On the French penchant for inventing things already in existence elsewhere

François Dominique Séraphin, Bourbon favourite and reputedly the father of ombres chinoises (shadow puppetry), began operating 15 years later than is generally thought, and may have copied his techniques from an itinerant Italian or a London Alsatian. Featuring the memoirs of the valet to the later Louis XVII, early descriptions of the delights of the renovated Palais Royal (including a pygmy show), jolly old Baron Grimm on the lamentable state of French opera, shadow plays, and marionettes, and William Beckford’s favourite designer of theatrical perversions.

Philip James de Loutherbourg's Eidophusikon around 1782.

Dutch words that sound obscene in English

Cock/Kok: family name. Also kok: cook, coccus. Re David Cameron’s #piggate laddishness, British Labour MP Emily Thornberry has posted a pack of pickled smoked cut beef (not pork) marketed under a brand of Darwin Award-worthy stupidity, Cock’s Fresh. De Cock is the family name and the products are preserved, not fresh. If you tell a…

Rhyme vs reason

Restif de la Bretonne goes one step beyond Shakespeare and says that poetry is the language of Gods and beasts, and that reason speaks in prose.

Death and the part-time trombonist

In the course of a piece on the French economic wonder, the lifestyle des intermittents du spectacle, and (anti-)Americanism, Adam Gopnik writes that when “the country and its joys can be shut down by part-time trombonists …, something is wrong, or at least ridiculous.” Mr Gopnik underestimates the threat posed to global security by trombonists.…