The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

October 5, 2013

October 5, 1713

Our story today comes from a book titled, in English

Historical and Literary
Memoirs and Anecdotes
Selected from the
Baron de Grimm 
The Duke of Saxe-Gotha. 
And many other distinguished  persons.
Between the Years 1753 and 1790

Okay that's the title and we note the authorship is a bit vague but apparently the correspondence was mainly between  Friedrich Melchior Grimm, (December 26, 1723 to December 19, 1807 ) and Denis Diderot (October 5, 1713 to July 13, 1784) . There is no indication in the text of who wrote what, and then there are the "many other distinguished persons," who are yet not distinguished enough to be mentioned on the title page. The French original exhibits greater clarity and includes this subtitle:

"formant un tableau piquant de la bonne societe de Paris sous les regnes de Louis XV et Louis XVI."

These kind of descriptions were written by people who would have loved the internet, had it been an option. I  see no indication of who translated this volume, for the 1815 English edition. But our story is clear enough. It is gossip about Paradis de Moncrif. And pay attention, this guy is important and it is not easy to get information about him: 

Our quote is from the section titled "The Death of Moncrif". The text is not altered but is trimmed, and rearranged a bit in places, as is my habit.

Francis Augustin Paradis di Moncrif, reader to the late Queen and to Madame the Dauphiness, a member of the French Academy, fell into his last long sleep on the 12th of November, at the age of eighty-three. We have many songs and ballads of his in the old simple and tender style, written with a taste so delicate, so exquisite, that they may be considered as chef-d'ceuvres. There is no doubt, but that more genius is required to write an Iliad than to compose a good song, but perfection in any way, whatever it may be, is invaluable, ... If Moncrif had never written any thing but his songs and ballads, he would have been the first writer, in his way, and that is always something. But he wrote various other works, which have diminished his reputation. We have, from his pen, several acts of French Operas, written in that vapid style of gallantry which is not less insipid and heavy than psalmodizing music mixed with little lively airs. He wrote, an Essay upon the means of Pleasing, which is a poor performance, ....

Moncrif excepting his talent for writing tender and gallant songs, was a man of a very ordinary cast, but supple and courtier-like, so that he obtained himself a sort of reputation at court...[and was popular at]  the late Queen's parties. He there played the man of great devotion, but at Paris he was a man of pleasure, and retained his passion for good eating and for the ladies to an extreme old age. Not long since, after the Opera, he presented himself among the Areopagus of the damsels belonging to it, saying, If anyone of these ladies be inclined to sup with a very brisk old man she will have eighty-five steps to ascend; a good supper to eat, and ten louis to carry away. The apartment which he occupied at the Tuilleries, was indeed up at a great height; report says that he acquitted himself extremely well at these parties. He enjoyed a pretty ample fortune from the union of several places which the suppleness of his character had procured him, and it is said that he spent his money liberally. In his manners he was formal and precise, but extremely quick in his feelings as an author, and easily mortified. I remember that Marmontel, being very anxious for a place in the Academy, took it into his head in his French Poesies to compliment almost all the existing Academicians in hopes of conciliating them, and obtaining their votes at the first vacancy. Unfortunately however he drew upon himself almost as many rebuffs as he had made eulogiums; nobody found himself sufficiently praised, or praised according to his taste. He had quoted a couplet from a song of Moncrif's bestowing the warmest encomiums upon it, but Moncrif was angry and said that he ought either to have given the whole song or not have meddled with it at all. I confess that I am not sorry when I see such violent expenditure of eulogiums, devoid of sincerity, and lavished for interested reasons alone, not only lost but producing even a contrary effect. One of this author's best pieces of poetry is the unavailing renewal of youth or the "History of Titan and Aurora," but this was omitted in all the copies of his Selection of Songs ....His advancing years was a subject of much mirth among his acquaintance. He was called much older than he really was, because M. de Maurepas, formerly Minister of State, was fond of endeavouring to make people believe that Moncrif was provost of the hall when his father learnt to fence; he must, according to that calculation have been more than a hundred years of age; but this was a mere joke.

His family had lived with much credit at Paris, and had some property. .... the King who rather loved to amuse himself with old people, said to him one day, that the world gave him more than fourscore years. I will not accept them, said Moncrif, and indeed he had no appearance of that age. 

The subject of these recollections, Paradis de Moncrief, was infamous for one work he wrote; I put it here below so it can be savored by itself:

In his youth, he composed a History of the Cats, which I never saw; a work, which pretended to be very facetious, but was very insipid, and which drew upon him many sarcasms and epigrams. Roi, the poet, having made a very severe one, Moncrif laid in wait for him as he came out of the Palais-Royal, and caned him heartily; but Roi, who was accustomed to such things, being not less supple than malignant, turned his head to Moncrif, and holding out his back to the stick, said quietly, Play gently, pussy, play gently. [As if Moncrif was a misbehaving cat in the living room]

Before Moncrief was admitted to the most prestigious intellectual academy in Europe, he had written not just a  History of the Cats. Moncrif wrote the first History. How I would like to see a copy. 

Diderot may have written our excerpt on Moncrif; it may have appeared in his Encyclopedie. Though it was not very encyclopedic for Diderot to say, "there are cats and cats." Denis Diderot, by his Encyclopedie,  whispered to mankind that everything you need to know is in one place, and everything you need to know can be put in words. 

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