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The socio-cultural history of the Pousse Café. Part 5: The history of the salon

Titelbild Salon.

It was not only the coffee houses that played an important social role, but also the salon. Both are important for the history of the Pousse Café, which is why this post in this series takes a closer look at the emergence and significance of the salon.

The term ‘salon’

The term ‘salon’ can first be traced back to 1664 and is derived from the Italian word ‘salone’, which literally means ‘large hall’. [1] In the supplements to the first edition of the Brockhaus from 1811, the following definition is given: “The salon (from the French) is known as a large hall in palaces or large buildings, which is intended for company, balls, etc.. In France, certain literary and aesthetic circles were formerly called salons, where people gathered for fine, witty conversations, and where the most remarkable phenomena in literature as well as in politics were often discussed in the liveliest manner. Mostly these salons were under the direction of a beautiful, witty woman, in whose house the most distinguished people from all classes often gathered.[16-339]

Conversations-Lexicon. Nachträge. Zweyter Band. 1811, page 339.
Conversations-Lexicon. Nachträge. Zweyter Band. 1811, page 339. [16-339]

– “Der Salon (a. d. Franz.) heißt bekanntermaaßen ein großer Saal in Palästen oder großen Gebäuden, welcher zur Gesellschaft, zum Ball &c. bestimmt ist. In Frankreich wurden ehedem Salons gewisse literarische und ästhetische Zirkel genannt, wo man sich zu feinen geistreichen Unterhaltungen versammelte, und wo öfters die merkwürdigsten Erscheinungen in der Literatur sowol als in der Politik aufs lebhafteste besprochen wurden. Meistentheils standen diese Salons unter der Leitung einer schönen geistreichen Frau, in deren Hause sich dann öfters die ausgezeichnetsten Personen aus allen Ständen versammelten.” [16-339]

Catherine de Rambouillet

Catherine de Rambouillet, 1646.
Catherine de Rambouillet, 1646.[22]
Catherine de Rambouillet was known for her salon, which she ran in the Hôtel de Rambouillet from 1608 until her death in 1665. The Hôtel was located not far from the Louvre, in the Rue Saint-Thomas-du-Louvre, between the Louvre and the Tuileries. She had this house, which she had inherited from her father, remodelled according to plans she had drawn up herself so that it would contain rooms suitable for receptions. [3] [4] Intellectually interested high nobility, minor nobility and bourgeois intellectuals met here. It also catered for the presence of noble ladies and young girls. This circle practised the witty conversation of gallant occasional poetry. The expressions of this circle had an impact on Parisian society and literature, where they were soon imitated or ridiculed. [11]

The Hôtel de Rambouillet was also home to the so-called ‘blue room’, where she lay on a bed and received aesthetes, literary figures and great personalities of her time for the ‘ruelle’. [3]

The term ‘ruelle’ literally means ‘little street’ or ‘alley’. It was a special form of salon and was understood to mean the bedroom used as a reception room of high society ladies in 17th and 18th century France. In contrast to a normal salon, the ruelle offered a more intimate setting for social and intellectual gatherings. [5]

People speak learnedly there, but they speak sensibly, and there is no place in the world where there is more common sense and less gallantry.[3]

On y parle savamment, mais on y parle raisonnablement et il n’y a lieu au monde où il y ait plus de bon sens et moins de galanterie. [3]

This is how the French writer, pioneer of French classicism, cultural politician and founding member of the Académie française, Jean Chapelain, described the Hôtel de Rambouillet. [3] [6] However, it was not a place where scholastic society met, because although the conversations were often intellectual, balls and amusements followed one another in the young and cheerful world of the Hôtel de Rambouillet and love intrigues were spun and resolved. [3]

The French female writer Madeleine de Scudéry, who was also a guest there and who was one of the most important French authors of the 17th century and the first French author to be widely read outside France, and who later opened her own salon, [3] [7] wrote: “The Marquise has found the art of turning a place of moderate size into a palace of great size. Order, regularity and cleanliness reign in all her suites and in all her furniture: everything is sumptuous and even special: the lamps are different from those in other places, her cabinets are full of a thousand rarities that reveal the judgement of those she has chosen. The air is always perfumed, various splendid baskets of flowers provide a constant spring in her room, and the place where you usually see her is so pleasant and so well thought out that you think you are in an enchantment.[3]

– “La marquise a trouvé l’art de faire en une place de médiocre grandeur un palais d’une vaste étendue. L’ordre, la régularité et la propreté sont dans tous ses appartements et à tous ses meubles: tout est magnifique chez elle, et même particulier: les lampes sont différentes des autres lieux, ses cabinets sont plein de mille raretés qui font voir le jugement de celle qui les a choisies. L’air est toujours parfumé, diverses corbeilles magnifiques, pleines de fleurs, font un printemps continuel dans sa chambre, et le lieu où on la voit d’ordinaire est si agréable et si bien imaginé qu’on croit être dans un enchantement. [3]

Another guest reported: “The size and brightness of the Hôtel de Rambouillet inspired us to have a lively conversation. The women encouraged and questioned us. They listened to us, and we to them.[8-11:35]

Her salon was also described with the words: “Food and drink were served in abundance until midnight. Many came from far and wide to recite their poems or read their plays. Singing, music, dancing, games. There was never a dull moment. During the day we returned to the marquise and her ruelle.” [8-14:00]

Just how important her salon was can also be seen from the fact that her regular guests were the founding members of the Académie française. [8-13:05]

Other salons and ruelles

Anne-Thérèse de Marguenat de Courcelles, 1741.
Anne-Thérèse de Marguenat de Courcelles, 1741. [24]
Following Catherine de Rambouillet’s example, numerous salons and ruelles were opened in Paris in the 1650s. This type of reception had become a fashion among Parisian women. [8-16:35] One example is Anne-Thérèse de Marguenat de Courcelles, also known as the Marquise de Lambert. She opened her literary salon in 1710 and her salon, held in the Hôtel de Nevers, was a popular meeting place between 1710 and 1730. [8-25:55]  The marquise reported: “The writer Fontenelle, one of my most loyal visitors, once asked the following joking question: What is the difference between a salonnière and a clock? One shows us the time, the other makes us forget it.[8-26:53]

Presumed portrait of Madame Geoffrin, around 1760.
Presumed portrait of Madame Geoffrin, around 1760. [23]
The salons of the time were places where relationships were forged and the salonnières tried to outdo each other. [8-27:18] In doing so, they gained some influence and were a centre of power, such as Madame Geoffrin. [8-30:10] She was a commoner who made the acquaintance of an empress and was friends with a king. Her reputation and the Europe-wide prestige of her salon also attracted distinguished foreigners to her salon. [8-31:23] [15]

Horace Walpole, a British writer, politician and artist and the 4th Earl of Orford, [14] wrote: “The art of social life is a French speciality. It is astonishing how influential and free women are here and how men take an equal interest in them.[8-32:05] There was nothing like this in England and Germany, nor in Italy or Spain. There, the demure lady of the house retired after dessert while the men kept to themselves. [8-32:05]

The importance of the salon can be summarised as follows: “In the 17th and 18th centuries, wealthy and educated women in Europe made an important contribution to emancipation: they opened their salons for learned and intellectual conversations, through which they were able to participate in the world of knowledge that was still reserved for men at the time. In this way, they became pioneers in the fight for women’s intellectual independence.[8]

Johann Kaspar Riesbeck, already quoted in a previous post, describes the importance of women at receptions in Vienna in this sense in his letters published in 1783: “In this way it is very understandable that most of the circles here, which I noticed at the beginning, are so dead. The subject matter of the theatre is soon exhausted, and then there is nothing left to entertain the conversation but the daily news of the town and vapid remarks about it. Here the women alone are able to keep a social conversation alive. Their natural wit, liveliness and wide-ranging knowledge make them stand out from the local men. I have been acquainted with 3 or 4 respectable houses here, in which the gentlemen are at the end of all they know to say in the first 5 minutes; and without interfering with gallantry, I find their wives and daughters an inexhaustible source of lively conversation. It is true, the thread of conversation is often carried on merely by the natural curiosity of the women’s room; but all the questions which curiosity makes them ask betray some acquaintance with the subject to which they refer, or at least with the opposite of it, and they thereby collect a fund for new remarks and for the support of a new conversation. It is precisely this curiosity that is lacking in men, who are generally too dull, and have too little of everything that gives vigour to the mind.[9-215] [10-402] [10-403]

Johann Kaspar Riesbeck: Briefe eines reisenden Franzosen. Erster Band. 1783, page 402-403.
Johann Kaspar Riesbeck: Briefe eines reisenden Franzosen. Erster Band. 1783, page 402-403. [10-402] [10-403]

– “Auf diese Art ist es sehr begreiflich, daß die meisten Gesellschaften hier, welches mir gleich anfangs auffiel, so todt sind. Die Materie vom Theater ist bald erschöpft, und dann hat man zur Unterhaltung des Gesprächs keine Hilfsmittel mehr, als die täglichen Stadtneuigkeiten und schale Bemerkungen darüber. Das Frauenzimmer ist hier allein im Stand, ein gesellschaftliches Gespräche beym Leben zu erhalten. Es sticht durch natürlichen Witz, Lebhaftigkeit und durch mannichfaltige Kenntnisse mit dem hiesigen Mannsvolk erstaunlich stark ab. Ich hab hier in 3 bis 4 ansehnlichen Häusern Bekanntschaft, worin die Herrn in den ersten 5 Minuten am Ende von allem sind, was sie zu sprechen wissen; und ohne Galanterien einzumischen, find ich bey ihren Weibern und Töchtern eine unerschöpfliche Quelle von lebhaftem Gespräche. Es ist wahr, oft wird der Faden des Gesprächs blos durch die natürliche Neugierde des Frauenzimmers fortgesponnen; aber alle Fragen, welche die Neugierde sie thun läßt, verrathen schon einige Bekanntschaft mit dem Gegenstand, worauf sie sich beziehn, oder wenigstens mit dem Gegentheil davon, und sie sammeln dadurch einen Fonds zu neuen Bemerkungen und zur Unterstützung eines neuen Gesprächs. Eben diese Neugierde fehlt den Männern, die überhaupt zu stumpf sind, und zu wenig von allem dem haben, was dem Geist einen Schwung giebt. [9-215] [10-402] [10-403]

French customs in Europe

In 1929, Alexander von Gleichen-Russwurm reported on society and customs in the 17th century in his work ‘The Century of the Baroque’ (‘Das Jahrhundert des Barock’). He describes how Paris became the cultural centre of Europe in the late 18th century and how the French salon spread throughout Europe as a result. It was imitated in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and England. It permeated the entire life of the upper classes with education, or at least the need for education. The aristocratic world gathered in salons in the houses of great and distinguished ladies. [2-387] Let us let him have his say, for we could not write it better; in his survey he also takes up many things which we have already reported; but to omit them for that reason would destroy his summary too much: “Receptions at which conversation was held were now emphatically focussed on intimacy. This gave rise to the famous ’causeries de la ruelle’, where the lady lay in her sumptuous bed. It stood in the centre of an alcove enclosed by balustrades and offered enough space to the right and left in the ‘ruelle’ for some intimate conversation. Such a reception excluded any stiffening ceremony, and the complaisant assumption that the mistress of the house was in need of gentle treatment meant that there was a quiet, graceful kind of conversation known as ’causerie’. Intimacy was also the aim of the small evening meals, ‘les petits soupers’, at which ceremonial inhibitions were avoided as far as possible. The guests sat at small tables and were served together like the food. This was also an extraordinary innovation compared to the large, ponderous banquets.” [2-388]

Paris became the leading city in Europe; its women and dress designers dictated fashion, its customs and habits dominated the best society, the etiquette of its court was imitated by European rulers. … In society, fine conversation on all matters of the day became a necessity and a requirement. But the new fashion for conversation, where it became naturalised, did not exclude progress in gastronomy; indeed, from the 17th century onwards one could even speak of a science of eating, of gastrosophy, even if it was more important to be invited to exchange ideas than to eat and drink. Although the Italians called their receptions ‘conversazione’, and only refreshments were served on these occasions; although the Marquise de Rambouillet, as a half-Italian, adopted this style of reception in her famous blue salon, the ‘science de la gueule’ was nevertheless improved and cultivated with understanding. The quality of the food seems more important than the quantity, and raising this quality, inventing new dishes, especially stirring new sauces, is not even beneath the dignity of great gentlemen.[2-391]

Culinary expressions of fine cuisine that are still in use today bear the names of gastronomes from the Baroque era. For example, a Marquis Bechamel invented the famous sauce of that name. Louis XIV’s girlfriends, not least Mme de Maintenon, endeavoured to create a fine cuisine and, inspired by these ladies, the famous ‘petits soupers’ were created with a wide variety of exquisite surprises.[2-392]

Chilled food and drink – dating back to ancient traditions – were already in use in Italy before they came to France and Germany through gourmets among travellers and the influence of noble women who married in the north. This luxury came to Augsburg through Venetian trade connections, and to Munich around the middle of the century through the entourage of the electress. The Sicilian Procopio brought the frozen, or rather the semi-frozen, which is called ‘granito’ in Italy, to France. Only very spoilt people used chilled drinks (still around 1620), as we read in the ‘Contes de Gaulard’: ‘He dined on a summer’s day with a man of pleasure who cooled the wine with ice. Louis XIV gave a merchant special permission to sell ice. In 1676, the number of Parisian limonadiers selling ice cream and chilled drinks had already reached 250.[2-394] [2-395]

Around the same time, new drinks emerged that did much to preserve the refined character of the ‘societe polie’. They became naturalized very slowly under strong resistance, culturally more and more influential, and finally turned from luxury drinks of the noble world into popular food and a necessity of everyday life; these are chocolate (cocoa), coffee and tea. The Spaniards had brought chocolate from Mexico; Maria Theresa, the Spanish wife of Louis XIV, introduced it to France and first had it prepared in secret by her chambermaid. She divulged the secret, the king developed a taste for chocolate and it was soon presented in small, delicate cups at court invitations. Like coffee, chocolate had enemies who attributed bad effects to both stimulants and friends who believed it had beneficial healing powers. Mme. de Sevigne and her daughter corresponded eagerly on this question. There was fear of the bitter, brown drink that pagans and Turks loved to sip, and Louis XIV believed he was still performing a courageous deed when he drank coffee for the first time in 1644, which merchants in Marseilles had imported from Turkey. The king liked it, and the city of Marseilles was granted a privilege to introduce coffee. The fact that it came to Vienna and Germany through the victory over the Turks has already been mentioned in the cultural-political overview (I. vol. ch. 7). Coffee was made palatable to Parisian society by Soliman Aga, who was accredited as Mahomet IV’s ambassador to the court of the Sun King in 1669. The ladies found it chic to visit the Oriental’s house, sit on cushions on the floor and take the bitter drink from golden cups, which would have been insulting to the ambassador if they had refused. Anyone who claimed to be elegant had to know how to drink coffee and prepare it in the Turkish way. The roasted beans were crushed in mortars until 1687.[2-395] [2-396]

Soon it was part of every festive event in the ‘salle a manger’, a room that from then on – separate from the salon – was intended for the pleasures of the table and specially furnished for this purpose. … In England, people already loved to decorate the ‘dining room’ with painted paper, an innovation that only conquered the mainland a century later. The luxury of one’s own dining room, which had been lost since antiquity, became more widespread the more important the ‘diner’ became in social life.[2-397] [2-398]

John Moore: A view of society and manners in France, Switzerland and Germany. Vol. I. 1779, page 289-291.
John Moore: A view of society and manners in France, Switzerland and Germany. Vol. I. 1779, page 289-291. [12-289] [12-290] [12-291]
John Moore wrote something similar about the spread of French manners in ‘A view of society and manners in France, Switzerland and Germany’, published in 1779: “It is true, that the French manners are adopted in almost every country of Europe: they prevail all over Germany and the northern courts. They are gaining ground, though with a slower pace, in Spain, and in the Italian states. — This is not the case in England. — The English manners are universal in the provinces, prevail in the capital, and are to be found uncontaminated even at court. In all the countries above mentioned, the body of the people behold this preference to foreign manners with disguft. But in all those countries, the sentiments of the people are disregarded; whereas, in England, popularity is of real importance; and the higher a man’s rank is, the more he will feel the loss of it. Besides, a prejudice against French manners is not confined to the lower ranks in England: — It is diffused over the whole nation. Even those who have none of the usual prejudices; — who do all manner of justice to the talents and ingenuity of their neighbours; — who approve of French manners in French people; yet cannot suffer them when grafted on their countrymen. Should an English gentleman think this kind of grafting at all admissible, it will be in some of the lowest classes with whom he is connected, as his tailor, barber, valet- de-chambre, or cook; — but never in his friend. I can scarcely remember an instance of an Englishman of fashion, who has evinced in his dress or style of living a preference to French manners, who did not lose by it in the opinion of his countrymen. What I have said of French manners is applicable to foreign manners in general, which are all in some degree French, and the particular differences are not distinguished by the English. [12-289] [12-290] [12-291]

Not only French customs, but also the French language was omnipresent. In the ‘Letters of a Traveling Frenchman’ (‘Briefen eines reisenden Franzosen’) from 1784, we read: “I have yet to find a court in Germany where a foreign language did not prevail. The courtiers, with the exception of the Saxons, generally speak their mother tongue worst of all, however wretched their French or Italian jargon may be. Without the French language, one cannot even get by at the German courts. At most of them it is considered indecent and scurrilous to speak one’s mother tongue.[9-424] [17-155]

Johann Kaspar Riesbeck: Briefe eines reisenden Franzosen. Zweyter Band. 1784, page 155.
Johann Kaspar Riesbeck: Briefe eines reisenden Franzosen. Zweyter Band. 1784, page 155. [17-155]

– “Ich fand noch keinen Hof in Deutschland, wo nicht eine fremde Sprache herrschte. Die Hofleute, Sachsen ausgenommen, sprechen gemeiniglich ihre Muttersprache am schlechtesten, so erbärmlich auch ihr französisches oder italiänisches Jargon ist. Ohne die französische Sprache kömmt einer nicht einmal an den deutschen Höfen fort. An den meisten derselben hält man es für unanständig und pöbelhaft, seine Muttersprache zu sprechen.” [9-424] [17-155]

The extent to which the culture of coffee receptions had penetrated Germany, not only in the form of an evening salon, but generally as an afternoon gathering, with all its economic disadvantages, is documented by the entry on coffee in Johann Georg Krünitz’s Oeconomische Encyclopädie from 1784. The author reports: “Apart from the new expense that coffee has brought about, the second change that it has wrought in the economic condition of the people is that it has partly introduced and partly multiplied the afternoon visits, or so-called coffee visits. According to the testimony of the ancients, the visits that men used to pay each other were official or friendly visits. These almost always ended without cost after the agreed business, and they were only common among very good friends or close relatives, rarely frequent, and more common in the evening than in the afternoon. Incidentally, people met in gardens for exercise in summer and in public houses in winter, and saved the precious gatherings for weddings, christenings, funerals and other family celebrations. And these were almost the only occasions, apart from church gatherings, when women who were not close relatives or neighbors saw each other. The housewife remained among the children and servants, and spoke to the cousin about family matters, and the neighbor or school acquaintance about domestic matters, and went out into her garden or for a walk on Sundays. Everyone knows how different it is now. Giving and taking visits may be introduced in almost all not too lowly houses, in some quite frequently, and in some probably daily; and perhaps hardly a third of men are able, or even inclined, to avoid these visits. If you ask the old people when this became so prevalent a fashion, they answer unanimously: since they began to drink coffee in the afternoon, or had a drink with which they meant to give pleasure and honor to their friends. Both ideas are really connected with coffee. … As evidently as this great change in the economic condition of the people, that they now spend so many afternoons at the coffee-table, which were otherwise spent quite differently, has its origin in coffee, so undeniably do other important changes derive directly or indirectly from it. The former domestic industriousness must undoubtedly suffer greatly from frequent visits to the coffee table. It not only becomes self-evident that neither master nor wife can do anything in the house when they have or give visitors at the coffee table, but also the maid, who has to clean the visiting room, also heat it, prepare the coffee, put it on in decent clothes, take it away, wait for the strangers and be ready for further services, cannot otherwise do any housework this afternoon. If one includes the time for the mistress to dress and undress, to hand out and put away the utensils, and possibly also the time for critical assessment of the conversations that have taken place, then she too has spent the whole afternoon away from domestic business. Now there are so many afternoons in most houses that it is inevitable that some housework, which could otherwise be done comfortably and at the best of times, must be omitted, postponed or done for a day’s pay. A visible but sad change in the economic situation, when perhaps only half of the work that used to be done is now done![18]

– »Ausser dem neuen Aufwande, den der Kaffe veranlaßt hat, ist die zweyte Veränderung, die er in dem ökonomischen Zustande der Menschen gewirkt hat, die, daß er die Nachmittagsbesuche, oder so genannten Kaffe=Visiten, theils eingeführt, theils vervielfältiget hat. Nach dem Zeugnisse der Alten waren ehemahls die Besuche, welche Männer einander gaben, Amts= oder freundschaftliche Besuche. Jene gingen fast immer ohne Kosten nach verabredeten Geschäften wieder zu Ende, und diese waren nur unter sehr guten Freunden oder nahen Verwandten gebräuchlich, selten häufig, und mehr des Abends, als Nachmittags, gewöhnlich. Uebrigens kam man im Sommer zur Bewegung in Gärten, und im Winter in öffentlichen Häusern, zusammen, und versparte die kostbaren Versammlungen auf Hochzeiten, Kindtaufen, Begräbnisse, und andere Familienfeste. Und dies waren fast, ausser der kirchlichen Zusammenkunft, die einzigen Gelegenheiten, wobey sich Frauenzimmer, das nicht nahe verwandt oder vernachbart war, einander sah. Die Hausfrau blieb unter den Kindern und Gesinde, und sprach die Base in Familienangelegenheiten, und die Nachbarinn oder Schulbekanntinn in häuslichen, und ging am Sonntage auf ihren Garten oder einen Spazier=Weg. Wie sehr es jetzt anders ist, weiß jedermann. Visiten geben und nehmen, mag in beynahe allen nicht gar zu niedrigen Häusern eingeführt, in manchen ziemlich häufig, und in einigen wohl täglich seyn; und vielleicht ist kaum ein Drittel von Männern vermögend, oder auch geneigt, sich diesen Besuchen zu entziehen. Fragt man die Alten, seit wann dieses so herrschend Mode geworden ist, so antworten sie einmüthig: seit man angefangen hat, Kaffe nachmittags zu trinken, oder ein Getränk gehabt hat, womit man seinen Freunden ein Vergnügen zu machen und eine Ehre zu erweisen gemeint habe. Beyde Vorstellungen haben sich wirklich mit dem Kaffe verbunden. … So offenbar nun diese große Veränderung in dem ökonomischen Zustande der Menschen, daß man jetzt so viele Nachmittage, die sonst ganz anders angewandt wurden, am Kaffetische zubringt, ihren Ursprung vom Kaffe hat: so unläugbar rühren andere wichtige Veränderungen unmittelbar oder mittelbar von ihm her. Die ehemahlige häusliche Arbeitsamkeit muß unstreitig bey häufigen Kaffebesuchen sehr leiden. Es versteht sich nicht allein von selbst, daß weder Herr noch Frau im Haus=Wesen etwas vornehmen können, wenn sie am Kaffetische Besuch haben oder geben, sondern auch die Magd, welche die Visitenstube reinigen, auch wohl heitzen, den Kaffe bereiten, in anständiger Kleidung aufsetzen, wegnehmen, auf die Fremden warten und zu fernern Diensten bereit seyn muß, kann diesen Nachmittag sonst keine Hausarbeit verrichten. Rechnet man bey der Herrschaft die Zeit zum An= und Auskleiden, zum Herausgeben und Wegsetzen der Geräthe, und allenfalls auch die zur kritischen Beurtheilung der vorgefallenen Gespräche mit, so hat auch sie sich den ganzen Nachmittag den häuslichen Geschäften entzogen. Nun kommen dieser Nachmittage jetzt in den meisten Häusern gar viele; muß daher nicht unvermeidlich manche Hausarbeit, die sonst bequem und zur besten Zeit geschehen konnte, unterbleiben, verschoben oder für Tagelohn verrichtet werden? Sichtbare, aber traurige Veränderung in dem ökonomischen Zustande, wenn man jetzt vielleicht nur noch die Hälfte der Arbeiten darin thut, die man sonst that!« [18]

Berlin salons

Henriette Herz, 1792.
Henriette Herz, 1792. [25]

Salon culture finally reached Berlin, and a cosmopolitan and tolerant attitude to life developed in the salons. As a sixteen-year-old, around 1785, Alexander von Humboldt visited Markus Herz and his wife Henriette for the first time. In their home, the wealthy Jewish Berlin educated middle classes and progressive aristocrats met for scientific experimental lectures, philosophical discussions and literary readings. [20-16] [20-17]

Moses Mendelson, 1771.
Moses Mendelson, 1771.[27]

The Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn lived from 1729 to 1786 and his influence on Berlin society at the time is one of the highlights of German intellectual history, as he brought the Enlightenment to German-speaking Jewry. This Jewish Enlightenment, known as the ‘Haskala’, was a special achievement of Berlin, and part of it were the Berlin salonnières, almost all of whom were representatives of the Jewish Enlightenment. The conditions at the time are summarized with these apt words: “While in the small town of Weimar a court of muses, i.e. elitist courtly life, set the tone, republican virtues were the order of the day in Berlin: in the famous salons, which opened the doors to artistic and intellectual exchange for citizens and nobility alike and cultivated a new social style; in the National Theater on the Gendarmenmarkt as one of the central meeting places open to all social classes; in the Royal Academies of Sciences and the Arts, where scholars and artists called for discourse on their works; in the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, where citizens and nobles, men and women sang together in a mixed choir for the first time in the world. The development that took place in Berlin had fundamentally different coordinates in that it was essentially a metropolitan bourgeois culture, i.e. a non-courtly, socially open movement of the bourgeois intelligentsia. A reconstruction of this cultural epoch in Berlin reveals an urban cultural physiognomy of the Prussian capital that has never been surpassed in spirit and splendor. In the intellectual Berlin of around 1800, the cultural emancipation of the bourgeois city from the court took place; in terms of the individual, this meant the claim to equality of the subject with the citizen. Artists and scholars developed independently of the court, they were not protected by it.[21]

Rahel Varnhagen von Ense, 1817.
Rahel Varnhagen von Ense, 1817. [26]

“A major theme of this period was the bourgeois self-determination of the individual. In the Prussian capital, a completely new enlightened bourgeois salon culture emerged, which was founded by Henriette Herz and, in its further development, shaped above all by Rahel von Varnhagen. Both were Jewish and had the courage to break out of their orthodox traditional cohesion. In the scholarly, emancipation-minded, multifaceted Berlin of around 1800, Rahel von Varnhagen – inspired by Moses Mendelssohn – opened a salon in 1791/92 as a woman/as a Jew, which was frequented by the intellectuals, artists and philosophers of Berlin at the time, similar to that of Henriette Herz. Nobles, scholars, artists, bourgeoisie – all were represented here and bore witness to the emerging dissolution of the estate-based society. In Berlin around 1800, a civil society of self-determined individuals developed, an emancipated urban discourse ethic prevailed, and no artist or scholar had to be ennobled or supported. Berlin’s cultural heyday around 1800 had emerged from a metropolitan bourgeois emancipation movement, whose representatives were all urban in their own way. They were all characterized by the courage to experiment, outstanding creativity and the generation of a wealth of innovative ideas. The Prussian capital, one of the largest cities in Europe at the time, was the center of the emancipation of the Jews and their assimilation into German culture. Berlin was the place of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment, and the gateway for Jews into the secular world of Western Europe. At the same time, Berlin was the focal point of a high political and aesthetic culture of debate on the issues of the day: the opportunities for progress and undesirable developments offered by the French Revolution, Napoleon’s policies, the institution of the monarchy, bourgeois self-determination, equality for Jews, the emerging differences in intellectual history between Classicism and Romanticism, the role of women in society. Many of the unique artistic and cultural achievements of the Berlin Classical period are still impressively present today. However, the great idealistic ideas of the period around 1800, which projected a new, modern society, quickly became a dream of the future. Even in Berlin. Neither Frederick William II nor Frederick William III brought about fundamental political changes. While Schinkel was able to realize many of his architectural designs in Berlin as a “refiner of all human conditions”, the enlightened society for which he had conceived them remained largely an illusion. It was only granted a brief interlude. The national awakening faced headwinds. The reform movements were stifled during the period of restoration (Congress of Vienna 1815; Carlsbad Resolutions 1819/update 1824; persecution of demagogues 1832): Their aim was to restore the political power relations of the Ancien Régime, i.e. the conditions that characterized Europe before the French Revolution. All aspirations for freedom became victims of repression. The struggle for a constitution, for a nation, for civil liberties, for an administration based on reason, which was to implement the reformers’ great modernization programme, failed. The wheel of reform started in Prussia was turned back, Germany was neither united as a nation nor renewed. The future-oriented emancipation concepts of explaining and changing the world, which were conceived and discussed at the Berlin University founded by Wilhelm von Humboldt in 1810 and in its surroundings, remained largely pipe dreams at the time. They did not have an impact until much later. Even the Jewish salons, in which the idea of a symbiosis of Prussianism and Judaism seemed to be heading for a glorious climax, were only a sparkling intermezzo in the history of German-Jewish relations.” [21]

The invention of the ‘lady’

Why were salons able to emerge in Europe at all? What was really the prerequisite for Catherine de Rambouillet to hold her first salon in Paris? It may help to take a look from the outside to really understand how Europe differs from the rest of the world. Prince Asfa-Wossen Asserate describes perfectly in his book ‘Manners’ how this came about; he expresses it so well that we could not say it in our own words, which is why we let him have his say at times in this summary.

If you ask yourself as an African what the fishing rod is around which the whole system of European manners revolves, the answer is not difficult. What distinguishes Europeans from all other cultures in the world is the role they have assigned to women. Or perhaps it would be better to say: the invention of the ‘lady’. Presumably this fact is so self-evident to the reader that he does not quite understand the emphasis I am placing on this point.[19-46] This is how he begins his chapter ‘The Lady’ (‘Die Dame’).

The origins lie in the Minnesang and Minnedienst of French troubadours. These are based on Arabic roots, but they did not develop into the ideal of a Muslim lady, although Arabic love poetry also indulged “in the perfection of the beloved as well as in her distance and unattainability”, “and this pining was always mixed with religious motifs that placed the suffering of love and the adoration of the beloved in a relationship to the worship of God and the longing for him.[19-47]

It was not easy for the troubadours to find their position in society. As artists and poets, women of higher status were unattainable for them. This made their socially oppressive situation an existential one. “They made the women they were denied even more unattainable and saw their actual value in this. Futility became a symbol of life, unfulfilled longing a literary motor.[19-47] [19-48]

What was added in Europe was the veneration of the Virgin Mary, which reached a peak in the early Middle Ages. But this had also been nothing new in the East, in Byzantium and Ethiopia, for many centuries. Through the veneration of Mary, the woman became the crowning glory of creation, as Mary was regarded as the first perfect human being. She became a ‘domina’, a mistress in her own right, and was given the title of noble Italian ladies: ‘Madonna’. [19-48]

But why the Christian religion with its veneration of the Blessed Virgin had this social effect in France in particular, that a powerful ray of Mary’s immaculacy and royalty fell on all women, but above all on the ‘ladies’, and not in Byzantium or Alexandria with their incomparably more deeply rooted veneration of Mary, is not yet clear. The ‘lady’ is inexplicable.[19-48] [19-49]

Power is worshipped in all societies; “what is genuinely European, however, is the addition of the worship of powerlessness in the form of the lady. The lady is the queen of her circle, everything happens according to her wishes, which are never orders, everything endeavors to please her, all attention is owed to her – not because she is strong, but because she is weak. … The thought is undeniable that this contrast would be inconceivable without a Christian background.[19-49]

“European society is difficult to imagine without ladies. Until the First World War, events without ladies were of secondary importance.” [19-49] “Without the ladies, the social ritual could not get off the ground. It lacked its real goal: the worship of the lady. Western Europeans created an artificial figure that is extremely rare in reality, but spreads its splendor to real women.[19-50]

But what qualities characterize a lady, the enigmatic being? She is a higher, nobler being. She is more perfect than men and women. She is always innocent, always somehow justified. She is beautiful – if she is not beautiful, she is in all her movements and postures, the way she speaks, the way she puts on make-up, the way she eats (almost nothing), the way she dresses and the way she thinks, yawns, coughs, smiles, so much more formed than normal people that the right to beauty nevertheless flies to her. She receives the adoration that is shown to her, half friendly, half distracted, because she knows no other way. The lady demands nothing and receives everything. That’s why she doesn’t need to develop any ambition or elbow techniques. That makes the lady’s presence pleasant.[19-50]

How do the men (and young girls) behave in her presence? The lady herself remains very quiet, but all around her there is a humming like a muffled swarm of bees.[19-51]

Of course, there were a hundred and one rules about what a lady should and shouldn’t do. But these rules did not make a woman a lady. The lady didn’t follow any rules, she made up rules that she herself was not subject to. She couldn’t actually make any mistakes. She could commit serious sins, but she never ceased to be a lady. Blatant violations of the rules were even an explicit part of her privileges. She often provoked indignation, often met with serious resistance, but that did not change the fact that she was a lady and that everyone knew it. The Baroque period, the last heyday of the lady, is full of biographies of rebellious, irrepressible, anarchic ladies who responded to every attempt to force them under an order with a terror that made even kings cave in in embarrassment.[19-52] [19-53]

From all that has been said so far, it is clear that this ideal could not have had it easy in the twentieth century. Actually every conceivable trend of this era was hostile to women: communism and National Socialism, socialism and dictatorship of all kinds, democracy and capitalism, the youth movements of the various decades before, between and after the great wars, the wars themselves above all, modern working civilization, equality and the emancipation of women. To be protected and revered by men became an almost insulting thought for many women. The class ideal of the lady sank with the class to which she belonged. Working in factories and offices alongside men, which has become not only an economic necessity but above all a lifestyle, makes the realization of this ideal of the lady a sheer impossibility.[19-55]

Asfa-Wossen Asserate then goes on to say that without this ideal of the lady, there would have been no feminism, “which was actually initially a rebellion against the lady as a monument to gender inequality.[19-56]

He ends his chapter with the words: “The lady corresponded to the old feudal concept of the containment and taming of power through the education of the powerful, not through changeable laws of fluctuating authority. High above the pyramid of small and large vassals and the crown, above snarling lions, menacing eagles and rabid boars stood the woman, weaponless, with rose and handkerchief. She was the miracle of European culture, and one must perhaps have been born outside Europe to truly appreciate this miracle.[19-62]

Another important basis for the spread of the pousse café in society is the generally affordable availability of sugar and liqueur. We will look at this in the next part of this series.

  1. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salon_(Zimmer) Salon (Zimmer).
  2. https://dbc.wroc.pl/Content/72467/PDF/russwurm_jahrhundert.pdf Alexander von Gleichen-Russwurm: Das Jahrhundert des Barock. Gesellschaft und Sitte (1600-1700). Hamburg.
  3. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%B4tel_de_Rambouillet Hôtel de Rambouillet.
  4. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rue_Saint-Thomas-du-Louvre Rue Saint-Thomas-du-Louvre.
  5. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruelle Ruelle.
  6. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Chapelain Jean Chapelain.
  7. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_de_Scud%C3%A9ry Madeleine de Scudéry.
  8. ARTE: Die Erfinderinnen des Salons – Ursprünge der Frauenemanzipation. Gesendet am 20.2.2022, 16:15
  9. Johann Kaspar Riesbeck: Briefe eines reisenden Franzosen. ISBN 978-3-8477-0012-8. Die Andere Bibliothek, Berlin, 2013.
  10. https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_GPRdAAAAcAAJ/page/277/mode/2up Johann Kaspar Riesbeck: Briefe eines reisenden Franzosen über Deutschland an seinen Bruder zu Paris. Erster Band. 1783.
  11. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_de_Vivonne,_Marquise_de_Rambouillet Catherine de Vivonne, Marquise de Rambouillet.
  12. https://archive.org/details/gri_33125011170145/page/n311/mode/2up John Moore: A view of society and manners in France, Switzerland and Germany: with anecdotes relating to some eminent characters. Vol. I. Second edition. London, 1779.
  13. https://www.digitale-sammlungen.de/de/view/bsb11256346?page=160,161 John Moore: Abriß des gesellschaftlichen Lebens und der Sitten in Frankreich, der Schweiz und Deutschland. Leipzig, 1779.
  14. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horace_Walpole,_4._Earl_of_Orford Horace Walpole, 4. Earl of Orford.
  15. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Th%C3%A9r%C3%A8se_Rodet_Geoffrin Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin.
  16. https://books.google.de/books?id=7gtCAAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover&hl=de&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false Conversations-Lexicon oder kurzgefaßtes Handwörterbuch für die in der gesellschaftlichen Unterhaltung aus den Wissenschaften und Künsten vorkommenden Gegenstände mit beständiger Rücksicht auf die Ereignisse der ältern un enuern Zeit. Nachträge. Zweyter und letzter Band. Leipzig, 1811.
  17. https://archive.org/details/briefeeinesreis00collgoog/page/n4/mode/2up Johann Kaspar Riesbeck: Briefe eines reisenden Franzosen über Deutschland an seinen Bruder zu Paris. Zweyter Band. 1784.
  18. www.kruenitz1.uni-trier.de/xxx/c/kc02360.htm Johann Georg Krünitz: Oekonomische Encyklopädie, oder allgemeines System der Staats- Stadt- Haus- u. Landwirthschaft. in alphabetischer Ordnung. Darin: KAFFE
  19. Asfa-Wossen Asserate: Manieren. 226. Band der Anderen Bibliothek. ISBN 3-8218-4539-2. Oktober 2003.
  20. Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt. Mein vielbewegtes Leben. Der Forscher über sich und seine Werke. ISBN 978-3-8218-5847-0. Frankfurt am Main, 2009.
  21. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berliner_Klassik Berliner Klassik.
  22. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mme_de_Rambouillet.jpg Portrait of Mme de Rambouillet. 1646.
  23. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Presumed_Portrait_of_Madame_Geoffrin.jpg Presumed portrait of Madame Geoffrin. um 1760.
  24. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anne-Th%C3%A9r%C3%A8se_de_Marguenat_de_Courcelles.jpg Stich mit dem Porträt der französischen Schriftstellerin Anne-Thérèse de Marguenat de Courcelles, 1741.
  25. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Henriette_Herz_by_Anton_Graff_1792.jpg
    Portrait of Henriette Herz, 1792.
  26. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Daffinger_-_Rahel_Varnhagen_von_Ense.jpg Porträt der Rahel Varnhagen von Ense, 1817.
  27. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Moses_Mendelson_P7160073.JPG Porträt des Moses Mendelssohn, 1771.

explicit capitulum


Hi, I'm Armin and in my spare time I want to promote bar culture as a blogger, freelance journalist and Bildungstrinker (you want to know what the latter is? Then check out "About us"). My focus is on researching the history of mixed drinks. If I have ever left out a source you know of, and you think it should be considered, I look forward to hearing about it from you to learn something new. English is not my first language, but I hope that the translated texts are easy to understand. If there is any incomprehensibility, please let me know so that I can improve it.

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