JOURNAL DES SAVANTS: French 18th C. weather; the hidden hermaphrodite; Siamese twins; abortion
Ever wonder what the weather was like the month the Bastille was stormed (July 1789)? Unfortunately, weather reports seem to be something of a late development in Old Regime France. It turns out, however, that the Journal des Savants did offer approximations of them at irregular intervals, the last being from about 1770 on into the Revolution. Not for all of France (largely for Laon, north of Paris, in many cases), and often appearing well after the month when the figures were recorded. The figures for July 1789, for instance, appeared in January 1790 (apparently the month overall was cold and wet).
According to the index for the first part of the collection (1757, entries MEA-PFL, 105-106) other figures appear for 1701-1742 from different locales. Not perfect or complete, certainly, but more than I've seen elsewhere.
The Journal des Savants is, for the last part of the Old Regime, largely a collection of publication announcements, sometimes with extensive reviews, sometimes with minimal mentions. It began in 1665, however, and the early 18th century issues are more like complete magazines and less like book catalogues. These also have true indexes, whereas the later editions list the works mentioned by topic, with asterisks to indicate full articles. The subject matter is often scientific, but also literary, theological, etc. If you know of a major work that was published in any European country in a particular year, it's probably mentioned in the Journal for that year or just after.
The earlier volumes also show a sneering contempt for anyone who deviates from Catholic orthodoxy, nicely typified by an index entry on abbesses (1703) who ont voulu se mesler de confesser - literally, "wanted to get mixed up with confession" or "wanted to involve themselves with confession", but with a strong nuance of "stick their noses into" confession. The article itself - a review of a larger work (661) - tells of abbesses who either asked to confess their own nuns and were refused or simply went ahead and did it and even appeared in the pulpit, "but Pope Innocent III found this feminine zeal quite ridiculous" and ordered his bishops to stop it.
Here are a few items (besides the weather) that caught my eye:
- Imagine if you were half the opposite sex and never knew it? The Journal des Savants of 1724 (453-454) tells of an autopsy done on a man that revealed he had a womb and "all the system of generation, as it exists in a woman", and tiny organs that might either have been undescended testicles or ovaries. This led the writer to wonder if the same was true of another man who peed blood once a month, leading one writer to comment: "There must be at least as many interior monsters...as there are exterior."
- In the volume for 1701 (376) there is a detailed description of conjoined twins born on June 21 of that year in Beauvais. The rather clinical description nonetheless is tinged with tenderness: "the two children each had a head with all the parts beautifully formed and with great resemblance" before going on to describe the autopsy and then preservation of their body (with a shared oversized liver)- so it could be sent to Paris for public viewing.
Finally, there's this unusual mention of disagreement (within a Catholic society) as to when a fetus first comes alive:
The Author of this Digest divides this useful work into four Books, of which the first concerns the vigilance of Cures and of all Ecclesiastics towards pregnant women, and of the means of preventing abortions, volontary and
involontary. Different sentiments of Authors on the time of animation of the fetus are presented here; and how it is proved by several facts that it is animated much earlier than some have thought; wise advice is given on discovering,
in case of abortion, if the embryo is formed and living, in order to administer Baptism, at least conditionally.
1762 (862), review of Abrege de l'Embryologie Sacree ("Digest of Sacred Embryology")
[NOTE: 'Abortion' here clearly means any interruption of a pregnancy, including miscarriage.]