Catherine the Great: And Other Studies

By G. P. Gooch | Go to book overview

2
FOUR FRENCH SALONS

I. Mme Geoffrin

THE salon, a typical French institution, was invented by Mme de Rambouillet in the first half of the seventeenth century and reached the summit of its influence in the second half of the eighteenth. In no other land was the intellectual life of a great nation so concentrated in the capital, and nowhere was the desire for the exchange of ideas so deeply felt. French, declared the witty Abbé Galiani, was the language of the most sociable people in the world, who talked more than they thought, who had to talk in order to think and only thought in order to talk. Paris, he added, was the café of Europe. The time was long past when Molière could rely on applause in poking fun at the Précieuses Ridicules. To create a salon two conditions were essential: a tactful hostess and one or two literary lions who could be relied on for regular attendance. If the salonnière had room to entertain a large number of guests and could afford well-served dinners, so much the better, but the experience of Mlle de Lespinasse proved that money and good food were not indispensable. Everything depended on the intelligence and the good sense of the lady herself. Hostesses, like poets, are born, not made.

The vogue of the salon in eighteenth-century France was not due exclusively to the synchronisation of a galaxy of gifted women and an exceptional supply of master minds. France was governed by a lazy and dissolute monarch who lived on the rapidly diminishing capital bequeathed by the Roi Soleil. The bourgeoisie were advancing to the centre of the stage, criticising traditional institutions, ridiculing inherited beliefs and dreaming of a brave new world. The France of the nineteenth and twentieth

-109-

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Catherine the Great: And Other Studies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • By the Same Author ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents ix
  • Plates xi
  • I - Catherine the Great 1
  • 2 - Four French Salons 109
  • 3 - Voltaire as Historian 199
  • 4 - Bismarck's Legacy 275
  • Index 290
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