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.

July 23, 2017

July 23, 1722

Madame Helvétius (July 23, 1722 to August 12, 1800) was famous for her salons. Here is an introduction; we read she was:

.... gorgeous
...[and] had great panache, lived life to the fullest and threw a heckuva party. Madame Helvétius was her name, but let’s call her “Minette” (which means pussycat en français) as all of her close friends did. ... Minette ...[had] a very successful 18th century salon – even Napoléon was a guest....

Anne-Catherine de Ligniville d’Autricourt was born in of 21 children of Jean-Jacques de Ligniville and his wife Charlotte de Saureau. At the relatively late age of 29, Minette married the French philosopher and poet, Claude Adrien Helvétius, who had amassed quite a fortune as a tax collector. The couple settled in the tony Paris suburb of Auteuil, and Minette began her salon, which included some of the greatest figures of the Enlightenment.

Among the habitués of Madame Helvétius’s salon ....[were] great writers like Diderot and Volney, thinkers including Condorcet, d’Holbach, Turgot and Buffon and scientists like d’Alembert, Lavoisier, Cuvier and Cabanis. It was a veritable who’s who of Paris society. Others who would drop by included politicians like Malesherbes, Talleyrand, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin....

Monsieur Helvétius died in 1771 after 20 years of marriage, and Minette carried on with her salons, choosing never to remarry.
.... Madame was said to have been so beautiful that a 100-year-old man paid one of the most famous compliments of the era: Ah, Madame, if I were only 80 again.
In her 60s, Minette made the acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin, who was serving as the US ambassador to France, and it was not long before he became smitten. Rumor has it he even proposed marriage. They were avid letter writers and Franklin, .... wrote this to her in one of them: If Notre Dame is pleased to spend her days with Franklin, he would be just as pleased to spend his nights with her; and since he has already given her so many of his days, although he has so few left to give, she seems ungrateful in never giving him one of her nights.
.... But not everyone succumbed to Minette’s charms. Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, was shocked by Minette’s behavior when she met her at a dinner in France following the successful negotiation of the Treaty of Paris. In correspondence, Abigail noted scathingly that ...[Madame Helvetius] kissed Franklin on the cheeks and forehead when she greeted him, held his hand during dinner and occasionally threw her arm around his neck: ["]I should have set her down for a very bad one.... 60 years of age and a widow. I own I was highly disgusted and never wish for an acquaintance with any ladies of this cast. ["]

I see no author listed for this book,  Gleanings in natural history, gathered from 'Early days', (1874), where we find another picture of Madame Helvetius:

A striking instance of the personal attachment of which ... [cats are] capable, was displayed by a cat belonging to a lady called Madame Helvetius. This creature used continually to lie at the feet of her mistress, seemingly ready to defend her. It would never take food from any other hand than hers ; would not allow any one else to caress it; and would never touch any of the birds which she kept. It would fetch anything that was wanted, in its mouth, like a dog. During the last illness of Madame Helvetius, this poor animal rarely quitted her chamber; and though it was removed after her death, it made its way back the next morning, slowly and mournfully pacing over the bed, its mistress's favourite chair, and her toilette-table, crying piteously all the time. Two or three days after the funeral, the faithful cat was found stretched on the grave, quite dead, having apparently died from the excess of its grief. This little history goes far to show that cats are sometimes quite as much attached to persons, as to the houses in which they are sheltered and fed.

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