On the sensational gift from the ballerina Marie-Madeleine Guimard to the poor of her city, and the letter by Marmontel in support of her activities.
The Parisian winter of 1767-68 was particularly cruel. Marie-Madeleine Guimard (1743-1816) did something extraordinary when she asked her lover and benefactor, le Prince de Soubise, for her yearly gift in cash instead of the usual jewels. He sent her 6000 livres. Guimard went out alone in her neighborhood, Pantin, and gave each suffering family she found enough to support them for a year. The news of this generosity quickly spread through Paris and occasioned a huge hubbub because of her celebrity as a ballerina and the magnitude of the gifts.
Jean-François Marmontel (1723-1799) a dramatist and member of the Academy wrote an epistle to Mlle. Guimard both celebrating her generosity and criticizing the Church for refusing to acknowledge her generosity because she was a performer. A rival dramatist, Antoine Poinsinet, accused Marmontel in verse of calling Guimart extraordinary when other women are equally capable of humane gestures. Others, like the author of this letter to Le Comte de Brancard on the 29th of February 1768, joined the literary jousting by criticizing the motive of Marmontel’s letter.
The core criticism is that Marmontel did a disservice to Mlle. Guimard by transforming her selfless act into a criticism of the Church (Guimard could not be buried in a Catholic cemetery). The writer is particularly critical of Marmontel's device of imagining the funeral of Guimard to show the absurdity of the Church's position toward actors. At least, the writer notes, Voltaire had the decency to wait until after Adrienne Lecouvreur's death to make much the same point (La Mort De Mlle Lecouvreur 1730). The author then the composes his own verse for Guimard. (Inventory #: 832)