The original Ecole royale dramatique, forerunner of the Paris Conservatoire, was opened in 1786, which makes it an institution of truly venerable antiquity compared to our own stripling Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, founded relatively recently, in 1904, by Sir Herbert Tree. Its establishment on the eve of the French Revolution came as the culmination of thirty years of projects, argument and disappointment. The idea appears to have been first mooted by three of the leading actors of the Comédie-Française Lekain, Préville and Bellecourt, who on 4 September 1756 appended their signatures to a ‘Mémoire précis, tendant à constater la nécessité d'établir une Ecole Royale, pour y faire des élèves qui puissent exercer l'art de la déclamation dans le tragique, et s'instruire des moyens qui forment le bon acteur comique.’ In their exordium, the authors drew particular attention to the fact that the provincial theatre companies, which had traditionally formed a reservoir of acting talent for the Comédie-Française, could no longer be relied on to maintain the supply. They offered no explanation why this should be, beyond hinting that the quality of these tributary companies was declining. The real reason for the crisis in recruitment, which was undoubtedly making itself felt during the closing years of Louis XV's reign, can be deduced from the pages of Papil-lon de La Ferté's Journal, beginning with the entry for 28 February 1767, in which he reproduces the gist of a memorandum he submitted at this time to the Due de Duras, one of the Gentilshommes de la Chambre principally concerned with the welfare of the Comédie-Française. It was largely a matter of relative earnings. A good provincial actor could count on an annual income of some 7–8,000 livres; if he were outstanding enough to warrant an order being despatched demanding he should make his début in the capital, he would, rather than try and make ends meet on an income of 1200 livres which was all the Comédie-Française could offer him, as like as not escape abroad. In addition, as La Ferté discovered when, in the summer of 1767, he left on a recruiting drive to the French-speaking provinces of the Netherlands, there was considerable reluctance to take up a position in Paris where, as he reported to Duras on his return, ‘les comediens les plus mediocres que j'ai vus dans mon voyage m'avaient annoncé qu'ils renonceraient plutôt au théâtre, que de venir s'exposer aux cabales des Comédiens Français et aux mauvais traitements que l'on faisait subir aux débutants’ – a reference to the notorious hostility of the permanent actors towards newcomers who might have designs on the parts in which they fancied themselves.