The Romantic period was a mainly European artistic and literary movement that celebrated its peak between 1790 and 1860. The movement can be seen as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightment. Whereas the main point of Enlightment was a rationalistic world view, the main idea of Romantisicism is the complete opposite. Romanticists do not trust in the human ratio as a mighty power above all things, but see themselves subordinated to nature. Romanticists perceive a irrational, mysterious and incomprehensive side of reality. Humans, they believe, do rather follow their emotions instead of reason alone, and thus tend to live by their desires rather than their rational thoughts. Typical romantic book characters, like Byrons Manfred or Goethes Werther, lose themselve in their emotions completely - sense cannot keep their feet on the ground.
For a romanticist, two opposite concepts were in constant incongruity with another: analogy and irony. With analogy a mythical way of thinking is depicted: the conviction that all is connected to everything: words and objects, heaven and earth, people and nature. On the other side, irony is the awareness of our own mortality and of the fact that all things come to an end. The analogy therefore can never be infinite. A romantic author is aware of this incongruity and suffers, in addition, from the feeling that he does not fit into the world. He seeks for a way out in poetry, but there finds that words are not enough to describe his feelings. And again, he must admit that he cannot form the world, but that he is a slave of nature's laws.
In short, Romanticism is thus characterized by strong feelings, melancholy and a strong connection to nature. Many of the literary works written during the romantic era contain (page)long descriptions of landscapes and gardens. The often sad, melancholic emotions of the hero or heroine are being emphasized (1).
1. The French & Indian War (1754–1763), the North American part of the worldwide Seven Years War, made Great Britain the dominant power in eastern North America, but also left the country with high debts. Hence, the British government passed several acts on the colonies imposing taxes on, among other things, tea and paper. Also, the Quartering act compelled Colonists to provide British soldiers with any needed housing or food.
2. These acts led to resistance among the Colonists and the building of an opposition against the British suppressors. Acts were disobeyed and the import of British goods were boycotted. In the line of the European Enlightenment movement, rebels plead for democracy, liberalism and a republic instead of being part of the British monarchy.
The brothers Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786–1859) were German cultural researchers and authors who collected and published German folklore during the 19th century.
Other than sometimes falsely assumed, the brothers didn't make up the fairy tales themselves, but penned down popular German folk tales. With the movement of Romanticism that started in the late 18th century, the interest in fairy tales revived. While Germany was still an assembly of kingdoms and (grand) duchies, the brothers strongly believed that national unity relied on the knowledge of the common cultural past that was reflected in folklore.
In the introduction to their first book of collected fairy tales, the Grimms explain that they had travelled through Germany to talk with storytellers who supplied them with tales. Since the stories had been handed oraly from generation to generation, they often heard various versions of tales that were in fact the same stories. In these cases, the Grimms picked out the common content and molded it into a single tale.
The first edition of Children's and Household Tales ("Kinder- und Hausmärchen") was published in 1812, but was in a constant state of alteration. During their lifetime, the work was published 17 times. Wilhelm was the main editor of the two, making the tales stilistically similar, adding psychological and sometimes religious plots and dialogue.
Being a pirate was not only men’s business. There were quite some ladies infesting the seas, more than we could probably guess. Two of them are very well known for their ruthlessness, however, and their names were Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
Anne Bonny (1700) was born an illegitimate child of an Irish lawyer and his house maid. Her father was too ashamed of misstep to show himself openly with his daughter, but had grown fond of the girl. Therefore, he dressed her as a boy and told people she was the son of a relative he was taking care of. When Anne grew older, the family moved to South Carolina. What was the reason for their move is not known, it may very well be that the little secret was unveiled and the family wanted to escape rumors.
When Anne was about 18, she fell in love with a poor sailor named James Bonny, whom she married. The couple moved to New Providence in the Bahamas, where they lived in a pirates' lair. Anne enjoyed her life in between of seamen and was said to have an affair with pirate captain John Rackham, also known as “Calico Jack”. In 1718, Bahamas governor Rogers offered the Kings pardon to any pirate, and James turned informant. Anne was disgusted by this cowardly move and sailed off with her lover, Jack Rackham.
The French Revolution had brought lots of change to France. In July 1989, the state prison Bastille was assaulted and the feudal system was abolished. In 1792, King Louis XVI was deposed and France was turned into a Republic. The National Convention first met in September 1792. In January 1793, the former king was beheaded by means of the guillotine. After Louis XVI’s execution, a period of violence dawned: terror took reign over France.
In the spring of 1793, France found itself in an economic and political crisis. Poor laborers, called sans-culottes (for they did not wear the knee-breeches, culottes, that were common in the noble circles), blamed the Girondins for this crisis. The Girondins were a group of delegates in the National Convention that belonged to the upper middle class. Their name was derived from the department Gironde in the southwest of France, where many of the members came from. Their opponents in the Convention were the Montagnards, whose members were mostly Jacobins, a club of politically left-orientated anti-monarchists. People were frustrated that the social equality the revolutionaries had aimed for was not yet established. The Montagnards accused the Girondins of fighting for their own benefit only and not pursuing the goal of the revolution, and they even believed the Girondins would be willing to cooperate with royalists in order to remain their power.
Chapbooks were small booklets that were sold by travelling peddlers or “chapmen” from the 17th to the 19th centuries. They were usually printed on a single sheet folded into small books of 8, 12, 16 or 24 pages and often illustrated with crude woodcuts.
The paper quality was rather bad, the type was often broken and it was no exception when the illustrations had no relation to the text. Therefore, the chapbooks were very cheap (costing one penny or less). Since printing matter was expensive in the 17th - 19th centuries, the target group of chapbooks, the working class people, usually didn’t care much for the poor quality – they were happy enough to be able to buy any amusement they could get their hands on.
The chapbooks covered a broad range of subjects – from manuals to romances, from crime stories to poems and from nursery rhymes to biographies of famous people. Few publishers created books especially for children.
The popularity of the folded books declined from the 1860s onwards. In that time, the offer of affordable printed material had expanded extremely. The chapbooks were not the sole option anymore and lost their popularity.
L'Ossuaire Municipal in Paris holds the bones of about 6 million people. A small part of the 321 km long tunnel network has been a popular tourist attraction since 1874, but this subterranean museum was not exactly planned as being one. Rather, two threats for the city of Paris made it inevitable to create that what we know as the Catacombs of Paris today.
To explore the history of the catacombs, we have to travel way back to the first century, when Paris was occupied by the Romans and still called Lutetia. The Romans found there was limestone in the soil of the left bank of the river Seine, which is of perfect use for building walls. Up until the High Middle Ages, the limestone was acquired in open quarries outside the city walls. Then, in the 12th century, mining was replaced to underground workings. This had several advantages: deeper deposits could so be reached, and on surface level the soil could still be used for agriculture. When the city continued to grow in the 16th and 17th century, new underground quarries were developed and the old quarries were abandoned. Buildings, streets and neighborhoods of the expanding city were built over the quarries, that subsequently fell into oblivion.
But not for long. The Parisians again became aware of the existence of these underground galleries when houses and streets started to collapse in the late 18th century. These collapses were the result of the cave-in of the roofs of the 30 meter deep subterranean galleries, resulting in a chain reaction within the different layers of soil. The crumbling worked its way upwards and resulted in a collapse of the buildings on street level.
The most catastrophic collapse of this kind occurred in 1774 in the Rue D'Enfer, which ironically means 'Hell's street'. Indeed, the cavity which measured 30 meter in length as well as in depth reminded of a gaping entrance to hell. Pavements, buildings, even carriages and horses were swallowed by the gap. The limestone from the houses' walls returned to where it had come from.
Since the mining galleries where everywhere beneath the city, Paris was threatened to be go under completely...
The story of Denis Diderot’s encyclopedia is fascinating. In the country of France during the ancien régime, a time long before the freedom of press, a group of philosophers, scientists and other kinds of bohemians congregated in the literary cafes of Paris. Their goal: to write a dictionary that would make all the world’s knowledge accessible for everyone. And as if it wasn’t tricky enough to undermine the clergy’s monopoly on knowledge, Diderot and company aimed to describe all the arts and crafts in their work, and they were not planning to spend lots of words on the biographies of noblemen. To say this was a revolutionary and dangerous goal would be an understatement.
Originally, it was only planned to translate the English Cyclopaedia by Ephraim Chambers into French. Diderot was involved as one of the translators, but after two editors successively had stepped out of the project, Diderot took over the role as the main editor in 1747. His colleague and friend Jean le Rond d’Alembert, a mathematician, was hired to be the second editor. Since Chambers’s Cyclopaedia was published in 1728, the information in it had to be checked and, in certain cases, updated. For this reason, and also because Diderot made the description of the crafts the main theme of the dictionary, it soon grew to be a completely new project instead of a mere translation of an existing work.
Writing an encyclopedia is a massive task even today, so just imagine what it must have been like in the 18th century. The manuscripts of all 72.998 articles and every image in the 11 volumes of illustrations had to be written and drawn by hand. And although over 1,000 people were involved in writing, printing and binding, it took 26 years before the Encyclopédie was finished. But the workload was not the only hurdle the encyclopedists had to deal with. The governmental censorship was another problem which could not be underestimated. In the 18th century, every publication had to be licensed by the royal censor office. Having a license, however, did not mean that you were free to write anything you wanted. All books were proofread by the censors, and if they violated the king’s taste, the license could be withdrawn, the book could be banned and the author could be hanged.
Bethlem Royal Hospital, better known as Bedlam, is universally known as the most dreadful mental asylum you can end up in. At the same time, it was the world's first hospital for the mentally ill. Time to dive into the story of this famous, yet infamous, psychiatric institution.
From Bethlem to Bedlam
The institution was grounded in 1247 as a priory for the New Order of St. Mary of Bethlehem in the city London. It originally was intended as a place for the collection of alms to support the Holy Crusades, but benevolent monks would also provide housing for the poor and house the bishop, canons and brothers of Bethlehem if they visited. The priory so turned into a hospital in its British meaning: "an institution supported by charity or taxes for the care of the needy". In the centuries that followed, the hospital slowly separated from the Order of Bethlehem. King Edward III took control over the house in the 1370s. From that moment on, the hospital lost its religious bindings, and the managers were secularized crown appointees - the master nor the inmates wore the symbolic star of Bethlehem. In 1547, Bethlem was still in possession of the crown, but its administration was granted to the city of London. It is unsure when Bethlem began to specialize in the cure of the insane, but it is generally accepted that mentally ill resided in the house from 1377 on. From then on, Bethlem gradually converted from a general hospital to a specialized institution for the insane in 1460 - Bedlam was born.
The young boy peeked through the heavy drapes and saw his uncle, as he has seen him uncountable times. The woman lay on the bed. She was naked, but his uncle had not taken off his habit. They kissed, they laughed, and did the same thing as always. The young Marquis, although he was not yet 10, felt it was false. He knew he could never believe in the righteousness of any abbot he would ever encounter.
Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade, shortly Marquis de Sade, was born a son of a noble family and spent the first years of his life in Hôtel de Condé, which was the main Paris seat of the princes of Condé. From age five to fourteen, he lived with his uncle, who was an abbot. The dark dungeons of the abbey in Ébrueil probably inspired him for the rooms in the books Justine and Juliette. At very young age, De Sade learned that men of the cloth are certainly not necessarily free of sin, or, more detailed, of sexual escapades. His uncle had a mistress living in the abbey, and it is likely he also had a sexual relationship with his mistress’s daughter. This greatly affected the young Marquis in his opinion of the church. He hated and condemned its hypocrisy, and would express this in many of his writings.
He started a military education after four years of boarding school and then fought in the Seven Year’s War. When he was dismissed from his military duties, he spent lots of money on gaming and many hours in so-called petite maisons, which were private brothels kept by noblemen in the 18th century. His reputation was that of a wild, young boy without any moral. His father hoped that a marriage would tame the Marquis, and thus a marriage with Renée-Pélagie de Montrueil was arranged.
A couple of months after his marriage in 1763, the marquis was first imprisoned for several sexual escapades. He was being released again after two weeks, but he did not change his habits in the least. The young Marquis was in his early twenties and didn't even think of settling. Instead, he celebrated life and his self-declared freedom. He owned several apartments, in which he enjoyed the company of other women, and he often left home to enjoy girls in other parts of the country. In fact, he would spend more nights outside the house than with his wife.