Mark Twain, Joan of Arc, and a Letter to H.H. Rogers, Sunday, Apr. 29, 1895

Mark Twain on the USS Mohican in the Seattle Harbor, about to embark for Europe, 1895

Excerpt from a letter from Mark Twain to H.H. Rogers in New York City: Sunday, Apr. 29, ’95:

…At 6 minutes past 7, yesterday evening, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

With the long strain gone, I am in a sort of physical collapse today, but it will be gone tomorrow. I judged that this end of the book would be hard work, and it turned out to be so. I have never done any work before that caused so much thinking and weighing and measuring and planning and cramming, or so much cautious and painstaking execution. For I wanted the whole Rouen trial in, if it could be got in in such a way that the reader’s interest would not flag—in fact I wanted the reader’s interest to increase; and so I stuck to it with that determination in view—with the result that I have left nothing out but unimportant repetitions. Although it is mere history—history pure and simple—history stripped naked of flowers, embroideries, colorings, exaggerations, inventions—the family agree that I have succeeded. It was a perilous thing to try in a tale, but I never believed it a doubtful one—provided I stuck strictly to business and didn’t weaken and give up: or didn’t get lazy and skimp the work. The first two-thirds of the book were easy; for I only needed to keep my historical record straight; therefore I used for reference only one French history [Michelet] and one English one [Tuckey]—and shoveled in as much fancy work and invention on both sides of the historical road as I pleased. But on this last third I have constantly used five French sources and five English ones and I think no telling historical nugget in any of them that has escaped me.

Possibly the book may not sell, but that is nothing—it was written for love.

There—I’m called to see company. The family seldom requires this of me, but they know I am not working today.

Yours sincerely,

S.L. Clemens

When reading a book of Mark Twain‘s letters to select one for an intellectual history seminar presentation last year (this is a lightly edited version of that very presentation) this letter to H.H. Rogers jumped right out at me. As many of my long-time readers may know, I’ve long had a fascination with Joan of Arc and with Mark Twain’s book about her. 1896’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc was, and still is, a mystery to many. Why did this hard-bitten cultural critic, cynic and skeptic write a tender and hagiographic historical novel about a medieval French Catholic warrior-saint? From his own comments over the decades, he wasn’t especially fond of the French; he thought the medieval period was an age of superstition and ignorance; he mocked patriotism as just another brand of thoughtless provincialism; and he certainly was no fan or defender of organized religion. And why did this novelist and humorist decide to write a history …well, again, a historical novel, but heavy on the history nonetheless? And why did he insist it was the best thing he’d ever written?

First Edition of Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, 1896, cover

In some ways, Twain’s fascination with and tenderness for Joan of Arc isn’t hard to explain. His biographer Dixon Wecter writes that ‘the heroine of his inmost heart is Joan of Arc, a virgin of unapproachable purity’ (Wecter 172). He was noted, even then, as a writer with unusually sentimental ideas about women and girls, convinced that by nature they were tender and pure, of some plane higher than that of rough, vulgar, venal, lustful men. If we set aside the bloodshed and partisanship, it’s not too much of a stretch to characterize Joan as a model of virtuous womanhood, above the ordinary concerns and desires and accomplishments of men. And Joan appears in Twain’s book as just such a woman, with a ready wit and a strong sense of humor (Twain’s Joan laughs and pals around a lot) to redeem her from being a ‘tinsel saint,’ as he complained that the Catholic Church was about to make her with her canonization proceedings.

And when Twain wrote that his Joan book was ‘was written for love,’ he’s likely thinking not only about his love of Joan, he’s thinking of Susy. With the exception of his wife Livy, Susy was the dearest person in the world to Twain’s heart, and he made no secret of it. His daughter was vivacious, sentimental, affectionate, and the year after he finished Joan, dead. She died on August 15th, 1896, at age 24, in the same year Joan was published in book form (it was originally published as a serial in Harper’s Weekly). But throughout the first years he was writing Joan, Susy was as big a fan as he was, and had high praise, like Twain himself, for the work. It’s commonly accepted that Susy was a major inspiration for his characterization and idealization of Joan. It seems that he was in many ways unable, in fact, to put Susy aside so he could really consider Joan herself, on her own terms.

Although Twain wrote that he was recounting ‘mere history …stripped naked of flowers [and] embroideries,’ Joan’s story could not have been more fascinating on its own merits and Twain, inventor of fantastic tales and prolific creator of clever lines, could not have surpassed it in either. The fact that a seventeen-year-old illiterate peasant girl could run away from home; convince Church authorities that the voices in her head telling her to deliver France from England came from God and not the devil; convince war leaders and the King to give her troops and arms; lead the French army to a series of victories delivered by cunning military strategy as well as a new sense of united, sacred purpose; and once she was captured by the English and handed over to an ecclesiastical court in hopes they could discredit her as a sorceress and heretic, conduct her own case so skillfully that we still wonder at her prudent and adroit responses.

In early 1895, Twain wrote in his notebook that it was ‘across [France’s] firmament that those two prodigies swept, astonishing the world, Napoleon and Joan of Arc—that wonderful man and that sublime girl who dwarf all the rest of the human race.’ (Notebook 241) A little while after I read this passage and as I was looking for more references to Joan of Arc in his letters, I came across another to H.H. Rogers, written on Sunday, Sept 9th, 1894. Twain wrote: ‘..In those two days I reached and passed—successfully—a point which I was solicitous about before I ever began that book: viz., the battle of Patay.’ (Notebook p 616) The Battle of Patay, I remembered, was perhaps the most decisively victorious as well as an especially bloody battle from Joan’s campaign—which was so bloody overall that during her trial she was accused of ‘cruelly thirsting for human blood and encouraging its shedding’ (Trial 124)—and to refresh my memory of Twain’s account of it, I flipped through his Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. On page 250, chapter XXX begins ‘When the morning broke at last on that forever memorable 18th of June’; I did a quick Google search of the date to see if this was the Patay account, since it’s not in the chapter title and there’s no index, and instead, I came up with a list of results for the Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon met his defeat.

Jeanne d’Arc by Albert Lynch, engraving from Figaro Illustre magazine, 1903, public domain

I wonder: is this link between these two French objects of his admiration a coincidence? Twain often told an anecdote about the first time he encountered Joan of Arc: in 1849, when he was still a printer’s apprentice, a loose page from a biography of Joan blew right off the sidewalk and into his face (Harrington and Jenn 64). But I wonder how much of this is thanks to the romance our imagination often drapes our memories in, and how much are the links between ideas and events we inevitably find when we pursue our interests diligently enough. Perhaps he encountered the historic Battle of Patay when researching the military history of Napoleon, a more likely secular hero, and thereby found Joan again.

‘For I wanted the whole Rouen trial in, if it could be got in in such a way that the reader’s interest would not flag—in fact I wanted the reader’s interest to increase; and so I stuck to it with that determination in view—with the result that I have left nothing out but unimportant repetitions. Although it is mere history—history pure and simple—history stripped naked.’ To return to Twain’s ‘mere history’ of Joan, he’s referring to the account of her trial at Rouen that lasted from January 9th, 1431 until she was burned at the stake on May 30th of the same year. Originally, Twain was going to tell the story of her childhood through her military career, ending with the Bloodless March, in which English stronghold after stronghold, hearing of Joan’s victories, surrendered without a shot, and the King’s coronation at Rheims, where his now sole reign over his French kingdom was confirmed. But I, for one, am glad he didn’t end there, because I agree with her biographer Jules Quicherat and not Jules Michelet in that Joan’s trial is as important a part of her legacy as any of her accomplishments. I don’t really agree with Twain that his account of the trial is ‘history pure and simple’ without ‘embroideries’, but he does stick closely to the many sources he refers to for this part of the books for the essential facts. The embroideries consist of his extremely negative characterization of Pierre Cauchon, the English-sympathizing bishop who led her trial; and the thoughts, reactions, and emotions of Louis de Comte, the fictionalized recorder of the trial and Joan’s lifelong friend, and channeler of Twain’s own sympathies.

Twain was wise in his ‘cautious and painstaking execution’ of the trial scenes, I think: instead of sprinkling his Joan account with amusing tales about the colorful characters, invented or historically-based, who surround her, he focuses closely on the exchanges between Joan and her inquisitors. There’s rich material here for pathos and drama, too much to bring into this brief presentation in any detail. Twain stays true both to his own idealization of women and to Joan’s native cleverness when he highlights her seemingly artless, direct answers, which, though simple, were so spot-on that she deftly avoided the legal traps set for her. Her smarts, then, were showcased without her appearing haughty or show-offy in the slightest.

If I were to write a new biography of Joan of Arc, I’d hope to pursue her through the archives and written histories as carefully and as prolonged as Twain did—in fact, his intense and detailed research for the book made him important in the scholarly discussions about her life, times, character, and legacy—but I’d try to write it with less idealization, though I am at least half as enamoured of her as Twain is. Twain’s Joan is beautiful and compelling, but not quite real. I’d like to see for myself how closely I can approach her across the span of nearly six hundred years.

Here are some examples of questions I’d ask that Twain did not, or at least, left unanswered:

– Is Joan as unlikely a product of her time as so many of her biographers, her early ones especially, seem to believe? From Helen Castor’s history of Joan of Arc, I know that France was riddled at the time with visionaries, prophets, holy maids, seers, and the like. While none of them led the army of France, it’s true, perhaps people were not entirely surprised to hear someone like her making the claims she did, and so were more ready to listen to her. I think many of these would have ended up in ecclesiastical courts as well, so I’ll look for records of these, and examine them to see what kind of religious ideas these people shared. Could Joan have been inspired by any of them?

– Does her adroit handling of her own case in her trial really reveal simplicity and naiveté, where she was lucky to avoid legal traps only because her answers were short and to the point, or an exceptional intelligence at work? Are their patterns in the style and substance of her answers that reveal a tactical approach? She would have had plenty of time to work on this while imprisoned. I’d like to look at other court records of people from Joan’s social class to see how these court cases were generally conducted, if Joan had to face a degree of questioning any more intensive, severe, complex, etc then did others.

– The court made much of her adopting men’s dress and haircuts and wearing weapons as an affront both to religion and to modesty, while Joan herself dismissed these concerns. Was the wearing of men’s clothes so unusual for a woman in Joan’s circumstances? Joan was a peasant and did a lot of work with animals and keeping of the property, which may have allowed for women to adopt dress at time more like men’s. However, her family was actually well-do-do for people of her social class, so there may have been a stricter dress code for her than for the poorest workers. I’d like to see if there were other examples from her time of people adopting the dress of the other gender, of other social classes, etc and see what kind of controversy this did or did not arouse.

Perhaps when I get the chance to follow in the footsteps of Joan of Arc throughout France, as I’ve long planned to do, I’ll be able to answer these questions and many more.

Sources and Inspiration:

Castor, Helen. Joan of Arc: A History. London: Faber & Faber, 2014

Harrington, Paula and Ronald Jenn. Mark Twain & France: The Making of a New American Identity. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2017

Hobbins, Daniel. The Trial of Joan of Arc. Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Michelet, Jules. Joan of Arc: Or, The Maid of Orleans. From Michelet’s History of France. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1858.

Quicherat, Jules. Procès de Condamnation et de Réhabilitation de Jeanne d’Arc, Dite La Pucelle. Paris: J. Renouard et Cie, 1841

Twain, Mark, and Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain’s Letters (Definitive ed., Writings of Mark Twain, v.34-35). New York: G. Wells, 1923

Twain, Mark. Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (Oxford Mark Twain). New York, [N.Y.] ; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996

Twain, Mark, and Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain’s Notebook (Second ed.). New York: Harper and Brothers, 1935

Wecter, Dixon. Sam Clemens of Hannibal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!

Remembering Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc by Amy Cools, about 1998. My mental image of her then was influenced by popular iconography and films, much of it which, as I did, portrayed her as tall, fair-skinned, and light-haired (think Ingrid Bergman’s 1948 film portrayal). In real life, she was somewhat short, dark-eyed with black hair, and had a sun-tanned, athletic body that, despite their describing it as attractive, aroused no lust in her fellow soldiers. Perhaps this resulted from their idealization of her as too godly for mere mortals to touch. Or perhaps, as I surmise, her indifference to sex with men was too manifest to give rise to that kind of chemistry. My drawing does, I think, manifest my youthful idea of her as a lovely tomboy, as an active, confident girl was then miscalled. Joan’s wearing the white shift which she wore to the stake and holding her cross made of two sticks tied together, which a sympathetic bystander quickly fashioned to comfort her on her way to execution

My fascination with Joan of Arc, born sometime in 1412 and put to death by fire on May 30th, 1431, is long-standing, beginning in my girlhood. Joan, as you likely know, is the French national heroine who fought to remove medieval France from English rule, whose exploits turned the tide and guaranteed France’s ultimate victory in the Hundred Year’s War.

She was the daughter of prosperous peasants in Domrémy, France. On a self-proclaimed mission from God to restore French rule to the rightful heir of the House of Valois, she convinced the local baron, military leaders, and eventually the crown prince to put her in charge of the dispirited French army, despite the fact that she was illiterate, militarily inexperienced, and a teenage girl.

By the time Joan reached the Dauphin, as the French crown prince was called, the French had long been in the habit of losing battles, even when they had the upper hand in numbers and defensive position, often because they were unable to cohere as a unified fighting force. French society was still feudal, highly stratified by class, and the army was no exception. Common soldiers were ill-equipped and underused, mistrusted and despised by aristocratic and wealthy knights jealous of their own superior rank. They could not bring themselves to give common soldiers opportunities for a share in the military glories of conquest. So French armies, fractured by class with everyone out for themselves, lost time after time to the more pragmatic and unified English forces. Troops of English longbowmen, for example, were made of up common soldiers highly valued for their strength and skill, and the English army made full use of them, to the detriment of the French. When Joan came along, a peasant in direct communication with Saint Micheal the Archangel, patron saint of French knights, she served as the much-needed unifier of French sympathies. Knights and commoners alike were united by their love of her and what she represented, and they began to fight as one, an army made holy and therefore equal: the aristocracy and chivalric order may have been respecters of persons, but the God who called Joan to lead them in their sacred quest was not.

Joan also whipped the army into shape, demanding that they train as hard as she did. She banned gambling, swearing, and prostitution from the camps, and required that soldiers attend religious services regularly. These reforms served the double purpose of further unifying soldiers through daily rituals that helped internalize their sense of holy, shared purpose, and of reducing the opportunities for alcoholism, venereal disease, and other ravages of hard living that could weaken her forces. She also prohibited raiding and pillaging which further unified French sympathies, especially of the common people and the countryside who had long suffered the predations of marauding English and French soldiers.

Joan of Arc, ca. 1450-1500, oil on parchment, artist unknown, public domain

Once she had raised the Seige of Orléans, drove the English from fort after fort, and led the Dauphin to be crowned King at Reims, her hawkish mission fell victim to what she considered dithering and intrigue, and what Charles VII considered diplomacy to save lives and capital. As Joan saw it, aristocrats and corrupt clerics, still jealous of their own social standing and opportunities for power either as leaders in the newly strengthened French order or as secret English collaborators, blocked her next great project: to deliver Paris from English control. She relieved her frustration and boredom by leading a series of minor skirmishes against the English, and was finally captured at one of these. She was handed over to an ecclesiastical court, led by French clerics symphathetic to the English cause, so they try her as heretic, ‘proving’ her in league with Satanic fiends, as the great English playwright William Shakespeare portrays her in Henry V. This would discredit her godly mission, her power to unite the French, and her assistance to Charles VII’s cause, thereby undermining his royal legitimacy. She was burned at the stake in Rouen, having accomplished the first part of her mission, the liberation of Orléans and the coronation of her King, and setting in motion the second part, the complete liberation of France from English rule, at only nineteen years old.

But it was clear to both French and English that the ‘holy’ court that condemned Joan was led and manipulated by political actors, not by men of God whose chief concern was to protect the Church from heresy. About twenty years after her death, the victorious French king Charles VII, who owed his crown and the reclamation of his kingdom to Joan, was finally reminded of his debt of gratitude by the realization that his hold on power was threatened if his rule was the result of the machinations of a heretic. A trial of rehabilitation and nullification commenced in the mid-1400’s, which formally vindicated her and proved to their satisfaction her mission came from God. Almost five hundred years after her death, Joan of Arc was proclaimed a saint by the Catholic Church.

Joan of Arc statue in Paris, France, photo 2015 by Amy Cools. This stylized depiction of her, in that Art Deco style I so love, makes me think of a green flame: green for the fields in which she roamed as a child shepherd, flame for her passionate intensity. Her attempt to liberate Paris by force from English rule was put to a stop by Charles VII’s diplomatic maneuverings, as well as by a wound she suffered in the failed assault. Paris was recovered by the French only a few years later by a means this inveterate warrior dismissed as a sign of weakness: by treaty. I believe, by the way, the fire she was wont to ignite in the hearts of soldiers also flamed in the breasts of the liberators of Paris five hundred years later in WWII.

I was religious as a child and a teenager, and admired her then as a Catholic saint. By my late teens, I had left religious belief behind, but my admiration for her has only grown and deepened over the years. She became something more to me, more rich, more mysterious, more complex. I think of her now as a native genius, with no other language or context in which to express, to herself and others, her political and military insights than the religion which infused her life and the life of the lives of her fellow countrypeople. And the way she was able to baffle, rebut, and defeat her interrogators at the show trial by those determined to discredit her before burning her at the stake remains a marvel. Her intellect was such that, despite her illiteracy and lack of formal education, she was able to see right through the legal deceptions of her judges and prosecutors, avoiding every verbal trap and pitfall they set for her, turning their attacks and arguments right back on them.

In preparation for this anniversary of her death, I’ve immersed myself in writing and art about Joan. Besides various histories, I’ve recently re-read Mark Twain’s historical novel Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, which was recommended to me by my devoutly Catholic grandmother. I’ve read it many times over the last two decades. It was Twain’s own favorite of all his novels; he proudly announced he spent twelve years researching it and two years writing it, which he did for no other novel. While Joan is as full of comical scenes and quips as any of his other works, it’s a tender book, channeling his love for his own wife and daughters, with much less sarcasm and much more earnest, overtly expressed sorrow and compassion than anything else he ever wrote. His Joan is suffused with the sweetness, purity, and honesty he perceived much of in young girls and too little of in the rest of the world. Twain’s ideas about young girls and women are, I think, hyper-sentimental, naive, even dehumanizing to the extent that his ideal of female virtue did not include the full range of human reason and passion. He, like most in his era, in Joan’s time, and in fact, Joan herself, fetishized female virginity. But I love his account of Joan’s brave life and tragic death nonetheless, just as we can be forgivingly fond of the quaint idealizations of our fathers, uncles, and grandfathers of the sweet purity of womanhood while secretly rolling our eyes.

Drawing of Joan of Arc by Clément de Fauquembergue, as a doodle on the margin of the protocol of the parliament of Paris, dated May 10th, 1429. It’s the only contemporary image of her

Unlike Twain’s tender ideal of Victorian-style womanhood and the Church’s monumental Saint, I find the complex, flesh-and-blood Joan, full of marvelous virtues, deep flaws, incredible natural abilities, inexplicable quirks, and ordinary human qualities, much more interesting. I admire her courage, audacity, bravery, energy, savviness, intelligence, trust in her own abilities, and independence of spirit. I’m disturbed and even at times repelled by her single-minded, sometimes bloodthirsty willingness to sacrifice so many human lives for her cause; her insistence that those things going on in her own mind were the absolute truth and must be believed and obeyed or else; her absolute allegiance to the divine right of kings as established by male bloodline (especially given that many of the French preferred the less ruthless, less feudal, more legally scrupulous style of English rule); and her hyper-religiosity which impelled her to write letters calling on others to put Muslims and religious dissenters to the sword.

The real Joan is such a compendium of attributes and mysteries that she’s become an icon and an inspiration to perhaps the diverse set of people I can think of:

Joan of Arc is a working person’s icon. She’s a self-made woman who got her start working with her hands in the fields, and given very little formal education. But with her own common sense, strong sense of self, and enterprising spirit, she pulled herself up by her bootstraps more quickly and to a greater height than nearly anyone else in history. She began as an illiterate peasant in a feudal society and ended up chief of the armies of France before she reached twenty, and after her death reached even greater heights as a Catholic saint, a military legend, and France’s eternal national hero.

Joan of Arc is a religious icon. She claimed an intimate knowledge of the will of God through the voices of his emissaries he sent to her, St Michael the Archangel, St Catherine, and St Margaret. She’s a treasured if difficult icon for Catholicism: she claimed that God spoke to her directly through heavenly messengers, even as the Church considered itself the divinely-appointed sole intercessor between humanity and heaven. Though she presented a challenge to Church hierarchy and to the Pauline conception of women as the silent, submissive inheritors of Eve’s great sin, Joan was re-reconciled to the very Church that had condemned her, for a variety of theological as well as (I think history makes clear) political reasons. (Re-reconciled because her first formal ecclesiastical examination at Poitiers, to establish the truth of her mission before she was allowed to meet the Dauphin, declared that she was devout, orthodox in religion, a true virgin, and free of deceit). Though she remained passionately loyal to the Church and hated religious dissent, she also embodied the independent spirit that inspired the Protestant revolution, centered on the conviction that God can, and does, speak directly to us in our hearts and through Scripture, no earthly intercessors required.

World War I lithograph poster, 1918. It’s rather a strange one, using the image of Joan to encourage women to help the war effort by attending to their domestic concerns; the US military still banned women from fighting. But Joan was all the rage then: Twain’s thoroughly researched novel, together with other renewed scholarly interest in her over the previous fifty years, made the story of her life much more widely known, and the Church had recently beatified her. She was made a saint two years after this poster was published.

Joan of Arc is a military icon. She loved fighting and spurned any diplomacy beyond plans to move the English out of France as quickly as possible. Though she initially wept at the sight of soldiers wounded and dead as a result of her aggressive tactic of direct assault, she continued to lead every charge in her favored, necessarily casualty-heavy way. Her rhetoric in letters and speech, though embellished with appeals to Christian forbearance and mercy, was violent, filled with threats to chop off heads and put to the sword all who did not obey the will of God as she proclaimed it to be. She inspired deep and enthusiastic devotion in her soldiers, even in her most hard-bitten, most skeptical generals, and quickly achieved a mythic stature among her countrypeople that even General Douglas MacArthur could only envy.

Joan of Arc is a queer icon. She was a cross-dresser who disdained sex with men. Her first simple style of male garb was a practical measure for a soldier who needed to move freely and for a woman often surrounded by men in a culture that regarded single women without escort as fair sexual prey. But over time, as she first encountered the delights of elegant and expensive clothing, showered upon her as gifts of admiration and gratitude, she became quite the clothes horse. She saw no problem with this: medieval sensibilities often conflated holiness with material richness just as the Old Testament did, and God, his favorites, saints, and angels were almost invariably portrayed in the richest of finery. But her enemies mocked her adopted style of wearing silken hose and richly embellished garments in fine fabrics as proof she was as vain, conceited, and driven by lust for personal fame and riches as they had always said. Another reputed French visionary, a young shepherd boy being groomed as Joan’s more convenient, less pugnacious replacement as saintly advisor to the king, blamed her capture on her having fallen prey to vanity and luxury. They claim that she was captured because of her finery, pulled off her horse by the fancy little cape she had grown fond of wearing.

Jeanne d’Arc by Albert Lynch, engraving from Figaro Illustre magazine, 1903, public domain

Joan of Arc is an art and fashion icon. Her exploits, her cross-dressing, her independence of spirit, and her short hair inspired centuries of creative people to capture this wondrously unique individual on canvas, in brass and wood, and in textiles. And songs, poems, stories, films, plays, and countless other forms of creative expression emphasize this, that, or the other facet of her varied and mysterious character. And the Joan-style, French-invented bobbed haircut of the 1920’s, the same decade which saw Joan’s canonization and women’s obtaining the full legal right to vote in the United States and Britain (it took France another twenty years), became a potent symbol, a public declaration that each cropped head recognized that:

Joan of Arc is the feminist icon, par excellence. She bested men in daring and stamina on the battlefield, in intellect time after time in the courtroom, in keeping her own counsel and determining her own destiny despite opposition from family, church, and society, in self-preservation from her would-be prison rapists, and in the courage she displayed on the day of her death. And yet, as she charmingly boasted near the beginning of her final trials, she was confident that she a better seamstress and spinner than just about any other woman! She wore armor, pretty dresses, rough men’s clothes, and over-the-top finery as it suited her. She sang, rode horses, adventured, communed with God and angels, told men and other women what to do, and drove thousands of people to distraction wondering what to make of this extraordinary, inspiring, difficult, inexplicable, and unforgettable person.

*Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

It’s my dream and my plan, as soon as resources and time allow, to follow the life and ideas of Joan of Arc in France. Stay tuned, though it might be quite a while, and in the meantime, here are some great sources for learning more about this marvelous woman:

Ditié de Jeanne d’Arc (Song of Joan of Arc) – by Christine de Pizan, ed. Angus J. Kennedy and Kenneth Varty (Oxford: Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature, 1977), trans. L. Shopkow

Henry VI, Part I – by William Shakespeare, 1591 via Open Source Shakespeare (website)

Jeanne d’Arc – by T. Douglas Murray, New York: McClure, Phillips & Co, 1902 (excerpts detailing her trial)

Joan of Arc – by Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider, The History Chicks podcast, episode 51

Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured – by Kathryn Harrison, New York: Doubleday, 2014

Joan of Arc – 1948 film directed by Victor Fleming, screenplay by Maxwell Anderson

Joan of Arc: A History – by Helen Castor, New York: HarperCollins, 2015

Joan of Arc: The Warrior Saint – by Stephen Wesley Richey, Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003

The Passion of Joan of Arc – 1928 film, screenplay by Joseph Delteil and Carl Theodor Dreyer, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc – by Mark Twain, 1896

The Riddle Of Mark Twain’s Passion For Joan Of Arc – by Daniel Crown for The Awl, Apr 3, 2012.

Saint Joan – 1957 film adapted George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan, screenplay by Graham Greene, directed by Otto Preminger

*A version of this piece was previously published at Ordinary Philosophy

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Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!

Thomas Jefferson by Charles Bird King, 1836, after Gilbert Stuart, at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Photo 2016 by Amy Cools

As I rest after completing my term papers, exploring the highlands and islands of Scotland with my dear friends, I find I have little time to write and even less time with good internet connection. So let me share some old things with you, friends, until I can write and record for O.P. again.

In remembrance of Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) on his birthday, here are my tributes to his memory, his life, and his ideas from over the years:

To Washington DC, Virginia, and Philadelphia I Go, In Search of Thomas Jefferson

To Paris, France I Go, In Search of Revolution-Era Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

and my thrilling interview with Clay Jenkinson, Jefferson scholar, of just over two years ago

Interview with Clay Jenkinson as Thomas Jefferson

I hope you enjoy following me as I followed in the footsteps of Jefferson!

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!

Thomas Jefferson by Charles Bird King, 1836, after Gilbert Stuart, at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Photo 2016 by Amy Cools

In remembrance of Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) on his birthday, I’ll share my tributes to his memory, his life, and his ideas: my traveling philosophy / history of ideas series

To Washington DC, Virginia, and Philadelphia I Go, In Search of Thomas Jefferson

and

To Paris, France I Go, In Search of Revolution-Era Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

and my thrilling interview with Clay Jenkinson, Jefferson scholar, last year

Interview with Clay Jenkinson as Thomas Jefferson

I hope you enjoy following me as I follow in the footsteps of Jefferson!

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Seventh Day in Paris Following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

Former site of the Hotel d'Orleans at 17 rue Bonaparte, Paris

Front door of 17 rue Bonaparte, Paris, at or near the former site of the Hotel d’Orleans

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Today’s tale will be a shorter one, though the places I do make it to are wonderful and full of interest. It’s my last full day in Paris and I’m accompanied by my tired husband, so we take it easy. We visit Serge Gainsbourg’s house in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, enjoy some celebratory Paris-Brest pastries  from La Pâtisserie des Rêves on rue du Bac (considered by many to be the very best), take a boat ride on the Seine (a lovely way to see the city!), and otherwise just stroll around at a very leisurely pace, stopping here and there for a coffee or a cold drink.

On our way to the pastry shop, we swing by 17 rue Bonaparte, where, sometime in early to mid-August of 1784, Thomas Jefferson and his daughter Patsy moved from the smaller Hôtel d’Orleans on rue de Richelieu to more comfortable lodgings at this larger hotel, also named d’Orleans. This street was named the rue des Petits-Augustins in Jefferson’s time, and this time around, I have the address. The Hôtel would be Jefferson and Patsy’s home until he found the one that was supposed to be their permanent home in Paris on cul-de-sac Taitbout that October, and until he settled on a good school for Patsy. However, as we have seen, Jefferson ended up living the longest on Champs-Élysées.

Rown of shops and hotels including 17 rue Bonaparte, at or near Hotel d'Orleans site, Paris

Row of shops and hotels including 17 rue Bonaparte at or near the Hotel d’Orleans site where Thomas Jefferson lived for a short time in the fall of 1784

 Cour du Commerce Saint André behind Cafe Procope, Paris,

Cour du Commerce Saint André behind Café Procope, Paris

Next, we head east on Boulevard Saint-Germain, passing the beautiful medieval Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés. One of its chapels is the oldest surviving religious building in Paris, originally built in the 11th century, and I admire its spartan beauty.

We’re heading for Café Procope, which Jefferson frequented during his years in Paris in the company of Benjamin Franklin. Their time in Paris overlapped for a little less than a year, as Franklin left Paris in June of 1785, and Jefferson, as I have mentioned, arrived on August 6th, 1784. Franklin had already been a regular at Café Procope for many years, since 1776. The Café is located at 13 rue de l’Ancienne Comedie in the 6th Arrondissement, just off Bd. St-Germaine at Odéon, though we first spot it from the charming little pedestrian street that runs behind it named Cour du Commerce Saint André.

Cafe Procope and its flags, Paris

Cafe Procope and its flags

Marble plaques at Café Procope, 13 rue de l’Ancienne Comedie, Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Café Procope is a large, cheery restaurant, whose front is bedecked with flowerpots and flags from around the world. It’s considered the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Paris, and started as a literary cafe centered around conversation and coffee. Many of Paris’s best minds and most influential movers and shakers were guests here over the centuries: Jefferson, Franklin, Jean de La Fontaine, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, Napoleon Bonaparte, Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, Anatole France, and perhaps Thomas Paine too, though I haven’t been able to verify the latter. After all, Paine was a great friend of Franklin’s, a sort of protege of whom Franklin took the trouble to introduce to his friends both in Paris and in the United States.

Central stairway in Cafe Procope

Central stairway at Café Procope

We approach the hostess and ask if they have a bar; we want to spend some time here and take in the atmosphere, but we have our picnic lunch with us already. It turns out it’s only a sit-down restaurant, no bar or coffee service. We pause and look around a bit, and a tall man with salt and pepper hair, in response to my inquiring expression, welcomes us very warmly and gives me permission take pictures. We have a little chat, and I tell him of my project, and though he appears pleased to hear it it’s clear I’m not the first visitor interested in the history of the place. He also invites us to go to the upstairs suite of dining rooms and explore those rooms as well, since they’re doing a little painting and it’s closed to diners at the moment. It appears that he manages the restaurant according to the wise principle that all press is good press, and the more people share stories and pictures of the place, the better for all.

Two interior views of upstairs dining rooms in Café Procope, Paris

Two interior views of upstairs dining rooms in Café Procope, Paris

Facsimiles of letters of famous diners over the centuries at Cafe Procope

thomas-jefferson-plaque-and-upstairs-dining-nook-at-cafe-procope-paris-2015-amy-cools

Thomas Jefferson plaque and upstairs dining nook at Café Procope

Painting of a hot air balloon ride at Café Procope, Paris

Painting of a hot air balloon ride at Café Procope, Paris

The restaurant has numerous dining rooms, upstairs and down, and has a sweet little back terrace dining area facing the passage we first spotted the restaurant from. They’re decorated in shades of gold and red, which coupled with the large and numerous windows, lend the rooms a warm and cheerful feeling. The walls are covered with portraits, plaques, facsimiles of personal correspondence, and many more artifacts pertaining to the great people who have sipped coffee, dined, and talked here over the centuries.

There’s a plaque dedicated to Jefferson on the wall of one dining room south of the central stairway, and a scene of a hot air balloon taking off with an adventurous couple in the basket in the hall. Jefferson was fascinated with this technology, the first by which people could travel by air, and Jefferson witnessed this marvel for himself in Paris for the first time, in the Tuileries Gardens. This place is a treasure trove for a person following history as I am, and next time I’m in Paris, this will certainly be the first on my list of restaurants to splurge on dinner.

Parc Montsouris, Paris, France

Statue of Thomas Paine by Gutzon Borglum at Parc Montsouris, Paris

Two views of the pedestal of the statue of Thomas Paine by Gutzon Borglum, 1938, at Parc Montsouris in Paris

At a certain point late in the afternoon, my exhausted husband decides to return to his hotel in Saint-Quentin en Yvelines where his bike and luggage are, so he can get plenty of sleep before leaving early in the morning, and we say goodbye until we see each other at home. I plan to stay up late, however, since my flight leaves tomorrow afternoon. So I decide that my last historical site to visit for this trip will be Parc Montsouris at the southern edge of Paris in the middle. I plan to spend my last evening at the Seine, watching the sun go down over the Île de la Cité, and I figure that I have time to get to the park and back before sunset. I’m headed to Parc Montsouris because the only statue of Thomas Paine in Paris is there, and to get there, I take the metro to the Port d’Orleans station then head east on Boulevard Jourdan. The park is across from the Cité Universitaire, and the statue is just off the pathway that runs along Bd. Jourdan, nearer the west end of the park. It’s a lovely place for a stroll on this cooling late afternoon, a relief from this hot summer day.

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Statue of Thomas Paine by Gutzon Borglum, 1938, Parc Montsouris, Paris

The statue is a gilded affair, sculpted by Gutzon Borglum in 1938, the same artist who conceived of and designed Mount Rushmore. He was a man of outsize personality, with a strange family history, overweening ambition, and a membership in the Ku Klux Klan. There’s a documentary about Mount Rushmore on PBS’s American Experience from which you can learn more about this most unusual character, and it’s really worth a watch. I’m pretty sure the egalitarian, anti-slavery, human-rights activist and critic-of-organized-religion Paine would disapprove of the commission for his statue going to this guy. It’s also just a middling portrait: not particularly evocative of Paine’s personality, as is the portrait by George Romney, nor particularly artful, interesting, or innovative in other ways. But it’s a serviceable one, and I’m glad this tribute exists in any case.

It’s likely Borglum painted it gold because of Napoleon Bonaparte. They first met at a dinner party in 1800, where Bonaparte invited Paine over to flatter him and get his support for his ambitious plan to invade Britain and ‘liberate’ them from their oppressive monarchy. (‘Liberate’ is in scare quotes because, in hindsight, it’s funny to think of Napoleon liberating people from monarchy as an institution. While he may have been sincere to begin with, over time, it became clear that he didn’t have a problem with monarchy per se so long as he was the monarch. He did, however, institute laws that promoted some of the best principles of the French Revolution including political equality, for men at least.) Paine had been advocating such a plan for years and continued to do so; however, his initial enthusiasm for Bonaparte rather quickly turned to disillusionment and then disgust. He recognized Bonaparte’s overweening arrogance, and accused him of freely shedding blood because of it and not out of a true concern for the people. Anyway, Bonaparte flattered Paine by telling him that he slept every night with a copy of The Rights of Man under his pillow, and that a golden statue of Paine should be erected ‘in every city in the universe’. Well, here’s one anyway.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I’ve come to the end of my travel adventures following in the footsteps of Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson in Paris, though not to the end of immersing myself in their ideas.

I’ve had a most wonderful and energizing time here in Paris, and I am very sorry it’s drawing to a close. I got to know the city in a way that I might never have done if I had come just for the food, the museums, and the scenery. My adventures led me to walk many, many miles a day up and down, back and forth across the city, and I got to know many of the neighborhoods very well. I didn’t make it to a few sites I would have liked to visit: the Bois de Boulogne, the woods where Jefferson liked to relax; Versailles, which Paine and Jefferson both visited on official business (I visited Versailles when I was here seven years ago, and decided not to go this trip because it gets absolutely mobbed by tourists in mid-August); and to search for the sites of Wollstonecraft’s Neuilly-sur-Seine cottage and Helen Williams’ salon which Wollstonecraft and Paine frequented (the latter two are way out in the suburbs and I can’t find records of the addresses). Through my research and my search for buildings of a particular era set among others of varying ages, I also developed much more of an understanding of how the city changed over time.

I had one main disappointment: I had hoped to find more sites associated with the life of Mary Wollstonecraft, and to find some sort of public tribute to her as well: a statute, a street named after her, even a little plaque marking any of the places she had been. No such luck. Even given the fact that Paine and Jefferson were appointed state officials whose movements in Paris would have been documented more thoroughly, the degree of the lack of evidence of places Wollstonecraft had bee been, and of public recognition of her contributions, was still a little surprising to me. Wollstonecraft was the first to publish a best-selling rebuttal to Edmund Burke’s screed against the French Revolution; she was an ardent supporter of the Revolution and championed its cause to the western world; she was close friends with Paine and many other leaders of the Revolutionary movement; she was a famous and highly respected intellectual; she was among the first to make a systematic, well-developed philosophical case in favor of women’s rights; she lived her life as unconventionally as she thought her thoughts; and by the way, she gave the world Mary Shelley. How, then, are her contributions still so overlooked in Paris? Perhaps for some of the same reasons I was so hard-pressed to find significant public recognition of the contributions of Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in New York City.

I learned so much about these three great thinkers and about this great city, what a joy this journey has been! And I’ll be continuing to immerse myself in their ideas and to think about much they still contribute to our lives and thought. Stay tuned…

Sources and Inspiration:

Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.

‘Café Procope.’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

‘French Revolution’. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication:  A Life of Mary WollstonecraftNew York: Harper Collins, 2006.

Gutzon Borglum‘, Biographical page on the American Experience website.

History of the Restaurant‘, Café Procope website.

Hitchens, Christopher. Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man: A Biography. New York: Grove Press, 2006.

Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Les Statues du Parc Monsouris: Thomas Paine, Citoyen du Monde’, Laparisienneetsesphotos.com

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000

Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974.

Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.

Zwerin, Mike. ‘Traveling In Style: With Jefferson In Paris’. Los Angeles Times, October 16, 1994.
http://articles.latimes.com/1994-10-16/magazine/tm-51199_1_thomas-jefferson
http://articles.latimes.com/1994-10-16/magazine/tm-51199_1_thomas-jefferson/2
http://articles.latimes.com/1994-10-16/magazine/tm-51199_1_thomas-jefferson/3

Sixth Day in Paris Following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

Crossing rue de Richelieu on a drizzly day in Paris, France

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

It’s a rainy morning, wet enough to drive away the otherwise intrepid kids at the little alleyway skate park across the street, though not quite enough to drive away the hardworking construction crew renovating the building next to it. I take advantage of the inclement weather by catching up on my writing and research, and the clangs, buzzes, and shouts from the workers only adds to the feeling of productiveness, and don’t disturb me at all. By late morning, the rainfall lightens up, so I head out for the day. Along the way, I pop into several passages, covered pathways lined with shops and cafes: Passage des Panoramas, Passage Jouffrey, la galerie Vivienne, Passage des 2 Galleries, and more. It’s a great way to duck out of the rain while discovering some of the most charming little spots in Paris.

BNP Paribas offices, about where Hôtel Landron and cul-de-sac Taitbout used to be

On my way to my main destinations of the day, I quickly follow up on two sites from earlier in my trip. Last evening, I visited 95 Rue Richelieu, the actual site of James Monroe’s first house in Paris when he arrived to take over the ambassadorship from Governeur Morris. It’s now occupied by a Mercure Hotel (hotel in the modern sense), and I follow the desk clerk’s recommendation from yesterday, to see if the day manager can help me find more historical information about the building, but no dice. Upon inquiry, the lady in charge at the front desk stopped me with an abrupt ‘no’, as if to say, ‘I don’t have time for this nonsense, I have a hotel to run.’ Fair enough. I move on.

I swing over to Boulevard des Italiens, where Thomas Jefferson had lived at Hôtel Landron, aka Taitboit, for the first year of his sojourn in Paris. It stood on cul-de-sac Taitbout, which used to run north off this street right across from the back side of the Theatre des Italiens. I have since confirmed the site in additional sources, but I was right the first time: the building, and the cul-de-sac it was on, no longer exists. This place is now occupied by a large, much more modern building which houses the offices of BNP Paribas.

Then I head for 30 rue Richelieu, where Thomas Jefferson stayed first for a few days when he arrived in Paris, at one of the two hotels he stayed at named Hotel d’Orleans; this is the first of them. It’s a smaller and simpler building than many that Jefferson stayed at, which might explain why he stayed there such a short time, being used to more luxurious quarters. I find that it’s right down the street from the house where one of my literary heroes, Moliere, died, and there’s a monument to him right across the street. The statue is wearing a scarlet blindfold, just like another statue I saw on another day. I wonder what it means….

30 rue Richelieu where Thomas Jefferson stayed at one of two Hôtels d’Orléans, and 40 rue Richelieu, where the great playwright and actor Molière died

Galerie de Vivienne, behind approximate site of White’s Hotel, aka Hôtel de Philadelphia, at passage des Petits-Pères

Next, I swing by the site of the former White’s Hotel, where Thomas Paine stayed several times while he was in Paris and where Mary Wollstonecraft visited him, to confirm its actual site. As I mentioned at the opening of the story of my second day in Paris, part 2, it was listed as 7 passage des Petits Pères in three separate biographies I referenced (two of Mary Wollstonecraft, one of Thomas Paine). However, in the U.S. State Department paper I just discovered, it’s listed as 1 rue des Petits Pères. Turns out the place I had gone to on the first day was half right: putting two and two together, it seems that White’s Hotel, later Hôtel de Philadelphia, stood at the intersection of passage des Petits Pères and rue des Petits Pères, which join at an angle. Paine also lived in a place across from the hotel at 7 passage des Petits Pères, hence the confusion.

Building where James Monroe and Robert Livingston signed the Louisiana Purchase, rue des Petits Champs

Historical plaque on the building where James Monroe and Robert Livingston signed the Louisiana Purchase

So on with the story of the day: on the way to passage des Petits Peres, I stumble upon a Jefferson site quite by accident! It’s at rue des Petits Champs and rue Vivienne, the next block over from the White’s Hotel site, and it’s the place where James Monroe and Robert Livingston signed the Louisiana Purchase treaty on April 30th, 1803.

Jefferson had authorized them to purchase the crucially important port city of New Orleans and the area surrounding it so that U.S. trade could not be hampered by European quarrels. But when Napolean offered the entire Louisiana territory for $15 million, vastly larger than what they were prepared to purchase, Monroe and Livingston jumped at the chance, since they had also been instructed to use their best judgment. This was sort of going over Congress’s head, because though the President has the power to negotiate treaties, they don’t have the power to make land purchases, strictly speaking, and Jefferson had not received funding or the permission from Congress. For all his strict constructionism and anti-government-debt rhetoric, Jefferson at times operated more in accordance with a ‘great man theory’ of government like Theodore Roosevelt did. After all, if you have the vision and the power coupled with the proper concern for the wellbeing of your country, at times it just seems incumbent upon you to take such bold and decisive steps, even if they’re not strictly legal. And Jefferson was right: the Louisiana purchase was an opportunity like no other to increase the prestige, population, and power of the young United States, and had to be done almost regardless of the price.

Palais Royal, Paris, France

Front Gate of the Palais Royal / Conseil d’État, Paris, France

On my way to my next destination, I pause to snap some photos of the front of the Palais Royal, which I had neglected to do on my second day in Paris, in favor of staying under the shady walkways of its rear enclosure and tree-lined gardens. 

229 – 235 Rue Saint-Honore, former Home of Abbé André Morellet

The next site I swing by is the former home of Abbé André Morellet at 229 – 235 Rue Saint-Honore in the 8th Arrondissement, north of the Jardin des Tuileries at about its midpoint at Rue Castiglione. Morellet was an economist and contributing writer to Diderot’s Encyclopedia of the Sciences, Arts. and Crafts, and close mutual friend of Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. It’s a tall narrow house, over a macaron shop between a cafe and a luggage shop, on a touristy and expensive section of the street. Jefferson, as we have seen, was an avid collector of knowledge, and Morellet’s learned, witty, and sarcastic brain was an excellent one for picking.

Jefferson was also a frequent guest of Geoffrey Chalut de Vérin at 17 Place Vendôme, between the Opera metro station and the Jardin des Tuileries. He was a customs official and another close friend of Benjamin Franklin, though I can’t find that much information about him with a brief internet search, The collected Franklin papers contain some notes from him. Many of the opulent buildings surrounding the Place Vendôme are being restored, and some are being converted to a Ritz Hotel; 17 Place Vendôme is one of these. The column in the center of the place is also being reconstructed: the Paris Commune pulled it down in the revolution of 1871, the same revolution which saw the destruction of the Tuileries Palace.

A view of the Place Vendôme. The printed screen is shielding the monument under repair

17 Place Vendôme, behind the printed screen, at or near the site of the home of Geoffrey Chalut de Vérin

Returning to my lodgings to meet up with my husband Bryan, hopefully rested enough from riding Paris-Brest-Paris to spend a day touring Paris with me, I pass by the Palais Garnier Opera, whose spectacular beauty really knocks your socks off as you enter the square. It’s not the opera house that Jefferson attended, however, as it was built many decades after his time there.

Palais Garnier Opera House, Paris, France

When I meet up with Bryan, it turns out he’s still too exhausted to take much of a walk, so we go out for a delicious meal at a little gastropub just down the street from my place on rue Montmartre. After he goes in for a nap, I take the metro nearly as far west as it goes to Auteuil, which once was a suburb of Paris, and now in its 16th Arrondissement.

Hôtel de Verrières, 47 Rue d’Auteuil, former residence of John, Abigail, and John Quincy Adams, Paris, France

Histoire de Paris sign and view of the Hôtel de Verrières, 47 rue d’Auteil, former residence of the Adamses

Plaque on the wall in the courtyard of the Hôtel de Verrières, 47 rue d’Auteuil

Jefferson stayed here at John and Abigail Adams’ place for awhile in 1784, probably not long before he signed the lease at the Hôtel Landron at the cul-de-sac Taitbout that fall. The Adams’ former residence is at 43 – 47 rue d’Auteuil, about halfway between the Seine and the southeast corner of the Bois de Boulogne, at rue Michel-Ange, near the Monoprix grocery which is near the metro stop. The house at 47 rue d’Auteuil has a historical marker identifying it as the Hôtel de Verrières, where many famous people lived. It’s on a sweet little street, which still feels like central Paris but much mellower. The house is cute too, with rounded corners and sweet little garden area. There’s a plaque on the wall above the front garden with both John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams’ names on it, but try as I might, I can’t make out the small print or capture it on the basic camera I have with me. A young boy with a little black dog and thick blue glasses, which give him oversize Keane eyes, looks at me like I’m crazy as he goes to let himself in the front gate which I happen to be blocking. He doesn’t speak English, but I’m able to communicate with gestures that I’d just like to take a picture real quick. He lets me in and I do so. Nice kid.

Near 59 Rue d’Auteil, the former site of the salon of Madame Helvétius

In 1784 and onwards, Jefferson also often hung out at the famous salon of the fabulous Madame Helvétius just down the street at 59 rue d’Auteil. The rather puritanical Adamses were often shocked at French manners and dress, loud, lots of makeup, exposed bosoms, frank conversation, and these were to be found in abundance at Madame Helvétius’. (There are great scenes from the John Adams miniseries, starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, of their unease in Parisian society and discomfiture at Madame Helvetius’ salon.) Aside from her own accomplishments and outsize personality, she was famous for Ben Franklin’s being so smitten with her that he asked her to marry him. The building I find is not old, quaint, or lovely, but an aggressively sleek, square building of concrete blocks and smoked glass, all angled corners. The suburb of Auteuil was very fashionable in Adams’ and Jefferson’s time, and the neighborhood I find myself in today still is, full of elegant buildings, cute expensive shops, well-dressed people, and families with one or two likewise well-dressed children. it looks like a postcard or realtor’s advertisement of the perfect neighborhood and reminds me a bit of Noe Valley in San Francisco, Paris-style.

Corner view of Benjamin Franklin’s house at Hôtel Valentinois, Passy

The last site I visit today is in Passy, also in the 16th Arrondissemont, also a former fashionable suburb of Paris which is now one of its outer wealthy neighborhoods. Thomas Paine lived somewhere in this neighborhood near Ben Franklin, who befriended him during Paine’s first stay in Paris in 1781 as he helped negotiate a loan from the French government to aid the American Revolution. Though I couldn’t find the exact site where Paine lived, Franklin lived at Hôtel Valentinois at 62-70 rue Raynouard at Avenue de Lamballe. There’s no doubt that Paine visited here often. The Hôtel Valentinois stands on a hill overlooking the city, and the view must have been particularly spectacular in Franklin and Paine’s time, with an uninterrupted view of the city since this is way out in the outskirts of Paris. Passy was an outlying village or suburb at the time, but highrises galore have sprung up between the Valentinois and central Paris since then. The view has still got to be pretty great from the upper floors, since it towers seven tall stories from the hill it’s on.

A view of Benjamin Franklin’s house at Hôtel Valentinois, Passy, Paris, France

Benjamin Franklin’s image on the corner of the historic Hôtel Valentinois

It was Franklin who wrote letters of introduction for the young Paine to his friends in the American Colonies, which enabled him to find a job and make connections with other young thinkers, movers, and shakers, eventually involving Paine in the burgeoning independence movement, which led to the publication of Common Sense… and the rest, as we have seen, is history!

As I walk back towards the Seine to meet my husband at rue Saint Dominique for dinner (just down the street from where we honeymooned seven years before, how romantic!), I’m treated to the most beautiful views, quite changed since Franklin’s, Paine’s, Wollstonecraft’s, and Jefferson’s time, but no more or less breathtaking, I’m sure. Just different.

A view from Avenue du President Kennedy, Passy, Paris, France

A View through Pont de Bir-Hakiem, Passy

A View From Pont de Bir-Hakiem, Paris, France

 
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Sources and Inspiration:
 
Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.
 
André Morellet‘. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
 
Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.
The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert‘, Collaborative Translation Project website.
 
French Revolution‘. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication:  A Life of Mary WollstonecraftNew York: Harper Collins, 2006. 
 
 
Hôtel de Verrières‘, Structurae website.
 
Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
 
Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.
http://us.macmillan.com/freethinkers/susanjacoby

Louisiana Purchase, 1803‘, U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian website.
Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.
 
O’Brien, Kristin. ‘Madame Helvétius‘, The Salonniere blog.
 
Paris Residences‘, from the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Monticello.org
Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000 
Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974. 
 
Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.

Third Day in Paris Following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

Front view of the Old Courtyard / Colonnade of the Louvre facing Rue du Louvre, Paris, France

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Last night, I arrive a bit late, having cheered on my hsband on as he set off on the Paris-Brest-Paris ride in Saint Quentin en Yvellines, a suburb near Versailles. I’m back from Berlin and Saint Quintin, staying this time at 136 rue Montmartre, another Airbnb bargain. The red front door of my room enters a narrow white building decorated from top to bottom with two rows of classical statues in niches, and opens to a shabby, ancient spiral stairway. Though my room is plain with ugly and mismatched furniture, it’s roomy and spic-and-span, with a big comfortable bed with crisp clean bedclothes. My thoughtful host has every basic need stocked: bottles water of water chilled in the fridge (bubbly and still), decent coffee, soap and shampoo, even band aids (I can’t be the first traveler to have stayed here who have walked too far in shoes that are too new for a full day of walking. Two painful blisters are the inevitable result). I settle in happily, get a good night’s sleep, and then…

I head towards the Seine, towards the wonderful Saint-Germaine-des-Pres neighborhood and its environs across the river where many sites associated with my subjects are; I’m really looking forward to spending the bulk of my day here. On my way down towards the Seine down the rue de Louvre, I pass by the colonnade of the older part of the Louvre, which Thomas Jefferson admired very much.

Colonnade of the Louvre facing the rue du Louvre, Paris, France

Old Courtyard behind the Colonnade of the Louvre, facing the rue du Louvre

A panoramic view of the Old Courtyard behind the Colonnade of the Louvre

Jefferson was forward thinking in science and human rights theory, but looked more to the past for his politics, art, and architecture. He thought, up to his time, that the ancients Greeks and Romans had reached the pinnacle of architectural and the artistic achievement up to that point, just as they had done in politics by with their democratic and republican forms of government (though he believed that ancient Germanic tribes were actually the first to govern in the spirit of respect for human rights) and in philosophy with their focus on reason and the development of virtue. He loved the Greek and Roman-revival art and architecture the most, all the rage in Paris at the time of his visit, and believed it inspired virtuous sentiments in all who beheld its beauty and symmetry. Jefferson spent his five years here drinking it all in, seeking inspiration for great new public buildings for his own country and well as for his own home.

Street view of the Monnaie de Paris on the Quai de Conti, once the Hôtel des Monnaies

Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson were both regular guests, along with Adam Smith and Benjamin Franklin, of the famous salon of Sophie de Grouchie and her husband, the great marquis de Condorcet, at the Hôtel des Monnaies. It’s the French Royal Mint, and Condorcet held the position of Inspecteur general des monnaies (chief currency inspector), so he and his family were given a suite of rooms there. The Monnaie is a grand building facing the Seine, on quai Conti between rue Guenegaud and the impasse de Conti in the 6th Arrondossiment, not far to the east of the Institut de France. I peeked inside the gate to see one of the grand entryways, but I can’t back up quite enough get a good picture of the front of the building without falling off the wall onto the Seine walkway, so you’ll have to visit the Monnaie website if you’d like to see the entire facade. There’s also a statue of Condorcet just a block away, also on the quai Conti facing the Seine, near the corner of the quai and the impasse de Conti.

Statue of Condorcet on the Quai de Conti

De Grouchie was an embodiment of the successful Parisian society woman of the 18th century, very fashionable and an accomplished intellectual. She translated Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments into French, and her salon was well attended by the best minds in Paris.

The marquis de Condorcet was a mathematician, philosopher, and author, and he lived at the Hôtel des Monnaies. He was an ardent supporter of the American Revolution and hoped its influence would lead to similar forms of government to spread throughout Europe as well. He shared the Enlightenment belief, along with Paine, Wollstonecraft, and Jefferson, in the perfectibility of humankind through education and through civic participation in a democratic state founded on human rights, and also believed the inevitable triumph of the human race against government oppression and usurpation of the right of self-rule.

Like Paine and unlike Jefferson, Condorcet was unequivocal on the subject of full and equal rights for people of all races, and with, Paine, declared the concept of human rights meaningless if it did not apply to all, so he called for the immediate and full emancipation of all slaves. Like Wollstonecraft, he was what came to be called feminist, though he was more ardent and unequivocal in his belief that women were full intellectual equals with men and should have the exact same political rights. Of course, all of these were among the topics of discussion at the salons, along with the meaning of French Revolution itself and the direction it was going.

Condorcet held onto his faith in the ultimate benefit of the Revolution to his country despite the extremist faction that had taken over and plunged it into violence. Since he believed that, once awakened, the people would ultimately triumph in their fight for human rights, he saw the Terror as a temporary setback, a bump in the road to liberty. Condorcet would become one of its most tragic martyrs. He hid out at a friend’s house for eight months, then fled to the woods, after the Robespierre’s Jacobins ordered his arrest in 1793. He was captured when he left the woods three days later, famished, attempting to purchase a meal. He was found in his prison cell two days later, the victim of an apparent suicide.

Looking down rue Bonaparte south of the Quai De Conti

On my way to my next destination, I walk a short way west and turn left down rue Bonaparte, keeping an eye out for a site which two of my sources describe as near this end of this street, but neither give an exact address.

Thomas Jefferson stayed here for a short time in August 1784, when he moved to the more comfortable Hôtel d’Orléans from a smaller one he first stayed at upon arrival in Paris. This street, called rue des Petits-Augustins in Jefferson’s time, is also in the 6th Arrondissement. Despite looking carefully, I don’t see a marker identifying the site of the Hôtel. I do see a grand entryway with a historic plaque describing 5 Rue des Petits-Augustins, near the north end of the street, as a former residence of many famous people, especially artists. This is a bustling arts district, crowded with wonderful and elegant little galleries. Anne-Sophie Duval, Galerie de Vos, and Lawrence Esnol Gallery share the ground floor of that Hotel. I consider it a possible candidate for the location I seek, since it’s a grander hotel than the others I see within these two blocks, but since I can’t confirm it, I move on.

Grand entryway with a historic plaque describing 5 Rue des Petits-Augustins as a former residence of many famous people

At rue Jacob and rue Bonaparte

My next confirmed destination (at least, a specified address, without reference to whether the street numbers ever changed) is a house that Mary Wollstonecraft often visited and later lived at for awhile. In September 1793, she returned from her sojourn in Neilly-sur-Seine to Paris. She had become pregnant with Imlay’s child and moved in with him to Faubourg Saint-Germain, to a house of her close friend Ruth Barlow, wife of Joel Barlow, Paine’s and Jefferson’s friend, statesman, and poet (more on Mr. Barlow shortly). At the time they moved in together here, it was still a happy stage in Wollstonecraft and Imlay’s relationship. Wollstonecraft was described by friends and acquaintances as glowing and never so lovely as at this time, and Imlay was temporarily dazzled enough by his intellectual, unconventionally lovely, and emotionally intense lover to put his womanizing on hold. The small house the Barlows owned here was rue Jacob, number 22. If this address address matches its modern location, it’s near the Musée National Eugene Delacroix in the 6 Arrondissement. Now there’s a jazz club / cabaret and Galerie Eberwein on the ground floor of this place.

22 rue Jacob, former home of the Barlows near the Musée National Eugene Delacroix

Street view of 10 rue de L’Odeon, Nicholas de Bonneville / Thomas Paine House

I continue my trek farther south and a little to the east in this oh-so-charming neighborhood, among my favorites, especially as I’ve gotten a little deeper in and away from the crush of tourists and tacky souvenir shops. I head down rue de l’Odeon, below Boulevard Sainte-Germain.

Thomas Paine moved in with printer and writer Nicholas de Bonneville in the spring of 1797, after the Monroes had left Paris, and lived in his place for five years, until 1802. While here, Paine wrote a series of articles for Bonneville’s paper promoting the invasion of Britain by France for the purposes of overthrowing the corrupt monarchical system there. Napoleon Bonaparte visited Paine there, interested in the strategies for doing so that Paine had outlined. At first, they were friends, but Paine became disillusioned with Bonaparte and didn’t end up trusting that his intentions were anything other than self-serving. He moved out of this house and back to the United States in September of 1802, at the invitation and with the help of newly elected President Thomas Jefferson, to the latter’s credit. Paine’s reputation had been seriously undermined in the United State after the publication of The Rights of Man and with his involvement in the French Revolution.

Plaque Over Librairie Guenegaud awning of 10 Rue De L’Odeon, Nicholas de Bonneville / Thomas Paine House, Paris

I find that the street number to this house has definitely changed with the name. The plaque that identifies the house as the former residence of Paine and Bonneville is at number 10, while the biographies I referenced for this site list 4 rue du Theatre Francais, the former name of rue de l’Odéon. It’s above the Librairie (bookstore) Guelegaud. I discover a fun fact: it’s next to the building where Sylvia Beach published James Joyces’ Ulysses in 1922.

Odeon Theater, Paris, France

Arched and vaulted walkway along the Odeon Theater

As I’ve mentioned in this series already, Thomas Jefferson was quite the theater-goer, and from 1784 and onwards, he often attended performances at Theatre Francais, later the Theatre Odeon. He saw the 16th performance of Baumarchais’ Mariage de Figaro there on Aug 4th, 1786. The Odeon is at 2 rue Corneille near the convergence of place, rue, and currefour de l’Odeon. The front door of the theater opens to a lovely foyer, but almost immediately after I go inside, the guard at the front door pounces on me, informing me that taking photos inside is forbidden. I explain the object of my trip and he becomes a little friendlier, but still says no, since the video cameras would reveal he let me take photos without official permission, which I could seek by writing to the building’s administrators when they return on September 1st. Oh well. There’s always the website!

I go around to the side to see if I could find a historical marker or plaque, passing through an elegant vaulted promenade lined with hanging lamps, then walk all around the building. No luck. It’s a very lovely theater, someday I hope to go inside.

La Fontaine Medicis, Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

I head down to the Luxembourg gardens and palace. After I do a little photography of the informational signs and before I do my historical explorations, I sit down to eat my lunch and do a little writing at La Fontaine Medicis, a beautiful little rectangular pool below an ornate fountain. It’s a lovely day, balmy with a cool breeze blowing and partly cloudy, a relief after the first week of oppressive heat, though the warm evenings were a definite upside. Today’s the day that many Parisians open up shop again, having been away for vacation for the last month, and I’m sure they’re very glad at being welcomed back home by the beautiful weather. The Jardin de Luxembourg is a very happy place, a mix of formal geometric gardens and meandering paths among beautiful trees and flowers, more like botanical gardens. People are picnicking and sunning themselves by the dozens, and children are sailing their little boats in the big reflecting pool.

A front view of the Luxembourg Palace, now the Senate Building

Children sailing boats in the Luxembourg Gardens reflecting pool, Paris, France

Colorful flowerbeds at the Luxembourg Gardens

It’s a far cry from the dark days of the Terror when the Luxembourg became a prison, albeit one of the better ones, reserved for prisoners who even the architects of the Terror felt deserved some respect. Paine, after all, was still one of the revered fathers and authors of the Revolution of France as well of the United States. Robespierre turned against him because he was growing increasingly paranoid and suspicious, as his overweening pride of power turned to bloodlust for the Revolution’s enemies, real or imagined. This came to include all foreigners, so despite his status as an honorary citizen of France, off to prison went Paine. He spent over ten months there, watching in horror as old friends, and new ones he made while in prison, were carted off to the guillotine. Mary Wollstonecraft visited her good friend Paine her, along with other friends and like-minded people imprisoned here at this time.

Another view of the Luxembourg Palace, now the Senate Building

Paine was popular with his prison mates and made a lot of friends. This was a good thing, too, since Paine eventually fell seriously ill with typhoid for the second time, and again nearly died from it, probably only saved because of the good care taken of him by his new friends, one of which was a prison guard. There’s a story, probably though not certainly true, that Paine was finally assigned his turn for the guillotine. The doorway was marked with chalk accordingly, but because Paine was boiling with fever, the guard allowed the door to remain open to cool the room. When the man came to collect those condemned to die, the door had since been closed, concealing the chalk mark, so Paine was passed over. Why the mistake was never remedied is never explained, which casts some doubt on the story. Perhaps the author of Common Sense and The Rights of Man was still just too valued and his would-be executioners lost their nerve, who knows? It’s a great story nonetheless.

Looking down the street at the entryway to the Pantheon, Paris, France

Looking up in the entryway to the Pantheon

I head for my last historical excursion for the day: the Pantheon. I had seen the building’s exterior when in Paris seven years ago, and had promised myself to go inside next time. Today is the day!

Formerly the basilica of Saint Genevieve, it was decommissioned as a reliquary for the bones of this beloved and ancient patron saint of Paris and made a temple dedicated to the intellectuals and great people of France during the French Revolution. Thomas Jefferson greatly admired this incredible monument, modeled on the classical ‘temple of all the gods, and visited with his new friend and platonic lover, the beautiful and consummate conversationalist Maria Cosway.

Interior of the Pantheon under the dome

Convention Nationale Sculpture in the Pantheon

As beautiful and perfectly designed as it is on the outside, the inside is stunning. The dome soars high overhead, but right now it’s covered on the inside by a screen showing the faces of people from around the world. It’s currently being renovated, as you can see from the scaffolding and supports around the dome from the outside. It’s massive, and the enormous frescoes add color and light to the place, which is otherwise maybe just a little too dark and somber. It had originally been designed to let in a lot of light, but many of its windows and open spaces were walled up since 1793, four years after Jefferson’s time in Paris, because the architect charged with transforming into a mausoleum thought it should have a more solemn look and feel. The Pantheon was never restored to its original open design, and perhaps the walls remain because the frescoes they contain are just too beautiful to tear out.

Condorcet’s and Abbe Gregoire’s tombs in the crypt of the Pantheon

Condorcet’s tomb is here, though his actual remain are lost. Voltaire and Rousseau are actually interred here: their tombs are placed opposite of one another, on either side of the central main aisle of the crypt. They were in many ways opposites in thought: in general, Voltaire emphasized the Head, Rousseau the Heart; Voltaire was a satirist, Rousseau a romantic; Voltaire critiqued all religions, Rousseau though being religious was important but also though all were equally valid: Voltaire loved science and culture, Rousseau thought that all that removed human beings from their raw ‘natural’ selves was corruption, and so on. I love how well thought out their final resting places are arranged: the statue of Voltaire has a genial expression, as if looking around the room, ready to enter into witty repartee with one who has the time to stop and chat. Rousseau has no statue, but the tomb of this incurable romantic is carved with a facsimile of his hand reaching out to offer the world a bouquet of flowers.

All three of my subjects, Paine, Wollstonecraft, and Jefferson, read Voltaire and Rousseau and were very much influenced by them. Wollstonecraft, in particular, was very critical of Rousseau’s views on women, especially regarding education and their ‘natural’ roles in society. Like the others, however, she admired his defense of the natural origins of human rights.

Voltaire’s alcove with statue and tomb in the crypt of the Pantheon, Paris

Voltaire’s tomb in the crypt of the Pantheon

Rousseau’s alcove with tomb in the crypt of the Pantheon

Side view of Rousseau’s tomb in the crypt of the Pantheon

Well, this has been a particularly long, fascinating, and beauty-filled day, yet there is still much more to come of my journeys in Paris. To be continued in Part 4….

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Sources and inspiration:

Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.

Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.

French Revolution.’ Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication:  A Life of Mary WollstonecraftNew York: Harper Collins, 2006.
http://www.harpercollins.com/9780060957742/vindication

Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Jenkinson, Clay. ‘The Magna Carta‘. The Thomas Jefferson Hour podcast, episode 1141.

Monnaie de Paris, website.

 Morgan, George. The Life of James Monroe. Boston: Small, Maynard, and Co., 1921
Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.
Soufflot: The Pantheon, Paris.’ Khan Academy
Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000
Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974.
Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.