Category Archives: France

Manfred von Richthofen “The Red Baron” 5.2.13 Thought of the Day

“Of course, with the increasing number of aeroplanes one gains increased opportunities for shooting down one’s enemies, but at the same time, the possibility of being shot down one’s self increases.” — Manfred von Richthofen

English: Photograph of Manfred von Richthofen,...

English: Photograph of Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron. Willi Sanke postcard #503 (cropped). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen was born on this day in Kleinburg, Breslau, Germany in 1892. today is the 121st anniversary of his birth.

He was the second child and the eldest son born to Major Albrecht Phillip Karl Julius Freiherr von Richthofen and Kunigunde von Schickfuss und Neudorff. The family was part of the Prussian aristocracy and lived a life of privilege. Manfred enjoyed horse back riding, hunting and gymnastics. He was home schooled until 11 when he entered the  Royal Military Academy at Lichterfelde.

“He was a better athlete than he was a scholar, and applied his horseback riding skills to become a cavalry officer.  He was commissioned in April 1911 in the 1st Regiment of Uhlans Kaiser Alexander III, and promoted to Lieutenant in 1912.” [First World]

When World War One began he served as a reconnaissance officer for the cavalry. In May of 1915, after brief service as a dispatch runner in the trenches, he switched to the newly formed German Air Force. He was a natural aviator and “took his first solo flight after only 24 hours of flight training.” [Ibid] Richthofen flew an Albatross for a while, then he switched to the Fokker DR-1 Dridecker, a tri-plane with a  “Spandau” lMG 08 machine gun. His plane was painted red.

Deutsch: Nachbau der Fokker DR1 auf der ILA 20...

Deutsch: Nachbau der Fokker DR1 auf der ILA 2006. Manfred von Richthofen, genannt “Der Rote Baron”, flog dieses Modell im 1. Weltkrieg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“His success in the air led to his being named der Rote Kampfflieger by the Germans, le petit rouge by the French, and the Red Baron by the British.” [ Ibid]

In 1917 he was award the Pour Le Merite (aka “The Blue Max”) and was put in charge of an elite unit of German pilots nicknamed the Flying Circus. He personally racked up over 80 kills along the Western Front.

On July 6, 1917 He received a serious head wound. He passed out, but regained consciousness before the airplane hit the ground and was able to make a safe, if rough, landing in a farmer’s field. While recovering from the wound the German Airforce Press and Intelligence unit had him “write” an autobiography (that they promptly censored, polishing the image of the flying ace.) He was a national treasure and they didn’t want him to go up again (neither did the doctors), but The Red Baron ignored them, rationalizing that other German soldiers didn’t have the option of staying away from combat, and neither should he.

Manfred von Richthofen from Sanke card #450. T...

Manfred von Richthofen from Sanke card #450. The caption is Unser erfolgreichster Kampf-Flieger: Freiherr von Richthofen, which means “Our most successful fighter pilot: Baron von Richthofen”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He went back to active service at the end of July. On April 21 1918  he was shot down over Morlancourt Ridge near the Somme.

“A British pilot flew over the German aerodrome at Cappy and dropped a note informing the Germans of Richthofen’s death.  Buried in France by the British with full military honours, Richthofen’s body was later exhumed and reburied in the family cemetery at Wiesbaden.” [Ibid]


Hortense de Beauharnais 4.10.13 Thought of the Day

[Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

[Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

Hortense E de Beauharnais was born on this day in Paris, France in 1783. Today is the 230th anniversary of her birth.

She was born to French aristocrats Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais and Joséphine Tascher de la Pagerie. Both her parents were arrested during the French Revolution, and her father was guillotined at the Place de la Révolution on July 23, 1794. Josephine was released in August of that year. In 1796 she married Napoleon Bonaparte.

Hortense was a pretty child. She had long blond hair and blue eyes. She attended school Napoleon’s youngest sister, Caroline.

[Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

[Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

At 19 this “Flower of the Bonapartes” was married off to Napoleon’s brother Louis. It was not a marriage of love, but, rather, it was a marriage of convenience, arranged at Napoleon’s request. The couple never got along, but they did manage to have three children together: Napoléon Louis Charles Bonaparte, Napoleon Louis Bonaparte and Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. (Charles would later become Napoleon III, Emperor of France.)

The Royal Monogram of Hortense [Image Courtesy Wikipedia]

The Royal Monogram of Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of Holland [Image Courtesy Wikipedia]

The Emperor appointed Louis King of Holland and Hortense had to leave her beloved Paris to follow her no-so-beloved husband to Holland. The Netherlands won her over and she learned to enjoy the people, customs and landscapes. But her relationship with Louis did not improve.

After the death of their first son Hortense was allowed to return to Paris because it would provide a more healthy environment for both the Queen and her remaining children. When Napoleon prepared to remarry he decided that it wouldn’t do to have the daughter of his first wife living at court, so he had her shuttled north again. Her stay in Holland was temporary and she left, again for “health” reasons, in 1810.

Now officially separated Hortense moved to Switzerland where she had a long-term affair with Colonel Charles Joseph, Comte de Flahaut. The couple had an illegitimate son together, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph.

[Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

[Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

She remained a loyal Bonapartist. When the Bourbon monarchy was restored in Paris, Hortense — like all the Bonapartes –went into exile. She, Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte and Charles Auguste Louis Joseph moved to Arenenberg Castle, near Lake Constance in Switzerland. While there she transformed…

The medieval castle and its gardens …. into an island of French culture amidst the rather provincial region of Lake Constance. The castle was surrounded by a 12 ha park with hermitage, fountains, waterfalls and nymphaeum, steep paths and viewpoints.  [www.bodensee-magazine]

The main house, which still stands, had living quarters and rooms for entertainment (including a theatre). She continued to expand the house and  revamp the estate, adding the latest in Parisian style almost until her death on October 5,  1837.

[Image courtesy: Kreuzlingen tourism]

Arenenberg Castle  [Image courtesy: Kreuzlingen tourism]

Michel de Montaigne 2.28.13 Thought of the Day

“Stubborn and ardent clinging to one’s opinion is the best proof of stupidity.” –Michel de Montaigne

Painting by Thomas de Leu (Franco-Flemish pain...

Painting by Thomas de Leu (Franco-Flemish painter and engraver, 1560–1612, active 1580-1610). An engraving of this painting was published in the first edition of Montaigne’s Essais, 1617. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was born on this day in Château de Montaigne,  near Bordeaux, France  in 1533. Today is the 460th anniversary of his birth.

He was born into a very wealthy French family, but as a toddler he lived with a peasant family for three years. This, his father thought, would give him an appreciation for the conditions of the poor.

The fourteenth-century château, in which Miche...

The fourteenth-century château, in which Michel de Montaigne was born and died, was burnt down in 1885. But soon after rebuilt in a similar style by the Montaign family. Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (February 28, 1533 – September 13, 1592) was an influential French Renaissance writer, generally considered to be the inventor of the personal essay. Michel de Montaigne Another view: Flickr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When he returned to the Chateau he was taught by a German tutor and only spoken to in Latin and (eventually) in Greek. So Latin, not French, was his first language. “So the young Montaigne grew up speaking Latin and reading Vergil, Ovid, and Horace on his own. At the age of six, he was sent to board at the Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux, which he later praised as the best humanist college in France.” [] In 1546 he went to the University of Toulouse. He studied law and became a counselor of the Court des Aides of Périgueux before being appointed counselor to Parlement and serving as a courtier to Charles IX.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, statue sur l'Espla...

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, statue sur l’Esplanade des Quinconces, Bordeaux (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While at Parlement he became close friends with the  humanist poet Etienne de La Boëtie whose early death greatly effected Montaigne. “the void left by La Botie’s death in 1563 likely led Montaigne to begin his writing career.” [] He retired to the Château de Montaigne to study and write. Although he traveled a bit and served as Mayor of Bordeaux, but his primary office was as a writer.

He was…

one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance. … He became famous for his effortless ability to merge serious intellectual speculation with casual anecdotes and autobiography — and his massive volume Essais (translated literally as “Attempts”) contains, to this day, some of the most widely influential essays ever written. Montaigne had a direct influence on writers the world over, from William Shakespeare to René Descartes, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Stephan Zweig, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. []

He died in his home in Montaigne of quinsy, a  complication of tonsillitis at the age of 59, in 1592.

Français : Essais, éd de Bordeaux.

Français : Essais, éd de Bordeaux. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Victor Hugo 2.26.13 Thought of the Day

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” — Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo, by Alphonse Legros.

Victor Hugo, by Alphonse Legros. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Victor Marie Hugo was born on this day in Besançon, France in 1802. Today is the 211th anniversary of his birth.

He was the third son of Joseph and Sophie Hugo. He was  born during a time of national turmoil in France.  His father supported Napoleon, his mother was a royalist. The family traveled often when he was young because of his father’s military postings. His mother separated from his father in 1803 and took the boys to Paris. There she raised them as Catholic Royalist.

Though a committed conservative royalist when he was young, Hugo grew more liberal as the decades passed; he became a passionate supporter of republicanism, and his work touches upon most of the political and social issues and artistic trends of his time. [Sony ReaderStore]

He began to write as a teenager. He created “tragedies and poetry, and translated Virgil. Hugo’s first collection of poems, Odes Et Poesies Diverses gained him a royal pension from Louis XVIII. [The Literature]

Bug-Jargal (1818) by Victor Hugo (1840-1902)

Bug-Jargal (1818) by Victor Hugo (1840-1902) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His first novel, Han D’Islande, came out in 1823 followed by  Bug-Jargal  in 1826. The later book “describes the friendship between the enslaved African prince Bug-Jargal and Leopold D’Auverney, a French military officer, during the slave revolt in Santo Domingo of August, 1791.” []

His reputation grew with the play Hernani in 1830 [Click here for the Project Gutenberg link] (The play later inspired Verdi to write his opera Ernani. )

Charles Laughton

Charles Laughton (Photo credit: twm1340)

Hugo’s literary breakthrough was with The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831.

The novel, set in 15th century Paris, tells a moving story of a gypsy girl Esmeralda and the deformed, deaf bell-ringer, Quasimodo, who loves her. Esmeralda aroses passion in Claude Frollo, an evil priest, who discovers that she favors Captain Phoebus. Frollo stabs the captain and Esmeralda is accused of the crime. Quasimodo attempts to shelter Esmeralda in the cathedral. Frollo finds her and when Frollo is rejected by Esmeralda, he leaves her to the executioners. In his despair Quasimodo catches the priest, throws him from the cathedral tower, and disappears. Later two skeletons are found in Esmeralda’s tomb – that of a hunchback embracing that of a woman. [books and writers]

For 20 more years Hugo continued to write lyrical poetry — he is considered France’s greatest poet — plays, novels and essays. He was a visual artist and statesman as well as a  human rights activist.

English: Woodburytype of Victor Hugo

English: Woodburytype of Victor Hugo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the political landscape shifted in 1851 and Louis Bonaparte began to gain power. Hugo opposed the man, coining the phrase “we have had Napoleon the Great, now we have to have Napoleon the Small” []. When Napoleon grabbed power by way of a coup d’etat in December of that year Hugo fled the country for Brussels. Eventually he wound up on the island of Guernsey.

There, he wrote at a fast pace. And he wrote standing up, at a pulpit, looking out across the water. He had strict minimums for himself: 100 lines of poetry or 20 pages of prose a day. It was during this time that he wrote his masterpiece, Les Misérables (1865), about a poor Parisian man who steals a loaf of bread, spends 19 years in jail for it, and after his release becomes a successful small businessman and small-town mayor — and then is imprisoned once again for a minor crime in his distant past. [WritersAlmanac]

After Louis Bonaparte’s fall in 1870 Hugo returned home to Paris. He resumed his interest in politics and was elected to the National Assembly.

Les Mis

Les Mis (Photo credit: mgstanton)

Hugo died in 1885 at the age of  83. Two million people attended his funeral procession.


Louis Pasteur 12.27.12 Thought of the Day

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur (Photo credit: Sanofi Pasteur)

Louis Pasteur was born on this day in Dole, Jura, France in 1822. Today is the 190th anniversary of his birth.

Pasteur was the third child of Jean-Joseph and Jeanne-Etiennette Roqui Pasteur. His family moved to the banks of the Cuisance River in Arbois  when he was three. His father was a tanner by trade, but was also a decorated soldier in the Napoleonic War. Pasteur was an average student whose skills leaned more toward drawing and painting than science. As a child Pasteur witnessed “the treatment of several victims of bites by rabid animals;” [] the epidemic left sixteen dead “in the region, four of them in the immediate vicinity of Arbois.” [Ibid]

In  1840 he received a bachelor of arts  and was “appointed teaching assistant at the Besançon collège.” [Ibid] It was then that he began to study math and science in earnest.

He received a bachelor in science in 1842 then a doctorate in 1847 at the Ecole Normale in Paris.

Pasteur then spent several years researching and teaching at Dijon Lycée. In 1848, he became a professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg, []

While in Strasbourg he met Marie Laurent (they wed in 1849 and had five children together, only two of whom survived to adulthood.)

Entrée du bâtiment de l'Institut Le Bel, à l'U...

Entrée du bâtiment de l’Institut Le Bel, à l’Université Louis-Pasteur (Strasbourg I) (France). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He worked with tartaric acid, fermentation and germ theory. While on vacation he examined diseased wine and “observed the presence of germs analogous to those found in lactic fermentation.” []

he demonstrated that organisms such as bacteria were responsible for souring wine, beer and even milk. He then invented a process where bacteria could be removed by boiling and then cooling liquid. He completed the first test on April 20, 1862. Today the process is known as pasteurization.[]

Experiment Pasteur

Experiment Pasteur (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1852 he was appointed the chair of chemistry at Strasbourg University. Two years later he was given the same post at the University of Lille.

When he proved that “microbes were attacking healthy silkworm eggs” [ibid], he saved the silk industry in 1865.

In 1868 he had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, but he continued his work. He revolutionized the treatment of infectious diseases such as anthrax and chicken cholera.

In 1882, the year of his acceptance into the Académie Franaise, he decided to focus his efforts on the problem of rabies. On July 6, 1885, Pasteur vaccinated Joseph Meister, a 9-year-old boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog. The success of Pasteur’s vaccine brought him immediate fame. This began an international fundraising campaign to build the Pasteur Institute in Paris, which was inaugurated on November 14, 1888. [Ibid]

Louis Pasteur - Rabies

Louis Pasteur – Rabies (Photo credit: Sanofi Pasteur)

Pasteur died in September of 1895. He is considered “the father of germ theory and bacteriology.”

Français : Statue de Louis Pasteur à Dole dans...

Français : Statue de Louis Pasteur à Dole dans le Jura (ville de sa naissance). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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