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Prison Pets in the French Revolution

Beasts behind bars - Katharine MacDonogh tells the tale of the animals forced to share their owners' fall from grace after 1789.

Engraving of the suicide of Condorcet in his prison cell in March 1794, with his jailers entering with their guard dogs.It is appropriate that the end of the French Enlightenment should coincide with the publication of the last volume of the Comte de Buffon's hugely popular Histoire Naturelle in 1788. Whereas the philosophes of the eighteenth century had sought to upgrade the beast to the level of Man, the Revolution would degrade Man to the level of beast. Dogs, Buffon believed, learned to be civilised through living with humans; the miniature pedigree dog of the social elite was ipso facto superior to the kennelled working dog.

Two years after the book's publication, a large number of these pedigree dogs, known as lexicons, were burned in the Place des Greves, their owners having abandoned them in the first wave of emigration following the outbreak of the French Revolution.

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