There are not many women found in the history of alchemy (Ger., Eng.). At the beginning of this noble art stands Maria the Jew (Ger., Eng.), who possibly was a real person. That is not always necessarily the case, Basilius Valentinus (Ger., Eng.) for example seems to be a fictional character only, a kind of vehicle for some people to publish texts, or an alter ego for the alchemist Johann THÖLDE (Ger.).
But in 18th century’s Paris we find a noble woman who runs her own laboratory : Jeanne d’URFÉ (1705-1775) (Ger., Fr., list of ladies).
She was born as Jeanne CAMUS de PONTCARRÉ, her father served as president of the parlement de Normandie (Eng., Fr.) in Rouen (Ger., Eng.). In 1724 she married Louis-Christophe de LAROCHEFOUCAULD de LASCARIS, Marquis d’Urfé et de Langeac, Count of Sommerive (1704−1734) – what a name. She gave birth to three children from this marriage : A son Alexandre, who died in infancy ; a daughter Adelaide, later a Marquise de BAGE and Agnes Marie, later a Comtesse de CREUILLY. Her husband died after ten years (1734) and left behind a wealthy widow of 29.
The main source for her life seems to be the autobiography of CASANOVA (1725-1798) (Ger., Eng.), whom she supported for some time. They met in 1757 in Paris. CASANOVA surely was an adventurer, but he also was a businessman. He was co-founder of the national lottery in France, what generated a steady income for him ; he was well-connected and was sent f.e. to Amsterdam in business missions – as carefully as one has to read his memories (Ger., Eng.), so they let recognize the author’s attempt to be serious and sincere, partly at least. When he wrote it, he was sitting in the cold castle of Dux (Ger., Eng.) in the darkest Bohemian forest and it was no pleasure for him, a tragic relic, a curiosity left over from another time, the days before the bloody revolution, happier days of elegance style & lightness, when he sat at the table of La Marquise and listened to the amusing stories of St.Germain (Ger., Eng.), also an adventurer, but on a totally different level. Nevertheless both were living by the means of Jeanne d’URFÈ.
CASANOVA comes (back) to Paris on the 5th of January 1757 and is introduced to the Marquise. He seems to be busy working on his lottery project and is successfull : In the following year he is granted a patent, the whole thing is legally established and on the 18th of April 1758 the first numbers are drawn.
In the fifth chapter of the fifth book of his biography CASANOVA mentions that he is invited to the table of la marquise. She resided at the Quai des Theatins, renamed 1791 Quai Voltaire, “next the Hôtel de Bouillon“, today nr. 17 Quai Malaquais. She seems to be obsessed with the occult, with alchemy, and she is one of the few who actually has a laboratory and works in it by herself – CASANOVA is shown the whole institute and he is impressed. And, what is even more important for the magnum opus, she had the books: The library of the d’URFÉs was famous, later it was sold, and finally integrated into the Bibliothèque National.
La marquise was all too ready to believe that CASANOVA was an adept, a true follower, man in the know – and he surely did nothing to convince her of the contrary. She trusted him with business affairs and send him to the Netherlands, regarding her shares of some trading company, and CASANOVA insists that he did not betray her in this respect, that he in fact made a good deal for her. He calls her greedy, because she spends only 30.000 Francs a year, and amasses a fortune by speculation. Her daughter Adelaide brings her in front of a judge for not receiving her share. Basically her case is justified, but the judge is an old lover of la Marquise, who wants to return the favour.
Later, of course he did con her, and after 1763 he’d better not come to Paris, at least for some time. But these days are far away in the future, his star is far away from sinking : Money flows in, gold wants to be made, it’s all adventure !
Or, as TALLEYRAND (1754-1838) (Ger., Eng.), whom Napoleon called “merde dans un bas de soie”, put it : “Ceux qui n’ont pas connu l’ancien régime ne pourront jamais savoir ce qu’était la douceur de vivre.“