J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, September 10, 2021

“I have the best-founded hopes”

By the middle of 1804, as I recounted yesterday, Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (shown here), and Marie Anne Lavoisier had agreed to marry.

But under the new emperor Napoleon’s new law code, the fifty-one-year-old count had to secure certificates from America attesting to his birth, his first wife’s death, and his mother’s permission for him to marry. That took a while.

In the meantime, international affairs swirled around them. France and Britain had been at war for more than a year. In 1804 British prime minister William Pitt started signing up allies. Eventually this coalition included Sweden, Russia, the Holy Roman Empire/Austria, Naples, and Sicily.

France was also seeking allies. The Elector of Bavaria decided that Austria was being too pushy and elected to side with Napoleon.

That made it possible for Rumford to easily return to Bavaria in August 1804 and consult with the Elector—son of the man he’d worked for in the 1780s and ’90s—about setting up a Bavarian Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Rumford had helped to establish a similar organization, the Royal Institution, in London in the late 1790s. But by this time he had quarreled with most of his colleagues in that enterprise and, by living in France while it threatened Britain, made himself generally unpopular with his own countrymen. So it was time for something new.

The count was in Munich for about a year, returning to Paris by September 1805. He brought with him a longtime servant named Aichner, his wife, and four of their children. Rumford declared, “I succeeded in so winding up my affairs in Bavaria as in the future to be able to live where I please.” 

That same month, France (and Bavaria) attacked Austria. Napoleon won a major victory at Ulm in October and another an Austerlitz in December.

From Paris, Count Rumford announced to his daughter on 25 October that he and Mme. Lavoisier had finally married the day before. “I have the best-founded hopes of passing my days in peace and quiet in this paradise of a place, made what it is by me—my money, skill, and directions.” Of course, that place was Lavoisier’s home.

Two months later, on 20 December, the count wrote:
You will wish to know what sort of a place we live in. The house is rather an old-fashioned concern, but in a plot of over two acres of land, in the very centre and finest part of Paris, near the Champs Elysées and the Tuileries and principal boulevards. I have already made great alterations in our place, and shall do a vast deal more. When these are done I think Madame de Rumford will find it in a very different condition from that in which it was, that being very pitiful with all her riches.

Our style of living is really magnificent. Madame is exceedingly fond of company, and makes a splendid figure in it herself. But she seldom goes out, keeping open doors; that is to say, to all the great and worthy, such as the philosophers, members of the Institute, ladies of celebrity, &c.

On Mondays we have eight or ten of the most noted of our associates to dinner. Thursdays are devoted to evening company, of ladies and gentlemen, without regard to numbers. Tea and fruits are given, the guests continuing till twelve or after. Often superb concerts are given with the finest vocal and instrumental performers.
That doesn’t sound like “peace and quiet” at all.

On 6 January, two and a half months after the wedding, Count Rumford told his daughter:
Between you and myself, as a family secret, I am not at all sure that two certain persons were not wholly mistaken, in their marriage, as to each other’s characters. Time will show.
TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

1 comment:

Don Carleton (Jr.) said...

The trajectory of Count Rumford's adventures and his general lack of scruples puts one in mind of one Redmond Barry aka Barry Lyndon...