, , , , , , ,


La Galanterie by Moreau le Jeune

The Loix de la galanterie, first published in 1644, is a work by Charles Sorel, sieur de Souvigny, the author of L’Histoire comique de Francion, 1623, and Le Berger extravagant, 1627-1628.

We have two e-texts, one of which is a Molière 21 (a research group) edition:

The second is:

Both e-texts, the Molière 21’s and Ludovic Lalanne’s, are based on the 1658 publication, revised and augmented, by l’Assemblée générale des Galants de France. The summary I am providing is based on Ludovic Lalanne’s 1855 text.

Bourgeois and Aristocrats

Charles Sorel’s galant is more of a dandy than a womanizer. He is told what to wear and what to possess if he wishes to enter le beau monde. In 1644, the beau monde would still be the aristocrats, but the more refined milieux were the salons, where our galant should be seen. Salonniers could be members of the aristocracy, but not necessarily. The 17th century in France is Molière‘s century as well as La Fontaine’s. Molière and La Fontaine were bourgeois, and so were Charles Perrault, and Jean-Baptiste Colbert.

Let us look at Charles Perrault

Charles Perrault (12 January 1628 – 16 May 1703) is the author of the Tales of Mother Goose EN or Les Contes de ma mère l’Oye FR. Perrault had been the secretary of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, the leader of the Modernes in the Quarrel of the Moderns and the Ancients. He was one of the forty-member French Academy and had worked at court with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a bourgeois and Louis XIV’s finance minister. Charles’ brother Claude designed la colonnade du Louvre. The Perraults were honnêtes gens, the plural form of honnête homme, and, although they probably dressed well, their appearance was not as important to them as it was to the galants who wanted to be noticed and had to look distingués.

In fact, our galant resembles the characters of Molière’s Précieuses ridicules. Magdelon and Cathos yearned to be invited to salons and wanted to look the part. Mascarille shows them his petite oie (literaly, little goose but, figuratively, a decoration such as a ribbon or lace). He also shows them his canons (frills below his breeches; see Monsieur Jourdain).


Monsieur Jourdain, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aristocrats moving to Paris

Molière’s Précieuses ridicules Magdelon and Cathos are middle-class women, but Gorgibus, Magdelon’s father and Cathos’ uncle, is probably wealthy. Sorel’s galant, however, could be an aristocrat who had left the provinces and moved to Paris so he could be seen at court, particularly when the king rose (le petit lever and le grand lever) or when he went to bed (le petit coucher and le grand coucher).[2] Charles Sorel’s (c. 1582 – 1674) Laws of Gallantry could be useful to such an aristocrat. In 17th-century France, appearances were extremely important.

Charles Sorel’s Audience

Sorel is addressing men. At the very end of the Laws of Gallantry, Lalanne writes that:

[w]omen should not be surprised if they have not been given any directives in his [Charles Sorel’s] text, because their gallantry is not the same as it is for men and is properly called “coquetterie,” which is for them only [women] to regulate.

Il ne faut pas que les Dames s’estonnent de ce qu’il n’y a eu icy aucune ordonnance pour elles, puisque leur Galanterie est autre que celle des hommes, et s’appelle proprement Coquetterie, de laquelle il n’appartient qu’à elles de donner des reigles.

In Les Loix de la galanterie, Sorel mentions Baldassare Castiglione (6 December 1478– 2 February 1529), the author of the enormously influential Book of the Courtier, Il Cortegiano, 1527. He also mentions Nicolas Faret‘s L’Honnête Homme: ou, l’Art de plaire à la cour (1630), The Gentleman: or, the Art of Pleasing at Court (a literal translation). There is more continuity than difference between these texts.

I have summarized Charles Sorel’s the Laws of Gallantry, Les Loix de la galanterie, as presented by Ludovic Lalanne in 1855. My summary is very short; it is a sampling. I will edit it using he Molière 21 text: Lois de la galanterie, the finer rendition, but not today.

The Rules, abridged 

  1. Only the French could be galants. The galant could not be from the provinces; Paris was his element. He was otherwise like a large fish in a small pond;
  2. The gallant (modern spelling) had to be rich so he could dazzle and hide his defects. He also needed a title. It was useful;
  3. If the galant was not rich it was essential that he borrow from every source (“de touz costez”). He also needed an entourage. In order to be happy, beauty, luck, and riches were necessary to galants;
  4. Castiglione had written about the courtier and so had Nicolas Faret: L’Honnête Homme: ou, l’Art de plaire à la cour. L’honnête homme was Castiglione’s courtier. He had to give money away (des libéralités);
  5. He had to spend every penny he had [or had borrowed] because it made him look like a member of the nobility. It was not too much of a risk as he could hope that he would be lucky and come into money through an inheritance or a donation, or by marrying a rich widow (une veuve pécunieuse), if he was properly attired.
  6. He had to socialize with the rich and perhaps organize a ball or ballet [the ballet de cour]. If the ball or ballet was praised, no one would tell that the galant had used borrowed money;
  7. A carriage (un carrosse) was a necessity. People would say: Il a bon carrosse. Besides, Paris was dirty and a galant did not soil a carpet. Only doctors could walk around covered by a cloth (une hausse).
  8. If he could not own a carrosse, he had to befriend someone who did or sit in a chaise [where his clothes and boots would not be soiled]. The chaise was carried by servants one in front, one at the back;
  9. He also had to be clean, wash his hands with almond soap, go and see the ‘bathers’ (baigneurs), wash his hair or clean it with powder, shave one’s face using the services of a barber who was not a doctor [some were surgeons], for fear of contamination. In fact, it was better to have one’s own staff. He should have his beard shaped. Clothes had to be clean. Rooms had to be clean;
  10. His clothes had to be impeccable even if he felt uncomfortable. He wore lace or frilly fabric at the bottom of his breeches (canons), a starched (lace) collar, no collar, the right boots. If he wore silk stockings, they had to be made in England.  But most importantly, the galant had to wear the latest (à la mode);
  11. He should put ribbons around his hat or his wrists or legs. Women did. It was not expensive, but it improved one’s appearance;
  12. Thus dressed, he had to find the places where women gathered [women were the hostesses]. During the winter, he had to find their réduits (small places: ruelles [the side of a bed in an early salon], the alcôve) and, for instance, play cards. It was essential for our man to know where there was a ball or a ballet, or, as the case may be, where a play was being performed [“comedy” meant comedy or tragedy and actors were and remain: comédiens, hence la Comédie française].
  13. He also had to know where there were musicians. [Mascarile and Jodelet hire musicians (violins) in Les Précieuses ridicules]. To play his part as galant admirably, our candidate also had to know which books were fashionable and buy the appropriate ones, the latest, promptly;
  14. Our galant could not be a real galant if he hadn’t yet hosted a ball or had a play performed followed by refreshments (une collation) or a banquet. He, of course, had to know the good caterers (les traiteurs);
  15. One had to speak properly and, for instance, avoid articles. One must say il a esprit (he is witty) and not the old-fashioned il a de l’espritIl a folie, (he is foolish), rather than il a de la folie; il a prudence (he is prudent), rather than il a de la prudence.
  16. One had to be the first to greet someone and be ready, at all times, to lift one’s hat. One had to look humble [so others would seem important]. If our galant /galand came across a man whose status was inferior and recognized him, he had to say that he did not know that person: Je ne le connoy point.
  17. These rules must be observed by everyone…


In his Preface, Lalanne emphasizes cleanliness.

He writes that, under Henri IV, there was a decline in hygiene, because of the religious wars. It was possible for Marguerite de Valois, well-known for her galanterie, to say to a lover, without hurting his vanity: “ ‘Look at these lovely hands, although I have not scrubbed them for eight days, let’s bet that they outshine yours, and that even though they have not been cared for, they make yours lose their luster.’  The good lady could not guess that, one day, Voltaire would write :

Sans propreté, l’amour le plus heureux
N’est plus amour, c’est un besoin honteux.

[Without cleanliness, the most blissful love
Ceases to be love. It is a shameful need.]”

(Loix de la galanterie)


Sorel’s Laws of Gallantry constitute the portrait of a social climber. He hopes he will be admitted to salons where the beau monde gather. But our galant is still at the bottom of the ladder making sure his boots do not get soiled and that he appear a salonnier. Once he had entered the salon, more would be demanded of him. Most salonniers were witty and had mastered the art of conversation.

Wearing a bow tie does not a salonnier make, nor a dandy.

I apologize for the huge delay. It was unavoidable.

Love to everyone. 


Sources and Resources


J. S. Bach- minuet in G major – YouTube


Les Précieuses ridicules (Mascarille perhaps waving a petite oie)

© Micheline Walker
1 May 2016