Sunday, March 14, 2010

Men Behaving Badly: In a Carriage, in Paris, on the Grand Tour

Sunday, March 14, 2010
Susan reports:

Many young English gentlemen from the 17th c. onward completed their formal education with a Grand Tour. An extended journey across the Continent usually made in the company of a tutor, the Tour was supposed to give that extra polish to a young man through the appreciation of art and ancient architecture, and by exposure to the more refined company to be found in France and Italy. In theory, anyway. For a good many of these young gentlemen, the beauty to be viewed was often in the opera house chorus, and the company wasn't very refined. But oh, the tales that must have been told when they returned home!

Here is one such story from Paris in 1711, gleefully detailed in a letter that probably wasn't shared with young Mr. Dixon's mother:

"I cannot omit setting down here an adventure that happened to Mr. [Thomas] Dixon at the Comte de Douglass assemblee. After he had played at cards some time with Madame de Polignac, a very handsome lady, she profered to set him at home in her coach: which he very willingly accepted of. This young gentleman (who was a man of pleasure) finding himself alone with a fine young lady, could not forbear putting his hand where some women would not let him. After he had pleased himself thus for some time and she had bore it with a great deal of patience, she told him (in a pleasant manner) that since he had been so very free with her, she could not forbear being familiar with him. Upon which she handled his arms, and finding them not fit for present service, she beat him very heartily. He said all he could for himself, telling her that he had been upon hard duty for some time in the Wars of Venus, and if she would give him but one day to recruit on, he would behave himself like a man: she minded not his excuses but turned him out of the coach, and gave him this advice –– 'Never to attack a young handsome lady as she was when his ammunition was spent.'"

Excerpt from a letter by George Carpenter, Paris, 1717; quoted in The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century by Jeremy Black

Above: The Lady's Last Stake by William Hogarth, 1758, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo

11 comments:

Miss Kirsten said...

Oh, too funny! You GO, Madame de Polignac!

ILoveVersailles said...

Very amusing to have one of these 'male conquest' stories with the lady having the last laugh for once. I wonder who relayed the story to the letter-writer (who obviously wasn't in the coach with the two parties.) I can't imagine the man would have told a story that makes him look so bad, but I wonder that a lady of this period would tell such a story about herself? Or maybe because she was French, she didn't care about her reputation the same way an English lady would have? Or maybe she wasn't a real lady at all. Anyway thank you for sharing!

Laura said...

Great anecdote, thanks for posting this!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Glad you are all enjoying this!

ILoveVersailles, I don't have an answer to your question about how Mr. Carpenter would have known exactly what Mr. Dixon and the lady were doing in that carriage. To me it reads as if the lady was the one reporting -- and I wouldn't be surprised if perhaps Mr. Carpenter "enhanced" it a bit in the telling. But as you say, it's a refreshing twist on the usual boastful conquest stories.

Heather Carroll said...

Ha! Rock on sister! I love a lady who has no problem tossing a man out of her carriage when he can't deliver.

Lindsey said...

Stand and deliver! Or not.
Very funny!

nightsmusic said...

Love it! And it's about time we get the 'lady's' side of the story ;o)

Lady Burgley said...

Hilarious! I hope you'll share more of these letters soon.

liebesreime said...

She "handled his arms", perhaps something might have been lost in translation? hmmmmmmm

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Liebesreime, it is a little obscure! By 'arms', he doesn't mean the appendages connecting the shoulders and hands, but arms as in the weapons he needs to engage in the War of Venus. In other words, the manly parts he has tucked into his breeches.

liebesreime said...

A HA ! I figured there might have been a connection to the 'arms' as in a shield/weapons, but could not make the connection to "War of Venus." But I also thought that 'lost in translation' was not correct either, since these were not French courtiers in the time of "Dangerous Liasons!"
I DID figure that it meant those parts tucked into the breeches :-)

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