Constance de Salm’s Correspondence (1767–1845)

Inventory of the fund Salm of the Société des Amis du Vieux Toulon et de sa Région

Long-time forgotten and rediscovered only a few ago, Constance de Salm, born as Constance Marie de Théis in Nantes (1767-1845) was one of the most successful French authors of her lifetime. She published her first essays at the age of 18. Her breakthrough came in 1794 when she provided the libretto to the musical drama “Sapho”. Numerous widely recognized poems and panegyrics followed as well as a novel (“Vingt-quatre heures de la vie d’une femme sensible”). Constance de Salm takes a stand in her works on contemporary sociopolitical issues such as women’s education and their role in society. She was also the first woman to be welcomed to the prestigious circle of the Parisian “Athénée des arts”, a society for artists and scholars. De Salm welcomed an illustrious circle of friends in her Parisian parlor. Every week, authors, actors, artists, scientists, and journalists came together to discuss issues in literature, theater, and politics, or to recite poems and play music. Constance de Salm also worked professionally with many of her friends. The musician Martini composed the music for “Sapho” and other works and the renowned publisher Didot published a number of her works. A graphic print from the time of the first French Empire shows Constance surrounded by friends and letter correspondents.

Following the divorce from her first husband, the doctor Jean-Baptiste Pipelet, whom she had a daughter with called Clémence Agathe (short Clémentine or Minette, 1790-1820), she married the Count and later Prince Joseph zu Salm-Reifferscheidt-Dyck. From then on, Constance de Salm spent half of every year at Castle Dyck in the Rhineland, occasionally also in the city house in Aachen and the other half in Paris. Over the following decades up until her death she was in regular correspondence by mail with her friends and acquaintances in Paris. These letters helped her to maintain her broad network of friendships and contacts, to pursue publications and also allowed her to keep track of the many facets of cultural and societal life in Paris. This correspondence allowed previous debates to continue in a “virtual salon” (Christiane Coester) and thereby provides unique insight into the literary and scientific activities in Paris during these years. Moreover, the letters offer a better understanding concerning the working conditions for female authors and also depict mechanisms of networks and transfer processes between the Rhineland and France in the first half of the 19th century.

Constance de Salm was convinced that this extensive exchange of letters would be of interest to a broad audience. Therefore, she engaged in efforts to publish the letters in the form of a book and to thereby preserve them for later times. She had numerous copies made for an edition she planned but only one issue was published containing around 30 letters. A complete edition, planned to be called “Correspondance générale” was never published. The collection of letters exchanged between Paris and the Rhineland was given to the archive of the Société des Amis du Vieux Toulon et de sa Région in Toulon in the south of France in 1960. The donation was made by Baroness Montfort de Francq, a descendant of Constance de Salm, whose daughter Clémence Agathe had married a baron de Francq. The comprehensive archive contains around 7,000 letters (originals and copies) that include around 150 letter correspondents and serves as the foundation for this acquisition project carried out by the German Historical Institute Paris that was initiated by Gudrun Gersmann, Director of the institute between 2007 and 2012. The research group (Director: Florence de Peyronnet-Dryden; Contributors: Dr. Eva Dade, Eva Knels, and Hannah Schneider) is aiming to gather Constance de Salm’s extensive correspondence in a scientific manner to make this important collection available to research. The collection in Toulon was photographed in 2010 thanks to the initiative and the funding provided by the GHI Paris and has been available since as a digital version. Each individual letter was recorded in the research and data base system FuD, developed by the University of Trier (, its content was evaluated and linked to the relevant images. The data base presented here contains all documents (letters and other files) from Toulon that are concerned with Constance de Salm and her work. Only later, not entirely relevant material, (e.g. documents about descendants of the de Francq family in the 19th century) was excluded.

After the accumulation of this collection was completed, another large collection was discovered in a French antiquarian bookshop in the spring of 2013, which included numerous letter and important family documents. After a brief investigation it turned out that this collection had originally belonged to the one in Toulon. A researcher had borrowed it for his work but never returned it. This part of the collection was fortunately acquired by descendants of the Salm-Reifferscheidt-Dyck family and is expected to be digitalized in late 2013. These documents could be developed according to the model developed in this project and be made available to research. The collection (manuscripts of works, extensive correspondences, and documents) complete the Salm funds and thereby provide a new perspective on the protagonist. Up until now the period before the revolution and the years before her marriage with Joseph zu Salm-Reifferscheidt-Dyck were hardly documented. Many documents concern her private life (divorce and remarriage, family processes, the violent death of her daughter). Furthermore, the material includes numerous volumes with copies of contemporary reviews as well as various correspondences which de Salm had assembled in preparation of the complete edition that was never published. This collection will be digitalized in the fall of 2013 and is set to complete the data base.