Here are some more clues to help you work out what the duchess was writing on 16 July 1789, during a significant phase of the early Revolution in the capital. Go to part 1 in the blog below for an introduction to this entry.
Line 1 begins: A Paris…
Line 2: J’[essai] Mde que ce petit papier vous passe…
Line 3: armées. Je ne sai point encore, de vos amis tués…
Line 4: bien, mais je ne sais si nous sommes…
Line 5: mais je sais que tout noble…
Line 6: ecrirai si le seigr…
[Square brackets] indicate a questionable or assumed reading of the manuscript by the Project team.
This should give you more of an idea of the shape of the duchess’ handwriting. Use this as a template for unpicking other sections of the entry. We will provide a full transcription and English translation next week. In the meantime, happy deciphering!
While the covid-19 restrictions continue, UCL Art Museum are running a free virtual private view of their current exhibition on French Revolutionary prints (which features the duchess, as explained in earlier posts to this blog below). This private view is accessible by anyone, though you do need to register beforehand. The details can be found HERE.
Join Dr Nina Pearlman (UCL Art Museum), Dr Richard Taws (UCL Art History), and the playwright and UCL Creative Fellow Nicola Baldwin for a virtual tour of the exhibition Witnessing Terror: French Revolutionary Prints, 1792-1794. There will also be a short reading from a specially commissioned play, The Duchess, giving voice to Innocente-Catherine de Rougé d’Elbeuf herself. Further details about the play can be found on twitter: @Duchessrevolt.
We would like to give our blog readers the chance to work with the Elbeuf Letters for themselves – with a little help from us. As you will see, the duchess’ script has idiosyncrasies in shape, spelling and grammar that are a challenge when it comes to transcribing her writing. Why not have a go yourself at deciphering this entry from 16 July 1789? In it, the duchess reflects on scenes of violence and tension on the streets of the capital in the aftermath of the storming of the Bastille two days previously.
Detail from AN F7 4775/1
Click on the image to enlarge it. And here are some clues to help get you started:
- Line 1 is an entry heading. A very similar (and more legible) heading can be seen below line 6
- The first sentence (line 2) reads: J’[essai] Mde que ce petit papier vous passe. Translation: ‘I will try to get this note to you, Madame.’ [Square brackets] indicate a questionable or assumed reading of the manuscript by the Project team.
We will post more clues next week, followed by the full transcription complete with our English translation. Why not subscribe to this Project Blog (see right) to receive updates automatically?
If you are interested in learning more about palaeography (the study of old handwriting), there is an excellent interactive guide to reading English scripts from c.1500-1800 on the National Archives website: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/default.htm. See also the Newberry Library’s offering for French scripts: https://paleography.library.utoronto.ca/.
Simon Macdonald writes:
Although her Letters survive, and a lot can be traced about her life history elsewhere in the archives, we have no portrait of the duchess of Elbeuf. In the eighteenth century, pseudo-scientific theories were emerging which linked the shape of the face to character, intelligence, and so on — and the links (or not) between beauty and virtue were an endless subject for poets. Our interest is born of a simpler curiosity: we’d like to put a face to the name!