A Sketch of Modern France in a Series of Letters to a Lady of Fashion, Written in the Years 1796 and 1797...
London: T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies, 1798.
London: T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies, 1798. First edition. Bound to style in modern half calf over modern boards, with morocco and gilt label to spine. Renewed endpapers. Measuring 210 x 125mm. Collating viii, 518, : complete, including final leaf of adverts. Small paper flaw to margin of 509-510 not affecting text and faint dampstain to upper margin of preliminaries, else a pleasing and clean copy internally. ESCT reports 15 libraries with copies (8 of those in the U.S.), and it does not appear in the modern auction record. Currently this is the only copy on the market.
Notable for being an eyewitness account of Revolutionary France from the perspective of a woman, at a time when "British travellers to Paris were steeped in the highly emotional culture of sensibility...in pursuit of the picturesque" (Thompson). While Louise Elisa Beaumont had an interest in the beauty of French urban culture, the principle focus of her work was how the French people, their cultural institutions, and their city landscapes were being reshaped by "an earthquake on society."
An educated Englishwoman married to a Swiss author and illustrator, Beaumont kept a keen eye on how shifts in political thought affected art and antique markets -- and what these shifts implied about the violence and changing lifestyles that the French would be confronting longterm. "On the quays," she writes at one point, "I found that many valuable articles were now to be purchased for a mere trifle...articles that once decorated the apartments of their murdered or emigrated nobles." As she and her husband traveled the Continent to relocate to his native country, Beaumont reported what she saw to a female friend in a series of 31 letters that became the basis for this book. Because the British upperclasses had been frequent travelers to France prior to the Revolution, an account like Beuamont's could strike a deep chord, presenting to them a very different picture of the places that had for much of their lives been familiar. "My sensations on entering this capital of the French Republic I can but feebly describe...It is a new Paris...I could not but reflect that, which French delicacy and sentiment objected to the representation of murder in their tragical dramas, in the real tragedy of the revolution they have not manifested the least reluctance at seeing torrents of blood flow..." She reports on the blood stained Tuillieres Palace, and the rapid changes happening at the Luxembourg. And she recounts how Austrian prisoners of war are being held in Dijon.
Yet she also draws attention to how these social shifts, how wartime violence, affects women's lives. In Paris, while some women surge the streets hawking political pamphlets and war trophies, the nuns of St. Vincent, "young and handsome had totally given themselves to the care of attending the sick and the indigent." The sisters, though "the revolution had annihilated them as an order and deprived them of their possessions" turn their energies to assisting those so often affected by but forgotten in conflict. And outside the city, "the females of Breteuil, who, like the generality of their sex, when once irritated are not soon appeased" decide to respond to the occupation of their church by soldiers. To this end, they "sallied forth one fine morning, completely armed with female weapons such as spits brooks, sticks, and brickbats [to assail] the principal church door...In they rushed, and without further ceremony turned out those who were in it." A valuable and scarce example of a woman observing how revolution affects men and women, local and international communities.
ESTC T117774. Near Fine (Item #4195)