards the mechanism, the effects of which, however, appear so marvelous only because of the boldness of the conception and because of the fortuitous choice of means that are used to create the illusion.” [36] His interest in it gradually declined, and after a few years of increasingly infrequent exhibitions he partially disassembled it and put it into storage.

The piece that he considered his masterpiece, or at least his greatest contribution to knowledge, was his speaking machine. Curiously, three mechanicians working independently constructed speaking machines almost simultaneously: Kempelen in 1778, a Kratzenstein of Copenhagen in 1780, and Abbé Mical in 1778. Mical, the same Parisian who had previously built automaton flute players, gave his two speaking machines human form, or, to be exact, heads. These talking heads alternately spoke several sentences flattering to the king in clearly comprehensible French. The royalist journalist Antoine Rivarol heaped praise on them. He argued that the proliferation of such heads would preserve the perfect spoken French of the eighteenth century for all time and prevent its degradation by epigones. When Kempelen brought his speaking machine to Paris in 1783, Rivarol reported, “M. Kempelen also had a box from which a few words escaped, it is said; but this worthy traveler paid true homage to M. the Abbé Mical: As soon as he learned of the talking heads, he withdrew.” Another Paris observer, however, judged the talking heads inferior: “Their pronunciation is not by some distance as clear, as distinct, as that of M. de Kempelen’s machine.” Kempelen, too, had planned to bestow a head on his speaking machine, but it seems always to have remained a bare assembly of wires, hinges, tubes, reeds, funnels, and bellows, sometimes covered with a cloth. He was able to make it say several hundred individual words and a few whole sentences. Kempelen’s anatomie mouvante formed a part of his linguistic researches, the results of which he published in a book entitled Wolfgangs von Kempelen Mechanismus der menschlichen Sprache nebst der Beschreibung seiner sprechenden Maschine (Wolfgang von Kempelen’s Mechanism of Human Speech Together with a Description of His Speaking Machine, 1791). His twofold aim was to identify the phonemes of the European languages and to determine how human beings produce those sounds, by specifying the contributions of the lungs, windpipe, vocal cords, glottis, nose, tongue, teeth, lips, etc.[37]

In 1782, while still occupied with his speaking machine, at least in the intervals between his official responsibilities and his artistic relaxations, Kempelen was induced by Emperor Joseph II to resuscitate his Chess Player. The absolute monarch of Austria was expecting a visit from the next absolute monarch of Russia and his wife and wanted to prevent their boredom from becoming absolute. The Turk enchanted the foreign dignitaries to such a degree that they insisted his maker take him on a tour of Europe and prevailed upon Emperor Joseph to decree a leave of absence. The obedient Kempelen accompanied both Chess Player and speaking machine to Paris.

A pamphlet first published in German in 1783 heralded the start of the Turk’s tour that same year; French, English, and Dutch editions of 1783, 1784, and 1785, respectively, marked his triumphal progress. Written by a friend of Kempelen, the pamphlet described what the Turk did, how Kempelen came to create him, and gave a sketch of his life. Thus spurted the first few drops of what was to become a recycling fountain of ink, lasting well into the nineteenth century and staining a multitude of private and public letters, newspaper and magazine articles, and opuscules of every sort, all devoted to explaining the secret of the Turk’s abilities, a secret known to almost none of the authors.[38]

Hence when the Turk arrived in Paris, his first destination, the literate public was already well informed about him. As for the Turk, he knew enough to find his way to the Café de la Régence. The attorney Bernard, who was to become Philidor’s successor as champion and already a leading player, defeated the Turk after a long and difficult game. Bernard rated his skill equal to that of the marquis de Ximenès, at which the latter took offense, not liking to be compared to a literal blockhead. Philidor also defeated the Turk, at an exhibition in front of the Académie Royale des Sciences. Kempelen is reported to have approached the champion beforehand in private to ask him to let the Turk win, so as not to jeopardize the success of the tour. Philidor agreed in principle but told Kempelen that it was in both their interests that he maintain a certain level of play; otherwise, suspicions would be aroused. The consensus of the spectators was that Philidor won in spite of playing below his usual level. He often said afterward that this game had fatigued him more than any other.[39]

The Turk enjoyed Paris in the spring of 1783 and then crossed to London in the late summer or fall. The recent revelation that he was not a player of the top rank did not seem to affect his reputation or his ability to attract attention. Returning to the continent in 1784, he gave exhibitions in Leipzig, Dresden, several towns in southern Germany, Amsterdam, and probably many other places. He retired to Pressburg in 1785, while the letters, articles, and pamphlets continued to gush forth unabated.[40]

After having extended a leave of six months into two years, Kempelen returned to government service and worked until 1798, when he too retired. But he did not cease to set up his easel in the countryside and paint landscapes, since he continued to be able to see perfectly without glasses. He died in 1804 at the age of seventy without having let the world see the secret of his Chess Player.

The purposes behind Kempelen’s mechanical inventions seem to have been almost as various as the inventions themselves. Simple benevolence undoubtedly motivated in large part his invention of type for the blind. The speaking machine grew out of his interest in linguistics, and he intended it to be a contribution to science. The personal satisfaction of meeting challenges to his ingenuity probably also encouraged him in both projects. His adaptation of the steam engine was done for the utilitarian, even mundane purpose of digging canals. His purpose in this case was the government’s, or the monarchy’s, which was appropriate to him as a royal servant. The recycling waterfall of Schönbrunn he likewise conceived in his role as servant of the monarchy. The Chess Player as well he invented to impress his sovereign, and its accomplishment of that aim was what brought about its tour of Europe, its fame, and his.

Johann Nepomuk Maelzel (1772–1838) spent his life inventing and reproducing and acquiring machines that facilitated or imitated or simulated great human skill, and exhibiting his machines.[41]

Maelzel was born and grew up in Regensburg, the imperial city on the Danube where the Holy Roman Emperors were elected. His father taught him how to build organs, read music, and play the piano. By the age of fourteen he had gained a reputation as the best pianist in town. After giving piano lessons for a few years there, he headed downriver to Vienna, the imperial city where the Holy Roman Emperors resided, but for unknown reasons turned his attention back from making music to making music-makers. In 1805 he completed a gigantic organ-like instrument of his own invention that he called a Panharmonicon. This machine incorporated a large variety of orchestral instruments, woodwinds, brass, percussion, but no strings, simulating an ensemble of forty-odd musicians, which a system of levers animated and into which a system of bellows breathed life. Each individual instrument could play only a single note, so that in order to be able to play a whole trumpet passage, for example, the machine contained eight trumpets. The Panharmonicon played at all dynamic levels, from a primal explosion to a dying breeze, and reproduced much of the symphonic universe. Its creator programmed it in advance rather than actively manipulating it while it played. For this purpose, he equipped it with the same sort of rotating pegged cylinder that carillons and music boxes had.[42]

Maelzel set out on tour with his recently built Panharmonicon and his recently bought Chess Player, which he acquired from Kempelen’s son soon after the latter had inherited it. In 1807 he arrived in Paris for an extended sojourn. There the expatriate Italian composer Cherubini received the Panharmonicon more sympathetically than he was to receive young Franz Liszt a few years later, going so far as to write expressly for the machine a piece of music, “The Echo.” Maelzel sold his creation for the large sum of sixty thousand francs so that he could immediately begin work on a new, improved model, which he quickly completed. He also constructed at about the same time a life-size automaton trumpeter, perhaps the first true automaton musician to play this instrument, with moving lips and tongue and a variable volume of wind. He presented his Trompeter to Napoleon’s Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale, the organization that had staged the Expositions des Produits de l’Industrie in 1802 and 1806; unfortunately for Maelzel and his chances for a medal, the next exposition was not to take place until 1819.[43]

He left Paris in 1808 for another tour, taking with him the Chess Player, the second Panharmonicon, and the Trompeter. Another automaton trumpeter was constructed independently and almost simultaneously by a Saxon inventor named Kaufmann, to high praise from the composer Carl Maria von Weber. Kaufmann had already built a Belloneon, a mechanical drum and bugle corps for which he had used real drums and possibly real trumpet bells but no humanoids, just bare machinery. Legend has it that one night when Napoleon was occupying the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin after the Battle of Jena (1806), one of his staff officers switched it on, setting off a loud performance of a Prussian cavalry march and throwing the French general staff into confusion. Legend also has it that when Napoleon was occupying Vienna (1809), he sat down to a game with the Chess Player, and it does seem that Maelzel was there around that time. Napoleon supposedly insisted on making illegal moves, eventually provoking the Turk to sweep the men off the checkered battlefield. Another story, more plausible, is that Maelzel’s Trompeter blew a chronogram in honor of Napoleon’s marriage to the Austrian Archduchess Maria Luisa (1810).[44] During one of Maelzel’s frequent but brief stops in the Austrian capital, he received the title of K.-K. Hofmechaniker in recognition of his ingenuity. Passing through Milan in 1809 or 1810, he sold the Chess Player to Napoleon’s stepson, Prince Eugène, who could not bear to allow it to leave without learning its secret. In Amsterdam in 1812 he met a mechanician named Diederich Winkel and joined him in his work on a pendulum chronometer for musicians.

Back in Vienna the following year he became friends with Beethoven. He constructed a series of ear trumpets for the composer, who used the last model for a decade until his hearing gave out altogether. For his part, Beethoven agreed to write a piece for the Panharmonicon in honor of Napoleon’s defeat in Spain. It is a little-known fact that the famous battle symphony entitled Wellington’s Victory was originally written for this equally little-known mechanical instrument. What is more, Beethoven composed the piece around Maelzel’s musical ideas. According to Ignaz Moscheles, a pianist, composer, music teacher, and music chronicler then resident in Vienna:

I witnessed the origin and progress of this work, and remember that not only did Maelzel decidedly induce Beethoven to write it, but even laid before him the whole design of it; himself wrote all the drum-marches and the trumpet-flourishes of the French and English armies; gave the composer some hints, how he should herald the English army by the tune of “Rule Britannia”; how he should introduce “Malbrook” in a dismal strain; how he should depict the horrors of the battle, and arrange “God save the King” with effects representing the hurrahs of a multitude.

Maelzel then urged Beethoven to reconstruct his symphony for human musicians, while he himself welded together an orchestra out of the best such individuals available. He also placarded Vienna. The promised concert consisted of the premiere of Beethoven’s seventh symphony, two marches for automaton trumpeter with orchestral accompaniment, and the premiere of Wellington’s Victory. The audience and the press went into raptures and the composer’s already lofty reputation ascended into the next heaven. He returned the favor by lending divine authority to the inventor’s crusade to convert European musicians to the use of his new pendulum chronometer.[45]

Maelzel’s new chronometer? To Winkel’s original invention of a double pendulum—a vertical metal bar, with a fixed weight at the bottom end, a sliding weight more or less near the top end, and a pivot in the middle attached to a spring-driven oscillating mechanism—Maelzel had added a scale of values, the name “metronome,” patents in four countries, and workshops in Paris, Vienna, and London to reproduce it. He successfully solicited endorsements from dozens of the most esteemed musicians in Europe so that within a few short years the machine was in widespread use. Winkel protested vociferously, and committees of scientists and editors of music journals pronounced in his favor; meanwhile Maelzel minted money. Winkel made one last grasp at success. Integrating some of the features of organs with some from looms, he contrived a machine that, given a theme, could compose variations on it ad infinitum—well, 14,513,461,557,741,527,824 variations anyway. He exhibited his Componium in Paris, where the Académie des Sciences reported favorably on it, but he received no awards, no pensions, no offers. Winkel died destitute at the age of forty-six, forgotten. Maelzel died a millionaire at sixty-six, known to posterity as the inventor of the metronome.[46]

Maelzel did not acquire all that money by assembling craftsmen and salesmen to produce and distribute his metronome. In fact, the Chess Player had always been his most productive worker, so he bought it back in 1818 for the same thirty thousand francs he had received for it from Prince Eugène, the latter’s fortune having fallen as it had risen, as an arm of the fortune of the nepotic Napoleon. Again he arrayed his mechanical men and set out to reconquer the imagination of Europe.

And again he punctuated his travels with extended sojourns in Paris, where he made new humanoids. In 1818 he added an automaton slack-rope acrobat:

The most surprising thing about this little masterpiece of mechanics is the impossibility of figuring out how all of its various movements can be produced, because the automaton suspends itself now by one hand, now by the other, now by its knees, now by its toes, then it straddles the rope and twirls its body around it, thus abandoning one by one all of its points of contact with the rope, through which must necessarily pass whatever communicates movement to it.

So wrote a contemporary authority in a treatise on organ building and builders, a person by no means inexperienced in mechanics. He also described in detail Maelzel’s invention of talking dolls, mentioning en passant that the Chess Player “pronounced very distinctly the word ‘check.’” Maelzel exhibited the dolls, whose vocabularies were limited to “papa” and “mama,” at the 1823 Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie. It does not seem that he won a medal.[47]

From 1818 to 1821 Maelzel showed the Chess Player, second Panharmonicon, automaton trumpeter, and automaton acrobat in London and throughout Great Britain. He spent most of the period from 1821 to 1825 in Paris, dividing his time between the exhibition hall and the workshop. He occasionally forayed abroad with his inverse mime troupe, which made a great deal of noise mimicking human beings. Late in 1825, Maelzel sailed away from the Old World.

No sooner did he arrive in the New World than he sold his Panharmonicon for the stupendous sum of four hundred thousand dollars. He kept the other showpieces he had brought over with him, however, and these may have included, in addition to his own trumpeter and two acrobats and Kempelen’s Chess Player, a Jaquet-Droz writer-sketcher. One such, at least, was discovered at the Franklin Museum in Philadelphia in the mid-twentieth century with an ascription to Maelzel. Over the next dozen years the curious European automata saw New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, Charleston, Washington, Pittsburg, Cincin-nati, Louisville, New Orleans, and doubtless many other American cities before embarking for Havana. They may also have traveled in Canada. In Boston, the twenty-five-year-old P. T. Barnum “had frequent interviews and long conversations with Mr. Maelzel. I looked upon him as the great father of caterers for public amusement, and was pleased with his assurance that I would certainly make a successful showman.” [48]

The Chess Player continued to be Maelzel’s main attraction. But a year or so after his arrival in America a couple of enterprising Yankees began to exhibit an imitation of the imitation chess player. And they refused his offer of a thousand dollars and employment to surrender this compounded copy. For some reason, even though both chess players continued to perform in public, the original imitation prevailed. Later another enterprising American produced another imitation chess player, but this time the game ended with money changing hands, the latest imitator converting his imitation chess player into an imitation whist player, and both imitator and imitation joining Maelzel’s entourage.[49]

The Chess Player, built by Kempelen. Courtesy of the John G. White Collection, Special Collections, Cleveland Public Library. Photograph by the Cleveland Public Library Photoduplication Service.

The increasing diffusion of the knowledge of the Chess Player’s secret had probably determined Maelzel to depart the Old World when he did. Various observers had divined various aspects of the deception almost from the beginning, and the most skeptical observers had immediately penetrated the most important aspect: A human being was hidden inside the cabinet.[50] But many people wanted to believe, and within the multitude who stood between skepticism and faith the enlightenment proceeded slowly.

The movements of the Turk were governed by a modified pantograph, such that he simply duplicated on the outside of the cabinet the movements made by his guiding spirit on the inside. Who directed the Turk in his early years remains a mystery. After he passed from Kempelen to Maelzel the latter employed a series of Café de la Régence masters: Alexandre, Boncourt, and Weyle for short spells in Paris, Jacques-François Mouret for most of the British tour, and Wilhelm Schlumberger for most of the American tour. Thus during the periods when the Turk had Maelzel for his prophet he played first-rate chess, which undoubtedly contributed a great deal to his continuing success. In 1834 Le Magasin pittoresque and in 1836 Labourdonnais’s periodical Le Palamède published the secret, which had been revealed by Mouret, the great-nephew of the great Philidor.[51]

Maelzel himself had talent in the art of chess as well as in the art of music, but he was a better artisan than artist, and a better artificer than artisan. Maelzel died on board ship between Havana and Philadelphia in 1838; the Turk perished in Philadelphia’s Chinese Museum when it burned in 1854.[52] But as an automaton is only the shell of a human being, and the Chess Player only the shell of an automaton, what was destroyed was only the shell of the Chess Player. Its spirit survived into future generations; indeed, it proliferated.

§ 2. The Mechanician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin (1805–1871)

The automaton-builders who made imitations of skilled human beings had a variety of purposes. Vaucanson probably conceived his automata, at least originally, as scientific projects. The Jaquet-Drozes conceived theirs as lux-ury products. Kempelen conceived his to impress his sovereign. But gradually the conception of automata as exhibition pieces, Maelzel’s conception, prevailed over all others. And gradually the show prevailed over the machinery, so that many builders exhibited quasi-automata and pseudoautomata in place of true automata. Although the pseudo-automaton seems degenerate, a soulless copy of the true automaton, it retained two of the most attractive charms of the true automaton: imitation and deception. The pseudo-automaton, just like the true automaton, imitated something else and in doing so deceived people into believing it could do what that something else did. Automata were a kind of magic trick, and they and magic shows had their vogue together.

Portrait of Robert-Houdin. Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Photograph by the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service.

If the name Robert-Houdin is familiar at all to Americans, it is because America’s most famous magician, Harry Houdini, born Ehrich Weiss, renamed himself after this most famous magician of France, born Jean-Eugène Robert. “When it became necessary for me to take a stage-name, and a fellow-player, possessing a veneer of culture, told me that if I would add the letter ‘i’ to Houdin’s name, it would mean, in the French language, ‘like Houdin,’ I adopted the suggestion with enthusiasm.” From the very beginning of his career Houdini strove to imitate Robert-Houdin: “My interest in conjuring and magic and my enthusiasm for Robert-Houdin came into existence simultaneously. From the moment that I began to study the art, he became my text-book and my gospel.” As of the late nineteenth century, when Houdini was growing up, not many first-class magicians had written books about conjuring techniques, as Robert-Houdin had; fewer still had written an autobiography describing their experiences, as Robert-Houdin had; and none of their lives had been as fascinating as Robert-Houdin’s had been. Houdini in turn wrote books about conjuring techniques, one of which he called The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin: “In the course of his ‘Memoirs,’ Robert-Houdin, over his own signature, claimed credit for the invention of many tricks and automata which may be said to have marked the golden age in magic. My investigations disproved each claim in order.” [53] But Robert-Houdin’s claims were no more exaggerated than those of the other stage magicians discussed by Houdini, whose inventiveness generally consisted of reworking or reclothing old tricks. Houdini eventually came to realize that the real deceptions in his book were his, not his model’s, although he could only bring himself to acknowledge one: “The only mistake I did make was to call it the name I did when it ought to have been ‘The History of Magic.’” [54] Everything having to do with stage magic, even writing about it, comes down to imitation and deception.

Robert-Houdin remains today one of the revered masters of the “tricks and automata which may be said to have marked the golden age in magic,” to use Houdini’s phrase, which reflects the consensus of historians of magic on the advanced state of that art in the early and mid-nineteenth century.[55] So was the Frenchman essentially a magician and only incidentally a mechanician? Houdini’s phrase implies the answer: Legerdemain and automaton-building were considered two branches of the same tree of magical knowledge. From the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, most conjurers worth their saltpeter presented mechanical humans or animals in their shows. After all, both sleight-of-hand tricks and mechanical marvels demonstrated manual dexterity. And both legerdemain and automata featured deception: The power of the former depended on the implication that something supernatural was happening; the power of the latter on the implication that a machine could do what a human being or an animal can do. Watching a feat of legerdemain, the spectator’s mind was not persuaded of the presence of something supernatural, but the spectator’s senses were baffled. Watching an automaton, the spectator’s senses were not persuaded of the presence of a living being, but the spectator’s mind was perplexed by the thought that a living being might be no more than a very complicated machine. In neither case was the implication demonstrated, but in both cases it seemed to have been. As for Robert-Houdin, he built machines of one sort or another throughout his life and gave magic shows for only around a decade.

Jean-Eugène Robert was born in 1805 in the small town of Blois, which lies on the Loire River about a hundred miles south-southwest of Paris. His father, Prosper Robert, who had his own business, practiced clockmaking and related arts: “an excellent engraver, a jeweler of taste, he could even if need be sculpt an arm or a leg for a mutilated statue.” So boasted the son, anyway, who as a child wanted nothing more than to imitate his father. “I am tempted to believe that I came into the world with a file, a compass, or a hammer in my hand, because from my earliest childhood, these instruments were my toys, my playthings.” His early inclinations notwithstanding, his father sent him to Orléans, a large town nearby, to attend its collège, a secondary school designed to prepare its students for either higher education or direct entry into a professional career. Prosper Robert had the normal ambition to push his child at least one rung further up the social ladder from his own position. Jean-Eugène studied diligently if unenthusiastically and returned to Blois a graduate at the age of eighteen. His father, pleased by this success, allowed him to idle away a few months doing whatever he wanted, during which time he saw a sleight-of-hand artist perform on the street. “It was the first time I ever attended such a spectacle: I was amazed, stupefied, dumbfounded.” Finally Prosper asked his son to choose a profession and found that Jean-Eugène stubbornly clung to his desire to become a clockmaker.[56]

The equally stubborn father placed his son in a notary’s office. A notary in nineteenth-century France was a kind of second-class attorney, handling a lot of routine legal documents; the occupation was low in the ranks of the professions, but it was a profession. “I leave the reader to imagine how this automaton’s labor suited my nature and my mind: pens, ink, nothing was less appropriate to the execution of the inventions for which I ceaselessly generated ideas.” Jean-Eugène suffered a notary copyist’s boredom for three years, spending much of his free time and some of his work time building mechanical gadgets. Finally, whether because his son had bowed to his wishes for so long, because his son’s stubbornness had proven superior to his own, or because he had ceded all further resistance in ceding his business to his nephew—Jean-Eugène’s cousin—the retired clockmaker agreed to allow his son to apprentice in his old shop under the supervision of its new owner.[57]

Jean-Eugène Robert had found his way to half of his vocation. The other half, at least according to his autobiography, Confidences et révélations, found its way to him. Going out to a bookstore one day to buy a book on clockmaking, he returned with a book on conjuring that the bookseller had wrapped up for him by mistake. This “wrong book” enchanted him, so he set out to learn legerdemain.

I had often been struck by the facility with which pianists were able to read and execute, even at first sight, a melody and its accompaniment. It was clear to me that through practice one could create both an ability to see at a glance and a skill at the keyboard that allowed an artist to read several different things simultaneously while at the same time his hands were doing something very complicated. Now it was a similar ability that I wanted to acquire in order to apply it to prestidigitation; however, as music could not provide me with what I needed, I had recourse to the art of juggling.

I placed a book in front of me, and while my four balls flew in the air, I accustomed myself to reading without hesitation.

In conformity with the style of the period, I had on each side of my frock coat, called a frock coat à la propriétaire, pockets large enough so that I could easily move my hands around inside them. This was advantageous to me in that whenever one of my hands was not occupied with something outside, I could slide it into one of my pockets and begin to work with cards, coins, or one of the other objects that I have mentioned.

After completing his apprenticeship under his cousin, Jean-Eugène went to work for a clockmaker in nearby Tours. Whenever he had a free hand, sitting at his workbench, he continued to practice card and coin manipulation.[58]

The wrong-book episode in Robert-Houdin’s autobiography is followed by the still less believable Torrini episode, which takes up almost a quarter of his book but not even a year of his life. Once, he writes, he fell sick from food poisoning. He became feverish, delirious, possessed by the idea that he was going to die and then by the desire to die at home in Blois. He managed to get into a public coach, fortunately empty, but the jolting of the vehicle gradually made the ride more and more unbearable to his rebellious intestines, and he finally jumped out, rolling unconscious to the side of the road. He came to himself after an unknown period of time in an unknown moving vehicle. It turned out to be a large wagon that when closed up served as living quarters and when opened out served as a small stage for an itinerant magician who gave performances in provincial towns and villages. The magician, named Torrini, and his assistant, Antonio, had picked him up out of the road and were now nursing him back to health. He repaired an automaton for Torrini, proved himself generally useful with his mechanical skills, toured with the pair for an unspecified number of months, and was gradually initiated into the secrets of professional conjuring. Torrini told him many stories of his travels and of other magicians, including an absurd tale involving Giuseppe Pinetti, whom he claimed to have driven out of business with his superior magic. Pinetti had been the most famous magician in Europe at the end of the eighteenth century, surpassing even “Comus,” Vidocq’s childhood employer. Eventually Torrini confided that his real name was Edmond de Grisy; that his father had been a count; that he himself was a doctor turned magician; that the young clockmaker he had found half-dead in the road reminded him of his dead child; that he had accidentally killed the latter on stage doing a William Tell trick; that his wife—Antonio’s twin sister—had died of grief soon thereafter; and that Torrini was really Antonio’s surname, the whole implying that he, Grisy, was doomed to wander aimlessly for the rest of his life in a state of self-alienation. Finally returning to his own story, Robert-Houdin tells us that he substituted for Torrini/Grisy on stage after the latter was hurt in a crash of his wonderful all-purpose vehicle. The young clockmaker quickly earned enough to pay for the restoration of both the magician and his wagon. Bodies and souls healed all around, Torrini/Grisy drove off into the sunset and Robert-Houdin returned to Blois. “I found my father quite calm with respect to me. The reason was that, in order not to arouse his anxiety, I had used a ruse: A clockmaker of my acquaintance had forwarded my letters to him as though they came from Angers, and this friend likewise took the responsibility of sending me his responses.” [59]

The many improbabilities in the Torrini episode tell the reader that it is a deception. The episode’s final story of how Robert-Houdin deceives his father, both by its extreme improbability and by the fact that it says outright that Robert-Houdin is a deceiver, drives the point home. There are undoubtedly elements of truth in the episode, but no one has yet succeeded in finding a historical trace of Torrini/Grisy. The Torrini episode is the wrong-book episode writ large. In both episodes, destiny, or at least events outside the young clockmaker’s control, lead him to the study of magic. That is, he cannot be blamed for any inconstancy toward the career he had insisted to his father so stubbornly on pursuing. Besides, magic is something he practices under the table or inside his pocket, in the wrong-book episode, or while recovering from an illness or on leave from his job, in the Torrini episode; in short, it is not to be counted as part of his real life. It is only a dream: a secret life, an imaginary life, an ideal life. He will continue to satisfy his duty toward his father, represented by his father’s nephew, under whom he serves his apprenticeship in the wrong-book episode, and by Torrini/Grisy, in the Torrini episode. But he will also satisfy his own desire to have a successful career as a magician. Both episodes are deceptions, but like those of a stage magician they are harmless, entertaining deceptions: The audience experiences the comfort both of seeing the conventions of society observed and of being informed that a deception is taking place, while at the same time it experiences the excitement of knowing it is being deceived without being able to figure out exactly how. For Robert-Houdin, the entertainer’s goal is to arouse wonder in his audience, or, put negatively, to avoid boring it with humdrum reality on the one hand or shocking its sensibilities on the other. An autobiography, like an automaton, should be a transparently deceptive, but still deceptive, copy of life.[60]

His adventure having arrived at its happy conclusion, the young mechanician is placed by his older self back into his former position as a cog in a clockmaker’s workshop. Back to the boredom of the daily round of cleaning and repairing clocks. Back to familial Blois. But soon he was to meet a local clockmaker who had moved to Paris and built up a thriving business there, and who had a daughter. In 1830, the year of the July Revolution, of which there is no mention in his autobiography, Jean-Eugène Robert married Mademoiselle Houdin and went to work for Monsieur Houdin. In order to distinguish himself from the many other people in Paris named Robert—some of them also clockmakers—he appended his bride’s name to his own, an addition he later legalized, becoming Robert-Houdin.[61]

While still a notary’s copyist, Robert-Houdin had spent many spare moments outfitting a birdcage that he found in the office waiting room with mechanical amusements for the resident birds and their human spectators. In one part of the cage, to which a bird was attracted by food, the avian resident unexpectedly found himself in the shower room rather than the dining room. In another, the imaginative copyist had contrived things such that a bird in approaching some seed pushed a lever that actually moved the food farther away.[62] One could almost measure the two vectors, mechanical inventiveness and theatrical illusionism, determining the future course of Robert-Houdin’s life.

The same incident also showed that, as a result of these two forces acting on his life, Robert-Houdin would never make a good employee: “I could not resolve to limit my imagination to the execution of other people’s ideas; I wanted at all costs to invent or to perfect. All my life I have been ruled by this passion, or, if you like, by this mania.” Thus he continued to work on his own projects as well as those of his employer after being hired by his father-in-law, who apparently indulged him.[63] We know little more than this about Robert-Houdin’s activities from 1830 until 1837, when he took out his first patent, for a Réveil-Briquet (Alarm Clock-Lighter). Before the invention of the electric light, when one arose before dawn one had to fumble around in the dark for matches to light the lamps or candles. Robert-Houdin’s device lit a candle at the same time that it sounded an alarm bell to awaken the sleeper, thus obviating fumbling. Other inventions soon followed, a timely development for Robert-Houdin, since in 1838 Monsieur Houdin was bankrupted by the bankruptcy of his notary. The father-in-law lost his business but soon found employment with a leading clockmaker of Paris; the son-in-law decided to go it alone. The Réveil-Briquet awakened Robert-Houdin from the nightmare of working for others. Indeed, as a result of improvements to it patented in 1840, he became an employer himself. He hired several workers to increase production and to give himself the free time to realize new ideas.[64]

In 1839 he showed two inventions at the Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie, which had become a regular, quinquenniel event. One of them, perhaps his first automaton, represented that archetypal sleight-of-hand artist, the cups-and-ball manipulator. The second made Robert-Houdin’s name as a clockmaker. The Pendule Mystérieuse (Mysterious Clock) had a dial that consisted of two parallel clear-glass disks of the same size joined by a metal band at their circumferences; that is, one could see all the way through the clock, which sat on a table rather than hanging on a wall. The minute and hour hands rotated between the two glass disks, pivoting around a peg that joined the centers of the two disks, the minute hand extending to their circumferences. The dial perched atop a narrow clear-glass cylinder, whose bottom end fit into the housing of the clockworks. Thus, there seemed to be nothing to communicate movement from the works to the hands of the clock, a transparent deception. In fact, a second glass cylinder rotating inside the narrow glass cylinder that held the dial aloft connected the clockworks to a second metal band, just inside the first one, the one that joined the circumferences of the glass disks. This second band rotated almost invisibly, hidden by the fixed outer band. The pointer end of the clock’s minute hand was connected to the second band, so that the minute hand rotated as the band rotated. Tiny gears connected the minute hand to the hour hand at the pivot in the center of the dial. In its report on the exposition the Moniteur universel called the Pendule Mystérieuse “the most remarkable” of the many clocks exhibited there. “We render full justice to the inventive skill of M. Robert-Houdin in acknowledging that he has made a truly remarkable piece; but we can only regret that he has expended so much talent with the sole purpose of torturing the minds of his colleagues, when he could have employed the resources of his fertile imagination more usefully.” The judges of the exposition awarded him a bronze medal.[65]

The goal of mounting the stage one day always remained in the back of Robert-Houdin’s mind. During the late 1830s and early 1840s he applied much of his inventive energy to automata. In addition to the cups-and-ball manipulator, he built a mechanical orange tree that produced first flowers and then fruit in a short space of time, some singing birds à la Jaquet-Droz, a trapeze acrobat à la Maelzel, a writing and sketching figure à la Jaquet-Droz, and two clowns; he also rebuilt the Componium of a German mechanician named Koppen. This machine did not compose, like Winkel’s Componium, but imitated a full orchestra, like Maelzel’s Panharmonicon.[66]

Robert-Houdin made his mechanical orange tree look as much like the real thing as possible. It represented a fully foliated, dwarf tree and sat on a table. Some of its “branches,” in reality hollow metal tubes, held concealed within their ends folded-up paper or silk “flowers” and, just behind the flowers, deflated “oranges.” Air secretly pumped into the tubes forced the flowers to gradually emerge and open up, or “blossom.” More air pushed the oranges out, causing the flowers to flutter down, and then swelled the oranges in a simulation of growth.[67]

He named his two mechanical clowns after two well-known human clowns of the time, Auriol and Deburau: “The latter held firmly above his head a chair, on which his happy comrade gamboled, did gymnastics, and executed feats of strength, just like the artist of the Champs-Élysées circus. After these exercises, my Auriol smoked a pipe and finished the session by accompanying on a small flageolet a melody played by the orchestra.” [68]

Koppen’s Componium had been disassembled sometime after its exhibition in Paris in 1829, Robert-Houdin writes, and its pieces bought by someone he refers to as D***. The new owner had advertised for a mechanician to reassemble it, and Robert-Houdin had presented himself. “They brought me, in a vast room that was to serve as my workshop, all the boxes containing the pieces of the Componium and emptied them pell-mell onto some bedsheets that had been laid out on the floor for this purpose.” He relates that it took him a year to do it, but that he put all the pieces back together again and made a working machine.[69]

Robert-Houdin’s Écrivain-Dessinateur (Writer-Sketcher) brought him more recognition than any other creation of this period of his life. In order to produce it and one other automaton, a singing and fluttering night-ingale for which he had an order from Russia, he secluded himself for eighteen months in an apartment in the quiet suburb of Belleville, leaving his Paris workshop under the supervision of one of his employees and seeing his family just twice a week. The Écrivain-Dessinateur represented a nobleman whose dress, chair, and writing table were all in the style of the period of Louis XV. Thus, it harked back to the days of the Écrivain, Dessinateur, and Musicienne of the Jaquet-Drozes. It seems likely that Robert-Houdin had at least read about these three if he had not actually seen them. After they were sold by the Jaquet-Drozes in 1789, they reappeared in Paris intermittently in exhibitions and magic shows, as did one or two of the Jaquet-Droz-Maillardet combination Écrivain-Dessinateurs. Robert-Houdin may have gotten the idea for his automaton from one of these pieces, or he may have copied the mechanism, or he may even have bought and reworked an existing Écrivain-Dessinateur. Some of the sketches made by the Robert-Houdin piece are quite similar to those made by the original Jaquet-Droz Dessinateur. In any case, Robert-Houdin showed his Écrivain-Dessinateur at the exposition of 1844 and won a silver medal. King Louis-Philippe, on his tour of the exhibits, stopped to see the mechanician put the figure through its paces and expressed his admiration. One of the judges at the exposition, however, repeated the admonition of five years earlier: “It is really too bad, M. Robert-Houdin, that you have not applied to serious works the mental effort that you have expended in such whimsical objects.” He sold the automaton that same year or the next to P-T. Barnum for “a good round price,” probably to help finance the construction of a theater of magic. Barnum, who was touring Europe, sent it back to his American Museum, located in New York City, where it could be seen until the museum burned down in 1865.[70]

Robert-Houdin’s nightingale is also reminiscent of the works of the father and son Jaquet-Droz, a name that does not appear in any of his writings. In his autobiography he tells how he used to go out to the woods and climb trees so as to be able to hear the bird’s song more clearly, listening carefully and then trying to imitate it. Next he had to contrive a whistle mechanism that would reproduce the sounds he heard. Finally, “I had also to animate this bird: I was supposed to make it move its beak in time with the sounds it emitted, beat its wings, jump from branch to branch, etc.” He sold this piece, too, for a large sum.[71]

If Robert-Houdin had done nothing more than duplicate or reinvent automata that had been first created a half-century earlier, he would not be entitled to a prominent place in the history of their evolution. But finally his turn came to be a true creator in the art of automaton-building.

He hit upon one novel idea so striking that he used it as the basis of at least three different mechanical pieces. Each piece was sized to sit on a table. Each had its works in a large ornate base on which was posed a small interior scene containing a human figure. In one, the figure represented a young woman in Turkish costume seated on an ottoman and shaded by a fringed parasol. In another, a woman in a mid-nineteenth-century dress sat on a Louis XV chair at a Louis XV table, on which rested an ornate clock of the same vintage. In the third, another woman in contemporary clothes stood at the railing of a landing at the top of a short flight of stairs. Each mechanical woman held a serinette. Each addressed a mechanical canary sitting on a perch arising from a base appropriate to the decor of the scene. The woman cranked the serinette, which played a tune. The canary imitated it imperfectly. The woman cranked again and this time the canary imitated it more accurately. The lesson continued until the canary, from “hearing” it repeatedly, “learned” the tune.[72]

We have seen that the eighteenth-century vogue for canaries, and for teaching canaries to sing human songs, led to the invention of organized flageolets, then to serinettes, and finally to mechanical singing birds. But in this last phase the learning process had disappeared. Robert-Houdin restored it, and without sacrificing any of the previous mechanical advances, indeed adding an advance of his own, by combining a serinette, a mechanical bird, and an android into a single complex mechanical masterpiece. In the century and a half since, there have been no more advances. To a machine that imitates song, and a machine that imitates a singer of a song, he added a machine that imitates a teacher of a song, but still there is no machine that imitates a creator of a song

there is no machine that imitates a creator

there is no machine

there is

While working as a clockmaker and building automata, Robert-Houdin attended magic shows often and watched the magicians closely. He criticized their deceptions in Confidences et révélations, just as Houdini would later criticize his deceptions in The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin.

My first care, upon arriving in Paris, had been to attend some performances of [Louis-Apollinaire] Comte, who had reigned for a long time in his theater in the Choiseul Arcade. This famous physicist was already resting on his laurels, and only performed once a week.…Comte’s experiments were almost all drawn from a repertoire with which I was perfectly familiar: It was that of Torrini and of all the conjurers of the period.

Robert-Houdin employs here a somewhat dated vocabulary, current in the second half of the eighteenth century, when scientists and popularizers of science performed tricks illustrating such little-understood phenom-ena as magnetism. The tricks were called “experiments” (expériences), the performers “physicists” (physiciens), and the performances “scientific amusements” (physique amusante). This terminology was adopted by conjurers who had no particular interest in recent discoveries in physics and whose acquaintance with science went no further than a practical psychology of deception. Whether or not Comte’s program was dated, he had other things to recommend him. He excelled at ventriloquism. And his way of flattering the women in the audience in his patter taught Robert-Houdin a lesson, in what to avoid as well as in what to imitate. “Just as Comte was friendly toward the ladies, he was merciless toward the gentlemen.” Robert-Houdin learned that gallantry toward the members of the audience could gain a performer many adherents, and he himself resolved to be gallant toward all.[73]

He also saw the well-known Italian conjurer Bartolomeo Bosco and appears to have been somewhat mystified by his popularity. He found him still doing the old cups-and-ball routine: “I would never have thought that in the year of grace 1838 one would have dared to perform it inside a theater. This was all the more improbable in that every day one saw in the streets of Paris two outdoor artists, Miette and Lesprit, who had no fear of rivals.” Perhaps Bosco’s most celebrated trick consisted of decapitating two pigeons, one white and one black, putting the corpses in a box, and retrieving from the same box two live pigeons, one with a white body and a black head, the other with a black body and a white head. Robert-Houdin was offended by this cruelty toward animals and concluded that the audience must have believed Bosco did not really kill the pigeons he appeared to decapitate.[74]

Philippe Talon, billed simply as Philippe, arrived in Paris in 1841 and had his own theater, the Palais des Prestiges (Palace of Prodigies), built soon thereafter. Robert-Houdin describes Philippe’s entrance: “An orchestra, composed of six musicians of debatable talent, performed a symphony with the help of a Mélophone.” Then the magician appeared, barely visible on the darkened stage, and fired a pistol, whereupon dozens of candles instantly blazed to light, thanks to an almost invisible electrical wire with gaps across the candle wicks and hidden jets of hydrogen gas just behind the wicks. Philippe exhibited several automata:

the Cossack, which one could equally well have called the Grimacer, on account of the comical contortions he underwent; what’s more, this Cossack was a very skillful conjurer, because he adroitly slipped into his pockets various pieces of jewelry that his master had borrowed from the spectators;

the Magic Peacock, which emitted an unmelodious warble, and which displayed its sumptuous plumage and ate out of one’s hand;

and finally a Harlequin, like that which Torrini had had.

In a celebrated trick that Robert-Houdin later adopted for his own use, Philippe made appear from under a shawl a large glass bowl of water, open on top, in which goldfish could be seen swimming.[75]

Robert-Houdin finally opened his own theater of magic, built to his design. Its two hundred seats filled up and stayed filled from almost the first performance, on 5 July 1845. On 6 July the Moniteur universel gave the “Soirées Fantastiques” a warm, if brief, recommendation. On 10 July, the Charivari told its readers: “You will wonder whether M. Robert-Houdin deserves to be burned or worshipped.…It’s the science of Vaucanson, Maelzel, and Stévenard combined with the art of Bosco, Comte, and Philippe; it’s mechanics and prestidigitation united, and all that in a charming hall decorated with taste.” Style Louis XV, of course. By 19 July, he rated almost an entire page, with engraving, in the weekly Illustration. An invitation the following year to give a performance in the palace at Saint-Cloud for the family of King Louis-Philippe put the royal seal on his success.[76]

Several of the automata Robert-Houdin presented in his Soirées Fantastiques have already been mentioned. In addition to the cups-and-ball manipulator, the orange tree, the clowns Auriol and Deburau, and the trapeze acrobat, he also showed a Garde-Française (National Guardsman) and his celebrated Pâtissier du Palais-Royal (Pastry Cook of the Palais-Royal). The fully uniformed Garde-Française stood about two feet tall on a small base. From his place on a table, he saluted the spectators, “blew several kisses to the children he saw in the hall,” and appeared to shoot onto a crystal column standing on another table several rings borrowed from women in the audience and loaded into his musket by Robert-Houdin.[77]

The Palais-Royal, whose long wings had been partitioned into spaces for retail shops and whose large courtyard sheltered more dubious enterprises under wooden arcades, had functioned as a sort of year-round fair since the 1780s. By the 1840s many pleasure-seekers had deserted it for the Grand Boulevards, though its restaurants and pastry shops still maintained their superior savor, among them Gendron’s, where Carême had worked. An attached building still housed the Comédie-Française, and the Palais-Royal itself housed several other theaters.[78] Robert-Houdin chose to build his own small theater there and thus called his new automaton the Pâtissier du Palais-Royal. His mechanical pastry cook bustled in and out of a large rectangular cabinet, about the same size as the cabinet of Kempelen’s Chess Player, that is, about four feet wide, two and a half feet deep, and three feet high, decorated to look like a pastry shop. “Warm brioches just out of the oven, cakes of all sorts, syrups, liqueurs, ices, etc., are brought by him as soon as the spectators have asked for them.” In addition to bringing the particular items ordered by the spectators, Robert-Houdin’s pastry cook also gave them the correct change when they paid him.[79] The Pâtissier could think as well as the Chess Player.

A year before Robert-Houdin opened his theater,

The Canard of Vaucanson himself was exhibited at Paris in a hall in the Palais-Royal. I was, as one can imagine, among the first to attend, and left struck with admiration at the numerous and skillful devices in this masterpiece of mechanics.

Some time later, one of the wings of the automaton having been rendered inoperable, the repair was entrusted to me and I was initiated into the celebrated mystery of the digestion. To my great astonishment, I saw that the illustrious master had not disdained to have recourse to an artifice that I would not have disowned in a conjuring trick. The digestion, the tour de force of his automaton; the digestion, so pompously trumpeted in his memoir, was only a mystification, a true canard. Decidedly, Vaucanson was not only my master in mechanics; I had also to bow before his genius at conjuring.

In short, there was no connection between the seed ingested by Vaucanson’s duck and the excreted waste. The latter had been prepared in advance simply to look its part and be expelled at the appropriate time. “This artifice, far from changing the high opinion that I had conceived of Vaucanson, on the contrary inspired me with a double admiration for his knowledge (savoir) and his savoir-faire.” Some doubt whether Robert-Houdin ever saw the real Canard of Vaucanson; they suspect he may have seen a copy, of which at least one is known to have existed. No matter, for Vaucanson’s canard was real enough and had been exposed as early as 1783 by C.-F. Nicolaï. Nicolaï had seen the Canard in Nuremberg, where it had been left by one of the Lyon entrepreneurs who had bought it from Vaucanson in 1743. He published his description of the deception in a travel book. Furthermore, the Canard had been restored and exhibited in Milan if not also in Paris, and written up, around the time Robert-Houdin claimed to have seen it.[80]

Nor had the punctilious Swiss mountain dwellers the Jaquet-Drozes been entirely above deception. Johann Bernoulli had described a perplexing feature of the Écrivain: “The mechanism of the writing automaton is inconceivable, especially because it can write any word of French and can even, after it has begun to write a word that has been dictated to it, as soon as one orders it to leave off this word and write another, break off and begin to write the other.” According to a biopsy of the Écrivain performed a century and a quarter later:

There have survived down to this day some quite delicate levers, with eyelets for attaching wires to, levers which are no longer in use. One likewise sees numerous holes and notches into which must have been placed pieces now missing. The base, covered with velours, is riddled with holes and furrowed with converging grooves; one of the legs of the table is pierced through its entire length, and little mortises, cut into the corners, must have held tiny pulleys serving to guide the wire(s) and to lead them down to the floor. These wires must have been operated by one or two pedals.[81]

Robert-Houdin’s Garde-Française was likewise controlled from outside by means of hidden wires and pedals, and thus not a true automaton. And the magician’s young son was hiding inside his miniature pastry shop and serving as the pâtissier’s indispensable assistant.[82]

Robert-Houdin’s most renowned and most imitated trick, Seconde Vue (Second Sight), his new version of an old routine, also involved his son. In this case, the audience was hidden from his son, rather than vice versa. His son sat blindfolded on stage while Robert-Houdin himself roamed through the audience asking the spectators to hand him any object whatsoever and having his son describe the object in detail after “seeing” it with “second sight.” [83]

The success of Seconde Vue notwithstanding, Robert-Houdin was much better known for his mechanical than for his nonmechanical tricks. One of the newspaper accounts of the opening of his theater reported that,

M. Robert-Houdin, the high priest of this temple, walking in the footsteps of Vaucanson and Maelzel, is less a physicist than a skillful mechanician, who, tired of building for every magician past and present the ingenious devices that have made their whole reputation, believes it is high time for him to bring directly before the public a series of entertainments all the more perfect in that he has prepared them for his own use and in order to demonstrate his talent as a mechanician.

The demand for his machines among other magicians continued. A few years later the Moniteur universel reported in its column of lawcourt news: “No sooner had Legrand left him [Robert-Houdin] than he heard from all quarters that this worker had committed the greatest acts of betrayal toward him, that he had copied and sold most of his mechanical pieces. A search of Legrand’s residence uncovered a large number of objects belonging to M. Robert-Houdin or reproduced from originals invented by him.” Legrand was convicted of fraud, or illegal imitation and deception.[84]

Considering his subsequent stature among professional magicians, Robert-Houdin’s stage career did not last very long. From 1845 to 1848 he performed mostly in his own Soirées Fantastiques, sometimes also doing a few tricks at one or another variety theater in Paris. In 1846 he gave a short series of performances in Belgium. The Revolution of 1848 drove him across the Channel to Great Britain. He began at the Théâtre Français in London in May 1848, and success following success, performed twice for Queen Victoria, toured extensively in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and did not return to France until October 1849. Upon the resumption of his Soirées Fantastiques, Robert-Houdin conceived the idea of training a successor, who began to spell him as early as the summer of 1850 and in January 1852 bought his theater. The not-quite-retired magician performed intermittently in England, Belgium, and France from the summer of 1852 to the summer of 1853; made a tour of the spas of Germany in the fall of 1853; and concluded his career with a three-month run in Berlin in the winter of 1853–54.[85]

Robert-Houdin engaged in several duels of magic. He boasts that when he opened his show in London in May 1848 he stole the audience of John Henry Anderson, a Scottish magician who had been performing there for some time. While the Frenchman continued to give essentially the same program he had been giving in Paris, the Scot’s program changed dramatically and many of his new tricks were obvious copies of or responses to Robert-Houdin’s. Anderson had his revenge in 1853, however, when the Frenchman’s second sojourn in England consisted of only a few scattered shows, a sojourn he does not even mention in his autobiography.[86]

Robert-Houdin relates that the “physicist” Comte once came to see him perform at his theater in the Palais-Royal. Comte stayed after the show to chat, after which Robert-Houdin escorted his guest down the stairs to the outside door. At that point he heard what sounded like one of his cashiers calling him from the top of the stairs. His guest offered to wait until the presumably minor problem was taken care of before saying good night. The host ascended the stairs again but could find no one around and finally realized that Comte had duped him with ventriloquism.

I calmly descended.

“What did that person from your ticket office want?” Comte asked me, sounding well-satisfied with his deception.

“Can’t you guess?” I responded, imitating his intonation.

“No indeed!”

“Then I will tell you: It was a repentent thief, who begged me to return these objects that he had taken from you. Here they are, my mentor!”

So saying, Robert-Houdin returned the handkerchief and snuff box he had picked from Comte’s pocket when they had descended the stairs together earlier. That is how Robert-Houdin tells it in his autobiography, anyway. There is a French idiom, avoir l’esprit de l’escalier, “to have staircase wit,” which means to think of good responses belatedly, as one is descending the staircase to depart, whether from a soirée, from a career, or from life.[87]

In 1856 the French colonial government in Algeria persuaded Robert-Houdin to step temporarily out of retirement and travel there on a quasi-official mission. The government’s problem was an insurgency movement among Arabs, fomented by marabouts, Muslim religious leaders, who demonstrated their divine protection by eating nails and crushed glass with impunity and performing other miracles. Robert-Houdin’s mission was “to show them we are their superiors in all things and that when it comes to sorcerers there is nothing to compare with the French.” The French governor invited a group of Arab chieftains to a theater, furnished them with translators, and turned the stage over to the magician. Robert-Houdin asked for volunteers from the audience for several of his tricks. One was in the tradition of physique amusante: He made a muscular Arab appear strong or weak at will by asking him several times to lift up a wooden box resting on the floor, which the Arab sometimes could and sometimes could not do, thanks to an iron plate inside the box and an electro-magnet directly beneath it just under the floorboards. Another, a variation on the William Tell trick, was strictly legerdemain: He had a marabout mark a bullet, load it into a pistol, and shoot it at him while he held up an apple on the end of a knife; after the shot he removed the marked bullet from inside the apple. The show seems to have impressed the chieftains, for they afterward gave him a placard-sized poetic homage in Arabic and French calligraphy, richly ornamented, and affixed with the seals of their tribes.[88] The poet Baudelaire, less impressed, delivered this epithet: “It was appropriate that an unbelieving society should send Robert-Houdin to the Arabs to turn them away from miracles.” [89] Oddly, France’s avant-garde amoralist deplored the campaign to demoralize Algeria that he believed his country was engaged in, and he believed that the unbelieving magician had been engaged in the avant-garde of the campaign. Robert-Houdin criticized the deceptions of North African marabouts in the final pages of his autobiograpy, just as he had criticized the deceptions of European conjurers earlier in the same work.

During his retirement, when he worked as hard as ever, Robert-Houdin occupied himself with a lot of inventions and a lot of writing, writing about himself, some of which he invented, and writing about his inventions, some of which he also invented.

He produced four full-length books: his autobiography, Confidences et révélations (first published in 1858); a systematic study of the techniques used by cheaters at cards, called Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées (Tricks of Cardsharpers Exposed, 1863); a systematic exposition of sleight-of-hand techniques and tricks, called Comment on devient sorcier (How to Become a Magician, 1868); and an explanation of some of the more complicated magic tricks performed by professionals, called Magie et physique amusante (Magic and Scientific Amusements, published posthumously in 1877).[90]

In Magie et physique amusante, Robert-Houdin tells a story about a device he contrived for a count who had once bought a clock from him and then gradually become a regular visitor to his workshop. Several times the count had had money taken from his desk drawer, which he kept locked, and he could not discover the culprit. Robert-Houdin outfitted the drawer with a trap, such that when someone opened it a pistol fired, presumably a blank, to alert the count, and “a kind of cat’s claw” sprang out to scratch the hand of the person opening the drawer. By means of this, the count caught one of his servants literally red-handed. In gratitude the count insisted that Robert-Houdin accept a personal loan in order to be able to build his long-desired theater of magic. Well-executed deceptions, whether by a thief or a detective, by sleight of hand or machinery, in a private home or a public theater, in a live performance or a book, all produce money.[91]

Robert-Houdin’s cat’s claw was not the first such device; Houdini traced the invention back as far as the mid-seventeenth century. And in writing a detective story Robert-Houdin may have been imitating the detective writer Émile Gaboriau, whose novels, serialized in newspapers and also sold in book form, were extremely popular during the time Robert-Houdin was at work on Magie et physique amusante. Gaboriau was influenced not only by Vidocq’s Mémoires but also by Poe’s short stories, or at least by the French translations of them, which had been made by Baudelaire in the 1850s and have been repeatedly praised ever since as models “so excellent that they seem to be original works.” [92] Well-executed imitations are also rewarded.

Robert-Houdin did do some real-life detective work. In Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées he mentions two occasions on which examining magistrates asked him to inspect decks of playing cards to determine whether they were marked; in both cases they were. One magistrate reported that Robert-Houdin gave a courtroom demonstration of how cardsharpers cheat at the game of écarté, executing unperceived, right under the noses of the judge, the attorneys, and other onlookers, a fraudulent cut of the deck so as to give himself a high card.[93]

Robert-Houdin’s Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées is reminiscent of Vidocq’s Les Voleurs. A large portion of each is devoted to cataloguing swindling techniques. Robert-Houdin’s book catalogues card swindles specifically; Vidocq’s catalogues swindles more generally. Both also contain many anecdotes, some based on first-hand knowledge and some from unknown sources. Among the anecdotes told by Robert-Houdin are tales of swindles unrelated to cards. A long series of his anecdotes has the same protagonist, a gambling addict named M. Raymond, and, taken as a whole, amounts to the insertion of a novella into his treatise.[94] This is reminiscent of another of Vidocq’s books, his Mémoires. One of Vidocq’s ghostwriters actually did insert a previously published novella, having no connection to Vidocq’s life, into that work.[95] Robert-Houdin makes brief personal appearances from time to time in his novella of M. Raymond, thus maintaining at least the semblance of a connection to reality. But it is mostly, if not entirely, fiction. It is there to balance the dry catalogue of card swin-dles and to take advantage of the recent surge of interest in crime writing. Some have suggested that the Confidences, like Vidocq’s Mémoires, was ghostwritten, but unlike the latter, no candidates for ghostwriter have been named and no real evidence produced.[96] It is indeed unexpected that Robert-Houdin’s first book would have turned out to be as well written and engaging as it is, or as successful as it was. Like Vidocq’s Mémoires, it went through several editions and appeared in translation within a few years of its initial publication.

The last chapter of Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées is entitled “Petites tricheries” (Little Tricks). Robert-Houdin writes that “one knows very well where cheating ends, but one has great difficulty saying where it begins.” To prove his point he says he is going to enumerate a series of card-table irregularities, “beginning with the most innocent,” such as accidentally seeing cards held by an opponent, upon which, according to strict justice, one should acknowledge it and allow the cards to be redealt; “then I will advance along this path all the way up to swindling, asking the reader to establish for himself where the limit of honesty lies.” [97] His novella of M. Raymond earlier in this same book should probably be counted as a petite tricherie.

Robert-Houdin’s Comment on devient sorcier is considered by some to have been the first systematic treatment of the art of conjuring. In that work, he divides conjuring into its various branches, enumerates its principles, describes sleight-of-hand techniques in detail, explains a large number of coin and card tricks, and concludes with a variety of other kinds of legerdemain involving feathers, corks, cannon balls, interlocking rings, cups-and-ball manipulation, etc. Finally, he promises to explain the most complex conjuring tricks in a sequel.[98]

Magie et physique amusante was the posthumous sequel. After telling in the story of the count and the mechanical cat’s claw how he acquired the money to build his theater, Robert-Houdin describes that theater and how he furnished it to conform to his proposed “complete regeneration of prestidigitation shows.” His program consisted of the elimination of “plants” in the audience; of lighting so bright as to dazzle the eyes of the audience; of bizarre magician’s costumes in favor of a standard black tuxedo; of long, suspicious tablecloths in favor of bare tabletops; and of “boxes with false bottoms, and all apparatus of polished brass or tin,” in favor of glass containers.[99] The rest of the book is devoted to explaining some of the nineteenth century’s most celebrated conjuring tricks, his own and others’, but not including automata. One sees the detective spirit reemerge periodically in his treatments of others’ tricks, where his explanations are often based on induction rather than inside knowledge. Some of them may in fact be incorrect. In others, however, he thoroughly elucidates the obfuscating devices of conjurers masquerading as mediums and spiritualists, a numerous and highly successful group in the second half of the nineteenth century.[100]

During his retirement Robert-Houdin worked with machinery as well as words. He did pioneering work in electrical technology. The heavy-and-light-wooden-box trick that he used in Algiers he first performed in Paris in 1845 when, as he knew better than anyone, “the phenomena of electro-magnetism were wholly unknown to the general public.” More important, he patented an inexpensive electric clock, an electric bell for clocks, a battery, a current regulator, a current interruptor, and a current distributor. The highly respected science journal Cosmos reviewed several of these inventions very favorably. The journal’s editor wrote: “M. Robert-Houdin, who has centupled his power with his distributor, is today the sole person who can solve, if it can be solved, the greatest of the problems still facing us and realize at last the electro-magnetic motor. If we were on the jury, we would vote him a medal of honor for the distributor, and it would be one of the most deserved.” The jury at the 1855 Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie, France’s first international industrial exposition and Europe’s second, after Great Britain’s 1851 extravaganza in the Crystal Palace, withheld the medal of honor but did award him a “first-class” medal, the equivalent of a gold. The medal and the praise vindicated him for the criticisms of frivolity that had been made of his work at the expositions of 1839 and 1844. Robert-Houdin also pioneered in electric lighting. He made and successfully tested an incandescent bulb as early as 1851, an achievement that places him among the first producers of such lights. His bulbs may have been the very first to use a vegetal filament, as Edison’s bulbs later did. For the celebration of his daughter’s first communion in 1863 he lit up a room of his house electrically. But he seems to have abandoned this line of experimentation on account of its apparent economic infeasibility.[101]

Robert-Houdin never entirely disengaged himself from automata. In 1866, for example, the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers called on him to repair a recently donated piece, Kintzing and Roentgen’s Joueuse de Tympanon (Dulcimer Player), the automaton that had been commissioned in the 1780s by Queen Marie-Antoinette. After he finished work on it, he attached to the piece a handwritten note describing the circumstances of his involvement and affirming that he had made no improvements, having limited his role to that of a restorer.[102]

Two years later, he built a replica of Kempelen’s Chess Player. In his autobiography, Robert-Houdin claims to have seen the original Turk in 1844 in the workshop of a mechanician in Belleville, the quiet suburb of Paris where he had secluded himself for eighteen months in order to work undisturbed on two of his most intricate automata. He also claims to have the story of the origins of the Chess Player: Kempelen built it in Russia where he was visiting a Doctor Osloff. Osloff had saved the life of a wounded Polish soldier named Worousky but had had to amputate both his legs. Kempelen built the automaton in order to provide Worousky, a good chess player, with employment and to smuggle him out of Russia in it. But first they gave exhibitions inside Russia, eventually finding their way to the court of Catherine the Great, who challenged the Turk to a game and lost. Finally they succeeded in escaping and continued their tour in Europe. Robert-Houdin claims to have learned all this from a nephew of Osloff.[103]

This story, contained in his very popular autobiography, seems to have revived interest in the Turk. Two playwrights built a theater piece out of it and hired the old magician to do the special effects. The piece, entitled La Czarine (The Czarina), was really about Catherine the Great. It played at the Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique in 1868. Robert-Houdin created a spectral illusion for the last scene, using a light, a mirror, and a glass plate to project the ghost of Czar Peter III onto the stage to haunt Catherine. He also built a replica of the Turk for a long scene depicting its victory over the enlightened czarina.[104]

Thus we have arrived at the end of the hall of mirrors. Just before the magician’s organic life vanished for all time behind the self-construction of his autobiography, he constructed a copy of a fake automaton made a century earlier that simulated a chess player. He constructed it for a dramatic representation, that is, a work of fiction, that was based on his own fictional retelling of the history of the simulacrum chess player. In other words, he made a counterfeit of a counterfeit of a counterfeit chess player for a counterfeit account of his own counterfeit account of the story of the counterfeit of a counterfeit chess player. And then he was gone.

It is curious that the demise of Robert-Houdin should be associated with the demise of the automaton. For he was both a talented mechanician and a talented experimenter in the development of electricity as a controllable source of power, and the combination of machinery and electric motors eventually produced the next avatar of the automaton, the robot. But this was not until a half-century after his death, and by that time aspirations had changed. Just when the appearance of the robot brought the wildest dreams of mechanicians within reach, mechanicians became engineers and dreamed differently. Engineers have been less interested in how well a machine imitates a human being than in how well it performs a certain function that human beings have been accustomed to performing. Automaton piano players gave way to player pianos, to gramophones, to tape recorders, to synthesizers. The advent of the electric motor seems in fact to have contributed to the decline of the automaton. Although it greatly facilitated the imitation of human actions by machinery, it came bound together with a utilitarian attitude that has to a large extent precluded its use for automata. People expect an electrically powered machine to accomplish something, and admire it on the basis of what it accomplishes. They do not admire it any more if in accomplishing its task it also looks or acts like a human being.

Today’s automatic chess players, which are currently attracting more public attention to chess than at any time since the intermittent reincarnations of the Turk, are so far from resembling human beings that they do not even move the chessmen. They only think of the moves, which are then physically made by human beings. Computer chess programs thus represent the Turk turned inside out. They really are automatic. And today’s Philidors have real reason to fear them. In 1997, Gary Kasparov lost a six-game match to IBM’s Deep Blue, the first loss of a reigning world chess champion to a machine.[105] Is this the outcome of the systematic analysis of chess begun by Philidor and his followers? Of the ever-widening gap, as in the case of what people eat, between people and nature? Of the persistent use of the inductive method so widely disseminated in detective stories? Of the reconstitution of so many activities, such as the performance of music, into physical challenges? Of the series of automata and pseudo-automata built by Robert-Houdin and his predecessors?

Or is it the outcome of a perpetual craving on the part of audiences for entertaining spectacles? Of a limitless drive among experts to better their technical skill? Of an extreme and ultimately paradoxical assertion of the individual self?


All translations of quotations from other languages into English are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

1. On the general history of automata: Alexander Buchner, Mechanical Musical Instruments, trans. Iris Unwin (London: Batchworth, n.d. [1950s?]); Alfred Chapuis and Édouard Gélis, Le Monde des automates, étude historique et technique, 2 vols. (Geneva: Slatkine, 1984; reprint of Paris ed., 1928); Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, Les Automates: Figures artificielles d’hommes et d’animaux (Neuchâtel: Griffon, 1949); Alfred Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique et de la musique mécanique (Lausanne: Scriptar, 1955); Pierre Devaux, Automates et automatisme (Paris: P.U.F., 1941); Pierre Latil, Il faut tuer les robots! ([Paris:] Grasset, 1957); Éliane Maingot, Les Automates (Paris: Hachette, 1959); Jean Prasteau, Les Automates (Paris: Grü–, 1968); Albert Protz, Mechanische Musikinstrumente (Kassel: Bärenreiter, [1940]). For the particulars mentioned here: Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 1, chap. 2 (Ctesibius); vol. 1, chap. 7 (jaquemarts); vol. 1, chap. 11 (cuckoo clock).

2. For a description of the Flûteur: [Jacques] Vaucanson, Le Mécanisme du flûteur automate (Buren, the Netherlands: Knuf, 1979; reprint of 1st ed., Paris, 1738), pp. 9–16; “Le Flûteur,” Le Mercure de France, April 1738, pp. 738–39 (incl. “fourteen airs” quotation); Académie Royale des Sciences report on Vaucanson’s exhibition, Le Journal des sçavans, April 1739, pp. 435–52 (which stated that the Flûteur played only twelve airs). Vaucanson does not say what powered his automata, but his biographers are fairly confident that it was weights; André Doyon and Lucien Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, mécanicien de génie (Paris: P.U.F., 1967), p. 75. For the historical context: Apel, “Flute,” in Harvard Dictionary of Music, p. 322 (adoption of transverse flute as concert instrument); David Lasocki, pref. to Vaucanson, Mécanisme du flûteur automate, unpaginated (little written about transverse flute in Vaucanson’s day); Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique, chaps. 1, 2, 12 (history of pegged cylinders in mechanical musical instruments); Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 1, p. 113 (origins of weight-driven clocks).

3. Vaucanson, Mécanisme du flûteur automate, pp. 19–21.

4. Ibid., p. 21.

5. Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, pp. 23–33, 84–92.

6. For the Académie Royale des Sciences report: Journal des sçavans, April 1739, pp. 435–52. On the king’s visit to the exhibition: Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 23, p. 259.

7. M. Imbert, “Nécrologie (mort de Vaucanson),” Le Mercure de France, 15 March 1783, pp. 116–19; Anon., “Vaucanson,” in Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne, [1st ed.], ed. [Joseph-F. and Louis-Gabriel] Michaud, 52 vols. (Paris: Michaud, 1811–28), vol. 48, pp. 16–18; Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, chaps. 7, 8, 9, 11; Alfred Cobban, A History of Modern France, 3 vols. (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1957–65), vol. 2, pp. 45–46.

8. On Vaucanson compared to Prometheus: Voltaire, Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, 75 vols. (Paris: Baudouin, 1825–28), vol. 15, p. 363; La Mettrie, Man a Machine, pp. 70 (French version), 140–41 (English). On Vaucanson in the Académie Royale des Sciences: Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de Condorcet, “Éloge de M. de Vaucanson,” in Oeuvres, 12 vols. (Stuttgart: Fromann, 1968; reprint of Paris ed., 1847–49), vol. 2, pp. 657–58; Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, app. 2, pp. 443–54. On Vaucanson’s mechanical asp: [Jean-François] Marmontel, Mémoires de Marmontel, ed. Maurice Tourneux, 3 vols. (Paris: Librairie des Bibliophiles, 1891), vol. 1, pp. 247–48; Friedrich Melchior von Grimm et al., Correspondance littéraire, 16 vols. (Paris: Garnier, 1877–82), vol. 14, p. 72. Marmontel’s play had eleven performances; the playwright blamed Vaucanson’s snake for diverting attention from his dialogue.

9. Condorcet, “Éloge de M. de Vaucanson,” in Oeuvres, vol. 2, pp. 660, 656. On Vaucanson’s bequest: Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, pp. 384–406. On the founding of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers: Tulard, Fayard, and Fierro, Histoire et dictionnaire de la Révolution, pp. 673–74.

10. Condorcet, “Éloge de M. de Vaucanson,” in Oeuvres, vol. 2, p. 660; M. Guichard de Meinieres, “Nécrologie,” Le Journal de Paris, 10 December 1782, p. 1399; “Le Flûteur,” Mercure de France, April 1738, p. 739.

11. The source of Condorcet’s quotation: Condorcet, “Éloge de M. de Vaucanson,” in Oeuvres, vol. 2, p. 645. For the argument that Vaucanson may have originally conceived his three automata as anatomies mouvantes: Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, chaps. 1, 5 (the quotation is on p. 109). On Vaucanson’s later, unrealized anatomies mouvantes projects: Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, chap. 7 (the quotation is on p. 148).

12. Vaucanson, Mécanisme du flûteur automate, pp. 4–8 (physics of transverse flute), 21 (quotation concerning the galoubet), 19 (quotation concerning the Canard’s digestion). On Vaucanson and the contemporary debate over the process of digestion: Doyen and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, chap. 5.

13. Johann Heinrich Moritz [von] Poppe, Ausführliche Geschichte der theoretisch-praktischen Uhrmacherkunst (Leipzig: Roch, 1801), pp. 375–84; Johann Bernoulli, Johann Bernoulli’s Sammlung kurzer Reisebeschreibungen, 16 vols. and 2 suppl. vols. (Berlin: bei dem Herausgeber, 1781–85), 1st suppl. vol., p. 142.

14. Charles Perregaux and F.-Louis Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot (Neuchâtel: Attinger, 1916), chaps. 10, 11. Neuchâtel was under Prussian suzerainty from 1708 to 1857, with the exception of 1806–15, when it formed part of the Napoleonic Empire; William L. Langer, ed., An Encyclopedia of World History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968), pp. 497, 641, 651, 715.

15. Bernoulli, Johann Bernoulli’s Sammlung kurzer Reisebeschreibungen, 1st suppl. vol., pp. 154–56; Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, pp. 56–58; Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique, pp. 49–51; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 1, pp. 241–44. The clock was still to be found in the royal palace in Madrid as recently as 1955, although most of its mechanisms were not in working order.

16. Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, pp. 91–105.

17. The prospectus is reproduced in full in Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, pp. 103–5. The machinery of the androids is discussed in varying degrees of detail in the following sources: ibid., pp. 185–89; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 233–49, 270–79; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 287–91, 301–3; Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique, pp. 60–63. The ability of the Écrivain to “take dictation” is also discussed in C. Sivan, “Encore l’Écrivain de Jaquet Droz,” Le Journal suisse d’horlogerie et de bijouterie 31, no. 12 (June 1907): 412–15. The androids are still in existence and on display in the Musée d’art et d’histoire, Neuchâtel.

18. On the automata’s attraction of visitors to La Chaux-de-Fonds: Letter of Isaac Droz of Locle to Governor de Lentulus, quoted in Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, p. 102 (“people came” quotation). On the automata’s travels to Paris and Versailles: Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 7, pp. 273, 284. On the automata’s tour of Europe: Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, pp. 110–11; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 192. On the automata’s return visit to Paris: various issues of Le Journal de Paris, cited in Émile Campardon, Les Spectacles de la foire, 2 vols. (Geneva: Slatkine, 1970; reprint of Paris ed., 1877), vol. 1, pp. 276–77, and in Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, pp. 49, 262 <$f$>n. 125; exhibition prospectus cited in Maingot, Automates, p. 24.

19. Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, p. 95, chap. 15.

20. Ibid., p. 114.

21. [First name unknown] Weiss, “Droz (Henri-Louis Jacquet)” [sic], in Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne, [1st ed.], vol. 12, p. 39; Anon., “Droz (Henri-Louis-Jacquet),” in Nouvelle biographie générale, vol. 14, col. 813; Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, p. 166. On Grimod, see chapter 2 above, p. 77.

22. Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, pp. 110, 216–17; Alfred Chapuis, “Les ‘Répliques’ des androïdes Jaquet-Droz,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 13 (1926): 88–105; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 249–51, 278; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 291, 306–9; Alfred Chapuis, “Nouveaux documents sur les automates Jaquet-Droz et Maillardet,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 38 (1951): 33–42.

23. Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, p. 119.

24. On Defrance’s automata: Les Affiches de Paris, 1746, quoted in Campardon, Spectacles de la foire, vol. 1, p. 225. On Lagrelet’s automata: Les Affiches de Paris, 1750, quoted in Campardon, Spectacles de la foire, vol. 2, pp. 19–20. On the Palais Magique’s automata: [François-] Victor Fournel, Le Vieux Paris: Fêtes, jeux, spectacles (Paris: Valtat, 1979; reprint of Tours ed., 1887), pp. 321–22. On Mical’s automata: Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 26, p. 215; [Antoine Rivarol], Lettre à M. le Président de *** sur le globe aérostatique, sur les têtes parlantes…(London: Cailleau, 1783), p. 29. On Knauss’s automata: Friedrich von Knauss, Friedrichs von Knauss selbstschreibende Wundermaschinen (Vienna: n.p., 1780), pp. 103–5 (flageolet player, completed 1757), 13–93 (writers, completed 1753, 1758, 17??, 1760). On Richard’s automata: “Concert mécanique,” Le Mercure de France, August 1771, pp. 152–54; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 289; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, p. 278. On Pelletier’s automaton: Fournel, Vieux Paris, p. 323; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 269; Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 2, p. 222.

25. Léon Montandon and Alfred Chapuis, “Les Maillardet,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 3 (1916): 152–67; 4 (1917): 24–45; Chapuis, “‘Répliques’ des androïdes,” Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 13, pp. 88–105; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 161–64, 196–98, 251–58, 278–79; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 253–54, 268, 311–17; Chapuis, “Nouveaux documents sur les automates,” Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 38, pp. 33–42; A. Michaud, ed., “Un Prospectus des Maillardet,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, 1st ser., 39 (1902): 214–15.

26. Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 279–86. Marie-Antoinette may have seen the Jaquet-Droz Musicienne again in the early 1780s; see note 18 above. Roentgen and Kintzing lived and worked in Neuwied, the capital of the autonomous Grafschaft (county) of Wied.

27. The National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints; The British Library Catalogue of Printed Books to 1975; Catalogue générale des livres imprimés de la Bibliothèque nationale (ouvrages publiés avant 1969).

28. On canaries, flageolets, serinettes, and mechanical songbirds: Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, chaps. 18, 19; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 1, p. 279; vol. 2, chap. 18; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 127, 199–202; Buchner, Mechanical Musical Instruments, pp. 83–84.

29. Knauss’s writers nonetheless constituted a great mechanical achievement.

30. Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 289; Anon., “Mical,” in Biographie universelle et portative, vol. 5, p. 461.

31. H[enri] Decremps, La Magie blanche dévoilée, 4 vols. (Paris: Desoer, 1789–91; first published 1784–88), vol. 4, Codicile de Jérome Sharp, chap. 12; Chapuis, “‘Répliques’ des androïdes,” Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 13, p. 96. On quasi- and pseudo-automata in general: Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, chap. 26, Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, chap. 18; Adolphe Blind, Les Automates truqués (Geneva: Eggiman, 1927). Payen’s automaton writer, exhibited in Paris in 1771, was probably a true automaton; “L’Écrivain automate,” Le Mercure de France, September 1771, pp. 175–76; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 254.

32. The biographical sketch of Kempelen presented here is based on these sources: Charles Gottlieb de Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs de M. de Kempelen (Basel: Chrétien de Mechel, 1783; the German ed., Karl Gottlieb von Windisch, Briefe über den Schachspieler des Herrn von Kempelen, bears the same imprint); J. Karl Unger, “Wolfgang von Kempelen,” in Zeitschrift von und für Ungarn, zur Beförderung der vaterlä–ischen Geschichte, Erkunde und Litteratur 5 (1804): fasc. 5, pp. 313–17; Anon., “Kempelen, Wolfgang Ritter von,” in Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, ed. Constant[in] Wurzbach, 60 vols. (New York: Johnson, 1966; reprint of Vienna ed., 1856–91), vol. 11, pp. 158–63. Unless otherwise noted, all information on Kempelen in this section, including quotations, derives from these three sources.

33. [Sébastien] Guillié, Essai sur l’instruction des aveugles; ou, Exposé analytique des procédés employés pour les instruire (Paris: n.p., 1817), pp. 96, 121; Anon., “Paradis, auch, jedoch unrichtig Paradies, Maria Theresia von,” in Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, vol. 21, p. 288.

34. L[ouis] Dutens, “Lettre…au sujet de l’Automate qui joue aux échecs,” Le Mercure de France, March 1771, pp. 153–56; Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs, pp. 38–40.

35. Contemporary observers did not give mutually corroborative descriptions of Kempelen’s procedure. On this and other matters concerning the Chess Player, the present study follows for the most part, but not always or entirely, the definitive study of Charles Michael Carroll, The Great Chess Automaton (New York: Dover, 1975). On Kempelen’s procedure, see in that work pp. 54–55. The sketch of the automaton presented here is based on reports of contemporary observers, principally L[ouis] Dutens, “Lettre sur une Automate qui joue aux échecs,” Le Mercure de France, October 1770, vol. 2, pp. 186–90, and idem, “Lettre…au sujet de l’Automate” Le Mercure de France, March 1771, pp. 153–56; Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs (1783); Decremps, Magie blanche dévoilée (1784), vol. 1, pp. 65–69; Josef Friedrich, Freiherr zu Racknitz, Ueber den Schachspieler des Herrn von Kempelen und dessen Nachbildung (Leipzig: Breitkopf, 1789); [Robert Willis], An Attempt to Analyse the Automaton Chess Player, of Mr. de Kempelen (London: Booth, 1821).

36. Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs, pp. 40–41.

37. On late-eighteenth-century speaking machines: David Brewster, Letters on Natural Magic, Addressed to Sir Walter Scott, Bart. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1883; first published 1832), pp. 268–70; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, chap. 15; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, chap. 22; Thomas L. Hankins and Robert J. Silverman, Instruments and the Imagination (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995), chap. 8. Knauss apparently constructed four talking heads around 1770, but little is known about them; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 202. On Mical’s talking heads: “Mécanique,” Le Journal de Paris, 6 July 1783, p. 778; Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 26, pp. 214–16; Aoine] Rivarol, Discours sur l’universalité de la langue française, in Oeuvres choisies de A. Rivarol, 2 vols. (Paris: Librairie des Bibliophiles, 1880), vol. 1, pp. 79–82; idem, Lettre à M. le Président de *** sur le globe aérostatique, sur les têtes parlantes…, pp. 20–24, 29–30 (Rivarol’s quotation is on p. 30); L. Louvet, “Mical,” in Nouvelle biographie générale, vol. 35, col. 312. Both Vicq d’Azyr, in his official report to the Académie Royale des Sciences (according to Louvet’s article), and Bachaumont found the pronunciation of Mical’s talking heads defective, but without making a comparison to Kempelen’s speaking machine. The source of the quotation rating Kempelen’s speaking machine above Mical’s talking heads: Grimm et al., Correspondance littéraire, vol. 13, p. 359. On Kempelen’s speaking machine: Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs, pp. 45–49; Wolfgang von Kempelen, Wolfgangs von Kempe-len Mechanismus der menchlichen Sprache nebst der Beschreibung seiner sprechenden Maschine (Stuttgart: Frommann, 1970; reprint of Vienna ed., 1791).

38. The pamphlet of 1783 heralding the tour was Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs. The various editions of it are mentioned in Carroll, Great Chess Automaton, p. 18. That same work, pp. 108–13, contains an excellent bibliography of the most important works on the Chess Player and explains: “A list of all the literature dealing with the automaton chess player, without a lifetime or two in which to trace all the periodical entries, represents a well-nigh impossible task.”

39. For notices of the Paris exhibitions of the Chess Player: articles titled “Mécanique” in Le Journal de Paris, 18 April 1783, pp. 453–54; 24 April 1783, p. 477; 2 May 1783, p. 508; 12 June 1783, pp. 682–83; 23 June 1783, p. 718. On Bernard and the Chess Player: Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 22, pp. 305–6; vol. 23, pp. 3–5; Grimm et al., Correspondance littéraire, vol. 13, pp. 354–58. On Philidor and the Chess Player: Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1, pp. 12–13; Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, pp. 186–87.

40. Carroll, Great Chess Automaton, pp. 22–27.

41. The present biographical sketch of Maelzel is based on these sources: Anon., “Maelzel (Léonard),” in Biographie universelle et portative, vol. 5, pp. 428–29; Anon., “Mälzel, Johann Nepomuk,” in Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, vol. 16, pp. 248–50; George Allen, “The History of the Automaton Chess-Player in America,” in The Book of the First American Chess Congress, ed. Daniel Willard Fiske (New York: Rudd and Carleton, 1859), pp. 420–84; Carroll, Great Chess Automaton, pp. 42–51, 65–92; Fétis, “Maelzel (Jean-Népomucène),” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 5, pp. 396–97; Theodor von Frimmel, “Mälzels Kunstkabinett,” Feuilleton of the Wiener Zeitung, 26 July 1914, pp. 10–12; L. Louvet, “Maelzel (Léonard),” in Nouvelle biographie générale, vol. 32, cols. 643–44. Leonhard Maelzel (1783–1855) was the brother of Johann and also a mechanician; their names were often confused with each other.

42. An earlier version of the Panharmonicon is described in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 2, no. 23 (5 March 1800), cols. 414–15. On the Panharmonicon of 1805: Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 8, no. 44 (30 July 1806), cols. 701–2; “Arts Mécanique: Le Panharmonicon,” Feuilleton of Le Journal de l’Empire, 9 March 1807, pp. 1–3; Prudhomme, Miroir historique, vol. 5, pp. 156–59; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 289; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, p. 279; Chapuis et al., His-toire de la boîte à musique, pp. 91–92; Buchner, Mechanical Musical Instruments, pp. 77–78. It was perhaps this instrument that ended up in Stuttgart’s Industrial Museum, which was destroyed during World War II, but not before two photographs of the instrument had been taken; they are reproduced in ibid., plates 131, 132.

43. On Maelzel’s Trompeter: “Arts Mécaniques: Le Trompette Automate, par M. Maelzel, de Vienne, auteur du Panharmonicon,” Feuilleton of Le Journal de l’Empire, 12 October 1808, pp. 1–3; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 286. On the industrial expositions: Achille de Colmont, Histoire des expositions des produits de l’industrie française (Paris: Guillaumin, 1855), chap. 2.

44. On Kaufmann’s trumpeter: Carl Maria von Weber, “Der Trompeter,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 14, no. 41 (7 October 1812), cols. 663–66. On Kaufmann’s Belloneon: Buchner, Mechanical Musical Instruments, pp. 55, 80. On Napoleon and the Chess Player: Carroll, Great Chess Automaton, p. 43. On Maelzel’s chronogram for Napoleon: Anon., “Mälzel,” in Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, vol. 16, p. 248. The chronogram was “taCe, MVnDVs ConCors,” Latin for “silence, the world is united”; the capitalized letters when rearranged yield MDCCCVV, Roman numerals for 1810.

45. Anton Schindler, Beethoven-Biographie, ed. A. C. Kalischer (Berlin: Schuster and Loeffler, 1909; first published 1840), pp. 237–43, 281–84; idem, The Life of Beethoven, trans. and ed. Ignace Moscheles, 2 vols. (Mattapan, Mass.: Gamut Music, 1966; first published 1841), vol. 1, pp. 143–56 (the quotation is on pp. 153–54, editor’s footnote); Thayer, Life of Beethoven, pp. 543–69, 579–80, 686–88, 1094–99 (app. G). The all-star orchestra for the Beethoven-Maelzel concert counted among its members Spohr, Dragonetti, Meyerbeer, Hummel, Salieri, and Moscheles, the last four on percussion.

46. For a biographical sketch of Winkel: Fétis, “Winkel,” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 8, pp. 476–77. On the Winkel-Maelzel metronome controversy: J[ohann Nepomuk] Maelzel, Notice sur le métronome de J. Maelzel ([Paris:] Carpentier-Méricourt, [1822]; first published 1816); “Maelzels Metronom,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 19, no. 25 (18 June 1817), cols. 417–22; “Zur Geschichte der musikal. Metronomen,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 20, no. 26 (1 July 1818), cols. 468–73; “Correspondance,” La Revue musicale, 1st ser., 6 (1830): 56–59; Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique, chap. 10; Apel, “Metronome,” in Harvard Dictionary of Music, pp. 523–24; E. G. Richardson, “Metronome,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 12, pp. 222–23. On Winkel’s Componium: Buchner, Mechanical Musical Instruments, pp. 79–80; Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique, chap. 9. Maelzel’s fortune at the time of his death was estimated at half a million thalers, or approximately two million francs.

47. [Marie-Pierre] Hamel, Nouveau manuel complet du facteur d’orgues, 3 vols. (Paris: Roret, 1849), vol. 1, pp. lvi–lviii (Maelzel’s talking dolls); vol. 3, pp. 458–59 (Maelzel’s acrobat). Hamel says that the dolls were exhibited at the exposition of 1824, but there was none in that year; he probably meant 1823. Colmont, Histoire des expositions des produits, lists the gold and silver medal winners at each of the expositions from the first one in 1798 until that of 1849; Maelzel’s name does not appear.

48. On Maelzel with a Jaquet-Droz writer-sketcher: Chapuis, “Nouveaux documents sur les automates,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 38, pp. 41–42. The source of Barnum’s quotation: Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, vol. 1, p. 114.

49. Allen, “History of the Automaton Chess-Player,” in First American Chess Congress, pp. 455–58.

50. For some early skeptics: Rigoley de Juvigny, “Lettre au sujet de l’Automate qui joue aux échecs,” Le Mercure de France, December 1770, pp. 181–88; Vincent de Montpetit, “Lettre sur l’Automate de M. de Kempell” [sic], Le Mercure de France, March 1771, pp. 157–60; Grimm et al., Correspondance littéraire, vol. 13, pp. 354–58 (entry for September 1783); Decremps, Magie blanche dévoilée (1784), vol. 1, pp. 65–69; Racknitz, Ueber den Schachspieler (1789), passim.

51. Anon. [perhaps Jacques-François Mouret], “Automate joueur d’échecs,” Le Magasin pittoresque 2 (1834), fasc. 20, p. 155; [Mathieu-Jean-Baptiste Nioche] de Tournay, “La Vie et les aventures de l’automate joueur d’échecs,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 1, no. 3 ([15 May] 1836): 85–87; “L’Automate joueur d’échecs,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 4, no. 3 [late 1839 or early 1840]: 68–69; Allen, “History of the Automaton Chess-Player,” in First American Chess Congress, pp. 436–38. On Mouret’s kinship to Philidor: Louvet, “Maelzel,” in Nouvelle biographie générale, vol. 32, cols. 643–44.

52. Allen, “History of the Automaton Chess-Player,” in First American Chess Congress, pp. 474, 483.

53. All three quotations are from Harry Houdini, The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin (New York: Publishers Printing, 1906), pp. 7–9.

54. Letter of Houdini to Harry Leat, 20 April 1926, cited in Maurice Sardina, Where Houdini Was Wrong: A Reply to “The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin,” trans. and ed. Victor Farelli (London: Armstrong, 1950), p. 119. Houdini said substantially the same thing to another magician as early as 1911; ibid., p. 17 <$f$>n. 1.

55. For example: Henry Ridgely Evans, History of Conjuring and Magic (Kenton, Ohio: International Brotherhood of Magicians, 1928), p. 75; David Price, A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theater (New York: Cornwall, 1985), p. 59.

56. Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations; comment on devient sorcier (Geneva: Slatkine, 1980; reprint of Paris ed., 1868), chaps. 1, 2 (the quotations are on pp. 6, 7, 18).

57. Ibid., chap. 2 (the quotation is on p. 24).

58. Ibid., chap. 3 (the quotations are on pp. 37–40).

59. Ibid., pp. 42–132 (the quotation is on p. 132).

60. The interpretation of the Torrini episode presented here is original. For other commentary on it: Jean Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur de la magie blanche (Blois: Author, 1969), pp. 40–41; André Keime Robert-Houdin, Robert-Houdin, le magicien de la science (Paris/Geneva: Champion/Slatkine, 1986), p. 19; Michel Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin (Paris: Fayard, 1971), pp. 48–51; Alain Sergent, Le Roi des prestidigitateurs, Robert-Houdin (Paris: Seuil, 1952), pp. 20–22; Bernard C. Meyer, Houdini: A Mind in Chains; A Psychoanalytic Portrait (New York: Dutton, 1976), chap. 2.

61. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 132–36; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, p. 45.

62. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 28–30.

63. Ibid., pp. 32 (quotation), 136–37.

64. Ibid., pp. 196–98; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, pp. 50–52; Keime Robert-Houdin, Robert-Houdin, le magicien de la science, p. 81.

65. “Exposition des produits de l’industrie française (Sixième article),” Le Moniteur universel, 10 June 1839, p. 930; Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 198–99; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, p. 52. For photographs of the Réveil-Briquet and the Pendule Mystérieuse: Keime Robert-Houdin, Robert-Houdin, le magicien de la science, unpaginated section of plates.

66. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 174–214.

67. Ibid., p. 181 and unpaginated app., “Programme générale.” Robert-Houdin describes only how the trick looks to the audience, not how it is accomplished. The explanation given here is of Pinetti’s similar trick, as described by Decremps, Magie blanche dévoilée, vol. 1, chap. 19. Other magicians used pistons instead of air to push the folded-up flowers and fruit out of the hollow branches; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, p. 76.

68. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, p. 181.

69. Ibid., pp. 174–78.

70. On the building of Robert-Houdin’s Écrivain-Dessinateur: ibid., pp. 199–214. On the reappearances of Jaquet-Droz automata: Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 192–94. On the reappearances of Jaquet-Droz–Maillardet Écrivain-Dessinateurs: citations in note 25 above. On the relationship between Robert-Houdin’s Écrivain-Dessinateur and Jaquet-Droz/ Jaquet-Droz–Maillardet automata: Chapuis, “‘Répliques’ des Androïdes,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 1, pp. 99–103; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 259; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, chap. 3. On Robert-Houdin’s Écrivain-Dessinateur at the exposition of 1844: Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 236–38, 354 (quotation); Colmont, Histoire des expositions des produits, p. 562. On Barnum and Robert-Houdin’s Écrivain-Dessinateur: Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, vol. 1, pp. 259–60; vol. 2, chap. 39.

71. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 211–12.

72. Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 132–34; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 212–16; Maingot, Automates, pp. 71–73.

73. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 137–48 (the quotations are on pp. 137–38, 144). On Comte, see also Evans, History of Conjuring and Magic, p. 102.

74. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 187–94. On Bosco, see also Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, pp. 302–7; Evans, History of Conjuring and Magic, pp. 118–20; Price, Pictorial History of Conjurers, pp. 45–47. Price says that Bosco used chickens, not pigeons; both he and Houdini suggest that Bosco may not really have killed the birds he apparently decapitated.

75. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 225–35. On the pistol-shot lighting of candles, which may have been invented by Austrian magician Ludwig Döbler: idem, The Secrets of Stage Conjuring, trans. and ed. Prof. Hoffmann (London: Routledge, 1881; trans. of Magie et physique amusante), chap. 5. On Philippe, see also Evans, History of Conjuring and Magic, p. 103; Price, Pictorial History of Conjurers, pp. 65–67.

76. “Nouvelles des théatres, spectacles, concerts, etc.,” Le Moniteur universel, 6 July 1845, p. 2064; “Soirées fantastiques de M. Robert-Houdin,” Le Charivari 14, no. 191 (10 July 1845), unpaginated; “M. Robert-Houdin,” L’Illustration; journal universel hebdomadaire 5, no. 125 (19 July 1845): 336; Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 240–57, 289–95; idem, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), chaps. 1, 2.

77. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, app., “Programme général.”

78. Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 2, pp. 219–24; Guillaume de Berthier de Sauvigny, Nouvelle histoire de Paris: La Restauration (Paris: Hachette, 1977), pp. 379–82; Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, chap. 8.

79. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, app., “Programme général.”

80. The source of the quotations: Ibid., pp. 158–59. See also Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 149–51; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 239–46; [Christoph] Friedrich Nicolaï, Beschreibung einer Reise durch Deutschland und die Schweiz im Jahre 1781, 6 vols. (Berlin: n.p., 1783–85), vol. 1, pp. 281–89; Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, pp. 91–107.

81. Bernoulli, Johann Bernoulli’s Sammlung kurzer Reisebeschreibungen, 1st suppl. vol., p. 164; Sivan, “Encore l’Écrivain de Jaquet Droz,” Journal suisse d’horlogerie 31, no. 12, pp. 413–14.

82. Blind, Automates truqués, pp. 33–37; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 374–80. Robert-Houdin describes his use of pistons, wires, pulleys, and pedals to work his automata, but without naming any particular automaton; Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), pp. 41–43.

83. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 262–66, 277–80, app., “Programme général”; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, chap. 7; Théophile Gautier, Histoire de l’art dramatique en France depuis vingt-cinq ans, 6 vols. (Bruxelles: Hetzel, 1858–59), vol. 4, pp. 163–65.

84. “M. Robert-Houdin,” Illustration, 19 July 1845, p. 336; “Tribunaux,” Le Moniteur universel, 26 June 1850, pp. 2176–77.

85. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 272–354; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, chaps. 3, 4 (dates). The 1846 trip to Belgium is described in a chapter excised from the “definitive” 1868 edition of Robert-Houdin’s autobiography, the last edition published in his lifetime, the edition that is the source for most of the later editions and translations, and the edition that has been cited heretofore. The excised chapter, entitled “Séductions d’un agent théâtral,” appears in these editions: Confidences d’un prestidigitateur (Paris: Librairie Nouvelle, 1859); Confidences de Robert-Houdin (Paris: Librairie Nouvelle, 1861).

86. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 311–15; Sidney W. Clarke, “The Annals of Conjuring,” The Magic Wand and Magical Review 15 (1926): 34–38; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, pp. 44, 308–10; Sardina, Where Houdini Was Wrong, p. 104; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, pp. 102, 113–14; Milbourne Christopher, The Illustrated History of Magic (New York: Crowell, 1973), chap. 8; Price, Pictorial History of Conjurers, pp. 61–64.

87. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 146–48. Thanks to psy-chologist Dr. Barbara A. Augusta for pointing out and elucidating this idiom.

88. Ibid., pp. 354–419; article of Le Moniteur algérien 25, no. 1510 (5 November 1856), reprinted in Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin, p. 13; “Faits divers,” Le Moniteur universel, 9 October 1857, p. 1108. A photograph of the calligraphic placard may be found in Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, p. 129.

89. Charles Baudelaire, Fusées, in Oeuvres complètes, ed. Y.-G. Le Dantec and Claude Pichois (Paris: Pléiade, 1961), p. 1252. Baudelaire wrote this as a sort of aphorism, on which he did not elaborate.

90. The titles of Robert-Houdin’s books vary a great deal from edition to edition. His autobiography, for example, appeared as: Confidences d’un prestidigitateur; une vie d’artiste (1858, 1859), Confidences de Robert-Houdin; une vie d’artiste (1861), and Confidences et révélations; comment on devient sorcier (1868), among other titles. Sometimes in bibliographies the subtitle is listed as the main title, which is particularly confusing in the case of the “definitive” 1868 edition of the autobiography, whose subtitle, comment on devient sorcier, is the same as the main title of Robert-Houdin’s third book, Comment on devient sorcier; les secrets de la prestidigitation et de la magie. The titles of the English translations also vary a great deal. The titles used here are those of the most commonly cited French editions.

91. Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), chap. 1. Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin, p. 69, also treats the cat’s-claw story as a deception.

92. For predecessors of Robert-Houdin’s cat’s claw: Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, pp. 280–81. For predecessors of Robert-Houdin’s detective story: Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin, p. 69. Seldow writes: “Un esprit imprudent n’hésiterait pas à opérer un rapprochement entre le petit récit policier inventé par Robert-Houdin et Le Dossier no. 113 du génial Gaboriau. ” But there is no particular resemblance between Robert-Houdin’s little detective story and Gaboriau’s Le Dossier no. 113; for example, there is no mechanical thief-trap in Gaboriau’s novel. For predecessors of Gaboriau’s detective stories: Roger Bonniot, Émile Gaboriau; ou, La naissance du roman policier (Paris: Vrin, 1985), chap. entitled “Les Précurseurs,” esp. pp. 161–69; see also the discussion of the detective story in chap. 3 of this volume. For praise of Baudelaire’s translations of Poe: Théophile Gautier, Portraits contem-porains: littérateurs, peintres, sculpteurs, artistes dramatiques (Paris: Charpentier, 1874), p. 159.

93. [Jean-Eugène] Robert-Houdin, Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées; ou, L’art de gagner à tous les jeux (Paris: Hetzel, 1863), pp. 243–44, 255–57; Victor DuBled, Histoire anecdotique et psychologie des jeux de cartes, dés, échecs (Paris: Delagrave, 1919), pp. 228–29. See also Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 220–25.

94. Robert-Houdin, Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées, chaps. 5–12. Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin, p. 138, calls this section of Robert-Houdin’s book “le premier ‘Roman d’un tricheur.’”

95. Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 544–81. The novella, written by Vidocq’s ghostwriter, L.-F. L’Héritier de l’Ain, was previously published as Les Malheurs d’une libérée (Paris: Tenon, 1829); see J.-M. Quérard, La France littéraire, 12 vols. (Paris: Maisonneuve and Larose, n.d.), vol. 11, p. 252.

96. Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, pp. 8, 47, 235–36. For a refutation, see Sardina, Where Houdini Was Wrong, p. 84.

97. Robert-Houdin, Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées, pp. 337–39.

98. Edition consulted: [Jean-Eugène] Robert-Houdin, Comment on devient sorcier; les secrets de la prestidigitation et de la magie (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1878). For the claim that this book was the first systematic treatment of conjuring: Clarke, “Annals of Conjuring,” Magic Wand, vol. 15, pp. 128–29.

99. Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), pp. 36–38; idem, Confidences et révélations, pp. 240–41.

100. For Robert-Houdin’s perhaps erroneous explanations of other magicians’ tricks: Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, chap. 10. For Robert-Houdin’s explanations of spiritualists’ tricks: Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), chaps. 8, 13. On Robert-Houdin and spiritualists, see also [Jules] Eudes, marquis de M[irville], Pneumatologie: Des esprits et de leurs manifestations fluidiques (Prais: Vrayet de Surcy, 1853), pp. 2–16.

101. The source of Robert-Houdin’s quotation on the public’s ignorance of electro-magnetism: Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), p. 57. The source of the quotation from the Cosmos editor who praised Robert-Houdin: F. Moigno, “Exposition universelle,” Cosmos 7 (19 September 1855), p. 335. On Robert-Houdin’s “first-class” medal at the exposition of 1855: Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 354–55. On Robert-Houdin as an electrical inventor and experimenter: Keime Robert-Houdin, Robert-Houdin, le magicien de la science, chap. 3; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, pp. 158–65. For list of Robert-Houdin’s most important patents: Keime Robert-Houdin, Robert-Houdin, le magicien de la science, pp. 81–82. For articles on Robert-Houdin in Cosmos, revue encyclopédique hebdomadaire des progrès des sciences: Anon., “Nouvelles et faits divers,” Cosmos 6 (16 February 1855): 173–74; Anon., “Académie des sciences,” Cosmos 6 (25 May 1855): 578–80; F. Moigno, “Exposition universelle,” Cosmos 7 (19 September 1855): 328–40; idem, “Exposition universelle,” Cosmos 7 (23 November 1855): 619; M. Sylvester, “Société d’ couragement: Médailles d’argent,” Cosmos 8 (21 March 1856): 294–95; Anon., “Nouvelles et faits divers,” Cosmos 9 (11 July 1856): 37; Anon., “Nouvelles et faits divers,” Cosmos 9 (1 August 1856): 120; Anon., “Nouvelles et faits divers,” Cosmos 9 (22 August 1856): 203.

102. For the complete text of the note: Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, p. 170. See also Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 281–82.

103. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 160–73.

104. Jules Adenis and Octave Gastineau, La Czarine (Paris: Michel-Lévy, 1868); Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), chap. 6; Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin, chap. 14.

105. See in the New York Times, vol. 146, no. 50, 790 (12 May 1997), the following articles: Bruce Weber, “Swift and Slashing, Computer Topples Kasparov,” pp. A1, A14; Robert D. McFadden, “Inscrutable Conqueror: Deep (RS/6000SP) Blue,” pp. A1, A14; Laurence Zuckerman, “Grandmaster Sat at the Chessboard, but the Real Opponent Was Gates,” p. A14; Robert Byrne, “How One Champion Is Chewed Up into Small Bits by Another,” p. A14.

2. Some Modes of Excelling

Let us step away from the vertiginous chasms of speculation about historical causation and turn our attention back to Paris in the Age of Revolution and to the lives and work of some of the most accomplished people of that place and time. To examine these models of excellence biographically and taxonomically, that is, in the context of the separate evolutions of their respective arts, has been the purpose of the first half of this study. To examine their modes of excelling situationally, in the context of the general social and cultural characteristics of Paris in the Age of Revolution, will be the purpose of the second half. Such an examination may reveal the outlines of an unplanned, underground community.

Public spaces of Paris in the Age of Revolution

6. Mounting Spectacles

On his wedding day, Rameau’s nephew hired all of the players in Paris of the hurdy-gurdy, a quasi-automatic stringed instrument then in fashion, to accompany him and his bride through the streets of the capital. He did this in spite of his poverty and his repeated claims that the only reason human beings did anything was to put food in their mouths.[1]

Rameau’s nephew’s wedding anticipated the French Revolution, when this anonymous ditty appeared and gained immediate popularity:

Il ne fallait au fier Romain,
Que des spectacles et du pain;
Mais au Français plus que Romain,
Le spectacle suffit sans pain.
The proud Roman used to require,
Nothing but spectacles and bread;
But the Frenchman beats the Roman,
Living on spectacles without bread.[2]
Clearly the experience of food shortages during the Revolution only partly explains the quatrain; one must also take into account an extraordinary profusion of public spectacles, a profusion that continued after the Revolution ended.

Three interrelated historical trends contributed to this development. First, over the course of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, many formerly private activities took place increasingly often in public locations and in front of audiences. Second, after their activities had become public or while making them public, people in a wide variety of occupations began to attract and appeal to audiences by emphasizing those aspects of their activities immediately striking to the eye or ear; in short, their activities took on the character of spectacles. Third, the publishing industry grew extremely rapidly after 1789, and the publication of ever more advertisements, reviews, and descriptions of public spectacles accelerated the growth of the latter in turn. The whole world seemed to be mounting spectacles.

“The publicization of social life” is how one might summarize in a phrase a manifold and variegated but unidirectional change undergone by French society and culture in the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. “Publicization” was the process of the private becoming public, just as “privatization” is the process of the public becoming private. Privatization may refer to people’s either ceasing to participate in certain activities, withdrawing from the social and political in favor of the individual, or continuing to do the same activities but transferring them to a setting away from general scrutiny. The Western world has experienced both kinds of privatization in the late twentieth century. In the United States, fewer and fewer people have voted in elections, a form of withdrawal from public life. In France and other countries of Western Europe, certain economic activities have been transferred from the government—back—into private hands. But the eighteenth century was an age of publicization. Activities that had formerly been restricted to only a few people or to widely dispersed people, who had conducted them in their own residences or in other places with severely limited access, were opened up to or taken up by large numbers of people and conducted in concentrated groups meeting in nonresidential sites, sites of relatively free access and often established for the specific purpose of carrying on one particular activity.

In the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville is best known for De la démocratie en Amerique, but in France he is equally well known for L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution. In the latter book he shows that in some important ways the French Revolution did not break with the past as decisively as the revolutionaries and most observers, whether friendly or hostile, believed it did. For example, the centralization of power, so brutally completed by Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety, had actually been underway for centuries and “the Revolution consummated suddenly…what would have been consummated gradually, by itself, in the long run.” [3] Likewise, in its advancement of the publicization of social life the Revolution only accelerated an already well-established trend.

The Revolution abolished privilege—privus lex, or private law—and created a republic—a res publica, or public thing. It replaced a system based on the special political and legal prerogatives of a few people acting apart with a system based on the political will and legal equality of masses of people acting in common. In Les Origines intellectuelles de la révolution française, Daniel Mornet contends that a spirit of debate and criticism gradually permeated the educated classes of French society during the eighteenth century and that this permeation was one of the causes of the Revolution. At the same time, the arena of argument gradually expanded. An ever greater number of people began discussing an ever greater variety of social concerns, concerns that formerly they had either not had or not expressed, but had relinquished to the king and his ministers. Mornet also found cafés in Paris, academies in the provinces, and public lecture series, literary societies, libraries, Masonic lodges, and newspapers throughout France proliferating in large numbers during the eighteenth century. The French were respiring the increasingly charged atmosphere of critical discourse in these increasingly numerous and, to varying degrees, public places. The progress of the spirit of debate was taking place in tandem with the progress of publicization. Meanwhile, power remained concentrated in the private hands of the king. But in 1789 King Louis XVI suddenly and unwittingly gave political form and impetus to the intellectual movement by convoking the Estates General, a three-tiered assembly that had not met for 175 years and that consisted of elected representatives of every social class. The French Revolution, writes Mornet, was one “in which if not the majority, at least a very large minority, more or less enlightened, discerned the faults of a political regime, articulated the profound reforms it wanted, and then converted public opinion little by little and acceded to power more or less legally.” [4] Mornet may or may not convincingly demonstrate a causal connection between the general diffusion of critical discourse in France and the outbreak of the French Revolution, but he does demonstrate the publicization of that discourse during the eighteenth century, and the publicization of political power after 1789 is incontestable.[5]

Economic activity also underwent publicization during the eighteenth century. The Bourse, the Paris stock exchange, was founded in 1724. Even large business ventures had formerly been undertaken by an individual or at most a few capitalists, but in the eighteenth century they began to be financed through shares sold to the public. And these transactions were assigned to a fixed public site in, successively, an old palace, a church, the Palais-Royal, and finally today’s Bourse, a building erected in the early nineteenth century for just this purpose. According to the economic historian Ernest Labrousse, “from 1750, and particularly from 1780, joint-stock companies spread, into coal mining, metallurgy, spinning, banking, and maritime insurance. The Journal de Paris and the Gazette de France published the quotations.” [6]

The French Revolution accelerated the publicization of economic activity by abolishing craft guilds, licensed monopolies, and internal tariffs. The Old Regime’s guild system had privileged the craft masters, who ruled all the workers in the craft—that is, regulated their apprenticeship, admission, and promotion, their practice of the craft—and also maintained their exclusive right to practice the craft. The Old Regime’s system of licensed monopolies had given the holders of monopoly patents, or privilèges, the exclusive right to engage in certain activities in certain places; for example, the Académie Royale de Musique, generally referred to as the Opéra, had the exclusive right to give public performances of music in Paris. The Old Regime’s system of internal tariffs had privileged local producers of goods. The revolutionaries’ abolition of these three systems of economic regulations opened a whole range of craft, business, performance, publication, and market opportunities to a broad public.

Paris was becoming a public city in the eighteenth century. Several of its largest outdoor open spaces took shape then. The Champs Elysées was extended and lined with trees in the 1710s and again in the 1770s. The Champ de Mars, first a military parade ground, later also used for civilian gatherings, was laid out, and the Jardin du Roi, the royal botanical garden, later renamed the Jardin des Plantes, was doubled in size, both around mid-century. The Jardin du Luxembourg was expanded by the revolutionaries and then expanded again by Napoleon. Both the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Jardin des Tuileries, which had been opened to the public in the late seventeenth century, were enclosed in walls until the early nineteenth century, when Napoleon ordered the walls demolished and replaced with less-forbidding grillwork.

The Jardin des Tuileries adjoins the Louvre, which may be taken to exemplify the process of publicization in indoor spaces. The Louvre—including the wing called the Tuileries, originally a separate palace, then connected to the Louvre, finally destroyed—was built over the course of several centuries by a succession of kings for their own use. During the eighteenth century, Kings Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI allocated a series of rooms in it to the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture for artists’ quarters and for the biennial Salon, the academy’s exhibition of new works. Finally, at the end of the eighteenth century the revolutionaries converted it into a permanent public art museum.[7]

Indoor public spaces, both those conceived in physical terms, such as exhibition and performance halls and cafés and restaurants, and those conceived in social terms, such as concert and lecture series and clubs and societies, proliferated all over France at an increasing rate as the eighteenth century progressed. Mornet found both literary societies and public libraries already existing in the provinces in the first half of the century. However, “after 1760, and particularly after 1770, it’s as if there is a contagion of societies” and “it’s particularly after 1770 that the number of these libraries multiplies.” [8]

Slowly during the first three-quarters of the eighteenth century and then more rapidly in the last quarter of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century, Paris was becoming the great public entertainment capital that it still is today. In the first of these two seventy-five-year periods, large numbers of people gathered for diversion on three Paris fairgrounds, those of the Saint-Laurent Fair, which ran all summer long, and the Saint-Ovide Fair, which ran from mid-August to mid-September, on the Right Bank; and on the Left Bank the Saint-Germain Fair, one of the great fairs of Europe, which ran during February and March. The fairs offered a variety of inexpensive foods to taste and a variety of inexpensive shows to see. They fell victim to their own success, for after midcentury a sort of permanent fair grew up along the Boulevard du Temple, where one could get lemonade, coffee, or wine, see a multiplicity of games of skill, wax figures, strong men, trained animals, and demonstrations of popular science all year round, and in comfortable and attractive cafés and halls, not just temporary stands. The attractions of the Boulevard du Temple gradually extended into the Boulevard Saint-Martin and eventually became the core of the lengthy public promenade known as the Grands Boulevards. In the 1780s the rebuilding of the Palais-Royal led to the creation of another permanent fair in and around that old palace, its long wings housing cafés, pastry shops, bookstores, little performance halls and exhibition spaces, and its large courtyard serving as the meeting place for the transaction of speedier or shadier business. The heyday of the Boule-vard du Temple as a center of public entertainment lasted longer than the heyday of the Palais-Royal, which was confined to, and therefore more distinctive of, the Age of Revolution.[9]

A dramatic manifestation of the process of publicization was the spectacular burgeoning of theater. In the eighteenth century, three institutions, the Comédie-Française, the Comédie-Italienne, and the Opéra, had a legal monopoly on the professional performance of plays in Paris. Other professional groups, which gave their performances first at the fairs, then after mid-century in newly erected permanent theaters on the Boulevard du Temple, and finally toward the end of the century in the Palais-Royal, avoided the prohibition against them in various ways. Some paid the Opéra to extend its privilège to them for a specific number of years. Others exploited loopholes in the wording of the privilège, presenting plays with marionettes, child actors, or silent adult actors holding up placards containing their lines. Still others simply ignored the law and, thanks to tolerant authorities such as Lieutenant-General Sartine, the same police chief who allowed the publication of the Encyclopédie, for a while did it with impunity. In the 1760s, just as competition from the unprivileged theaters began to intensify, attendance at the Comédie-Française, one of the privileged theaters, began to set records. In early 1791 the revolutionaries abolished the system of privileges, and the number of professional theaters in Paris jumped from fifteen to thirty-five within the year. All together at least forty-five new theatres opened during the Revolution, although many closed after a short time. Amateur theater likewise expanded during the second half of the eighteenth century, spreading from the royal court to the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie to the working classes. By the end of the century, wrote a chronicler of the Paris stage, “people were acting in wine bars, in cafés, in basements, in attics, in stables, in sheds,” and amateur theatrical groups in the capital numbered more than two hundred.[10]

During the eighteenth century the population of Paris hardly grew at all, remaining between about 525,000 and 550,000. During the first half of the nineteenth century the population of Paris more than doubled, from about 550,000 in 1801 to about 1,300,000 in 1851. Seeing these demographic figures makes one think of the conventional population bomb, but learning about the multiplication of Paris’s theaters, or the octupling of its public reading rooms from 23 in 1819 to 198 in 1845, or the vigintupling of its public bathtubs from 200 in 1789 to 500 in 1816 to more than 4,000 in 1839, compels one to imagine a publicization explosion of socio-nuclear power.[11]

Virtuosity developed in these public spaces, both physical and social, that were so rapidly propagating. Chess emerged from private residences into the cafés of Paris, the first of which opened in the 1670s; by 1723 there were around 380 of them; by 1788 around 1,800; by 1807 around 4,000. Late in his life, Philidor mentioned that when he had first started playing chess in Paris cafés the game was played in a great many of them, which suggests that the momentum of its publicization may have helped to propel his own increasing interest in it.[12] With regard to virtuosity in chess, we have already observed the central role of one of the first Paris cafés, the Café de la Place du Palais-Royal, later known as the Café de la Régence.

After the outbreak of the French Revolution, restaurants and pastry shops began to reproduce as fast as or faster than cafés. The number of restaurants in Paris quintupled between 1789 and 1803, from a total of approximately one hundred to approximately five hundred, and more than quintupled again between 1803 and 1820, by which time the total had reached nearly three thousand. As for patisseries, Carême says that before the Revolution there were few, although he gives no figure, in contrast to the 258 of them in business in 1815.[13] Few historical developments are clearer than the publicization of dining during the Revolution. Whereas the aristocrats had dined in one another’s homes, the revolutionaries dined in cafés, taverns, and restaurants, and the cooks of the former became the cooks of the latter. Thus, politics carried cuisine along with it in its migration from the private to the public sphere. This development exerted a strong influence on Carême’s early career, providing him with employment opportunities in a tavern, a restaurant, Bailly’s well-known patisserie just north of the Palais-Royal, and Gendron’s equally well-known patisserie inside that public entertainment cynosure.

Before the Revolution the Opéra had a double privilège—in theater, in which it shared its public performance monopoly with two other institutions, and in music, in which its monopoly was total, at least legally. For just as rival groups of thespians found ways of circumventing the prohibition against them, so too did rival groups of musicians. Like the directors of some other theaters, those of the Opéra-Comique, where Philidor’s music first won recognition, simply paid a tribute to the Opéra. The older half-brother of Philidor who founded two early public concert series in Paris, the Concerts Spirituels and the Concerts Français, did likewise. Presenting concerts every year from its inception in 1725 until 1790, the Concerts Spirituels turned out to be the most successful series of the eighteenth century. A fugue of public concert series developed from the Opéra’s privilège in the 1770s and 1780s when music lovers organized themselves into nominally private “concert societies” to which they paid annual membership dues. Such was the origin of, for example, the Concerts des Amateurs (Music-Lovers’ Concerts), the Concerts des Amis (Friends’ Concerts), and the Concerts de la Loge Olympique (Olympic Lodge Concerts). This last series, as its name suggests, was staged by a Masonic lodge, and shows the sometimes quasi-public character of Freemasonry, for attendance at the concerts was not restricted to Masons.[14] Freemasons debated social and political issues at their meetings, and a prominent school of Revolution historiography considers these meetings precursors of the meetings of the political clubs and elective assemblies of the first French Republic.[15] Even in fields as dissimilar as music and politics, the vector of publicization was sometimes the same. Masonic lodges in Paris reproduced from half a dozen in the 1730s to 170 in 1771, remaining at about that number until the Revolution brought about their replacement by other social spaces.[16]

The advent of a public space in Europe for music, the public concert, enabled Paganini to make the leap from court attendant, his position in Lucca at the beginning of his career, to touring virtuoso, his role when he appeared on stage after stage throughout Italy and, eventually, in Austria, Bohemia, Poland, Germany, France, and Great Britain as well. In Paris he ultimately had his own public concert space, briefly, in the short-lived Casino Paganini. Liszt, born three decades later, appeared frequently in public right from the beginning of his career. The number of concert venues in Paris had multiplied so much by Liszt’s time that at least two of them, the Salle Érard and the Salle Pleyel, could specialize in piano music, becoming crucibles of keyboard skill.

A variety of small theaters and halls devoted to what are usually categorized as entertainments rather than fine arts also materialized in Paris during the Age of Revolution. Intricate automata and seamless illusions were contrived for the amusement of eighteenth-century princely courts, but the golden age of stage magic had as its setting first rented exhibition halls and then performer-designed and -owned theaters for the public, such as the Théâtre des Jeunes-Acteurs of Comte, the Palais des Prestiges of Phi-lippe, and the Théâtre Robert-Houdin.

In many cases, the publicization of an activity encouraged a separation of people into performers and spectators or, where that separation already existed, encouraged a widening of it.[17] For example, when chess was taken from private residences into cafés, the best players gradually attracted other café-goers around their tables, turning the players into performers and the others into spectators. In contrast to chess, music had a long history of being played in front of an audience. Still, the distance between the musician and his audience increased with the migration of concerts from aristocratic salons to concert halls: The musician climbed onto a stage; the occasion rigidified into a formally structured event; the audience lapsed into passivity.

On the one hand, the publicization of political and economic life, culminating in the Revolution, favored the elimination of privileges and con-sequently the amalgamation of privileged and unprivileged people into a single group. On the other hand, publicization also favored the separation of people into performers and spectators, two distinct groups. And the performers, at least the most successful among them, eventually acquired a disproportionate share of wealth and power and thus became a new privileged elite. But neither wealth nor power was the basis of the privileges of the new elite’s membership. Rather their wealth, like the wealth of the new society’s entrepreneurs, and their power, like the power of the new society’s politicians, derived from their ability to please the public.

During the publicization process, in a wide variety of human activities, groups of spectators formed and swelled and separated from actors, while, reciprocally, the latter made their activities more distinctive in order to try to attract and appeal to the new, larger, and more distant audiences. Actors in the nontheatrical sense became actors in the theatrical sense, indeed actors of a particular kind of theatricality. They gave their activities éclat—brilliance, flash, fanfare, zip, flamboyance—that is, they turned their activities into spectacles.

The Revolution was a gigantic spectacle. Its principal events consisted in large part of crowds of people coming together in public, whether to demonstrate for political and economic goals in the streets, to debate and enact legislation in the new representative assemblies, to celebrate and forge national unity in parks and gardens, to drill and fight as soldiers and national guardsmen in fields, or to witness executions in town squares.

Particularly characteristic of the Revolution were its fêtes, celebratory gatherings organized by the government with programs of parades, music, speeches, banquets, dedications of monuments, and other ceremonies that took place in the Grands Boulevards, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Champ de Mars, and other large public spaces of Paris, as well as in provincial cities and towns. Assemblies of one hundred thousand or more people were not uncommon at the Paris fêtes. In La Fête révolutionnaire, 1789–1799, Mona Ozouf argues that, in spite of the variety of their occasions, a funeral, an anniversary, a military victory, or religious worship, these fêtes had a certain unity of design—the enactment of a vision of utopia—and that this design was also that of the Revolution itself.

Ozouf acknowledges her indebtedness to Jules Michelet, the great nineteenth-century nationalist historian of the Revolution, who believed, as she puts it, in the “consubstantiality of the fête with the Revolution.” But Michelet, she observes, rather than focusing on the official government celebrations, assimilated a variety of different kinds of public gatherings, especially spontaneous formations of activist crowds, into the meaning of the word “fête.” In Michelet’s view, as the Revolution unraveled, veritable fêtes devolved into contrived fêtes, fêtes staged by the government that did not reflect popular feeling, however well attended they might have been.[18]

Michelet’s view of fêtes, in turn, was influenced by Rousseau, drum major of the Revolution, who wrote in his “Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles” that “the only pure joy is public joy.” In the same work Rousseau expressed his disapproval of theater and his approval of programless outdoor fêtes in which large numbers of people participate: “Put the spectators into the spectacle; make them actors themselves; allow everyone to see oneself and love oneself in others, that all may be more closely united.” [19]

But as the Revolution proceeded, fewer and fewer public assemblies were spontaneous, and in fewer and fewer of them were the crowds real participants. Public activities were superseded by public spectacles.

Jacques-Louis David is best known today as the foremost French neoclassical painter, somewhat less well known as a leading revolutionary, and hardly known at all as a designer of fêtes. Although under the Old Regime he had been accepted into the exclusive Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture and been given a studio in the Louvre, he still felt stifled by the patronage system of the art establishment. He turned into an outspoken advocate of the publicization of art, arguing for open exhibitions of new works and open competitions for government commissions. With the advent of the Revolution he became not only the official image maker of such important events as “Le Serment du Jeu de paume” (The Oath of the Tennis-Court) and “Marat assassiné,” but also, as one historian has called him, the pageant-master of the republic. David designed the costumes, the plaster monuments, the stage sets, the parade vehicles, and other props for several of the most important government-sponsored fêtes of the early years of the Revolution. For example, when the revolutionaries decided to transfer Voltaire’s remains to a recently completed neoclassical church that they had rechristened the Panthéon, David conceived a Roman procession for the occasion, designing with motifs from antiquity a huge horse-drawn hearse, and outfitting its attendants with togas, lyres, spears, helmets, poles topped with eagles, even a few sedan chairs. As many as one hundred thousand people, not all of them in Roman attire, marched in the procession, and perhaps another one hundred thousand watched.[20] The route was clear: neoclassicism first as art of the privileged, then as public art, and finally as public spectacle.

The revolutionary spectacle par excellence was oratory. The representatives to the new assemblies ruling France had no experience or connections in government, were unknown to the public, and did not know each other. Those who acquired fame and power did it through successful public speaking, whether in the assemblies, in the streets, or in the political clubs. The speeches judged to have made the biggest impact were reproduced in summary or at length in the many newspapers that suddenly sprang up after the abolition of privilèges. These newspapers were expedited from Paris to all corners of France, and of Europe, where they were eagerly read. Oratory, like theater, became a mania. “Who isn’t an orator?” asked Sébastien Mercier. “Who doesn’t dream of being an orator, with this great and pleasant prospect?” [21] The quality of the oratory increased with practice and with increasing danger. Immediately before and during the Reign of Terror, what one said in public determined whether or not one stayed alive, encouraging prudence in choice of words. If one kept one’s head, one kept one’s head. Nevertheless, from the obscene, wildly gesticulating, unkempt and uncouth Hébert to the erect, wigged and powdered, self-controlled in manner if not in matter Robespierre, both of whom lost theirs, the Terror was one continuous fountain of crimson prose—and, of course, blood.

The guillotine repeated the same scene again and again, but never bored the audience. On a succession of increasingly spacious public squares in Paris, the Place de Grève, the Place du Carrousel, the Place de la Concorde, the Place du Trône, and in analogous locations around France, the whoosh, thwack, thud of the blade and head remained constant while the subsequent cheers of the increasingly large and more frequently assembled multitude grew wilder. Eighty thousand armed men lined the route between his prison and the Place de la Concorde when the deposed King Louis XVI made the short trip to his “shortening” in January 1793. After he was executed and the twenty thousand attending troops dispersed, there was jubilation and dancing around the scaffold.[22] Those who wanted to watch the enemies of the Revolution perish in greater numbers could travel to the borders of France, where a protracted series of wars against the monarchies of Europe began in 1792.

Figure 11. Two revolutionary spectacles. Spontaneous: Burning of the Pope in effigy at the Palais-Royal (top). Planned: Triumphal procession designed by Jacques-Louis David for the transfer of Voltaire’s remains (bottom). Author's collection. Photographs by J. Craig Sweat/Photographer.

Napoleon’s proclamation of the Empire in 1804 suspended public government, but not government-sponsored public spectacles. In fact, the Em-pire began with a grandiose neo-medieval ceremony in which Napoleon crowned himself emperor in the presence of the pope, a ceremony whose official representation was painted by Jacques-Louis David on a canvas thirty feet long and twenty feet high.[23] The fêtes of the Empire were predominantly military: reviews and parades featuring artillery, cavalry, and infantry in showy dress uniforms abundantly decorated with gold braid and embroidery and topped with bicorn hats, fur bonnets, Roman helmets, and shakos with tall plumes; presentations of crosses of the Légion d’Honneur and other medals; and distributions of neo-Roman regimental eagles, also the subject of an enormous painting by David, who had already used such eagles himself in Voltaire’s funeral procession.

The greatest spectacles of the Empire were not the fêtes of Paris and other French cities, however. They were instead Napoleon’s monumental battles, which had exotic locales for their theaters, which were the subject in France of exalted journalistic accounts and exalted pictorial representations, and which exhausted the Revolution’s spectacle of blood. As Napoleon himself said: “My power depends on my glory, and my glory on my victories. My power would fall if I did not sustain it with more glory and more victories.…A newly established government must dazzle and astonish. As soon as it stops throwing sparks, it falls.” [24] Thus, government became spectacular.

So did theater. Napoleon and his contemporaries loved theater but they adored spectacle. The emperor often attended performances of François-Joseph Talma, the foremost French tragedian of his day, engaged him in conversations about acting, and considered awarding him the cross of the Légion d’Honneur.[25] But it was Madame Saqui, the tightrope walker, whom he invited to participate in the celebrations of his name day, to entertain his soldiers in their camps, and to add variety to his military fêtes. He even summoned her to Vienna when he captured that capital. Her biographer writes:

During that epoch of military glory, her great popularity increased even more when she thought of miming, on the tightrope, by herself, the battles and victories of the Empire.…Armed with a saber, she pretended to lead a furious charge whose momentum forced the imaginary enemy to retreat, or…stopping to shoot, she kneeled to fire, then fixed a bayonette on her rifle, and advanced irresistibly, or suddenly fell, as if she were wounded, flinging herself up again to plant on the pole a flag she carried wrapped around her waist.

After the collapse of the Empire, she bought a theater on the Boulevard du Temple, where her performances maintained their popularity for many years.[26]

Theater historian Marie-Antoinette Allevy summarizes the first half of the nineteenth century as “that era of French theater during which an extreme consideration was accorded, in every genre of drama, to the ‘spectacle.’” In that era, she argues, the mise-en-scène—the sets, props, costumes, lighting, and sound effects—gradually overwhelmed the literary aspects of drama—the dialogue, characters, and plot. “In the boulevard theaters, the division into acts disappeared in favor of the division into pictures [tableaux]. Ten, fifteen, twenty pictures succeeded one another in a single piece, each necessitating an appropriate decor.” It was the era of melodrama, of fantastic ruins, gothic palaces, pirate ships, nature at its wildest, the city at its rawest, of violence everywhere. “The technicians, the machinists, the decorators, the builders of props and sets exercised their imaginations to create new and original contrivances and devices: representations of the sea, of shipwrecks, drownings, fires, floods.” Like the actors, the technicians came out on stage at the end of the play to receive their applause, sometimes the loudest and longest ovations. The contemporary critic Théophile Gautier announced, “The era of purely ocular theater has arrived.” [27]

The fêtes of the Revolution contributed to this development. “We owe to Jacques-Louis David,” acknowledges Marian Hannah Winter, another theater historian, “usable scenery made to be climbed up, into and over to a degree not previously imagined. We also owe to him the marshaling and management of those hordes of extras who appeared in battle, ballroom, parade and harvest scenes, filing through the streets, squares and public gardens, and finally onto the stage itself.” Other spectacles also invaded the theater. In 1768 the Englishman Philip Astley “was the first to introduce acrobats, rope-dancers, and short mimed or dialogued scenes into what had been purely equestrian spectacles.” In 1782 he built on the Boulevard du Temple Paris’s first permanent circus—literally, “circle”; commonly, a mixed equestrian spectacle in a circular space. The Amphithéâtre Astley evolved into the Cirque Olympique in 1810 and began incorporating its feats of horsemanship and acrobatics into whole, connected stories, for example Murat, a dramatization of the life of Marshal Murat, the head of Napoleon’s cavalry. This subject allowed for the re-presentation in the heart of Paris of some of Napoleon’s most spectacular battles, the occasion of Gautier’s remark quoted above. Other boulevard theaters featured trained dogs, monkeys, lions, and tigers in their plays. Rope-dancers and mimes, led by Jean-Baptiste Deburau of the Théâtre des Funambules, expanded their vignettes into full-length dramas.[28] All this represented the French Revolution of the stage. Before the Revolution, in order to evade the restrictions imposed on them by the privileged theaters, the theaters of the fairs and the boulevards had cultivated these “lesser” theatrical arts, the arts du spectacle, as the French call them; after the Revolution abolished the system of privileges, the arts du spectacle began to take over theater proper.

Theater evolved into spectacle and/or spectacle invaded theater. Any way one looks at it, theater became spectacular. The same thing happened to painting, to science, to technology.

The incidents in the career of Jacques-Louis David that have already been mentioned indicate one way painting became spectacular. Another was through experimental kinetic picture shows, several with names ending in “-orama” (Greek for “sight”), which became extremely popular in the first half of the nineteenth century. A panorama had an outdoor scene painted on the wall of a rotunda, so that it encircled the spectators. Sometimes the spectators stood or sat in darkness and watched while lights played on the painting, animating a sunrise or a thunderstorm, or while actors used the painting as a three-dimensional backdrop. Sometimes the spectators walked around the rotunda, enhancing the three-dimensional appearance of a painting done in relief or with sculptural forms included. Louis Daguerre, before he invented photography in the late 1830s, created the Diorama, a series of large paintings on transparencies lit from behind. The transparencies were set in frames so that they could be lowered to and raised from the stage in sequence. One popular sequence depicted the eruption of Vesuvius. E. G. Robertson produced a much imitated magic lantern show called the Fantasmagorie. He entombed his theater in a disused Paris monastery where the ancient stone walls, musty smells, flickering candlelight, and the eerie strains of a glass harmonica reinforced the effect created by his projection of indistinct images, which he convinced his spectators were ghosts of their deceased relatives or of martyred revolutionaries such as Jean-Paul Marat.[29] But the revolution in this kind of spectacle did not take place until the end of the century, when the Lumière brothers invented cinematography.

The popularity and convincingness of Robertson’s Fantasmagorie owed as much to his reputation as a scientist as to his brilliant staging. For in his shows he not only raised specters but also gave demonstrations illustrating recent discoveries in acoustics, mechanics, and electricity. When Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the battery, came to Paris, Robertson be-friended him and helped him win recognition for his research on the nature of electricity by giving public lectures and expériences and a joint presentation before the Académie des Sciences, which awarded Volta a silver medal. The word expérience was ambiguous, meaning either “experiment, test,” the basis of science, or “experience, apprehension by the senses,” the basis of spectacle. Which were the expériences of Comus, who discharged electricity into gemstones and lodestones, sensitive plants and neurasthenic people, curiosity seekers and cadavers, and who presented his findings both in reputable scientific journals and in his hall on the Boulevard du Temple? Which were Franz Anton Mesmer’s expériences of “animal magnetism” that found so receptive an audience in Paris after the Viennese medical establishment had censured the inventor/discoverer of what became known, first, as mesmerism and later as hypnotism? And which were Georges Cuvier’s reconstruction of mastodons, pterodactyls, and saber-toothed tigers for museum display at the Jardin des Plantes? The popularity and convincingness of Cuvier’s public lectures, in which he predicted that comparative anatomists would soon be able to deduce the complete appearance and lifestyle of extinct animals from the discovery of a single bone, owed as much to his brilliant staging as to his reputation as a scientist.[30]

E. G. Robertson was also an early aeronaut who flew in both balloons and parachutes,[31] two late-eighteenth-century French inventions the tests of which often took place above large audiences in such public places as the Jardin des Tuileries and the Champ de Mars. But the main stage for technology was the industrial exposition, the nineteenth-century forerunner of the twentieth-century world’s fair. In France, the first Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie took place in a temporary building erected in the Champ de Mars in 1798. Ever larger and more lavish expositions took place in 1801 and 1802 in temporary buildings in the courtyard of the Louvre, in 1806 on the esplanade of the Hôtel des Invalides, in 1819, 1823, and 1827 in the Louvre itself, and beginning in 1834 at regular five-year intervals in various public spaces.[32] Technology’s successful siege of the Louvre meant its conquest of a status equal to that of fine art as a public spectacle. Everything converged in spectacle.

Virtuosity converged in spectacle. Mechanicians had built automata for scientific purposes, for sale to the wealthy, for the amusement of princes. Mechanicians had also built automata for spectacles in Paris, showing them in rented rooms, at the annual fairs, and in permanent exhibition halls on the Boulevard du Temple and in the Palais-Royal. Robert-Houdin presented several inventions at the exposition of 1839 and then his automaton Writer-Sketcher at the exposition of 1844, gaining a silver medal from the judges of applied science, attention from King Louis-Philippe, admiration from the public, and a sale to P. T. Barnum.

Music and technology converged in spectacle. Adolphe Sax also won a silver medal at the exposition of 1844, for his saxhorns, instruments resembling flügelhorns. But musicians resisted using them, so he went to the army to argue for their adoption in place of French horns and bassoons in marching bands. In 1845 the Champ de Mars was the scene of a battle between an army band of forty-five musicians and a band of thirty-eight assembled by Sax, an encounter witnessed by twenty thousand spectators. Sax won the audience’s applause and a military contract. At the exposition of 1849 he received both a gold medal and a medal of the Légion d’Honneur for his new invention, the saxophone.[33]

A public concert is inherently a kind of spectacle, so it is not always easy to determine where musicianship stops and showmanship begins. Paganini made his audience wait for him while he watched from the wings so as to be able to appear just when expectation had reached a peak. While he excoriated the tales of his pact with the devil, he also exploited them. The violinist Ole Bull told of Paganini coming on stage with his long black hair, a black swallow-tail coat, and a small box in his hand:

He then opened the box and took out a pair of spectacles, meditated a moment, apparently considering the next move, and finally, taking the bow in his right hand, and bending a little, put the spectacles on and looked about in a complacent manner. But how changed he was! The glasses were dark blue, giving a ghastly appearance to his emaciated face; they looked like two large holes in his countenance. Raising his foot and bringing it down promptly, he gave the signal to begin. It had been announced as his last concert in Paris for the season, and a true foreboding seemed to thrill through his listeners that they would not again see that lank, angular figure, with its haggard face, or hear again the wondrous witchery of his violin.

One of the few things outside of music that made an impression on Paganini was the magic show of Bosco. As for Liszt, according to Heinrich Heine, “no one in the world knows as perfectly as our Franz Liszt how to organize his successes, or rather how to stage them. In this art, he is a true genius, a Philadelphia, a Bosco, a [Robert-]Houdin.” Robert-Houdin described his own art as that of “an actor playing the role of a magician.” According to the newspaper Illustration:

M. Liszt is not only a pianist, he is above all an actor.…Everything he plays is reflected on his face; one sees depicted in his physiognomy everything that his music expresses and even everything he thinks it expresses. He makes movements appropriate to each piece; he has postures, gestures, and glances for every phrase; he smiles at the graceful passages, and furrows his brow whenever he hits a diminished seventh. All of this is obviously lost for those of his listeners facing his back, so that it is out of a sense of justice and so as not to be unfair to anyone that he employs alternately two pianos facing in opposite directions.[34]

Paganini and Liszt were among the first musicians regularly to give concerts from memory, a common practice today. Their reviewers frequently mentioned it, although there is no inherent relationship between playing from memory and the quality of the playing. But it is always more impressive to see airialists perform without a net. In popularizing the performance of pieces whose chief interest for the audience consists of watching and hearing musicians meet the challenge of their technical difficulties, Paganini with his caprices and G-string solos and Liszt with his own and others’ piano études made perhaps their greatest impact on performance practices. Scheller and Clement and Dreyschock went to such extremes that they could be dismissed, and Mozart could renounce his own youthful excesses, but the showmanship of Paganini and Liszt was so integral to their musicianship and their musicianship was of so high a caliber that despite repeated efforts by some to purge it from the Western classical music performance tradition, and a virtually uninterrupted effort by others to deny its existence there, spectacle survives, even thrives.

Neither chess nor cooking nor crime-detection is inherently spectacular. Philidor and the Café de la Régence masters made chess spectacular by playing several games at once without looking at any of the chessboards. They did not invent simultaneous blindfold play: Three-game demonstrations given by an Arab visiting Florence in the thirteenth century, by a Syracusan in the sixteenth century, and by an Italian in the early eighteenth century are mentioned in writings of their contemporaries.[35] What Philidor, Labourdonnais, and Kieseritzky did was to translate something eccentric into something central, to make an obscure achievement into a public spectacle and to establish it as a continuous tradition that has persisted for two centuries.

Carême made cooking spectacular by disregarding the old rule that whatever a chef sent to the dining table, with the exception of containers, should be food. He made his four-foot models of classical temples, Gothic towers, Indian pavilions, Chinese pagodas, and Turkish fountains not out of the pastry cook’s traditional pastillage (“paste”) of gum tragacanth, wa-ter, sugar, and powdered starch, which are all edible ingredients, but out of a mastic (cement or putty) of gum arabic, gum tragacanth, water, sugar, powdered starch, calcium carbonate, and marble shavings! “Finally, after having made several experiments in this matter, I succeeded in compounding this mastic, out of which I constructed, nine years ago, two large trophies, which are intact today, and still as splendid as they were on the first day.” [36] Carême’s inedible edifices formed the centerpiece of what amounted to a whole program for making a spectacle out of cooking, which included increasing the number and variety of dishes served in each course, piling up garnishes on top of large roasts and whole fish with the help of hâtelets, and commissioning serving implements with neoclassical ornamentation designed by himself. Carême made his preparations less to sate the stomach than to dilate the eye.

Vidocq, who as a youth had worked for the physicien Comus,[37] strove to make a spectacle out of crime-detection. He preferred to arrest suspects in a crowded tavern, bursting in suddenly with a group of Sûreté agents and shouting orders, than to apprehend them in a less risky but more isolated location. He liked to appear at Bicêtre for the ceremonial chaining of recent convicts at the start of their long march to the galleys, a semiannual event that drew as many as a hundred thousand spectators to this suburb of Paris for a day of edifying Schadenfreude, particularly piquant for Vidocq, since twice in his earlier life he had been among the participants, whom he now took the opportunity to berate publicly. In courtroom trials, Vidocq stole the show from the lawyers, using the witness box as a stage from which to recount his feats as a detective.[38] He finally got his chance to appear on a real stage at the age of seventy when he gave demonstrations of his disguises and other detective apparatus for two seasons at a London exhibition hall. But it was only with the creation of the detective story, out of Vidocq’s career and his account of it in his Mémoires, among other materials, that a largely private activity could be approximated to a spectacle.

The necessity or desirability of appealing to the public led to spectacularism in politics, theater, art, science, technology, automaton-building, musical performance, chess, cooking, crime-detection, and many other social activities. Spectacularism involved emphasizing those aspects of an activity that had intrinsic immediate eye- or ear-appeal or adding extrinsic features to an activity to give it that appeal. An institution specifically designed for appeals to the public—that is, for publicity—already existed. Not surprisingly, the prodigious progress of publicization and spectacularism was accompanied by a commensurate development of the press, a development that can only be described as spectacular.

Spectacles and publicity both involve making something public: the former, deeds; the latter, ideas. The French Revolution had a close association with publicity since its end was to make government public and since it came about in large part through the conquest of public opinion, through a publicity campaign. Signs of an important historical development lie in the evolution of the meaning of the word publicité from “the characteristic of that which is public” or “the act of bringing to public knowledge” in the eighteenth century to “the act or art of producing a psychological effect on the public for commercial purposes” in the first half of the nineteenth century. Equally significant is the evolution of publiciste from écrivain politique, or writer on political subjects, in the middle of the eighteenth century, to journaliste, or writer of articles on political and other public events, at the end of the eighteenth century, to agent de publicité, or advertiser of public events and commercial products, in the twentieth century. These two words were imported into English as “publicity” and “publicist” during the French Revolution.[39] The French publishing industry erupted in 1789, the beginning of the Revolution and also the beginning of a permanently increased outpouring of ephemera whose reports and advertisements of public spectacles increased the quantity of the latter in turn.

This intellectual debris has been measured. Only around 310 different pamphlets were published in France in the thirteen years between 1774 and 1786, while around 220 were published in 1787 alone, 820 in 1788, 3,300 in 1789, 3,120 in 1790, 1,920 in 1791, 1,290 in 1792,…for a total of more than 13,000 different pamphlets in the thirteen years between 1787 and 1799. Similarly, only around 30 periodicals, consisting mainly of newspapers and reviews, were being published in Paris in the 1770s, while around 250 new periodicals began publication in Paris in 1789 alone, 350 in 1790, 110 in 1791, 120 in 1792, etc. But let us leave out the tumultuous late 1780s and early 1790s and look at the long-term trend. France’s first daily newspaper, the Journal de Paris, began to appear in 1777; France had eight daily newspapers in 1818, thirteen in 1827, and twenty-six in 1846. Before 1789, the French newspaper with the largest distribution, the Gazette de France, had a weekly circulation of 12,000. In 1803 the Journal des débats had a daily circulation of 16,000. In 1846 the Siècle had a daily circulation of more than 30,000, and the twenty-six dailies together had a circulation of 180,000.[40]

The initial eruption consisted principally of political works. The Moniteur universel and the Journal des débats, the two daily newspapers with quasi-official status, the first by virtue of its completeness, the second by virtue of its impartiality, both began to appear in 1789 and both continued on uninterrupted into the Third Republic.[41] The vast majority of the periodicals and pamphlets of the Revolution were short-lived and openly partisan, however. Through their publications, several partisan pamphleteers and journalists became important people who influenced the course of the Revolution. Abbé Siéyès’s pamphlet Qu’est-ce que c’est le tiers état? (What Is the Third Estate?) helped to precipitate the formation of the first legislative body of the Revolution, the National Assembly. Jean-Paul Marat’s incendiary L’Ami du peuple (The Friend of the People), published thrice weekly, contributed to the ignition of the Reign of Terror. Jacques Hébert’s irregularly appearing Père Duchesne (Mr. Earthy) spoke to the lower classes in their vernacular and encouraged their active participation in the Revolution. In contrast, the royalist Antoine Rivarol was just as unsuccessful with his thrice-weekly Journal politique national in saving the king’s head as he had earlier been with his pamphlets in promoting Abbé Mical’s talking heads and their mechanical salutation, “Vive le roi!”

The numerous political pamphlets and periodicals of the Revolution publicized its spectacles. They informed their readers of plans for various public events from fêtes to executions, and then after the events had taken place reported on how they had gone. Both the partisan publicists, with their excerpts and paraphrases of the speeches of party leaders, and the Moniteur and the Débats, with their presentation of both sides of a debate, promoted oratory. The Imprimerie Nationale (National Printing Office), established in 1791 for the purpose of publishing the legislation and official reports of the assemblies, also sometimes published the text of a speech, when the representatives of an assembly voted to award one of their number the signal honor of publicizing his contribution to the oratorical spectacle.

Popular prints made from woodcuts, engravings, and etchings and reproduced on single-sheet broadsides, whether for political or commercial ends, may have done the most to publicize the spectacles of the Revolution. Thousands of different prints were published, each of them in hundreds or thousands of copies. Through prints made from copies of paintings by Jacques-Louis David and widely distributed, his image of “Le Serment du Jeu de paume” and “Marat assassiné” became everybody’s image of those spectacles of oratory and blood, respectively. During the Reign of Terror, the Committee of Public Safety charged David with commissioning caricatures for propaganda purposes and having them printed in large numbers. David not only procured caricatures from other artists but contributed several of his own to this publicity campaign.[42] He was the Revolution’s image-maker, pageant-master, and P.R. director.

The dictator Napoleon understood the importance of public opinion better than any elected official did: “Public opinion is an invisible, mysterious power that is irresistible; nothing is more fickle, more nebulous, or more powerful.” As a result, he put a lot of energy into trying to control public opinion, by actively publicizing his own views and by keeping others from publicizing theirs. In 1800 he reduced the number of Paris newspapers that reported on politics, as most of them did, from more than seventy-five to thirteen, and in 1811 to four. He also compelled the survivors to print only favorable accounts of him and his activities. He assigned topics to journalists, outlined articles for them, and even dictated whole articles himself. His masterpieces were his Bulletins de la Grande Armée, reports from the battlefield designed for civilian consumption, many of them accounts of victories, colorful, overstated, and widely disseminated.[43] His armies were powerful, but they seemed greater than they were because of something even more powerful, the press.

France’s political leaders taught ambitious individuals in other fields valuable lessons about publicity. First, accounts and pictures of current events had a large and growing audience. Second, that audience was influenced by what it read and saw. Third, the beneficiaries of that influence were not only the actors in the current events presented but also their presenters, the authors and artists. These lessons did not go unheeded. After Napoleon’s fall in 1814, new, suspended, and underground periodicals began to emerge again, so that Paris had 150 periodicals by 1818, 350 by 1835, and 500 by 1860.[44]

Before the Revolution, only a few special-interest groups had had their own periodicals, for instance the lawyers’ Journal du Palais (Journal of the Palace of Justice), dating from 1672. As of 1827 the law and the courts were receiving, in addition to the irregular attention of the newspapers, regular coverage by ten specialized journals.[45] Vidocq’s trials figured prominently in at least two of them, the Gazette des tribunaux and the Observateur des tribunaux, and Vidocq himself received sympathetic treatment there.

The first French music periodicals just printed written music. The third quarter of the eighteenth century brought brief runs of journals containing learned essays. Then came the Almanach musical of 1775–83, which told Parisians when and where to find what music, performed and written. Almanacs were annuals, had their information organized according to the cycle of the year, and dated from the germination of printing, originally serving as guides for planting, harvesting, and other agricultural activities. F.-J. Fétis’s Revue musicale initiated regular reviews of Paris concerts.[46] The Revue musicale, founded in 1827, the Gazette musicale de Paris, founded in 1834, and the merged Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, formed in 1835, gave substantial publicity to the concerts of Paganini and Liszt.

Grimod de La Reynière’s Almanach des gourmands (1803–12) may have been the very first gastronomic periodical. In fact, the words gastronomie, gastronome, gastronomique and their English copies, although based on Greek roots, gaster (stomach) and nomos (law), were not coined until the beginning of the nineteenth century.[47] Grimod’s almanacs told what time of the year specific foods became available in Paris and also provided information about the restaurants and food shops of the capital. His Jury Dégustateur (Jury of Tasters) sampled dishes prepared in various Paris establishments and then either awarded or withheld from them a légitimation. This signified something like “legitimate,” or “according to law,” and perhaps made a certain amount of sense in that gastronomy was the “law of the stomach,” and that these gastronomes seem to have considered themselves its lawgivers. Carême, however, did not approve of the idea of culinary amateurs such as Grimod appointing themselves lawgivers to professionals: “Doubtless he had some good influence on culinary matters, but he played no part in the rapid progress which modern cuisine has made since the renaissance of the art.” [48] Grimod’s almanacs did much to publicize haute cuisine, but Carême was not among the practitioners he singled out for special praise.

Labourdonnais produced the first chess periodical in Europe, perhaps in the world, with his monthly Palamède (1836–40). When he died, Saint-Amant, who succeeded him as champion of the Café de la Régence, put out a second series of the Palamède (1841–47). When Saint-Amant went into retirement, Kieseritzky became the leading player in the café and the editor of a new chess journal, La Régence (1849–51). This succession of dual titles, champion and editor, reveals the final step in the development of the special-interest periodical into an organ of publicity, a development that proceeded from the learned journal or informational almanac to the opinionated review, with the power to make and unmake reputations, to the ambitious practitioner’s megaphone, an instrument of self-promotion.

The Age of Revolution was the infancy of special-interest periodicals as well as of national republics. Labourdonnais expressed satisfaction at having 263 subscribers to the Palamède; he judged 120 sufficient for survival. The Revue musicale had 223 subscribers in 1832. To judge from these figures, special-interest periodicals might seem to have had only lim-ited publicity power. But issues could be found in cafés, reading rooms, and other public spaces where they had multiple readers. And their readers tended to be people active and influential in the specialty; many of the readers of the Revue musicale, for example, were professional musicians, who not only satisfied but also guided the taste of Paris concert-goers.[49] In any case, the novelty and range of special-interest periodicals in Paris during the Age of Revolution testify to the breadth of the emerging belief in the power of publicity.

Publicity for the spectacles of virtuosity was not limited to specialinterest periodicals. Announcements, reviews, and descriptions of these spectacles also appeared in general-interest magazines, newspapers, broadsheets, pamphlets, and books. Advertisements for, and admiring reports of, Philidor’s simultaneous blindfold exhibitions in London appeared in many newspapers and magazines, including The London Chronicle, The Morning Post, The Sporting Magazine, The Times, and The World. Joseph Méry, coeditor with Labourdonnais of Le Palamède and a prolific author, published a long poem about Labourdonnais’s victory over MacDonnell in the 1834 international championship match, comparing Labourdonnais to Napoleon in Une Revanche de Waterloo (A Revenge for Waterloo). An Irish travel writer, Lady Sydney Owenson Morgan, published two books about France, the first of which, France in 1829–30, contains a precious description of a dinner prepared by Carême, at the end of which the host, M. Rothschild, “pointed to a column of the most ingenious confectionary architecture, on which my name was inscribed in spun sugar.” Heinrich Heine evoked the ephemeral quality of music through evanescent effigies:

His body was resplendent with virile power; a powder-blue robe draped his noble limbs; his mane of black hair flowed over his shoulders in shining curls. He stood erect, firmly and confidently, like the statue of a god, and played the violin; it seemed as if all creation moved to his chords. He was the man-planet around whom the universe revolved to a celestial rhythm in a solemn ceremony. Were the beautiful calm lights that soared around him the stars of heaven? Was the sonorous harmony that radiated with their motion the music of the spheres, of which poets and seers have spoken in their visions?

Heine’s verbal caprice on a performance by Paganini appeared in the Revue des deux mondes, an influential review of literature, politics, and the arts, which later in the same year, 1836, published a travel piece by George Sand containing a fantasia on a performance by Liszt.[50]

The Moniteur’s report of Robert-Houdin’s show in Algeria brings us back to reality and to politics, the hard reality of colonial politics, which however was less Realpolitik than Phantasiepolitik. The report illustrates the presence of both publicity and spectacle in politics and demonstrates not only, as a report, the publicizing of a spectacle but also, in its report, the publicity power inherent in a spectacle:

The arrival of an extraordinary man working miracles had been announced in advance to the Arabs. When everything had been prepared for his expériences, the marabouts were not the least prompt to arrive. The efforts they had made to discredit this formidable competitor in the minds of their dupes would make the surprising things that were about to confound their understanding even more impressive.

It was no longer a matter of diverting and refreshing a curious and benevolent public; it was necessary to strike hard and true on crude imaginations and prejudiced minds.

On the day chosen for this astonishing expérience, the assembly was numerous. A fanatic marabout had consented to put himself in the hands of the sorcerer. He was asked to stand on a table, where he was covered with a transparent piece of gauze. Then Robert-Houdin and another person picked up opposite ends of the table and the Arab disappeared in the middle of a cloud of smoke.

At the sight of this, all the spectators fled tumultuously from the hall.…Finally, one of them, less terrified than his comrades, stopped them and said it was imperative to see what had become of the marabout. They retraced their steps and were not a little surprised to find him again safe and sound near the hall where the expérience had taken place. Pressed with questions, he told them that he had been as if drunk, unable to recall anything and unaware of how he had come to be where he was.

Today the marabouts have fallen into complete disrepute among the natives. On the other hand, the celebrated prestidigitator is an object of admiration for them.[51]

As Robert-Houdin’s Algerian show indicates, a stage performance could be, in addition to a spectacle, a vehicle of publicity. Balzac’s play Vautrin, whose eponymous protagonist and his adventures were widely known to have been based on Vidocq and his adventures, gave publicity to that detective. The play Paganini en Allemagne, which was written and performed in Paris shortly after Paganini made his début there, gave publicity to that violinist. The play La Czarine, whose plot was much concerned with the famous automaton chess player, a copy of which was made for the play by Robert-Houdin, gave publicity to that mechanician.[52] Conversely, a page could be a stage, when depictions immediately vivid to the mind’s eye of readers reproduced performances immediately striking to the eye or ear of audiences. Like theaters, printing presses are a kind of public space. Thus, while in many cases publications encouraged spectacles by giving publicity to them, they could also substitute for them.

Vidocq tried in various ways to make a spectacle of detection, but with limited success, because many feats of detection, although inherently spectacular, are necessarily performed in the absence of an audience. In order for them to become a spectacle, they had to be reenacted on the stage or translated into printed words. Vidocq did the first with his London exhibition of thieves’ tools, his own disguises, and himself, and the second with his Mémoires. Vidocq used his Mémoires to present his adventures as spectacles and to publicize them. The book sold fifty thousand copies within a year of its appearance, for its time a huge readership, or better, audience.[53] This was how detection became if not a true spectacle at least a pseudo-spectacle. The surge that the Revolution’s discharge of the press gave to the proliferation of spectacles was short-circuited in this case, so that the means of publicity lit itself up instead of lighting up a spectacle separate from itself; the publication substituted for the spectacle.

Republicanizing, performing in front of an audience, and publishing all began as efforts to bring something to the public. During the Age of Revolution, individuals in a broad range of occupations—in politics, theater, and the press as well as in chess, cooking, crime-detection, musical performance, and automaton-building—brought things to the Parisian public at a rapidly accelerating pace. Eventually the quantity of offerings made to the public reached royal proportions. For the ambitious, the effort became less one of bringing their offerings to the public than one of attracting the sovereign public’s attention. Many, the virtuosos conspicuous among them, attracted the public by magnifying the eye-catching or ear-catching aspects of their offerings. Publicization gave way to spectacle-making and to publicity, which often supported spectacle-making and sometimes substituted for it. That is how ended the reign of kings and the legally privileged and how began the reign of the public and its courtiers.


All translations of quotations from other languages into English are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

1. Louis-Sébastien Mercier, The Picture of Paris before and after the Revolution, trans. Wilfrid and Emilie Jackson (London: Routledge, 1929), p. 179; this work consists of excerpts from Mercier’s Tableau de Paris and Nouveau Paris.

2. Maurice Albert, Les Théâtres des boulevards (1789–1848) (Geneva: Slatkine, 1969; reprint of Paris ed., 1902), p. 71.

3. Alexis de Tocqueville, L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution, 2 vols. (Paris: Gallimard, 1952–53), vol. 1, pp. 95–96.

4. Mornet, Origines intellectuelles de la Révolution française, pp. 1–2.

5. Other historians have different terms for and somewhat different conceptions of the eighteenth-century development that is referred to here as the “publicization of critical discourse.”

Mornet (1933), as noted, provides much evidence of publicization, but refers to it only as “diffusion générale”; ibid., passim.

Augustin Cochin, La Révolution et la libre-pensée (Paris: Plon, 1924), distinguishes a campaign to “susciter une opinion publique” by “les sociétés de pensée” (p. xxx), a campaign he calls “la socialisation de la pensée” (title of the book’s first section).

Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989; first published 1962), chap. 3, discusses “the genesis of the bourgeois public sphere [bürgerliche Öffentlichkeit].”

Keith Michael Baker, “Public opinion as political invention,” in Inventing the French Revolution: Essays on French Political Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 172, writes: “‘Public opinion’ took form as a political or ideological construct, rather than as a discrete sociological referent.”

Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991; first published 1990), p. 19, cites “the emergence of a new conceptual and social reality: public opinion.”

Arlette Farge, Subversive Words: Public Opinion in Eighteenth-Century France, trans. Rosemary Morris (University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995; first published 1992), p. 198, concludes, “Something was emerging, something firm and solid: quite simply, the right to know and to judge, the right to expect the king to divulge his secrets.”

None of these historians, however, shows an interest in the general process of things becoming public. They all focus their attention on the formation of public opinion in politics. (Mornet and Habermas also devote some attention to the formation of public opinion in the arts, as a forerunner of public opinion in politics.) Thus their study of public things is twice narrowed, first to opinion and second to political opinion. And the development they trace is the formation of a new thing, whereas the development traced here is the transformation of old things, with, to be sure, novel consequences.

6. Roland Mousnier and Ernest Labrousse, Histoire générale des civilisations, vol. 5, Le XVIIIe siècle, l’époque des “lumières” (1715–1815) (Paris: P.U.F., 1959), p. 121.

7. Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 1, pp. 294–96, 297–98, 577, 582; vol. 2, pp. 76, 602; Marie-Blanche d’Arneville, “Jardins,” in Dictionnaire Napoléon, p. 964.

8. Mornet, Origines intellectuelles de la Révolution française, pp. 306, 314–15. Mornet cites the proliferation of various kinds of social spaces in support of his thesis tracing the Revolution back to “la diffusion des idées nouvelles.” Similarly, Cochin cites the proliferation of various kinds of “sociétés de pensée” in support of his thesis tracing the Revolution back to the common organizational form of these social spaces; Cochin, La Révolution et la libre-pensée, pp. xxviii–xxxvii. But neither Cochin’s conception of “la socialisation de la pensée” nor Mornet’s conception of “la diffusion des idées nouvelles” resembles the conception of “publicization” presented here.

9. On the fairs: Fournel, Vieux Paris, chap. 3; Maurice Albert, Les Théâtres de la foire (1660–1789) (Geneva: Slatkine, 1969; reprint of Paris ed., 1900), passim; Marian Hannah Winter, “Le Spectacle forain,” in Histoire des spectacles, ed. Guy Dumur (Paris: Pléiade, 1965), pp. 1435–60; Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, chaps. 2, 6. On the Boulevard du Temple: Fournel, Vieux Paris, chap. 4; Albert, Théâtres des boulevards, passim; Marian Hannah Winter, The Theatre of Marvels, trans. Charles Meldon (New York: Blom, 1964), passim; Michèle Root-Bernstein, Boulevard Theater and Revolution in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1984), passim; Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, chap. 7. On the Palais-Royal: Saint-Marc and Boubonne, Chroniques du Palais-Royal, passim; Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 2, pp. 219–22; Berthier de Sauvigny, Nouvelle histoire de Paris, pp. 379–82; Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, chap. 8.

10. On some theaters paying the Opéra to extend its privilège: Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, chap. 4. See also Root-Bernstein, Boulevard Theater and Revolution, pp. 45 (some theaters ignored the Opéra’s privilège), 57–62 (some theaters paid the Opéra to extend its privilège), 201 (number of Paris theaters); Nicolas Brazier, Chroniques des petits théâtres de Paris, 2 vols. (Geneva: Slatkine, 1971; reprint of Paris ed., 1883; first published in Paris, 1837), vol. 1, chap. entitled “Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique” (some theaters exploited loopholes in the Opéra’s privilège); vol. 2, pp. 295–302 (amateur theater in eighteenth-century Paris). On attendance at the Comédie-Française beginning to set records in the 1760s: John Lough, Paris Theatre Audiences in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), pp. 174, 272–73. On the opening of forty-five new theaters during the Revolution: Theodore Zeldin, France 1848–1945, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973–77), vol. 2, p. 709.

11. For population figures: Chandler and Fox, Three Thousand Years of Urban Growth, pp. 17–20; Chevalier, Laboring Classes and Dangerous Classes, pp. 181–82. On public reading rooms: Zeldin, France 1848–1945, vol. 2, p. 355. On public bathtubs: Erwin H. Ackerknecht, Medicine at the Paris Hospital, 1794–1848 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967), p. 151.

12. For the eighteenth-century café counts: Mornet, Origines intellectuelles de la Révolution française, pp. 281–82. For the 1807 café count: Prudhomme, Miroir historique, vol. 1, p. 283. For Philidor’s observation: Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, p. 150.

13. For the 1789 and 1803 restaurant counts: Grimod de la Reynière, Almanach des gourmands, vol. 1, p. 163. For the 1820 restaurant count: Zeldin, France 1848–1945, vol. 2, p. 739. For the patisserie count: Carême, Pâtissier royal parisien, 2d ed., vol. 1, pp. xli–xliii.

14. Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, pp. 89–101; Brenet, Concerts en France, pp. 115–16, 130–33, 356–82; Young, “Concert,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 4, p. 617.

15. Cochin, La Révolution et la libre-pensée, pp. xxviii–xxxvii; François Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, trans. Elborg Forster (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 187–91; Chartier, Cultural Origins of the French Revolution, pp. 16–17.

16. Daniel Ligou et al., Histoire des Francs-maçons en France (Toulouse: Privat, 1981), pp. 29, 67, 79–80, 164–66.

17. Cochin argues that in a “pure democracy,” whether of a “société de pensée,” of a national government such as France had in 1793–94, or of any other sort, there will always develop a division of the people into two unequal groups, a small active group and a large passive group, a few “effective militants” and “flocks of adherents.” Similarly, the present study suggests that in the publicization of an activity there often develops a division of people into performers and spectators. Cochin, La Révolution et la libre-pensée, p. 5.

18. Mona Ozouf, La Fête révolutionnaire, 1789–1799 (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), pp. 20, 38–40.

19. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “J. J. Rousseau, citoyen de Genève, à M. d’Alembert sur son article ‘Genève’ dans le septième volume de l’Encyclopédie ” (generally called “Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles”), in Oeuvres complètes de J. J. Rousseau, 17 vols. (Paris: Armand-Aubrée, 1830–33), vol. 1, pp. 405 n (first quotation), 395 (second quotation). See also Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Les Rêveries d’un promeneur solitaire, in Oeuvres complètes (Pléiade ed.), vol. 1, p. 1085.

20. David Lloyd Dowd, Pageant-Master of the Republic: Jacques-Louis David and the French Revolution (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1948), passim (“Triomphe de Voltaire,” pp. 46–53); Anon., Collection complète des tableaux historiques de la Révolution française, 3 vols. (Paris: Auber, an X (1802)), vol. 1, tableau 55, facing p. 220, “Triomphe de Voltaire.”

21. F[rançois-Victor]-A[lphonse] Aulard, Les Orateurs de la Législative et de la Convention, 2 vols. (Paris: Hachette, 1885–86), vol. 1, pp. 6–8, 28–40; [Louis-] Sébastien Mercier, Paris pendant la Révolution, ou Le nouveau Paris, 2 vols. (abr., Paris: Poulet-Malassis, 1862; first published Paris, 1798), vol. 1, pp. 275–80.

22. Pierre de Vaissière, La Mort du roi (21 janvier 1793) (Paris: Perrin, 1910), pp. 61, 90, 129.

23. E. J. Delécluze, Louis David, son école et son temps (Paris: Macula, 1983; reprint, with plates added, of Paris ed., 1855), 12th unnumbered page of plates between pp. 264 and 265.

24. [Louis-Antoine Fauvelet] de Bourrienne, Mémoires de M. de Bourrienne, ministre d’État, sur Napoléon, le Directoire, le Consulat, l’Empire, et la Restauration, 10 vols. (Paris: Ladvocat, 1829), vol. 3, p. 214. See also the quotation of Heinrich Heine in chapter 4 of this volume, p. 153.

25. Las Cases, Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, vol. 1, pp. 403–4; vol. 2, p. 408.

26. Paul Ginisty, Mémoires d’une danseuse de corde: Mme Saqui (1786–1866) (Paris: Charpentier and Fasquelle, 1907), chaps. 6, 7, 8 (the quotation is on p. 86).

27. Marie-Antoinette Allevy, La Mise-en-scène en France dans la première moitié du XIXe siècle (Geneva: Slatkine, 1976; reprint of Paris ed., 1938), pp. 2, 22, 63, 114–15; Gautier, Histoire de l’art dramatique, vol. 2, p. 175.

28. Winter, Theatre of Marvels, pp. 57 (first quotation), 176 (second quotation), chap. 9; Michèle Richet, “Le Cirque” and Tristan Rémy, “Le Mime,” in Histoire des spectacles, pp. 1520–29 and 1493–1509, respectively.

29. Allevy, Mise-en-scène en France, pp. 44–45 (panoramas), 59, chap. 4 (Diorama); E[tienne] G[aspard] Robertson, Mémoires récréatifs, scientifiques et anecdotiques du physicien-aéronaute E. G. Robertson, 2 vols. (Paris: Roret, 1840), vol. 1, chaps. 9, 11, 12, 13 (Fantasmagorie).

30. On Robertson: Robertson, Mémoires récréatifs, scientifiques et anecdotiques, vol. 1, chap. 10; Anon., “Robertson,” in Biographie universelle et portative, vol. 4, pp. 1122–23; L. Louvet, “Robertson,” in Nouvelle biographie générale, vol. 42, cols. 393–95; Fournel, Vieux Paris, pp. 267–71.

On Comus: Labouderie, “Ledru,” in Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne, [1st ed.], vol. 23, p. 538; Anon., “Ledru,” in Biographie universelle et portative, vol. 3, p. 227; L. Louvet, “Ledru,” in Nouvelle biographie générale, vol. 30, cols. 269–71; Campardon, “Comus,” in Spectacles de la foire, vol. 1, pp. 214–15; Jean Torlais, “Un Prestidigitateur célèbre chef de service d’électrothérapie au XVIIIe siècle, Ledru dit Comus (1731–1807),” Histoire de la médecine 5, no. 2 (February 1955): 13–25; Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, pp. 200–201.

On Mesmer: Stefan Zweig, Mental Healers: Franz Anton Mesmer, Mary Baker Eddy, Sigmund Freud, trans. Eden and Cedar Paul (New York: Viking, 1932); Robert Darnton, Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968).

On Cuvier: Baron [Georges] Cuvier, Discours sur les révolutions de la surface du globe (Brussels: Culture et civilisation, 1969; reprint of 3d ed., Paris, 1825), pp. 98–99, as well as several other places in the same section of the text; Charles Coulton Gillispie, The Edge of Objectivity: An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1960), p. 277; William Coleman, Gerges Cuvier, Zoologist (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964), unnumbered page of illustrations between pp. 20 and 21; Dorinda Outram, Georges Cuvier: Vocation, Science, and Authority in Post-Revolutionary France (Manchester, Eng.: Manchester University Press, 1984), pp. 177–81

31. [Etienne Gaspard] Robertson, La Minerve, vaisseau aërien destiné aux découvertes, et proposé à toutes les académies de l’Europe (Paris: Hocquet, 1820), pp. 30–32.

32. Colmont, Histoire des expositions des produits, pp. 7–8, 23, 29, 44, 317; on p. 8, Colmont calls the industrial exposition a spectacle.

33. Fétis, “Sax,” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 7, pp. 416–19.

34. On Paganini’s making his audience wait: Harrys, Paganini in seinem Reisewagen und Zimmer, p. 54; Sugden, Niccolo Paganini: Supreme Violinist or Devil’s Fiddler? sketch on p. 79. The sources of the quotations: Bull, “Violin Notes,” in Ole Bull, a Memoir, pp. 374–76; Heine, “Saison musicale, Paris, 25 avril 1844,” in Lutèce, pp. 223–24; Robert-Houdin, Comment on devient sorcier, p. 29; Anon., “Chronique musicale,” L’Illustration; journal universel hebdomadaire 3, no. 64 (18 May 1844): 188.

35. Walker, “Chess, without the Chess-Board,” Fraser’s Magazine 21, no. 123, pp. 305–7.

36. On Carême’s mastic: Marie-Antonin Carême, Le Pâtissier pittoresque, 1st ed. (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1815), pp. 24–26. On traditional pastillage: Montagné, Larousse Gastronomique, p. 670.

37. The word physicien, it may be recalled, was doubly ambiguous. First, it could refer to either a physician or a physicist; second, with regard to physicist, it could refer to either a physical scientist or an entertainer who made use of recent discoveries in physical science in his entertainments. Comus, holder of the titles “physician to the king” and “tutor of physics to the children of the king,” published researcher, and boulevard showman, filled all of these bills. On Comus, see note 30 in this chapter.

38. For an example of Vidocq’s making arrests in a crowded tavern: Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 355–56. On Vidocq and the chaining ceremony at Bicêtre: ibid., pp. 146–48, 184–85, 404–7; Paul Bru, Histoire de Bicêtre (Paris: Les Bureaux du Progrès, 1890), p. 89; Gordon Wright, Between the Guillotine and Liberty: Two Centuries of the Crime Problem in France (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 70. For examples of Vidocq in the witness box: Le Moniteur universel, 18 March 1824, p. 309; Roch, “Procès de Vidocq,” Observateur des tribunaux 11, pp. 209–344, section entitled “Interrogatoire de Vidocq.”

39. On the etymology of publicité: Paul Robert and Alain Rey, Le Grand Robert, dictionnaire de la langue française, 9 vols. (Paris: Robert, 1985), vol. 7, p. 890; Alain Rey and J. Rey-Debove, eds., Le Petit Robert, dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française (Paris: Robert, 1988), p. 1563. On the etymology of publiciste: Aulard, Orateurs de la Législative et de la Convention, vol. 1, p. 49; Trésor de la langue française, dictionnaire de la langue du XIXe et du XXe siècle (1789–1960), 17 vols. to date (Paris: C.N.R.S., 1971–<$f$>), vol. 14, p. 13; Robert and Rey, Grand Robert, vol. 7, p. 890. On the etymology of “publicity” and “publicist”: J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 20 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), vol. 12, pp. 782–83.

40. On the pamphlet counts: Antoine de Baecque, “Pamphlets: Libel and Political Mythology,” in Revolution in Print: The Press in France, 1775–1800, ed. Robert Darnton and Daniel Roche (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), pp. 165–66. See also Eugène Hatin, Bibliographie historique et critique de la presse périodique française (Torino: Erasmo, 1960; reprint of 1st ed., Paris, 1866), pp. xci, 200–238 (periodical counts), xci–xcii (daily newspaper counts and circulation figures). On the circulation of La Gazette de France: Claude Bellanger et al., Histoire générale de la presse française, 5 vols. (Paris: P.U.F., 1969–76), vol. 1, p. 199.

41. Aulard, Orateurs de la Législative et de la Convention, vol. 1, pp. 8–17. The Moniteur did not become the official government newspaper until 1800.

42. Rolf Reichardt, “Prints: Images of the Bastille,” in Revolution in Print, pp. 223–51; F[rançois-Victor]-A[lphonse] Aulard, “L’Art et la politique en l’an II,” in Études et leçons sur la Révolution française, 9 vols. (Paris: Alcan, 1893–1924), vol. 1, pp. 264–67; Dowd, Pageant-Master of the Republic, pp. 136–37.

43. The source of Napoleon’s quotation: Las Cases, Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, vol. 1, p. 252. On Napoleon’s reduction of newspapers: André Cabanis, La Presse sous le Consulat et l’Empire (1799–1814) (Paris: Société des Études Robespierristes, 1975), pp. 13, 36, 41. See also Robert B. Holtman, Napoleonic Propaganda (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1950), pp. 61–62 (assignments to journalists), 92–96 (battlefield bulletins); André Cabanis, “Presse,” and François Monnier, “Propagande,” in Dictionnaire Napoléon,pp. 1402–4 and 1406–11, respectively.

44. Hatin, Bibliographie historique et critique, pp. xci–xcii.

45. Ibid., pp. lxix, xcii.

46. Imogen Fellinger, “Periodicals,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 14, pp. 414–15; Hatin, Bibliographie historique et critique, p. lxx.

47. Trésor de la langue française, vol. 9, pp. 113–14; Simpson and Weiner, eds., Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 6, p. 391.

48. Carême, Cuisinier parisien, p. 30.

49. Hooper and Whyld, Oxford Companion to Chess, p. 245; Peter Bloom, “A Review of Fétis’s Revue musicale, ” in Music in Paris in the 1830s, ed. Peter Bloom (Stuyvesant, N.Y.: Pendragon, 1987), p. 72.

50. Lady Sydney Owenson Morgan, France in 1829–30 (London: Saunders and Otley, 1830), excerpted in Lady Sydney Owenson Morgan, Lady Morgan in France, ed. Elizabeth Suddaby and Philip John Yarrow (Newcastle upon Tyne: Oriel, 1971), pp. 234–38; Henri [Heinrich] Heine, “Les Nuits florentines,” La Revue des deux mondes, 4th ser., 6 (15 April 1836): 224–26 (help with the translation from Heinrich Heine, The Works of Heinrich Heine, trans. Charles Godfrey Leland, 20 vols. [New York: Croscup and Sterling, n.d.], vol. 1, pp. 41–43); George Sand, “Lettres d’un voyageur. VII.,” La Revue des deux mondes, 4th ser., 8 (15 November 1836): 407–44.

51. “Faits divers,” Le Moniteur universel, 9 October 1857, p. 1108.

52. Vautrin, by Balzac, was performed at the Théâtre Porte-Saint-Martin in March 1840; Paganini en Allemagne, by Desvergers and Varin, was performed at the Théâtre des Nouveautés in April 1831; La Czarine, by Adenis and Gastineau, was performed at the Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique in 1868.

53. Samuel Edwards [pseud. of Noel Bertram Gerson], The Vidocq Dossier: The Story of the World’s First Detective (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), p. 104. In his article “First Steps toward a History of Reading,” Robert Darnton reminds us how common it was, at least until the end of the eighteenth century, if not later, for books to be read out loud to others rather than silently to oneself: “For most people throughout most of history, books had audiences rather than readers”; Robert Darnton, The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History (New York: Norton, 1990), p. 169.

7. Exalting Technical Skill

In L’Homme machine (Man a Machine, 1748), the philosophe Julien Offroy de La Mettrie theorized that “the human body is a watch, an immense watch, constructed with such skill and ingenuity that if the wheel that tracks the seconds happens to stop, the minute wheel still turns and makes its rounds, just as the hour wheel continues to go, and likewise with all the others when the first wheels, because they are rusty or for any other reason, have stopped.” [1] La Mettrie’s book is a celebrated argument for materialism, a worldview holding that matter, physical stuff, is the fundamental constituent of the universe. Although commentators disagree as to whether the book should be called famous or notorious, they generally agree that it devalues God and things of the spirit.

But one could with equal justification consider it from the opposite perspective, by looking at what La Mettrie revalues upward. When we consider his philosophy from this perspective, we still see that he regards humans as machines, but we now also see that he does not regard them as mere machines. Rather, he regards them as admirable machines, as the absolute epitome of machinery. Human beings are marvels because they function so well. And whoever or whatever—La Mettrie refuses to choose between God and Nature—designed and constructed these admirable machines is also admirable. He values machine-makers as a class, and God or Nature sits at the head of that class, which includes human beings too. Thus, La Mettrie values humans highly both as machines and as machine-makers, and for their potential in both categories:

If Vaucanson needed more skill to make his Flûteur than to make his Canard, he would have to employ still more to make a Parleur [talker], a machine no longer to be regarded as impossible, especially in the hands of another Prometheus. It was likewise necessary that nature employ even more skill and apparatus in making and sustaining a machine [i.e., a fully endowed human] that could for a whole century indicate all the movements of a heart and a mind; for if the pulse does not tell time, it does at least register warmth and vitality, by which one can judge the nature of the soul.[2]

Both as machine-makers and as machines, humans rank high on the scale of beings, and certain individuals rank high on the scale of human beings.

Naturally La Mettrie’s views were not typical of those of mideighteenth-century Frenchmen, not even those of the philosophes. His opinions were extreme, but examining extreme opinions can often facilitate our perception of the direction of movement of mainstream opinion. The philosophes’ celebration of artisans and inventors and the revolutionaries’ introduction of patents and industrial expositions testified to the increasing value placed on technical skill as expressed in material products. The Encyclopédie’s exposition of accumulated wisdom in terms of the sciences, arts, and manual trades rather than, as was traditional, in terms of theology and philosophy, and Napoleon’s technocratic conception of government testified to the increasing value placed on technical knowledge. And the successive leaps of acrobatism testified to the increasing value placed on technical skill as expressed in bodily exercise. In France in the second half of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century the value of technical expertise, both skill and knowledge, soared like a liberated spirit.

In his “Discours préliminaire” (Preliminary Discourse) to the Encyclopédie, d’Alembert, a highly esteemed mathematician himself, asked:

Why are not those to whom we owe the fusee, the escapement, and the repeating-works of watches esteemed equally with those who have worked successively to perfect algebra? Moreover, if I may believe a few philosophes who have not been deterred from studying the manual arts by the prevailing contempt for them, there are certain machines that are so complicated, and whose parts are all so dependent upon one another, that their invention must almost of necessity have been due to a single man. Is not this rare genius, whose name is shrouded in oblivion, well worthy of being placed beside the small number of creative minds who have opened up new paths for us in the sciences?[3]

Beginning with the philosophes’ vindication of artisans and inventors in the middle of the eighteenth century, the French bid up the value of technical skill as expressed in material products. The virtuosos, as craftsmen, designers, and technological innovators, shared in this appreciation.

For the first volume of the Encyclopédie, d’Alembert not only wrote the “Discours préliminaire” but also contributed the articles “Androïde” (Android) and “Automate” (Automaton). These two articles consist largely of extracts from Vaucanson’s exhibition prospectus, a long extract describing the Flûteur in the case of the first article, shorter extracts describing the Canard and Tambourinaire in the case of the second. After quoting Vaucanson’s description of the Flûteur, d’Alembert concludes: “If this article, instead of being the description of a functioning machine, were the description of a proposed machine, how many people would consider it anything but a chimera?” [4] This high praise from a member of the Académie des Sciences followed Voltaire and La Mettrie’s comparison of Vaucanson to Prometheus. If the God who made humans is the greatest mechanician, then mechanicians who make androids are little gods.

The philosophes exercised a strong influence on Thomas Jefferson, who lived in Paris for several years (1784–89) as the U.S. ambassador to France and then back in his own nascent republic became a leading figure of the Enlightenment. He published, first in Paris in French translation (1786), then in London in its original English (1787), only one full-length book, Notes on the State of Virginia, a descriptive and promotional account of his state, and to a lesser extent of his United States, principally for European consumption.[5] In it he responded to Abbé Raynal’s allegation that America had not yet produced anyone illustrious:

In war we have produced a Washington, whose memory will be adored while liberty shall have votaries.…In physics we have produced a Franklin, than whom no one of the present age has made more important discoveries, nor has enriched philosophy with more, or more ingenious solutions of the phænomena of nature. We have supposed Mr. Rittenhouse second to no astronomer living: that in genius he must be the first, because he is self-taught. As an artist he has exhibited as great a proof of mechanical genius as the world has ever produced. He has not indeed made a world; but he has by imitation approached nearer its Maker than any man who has lived from the creation to this day.[6]

Jefferson’s American Pantheon had different admission standards from ours. For him, Franklin won immortality as a scientist and inventor, the creator of the Franklin stove, bifocal eyeglasses, and the lightning rod, rather than as a writer or statesman. The now-eclipsed David Rittenhouse shone in Jefferson’s mind for having constructed an orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system, with a surrogate sun surrounded by orbs that both rotated and revolved at rates proportional to their planetary originals. Jefferson, a true son of the Enlightenment, glorified the new stars of technology.

The last volumes of the Encyclopédie appeared at the beginning of the reign of Louis XVI, and although he was not a particularly enlightened monarch, he too had a certain appreciation for what Diderot in the article “Art” had referred to as the unjustly scorned mechanical arts. The king invited Jaquet-Droz fils to court where the young mechanician’s Dessinateur sketched his and his queen’s portraits. He also learned the art of the locksmith and spent many hours with his locks diverting himself from the cares of state.[7] Even those furthest from manual occupations were now tak-ing an interest in them.

In Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, historian Peter Burke explains that in the Middle Ages two parallel streams of culture had flowed, each spilling over into the other at intervals but separately embedded: elite culture and popular culture. The elite tradition consisted of such things as formal dances, composed music, and written literature, much of it in classical languages; the popular tradition included such things as folk dances, improvised music, and oral recitation and storytelling in the vernacular, for the vast majority of people received practically no schooling. An asymmetry existed in that the elite participated in popular culture, which could be found in public spaces, such as festivals and fairs, taverns and town squares, while the people did not participate in elite culture, much of which was restricted to the courts, salons, books, and other private spaces of the upper classes. Then, Burke argues, in the early modern period, the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, the elite gradually withdrew its participation from popular culture. Finally, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, the elite rediscovered popular culture, which had become something foreign and exotic to it.[8] Burke’s model of the changing relationship between the elite and popular culture is too simple to satisfactorily explain an evolution that took place over hundreds of years in dozens of different states. Nevertheless, the French elite of the Old Regime had certainly abandoned the mechanical arts to the people, cultivating the liberal arts instead, so that its new interest in the mechanical arts in the second half of the eighteenth century accords well with Burke’s hypothesis of a rediscovery of popular culture on the part of the European elite of that period.

But Burke’s model only explains how mechanical tinkering became a leisure-class hobby, as it indeed became for many, something like extramarital sex or breeding racehorses. For others, however, it became a respected occupation. The philosophes were greatly influenced by the writings of Bacon, Locke, and Hume, who led the way toward the acceptance of “utility” or “usefulness” as a standard of value, first in Great Britain and then in the second half of the eighteenth century in France. “The advantage that the liberal arts have over the mechanical arts, because of their demands upon the intellect and because of the difficulty of excelling in them, is sufficiently counterbalanced by the quite superior usefulness which the latter for the most part have for us,” wrote d’Alembert.[9] Gradually, aided in some cases by their appeal as “transcendent” activities that imitated God or Nature, in other cases by their appeal as “exotic” activities of the forgotten classes, the mechanical arts attracted the serious interest of the elite. This new interest led to the inventions of the Industrial Revolution, creations by and large of substantial landowners, merchants, and professionals, rather than of peasants and artisans. At the end of the eighteenth century, after usefulness had grown sufficiently in value and mechanical inventions had grown sufficiently in usefulness, French society instituted formal rewards for inventors.

The two most important forms of societal recognition and encouragement given to inventors were patents and industrial expositions, both of them introduced by the revolutionaries. The French imported patent law, like utilitarianism, from Great Britain. There inventors had had the exclusive right to the commercial exploitation of new inventions since the early seventeenth century. France did not have a patent law until the National Assembly adopted one in the last decade of the eighteenth century, and not until the nineteenth century did such laws become widespread in Europe. These laws had only limited effectiveness, since smuggling ideas across borders in the technologically advanced and relatively compact states of Western Europe was easy and common until international agreements began to be negotiated at the end of the nineteenth century.[10] As an indication of changing values, though, the official recognition the new laws gave to inventors had considerable significance. At the same time that the revolutionaries were abolishing the old privilèges, such as those that had been acquired by theaters, aristocrats, and craftsmen through purchase, family inheritance, or membership in a corporate body, the revolutionaries were also creating a new privilège to be acquired through technical skill. If the reign of the public began with spectacle-makers courting the public, it proceeded with the public deferring to technicians as members of a new privileged estate.

The industrial exposition materialized at the social space where the spread of spectacle intersected the elevation of technical skill. Its peculiarity and popularity made it an event highly characteristic of the Western world in the nineteenth century. The industrial exposition may have been hatched in London in the 1750s, but it grew to be most at home in Paris. England led France not in technological inventions but in their commercial reproduction, while France led England in their spectacularization. Paris held industrial expositions eleven times in the half-century from 1798 to 1849, during which period the number of exhibitors increased fortyfold.[11] A whole range of governments, from the revolutionary Directory to the imperial regime of Napoleon to the “bourgeois monarchy” of King Louis-Philippe, supported this celebration of French inventions and their inventors. The national industrial exposition was soon adopted by other European countries and then by their former colonies in North and South America. By the second half of the nineteenth century the industrial exposition had become international, beginning with the Great Exhibition of London in 1851, and jumping at irregular intervals to various other capitals, but still landing most often and with the biggest splash in Paris, site of the Exposition Universelle in 1855, 1867, 1878, 1889, and 1900. The respective attendance figures for the latter four of these, in a world without airplanes or manufactured automobiles, were 9 million, 16 million, 39 million, and 50 million people![12] The steel tower named for its engineer, Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, built on the Champ de Mars for the exposition of 1889 to be the world’s tallest edifice, represented a high point in the industrial exposition’s synthesis of spectacle-making, technical skill, and self-promotion. And this is the construction that has become the symbol of Paris.

Several of the virtuosos used the Paris industrial expositions to exhibit their inventions. Maelzel moved to the French capital in 1807 and promptly presented his Trompeter to the Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale, the group that staged the expositions, mostly recently in 1806 but not again until 1819, at which time Maelzel was touring Great Britain. At the exposition of 1823, Maelzel showed his talking dolls and perhaps also his automaton slack-rope acrobat. Vidocq, among his myriad activities, did a little tinkering:

I invented a burglar-proof door, with a locking mechanism resistant to all attempts to open it, and then an absolutely forgery-proof paper, on which no alterations can be attempted without leaving indelible tell-tale traces. These inventions were exhibited [at the industrial exposition] in 1834 and they earned for me a citation, and an unsolicited nomination as titular member of the Academy of Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Commerce.[13]

But he won no medals. Among the virtuosos, Robert-Houdin had the most success at the expositions. He exhibited his automaton Cups-and-Ball Ma-nipulator and his transparent Mysterious Clock in 1839, winning a bronze medal, his automaton Writer-Sketcher in 1844, winning a silver medal, and several electrical inventions in 1855, winning a first-class medal, the equivalent of a gold.

A novelty of many of the toys and games invented in this period was their requirement of technical skill. Maelzel’s talking dolls and Robert-Houdin’s singing bird automata required technical skill to produce. Kieseritzky’s three-dimensional chess and Vidocq’s card game, featuring pictures of the leaders of the Revolution of 1830 on the cards,[14] required technical skill to play.

The virtuosos frequently combined mechanics and music in their inventions. The mechanicians created automaton musicians, Vaucanson the Flûteur and Tambourinaire, the Jaquet-Drozes at least two android keyboardists and many songbirds, Robert-Houdin at least three songbird-and-serinette-player combination pieces, for example. The musicians tinkered with mechanics, the mechanics of stringed instruments in the case of Paganini, keyboard instruments in the case of Liszt. Paganini had the bridge of his concert violin flattened out and lowered; he used thinner-than-normal strings; and he designed a “contraviola.” Liszt designed a “clavecin-orchestre.” Maelzel, accomplished both as a musician and as a mechanician, produced an automaton trumpeter, two Panharmonicons, several ear trumpets, and a mass of metronomes.

Both Paganini and Liszt had a great appreciation for the instruments of their art and for instrument makers. Paganini referred to Vuillaume, who won a silver medal at the exposition of 1834 and a gold at the exposition of 1839 for his work on stringed instruments,[15] as “the surgeon of my violin.” Paganini amassed a fabulous collection of instruments, including eleven Stradivari (seven violins, two violas, and two cellos), five Guarneri (four violins and a cello), and two Amati violins. For Liszt, the latest was the best, and for him this meant in instruments the pianos of the Érard brothers, who won gold medals at the expositions of 1819, 1823, and 1827 and a medal of the Légion d’Honneur at the exposition of 1834,[16] and in transportation railroads. The “knight-errant of every order” could not have made his “grand galop chromatique” around the Continent on his circuit of 175 cities,[17] nor could he have had a seven-octave double-escapement piano waiting for him at every one of them, without extensive use of the iron horse. If the names of the inventors of the fusee, escapement, and repeating-works of watches are unknown to us while the name of railway inventor George Stephenson is in every history of modern Europe, and if the names Stradivarius and Steinway are as well known to us as those of any violinist or pianist, this is some measure of how the value placed on technical skill as expressed in material objects increased not only in France but throughout the West during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

And if the names Vaucanson and Rittenhouse are less well known today than they were in the eighteenth century, it is because the early promoters of this revaluation were tendentiously excessive in their praise of contemporary inventors. In their effort to overcome the Old Regime’s longstanding disdain of the mechanical arts, the believers in the new watchmaker-god exaggerated the achievements of leading mechanicians, calling the achievements miracles and the mechanicians demigods.

A filiation of learning connects the Encyclopédistes of the third quarter of the eighteenth century to Napoleon’s technocrats of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The two groups and their intermediaries all prized technical knowledge. So, too, did the virtuosos. The common purpose of amassing technical knowledge seemed to be to increase one’s power over one’s world.

The publication of Diderot and d’Alembert’s thirty-five-volume Encyclopédie between 1751 and 1780 constituted an imposing campaign on behalf of practical, specialized learning. The Encyclopédie’s subtitle, Dic-tionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts, et des métiers, might be translated as “systematic enumeration of the sciences, arts, and manual trades.” The word “systematic” implies a system, and to the philosophes the word “raisonné” implied their particular system, the application of human reason to the material world. Historian Robert Darnton contrasts the system opposed by the philosophes with their own: “Diderot and d’Alembert did not seek out the hand of God in the world but rather studied men at work.” [18] The Encyclopédie’s twelve volumes of plates depict in great detail the workshops, tools, methods, and products of an extensive range of physical labors. D’Alembert’s “Discours préliminaire” disregards theologians and other purely mental laborers, venturing the revolutionary idea that “it is perhaps among artisans that one must look for the most admirable manifestations of the sagacity, the patience, and the resources of the mind.” [19]

The Académie des Sciences put out an even larger compilation of industrial, craft, and occupational techniques and lore, the seventy-three-volume Description des arts et métiers of 1761–88, at least one edition of which appeared under the slogan-title Description et perfection des arts et métiers. The Paris publisher Panckoucke weighed in with a reorganized and expanded version of the work of Diderot and d’Alembert, the 166-volume and half-century long Encyclopédie méthodique of 1782–1832, for which thirty more volumes were projected. But the most massive monument to the new knowledge was a work organized by Berliner Johann Krünitz, the 242-volume Oekonomisch-technologische Encyklopädie whose publication sprawled across eighty-five years, from 1773 to 1858. The Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert also inspired the two encyclopedias that have proven most enduring, because of their broader appeal, the Encyclopædia Britannica, whose three-volume first edition ap-peared in 1769–71, and the Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon, whose eight-volume first edition appeared in 1809–11; both have been continually revised and republished over the past two centuries and are still in print. Thomas Carlyle complained in 1833 of the “exaggerated laudation of Encyclopedism.” [20] In the West, the encyclopedia of technical knowledge, a work of many volumes produced by the collaboration of many experts, was a creation of the second half of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century.

The Encyclopédistes’ belief in the superiority of practical, specialized learning led them to argue for educational reform. Indeed, publications on this subject by them and other reformers constitute a recognized genre of Enlightenment literature. Rousseau’s Émile, ou De l’éducation, published in 1762 but banned in France until 1770, had the greatest popularity and remains the most famous of these works. Also influential were Louis-René de La Chalotais’ Essai d’éducation nationale (1763), Joseph Priestley’s Essay on a Course of Liberal Education (1764), and Diderot’s Plan d’une université pour le gouvernement de Russie (1775). Significantly for their views on education, Rousseau was the son of a watchmaker, Priestley the son of a cloth finisher, and Diderot the son of a cutler. Rousseau’s compatriot and follower Johann Pestalozzi successfully ran a series of schools emphasizing learning through concrete experiences that had a wide influence on primary education in both Europe and the United States.[21]

It may be a myth that Napoleon’s generalship developed in school snowball fights,[22] but it is true that technical education in France snowballed out of the army. The opening of the École Royale Militaire (Royal Military Academy) in 1751 opened the second half of the eighteenth century, a period in which, according to historian Frederick Artz, “The interest in all aspects of military science was enormous; in the writings in this field the French outdistanced all other European peoples both in originality and in influence.” The first comprehensive artillery school was established in 1756 with a curriculum that united theory and practical exercises. “From the artillery schools, this method of instruction passed into the advanced technical schools of the later eighteenth century and thence into the École Polytechnique.” [23] Here is a key not only to Napoleon’s—and France’s—successes on the battlefield, but also to his administrative and social policies.

The revolutionaries founded the École Polytechnique, a national engineering college, and the École Normale Supérieure, a national teacher-training college. These two colleges composed the nucleus of what came to be a small set of Grandes Écoles.[24] The Grandes Écoles, all located in Paris, have educated the French elite for the past two centuries. The revolutionaries also founded écoles des arts et métiers, or trade schools. Indeed, Artz concludes:

Inspired by many of the same motives that led to the creation of the écoles des arts et métiers and of the Conservatoire was a whole series of special educational enterprises which were set up in the decade 1793 to 1803. The French faith that anything could be improved by found-ing a school to teach it led to the opening of new schools for soldiers, sailors, midwives, pharmacists, veterinarians, schoolteachers, the blind, deaf-mutes, students of the fine arts, of music, and of living oriental languages, miners, and agriculturalists.[25]

Or was the French faith that led to the opening of these new schools the faith that anything could be mastered with the help of a trained corps?

France still led the world in science during the reign of Napoleon,[26] even though the revolutionaries had guillotined the father of modern chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier, and had fatally incarcerated the long-time secretary of the Académie Royale des Sciences, the marquis de Condorcet, both of whom died in 1794 at the age of fifty-one. Napoleon strongly supported scientific and technical education. He opened more trade schools and several schools of mines. He reorganized the university system, adding for the first time a faculty of sciences. He raised the number of medical faculties in France from three to seven. To Napoleon education essentially meant technical training and the inculcation of discipline. He wanted skilled but obedient subjects and favored independent thinking only in confined areas. He neglected primary schools, reorganized public secondary schools along military lines, and tried to limit advanced and specialized schools to professional or occupational training.[27] Channeled in education, the same will to control produced French superiority in military science, natural science, and an array of technical fields.[28]

The practice of systematically drawing on technical experts for government administration can be traced back at least to the first government of Louis XVI, the Turgot ministry of 1774–76. A.-R.-J. Turgot was an Encyclopédiste and economist. “To bring forward the expert and give him the authority there where interest and routine misgoverned, that was the thrust of his administrative purpose,” argues historian of science C. C. Gillispie. As an example, Gillispie cites Turgot’s creation of the Régie des Poudres (Gunpowder Administration) and his appointment of Lavoisier as one of the Régisseurs, in 1775. At that time France produced only half of the saltpeter, the principal ingredient in gunpowder, consumed by its military and had to import the other half. By 1788, as a result of the reforms for which Lavoisier was mainly responsible, France had become totally self-sufficient in saltpeter, and its gunpowder had become both the best in Europe and less expensive than in 1775.[29]

Although the revolutionary governments contained more men of the law, one of the old liberal arts, than members of any other occupational group,[30] men of science exercised an influence disproportionate to their numbers. Jean-Paul Marat, the Jacobin firebrand, had been a physician and physicist. Jean-Marie Roland de La Platière, minister of the interior in 1792–93, had had a long career as an inspector of manufactories, like Vau-canson, and had written numerous monographs on a variety of French industries with proposals for their modernization. Lazare Carnot, “organisateur de la victoire” of the armies of revolutionary France over those of monarchical Europe, had been an army engineer. The revolutionary governments also delegated to scientists particular projects, for example, the development of a rational system of weights and measures to be used throughout France, where in the eighteenth century almost every region, and in some regions almost every town, had its own system. A committee that included the chemist Lavoisier and the mathematicians Monge, Laplace, and Lagrange devised the metric system, the system used today not only throughout France, but throughout the world. The revolutionaries encouraged science and technology by enacting patent law, by establishing the industrial exposition, by founding technical schools, and by reconstituting the art-favoring academies of the Old Regime as the sciencefavoring Institut National des Sciences et des Arts. In this reorganization, they suppressed the most prestigious of the Old Regime academies, the Académie Française, and incorporated three others, the academy of painting and sculpture, the academy of architecture, and the academy of music, into one “class” of the Institut, the “class for literature and the fine arts.” Moreover, they made this the second class of the Institut, while they made the “class for physical and mathematical sciences,” the new version of the old Académie Royale des Sciences, the first class.[31] The control of nature had become more important than the imitation of nature.

The artillery officer Napoleon Bonaparte was elected to the first class of the Institut two years before he became first consul, and he always prized that membership, which gave him the status of an elite technician. When he led his famous expedition to Egypt, he took with his army the equivalent of a small polytechnical institute, including two leading mathematician-physicists, Fourier and Monge. As first consul, then emperor, he appointed individuals to high office who lacked administrative experience but who had shown themselves to be brilliant scientists or masters of some technical discipline, such as the mathematician Laplace, the chemist Chaptal, the physician-chemist Fourcroy, and the naturalist Lacépède. These were not always Napoleon’s most successful appointments, but they do say something about his conception of government. He also rewarded technological pioneers, employing Nicolas-Jacques Conté, the first to put graphite in a pencil, and offering a million francs to anyone who could perfect the mechanical spinning of linen and hemp. In the words of one of his private secretaries, “the emperor loved technical men.” Surveying the administrative reforms of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, C. C. Gillispie observes: “The historian has become used to seeing a movement from aristocracy toward liberalism and democracy in all these developments, whereas what needs to be perceived is a movement from bureaucracy toward technocracy.” [32]

The publication of voluminous encyclopedias of the sciences, arts, and trades, the reorientation of education toward practical, specialized learning, and the employment and encouragement of experts by government all promoted the desirability of acquiring technical knowledge and the importance of showing what one had acquired. In the ordinary course of their work, experts exhibited their knowledge, but not necessarily comprehensively. Many experts also published repertoires of techniques, and the virtuosos published some of the most extensive of these repertoires.

Philidor’s Analyse du jeu des échecs aimed at comprehensiveness in two dimensions of chess analysis. The original 1749 edition analyzes only a few chess games, but it analyzes them from start to finish, including in each case several branches of possible play in addition to the main line. In his preface, Philidor complains of the incompleteness of the works of his predecessors:

I return now to Don Pietro Carrera, who, to all appearances, served as the model for Greco and for other authors; however, neither he nor any of the others have given us (in spite of their great prolixity) anything but very imperfect instruction, quite insufficient to train a good player. They have only applied themselves to the openings of games, and then abandoned us to study by ourselves the endings, so that the player remains almost as lost as if he had had to open the game with-out instruction.[33]

Philidor knew well that his discussion of situations at every stage of the game gave his analysis an unprecedented longitudinal comprehensiveness, an achievement that made his treatise both important and popular. The expanded edition of 1777 contains both individual endgame analyses and an innovative section called “Observations sur les fins de parties” (Obser-vations on Endgames), which specifies for fifteen different types of endgames, defined by the material forces confronting each other, whether the more powerful side should win or only draw. Philidor’s systematization of endgame study reduced a large number of possible endgame situations to a small number of types, each of which was susceptible of analysis as a unit. Furthermore, using his method, other types of endgames in addition to his fifteen could be defined and analyzed, and have been. Philidor’s innovation postulated the complete analysis of one stage of the game of chess, an unprecedented latitudinal comprehensiveness. The further-expanded edition of 1790, the last worked on by Philidor, contains more complete game analyses, more endgame analyses, and the records of the games played in three of his blindfold exhibitions, a state-of-the-art treatise.[34]

Among chess masters whose lives overlapped Philidor’s, neither his mentor Légal, nor his successor Deschapelles, nor any of his strongest contemporaries in Britain published a chess treatise, although four of his strongest contemporaries in France did collaborate on one.[35] By contrast, in the first half of the nineteenth century Labourdonnais, Alexandre, and Kieseritzky in France and Sarratt, Lewis, and Cochrane in Britain all produced at least one chess treatise apiece. For the leading players to publish had become the norm. Experts displayed their knowledge as well as their skill.

Cookbooks had always been repertoires of techniques, unlike chess treatises. Before Philidor’s, most chess treatises explained good moves in terms of the very particular configuration of the game in which they occurred, when they bothered to explain them at all, or else gave only the most general principles.[36] Guidance closely tailored to a unique situation tends to be nearly inapplicable, the uselessness of History, while guidance applicable to many situations tends to be nebulous, the uselessness of Philosophy. Philidor’s pioneering endgame studies balanced applicability and specificity, maximizing their usefulness and making his treatise a true repertoire of techniques. Cookbooks have rarely ever taken either a historical approach, describing the preparation of particular dishes as unique events, or a philosophical approach, expounding a system of gustatory thought. Thus, in producing a culinary repertoire of techniques, Carême did not—did not need to—innovate as Philidor did. On the other hand, Carême’s repertoire had an imperial monumentality lacking to Philidor’s.

The master chef’s L’Art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle filled five volumes. This ambitious set of recipes for French cooking, on top of Carême’s two-volume set of recipes for French pastry in Le Pâtissier royal parisien, made a towering collection. One of his contemporaries, an epicurean official of Napoleon’s court, called gastronomy “the art of a thousand resources”:

Good soups abound; take your pick from among the recipes of Carême: There are 500 of them, with or without meat. He has described 200 entrées; 50 garnishes and purées; 500 dishes for whole large fish; 1,000 for beef, fowl, ham, and pork; and 1,000 more delicious preparations of vegetables, fruits, and desserts. It’s really innumerable. This fabulous superabundance can have reality only for the wealthy and their guests.[37]

The 124 designs for pièces montées in Le Pâtissier pittoresque and the two volumes of menus in calendrical order in Le Maître d’hôtel français are also professional repertoires, although repertoires of ideas rather than repertoires of techniques. Taken as a whole, these four works of Carême approximate an encyclopedia of the culinary arts such as he had originally proposed be done collaboratively by the leading French chefs of his time.

Vidocq’s Les Voleurs (Thieves) is a kind of miniature encyclopedia of the French underworld of his era. Like the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert, its overall organization is that of a dictionary: It is composed of articles that define or explain words of underworld argot, in alphabetical order. Many of the articles are short, consisting of a one-sentence, one-phrase, or even one-word definition. For example, in underworld argot “hospital” meant “prison” and “ill” meant “in prison.” As a dictionary of argot, Les Voleurs is significant for containing a large number of entries and for being one of the first published separately rather than as a glossary appended to another book.[38] Incidentally, Carême included a glossary of culinary terms in L’Art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle. Vidocq’s Les Voleurs contains enough longer articles describing thieves’ methods to justify considering the book in part a repertoire of thieves’ techniques. In fact, when a French historian edited the book for republication a century after its original appearance, he grouped those articles together into one section.[39] Vidocq explains fifty-odd techniques, some with several variations, of burglars, robbers, sharpers, swindlers, etc., not as in most repertoires, so that the reader may use them, but so that the reader may prevent their use. In this respect it is an “anti-repertoire.” Les Voleurs also contains longer articles that relate the stories of celebrated, unusual, or interesting crimes or portray particular criminals. These stories and portrayals in many cases involve disguises, impersonations, or misrepresentations of oneself. Underlying the dictionary organization of Les Voleurs is a repertoire of deceptions: words with hidden meanings, activities that mask thefts, and people who appear other than they really are.

Robert-Houdin’s Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées is also an anti-repertoire. As Vidocq’s dictionary informs us, “Grec” (Greek) signified in argot “cardsharper,” so the title of Robert-Houdin’s book translates as “Tricks of Cardsharpers Exposed.” The first half of the book, like one group of longer articles in Vidocq’s Les Voleurs, consists of narrative episodes showing wrongdoers at work. The second half, entitled “Partie Technique” (Technical Part), is a systematic presentation of some thirty different methods of cheating at cards, concluding with chapters on related subjects such as card tricks in prestidigitation, the psychology of card players, and ethical gray areas in card play. Robert-Houdin published three repertoires of techniques, the how-to-avoid-it compilation Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées on cheating at cards and two how-to-do-it compilations, Comment on devient sorcier on sleight of hand and Magie et physique amusante on illusions requiring complex apparatus. Robert-Houdin’s milieu was “play,” ranging from cards among friends to gambling at spa casinos, from parlor tricks to professional prestidigitation, from stage magic to legitimate theater—that is, from play as recreation to play as performance. Robert-Houdin found lying under the milieu of play what Vidocq found lying under the milieu of crime: deception.

Play as performance was the milieu of Paganini and Liszt. Paganini’s 24 capricci, published eight years before he ever left Italy, baffled many contemporary violinists until they were able to see him perform and to read others’ explanations of his methods.[40] Even today, few pianists venture to perform the middle versions of either the Études d’exécution transcendante or the Grandes études de Paganini of Liszt. Other violinists and pianists may have felt that in published form these works presented unplayable techniques, but the deception lay in their inability to figure out how to do the very difficult, not in any claim of Paganini and Liszt to be able to do the impossible. The incomprehension came from the fact that in written form the pieces are more like repertoires of ideas than repertoires of techniques. They record what Paganini and Liszt were able to do but do not explain how. Only their near-perfect execution of the pieces in concert told others how such pieces could be performed. Paganini and Liszt significantly enlarged instrumental technique by composing music that demanded increased speed, reach, strength, agility, and flexibility in players’ hands and then executing it. For difficulty and comprehensiveness the 24 capricci of Paganini and two sets of transcendental études of Liszt set enduring standards. At the end of the twentieth century musicologist Boris Schwarz could still conclude that Paganini’s caprices “incorporated virtually the entire arsenal of violin technique,” and musicologist Alan Walker could still conclude that “the modern pianist may disparage Liszt’s studies, but he should be able to play them. Otherwise he admits to having a less than total command of the keyboard.” [41]

The virtuosos not only acquired an armory of techniques but also recorded what they had acquired. Their repertoires of techniques can be seen most simply as a manifestation of the encyclopedism of the Age of Revolution that was epitomized by multiple-volume compilations of technical knowledge. Their repertoires can also be seen as a form of spectacle-making, especially in the case of Paganini and Liszt’s repertoires, which originated as performance pieces. But all the virtuosos had some audience in mind when they wrote their repertoires. The public had to be pleased. From yet another perspective, the virtuosos’ repertoires can be seen as a form of self-promotion, like their advertisements and autobiographies, two other media they exploited, since all these publications ultimately pointed back to them. Through their repertoires of techniques the virtuosos could compensate for having to bow to the public by demonstrating to that public a quasi-Napoleonic mastery of their world.

As technicians, the virtuosos produced marvelous mechanical objects, pub-lished marvelous technical knowledge, and performed marvelous bodily exertions. The leaps of acrobatism in the second half of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries testified to the increasing value the French placed on technical skill as expressed in bodily exercise. The vaulting popularity of acrobatics brought into the spotlight skills cultivated by the virtuosos, skills such as agility, flexibility, mobility, balance, stamina, and fluency of movement, which enabled them to execute feats unprecedented in their respective arts. The virtuosos thus pointed the way to a new transcendence, not to a heavenly eternity but to an earthly future of ever-expanding possibility in which there seemed to be no limit to what the human body, including the brain, could be trained to do.

The leaps of acrobatics into a variety of more highly regarded art forms and into cultural prominence in its own right had a lot to do with the success of the Paris fairs in the eighteenth century. The success of the fairs as spaces for public spectacles led to the development of larger and more permanent spaces for public spectacles, the Grands Boulevards and the Palais-Royal. The success of the fair theaters led to the founding of boulevard theaters and the defeat of the privileged theaters during the Revolution. There ensued an explosive growth of popular theater and its arts du spectacle—acrobatics, equestrianism, puppetry, pantomime, etc.—as arts in their own right, as vehicles for the presentation of dramas, and as elements to be incorporated into elite theater. Elite culture’s adoption of the arts du spectacle, like elite culture’s adoption of the mechanical arts, seems to support Peter Burke’s hypothesis of a rediscovery of popular culture by the elite in the second half of the eighteenth century, for it followed the increasing attendance of popular theater at the fairs and on the boulevards by the elite.[42] Acrobatics in particular gained phenomenal favor among the elite and among the masses and invaded not only theater but also dance, tennis, music, mechanics, detection, chess.…

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, acrobats had low status among performers, a group that as a whole had low status in society at large. But acrobatics had been a mainstay of the fair theaters since well before that time. And a mainstay of fair theater acrobatics was funambulism or rope-dancing, gymnastics performed on a rope, whether a tightrope or a slack rope, whether a rope with both ends secured above the ground or a rope with one end secured at ground level. Funambulists would imitate the stagger of a drunkard, dance with chains attached to their feet, or simply balance while playing a violin between their legs. Performances of aerial and terrestrial acrobatics became increasingly frequent when, beginning in the 1760s, the impresarios of the fair theaters began to establish permanent theaters on the Boulevard du Temple. The first such impresario to set up on the Boulevard, Jean-Baptiste Nicolet, like his followers, eventually expanded into spoken and musical drama, but his players were originally an acrobatics troupe. One of Nicolet’s star rope-dancers was Jean-Baptiste Lalanne, the father of Mme Saqui. Nicolet’s players attracted the attention of King Louis XV, who invited them repeatedly to perform at court. Louis XV’s grandson the comte d’Artois, who later became king himself as Charles X, solicited from Nicolet’s funambulists a series of equilibristic lessons, which however did not keep him from falling off his throne in the Revolution of 1830. Nor did the revolutionaries disdain demonstrations of bodily skill, for a fête staged by the Directory in 1799 included a gymnastics competition. Napoleon, we know, became the admiring patron of Mme Saqui, one of whose specialties was tightrope-walking over the Seine in the middle of Paris. During the Empire, Mme Saqui acquired a celebrity surpassing that of any other rope-dancer and equaling that of any contemporary actor or singer. Milliners sold hats and collars à la Saqui, and confectioners sold boxes of candy bearing her portrait. At the beginning of the Restoration she bought a theater on the Boulevard du Temple and renamed it the Spectacle-Acrobate.[43]

The boulevard theaters of Nicolet and his imitators, we have learned, gradually encroached on the exclusive right of the privileged theaters to perform spoken or musical dramas. Nicolet’s theater had as its motto “de plus fort en plus fort,” which translates as “stronger and stronger” or “louder and louder”—the crescendo of the virtuoso. Many of the boulevard pieces, acrobatic, balletic, operatic, pantomimic, and zoologic alike, used music from the comic operas of Philidor, music distinguished by its technical perfection. The monarchy helped to erode its own system of theatrical privilege when King Louis XV invited Nicolet’s players to the royal court and then allowed them to change their name from the Grands Dan-seurs de Corde (Grand Rope-Dancers) to the Grands Danseurs du Roi (Grand Dancers of the King). Soon acrobatics was everywhere in theater. Alexandre Placide, another of Nicolet’s star funambulists, moved to the United States, where he became a successful producer of French boulevard pieces and never quit performing on the rope. Among prominent Paris theaters of the early nineteenth century, the Funambules featured acrobatic pantomime; the Porte-Saint-Martin, known for five years as the Jeux-Gymniques, acrobatic ballet; the Cirque-Olympique, acrobatics on horseback; the Gymnase, acrobatic vaudeville.[44]

The invasion of dance by acrobatics was readily apparent to contemporaries. In 1804 the German playwright August von Kotzebue was in Paris, where he wrote of the dancer Louis Duport: “He possesses among other things the absolutely extraordinary strength and agility to pirouette forty or fifty times on one leg. However, since he knows that every time he does it he will be applauded as loudly as if the entire world had assembled for the purpose of clapping, he takes any opportunity to use this tour de force. The Parisians clearly do not find it tiresome.” [45] According to one theater historian, “The French male dancers, especially before the time of the ballerina sur la pointe, were the leading dancers throughout Europe owing to the dazzling virtuosity achieved by new techniques.” Dancing sur la pointe—on tiptoe—evolved in France and Italy around 1820, probably out of fair theater acrobatics. The first great ballerina of this modern technique was Maria Taglioni, who danced at the Paris Opéra from 1827 to 1837 and whose advent, writes another theater historian, meant not only “a victory for the ballerina over the male dancer,” but also “a victory for virtuosity.” [46]

Clearly, acrobatics, if not all of athletics, was on a roll. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the leading mime in France, Jean-Baptiste Deburau; the leading comic dancer in France, Charles Mazurier; the leading serious dancer in France, Jules Perrot; the leading actor in France, Frédérick Lemaître; and the leading actor in England, Edmund Kean, all started their careers in theater doing acrobatics.[47]

In a variety of guises, acrobatics spread from the fairgrounds to every sort of public space, became popular with every class of society, invaded every sort of activity. Take tennis, for example, not lawn tennis, which scarcely existed, but “rackets,” a form of tennis that was and still is played on indoor courts such as the one at Versailles where the revolutionaries took their famous oath to continue meeting until they produced a constitution. During the Age of Revolution, the best rackets players in Europe were French. Although no formal championships had yet been established, Raymond Masson is generally considered to have been the best player from around 1765 to around 1785. He played so much better than most of his contemporaries that to make his games competitive he would often play two opponents at once, or play while mounted on an ass, or serve from inside a barrel, jumping in and out of the barrel between every stroke. Louis Labbé, a leading player of the 1830s and 1840s, played a match carrying the scorekeeper on his back. Edmond Barre, European champion from 1829 to 1862, used to make shots holding his racket in his weak hand, or hitting the ball between his legs, or striking the ball with the handle of his racket. Charles Delahaye, the second best player in France during the reign of Barre, played a match in the full dress uniform of a National Guardsman, with a pack on his back, a shako on his head, and a rifle and bayonet in his left hand.[48]

Acrobatism in music was fortissimo. Paganini epitomized it in his story of “the Viennese fiacre driver who charged a man a ‘Paganinerl’ for a short trip. When the man asked how much that was, the driver answered: ‘A Paganinerl is five gulden—the price of a ticket to a Paganini concert in Vienna.’ To this the man responded: ‘You ass! How dare you charge five gulden for such a short distance! Paganini plays on one string; can you drive on one wheel?’” [49] Many of the anecdotes told about Paganini had circusy circumstances. According to one, Paganini astonished the composer of a violin concerto by sight-reading it using a reed cane in place of his bow. According to another, at a party in Paris given by Rossini he played a melody on a monocle cord stretched across the punch bowl. According to a third, he sight-read the first-violin part of a Mozart string quartet with the music upside down on his stand.[50] Whatever the veracity of these three anecdotes, there is general agreement that Paganini had amazing sight-reading skill and dexterity. One musician wrote: “All violinists, some more often, some less, slip into discord, because a note can get away from anyone; but in the five concerts that I have heard Paganini give, I have not had the satisfaction of hearing him misplace a finger once, while he executed the greatest difficulties. His fingers were geometrical compasses.” [51]

Both Paganini and Liszt had plaster casts taken of their hands, which show long and, as contemporaries remarked, extremely flexible fingers. Liszt could play tenths with the same facility that most pianists played octaves, and he worked to make his fingers mutually interchangeable on the keyboard. Many of the distinguishing characteristics of Liszt’s playing—wide and rapid leaps, rapid note repetitions including trills and tremolos, chromatic scales in glissando, and interlocking hands—were digital acrobatics routines. There is no need to rehearse the previously cited contemporary accounts of his contriving technical challenges for himself or of his performing difficult passages at breakwrist speed. Liszt himself confessed in one of his “Lettres d’un bachelier ès musique” that as a young man on display in salons “I even went so far as insolently to add a quantity of embellishments and cadenzas” to the works of Beethoven and other composers. In this article, he denounced his earlier antics and renounced his career as “a musician in service to aristocrats, patronized and paid by them like a conjuror, or the canine-savant Munito.” [52]

The other side of the coin showed that conjurors, along with acrobats, had attained the social status of concert musicians. After all, prestidigitation was also digital acrobatics. With other forms of acrobatics, prestidigitation had been a mainstay of the fairs since before the turn of the eighteenth century. Many prestidigitators were empirics, too, and vice versa. Sleight-of-hand artists sold potions, elixirs, and panaceas to supplement their earnings, and purveyors of secret remedies made objects disappear, did the cups-and-ball routine, and performed card tricks to attract crowds of potential customers. Comus began his career doing prestidigitation and continued to do it after acquiring scientific and popular renown for his expériences and even after acquiring the titles “tutor of physics to the children of the king” and “physician of the king.” He gave lessons in prestidigitation to the duc de Chartres, rebuilder of the Palais-Royal and father of King Louis-Philippe.[53] In the first half of the nineteenth century the best conjurors continued to be patronized by royalty, Comte by Louis XVIII and Robert-Houdin by Louis-Philippe, for example. And like the most successful acrobats, the most successful conjurors had their own theaters.

Both Maelzel and Robert-Houdin built mechanical acrobats. Maelzel’s slack-rope dancer perplexed another mechanician:

The most surprising thing about this little masterpiece of mechanics is the impossibility of figuring out how all of its various movements can be produced, because the automaton suspends itself now by one hand, now by the other, now by its knees, now by its toes, then it straddles the rope and twirls its body around it, thus abandoning one by one all of its points of contact with the rope, through which must necessarily pass whatever communicates movement to it.

Robert-Houdin made a mechanical trapeze artist: “He executed tours de force on the trapeze, such as raising himself up by his arms into a handstand while making semaphore signals with his legs. In order to demonstrate that his mechanism was self-contained, my little Diavolo let go of the rope with his hands, hung upside down by his feet, and then left the trapeze entirely.” Could we be at all surprised to learn that despite the claims in these descriptions the two humanoids were probably controlled from the outside and thus not true automata? Such pseudo-automaton acrobats had already been exposed in the second volume of La Magie blanche dévoilée, published in 1785.[54] Maelzel and Robert-Houdin themselves were the true “acrobats”—in the original Greek sense of “walkers on tiptoe”—for they had to make careful and deft movements to preserve their deceptions.

There was also something acrobatic in the pseudo-automaton Chess Player: a Café de la Régence chess master, hunched over to fit within a small cabinet, reduced to near immobility for the space of several hours, and bent back unnaturally at the neck to see the board overhead—in short, a contortionist.

When Vidocq gave his exhibition of crime and crime detection paraphernalia in London, the Times wrote:

The principal curiosity in the collection will be found to be M. Vidocq himself, whose appearance is very much what might be anticipated by those who have read his memoirs or heard of his exploits. He is a remarkably well-built man, of extraordinary muscular power, and exceedingly active. He stands, when perfectly erect, 5 feet 10 inches in height, but by some strange process connected with his physical formation, he has the faculty of contracting his height several inches, and in this diminished state to walk about, jump, etc.[55]

Vidocq developed athletic skills both as an outlaw, hiding in confined spaces, running on rooftops, and leaping from third-story windows, and as a detective, pouncing on suspects, holding them down, and handcuffing them. He learned how to fight with his fists in his youth, how to fence in the army, and how to kick-box using savate in prison. Most of the virtuosos had something athletic about them. A chess enthusiast reported that Labourdonnais could play “above forty games of chess at a sitting,” both because he played long hours without interruption and because he played rapidly. Carême boasted of his having “worked 53 extras without taking a day off” in 1805, of having constructed 150 pièces montées during the Consulate “and more than double that number” during the Empire. Paganini gave around 400 concerts during his European tour of 1828–34, including 140 concerts during one ten-month stretch in the British Isles. Liszt gave more than 1,000 concerts in 175 different cities, crisscrossing the Continent from Portugal, Spain, and Ireland in the west to Russia, Rumania, and Turkey in the east, between 1839 and 1847.[56]

The virtuosos dispensed with external visual assistance in curious, and curiously similar, demonstrations of cerebral acrobatics. They played chess without a chessboard, identified crime suspects without the suspects’ presence, gave concerts without written music, and described objects without any sensory exposure to the objects. The blindfold performance shone a black light on cerebral agility.

Balzac reversed a cliché when he wrote: “There may exist between geniuses and other people the same distance that separates the blind from the seeing.” He likened geniuses not to seeing individuals in a blind population, but to blind individuals in a seeing population, attributing to geniuses “an inner vision superior to that of the seeing.” [57] The virtuosos based their inner vision on a highly developed memory and a highly structured system of technical knowledge.

Napoleon sometimes dictated three, four, five, six, even seven letters at once on as many subjects to as many secretaries, never getting confused and always having in focus the significant points of the current subject.[58] According to one of his secretaries,

Napoleon used to explain the clearness of his mind, and his faculty of being able at will to prolong his work to extreme limits, by saying that the various subjects were arranged in his head, as though in a cupboard. “When I want to interrupt one piece of work,” he used to say, “I close the drawer in which it is kept, and I open another. The two pieces of business never get mixed up together, or trouble or tire me. When I want to go to sleep, I close all the drawers.” [59]

In order to have all the necessary information in his mind, Napoleon studied a continuously updated collection of livrets, or records booklets. The livrets laid out in tabular form the disposition and status of all the personnel and materiel belonging to a ministry, its requisitions and expenditures, and other similar sorts of data. Napoleon required each of his ministers to submit one or more livrets to him on a biweekly or monthly basis, and he used to call the livrets, particularly those from the war ministry, his favorite reading. According to another of Napoleon’s secretaries: “Each compartment of his memory had its supplement in a livret, and he made excellent use of this resource. His office thus became a veritable keyboard where all the strings of government seemed to end, and alone, with one secretary, he played whichever of them it pleased him to.” [60]

Labourdonnais, whose skill at blindfold play was explained by a contemporary, had “the power of actually setting up in his mind a chess-board and pieces, which remained throughout the game palpably visible to his organs of calculation.” Zukertort, a great simultaneous blindfold chess player of the later nineteenth century, “used to say that if he was playing 14 opponents, he would visualize 14 boards, each numbered, placed side by side in a row in separate closets, each closed by a door. Having made his move on board 1, the door closed and that of board 2 opened. In this way he passed from board to board, dismissing from his mind all the boards, except the one before him.” [61] To play not just blindfolded, but several games simultaneously, a chess master must be able to recognize and respond to most situations without having to think about them, in order to save time and effort for the particularly difficult ones. The anatomization of chess into recognizable patterns began with the beginning of openings analysis, centuries before the Café de la Régence dynasty. But Philidor, with his pioneering endgames analysis, advanced the project considerably.

Vidocq named Fossard as the artisan of the medal-gallery theft solely on the basis of a cut made by the thief in a panel of the gallery.

Through experience, I ended up by acquiring in my occupation a sort of intuition that was almost like a prodigy. How often I struck with astonishment someone who came to me to report a robbery: he had scarcely mentioned two or three circumstances than I was already ahead of him; I either completed the story for him or without waiting for more detailed information I rendered this oracle: the guilty parties are such-and-such.

M. Prunaud, a fashion merchant on the rue Saint-Denis, had been robbed during the night. The robbers had broken into his store, from which they had removed fifty bolts of Indian-print fabric and several valuable shawls. The next morning, M. Prunaud ran to my office, and he had not finished telling the story of his misadventure before I named those responsible for the theft. “It could only have been committed by Berthe, Mongodart, and their cronies.”…I knew who their current fence was; I ordered a search of his residence and the merchandise was recovered.[62]

Vidocq’s ability to make such identifications was based on the files he kept on thousands of convicted criminals and on the efforts he made to memorize the faces of as many of them as possible. As an oracle of detection Vidocq had a predecessor in John Fielding, cofounder with his half-brother Henry of the Bow Street Runners, who lost his sight as a young man but was said to be able to recognize three thousand criminals by their voices alone.

The young Mozart gave a sort of blindfold performance, playing the harpsichord with a cloth spread out over both the keyboard and his hands. Paganini and Liszt were among the first to play whole concerts without written music. A system something like Napoleon’s must have been used by them, consciously or unconsciously, especially by Liszt, with his huge repertoire of performance pieces. Liszt gave other kinds of blindfold performances, too. He extemporized variations on themes given to him by members of his audiences. And he played long passages from pieces that he had never seen in written form and had heard only once, improvising improvements.[63]

Robert-Houdin called his, or more accurately his son’s, blindfold performance Seconde Vue (second sight). Théophile Gautier described it in a review of the Soirées Fantastiques:

Here is the expérience of M. Robert-Houdin: He takes his small son, a boy of around twelve years of age, makes him sit in a chair, bandages his eyes hermetically, moves away from him out into the audience, and asks the spectators for different objects: rings, watches, coins, or whatever they want to give him. The boy, with whom he has no communication, names the objects that are passed in the most secret ways to his father. He tells the value and the date of coins, the hour, minute, and second on the faces of watches, the maker’s name as it is engraved in their cases, the shape of rings and their monograms—incredible details! You are going to say “accomplices,” but one does not fill an entire hall with accomplices, and we are sure, for our part, of not being an accomplice of M. Robert-Houdin and yet the object given to him by us was named instantaneously.[64]

This trick above all others in Robert-Houdin’s repertoire impressed Gautier and, to judge from the number of magicians who imitated it, other spectators as well. Gautier, in writing that Robert-Houdin had “no communication” with his son during the trick, made precisely the inference the magician wanted him to make, an invalid one. Gautier meant that Robert-Houdin had no material communication with his son, for the magician was in speaking communication with his son the whole time. Nearly all observers failed to grasp that the magician’s apparently banal prompting of his son to guess the object was in a fact a sophisticated prompting of the correct answer by means of a prearranged code.[65] Once again the performance depended on a highly developed memory and a highly structured system of knowledge.

In 1859, Jean-François Gravelet, alias Blondin, crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope 160 feet above the rushing water and the twenty-five thousand spectators crowding its banks. He made several crossings that year, one of them blindfolded. Two years later he performed in London in the Crystal Palace, walking a tightrope while cooking an omelette on a portable stove, then while wearing shackles and chains, then while playing the violin, etc.[66] Blondin at the site of industry’s Great Exhibition represented the meeting of two kinds of technical skill: technical skill embodied in the supreme acrobat of the century of mechanics and technical skill materialized in the latest machines of a society of clever hands.

Three aspects of the exaltation of technical skill have been considered here. In the second half of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century, the belief was growing in the Western world that everything, even the most complicated thing, is a kind of machine and thus ultimately susceptible to analysis and reproduction by human beings, or at least by highly skilled individuals. Growing too was a related belief that a detailed understanding of the workings of the world gave one power in the world. Finally, there was a growing belief that what the human body and mind could do was limitless, at least for highly skilled individuals.

The view of the world as human-controlled was replacing the view of the world as God-controlled. This replacement extended over a period of time much longer than a century and resulted from the activities of many agents. But a milestone was reached in the middle of the nineteenth century when church attendance in the technologically advanced countries of Western Europe dropped below half the population.[67] And historians have not sufficiently emphasized the role played by technicians. Great technicians had a strong sense of their own might and felt little need to appeal to God. Others redirected their admiration from God to great technicians. In a world conceived of in material terms, God seemed to be less important and further away from everyday life. At the same time, individuals with great ability to manipulate the material world seemed to be more important and more imminent. God was gradually replaced in the veneration of the public by individuals with great technical skill, in biology, chemistry, and physics, in government, finance, and war, in all sorts of performance arts, and, naturally, in machinery.


All translations of quotations from other languages into English are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

1. La Mettrie, Man a Machine, pp. 71 (French), 141 (English).

2. Ibid., pp. 70 (French), 140–41 (English).

3. Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, “Discours préliminaire,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 1, p. xiii; idem, Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot, trans. Richard N. Schwab (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963), pp. 42–43.

4. “O” [d’Alembert], “Androïde,” and “Automate,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 1, pp. 448–51 and 896–97, respectively.

5. Howard C. Rice, Jr., Thomas Jefferson’s Paris (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 79.

6. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia in Writings, ed. Merrill D. Peterson (New York: Library of America, 1984), pp. 190–91.

7. [Diderot], “Art,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 1, pp. 713–17. Cobban, History of Modern France, vol. 1, p. 113, writes of Louis XVI: “He was a better locksmith—for in true Rousseauist fashion he had learnt a manual craft—than king.”

8. Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), chaps. 1, 2; concluding summary of his argument on pp. 270–81.

9. d’Alembert, “Discours préliminaire,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 1, p. xiii; idem, Preliminary Discourse, p. 42.

10. Tulard, Fayard, and Fierro, Histoire et dictionnaire de la Révolution, p. 601; Charles Coulton Gillispie, Science and Polity in France at the End of the Old Regime (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 459–60; “Patent,” in The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., 32 vols. (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974), vol. 9, pp. 194–95.

11. “Espozione,” in Enciclopedia italiana di scienze, lettere ed arti, 36 vols. (Rome: Istituto Giovanni Treccani, 1929–39), vol. 14, pp. 363–64; Colmont, Histoire des expositions des produits, pp. 317–18. Industrial expositions were held in Paris in 1798, 1801, 1802, 1806, 1819, 1823, 1827, 1834, 1839, 1844, and 1849. There were 110 exhibitors in 1798 and more than 4,000 exhibitors in 1849.

12. Zeldin, France 1848–1945, vol. 2, p. 613.

13. Vidocq, À M. le Président, p. 7.

14. Gazette des tribunaux 6, no. 1739 (11 March 1831): 440.

15. Colmont, Histoire des expositions des produits, pp. 327, 556.

16. Ibid., pp. 53, 157–64.

17. Heine, Lutèce, p. 221, refers to Liszt as the “knight-errant of every or-der.” Liszt titled one of his virtuoso showpieces the “Grand galop chromatique.” Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 294–95, lists the cities where Liszt gave concerts between 1838 and 1847.

18. Robert Darnton, “Philosophers Trim the Tree of Knowledge: The Epistemological Strategy of the Encyclopédie, ” in The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York: Vintage, 1984), p. 198.

19. d’Alembert, “Discours préliminaire,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 1, p. xiii; idem, Preliminary Discourse, p. 42.

20. On the Académie des Sciences encyclopedia: Frederick B. Artz, The Development of Technical Education in France, 1500–1850 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1966), p. 72. See also Robert L. Collison, Encyclopedias: Their History throughout the Ages (London: Hafner, 1966), pp. 108–9 (Oekonomisch-technologische Encyklopädie), 110–12 (Encyclopédie méthodique), chap. 4 (Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert), chap. 5 (Encyclopædia Britannica), chap. 6 (Conversations-Lexikon), p. 174 (Carlyle’s quotation); “Encyclopedias and Dictionaries,” in The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 30 vols. (Chicago, 1986), vol. 18, pp. 365–94; “Encyclopédie,” in Grand dictionnaire encyclopédique Larousse, 10 vols. (Paris, 1983), vol. 4, pp. 3734–35.

21. Paul Hazard, European Thought in the Eighteenth Century, from Montesquieu to Lessing, trans. J. Lewis May (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1973), pt. 2, chap. 6; Mornet, Rousseau, pp. 144–49; Artz, Development of Technical Education, pp. 65–71; Harvey Chisick, The Limits of Reform in the Enlightenment: Attitudes toward the Education of the Lower Classes in Eighteenth-Century France (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981), esp. pp. 167–75; F[rançois] de La Fontainerie, ed., trans., and intro., French Liberalism and Education in the Eighteenth Century: The Writings of La Chalotais, Turgot, Diderot, and Condorcet on National Education (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1932).

22. Bourrienne, Mémoires de M. de Bourrienne, vol. 1, pp. 25–26; Tulard, Napoléon, ou Le mythe du sauveur, p. 41.

23. Artz, Development of Technical Education, pp. 87–98.

24. Zeldin, France 1848–1945, vol. 2, p. 333.

25. Artz, Development of Technical Education, p. 147.

26. Gillispie, Edge of Objectivity, pp. 175–78; idem, Science and Polity in France, p. 74.

27. Robert B. Holtman, The Napoleonic Revolution (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1967), p. 116, chap. 7, “The Educator”; Artz, Development of Technical Education, pp. 133–35, 145–46; Ackerknecht, Medicine at the Paris Hospital, pp. 31–37.

28. Henry May, The Enlightenment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 212, observes, “Great ages of science seem to be associated not with frugal and Spartan republics but with centralized and even warlike national or imperial states.”

29. Gillispie, Science and Polity in France, pp. 21 (quotation), 50–65 (Gunpowder Administration).

30. Alfred Cobban, “The Myth of the French Revolution,” an inaugural lecture delivered at University College, London, 6 May 1954 (London: H. K. Lewis for University College, 1955), app., pp. 22–25.

31. Tulard, Fayard, and Fierro, Histoire et dictionnaire de la Révolution, pp. 506, 888, 1106–7.

32. Maurice Daumas, ed., Histoire générale des techniques, 5 vols. (Paris: P.U.F., 1962–79), vol. 3, pp. 417 (Conté), 659 (million-franc prize). On Conté: Henry Petroski, The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance (New York: Knopf, 1992), chap. 6. The source of the quotation of Fain, secretary to Napoleon: Baron [Agathon-Jean-François] Fain, Mémoires du baron Fain (Paris: Plon, 1908), p. 153. The source of Gillispie’s quotation: Gillispie, Science and Polity in France, p. 22. See also Fernand Beaucour, “Techniques,” in Dictionnaire Napoléon, pp. 1627–31.

33. Philidor, L’Analyze des échecs, 1749 ed., unpaginated pref.

34. Editions discussed here: ibid.; Analyse du jeu des échecs (London: n.p., 1777); Analysis of the Game of Chess (London: P. Elmsly, 1790). Unfortunately, the last edition published by Philidor did not bring together all of his general principles of play, many of which had been collected in a few pages of a holograph manuscript of the 1780s but which in the publication of 1790 were dispersed among the analyses of particular games. The holograph manuscript: “Manuscript believed to be in the handwriting of Philidor” [1780s], John G. White Collection, Fine Arts and Special Collections Dept., Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, Ohio.

35. Société des amateurs [Verdoni, Léger, Carlier, and Bernard], Traité théorique et pratique du jeu des échecs (Paris: Stoupe, 1775).

36. Eales, Chess, pp. 114–15.

37. Cussy, “L’Art culinaire,” in Classiques de la table, 1855 ed., vol. 1, p. 361.

38. Michel, Études de philologie comparée sur l’argot, pp. i–xxii, esp. xvi–xvii; Émile Chautard, La Vie étrange de l’argot (Paris: Denoël et Steele, 1931), p. 7; Sainéan, Sources de l’argot ancien, vol. 2, pp. 4–12, 97–108.

39. Vidocq, Voleurs, 1957 ed., pt. 3.

40. “Paganini’s Concert,” Times (London), Monday, 6 June 1831, p. 7; Fétis, Biographical Notice of Nicolo Paganini, p. 79; Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, pp. 211, 318; Schwarz, Great Masters of the Violin, pp. 157, 168.

41. Schwarz, Great Masters of the Violin, p. 196; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, p. 307.

42. Root-Bernstein, Boulevard Theater and Revolution, pp. 34–37, 49–50, 64–65, 235–36, finds that the evolution of fair and boulevard theater generally supports Burke’s hypothesis. Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, pp. 37–38, 250, does not find distinct elite and popular theatrical cultures in eighteenth-century Paris, contrary to Burke’s hypothesis, but he does find that fair and boulevard theater attracted the elite more and more over the course of the century.

43. Albert, Théâtres de la foire, p. 5, argues that acrobatics was so important to the fair theaters that “les premiers et les plus célèbres de leurs acteurs seront toujours en même temps de très agile sauteurs ou danseurs de corde, et dans leurs pièces les plus littéraires il y aura presque toujours place pour des exercices de force et d’adresse. Comme le drame antique est sorti des danses de vignerons grecs, la comédie foraine est née des danses d’acrobates français.” For examples of funambulist routines: Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, pp. 38–41. For information on Nicolet’s players in this paragraph and the next: Albert, Théâtres de la foire, pp. 221–32; idem, Théâtres des boulevards, chap. 1; Henri Beaulieu, Les Théâtres du boulevard du crime (1752–1862) (Geneva: Slatkine, 1977; reprint of Paris ed., 1904), pp. 11–16; Brazier, Chroniques des petits théâtres de Paris, vol. 1, pp. 12–25; Root-Bernstein, Boulevard Theater and Revolution, passim; Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, pp. 167–80. On Lalanne, the father of Mme Saqui: Ginisty, Mémoires d’une danseuse de corde, p. 30. On the inclusion of gymnastics in the fête of 1799: Ozouf, La Fête révolutionnaire, pp. 44–45. For information on Mme Saqui: Ginisty, Mémoires d’une danseuse de corde, pp. 84–132; Beaulieu, Théâtres du boulevard du crime, p. 47.

44. For information on Nicolet’s players, see the previous note. On the use of Philidor’s music in boulevard theater: Winter, Theatre of Marvels, p. 17; idem, “Le Spectacle forain,” in Histoire des spectacles, p. 1448. For information on Placide: idem, Theatre of Marvels, pp. 15–17; idem, “Le Spectacle forain,” in Histoire des spectacles, pp. 1447–49. In both of these works, Winter repeatedly insists on the importance of acrobatics in the evolution of the theaters of the fairs into the theaters of the Boulevard du Temple.

45. August von Kotzebue, Erinnerungen aus Paris im Jahre 1804 (Berlin: Frölich, 1804), pp. 497–98. On the excessive use of pirouettes by early-nineteenth-century French dancers, see also Ivor Guest, The Romantic Ballet in Paris (London: Dance Books, 1980), p. 17.

46. The source of the “French male dancers” quotation: Winter, Theatre of Marvels, p. 85. Lincoln Kirstein, Dance: A Short History of Classic Theatrical Dancing (New York: Dance Horizons, 1969), p. 229, writes of the same period: “The French had not been slow to abuse their reputation for virtuosity.” For the evolution of dancing sur la pointe out of fair theater acrobatics: Guest, Romantic Ballet in Paris, pp. 17–18; Winter, Theatre of Marvels, p. 123. The source of the “victory for the ballerina” quotation: Bronislaw Horowicz, “Le Romantisme: La mise en scène d’opéra et le ballet,” in Histoire des spectacles, p. 955. Kirstein, Dance, p. 246, writes: “Taglioni inaugurated the brilliant, dangerous tradition of modern virtuosity.”

47. Winter, Theatre of Marvels, p. 66.

48. On the recognition of Masson as European champion: Evan Baillie Noel and J. O. M. Clark, A History of Tennis, 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1924), vol. 1, p. 91; Albert de Luze, La Magnifique histoire du jeu de paume (Bordeaux/Paris: Delmas/Bossard, 1933), p. 340; Morys George Lyndhurst Bruce, Baron Aberdare, The Willis Faber Book of Tennis and Rackets (London: Stanley Paul, 1980), p. 335. The Parisian glazier Ménétra mentions Masson in his autobiography; see Ménétra, Journal of My Life, pp. 192–94. On the acrobatics of Masson: [comte de Mannevieux or Manevieux], Traité sur la connoissance du royal jeu de paumepar M. de Man***eux, amateur (Neuchâtel: n.p., 1783), pp. 140–42. On the acrobatics of Labbé, Barre, and Delahaye: Julian Marshall, The Annals of Tennis (Baltimore: Racquet Sports and Information Services, 1973; reprint of 1st ed., London, 1878), p. 49, incl. note 1; E. Nanteuil [de Lanorville], G. de Saint-Clair, and [Charles] Delahaye, La Paume et le lawn-tennis (Paris: Hachette, 1898), p. 102. The original source of this information appears to be Eugène Chapus (the author is often erroneously listed as Édouard Fournier, who wrote the preface), Le Jeu de paume, son histoire et sa description (Paris: Didier, 1862); see Aberdare, Willis Faber Book of Tennis and Rackets, p. 81.

49. Harrys, Paganini in seinem Reisewagen und Zimmer, pp. 33–34.

50. The sources of the first anecdote: Imbert de Laphalèque, Notice sur le célèbre violiniste, pp. 58–61; Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, p. 311. The sources of the second and third anecdotes: Codignola, Paganini intimo, pp. 362 n, 363 n, and 227 n, respectively.

51. Letter of Niccola Zamboni to Giancarlo Conestabile, 22 October 1844, in Giancarlo Conestabile, Vita di Niccolò Paganini (Perugia: Bartelli, 1851), p. 301.

52. The plaster casts of the hands of Paganini and Liszt are pictured in Day, Paganini of Genoa, between pp. 302 and 303, and Searle, “Liszt,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 11, p. 34, respectively. On the distinguishing characteristics of Liszt’s playing: ibid., pp. 33–35; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 297–305. The source of Liszt’s quotations: Liszt [and d’Agoult], “Lettres d’un bachelier ès musique,” in Pages romantiques, pp. 102–4.

53. On prestidigitators and empirics: Fournel, Vieux Paris: Fêtes, jeux, spectacles, p. 245. On Comus, see the works cited in chapter 6, note 30.

54. The source of the quotation describing Maelzel’s acrobat: Hamel, Nouveau manuel complet du facteur d’orgues, vol. 3, pp. 458–59. The source of the quotation describing Robert-Houdin’s acrobat: Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, unpaginated app., “Programme général.” See also Decremps, Magie blanche dévoilée, vol. 2, Supplément à la magie blanche dévoilée, chap. 4, sec. 8; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, pp. 166–75.

55. “M. Vidocq’s Exhibition,” Times (London), 9 June 1845, p. 6.

56. For the quotation about Labourdonnais, see chapter 1 in this volume, p. 44. For quotations of and information about Carême, see chapter 2 in this volume, p. 67. For information about Paganini: Courcy, Chronology of Paga-nini’s Life, pp. 34–64; Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, p. 270. Paganini himself counted 151 concerts that he gave from March 1831 to March 1832; Codignola, Paganini intimo, p. 360. For information about Liszt: Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 285, 294–95.

57. William R. Paulson, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind in France (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), chap. 5, “From Chateaubriand to Balzac: Literature and the Loss of Sight.” The source of the first quotation: Balzac, Louis Lambert, in Comédie humaine, vol. 10, p. 381. The source of the second quotation: Paulson, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind, pp. 146–47.

58. Louis Chardigny, L’Homme Napoléon (Paris: Perrin, 1987), p. 54.

59. Baron Claude-François de Méneval, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de Napoléon Ier, depuis 1802 jusqu’à 1815, 3 vols. (Paris: Dentu, 1893), vol. 1, p. 422; Baron C. F. de Méneval, Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, trans. uncredited, 3 vols. (New York: Collier, 1910), vol. 1, p. 352. Mnemonic systems based on the mental representation of a compartmentalized space go back at least to classical Rome: Frances Yates, The Art of Memory (London/Chicago: Routledge and Kegan Paul/University of Chicago Press, 1966), chap. 1, “The Three Latin Sources for the Classical Art of Memory.”

60. Fain, Mémoires du baron Fain, p. 76. On the livret system of Napoleon: ibid., pt. 1, chap. 8; Méneval, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire, vol. 1, pp. 417–18.

61. The source of the quotation about Labourdonnais: Walker, “Chess, without the Chess-Board,” Fraser’s Magazine 21, no. 123, p. 312. The source of the quotation about Zukertort: Anne Sunnucks, ed., The Encyclopedia of Chess (London: Robert Hale, 1970), p. 32.

62. Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 509–10.

63. Schonberg, Great Pianists, pp. 175–79.

64. Gautier, Histoire de l’art dramatique, vol. 4, pp. 163–64.

65. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 262–66, 277–80; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, chap. 7.

66. “An Exciting Scene: M. Blondin’s Feat at Niagara Falls,” New York Times, 4 July 1859, p. 3; G[eorge] Linnaeus Banks, ed., Blondin: His Life and Performances (London: Routledge, Warne and Routledge, 1862); “Ropewalker Blondin Dead,” New York Times, 23 February 1897, p. 7; “Obituary: M. Blondin,” Times (London), 23 February 1897, p. 7.

67. Zeldin, France 1848–1945, vol. 2, pp. 983–86.

8. Ballooning the Self

“Let me be the best then, at no matter what,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau had told himself in his youth, according to the Confessions of his maturity. He condemned his younger self for this attitude, calling it foolish. But he was still yearning to be the best at something when he wrote his Confessions, a work in which he claimed to have reached his goal: “Here is the sole portrait of a man, painted exactly according to nature and in all truth, that exists and that probably ever will exist.” Not that he was vain: “I believe that no individual of our species has ever had less natural vanity than me.” [1] Best again.

Rousseau had a lot of practice painting his own portrait. He did it in “Mon portrait” (10 pages, written sometime between 1755 and 1762), “Quatre lettres à M. le président de Malesherbes, contenant le vrai tableau de mon caractère” (20 pages, written in 1762), Confessions (650 pages, written between 1766 and 1770), Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques (350 pages, written between 1772 and 1776), and Rêveries du promeneur solitaire (100 pages, written between 1776 and 1778 and unfinished at his death in 1778). Rousseau’s first self-portrait set the tone for the rest. It began, “Readers, I like to think about myself and I say what I think,” and ended, “When I am dead the poet Rousseau [Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, no relation] will be a great poet. But he will not be the great Rousseau.” [2]

A trend toward increasingly unrestrained self-promotion developed almost imperceptibly in French, indeed Western, society over the course of the second half of the eighteenth century. This trend became unignorable in the first half of the nineteenth century, when the virtuosos could be found in its vanguard.

Rousseau distinguished two very different feelings of self-love in human beings. The French language already had two terms for self-love, amour de soi-même (love of oneself) and amour-propre (self-love), so Rousseau simply applied one term to one feeling and the other to the other:

Amour de soi-même is a natural feeling that motivates every animal to look out for his or her own preservation and that, guided in human beings by reason and tempered by pity, produces humaneness and virtue. Amour-propre is only a relative, artificial feeling, born in society, that motivates every individual to do more for himself or herself than for any other person, that inspires in human beings all the evils they do to one another, and that is the true source of honor.[3]

Rousseau made quite a lot of this dichotomy, treating it in three major works, the Discours sur inégalité (Discourse on Inequality), Émile, ou De l’éducation (Emile, or On Education), and the set of dialogues collectively titled Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques (Rousseau Judges Jean-Jacques).

Why did Rousseau devote so much attention to the analysis of self-love? Most people’s thinking is in part guided by their reading, and Rousseau’s reading included several seventeenth-century French authors who had established a tradition of such analyses. Pascal had written in his Pensées: “The nature of self-love (amour-propre) and of this human ‘me’ is to love only the self and to consider only the self.” La Rochefoucauld had written in his Maximes: “Self-love (amour-propre) is the love of oneself (amour de soi-même) and everything for the self; it makes people worship themselves and it would make them tyrannical toward others if they had the means to be.” In the seventeenth century, no distinction had yet been made between amour de soi-même on the one hand and amour-propre on the other. It was all self-love, and the whole drift of seventeenth-century French thought was to condemn it. In general, the French moralists of that era, following the Dutch theologian Cornelis Jansen, blamed people’s neglect of God for the development of self-love.[4] By contrast, Rousseau did not condemn all self-love, and for that portion of it that he did condemn, he blamed society.

Even if he had not blamed society, but especially because he did, one might infer that the society in which he lived, as well as literary tradition, influenced his choice of subjects. True, the Jansenists had condemned society before Rousseau. In the Discours sur inégalité, Rousseau’s apparent condemnation of all of human society since human beings first left “the state of nature” seemed to echo the Jansenists’ condemnation of all of human society since “the fall of man.” But for the Jansenists society was essentially static in its badness, while for Rousseau society had definitely gotten worse. In the Discours sur inégalité he argued that the amourpropre of individuals and the inequality of conditions in society had reinforced each other in a widening spiral to the point that both the amour-propre of certain individuals and the inequality of social conditions had become monstrous. In Émile, ou De l’éducation he argued that society taught people to compare themselves to others instead of teaching them to recognize and develop their own interests and capacities. In Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques he argued that other authors’ amour-propre, and maybe some of his own, lay at the bottom of society’s unjust treatment of him.[5] Clearly, when Rousseau condemned “society” he was often thinking of his own society, that of eighteenth-century Europe.[6] He took old concepts—self-love, aboriginal golden age, tyranny of the powerful—that had been forged to criticize society in general, and turned them to a new purpose, to criticize his society in particular.

Rousseau did forge at least one new concept, as we have already learned, the distinction between amour de soi-même and amour-propre.[7] His own society’s particularly serious affliction with self-love he proposed to treat not by discouraging but by encouraging self-love, albeit of a different, nonpathological kind. In the ideal society, Rousseau wrote in Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques, people “do not seek their happiness in appearances but in internal feelings,…knowing well that the happiest condition is not the one most honored by the crowd, but the one which most satisfies the heart.” [8] The moralists of the seventeenth century condemned all self-love. Rousseau distinguished two kinds of self-love, condemning one and approving the other. How many people in Western society today would condemn even the kind of self-love that Rousseau condemned, the kind of self-love that gives them a sense of honor and prompts them to excel? Rousseau was both an early observer of and an early activist in the legitimization of self-love as a human motivation.

Rousseau appears to have been near the origin of an important reconceptualization of society. From the middle of the eighteenth century onward, rapidly increasing numbers of Westerners placed their own individual self at the center of their social world. Formerly, some figure of authority, the local lord or priest, or the king or the pope, for example, had occupied that position in people’s minds.[9] In no socially recognized way could Rousseau claim to be an authority figure, yet he persisted in his voluminous writings in making his social world revolve around himself. He simply assumed that his primary function on earth was to do not what the socially recognized authorities told him to do, but what was in his own self-interest. They had greater power, but he had equal right. Other ordinary people began to adopt this view in their own minds, and on paper, after identifying themselves with ordinary Jean-Jacques while reading his works. Rousseau gave countless examples of what it meant in everyday life, while Jefferson inscribed “that all men are created equal; that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This revolutionary declaration presupposes both the legitimacy of self-love and a self-centered worldview.

Thus Rousseau was not the only writer of his era to promote a self-centered worldview, although no one else did so at such length, with such intensity, and on such a broad front, in politics, religion, ethics, education, love, psychology, literature. He had the backing of a large chorus, full of other distinguished soloists, whereas his predecessors, such as Montaigne and Cellini in the sixteenth century, were only isolated voices. In the realm of imaginative literature, many mid-eighteenth-century writers, consciously or unconsciously, contributed to the same end. The graveyard poetry of Edward Young and other British authors (1740s) and the Sturm und Drang works of Goethe and other German authors (1770s), for example, tended to encourage self-absorption: “Tempted by hermitages, grottoes in picturesque gardens, or mountain rocks, the reader of Rousseau’s Rêveries, Werther’s confidences, or Young’s Night Thoughts dreamed of intensely experiencing the existence of the ‘I.’” [10]

A historian of Western literature, John O. Lyons, argues that one of that tradition’s most significant products, the literary self, began to take definitive form in the 1760s. Lyons thinks that Rousseau, Goethe, and perhaps also Boswell contributed the most to “the invention of the self.” For earlier authors, “experience, personal experience, was largely beside the point and they saw with eyes that they assumed to be no different from any other.” For later authors, by contrast, “seeing became a confirmation of the self rather than a process by which the outer world of nature was understood.” [11] It was the end of Western society’s two-thousand-year-old subordination of self to nature. From now on in Western society the goal was to be the domination of self over nature, through literature, through technical skill, through philosophy.

In his Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik (Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics), Immanuel Kant cited David Hume as the thinker who “gave my investigations in the field of speculative philosophy a quite new direction,” [12] but one wonders whether Rousseau, whose influence on Kant’s thought in the fields of education, ethics, and politics Kant freely acknowledged, did not also guide him toward his celebrated “Copernican Revolution” in metaphysics of the 1780s. Kant wrote of Copernicus:

Failing of a satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest. A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the perception of objects. If perception must conform to the constitution of the objects, I do not see how we could know anything of the latter a priori; but if the object (as object of the senses) must conform to the constitution of our faculty of perception, I have no difficulty conceiving such a possibility.[13]

In other words, the universe as we know it—the universe of phenomena, in Kant’s terminology—is largely of our own making, a construction of our perceptual apparatus. More precisely, any individual’s universe is the construction of that individual’s perceptual apparatus, although Kant assumed that for human beings generally this apparatus is fundamentally the same. Kant called his revolution in metaphysics Copernican because he extended Copernicus’s recognition of the role of the spectator in astronomical perceptions to all perceptions. But Kant’s revolution could just as well be called anti-Copernican, since Copernicus had put the spectator in motion around a different fixed center, while Kant again made the spectator, or the spectator’s given perceptual apparatus, the fixed center and put the universe of phenomena in motion around that central self. Kant extended Rousseau’s self-centered worldview into the sphere of metaphysics.

German Idealism, the most important school of European metaphysical thought of the first half of the nineteenth century, based itself on Kant. According to Kant, our perceptual apparatus perceives real things, but we cannot know them as they really are, as “things-in-themselves” or noumena, only as they appear to us, as phenomena. Along one path of German Idealism, these things outside of us, the outside world, diminished from unknowable to insubstantial, and the “we” diminished to “I.” In the system of Fichte, the outside world has no independent existence: “My system liberates him [mankind] from the chains of the thing-in-itself, from everything that affects him from without.” [14] It does this by reducing the outside world to an idea. The idea of the outside world comes originally from the “absolute I,” or the “infinite I,” or God, but it also comes from each of us, as an “empirical I.” The world has many centers, although only one original center. In the similar system of Hegel, the “world soul,” or the “world spirit,” or God, creates the world, then sees it as a separate other, and finally recognizes it as part of itself. Again the outside world has no independent existence. And again the world has many centers, but the gravity of the original center seems stronger this time, and the philosopher who simultaneously comprehends, describes, and completes the world system, in so doing, finds himself back in that privileged place. In Max Stirner’s Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (The Ego and Its Own, 1845), the “I” is all; all things that appear other, even other human beings, aye, even God, exist only in the eye of the I.

The literary movement known as Romanticism also received much of its early momentum, or force in a particular direction, from Rousseau and Kant. “The poet has moved into the center of the critical system and taken over many of the prerogatives which had once been exercised by his readers, the nature of the world in which he found himself, and the inherited precepts and examples of his poetic art,” writes critic Meyer Abrams of Romantic aesthetic theory. “What I see first of all in Romanticism is the effect of a profound change…in the spatial projection of reality,” writes another critic, Northrop Frye: “The creative world is deep within, and so is heaven or the place of the presence of God.” Romanticism was the literary exploration of the self-centered worldview, and of self-love. Abrams sees a similar narrative structure in Wordsworth’s Prelude, Schiller’s Spaziergang, Hölderlin’s Hyperion, Goethe’s Faust, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, Blake’s Four Zoas, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, and Hegel’s Phenomenologie der Geist. This structure is a spiral, a spiral of consciousness, in which a consciousness recounts the change in itself and in the appearance of the outside world as it turns outward from itself into the world and then back inward into itself again, during which it also revolves from a lower state to a higher state, the substance of its change. Abrams calls this “the circuitous journey.” [15]

Although Romanticism first swelled up in Rousseau, the wave seems to have reached its crest in Germany and Britain before rolling cyclically back to France. But it was the same wave. Romanticism “was only to be found within,” wrote Charles Baudelaire in the essay “What is Romanticism?” “The artist never goes outside of himself,” he added in another place. “An artist should only and can only love himself,” affirmed Alfred de Vigny. A bit later the novelist Champfleury, an early Realist disgusted with Romanticism, complained of “the mania of talking about oneself”:

The epidemic of the “I” has so infected the blood of today’s writers that they are hardly bothered by it. This disease, which goes back to Montaigne and which developed considerable virulence in the last century, is borne by every one of us; everyone publishes his memoirs while he is still alive, exposes to the public what he has done, reports without modesty his feelings, his reactions, his sufferings, his passions.[16]

The rise of the self-centered worldview took place at all levels, from abstruse philosophy and allusive poetry to grammar-school instruction, from the airiest ideas to the earthiest behaviors. Historians Roger Chartier and Dominique Julia have studied elementary books of manners of sixteenth- through eighteenth-century France: “The developments with respect to spitting and blowing one’s nose, are, in their trajectories, quite significant.” As one might intuitively expect, spitting and blowing one’s nose with one’s fingers became less and less acceptable. Perhaps more surprising is the shifting basis for the strengthening prohibition. From the earlier books to the later books, “the discourse…slides from a precept where the principle is the disturbance of others to a recommendation of hygiene for oneself.” [17] The celebrated historical sociologist of Western European manners Norbert Elias, whom Chartier and Julia cite, preceded them in the study of books of manners and generalized more broadly than they do. Elias interpreted the strengthening prohibitions against the two expellant behaviors as part of what he called “the civilizing process,” in which force and violence in human relations was gradually replaced by self-control.[18] In this replacement, the center of one’s attention shifted from people of greater power to oneself.

Another long-term change in mores in which movement is detectable between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries was the growth and spread of a desire for privacy. Several historians, Elias and Chartier and Julia among them, have documented the shift from the communal bed to the private bed. One or two large beds used to sleep whole extended families, including well-to-do families, whose bedmates sometimes included their servants. As material wealth increased, however, the individual bed multiplied and the familial bed retreated down the socioeconomic ladder. By the end of the eighteenth century, even servants had a personal bed, and a personal room. Sébastien Mercier observed: “In the past all the servants warmed themselves at a common hearth; today the chambermaid has her fireplace, the tutor his fireplace, the maître d’hôtel his fireplace, etc.” Of course, other members of the lower classes who had to find their own housing continued to live in more crowded conditions.[19] If increasing material wealth was the main cause of the proliferation of beds and rooms, an increasing desire for privacy was at least a consequence.

A leading architect of the late eighteenth century, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, took it as a principle that every person needed to be able to be alone. As indicated above, this “need” was promoted by the pre-Romantic literature of Rousseau, of the graveyard, and of Sturm und Drang, and then by Romantic literature proper. While in his architecture Ledoux parceled out private space for the individual, in his urban design he projected unobstructed lines of sight from as many points as possible for the citizen, concentric development for the city, and a panorama for the designer himself. All of this, summarizes historian Mona Ozouf, “allows one to affirm oneself, at a glance, as the proprietor of the world.” [20]

Thus, no real paradox existed between the privatization of life touched upon here and the simultaneous publicization of life that has already been discussed at length. What was happening systemically was the division of life into two distinct spheres, private and public, both of them selfcentered. Self-love manifested itself in the private sphere as a drive for the exclusion of others and in the public sphere as a drive for recognition by others. One can see this clearly in the simultaneously reclusive and ambitious Rousseau. Just as the desire for privacy became acute in the second half of the eighteenth century, so too did the desire for fame. In his history of fame, Leo Braudy writes that in that period, “what had been an urge in few, in many became a ‘frenzy of renown,’ as Matthew G. Lewis’s novel The Monk (1796) calls it.” [21]

In our glance at private life in the second half of the eighteenth century, let us turn from self-love to love. It is well known that many people in prerevolutionary French society had a cynical view of love. “Love, such as it exists in society, is only the exchange of two fantasies and the contact of two skins,” wrote the salon wit Chamfort in what may be his most famous aphorism. A number of celebrated books of the period seem to have been written to illustrate what he meant: the Histoire de ma vie (Story of My Life) of Casanova, who, although from Venice, lived for a long time in France, wrote in French, and gave himself the French title “chevalier de Seingalt”; Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) of Choderlos de Laclos; the novels and plays of Crébillon fils; the semiautobiographical, semi-fictional works of Restif de la Bretonne; and the novels of the marquis de Sade. Pornography flourished. The illegitimate-birth rate soared. “Love, properly speaking, no longer exists in Paris, if we dare to face the truth, except as moderated libertinism,” wrote Mercier. “As if love were not the most egotistical of all feelings,” wrote Benjamin Constant.[22] In other words, for many in this brilliantly disintegrating society, love was self-love.

More specifically, love for them was the kind of self-love that Rousseau called amour-propre.[23] Rousseau, we recall, dichotomized self-love into amour de soi-même and amour-propre. Amour de soi-même is based on the instinct of self-preservation, leads from the concern for one’s own self-interest to a regard for the self-interest of others, produces humaneness and virtue, and is self-liberating. Amour-propre is based on the comparison of one’s own situation with that of others, leads to aggressiveness toward others, produces a sense of honor, and is self-aggrandizing. The legitimization of self-love and the adoption of the self-centered worldview in the second half of the eighteenth century meant the expansion of both kinds of self-love. The expansion of amour de soi-même contributed to the elaboration of the self-liberating principles of the American “Declaration of Independence” and the French “Declaration of Rights,” and to many of the self-liberating acts of the French Revolution that have been repeatedly mentioned: the abolition of the guild system, the abolition of privilèges, the abolition of internal customs barriers, the institution of democratic government, the institution of freedom of the press and freedom of public expression, the institution of “careers open to talents.” The expansion of amour-propre contributed to the elaboration of the self-aggrandizing principles of nationalism and colonialism, and to self-aggrandizing actions: the confiscations of the property of the nobility and the Church by the revolutionaries, the wars of the revolutionary and Napoleonic governments, and the conquests of the French Empire.

Napoleon extended Rousseau’s approval of one kind of self-love to both kinds, for he was among the first to use the term amour-propre without pejorative connotations.[24] Like most of his contemporaries, Napoleon had as his first principle the pursuit of his self-interest. He distinguished himself from them by how aggressively he pursued his own self-interest and how little regard he had for theirs. One historian refers to the “hypertrophy of his ego” and concludes that “his egocentrism is almost total.” [25] Yet he was a popular leader for much of his tenure as first consul and emperor—that is, for as long as his aggrandizement of himself also aggrandized France and a large number of French people. Thus the emperor became the model of the imperial self. Balzac regretted “the example of Napoleon, so fateful for the nineteenth century in the pretensions he inspired in so many mediocre people.”

But Balzac also remarked in the same work, “For artists, the great problem to solve is how to get oneself noticed.” And he cited the Palais-Royal publisher Charles Ladvocat’s placarding of Paris with advertisements for his authors’ books as a novel solution to this problem.[26] To succeed in the new society, we have seen, one had to please the public, but before one could please the public, one had to attract the public’s attention. The example of Napoleon no doubt encouraged the exaggerated pretensions of more than a few people. The desire to attract the public’s attention also encouraged exaggerated pretensions. These two encouragements were not entirely separate, since one of Napoleon’s exemplary characteristics was his ability to fix public attention on himself. From the vantage point of the late twentieth century, the inflation of advertising into an art in itself seems like a natural result of the growth of self-love and the self-centered worldview. Although he lacked the advantage of historical perspective, Balzac already saw clearly, without being entirely reconciled to what he saw, that for everyone in the new society—Napoleon, artists, even mediocre people—success depended on advertising.

Thus, advertising lay at the heart of an apparent paradox, in which the principle of pleasing the public was intimately tied to the principle of loving the self. Performers asserted their selves by mounting a stage above the public and then tried to please the public by entertaining it. Technicians asserted their selves by cultivating unusual technical skill, incidentally pleasing the public by astounding it. Self-promoters asserted their selves by expounding on their superiority to the public, perversely pleasing the public by scorning it. It seems almost as though the more extremely an individual expressed self-love and self-centeredness the more that individual was embraced by the public. One ended up being able to please the public simply by publicly distancing oneself from it, by advertising one’s extraordinariness. Naturally, advertising proper contributed greatly to this conclusion.

Reviewing a mid-nineteenth-century play entitled “Le Puff, ou Mensonge et vérité” (The Puff, or Lie and Truth), Théophile Gautier maximized an in-vogue but vague word: “A puff is an announcement entangled with boasting.” The use of “puff” in this sense originated in mid-eighteenth-century English and was imported into French toward the end of the eighteenth century.[27] It described a form of advertising, indeed a form of culture, highly characteristic of the Western world in the Age of Revolution.

Advertising is many hundreds or even a few thousands of years old, if we consider a wooden sign hanging above the door of a shop as advertising. Such signs are still used, but the spirit of advertising has changed since its earliest manifestations. From the announcement, such as a wooden sign or a notice in a newspaper, to the puff, advertising made a leap. In the middle of the eighteenth century, Samuel Johnson appraised contemporary advertising in one of his essays. “The trade of advertising is now so near to perfection,” Johnson wrote, “that it is not easy to propose any improvement.” Johnson was using “perfection” ironically, for he deplored the tricks of the advertising of his time, and the improvement he proposed was “that these abuses may be rectified.” But he was also using “perfection” literally, in the sense of fully developed. However wrong Johnson may have been in thinking that advertising was already in the eighteenth century almost fully developed, the mere fact that he had such a thought is significant. That thought would scarcely have occurred to anyone before his time. Even the idea that advertising was susceptible of development, or that it could be regarded as a trade, or an art as Johnson also referred to it, was new then.[28] Johnson thought that advertising was approaching its culmination because he was witnessing the leap from the announcement to the puff. The announcement had merely declared, while the puff sought to persuade; the announcement had spoken prosaically, while the puff spoke exaggeratedly; the announcement had emphasized a product, service, or work, while the puff emphasized the person presenting the product, service, or work.

We recall that the meaning of the word publicité, French for “advertising,” changed from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. In the eighteenth century publicité had meant “the act of bringing to public knowledge,” while in the first half of the nineteenth century it took on its modern meaning of “the act or art of producing a psychological effect on the public.” [29] This change in semantics reflected the change in the reality of advertising.

The tremendous proliferation of periodical papers in the eighteenth century certainly encouraged the development of the puff. The sixteenth century saw the first halting attempts in Europe to publish periodicals of greater frequency than the annual almanacs. In seventeenth-century Paris Théophraste Renaudot founded both the Gazette (1631), the first long-lived regularly appearing newspaper, a weekly, and the Feuille du Bureau d’adresse (1633), the first regularly appearing advertising paper, also a weekly; each was the first of its kind in France and perhaps in all of Europe. Not until the eighteenth century, however, were advertising papers able to survive more than a few years or newspapers able to publish daily. In London, the first long-lived advertising paper, the Collection for the Im-provement of Husbandry and Trade, began in 1692; the first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, began in 1702; and the use of “puff” to describe a certain kind of advertising began around mid-century. In Paris, the first long-lived advertising paper, the Annonces, affiches et avis divers, began in 1751; the first daily newspaper, the Journal de Paris, began in 1777; and use of “puff” began toward the end of the century.[30] Incidentally, eighteenth-century papers already carried what late-twentieth century American papers call “personals”—advertising of the self.

In the development of the puff, the boasting that became “entangled” with the announcement began modestly but advanced brazenly. The announcement lost its conspicuousness, sometimes overwhelmed by the boasting, other times appearing as a report of a past event. An announcement generally refers to a future event, such as the coming sale or availability or presentation of something. But it might do this only indirectly or only in a general way.

The London Times of 22 March 1794 carried a notice that began: “Mr. Philidor, this day, at two o’Clock precisely, will play three Games at once, against three good Chess Players, two of them without seeing either Boards, and the third on looking over the Table.” The notice concluded: “The Ottoman Ambassador is expected to honour the match with his presence.” A similar notice in the Times of 21 February 1795 mentioned that Philidor’s blindfold exhibition that day would be “the only one this Season.” And a third notice appearing in June of the same year specified that a few days hence Philidor would give an exhibition for “positively the very last time.” [31] Although these notices were for the most part simple announcements, each of them contained one stock ploy of modern advertising. The first pointed out the presence of a celebrity at the event; the second, the rarity of the event; the third, the finality of the event. Although we do not know how much of the advertising for the London chess exhibitions was due to the Chess Club and how much to Philidor, we do know that a contemporary chronicler ascribed the advertising of his Paris musical performances to him.[32]

The poster and newspaper advertisements for Paganini’s concerts were likewise mostly simple announcements, giving the time and place of the prospective performance and listing the works to be performed. They did contain a few flourishes, however. For a concert in Naples the advertisement gave Paganini the title “Filarmonico,” implying membership in the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, which he did not have. Shortly after the pope awarded him the Order of the Golden Spur in 1827, an advertisement for a concert in Florence identified him as “Il Cavaliere Paganini.” And after he acquired a more prestigious title and before he discovered its illegitimacy, his visiting cards read: “Le Baron N. Paganini, Commandeur et Chevalier de plusieurs Ordres.” [33]

Whereas Paganini’s advertisements emphasized the violinist’s titles, Liszt’s emphasized the pianist’s name. The poster announcing Liszt’s first benefit concert in Vienna in 1838 for the flood victims of Hungary enumerated the concert’s program, listing piece number five, for example, as “Adelaide, von Beethoven, gesungen von Herrn Benedict Gross, auf dem Claviere begleitet von LISZT. ” That is, Liszt’s name appeared more prominently than both the name of the singer he was to accompany, Gross, and the name of the piece’s composer, Beethoven.[34] Over time, the diminution of the other names next to Liszt’s proceeded from relative to absolute. The advertisements for Liszt’s “recitals on the pianoforte” in London in 1840 caused a stir by announcing a program with only a single performer and by making new use of the word “recital.” A reviewer for the Times, while defending the usage himself, observed that “the choice of the expression has been by some condemned as an affected singularity.” [35]

Unlike posters, newspapers and reviews reported on past concerts, sometimes whipping up enthusiasm for a foreign performer whom local concert-goers had never seen, heard, or even heard about. These reports often bore an announcement, sometimes explicit, sometimes only implicit, of a future concert near the reader by the same performer. George Sand’s travel piece in the Revue des deux mondes describing a trip through Switzerland she made in the company of a few friends, one of whom was Franz Liszt, functioned similarly: “It was only when Franz posed his hands freely on the keyboard and made us hear a fragment of his Dies irae, that we understood the superiority of the Fribourg organ over every other that we have heard.” [36] The emergence of the touring soloist followed the establishment of local newspapers and of more widely circulating reviews in Europe’s larger cities during the Age of Revolution, depending on and encouraging the development of the puff.

Paganini had much to say about the prices of admission to his performances; he had everything to say about what pieces he played; thus he probably also had at least something to say about the other things appearing in his concert advertisements. This seems all the more likely in that he never had a long-term business manager, instead hiring a new manager whenever his touring took him from one country or region of Europe to another. By contrast, Liszt retained his manager Belloni for six and a half years and several sweeps of Europe. When in 1840 the advertisements of Liszt’s concerts in Leipzig raised hackles, Felix Mendelssohn, who lived there and made the initial arrangements, blamed the manager rather than the pianist. In a private letter, Mendelssohn wrote:

It is a pity that he should be saddled with a manager and a secretary who, between them, succeeded in so thoroughly mismanaging things that the public were furious, and we had the greatest trouble to smooth matters to some extent for the second concert. The advertisements and subsequent modifications, the prices and programme,—in fact, everything that Liszt himself did not do was objectionable; and consequently the mildest of Leipzigers were in a rage.

But Heinrich Heine believed that Belloni was only Liszt’s executor and that, despite the occasional mishap, “no one in the world knows as perfectly as our Franz Liszt how to organize his successes, or rather how to stage them.” [37] As Gautier shrewdly implied by using the word “boasting” (hâblerie) in his definition of “puff,” even though it usually appeared to come from someone other than its object, it was almost always to some degree self-advertising.[38]

If the puff had a natural home in the periodical publication, then it was natural that self-advertisers would want to have their own home. Liszt practically had his own space in the Revue et gazette musical de Paris, publisher of two series of articles written by d’Agoult and himself, “De la situation des artistes et de leur condition dans la société” and “Lettres d’un bachelier ès musique,” which unabashedly took his own personal experiences for their point of departure and thus ensured a considerable amount of self-advertising. The chess masters Labourdonnais, Saint-Amant, and Kieseritzky edited their own chess journals, each the sole French chess journal of its time, in which they blew their own horns.

Vidocq showed great skill at self-advertising. After his second, brief term as chef de la Sûreté, Vidocq founded his information and detective agency, the Bureau de Renseignements, to be funded by subscriptions sold to businesses. He began in 1833 by publishing a prospectus to attract clients. Two years later he published a compte rendu, a report to the subscribers to his service, boasting of its achievements. Periodically Vidocq issued new prospectuses.[39] These publications of his agency, the letterhead of the agency, and the sign over the door to the agency’s offices all referred to Vidocq as “breveté” or “breveté du Roi.” He had a right to this title by virtue of the patent he had received for his “forgery-proof” paper, but the context in which he used the title implied that he had government or royal approval to operate his agency, which he certainly did not. In fact, the government prosecuted him in two major trials for the agency’s activities. When the first trial ended in his acquittal, Vidocq placarded the capital with posters bearing the headline “ LIBERTÉ! ” After he, and by implication his agency as well, was acquitted a second time in 1843, he repeated the procedure with posters headed, rather too optimistically as events were soon to prove, “ RÉSURRECTION! ” In both trials the judge scolded Vidocq for his use of the term “breveté.” [40] The second trial, with the expenses and disruptions it imposed on the agency, ruined the Bureau de Renseignements, but it made the agency’s founder and director more famous than ever.

By the time Robert-Houdin opened his theater in 1845, strident headlines, hyperbolic claims, and pompous titles had become the norm in advertisements generally and particularly in advertisements for magic shows. In his autobiography Robert-Houdin discusses the advertising of the Scottish magician John Henry Anderson. He relates that Anderson, returning to London after an absence, had “gigantic” posters made in the form of “a caricature of the famous painting, The Return of Napoleon from the Isle of Elba ”:

In the foreground, one sees Anderson affecting the pose of the great man. Behind his head floats an immense pennant bearing the words the wonder of the world; behind him, and a little lost in the shadow, the emperor of Russia and several other monarchs stand respectfully. Just as in the original painting, fanatical admirers of the magician embrace his knees, while an immense crowd welcomes him with acclamations.…At the bottom is this inscription: Return of the Napoleon of Necromancy.[41]

In his performances Robert-Houdin eschewed ostentatious costumes in favor of regular black-and-white evening attire, and in his advertising he eschewed exaggeration, emphatic italics, and exclamation points in favor of simple statements in plain fonts with standard punctuation. He brought to stage magic the new aesthetic, or advertising technique, of Beau Brummell, the English dandy whose advocacy of the principle that men’s dress should not call attention to itself called attention to himself.

If advertising is “the act or art of producing a psychological effect on the public,” it might involve the media of print, the only mass media of communication during the Age of Revolution, directly, indirectly, or even not at all. A puff might be a puff of ink or a puff of smoke.

The negotiations that failed to bring about a match between Deschapelles and an English champion in 1836 were well publicized, indeed practically conducted, in the chess press. Deschapelles’s initial challenge to the English players was published, at his request, in Bell’s Life in London.[42] Subsequent proposals and counterproposals appeared in France in Le Palamède and in England in the chess column of Bell’s Life. When several months of maneuvering ended in a fruitless misunderstanding, Deschapelles reiterated his position in a letter to Le Palamède: “For more than thirty years there has existed a permanent challenge from me to the world of chess: I offer pawn and two moves.” [43]

The arrangements for other matches had better success. Two years before Deschapelles declared his desire to play an English champion, Labour-donnais had actually played and defeated the British champion MacDonnell. This match is now seen as the first in a long series of championship matches, while at the time it was seen as an exceptional event, a latter-day single combat in which the best individual warriors fought for the honor of their countries, a sort of duel.

Vidocq tells in his Mémoires of having been a fencing master in the army in the 1790s and of having fought many sword duels during his army years. As chef de la Sûreté in the 1810s and 1820s he found a more respectable outlet for his persistent love of dueling. He pursued most-wanted suspects in the spirit of a one-to-one trial of wits, strength, and skill between himself and the suspect.

Paganini’s onstage violin duels with Charles Lafont, Karol Lipinski, and Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst and Liszt’s public piano duels with Sigismund Thalberg, Felix Mendelssohn, Charles Hallé, and Alexander Dreyschock have already been recounted.

Some of Robert-Houdin’s duels of magic with Algerian marabouts approached the real thing, a violent duel. During his show in Algiers, he challenged a marabout to mark a real bullet, load it into a real pistol, and shoot it at him while he held up an apple on the end of a knife. After the marabout fired, Robert-Houdin removed the marked bullet from inside the apple. Of course it was a trick, in which Robert-Houdin used sleight of hand twice, once to prevent the bullet from actually being loaded into the pistol and again to insert the bullet into the apple. He used a similar trick on another occasion in the hinterlands of Algeria, this time “catching” the marabout’s bullet in his teeth. With a second pistol, Robert-Houdin then fired at a wall, which began to bleed. He had slipped a hollow bullet filled with blood into his pistol.[44]

Violent dueling experienced a revival toward the end of the eighteenth century. The revival lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century, at which point dueling began to decline into its present state of virtual extinction. Some historians ascribe the revival of dueling during the Age of Revolution to the adoption by the new ruling class of the institutions of the old ruling class, the aristocracy, to which might be added the latter’s last desperate assertion of its characteristic values. Other historians ascribe the revival to the glorification of martial virtues arising out of the large armies and battle-consciousness of a quarter century (1792–1815) of almost continuous warfare in Europe.[45] But it can also be seen as yet one more blast of hot air from the howling gale of self-advertisement and self-promotion that blew athleticism into the performing arts and whirled science into a race between discoverers and technology into a race between inventors. Activities of all sorts were sucked into the updraft of competition, competition between individual performers for fame among masses of spectators.

Dueling as self-advertising reached its apogee in the Paris balloon duel of 1808. Like many violent duels, this one came about as a result of a quarrel over a woman. Unlike most violent duels, this one had thousands of witnesses, attracted by the sight of two large balloons tethered in the Jardin des Tuileries on a May morning. M. de Grandpré and M. de Pique arrived armed with blunderbusses. They stepped into the baskets of their aerostats, ordered the tethers cut, and began to ascend into the sky. At about 2,000 feet from the ground and 250 feet from each other, the two men of high honor opened fire. M. de Pique’s balloon plummeted to the ground, while M. de Grandpré’s balloon drifted away and landed softly some seventeen miles away.[46]

What the late twentieth century calls “hype” and the Age of Revolution called “puffery,” Henri Decremps in the late eighteenth century had called “white magic”: the art of making what one does appear more than it actually is. In his book La Magie blanche dévoilée (White Magic Exposed), Decremps was one of the first to subject Kempelen’s Chess Player to a detailed analysis and to point out the principal deception. In the same book he ascribed the public’s failure to appreciate Abbé Mical’s talking heads to the fact that “he did not have that veneer of charlatanism so necessary in this age to win the approval of the multitude.” [47]

“One of the characteristics of the age of Revolution (1789–1832),” wrote the novelist Stendhal in 1832, “is that great success is not possible without a certain degree of immodesty, and even of genuine charlatanism.” The Age of Revolution, the Romantic era, the takeoff point of industrialization; the period around the turn of the nineteenth century is also sometimes referred to as the Age of Egotism. Stendhal’s writings seem to confirm, if indeed they did not suggest, this label. The above quotation comes from the first of his two autobiographies, in which he discusses the characters of the people he has known, including, of course, his own. He called the work Souvenirs d’égotisme: “In spite of the frustrations suffered by my ambition, I do not believe that people are mean; I do not believe myself persecuted by them; I regard them as machines driven in France by vanity and elsewhere by all the passions, vanity included.” [48]

The word égoïsme first appeared in French around the middle of the eighteenth century and meant either an “excessive attachment to oneself that causes one to subordinate the interests of others to one’s own interest” or a “tendency to talk too much about oneself.” The chevalier de Jaucourt wrote the article “Égoïsme” for the Encyclopédie: “The men of Port-Royal [the Jansenists] generally forbade in their writings the practice of speaking of themselves in the first person, conceiving that this practice, however infrequent, could only derive from vainglory and from a too high opinion of oneself.” But just as Rousseau thought there was a good self-love, which he called amour de soi-même, as well as a bad self-love, which he called amour-propre, Stendhal thought there could be a good reason as well as a bad reason to talk a lot about oneself. To contrast with égoïsme, a “tendency to talk too much about oneself,” Stendhal coined the nonpejorative word égotisme, a “tendency to talk about oneself, to make detailed analyses of one’s physical and moral self.” [49]

Stendhal wrote to his publisher apropos of the second of his two autobiographies: “I’m currently writing a book…; it’s my Confessions in a style like that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but with more frankness.” Three-quarters of a century earlier Rousseau had written apropos of his Confessions:

Rey [a publisher] had pressed me for a long time to write the recollections of my life. Although they were not up to that point interesting in their events, I felt that they could become interesting by the frankness that I was capable of putting into them, and I resolved to make a work unique in its unprecedented truth, in order that at least once one could see a man such as he was on the inside. I had always laughed at the false naïveté of Montaigne, who, pretending to admit his faults, took great care to give himself only appealing ones.[50]

Stendhal had been an army staff officer during the Empire and was a great admirer of the emperor, whose biography he twice began.[51] In his egotism Stendhal followed the example of Napoleon as well as that of Rousseau. One of the four sets of Napoleon’s recollections recorded by devoted followers who shared his exile on Saint-Helena reports the ex-emperor musing: “In society, one must be a charlatan. It’s only in behaving like that that one succeeds.” In the Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, the largest of the four sets and the first to be published, Napoleon creates what historian Jean Tulard has called “the myth of Napoleon.” He presents himself as having saved France and finished the Revolution, both in the sense of ending the excesses of the revolutionaries and in the sense of completing the beneficial social reforms they advocated. The Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, first published in 1823, did much to turn French public opinion from the hostility to himself that Napoleon had generated by the end of his reign back to sympathy.[52]

The Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène also precipitated a great outpouring of memoirs from civilian and military officials of the defunct Empire. In the heady days of imperial conquests it had seemed to the French as if “there were no longer any old men; there were only corpses and demi-gods.” [53] But the intoxicating warfare finally ended and the hangover began. After the Empire collapsed and the demigods of glory, power, and wealth awakened to find themselves mere mortals again, their heads remained swollen with exaggerated memories of themselves and their leader. They were convinced that the story of their deeds would attract a wide readership, especially now that the Empire was being recreated as a legend.

During Napoleon’s tenure as head of state he had in succession three principal private secretaries, Louis-Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne, Claude-François de Méneval, and Agathon-Jean-François Fain. Each of the three left a set of memoirs, and to consider them in succession is to retrace the launch trajectory of Napoleonic memoirs. Bourrienne compiled three volumes of notes for his, but he was apparently not sufficiently interested in the project to carry it to completion himself. Instead, he handed it over to the publisher Ladvocat, who had a better estimate of its potential as a best-seller and employed a professional writer to finish the job. The reader gets some notion as to Bourrienne’s sense of his own place in history from an exchange he reports having had with Napoleon. He says that one day Napoleon congratulated him on the fame that was certain to come to him for having been secretary to a great man and that he retorted by asking Napoleon to tell him who had been secretary to Alexander the Great. Méneval believed more in the importance of the role, while not forgetting that it was only a passive one. He recognized that it had made him an eyewitness to many historic events and took his task to be narrating them as he saw them, keeping the references to himself to a minimum. Similarly, Fain says in his preface that he was only an “instrument.” But then, as if offering a rejoinder to Bourrienne’s retort, he lists as many names of secretaries to famous historical figures as he can. (Fain’s preface is dated October of 1829, the same year in which Bourrienne’s memoirs first appeared.) He goes on to explain the evolution of his thinking about publishing his memoirs:

Indeed, several years ago I would not have dared to publish them with as many personal facts in what was only a rough draft intended to be read by my children. A revision seemed necessary, but my laziness for a long time kept me from further work. Today, is one not entitled to believe that this last effort may be dispensed with? Do not the publications that have abounded in recent years free me from such scruples? Now that readers have become familiar with so many “I”s of all sorts, can the “I” of a secretary still be considered shocking?[54]

Rhetorical questions from a rhetorical age.

Historian Jean Tulard has written a critical review of eight hundred sets of personal memoirs of the Napoleonic period. He opens the preface to his survey by observing that “no period has given impetus to as large a number of memoirs as has the Consulate and Empire.” They began to appear under the next regime, the Restoration (1814–30), and to multiply under the subsequent regime, the July Monarchy (1830–48). Artisanal gave way to industrial production. Publishers hired teinturiers, or “dyers,” who added bright colors to the plain fabric of the narratives furnished by insufficiently literary authors. Sometimes the cloth had to be unraveled and rewoven again a little differently. Sometimes the publishers had to make the fabric for themselves in the first place. Ladvocat created a sort of memoir-factory, turning them out one after another. He employed a teinturier named Villemarest who produced at least three best-sellers, including the memoirs of Bourrienne.[55]

The proliferation of literary self-portraits of all kinds—journals, memoirs, fragments of souvenirs, formal autobiographies—provides the clearest indication that the Age of Revolution abounded in egotism. In the West such writings date from at least the Confessiones of St. Augustine in fourth century A.D. Several important works of the kind came out of the Renaissance, for example the Essais of Montaigne and the Vita di Benvenuto Cellinida lui medesimo scritta (Life of Benvenuto Cellini…Written by Himself). But before the middle of the eighteenth century, they were not common undertakings. One literary historian, in fact, asserts that “the eighteenth century was the first great age of biography and autobiography.” A French literary critic adds that “the current of confession and introspection, which had begun with Montaigne and Rousseau, was going to become a great river in the nineteenth century.” By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Revue des deux mondes was complaining:

Just as herds of completely unknown writers and artists are having their busts sculpted or their profiles stamped on medallions as donations to be offered to the national pantheon, so a herd of obscure personages, wrongly taking themselves to be important people, have started dictating their commentaries and making their confessions to their age and to the future.…The memoir-mania, which dates from the last years of the Restoration, is spreading at present like an epidemic.[56]

Most of the virtuosos were infected with the mania for writing about one’s own life. For the sake of convenience, all such writings are referred to here as autobiographies, whatever their title, and whether or not they would be admitted into the literary genre of autobiography in a strict system of classification. Philidor lived and died before autobiographomania had spread much beyond his one-time collaborator Rousseau. The only sign he himself showed of any such tendency was to provide a few dates and anecdotes from his life to an English chess enthusiast, and perhaps to authorize the latter’s use of them in a biographical sketch.[57] Carême, Vidocq, Paganini, Liszt, and Robert-Houdin all left accounts of their own lives. The three of them who were adults during Napoleon’s reign had fond memories of that period. The Empire provided Carême with lavish banquets in which to develop his talents, Vidocq with the métier of police detective, and Paganini with the patronage of Napoleon’s sister Élisa, princess of Lucca.

Carême seems to have been working on his autobiography when he died in 1833, the date on the only portion of it that has ever come to light, a dozen-page fragment published under the title “Antonin Carême: Souvenirs écrits par lui-même” by his former secretary Fayot in an anthology of gastronomic writings.[58] Vidocq had his Mémoires published in 1828–29, shortly after his resignation from the post of chef de la Sûreté, when he was in his early fifties and still had another thirty years to live. He himself only made notes, which two teinturiers stretched into four volumes.[59] Paganini dictated his two short autobiographical sketches of a few pages each, both of which appeared in print in 1830, toward the beginning of his triumphant six-year concert tour of Europe. The long article entitled “Franz Liszt,” signed J. Duverger, and published in the serial Biographe universel in 1843 when Liszt was in the middle of his eight-year, thousand-concert tour of Europe, is essentially autobiographical. It was produced in the same way that the articles appearing under Liszt’s name in the Revue et gazette musicale de Paris were produced, as a collaboration in which Liszt provided the basic ideas and d’Agoult the finished prose.[60] Robert-Houdin put out his two-volume Confidences et révélations in 1858, several years after he retired from the stage.

In their autobiographies, the virtuosos do not focus on the great things around them—the events they witnessed, the people they met, or the places they visited—as do many Napoleonic memoirs. Nor do they focus on the ordinary aspects of themselves, in the tradition of Montaigne, Rousseau, and Stendhal. That is, they do not boast merely of their proximity to greatness or of great psychological insight into their ordinary lives; instead, following Cellini, they boast directly of their own extraordinary achievements. Carême boasts of his banquets, his cookbooks, and his pièces montées; Vidocq, of his knowledge of the argot and culture of the underworld, his arrests of particularly cunning and elusive criminals, and the victories won by his Brigade de Sûreté in its war on crime;[61] Paganini, of how as a boy or in difficult circumstances he amazed his hearers; Liszt, of the triumphal march of his career as a performer; Robert-Houdin, of his blossoming mechanical skill and his normalization of magic.

When the virtuosos refer to other practitioners of their arts, they often cite the animosity of those others, which they generally ascribe to professional jealousy. The virtuosos saw themselves surrounded by inferior competitors envious of their success. “‘How lucky he is!’ people around me used to say, instead of attributing the difference in our positions to that of our efforts, the only thing that distinguishes one artisan from another,” declares Carême. Vidocq defiantly proclaims that officers in other departments of the Paris police force used to call the Brigade de Sûreté “la bande à Vidocq” (Vidocq’s gang), implying that it was more like a gang of thieves than a police brigade. He mocks his own agents for “always thinking ahead to my fall; they used to make predictions about it for their own amusement; and they divided among themselves the inheritance of ‘Alexander.’” Paganini relates this anecdote of antagonism he encountered from fellow musicians on one of his early concert tours:

Leghorn, like so many other towns, had its own exclusive musical society, whose members took offense at my neglect to pay my respects to them and arranged things so that the regular orchestra players did not keep their agreement with me. The concert was to begin at eight o’clock; the hall was full, but not a single player was to be seen. Finally, three or four poor souls turned up. Naturally, I had to select other pieces than those on the program. My ambition provoked, I summoned all my powers, and for nearly three hours I entertained the audience with the liveliest youthful playing. My efforts were acknowledged with the loudest applause, a rebuke to my hateful opponents, so that my next concert in the theater was given to a packed house and had the accompaniment of a full orchestra. The members of the enemy party took that opportunity to excuse themselves, saying they had believed me too young to be able to do everything I had promised.

As for the child-prodigy Liszt on his first tour, “musicians scrutinized first of all with distrust and then with a kind of stunned jealousy all the extraordinary things that the young virtuoso did on command.” [62] Robert-Houdin was greeted in Algeria by the miracle-working marabouts with undisguised hostility.

The virtuosos all employ tactics designed to forestall the potential charge against them of self-promotion. Carême’s “Souvenirs” begins with modesty: “My life does not aspire to the highest rank.” That is, he did not aspire to the prominence of the monarchs, aristocrats, diplomats, and financiers who employed him. Yet, “what I am going to say will perhaps not be without interest for our young practitioners and for the elite of Paris; the latter appreciate merit in a variety of endeavors.” [63] Paganini responds to Professor Schottky’s request for an autobiographical sketch to include in his book on the violinist with similar humility:

Your readers will have to be content with this; but perhaps this little bit which I am at the moment able to tell you is already too much for them: For an artist remains just an artist, and in our age of outstanding men, I cannot believe that such sketchy notes of my life will find a large readership. If you want rhapsodic phrases, if aphorisms will serve you, and if you have courage enough to bring such things to the public, then I am more than ready to smooth out the creases of my memory a bit and to search for whatever might be hidden there.[64]

As with Carême, so with Paganini most of what lies “hidden” in the creases of his memory turn out to be his own achievements. Both the chef and the violinist did aspire to the artistic elite, which was at least valued by the social elite if not yet accepted into it. We are left to guess how they felt about that.

Vidocq’s Mémoires ridicule some of the more extravagant things the public is reported to have believed about him. The author apparently intends to amuse the reader and to put the reader on his side as they enjoy a laugh together at the extent of human credulity. The joke is also somewhat at Vidocq’s own expense, or at least at the expense of his superhuman reputation. “We [the agents of the Sûreté] were all colossuses.…We broke arms and legs; nothing stopped us; and we were everywhere. I was invulnerable; others claimed that I was armored from head to toe, which amounts to the same thing when one is not known for timidity.” [65] But to accept that the public indeed believed what Vidocq says it did is to be taken in oneself, for the belief itself, however much one makes fun of it, redounds to Vidocq’s credit.

The article “Franz Liszt” engages in preemptive self-criticism, as well as in the pretense that someone else was responsible for the article. He admits that as a youth he had his faults:

Perhaps the exaggerated idea he had of the piano led him too far, or perhaps it was simply the confusion of his unformed mind that manifested itself in his works. He lacked all balance, and every sort of eccentricity seemed to him perfectly normal. In this period of his life, a total disregard for his appearance, an ignorance or rather an absolute heedlessness of good manners, an excess in his sensations and feelings, which manifested themselves in gestures, exclamations, and strange behavior, caused him to be accused of charlatanism. These excesses that were in him so natural, if one may say such a thing, were called affectation and pretentiousness.[66]

In other words, he loved the piano too much, he was too creative, he worked too hard, he devoted himself too exclusively to music, he was too sensitive, he showed too much enthusiasm. Liszt takes care to give himself only appealing faults.

Robert-Houdin’s discussions of other magicians dilate on their extravagances. He remarks on the flamboyant costume of Philippe, in contrast to his own stage attire of standard black-and-white evening clothes, the flamboyant advertising of Anderson, in contrast to his own restrained advertising, and the flamboyant ventriloquial stunts performed in streets and inns by Comte, in contrast to his own care not to disturb people with his tricks. He neglects to mention in his autobiography that he was the first magician to publish one, and that in doing so he gave himself the most attractive appearance, the longest-lasting advertising, and the best opportunity to put words in other people’s mouths of any magician.

Overt self-effacement effectuates covert self-promotion.

Neither Carême’s fragmentary “Souvenirs” nor Liszt and d’Agoult’s article “Franz Liszt” seems to have been much read by either contemporaries or posterity. Paganini’s two autobiographical sketches attracted a fair amount of contemporary interest, at least among music lovers. The two book-length autobiographical works of the virtuosos, Vidocq’s Mémoires and Robert-Houdin’s Confidences et révélations, had considerable short-term success. Each went through dozens of editions in several languages within a decade or two of its first appearance. But the two most successful writings about the author’s own life during the Age of Revolution, especially in the long run, were undoubtedly Rousseau’s Confessions and Napoleon’s Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène.

The autobiography from Rousseau to Robert-Houdin followed a trajectory from self-deceptive ingenuous self-promotion to self-conscious disingenuous self-promotion. Rousseau observed self-promotion in others, for which he blamed their amour-propre, and he himself engaged in self-promotion, but he had little awareness that he did so, even though he admitted that as an author he too had been infected with amourpropre. In his Confessions, he claimed to have left behind the desire to be the best at something. He also claimed to have little “natural vanity.” He truly believed that his Confessions were absolutely frank and that he would be remembered by posterity for his perfect frankness.

Napoleon was so fully engaged in living his life as to be incapable of taking a detached view of it. He had a remarkable lack of self-awa