Bonnie Smith, 21 May 1987
Jacques-Louis Ménétra was an 18th-century glazier who worked for abbesses, for aristocrats, and for Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s landlord. Like Rousseau, but unlike any other artisan of his time, Ménétra has left an account of an adventurous life, full of journeyman’s wanderings, picaresque characters and amorous conquests. In his 19th year the aspiring craftsman left his embattled Parisian family for the artisan’s traditional tour de France. En route he met some of the great criminals of his day, engaged in important popular confrontations in the lead-up to the Revolution, and had sex with as many women as possible. By the time of his marriage at the age of 27, Ménétra had chalked up more than fifty affairs, not to mention innumerable one-night stands and encounters with prostitutes. Such activities made his youth the ‘years of pleasure’. While ivy-tower historians may analyse Ménétra as the prototypical homo faber of the Ancien Régime, some readers will fix on homo fornicator.