Rhythm & Verse: A Literary and Music Salon

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"At our salon there is no parade of celebrities. People of various professions, generations and classes simply assemble here. They are people who participate in intellectual and in literary life or who wish to do so.
Art lovers." ~ Rahel Varnhagen, Salon Hostess, 1820 through 1833, Berlin

Sophie's Music Salon
• Who came before us
History Resources

Who came before us
A brief history of literary and music salons

The pot

The pot boils . . . Salons facilitate the 'Age of Enlightenment,' women's emancipation, revolution and democracy
If you were a member of the Blue Stockings Society in mid-18th century England you were considered an educated, intellectual woman. You were becoming bored with your embroidery. You were seeking to supersede 'the wolfish passion' of card playing with conversation. You not only gathered together with other female members of the Society (and educated men, by invitation) for discussion and debate about literature, philosophy and the arts but also to support one another's intellectual and artistic endeavors. You would have been among one of the earliest 'feminists' challenging traditional, non-intellectual, women's activities. And you would have been in the company of linguist Elizabeth Carter, novelist Fanny Burney, philosopher Edmund Burke, and author Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Elizabeth Montagu, 'The Queen of the Blues', who founded the Bluestockings Society (along with Elizabeth Vesey), reigned over this most premier of London salons for nearly 50 years. She wrote this in 1743:

In a woman's education little but outward accomplishments is regarded . . . sure the men are very imprudent to endeavor to make fools of those to whom they so much trust their honour and fortune, but it is in the nature of mankind to hazard their peace to secure power, and they know fools make the best slaves

Fanny Burney described, with some precision, the configuration of Mrs. Montagu's salon in her Diary:

the semi-circle that faced the fire retained during the whole evening its unbroken form … The lady of the castle commonly placed herself at the upper end of the room, near the commencement of the curve, so as to be courteously visible to all her guests; having the person of highest rank or consequence properly on one side, and the person the most eminent for talents, sagaciously on the other... No one ventured to break the ring.

Mrs. Montagu's salon, along with the salons of Europe, became a social institution of the Enlightenment, egalitarian to a degree, and serving as a major channel of communication among intellectuals.

Now, under the leadership of Mrs Montagu, these defiant bluestockings managed to acquire distinction and draw round them many eminent men of the day. They were a mixed group, some of them great ladies like the Duchess of Portland, others hard-working middle-class women who lived virtually in Grub Street; but all were "modern" and all had pronounced ideas. They abused the butterfly existence of society women, distrusted romance, denounced marrying for money, and excoriated the double standard. Some of them wrote, others became pioneer reformers and philanthropists. Each had a slightly different idea of the drawing-room....

Louis Kronenberger author of Kings and Desperate Men: Life in 18th Century England

Yes, the 'Enlightenment' was more a set of values than it was a single set of ideas. The values of liberty, equality, fraternity, and secularity were all associated with the 'Enlightenment.' And, yes, salons of 18th century Europe and England became cauldrons for progressive intellectual, cultural, and even political, thought. It was during the 'Age of Enlightenment,' after all, that the American and French Revolutions were born.

The experience of the salon, with its complex, fluid, and to some, 'wasteful' conversations subverted Victorian bourgeois norms . . . and laid the groundwork for the literary experimentation of Proust, Wilde, and Stein.
Lucia Re, Author

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