When Anne Arnould made her first appearance, she assumed the name of Sophie on account of the softer sound of its syllables. Her debut, September 15, 1757, was one of most brilliant success, and in a night Paris was at her feet. Her genius, her beauty, her voice, her magnificent eyes, her incomparable grace and fascinating witchery of manner, were the talk of the city; and the opera was besieged every night she sang. Freron, in speaking of the waiting crowds, said, “I doubt if they would take such trouble to get into paradise.” The young and lovely debutante accepted the homage of the time, which then as now expressed itself in bouquets, letters, and jewels, without number, with as much nonchalance as if she had been a stage goddess of twenty years’ standing.
Hosts of admirers fluttered around this new and brilliant light. Mme. Arnould fretted and scolded, and watched her precious charge as well as she could; for when the opera received a singer, neither father nor mother could longer claim her. One of the besieging roues said that Sophie walked on roses. “Yes,” was the mother’s keen retort, “but see to it that you do not plant thorns amid the roses.” Sophie’s fascinations were the theme of universal talk among the gay and licentious idlers of the court, and heavy bets were made as to who should be the victor in his suit. Among the most distinguished of the court rufflers of the period was the Comte de Lauraguais, noted for his personal beauty, wit, and daring, and for having written some very bad plays, which were instantly damned by the audience. He had run through a great fortune, and the good-humored gayety with which he won money from his friends was only equaled by the nonchalance with which he had squandered his own. He was a member of the Academy of Sciences, and enjoyed lounging in fashionable saloons and behind the scenes at the opera. Lauraguais had the temerity to attempt to carry off the young beauty, but, the enterprise failing, he had recourse to another expedient. One evening, supping with some friends, the conversation turned naturally on the star which had just risen, and there was much jesting over the maternal anxiety of Arnould mere. Lauraguais, laughing, instantly offered to lay an immense wager that within fifteen days Mme. Arnould would no longer attend Sophie to the opera. The bet was taken, and the next day a handsome but modest-looking young man, professing to be from the country, applied at the Hotel de Chatillon for lodgings. The fascinating tongue of young Duval (for he represented that he was a poet of that name, who hoped to get a play taken by the managers) soon beguiled both mother and daughter, and he began to make love to Sophie under the very maternal eyes. The romantic girl listened with delight to the protestations and vows of the young provincial poet, though she had disdained the flatteries of the troops of court gallants who besieged the opera-house stage when she sang. The finale of this pretty pastoral was a moonlight flitting one night. The couple eloped, and the Comte de Lauraguais won his wager that Mme. Arnould would not longer accompany her daughter to the opera, and with the wager the most beautiful and fascinating woman of the time.