"During the previous generation or so, elites across Europe had moved their clocks forward by several hours. No longer a time reserved for sleep, the night time was now the right time for all manner of recreational and representational purposes. This is what Craig Koslofsky calls “nocturnalisation”, defined as “the ongoing expansion of the legitimate social and symbolic uses of the night”, a development to which he awards the status of “a revolution in early modern Europe”. (...)
The shift from street to court and from day to night represented “the sharpest break in the history of celebrations in the West”. (...) By the time of Louis XIV, all the major events – ballets de cour, operas, balls, masquerades, firework displays – took place at night. (...) The kings, courtiers – and those who sought to emulate them – adjusted their daily timetable accordingly. Unlike Steele’s friend, they rose and went to bed later and later. Henry III of France, who was assassinated in 1589, usually had his last meal at 6 pm and was tucked up in bed by 8. Louis XIV’s day began with a lever at 9 and ended (officially) at around midnight. (...) As with so much else at Versailles, this was a development that served to distance the topmost elite from the rest of the population. (...)
Street lighting had made life more difficult for criminals, but also for those who believed in ghosts, devils and things that go bump. Addressing an imaginary atheist in a sermon in 1629, John Donne invited him to look ahead just a few hours until midnight: “wake then; and then dark and alone, Hear God and ask thee then, remember that I asked thee now, Is there a God? and if thou darest, say No”. A hundred years later, there were plenty of Europeans prepared to say “No”. In 1729, the Paris police expressed grave anxiety about the spread of irreligion through late-night café discussions of the existence or non-existence of God."