Posts Tagged ‘1759’

A New Deal – In Silhouette

December 15, 2011


Of course you must have seen them. Either in your own house or in that of your grandparents or in the window of an antique shop or in books about the American Revolution. For a century and a half ago, silhouettes were as common as snapshots are today. Everybody, high and low, rich and poor, had himself silhouetted, and such mighty personages as George Washington and Marie Antoinette and Frederick the Great and Benjamin Franklin were silhouetted until they must have been as sick and tired of the own shadow-pictures as George Gershwin must be of his “Symphony in Blue.

The process was exceedingly simple. Everybody could make silhouettes. All he needed was a willing subject, a white screen, a candle, a piece of black paper and a pair of sharp scissors. The rest depended upon his native or acquired ability to catch the shadow of his victim and reduce it to the right proportions. for all I know, the craze for these fascinating shadow pictures may return tomorrow. For the stage is all set for a return of M. de Silhouette. No, he was not some sort of prehistoric photographer, a vague ancestor of that famous M. de Daguerre, who gave us the daguerreotype and modern photography. M. de Silhouette was a financier of great repute and the New Dealer of the reign of King Louis XV of France.

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This is the way that amiable nobleman turned himself into one of the immortals. For when all is said and done, what a greater fame can a man achieve than to make his name part of the current vernacular?

It was during the middle of the Eighteenth Century, France, having been most thoroughly ruined by the dynastic wars of the Great King Louis (whose royal mansions in Versailles were so recently repaired by the generosity of our own Mr. Rockefeller), was about as bankrupt as any nation can be without ceasing to function altogether.

Even in Versailles, where nobody ever learned or forgot anything, a few of the brighter spirits discovered that 1,000,000,000 times zero still makes zero. Evidently, it was time that something be done and be done right away.

Looking around for a bright young man to swing on the dangerous trapeze of finance, the choice fell upon a certain Etienne de Silhouette, a native of Limoges, a former secretary of the Duke of Orleans and member of the royal commission that had settled the Franco-British difficulties in Acadia in 1749.

Young Etienne had been an industrious student of British financial affairs and had translated a good many English books on finance into French. In short, a sort of brain-trust all by himself.

In March, 1759, he was put at the head of the finances of France with unlimited power to do whatever he pleased, provided he go His Majesty’s kingdom out of its desperate difficulties. This appointment was made at the suggestion of the king’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour. The dear lady was not famous for her morals. But she had a good brain. If she and de Silhouette had been given free rein, they might, between them, have saved France from the Revolution.

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But of course the poor New Dealer could accomplish absolutely nothing unless first of all he tackled the problem of the privileged classes. He did his best. He tried to reduce all pensions of all the hangers-on of the court. He proposed to tax the lands of the nobles. He suggested that everybody spend just about half of what he had done thus far, and that there be an end to the wasteful luxury of a court which benefitted nobody but the Versailles pastry-cooks, the Paris jewelers and the light ladies of both cities.

The idea struck the court as something so unusually funny that all of fashionable society began to do things “a la Silhouette,” which was a polite way for doing them “on the cheap.” Thus far, everybody had had his portrait painted by a regular painter. But now of course they could no longer afford to do so, and they had their pictures cut out of a piece of black paper. They had it done “on the cheap” or “a la Silhouette.”

And when the joke had lasted long enough, they booted poor Etienne de Silhouette out of his high office, and the good old times came back right away, and the New Deal went into discard, and Etienne de Silhouette died as the forgotten man, and Marie Antoinette and her boy and girl friends had a perfectly swell time laughing their pretty heads off over this pedantic bore with his everlasting howls about he coming disasters and calamities.

And then they all went to jail and made lovely little silhouettes of each other’s pretty little necks.

And then they had their pretty little necks cut off by the guillotine.

And that is the story of the New Deal of the year 1749 and of Monsieur Etienne de Silhouette.

Rochester Evening Journal (Rochester, New York) Dec 19, 1934

Meet the Commentator
Hendrik Willem

Van Loon wrote The Story of Mankind, a wonderful history book geared toward children:

Read online or download a free copy at this google link.

Jacob Fournais “Old Pinau” Dies at 134 Years-Old

March 20, 2009


Death of a Man 134 Years Old.

(From the Kansas City, (Mo.) Journal.)

On Saturday evening last the oldest man in the State, if not the oldest man anywhere, died in Kansas City.

His name was Jacob Fournais, but know to everybody who knew him at all, as “Old Peno,” (or Pinau). — Nobody knew his exact age, not even himself, but he was known as an old man when men now four-score were children.

He was a Canadian Frenchman by birth, but for more than half a century was a hunter and trapper in the employ of the Fur Company, one of the French voyageurs, as they were called — most of that time with Major Andrew Dripps, the father of Mr. Charles A. Dripps, and father-in-law of Mr. William Mulkey, at whose house he died, and where he has been kindly and affectionately treated for the last thirty years.

He was never sick and only a few minutes before he died was walking about the room. He said to the family in the morning, that he would “never see the sun go down again,” and just before sunset, the machine stopped — the old man was dead.

He said he was working in the woods on a piece of land he had bought for himself, near Quebec, when Wolfe was killed on the heights of Abraham. This was September 13, 1759, and from what he told of his life previous th that he must have been over 21 years of age.

Thinking he might have confounded Wolfe with Montgomery — 1775 — we questioned him very fully, but his recollection of names and incidents were too distinct to leave any doubt, and the same account had been given to others before we saw him.

Another event which he remembered well, and which he seemed to always look upon as a good joke, was that, during the occupation of New Orleans by General Jackson — 1814-15 — he had been refused enlistment, “because he was too old.” The old man often told this with great glee. He must then have been about 80 years old.

Thus, taking everything into consideration, and we have been careful ever since we knew him to get all the facts about him we could find — from Major Dripps, the Chouteau family, Jim Bridger, Tim Goodale, Bent, Jim Beckwith and other old mountaineers — we put his age at 134 years.

He went from Canada to where Pittsburgh now is, thence down the Ohio in keel-boats, and was in New Orleans, it seems, in 1814.

Before this, however, he accompanied the expedition of Lewis and Clark, in their explorations of the Missouri and the discovery of the Columbia river in 1804-7. His experience during that trip, making him a valuable man to the Fur Company, he was afterward employed as we have stated, until thirty years ago; being then worn out and too old for active service, he came here to spend the evening of his life with the family of the man he had so faithfully served for so many years.

The last thirty years of his life were passed in quiet and comfort. — He preferred living by himself, and always had his own house, where he kept his pipe and tobacco pouch and such things as were articles of comfort to him, mostly such as he had from his residence with the Indians, not forgetting his rosary and a few religious pictures which hung above his bed. He was very neat in his person, clothes, and housekeeping, and up to the day of his death attended in summer to his tobacco plants and his cabbages. One of his great desires was to see a railroad, and when the first locomotive came screaming into the bottom which was in full view of his home, he was nervous as a child until he visited it. —

The wife of Mr. Mulkey, who has been his constant attendant from her childhood, took him down one day to the depot, where he had an opportunity to examine it, and saw it move away with a heavy train attached. — He expressed himself as satisfied, said he “could tell God he had seen a railroad,” and has never since expressed any curiosity on the subject.

Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Indiana) Aug 1, 1871

More on Fur Traders and Trappers HERE.

In the book, Forty Years a Fur Trader, Andrew Dripps is mentioned on pages 416-417, in the chapter, “Sketches of Indian Agents.” The book can be found on Google Books, or click the link above.