Contributor: Catriona Seth
Location: Jardin des Plantes, Montpellier, France
Description: The poet Edward Young’s The Complaint: or Night-Thoughts on Life, Death & Immortality, published between 1742 and 1745 entranced readers throughout Europe. Whilst a fairly accurate German version was produced quite rapidly, the first French book-length translation only came out in 1769—it was a free adaptation by Le Tourneur and would be widely reprinted over the years. From Rousseau to Robespierre and Germaine de Staël to Bonaparte, whatever their social status or political sensibilities, the chattering classes read Les Nuits.
Continue reading “Narcissa’s Tomb”
Contributor: Alice Rhodes
Location: Erasmus Darwin House, Lichfield, UK
Description: Although best known for his careers as poet and doctor (or perhaps for his grandson Charles, who would go on to lay claim to the Darwin name in the public consciousness) Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) was also a prolific inventor proposing apparatuses of every kind from systems of canal locks to a steam powered chariot. Many of these, like the “Artificial Bird” pictured above, can be found in the commonplace book which Darwin kept between 1776 and 1787, now housed at Erasmus Darwin House in Lichfield. There is no record of the bird leaving the pages of the commonplace book until its reconstruction by Erasmus Darwin House in 2013, yet Darwin’s bird is more than a flight of fancy. Nor was it a mere toy or curiosity. It can be read as an instrument or experiment through which Darwin gained knowledge of both physics and avian physiology, and it hatched from a long European history of creating such mechanisms.
Continue reading “Erasmus Darwin’s Artificial Bird”
Contributor: Diego Saglia
Location: Istituzione Biblioteca Classense, Ravenna (Italy)
Description: This sizeable travelling chest (48.2 x 80.7 x 19.2 cm) belonged to Countess Teresa Guiccioli, née Gamba (1800-73), the co-protagonist of what Iris Origo called Lord Byron’s ‘last attachment’. A little battered, perhaps, it hides its secrets well. Read carefully, it nonetheless expresses continuity with systems of aristocratic identity construction familiar from the ancien régime, describes the consumerist self-styling of the travelling woman, and testifies to its central role in Teresa’s construction of her relationship with Byron.
Continue reading “Teresa Guiccioli’s Travelling Chest”
Contributor: Clare Brant
Location: Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, London
Description: ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’: the first line (and proper title) of Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils (pub.1807) has epitomised Romantic poetry for generations of English schoolchildren (and for some, created resistance to it.) What made clouds Romantic? Why did poets and artists across Europe follow William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and John Constable (1776-1837) in making them subjects of Romantic poems and paintings?
Continue reading “A Cloud”
Contributor: Jean-Marc Hovasse
Location: Maison de Victor Hugo, 6, place des Vosges, 75004 Paris.
Description: Mme Victor Hugo organisait régulièrement sous la monarchie de Juillet des loteries ou des ventes de charité au profit de bonnes œuvres. Elle continua en exil. On raconte qu’ayant croisé au marché une fillette de cinq ans qui gardait non sans périls sa petite sœur de six mois, elle eut l’idée de fonder une crèche à Guernesey, où les mères pourraient déposer leurs enfants pendant qu’elles travaillaient, au lieu de les abandonner dans la rue. Telle est l’origine du grand « Bazar » organisé pendant la dernière semaine du mois de juin 1860 à Saint-Pierre-Port. Il avait été préparé très en amont, comme en témoigne ce passage d’une lettre de Mme Victor Hugo à George Sand datée du 25 mars 1860 : « Afin que ma récolte soit bonne il me faut beaucoup d’objets, et de précieux. M. de Lamartine m’a donné un de ses encriers. Vous voyez que je suis riche déjà. Cette richesse je voudrais l’augmenter d’un encrier qui vous ait servi. Je le mettrai en pendant avec celui de l’illustre poëte. Que l’encrier soit de verre ou de cristal, de sapin ou d’érable, qu’importe, pourvu que vous y ayez trempé votre plume et que vous certifiiez par un mot qu’il vous a appartenu. »
Était-ce vraiment un encrier, ce petit vase de verre rose translucide parcouru d’arabesques d’or donné par Lamartine, avec en guise d’autographe cet alexandrin blanc étalé sur deux lignes : « Offert par Lamartine au maître de la plume » ?
Continue reading “The Table of Inkwells / La table aux encriers”
Contributor: Bernard Degout
Location: Domaine départemental de la Vallée-aux-Loups – maison de Chateaubriand
Description: This cedar of Lebanon (cedrus libani) was planted by Chateaubriand in the park of La Vallée-aux-Loups, which he laid out during the eleven years he stayed in the hamlet of Aulnay (1807-1817). Tracing broad pathways, flattening a hill, introducing “thousands” of green trees which had been gifted by friends or acquired from renowned horticulturists, the author amassed here, according to the document which he produced for the sale of his estate, “the most complete collection of planted trees, both exotic and natural, in the whole of France”. He also grouped trees which reminded him of his journeys to America (1791) and the Orient (1806-1807) around the perimeter of the central field. The park of La Vallée-aux-Loups, created by a writer-cum-traveller, is thus a literary park. But, in a way, it is also more than this.
Continue reading “Chateaubriand’s Cedar”
Contributor: Deirdre Coleman
Location: The Johnston House Museum, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Description: The exquisite and costly workmanship of this early-nineteenth century French table clock makes it one of the most eye-catching items in the house museum of The Johnston Collection in East Melbourne, Victoria. Acquired by the Australian antiques dealer William Johnston (1911-1986), and attributed to the leading French-Swiss automata-maker Jean David Maillardet (1768-1834), the figure conforms to a once popular caricature, the Pendule au Nègre fumeur [The Smoking Negro Clock]. But as the controversy generated by the ‘blackamoor’ brooch worn in late 2017 by Princess Michael of Kent demonstrated, exoticized black figures are now considered offensive. What makes this table clock even more challenging and intriguing is the name it was given: ‘Toussaint Louverture’, in reference to the leader of a famous slave-uprising in 1802. Continue reading “The Toussaint Timepiece: Trophy of War?”
Location: Chawton House Library, Chawton, United Kingdom
Contributor: Gillian Dow
Description: A letter from Isabelle de Montolieu to Arthus Bertrand, dated 3 May 1814.
On the surface, nothing links this unassuming letter – from the Franco-Swiss novelist Isabelle de Montolieu (1751-1832) to her Paris-based publisher Claude Arthus-Bertrand (1770-1834) – to ‘England’s Jane’. Yet Isabelle de Montolieu may now be best-known – or of most interest to a general reading public – as the first translator of Jane Austen. And Claude Arthus-Bertrand was Austen’s French publisher in her own lifetime – a fact certainly unknown to Austen and doubtless also unknown to John Murray II, whose publication of Austen’s Emma (1816) appeared in Paris under Arthus-Bertrand. Continue reading “The European Jane Austen”