Peculiar Peculators

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.

11 thoughts on “Peculiar Peculators

  1. A man of the cloth – at least when he fell to the ground completely drunk through his sermon he got up and finished it : Minor souls would have given in ! A doctor utriusque iuris, of both laws ; member of some societies, public, secret and / or self-styled ; if need be a trickster ; shrewd business man ; over years self styling and working on his image as libertin ; of course he had it with the ladies, but the ladies also had it with him : He was a celebrity, and a toy of Europe for a generation. Read his autobiography, dear MsScarlet, it’s worth it.
    I always have to think of CASANOVA as old man, with outdated makeup, outdated clothes, outdated manners in that horrible castle in the nearly transsylvanian forests (Yes, it’s far from that area, but it’s the Bohemian forest & forest is forest & East is East ; it’s not Paris, London, Berlin or Venezia – it’s the arse end of Europe, be it 1790s or not !). No laughter of beautiful women, but the laughter of the other servants about that strange librarian their master has hired, als Gnadenbrot

    The old alchemists were not that harmful like the modern colleagues, Narrengold LX. They simply fleeced one or another rich patron, had always the risk of an accident in the lab – and now or then invented something useful. And the iatrochemical alchemists following Paracelsus really wanted to find medicin(s) and understand how things work (what is nature and how to manipulate it).
    The modern alchemists have no qualms to throw their pseudo-gold at all of us and try to rip off every single one – democratization of defraud, if you want.
    Thank you for the music – the lady is in command of all her muscles, I could not even get up that way, forget with two swords on the head.

  2. And speaking of Paracelsus.. My son just came back from travelling in Europe. He spent most of his time in Salzburg though where he enjoyed some Stiegl Bier. The Stiegle Brewery was founded the year before Paracelsus was born. They have a beer named after him.
    Interesting history though, Mago. I had no idea of Maria, die Juedin or Jeanne Camus de Pontcarre. Of course, I assume that everybody has heard of Casanova.

  3. Many women and some men by their nature or training are alchemists though they would not have thought to call themselves as such. The use of herbs in cooking, the old remedies that science puts to the test and to their surprise find that it works; such as cranberry juice for curing a bladder infection. We learn it from our mothers and grandmothers and sometimes we experiment on our own, but we do not think to generalize this knowledge beyond cooking and home remedies.
    My niece watches so curiously when she visits, she never learned these things. She had a sliver in one of her fingers she was trying to hide because she didn’t want to be tortured with its removal. I soaked it in warm salty water and gave it barely a push with my thumb nail and it came right out. One of my nephews also commented that he is only healthy when he eats at my house. Over a warm bowl of homemade soup he rambles on and on until he untangles his brain. He refuses to accept himself as “an artist-type”, they are simply not allowed in my family, but I survived.

  4. Jessas, the Austrians … I had never heard of Stiegl Bräu, thank you for showing me this, Schaumkrone. Their Paracelsus brew is unfiltered, a Zwickl, it’s not supposed to become old …
    “Wer schreibt, der bleibt.” Maria prophetessa may have written, but it’s lost ; Jeanne d’Urfè wrote letters – and those are lost too. I read somewhere that she had some packages of letters burnt after her death, possibly those from Casanova.

  5. Soup is underrated, Melanie ! There are so many things one can do with spices and herbs – given that one has good ingredients at hand. Add a surrounding of peace and non-pressure – that’s why kitchens all over the world are places of heaven.

  6. And it’s (nearly) always the grandmother.
    I still know to this day how the Sunday meal at my grandmother’s place tasted. I can not reproduce it, even if I would have the same spices and herbs. I know vaguely what she put in it, but I have no Kochmaschin’, that is a wood (and coal) heated oven. Even the warmth was different. And I have no garden at hand, where you just step out and cut what you need. Hope your nephew can untangle his brains, I have no idea what an “artist-type” might be, all he should do is be himself I guess. Difficult enough.

  7. Good God LX ! I did not know that something like that existed. I only learned about “Experimental Archeology”, something that started in the 1980s (?). Students had the idea to rebuild the gear of Roman legionaries and then use it: How long would a march over the Alps really take ? Later they started to construct machines, I am not sure whether they started to built a camp.
    All this re-enactment is strange to me. I will write a bit about it, because I found a group that re-enacts a German Panzerdivision, somewhere in Virginia ; I think they even have a tank.
    But stepping out and hammering the shit out of the opponents body armour is of course the more sporty approach. I’ll stay with the other monks in the scriptorium and watch from a distance : The survivor gets a chanson de geste, promised !

  8. I also enjoyed LX’s off-topic link! I’ve trained with a genuine broad sword (that means at its full weight of metal) and Japanese Katana, but I am a Rogue at heart. Bows and arrows since age five, daggers, and snares. When I was first truly on my own I could only afford a cheap apartment in a dangerous neighborhood. To make my self feel safe I had fishing line snares about the windows and door. Even if someone were standing behind me while I opened the door they could not see me slip my hand around to unhook the main line for the door. I didn’t have many visitors, but those that did, never saw them. :)

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