SUNDRIES: An eighteenth century newsletter

N° 51 - October 7, 2006

TROLLOPE: On Robespierre

law scales THE OLD REGIME POLICE BLOTTER: Sodomy - The Desfontaines Case (guest-starring Voltaire)

inter cooking 18th CENTURY RECIPE: A meal for 10-12 guests - Terrine of filet of duck with green sauce

fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys
inter text Magasin Pittoresque: No 4 - 1836


TROLLOPE: On Robespierre

From La Vendée:

Half a century has passed since Robespierre died, and history has become peculiarly conversant with his name. Is there any one whose character suffers under a more wide-spread infamy? The abomination of whose deeds has become more notorious? The tale of whose death has been oftener told; whose end, horrid, fearful, agonized, as was that of this man, has met with less sympathy? For fifty years the world has talked of, condemned, and executed Robespierre. Men and women, who have barely heard the names of Pitt and Fox, who know not whether Metternich is a man or a river, or one of the United States, speak of Robespierre as of a thing accursed. They know, at any rate, what he was--the demon of the revolution; the source of the fountain of blood with which Paris was deluged; the murderer of the thousands whose bodies choked the course of the Loire and the Rhone. Who knows not enough of Robespierre to condemn him? Who abstains from adding another malediction to those which already load the name of the King of the Reign of Terror.

Yet it is not impossible that some apologist may be found for the blood which this man shed; that some quaint historian, delighting to show the world how wrong has been its most assured opinions, may attempt to vindicate the fame of Robespierre, and strive to wash the blackamoor white. Are not our old historical assurances everywhere asserted? Has it not been proved to us that crooked-backed Richard was a good and politic King; and that the iniquities of Henry VIII are fabulous? whereas the agreeable predilections of our early youth are disturbed by our hearing that glorious Queen Bess, and learned King James, were mean, bloodthirsty, and selfish.

I am not the bold man who will dare to face the opinion of the world, and attempt to prove that Robespierre has become infamous through prejudice. He must be held responsible for the effects of the words which he spoke, and the things which he did, as other men are. He made himself a scourge and a pestilence to his country; therefore, beyond all other men, he has become odious, and therefore, historian after historian, as they mention his name, hardly dare, in the service of truth, to say one word to lessen his infamy.

Yet Robespierre began his public life with aspirations of humanity, which never deserted him; and resolutions as to conduct, to which he adhered with a constancy never surpassed. What shall we say are the qualifications for a great and good man?--Honesty. In spite of his infamy, Robespierre's honesty has become proverbial. Moral conduct--the life he led even during the zenith of his power, and at a time when licentiousness was general, and morality ridiculous, was characterized by the simplicity of the early Quakers. Industry--without payment from the State, beyond that which he received as a member of the Convention, and which was hardly sufficient for the wants of his simple existence, he worked nearly night and day in the service of the State. Constancy of purpose--from the commencement of his career, in opposition at first to ridicule and obscurity, then to public opinion, and lastly to the combined efforts of the greatest of his countrymen, he pursued one only idea; convinced of its truth, sure of its progress, and longing for its success. Temperance in power--though in reality governing all France, Robespierre assumed to himself none of the attributes or privileges of political power. He took to himself no high place, no public situation of profit or grandeur. He was neither haughty in his language, nor imperious in his demeanour. Love of country--who ever showed a more devoted love? For his country he laboured, and suffered a life which surely in itself could have had nothing attractive; the hope of the future felicity of France alone fed his energies, and sustained his courage. His only selfish ambition was to be able to retire into private life and contemplate from thence the general happiness which he had given to his country. Courage--those who have carefully studied his private life, and have learnt what he endured, and dared to do in overcoming the enemies Of his system, can hardly doubt his courage. Calumny or error has thrown an unmerited disgrace over his last wretched days. He has been supposed to have wounded himself in an impotent attempt to put an end to his life. It has been ascertained that such was not the fact, the pistol by which he was wounded having been fired by one of the soldiers by whom he was arrested. He is stated also to have wanted that firmness in death which so many of his victims displayed. They triumphed even in their death. Louis and Vergniaud, Marie Antoinette, and Madame Roland, felt that they were stepping from life into glory, and their step was light and elastic. Robespierre was sinking from existence into infamy. During those fearful hours, in which nothing in life was left him but to suffer, how wretched must have been the reminiscences of his career! He, who had so constantly pursued one idea, must then have felt that that idea had been an error; that he had all in all been wrong; that he had waded through the blood of his countrymen to reach a goal, which, bright and luminous as it had appeared, he now found to be an ignis fatuus. Nothing was then left to him. His life had been a failure, and for the future he had no hope. His body was wounded and in tortures; his spirit was dismayed by the insults of those around him, and his soul had owned no haven to which death would give it an escape. Could his eye have been lit with animation as he ascended the scaffold! Could his foot have then stepped with confidence! Could he have gloried in his death! Poor mutilated worm, agonised in body and in soul. Can it be ascribed to want of courage in him, that his last moments were passed in silent agony and despair?

Honesty, moral conduct, industry, constancy of purpose, temperance in power, courage, and love of country: these virtues all belonged to Robespierre; history confesses it, and to what favoured hero does history assign a fairer catalogue? Whose name does a brighter galaxy adorn? With such qualities, such attributes, why was he not the Washington of France? Why, instead of the Messiah of freedom, which he believed himself to be, has his name become a bye-word, a reproach, and an enormity? Because he wanted faith! He believed in nothing but himself, and the reasoning faculty with which he felt himself to be endowed. He thought himself perfect in his own human nature, and wishing to make others perfect as he was, he fell into the lowest abyss of crime and misery in which a poor human creature ever wallowed. He seems almost to have been sent into the world to prove the inefficacy of human reason to effect human happiness. He was gifted with a power over common temptation, which belongs to but few. His blood was cool and temperate, and yet his heart was open to all the softer emotions. He had no appetite for luxury; no desire for pomp; no craving for wealth. Among thousands who were revelling in sensuality, he kept himself pure and immaculate. If any man could have said, I will be virtuous; I, of myself, unaided, trusting to my own power, guarding myself by the light of my own reason; I will walk uprightly through the world, and will shed light from my path upon my brethren, he might have said so. He attempted it, and history shows us the result. He attempted, unassisted, to be perfect among men, and his memory is regarded as that of a loathsome plague, defiling even the unclean age in which he lived.
back to top

back to top

THE OLD REGIME POLICE BLOTTER: Sodomy - The Desfontaines Case (guest-starring Voltaire)

According to Voltaire, it was the Abbé Desfontaines who defended his libels-for-hire by saying, to the count d'Argenson, "But My Lord, I need to live", and was answered, "I don't see the need for it."

He was certainly, unlike most other defendants mentioned here, well-known in the literary world:

I have just tried reading Gulliver which I had already read, and that even the translator, l'abbé Desfontaines, had dedicated to me. I do not think there is anything more disagreeable. The conversation with the horses is the most forced, the most cold, the most fastidious invention one could have imagined.
MMe Deffand to Horace Walpole, July 1780

La Harpe summed him up as follows: "This abbé who had been a Jesuit himself, had wit and literary acquaintances; he was besides a mediocre writer, an impassioned critic and a weak translator." La Harpe, Correspondance Litteraire (Tome I, 338).

What's more, he made his way into one of the more famous pornographic works of the time:

Le Portier des Chartreux is a book which is not of the most austere moral. One finds in it a portrait of the Abbé Desfontaines franker than anything to be found in Petronius.
Voltaire, Oeuvres Completes, Hachette 1893 (Tome 7, editor's note 225)

In regard to Voltaire's role here, and their subsequent quarrels, several sources say essentially the same thing:

It was said that Desfontaines owed [Voltaire] nothing less than his life. It is certain that he got him out of Bicêtre, where this man had been locked up for foul crimes; and it is stated that, since this time, the abbé Desfontaines had written many libels against his benefactor.
Voltaire, Oeuvres Completes, Hachette, 1889 (note, 238)

Voltaire's version does not differ substantially from more neutral accounts:

I only knew the abbé Guyot Desfontaines because M. Thiriot brought him to my house in 1724, as a man who had been a Jesuit, and who, consequently, was a studious man; I received him with friendship, as I receive all those who cultivate letters. I was shocked at the end of fifteen days to receive a letter from him, dated from Bicetre, where he had just been locked up. I learned that he had been put three months before in the Chatelet for the same crime of which he was accused, and that he was being formally tried. I was then fortunate enough to have several powerful friends... I raced to Fontainebleau, sick as I was, to throw myself at their feet; I pushed, I solicited in every direction; finally I obtained his relief and the interruption of a trial which was a matter of his life: I got him the permission to go to the country at the house of M. the president of Bernieres my friend. ....Do you know what he did? a pamphlet against me. He even showed it to M. Thiriot, who forced him to throw it in the fire; he asked my pardon in telling me the pamphlet was written a little before the date of Bicêtre. I had the weakness to pardon him, and this weakness earned me a mortal enemy...
Voltaire, Oeuvres Completes, Hachette, 1889, (Tome 20, 260)

(Any reader of French who would like to read an extensive follow-up to the above can see the "Memoir de Sieur Voltaire" which begins Tome 24 of the Hachette edition.)

It could not have helped that he seemed to have influenced Fréron, whom Voltaire called "A worm born from Desfontaines' ass" (Tome 7, 216)

Attacking Voltaire was, in one sense, unwise. On the other hand, it did prolong many a non-entity's reputation, pinned to history by Voltaire's wit:
Epigram on the Abbé Desfontaines
who spoke out against attraction
For antiphysical love
Whipped Desfontaines
Has, they say, spoken harshly
Of the Newtonian system.
He has taken completely backwards
the purest truth;
And his errors are always
Sins against nature.
The Abbé Desfontaines and the Chimneysweep

Told by the late M. de la Faye.

A chimneysweep with a sunburnt face,
Iron in hand, the eyes covered with a blindfold,
Was sliding up a chimney,
When from Sodom an antique beadle,
Who for Love took this youngster
Climbed on back of his bent spine.
Love cried out: the neighborhood came running.
A statement was taken; and Desfontaines in heat
is caged up in the walls of Bicêtre.
They tie him up, they strip him down.
A nervous hand took pleasure in putting the spurs
To the heavy butt of the sodomite priest.
Girls laughed, and the flayed acolyte
Cried out: "Monsieur, for God's sake, be touched;
Read please, my verse and my prose"
The spanker read; and suddenly, still angrier,
He doubled the renegade's dose,
Twenty strokes of the whip for his wicked sin,
And thirty more for the boredom he causes us.
(Tome 7, 331-332)


Ravaisson identifies the subject here as "Pierre-François Guyot Desfontaines, son of a councillor in the Parlement of Normandy, born in Rouen June 22, 1685, died in 1745". The file consists largely of denunciations by the previously mentioned abbé Théru, including some rather defensive protests that, despite his errors of fact, he has the right man. (Ravaisson notes that "N. Théru" was a professor at the college Mazarin.)

Despite Théru's dismissal of Desfontaine's connection with the abbé Bignon - who then ran the Journal des Savants - he did in fact have a key function at that publication and his arrest caused some complications in producing the next issue. Bignon's own credit can be measured by the frequency with which his name is raised.

It is amusing today to read Ravaisson's note on the Tuileries: "The garden of the Tuileries was then covered with hedges and barrel arches which offered convenient refuges for passing encounters; thus at nightfall, debauchees of both sexes installed themselves for the whole evening, and the most outrageous scenes, against good morals, took place there. An outpost of a brigade of the vice police was established there, which made many arrests without being able to end this scandal; the decision was made to tear up the hedges and to demolish the arches." Apparently, in Ravaisson's time, these measures had been effective. But in the 1980's, the Tuileries were, and probably still are, known as a popular gay cruising area.


The abbé Duval des Fontaines, attracts young men to his home to corrupt them, and he often has them sleep with him.

If one were to look carefully into his conduct, it would be found that he has no or little religion, that he eats meat without need on fast days, and that he is involved with small and young libertines, with whom he has parties of debauchery.

He lives on the rue de l'Arbre-Sec, at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, on the second [American third] floor, in front, in a furnished room. He eats, sometimes at the hôtel d'Uzès, rue Jean-Tison, sometimes at the hôtel du Saint-Esprit, rue Saint-Germain; but he can be regarded as a public plague, and it would be good to make an example of him, when these facts have been verified and sir Haymier will do it easily.

[Note of M. D'Ombreval - I request that M. Hamier look into it carefully and to give me an account of his findings.]

[Note of d'Haymier - I have looked into the conduct of the abbé Duval; I have not been able to discover anything about this sodomite; but I have learned that he lives in a rather disorderly fashion, having a woman to his charge, with whom he lives.]

September 26, 1724

[NOTE: Ravaisson lightly redacted this report, with the following footnote: "D'Haymier braves decency so courageously in words, that we do not dare publish the entire text of his report; we have replaced with dots the most shocking passages." Anyone who simply MUST read the sordid details can probably find the originals in the Archives Nationales.]

The abbé Duval Desfontaines, living on the rue de l'Arbre-Sec.

As several people have already give memoirs against this abbé, on the subject of infamy, Haymier took care to more particularly investigate his conduct, and in his inquiries, he found a young man, seventeen years old, who knew him perfectly well, and whom he had wanted to debauche since the age of twelve, being at the college of Grassins.....

This young man declared to Haymier that he had met the abbé in the streets a few months ago, that he had recognized him and had given him his address as above, begging him with insistance to go see him in his room, without telling him anything else.

Haymier have judged it appropriate to send the young man this morning to the abbé's, to clarify exactly everything said, with the necessary instructions not suffer any indecency on the part of the abbé, he went there and found him indisposed, without however being in bed.

After the ordinary greetings, this abbé fell into sordid speech, asking him how his pleasures were going, telling him that for his part, he had diverted himself for so long that he was very weakened and ruined..... that he would give him a half-pistole.

At this moment, the abbé took out of his library engraved books and figures, full of sodomitical abominations and frightful positions, which he showed and pointed out one after the other to the young man, seeming to make much of them.

He further declared to the young man that he did not like to party in the royal gardens, because he knew the consequences; that, nonetheless, finding himself in the Tuileries the year before, he had met a young individual..... that same year he had good fun with a young clerk from Dionis, notary, handsome, blond and plump, that they often had parties together with other young men of his acquaintance, and that he often gave the notary's clerk money; but that he had left him, because he seemed to like women more than him; that this current year was quite different, that he did not find himself as vigorous.....

After this long conversation of filth and abomination, the abbé took the young man to dine with him in his inn, and after they went their separate ways, [he] telling the young man not to fail to return with some of his friends.....

[Note of d'Ombreval - Arrest him because of his books and his prints.]

October 8, 1724

One should not bear in Paris, nor leave unpunished sir Duval, formerly schoolmaster at Chaillot, and who styles himself the abbé Desfontaines, because it is said he has won a lot in financial speculation.

If Haymier, police officer, who was charged with observing him, has made a precise report (as is not to be doubted), one should be horrified by his conduct.

The abbé Desfontaines has always been closely linked to M. d'Autruy de Tuisy, living on the rue de Guénégaud, and with M. Haluy, councilor on the great council, who were arrested and taken in the act in the Tuileries by Haymier.

The abbé Desfontaines is a foul individual; he has never been the librarian of M. the abbé Bignon, as he wanted to make M. d'Ombreval and Haymier believe, and he was driven from the Jesuits, because being at Bourges, he refused to do the penitence that his rector imposed on him for diverting himself against the rules; he does not in the least deserve the care taken with him.

October 26, 1724

M. Haymier has told me that the abbé Desfontaines does not bear the name of Duval; but there is no error nor surprise in regarding his person; because he is certainly a foul individual, having attracted and had sleep with him two young men, one name Michault and the other Lamothe. I had only put in my first denunciation the name Desfontaines, his address and the floor he lived on, and where M. Haymier arrested him; I only added the name of Duval in my second memoirs [sic], because M. the curé of Saint-Germain, whom I had asked to inquire secretly, had informed me that he was called Duval Desfontaines, that everything I have discovered about this abbé is only too true, and he made me aware that he attracted and received at his home a large number of young men and petits-maitres [macaroni would be one English approximation]. M. Haymier having sent to the abbé's home a young man he had corrupted, he learned that this foul monster showed him horrible and abominable prints. His host and the neighbors state that he always has around him a crowd of young men, and that the evening he was arrested, he was at the Luxembourg where he found a young man whose suit had silver buttonholes, and that he took him to his place. Thus, it is him that I denounced as a corruptor. M. the curé of Saint-Germain, an upright man of great wisdom, will not be able to and cannot deny that, in his note, he had Duval Desfontaines; but it is certain that it is the same person who is criminal, and that there is only an error in the name of Duval and of schoolmaster, speculator, words I was led to add by error, in confirming his hateful foul acts which are in question, which the said abbé will not deny. Thus, the error of an added name does not in the least diminish the truth of the facts which are certain.

If M. d'Ombreval judged it appropriate to commute his sentence and to send him voluntarily to Saint-Lazare instead of Bicêtre, this would be a kindness and a favor of which he will perhaps profit, and for which he will be grateful, although he is not worthy of such an indulgence. M. Haymier will write you his report; but Saint-Lazare suits him better than Bicêtre.

October 28, 1724

I have learned that the abbé Desfontaines calls himself the abbé Bignon's librarian, to get himself out of this business under the shadow of this great name; but the abbé Bignon does not have a librarian, having sold his library to M. Lasse or Law, and before he sold it, he had for librarian a monsieur of your acquaintance. I have warned Haymier of this detail; but it is certain that the abbé Defontaines is a foul individual, that the evening of his arrest he was in the Luxembourg, and that he picked up there a rather decent young man, whom he took to his place, that he was continually with young men and petits-maitres. M. the curé of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, who has gathered and had gathered precise information, regards him as an unfortunate, and the life he lived in his parish was unworthy and scandalous, thus the name of Duval which has been given him does not diminish in the least his unworthiness, his foul acts, and changes nothing in the person, such that there is no mistake, and no change should be made. It is he whom I have denounced, and who will confess his turpitude, if pressed.

Besides, even if he were the abbé Bignon's librarian, which I deny, even if he were a bishop, he must not be spared; the evil is so great and violent, proportional measures are needed; for example, if the abbé Joisel, councillor in Parlement, had been sent to Saint-Lazare, as well as some people of quality, we would not see anything like as many abominations.

It seems to me people want to save the abbé Desfontaines, and I will tell you more face to face.

[RAVAISSON'S NOTE: "Despite the abbé Théru's assertions, Desfontaines was set free, after a strong sermon, to which he responded by protestations of repentance and promises to conduct himself better in the future."]


M. the abbé Desfontaines came to have the honor of seeing M. Haymier and to ask him to please come tomorrow morning with M. de Sanec to remove the seals. The Journal des Savants must absolutely appear eight days from tomorrow, which is the first Monday of the month. The writings which must be given to the printer are under the seal and have not been able to be finished these last days.


This record centers around the abbé's own interminable letter (which I have resisted redacting), half-panicked, half-imperious, to his cousin. While it is more than a little repetitive, it does include useful information, such as the names of people then thought to be the most powerful in this kind of case. Desfontaines himself had a challenging dilemma: to enlist as wide a circle as possible in his cause while hiding the (shameful) fact of where he was.

After the samples of Voltaire's later swipes at Desfontaines which began this subject, it is more than a little surprising to see how much Desfontaines counts (correctly, it seems) on his future enemy's aid. With Voltaire's letter of support (which seems to have been decisive), this and Voltaire's frequent mentions over the years of Desfontaines' ingratitude suggest at the least a more committed friendship than Voltaire later acknowledged. Ravaisson's long note on Voltaire's letter emphasizes this dichotomy:

One sees that Voltaire did not boast overmuch, when he said that he had gotten his ungrateful critic out of Bicêtre. Who would believe that the same man who wrote so tender a letter on his friend's behalf, could have addressed him the following verses, attributed to him, in the collections of the time:

'Adieu, too wicked priest,
Freed by my credit
From the castle of Bicêtre,
For the accursed sin
Which got his master burned,
Shameful efforts that I took
For a ragseller of writing.

On the hard stool
Where Duchauffour sat
When in humble posture
You appeared the other day
Fearing the flames
Where never was seen
So small a wretch.'

We do not think Voltaire was capable of the filth of which the abbé Théru accused him, but there are in these verses, as in everything Voltaire said on the subject of Desfontaines, something like a cry torn from a great suffering, and that the pricks to the poet's pride do not sufficiently explain.
{note, 122-123)

Théru's final note is an entertaining close to the whole affair. Aside from his sputtering frustration that the abbé has been freed, it seems to reflect more than a little fear for his own personal safety. It also includes the useful information that the policeman Haymier was well-known enough among his quarry to be hated, and that a person of sufficient rank to act with impunity was not incapable of avenging his more vulnerable brethren.


I am sending you the King's orders to have Guyot Desfontaines taken to the hospital.
April 25, 1725


I have the honor to inform you that, following the King's order, dated last April 25, with which you charged me, I have arrested and taken to the hospital the abbé Guyot Desfontaines.

May 2, 1725

May 2 1725

Over six months ago you had me arrested, and you had me freed the same day. You know that I promised you then, as a man of honor, to never give rise to any new suspicion, and you promised me to pay no more attention to past suspicions. M. the abbé Bignon promised you the same thing on my behalf, and you had told him I would no longer be troubled, if I did not from then on provoke new suspicions. "I swear to you that I have been on my best behavior for six months, and that I have not let any young man approach my home." The man I use today for writing, is an old man. Nonetheless, I have been arrested today for an accusation relating to past things, according to the accuser. I have kept my word and I ask you also to keep that which you have given the abbé Bignon. Have the goodness to recall that I am a man with a position, known in Paris, and in all of Europe, by my journal and by other publications. What an awful scandal, if it is known in society the shameful state in which I am; having been very proper for a long time, I did not expect this. Everyone will speak of me, as an upright man of good morals. My misfortune is not to be not well-known enough to you, I am persuaded that I would not be dishonored as I am. I beg you to free me as soon as you arrive, no harm has yet been done, if this does not last, but if I stay here long, religion and literature are absolutely dishonored.

P.S. - Note, if you please that I am a man of standing, relative of M. de Novion and allied to M. the abbé Bignon.


Paris, May 4, 1725

In arriving here from Meulan, I learn of the detention of M. the abbé Desfontaines, in regard to which I cannot say more to you than what I had the honor to explain to you on the last occasion; but I am obliged to reclaim for the King's library several books which had been given to him by for the *Journal des Savants*, for which he worked. I take the liberty of attaching here the list of these books which I will beg you to have returned to M. the abbé Jourdain, secretary of the library.

Note of M. d'Ombreval - M. Haymier, take a guarantee from the abbé Desfontaines for him to return the books to the library, for which purpose he will authorize someone to be present at the lifting of the seal placed on his effects.


At the home of M. the abbé Desfontaines, rue de Seine, at the hotel of Spain, a volume of Bayle's dictionary and a poem of the league, bound in vellum in -8, with white sheets on each page, filled with handwritten notes.

Note of M. d'Ombreval - This book is requested by M. de Voltaire.

I consent to the two books above being returned to M. de Voltaire in the presence of M. Sebire Dessaudrayes whom I commit to be present at the lifting of the seals, this 6th of May, 1725, Desfontaines.

Bicêtre, May 8, 1725

I have the honor to write you in entering here, and I have entrusted the officer with my letter.

For 6 months I take God as my witness that I have faithfully kept the word that I gave you; no suspect young man has been near me.

The one in question today is among these writers whom I unfortunately used formerly, and of whom I talked to you with confidence 6 months ago. For over a year I have not seen him at all, and he himself agreed in the presence of the police officer; what is more it is out of the question that I have ever committed with him the enormous sin nor with anyone at all, of which I am perhaps accused.

It is not then a question of any new fault; I thought myself safe in regard to past suspicions, based on your word and my present conduct.

Have pity on me; do not ruin a man of standing who has some merit, who has worked so much until now and who has earned himself some honor in the world; I have infinitely delicate health and my body cannot long resist the horrors of the prison in which I am. [RAVAISSON'S NOTE: "The abbé Desfontaines, says Dargens, was whipped twice a day at Bicêtre. That is true. Whipping was part of the treatment followed to cure syphilitics and debauchees."]

You wanted to exile me 6 months ago, exile me now, you will save my life.

'It is an exile, lord, which my tears ask of you'

I will be obliged to you eternally; if I stay here any longer, I will die or I will go mad; the food, the captivity, the inactivity, the solitude together will attack my body and my spirit. I commend myself to your mercy, and I await all from your compassion; si you deign to do me the honor of speaking to me, that will be a great consolation for me; I must be before your eyes as I was 6 months ago, when you spoke to me with so much goodness; I have not committed the least fault since.

[Note of M. d'Ombreval - M. Rossignol, take an order of release and of exile to 30 leagues from Paris.] [This note seems to have been added after the correspondance which follows.]

May 16, 1725

Here I am, my dear relation and friend, plunged in the greatest misfortune in the world. It is useless to tell you many reasons in order to explain to you the origin; I will only tell you what serves as a pretext for my detention. Keep very secret what I am going to tell you, and save at least honor, though all else be lost for me.

You know that I was arrested, six months ago, and released the same day; it concerned an accusation brought against me on what is called "the cuff" [presumably a slang term for a whispered or secret accusation]. It is unthinkable that I would be guilty of this sin, and you know my appearance and my conduct. Nontheless, I explained then to M. d'Ombreval what gave rise to this accusation, and I promised him to no longer proceed as I had a few times, that is to no longer use young writers who had provoked suspicions and the accusation of my enemies. I have indeed kept the word I had given to M. d'Ombreval, and no suspect young man has approached me *since this time*.I spoke then with much confidence to M. d'Ombreval who spoke to me as well with much kindness. M. the abbé Bignon also promised him the same thing, and matters remained there. I was assured I would no longer be bothered. One of these miserable little persons was caught in recent days, I do not know on what occasion; he was interrogated, and he said that he had once worked for me, but that I had fired him and that I was the cause of his misfortune. This word got me arrested. Nonetheless he has confessed since I have been arrested, in my presence and in the presence of the police officer, that he had not seen me at my home for a year and a half. Effectively I had forgotten so much as his name. You see, my dear friend, that even were I capable of the enormous sin in regard to this foul libertine, which, truly, is not [sic], and what he does not say, that is well before the word I had given to M. d'Obmreval and the affair completed in the month of last October. I am beyond all suspicion, and I even used a man of 40 as a writer when I needed one, as the officer saw when he arrested me; thus 1° I have never committed the sin of sodomy as I am accused of doing; 2° for 6 months I have avoided so much as the shadow of a suspicion, not wanting anymore to use such wretches with an indiscretion for which I am well punished.

That is my situation; once more, justify me in public, if my misfortune is public, but do not go into this sordid detail unnecessarily. I beg you to go find Villette with whom I am reconciled; he lives on the rue Louis-le-Grand, near the place Vendôme, at the home of Le Tellier, captain of the guards; you will find him in the morning; tell him my situation, recommending him to secrecy, and tell him that I beg him to go at once to find M. d'Osmond and Mme Champcenetz to obtain a counter-letter which will free me while answering for my conduct, and let them understand that there is much misunderstanding in this business, and that my enemies have provoked it, because that is true, and there are many things to say about that, which I cannot write. If you go to Versailles with him, you will perhaps speak better. Go find M. de Voltaire, who can make M. de Sully, M. de Richelieu, M. de Maisons, Mme de Prie act upon M. de Maurepas. See also M. Novion in order that he beg Mme de Bernières to solicit Mme de Prie who knows her. See at Versailles M. Hardion, King's secretary, living at the home of M. de Morville to whom I have written, demonstrate my innocence to him in order to make him act willingly with M. de Morville to obtain my freedom or at least my exile, do not be discouraged, when you find hesitations regarding me, because an accused man is almost always guilty in many people's minds. Show that I am a person of standing with some merit, who has spent my life studying and writing, my work, my lifestyle; even were I as guilty as is said, must I serve as an example and be treated like a miserable person? I have been put in Bicêtre like an adventurer, a mountebank, a wretch with no name or reputation.

Go as well, I pray you, to find M. d'Ombreval, do not be surprised by the idea he has of me, he is a worthy man who will listen to reason, note to him that I have been true to my word, because that is the essential point, and that I have not given any reason for suspicion for six months, that he can make as many inquiries as he likes to confirm it; all this is a lot of trouble, but it is a question of saving my life, if I stay here any longer, I will die of pain, of misery and of boredom, because nothing is more horrible than this place, where I have no consolation. Describe to him the delicate state of my health, and try to make him bend.

Get Gèvres and d'Avouet to act in order not to be overwhelmed by so much effort, also the abbé de Fontbriand, I commend myself to all of them, but above all go find the abbé Bignon, who will be in Paris, this week. Show to him that I have kept the word I gave him, that you are sure of it, that all the suspicions have only been formed by my enemies who have poisoned my actions, that the affair in question is old, and that it is being revived, you will find him prejudiced against me, and he imagines that I have caused my own imprisonment by some new indiscretion, which nonetheless is not [true]. Go find him, and engage him to take my defense, if he can, in convincing him of my innocence. See too the abbé Alary my friend, at the home of the president Hénault, place de Vendôme, in order that he speak for me to M. de Fréjus, it is a matter of saving the life of a friend who will perish here, if no one speaks very strongly in his favor, and if no one has pity of his state.

I have taken the liberty of committing you to be present at the lifting of the seals that have been put on my home. Watch that everything is done properly, and be careful that no one touch my books and my papers but the commissioner alone, because it is necessary on this occasion to be very attentive, for fear of surprise and of deception, as you know well, be present in and in offical garb, it would be regrettable if a police officer or a clerk got involved, being able to put in what he wants or even rob me, when the seal is removed, you will close my room and my apartment, and take the two keys of the room and the vestibule. Remember that there are two keys for the first door of the vestibule, which are in the hands of the landlord, M. Deshayes, you must take them and lock all my closets. You will take from my liberary a Hebrew grammar in-8, the 4 volumes of memoirs serving for the history of Europe since 1600, a Juvenal in Latin and French, and a little latin Horace, and you will take them to your place; you will enter my room after the sealing, when you wish, and you will put there four volumes in-folio which are in the room of my valet where my writer worked, as you will see, a volume of the dictionary of Trévoux is one. You will also take this key.

For the rest, do not divulge publicly at all that I am in Bicêtre, and advise the same to anyone you tell.

When you see M. d'Ombreval, ask for an order as my relation to come see me here. He will not refuse it to you. Bring me, please, some money and the above mentioned books, which you will have taken from my library. It is appropriate that I speak to you, because one cannot say everything in a letter. My only hope is in your efforts and in the zeal of my friends, which you will use. I am not accused of any crime of State, and people can certainly involve themselves in my affairs. If it is not possible to obtain my simple release, it will be necessary to request a letter of exile, but simple release would be better, it is a question of having a counter-letter to lift the letter of cachet. Commit M. de Voltaire, in the name of the friendship he has had for me, to put his powerful friends to work. I even believe he has seen M. d'Ombreval about me, but he must not be discouraged by answers, and neither must you be discouraged. My affair must be pleaded, not only to the powerful, but also to my friends who may be able to help me, because if they consider me as guilty, perhaps they will not hold me in enough esteem to see me again. After all, even if I were (which is certainly not the case), should they abandon me for that? Work, I beg you, with passion and dispatch, and come see the most unhappy of all your friends, plunged into bitterness, into boredom, into misery, who is at present without money and upon the charity of the hospital, locked in a cell like an evildoer, without books, without ink, without occupation, unable, for five days, to eat nor sleep. I await you as soon as possible, but request an order from M. de'Ombreval in writing, which he will know refuse you upon your saying you are my relation, and the only one who can take care of my affairs on the outside. Adieu, my dear relation and friend, do not neglect me.

P. S. I have many things to tell you about my affairs, I will owe you my life, do not delay.

[NOTE: Here is where Théru's letter about Voltaire, already cited in this series, appears in the file.]

Versailles, tuesday morning

I will be obliged to you all my life for what you have been willing to do in favor of the poor abbé Desfontaines, all men of letters who know his superior merit will share my gratitude. If he has been guilty of some indiscretion, he has quite cruelly been punished for it, but I can assure you that he is incapable of the foul crime attributed to him, and that what is more he merits, by his probity, and I dare say by his misfortune, that you give him your protection, and that you deign to speak in his favor to My Lord the duke; you are in a position in which you can do harm, but your heart leads you to do good. For me, I have only thanks to give you, and I join sentiments of the liveliest gratitude to the respect which I have for your person.

[Note of M. Duval to M. Rossignol - Give the release order to M. the president de Bernières when he comes to get him.
May 29, 1725]

[RAVAISSON'S NOTE: The release order was dated the 24th of May, and Desfontaines left the 30th to go 30 leagues from Paris; at the end of 8 days, he obtained his recall.]

June 12, 1725

The abbé Desfontaines is in Paris, and he complains to one and all, proclaiming his innocence, threatening this one and that one; he must confront his accusers, if he can discover who they are; it is a great evil that such a genie remains in this city, where he will find more protectors than the most worthy people.

If one is too careful with corrupters because of their jobs or their families, or their friends, great disorders will result; the officers and those who want to and who must oppose iniquity, will not be safe, and M. d'Ombreval will have troubles and sorrows, because these sorts of persons will take off their masks, thinking everything permitted to them, and will form leagues and clubs which will be noxious, in being led by people of rank. I have already heard of one, and when I am better informed, I will inform our magistrate [i.e., d'Ombreval]; but when he acts with indulgence or pardons someone, that person must at least remain calm and correct himself without using violence, threats or vengeance. For example, I would not have wanted to order that the arrest order for sir de Sainte-Colombe be struck out, because this worker can abuse it and make bad use of it in committing [sic - error for 'compromising'?] M. D'Ombreval. It would be good to have him secretly observed to know his acquaintances and keep him silent, as well as the abbé Desfontaines. The blows of a stick which a cordon bleu [a Knight of the Order of the Holy-Spirit; that is, an eminent aristocrat] gave a young man in the Tuileries, at 10-11 in the evening, last Thursday, taking him for M. Haymier, is a convincing proof of what I have just said, and this lord came from the carriage of M. the count de Charolais, and perhaps has already been pinched. In a word, one cannot object to the care taken with people of rank, but they must not use violence nor insult the magistrate in the person of his officers; whatever the case, I only regard the public good and good order with the honor of our magistrate.

I am told that the family of abbé Desfontaines would have liked that in leaving Bicêtre he had been ordered to retire into some seminary or well-run community for the rest of his days.
Ravaisson, Archives de la Bastille, 1709-1772 (102-107; 114-125)
back to top

From CHEZ JIM Books:
and a history of the CROISSANT:

back to top

18th CENTURY RECIPE: A meal for 10-12 guests - Terrine of filet of duck with green sauce

This is the second of the three entrées for the first service of this model meal.

Recipes for soup sometimes doubled as recipes for sauce. The following recipe could be used for a green sauce, letting it boil down a bit more:

Green soup

Take the yolks of hard-boiled eggs, cooked poultry livers, & chestnuts, crush all this together in a mortar with parsley or sorrel & Swiss chard. add in bouillon, or water, salt, powdered cinnamon & other spices, then cook them sufficiently & make a soup of it.
La Varenne, Le Cuisinier François (12)

Otherwise, here is a straightforward recipe for a green sauce:

Green sauce

Take green wheat on the stalk, blanch it, chop up and grate; put in a casserole a spoonful of good bouillon, a crust of bread, two or three cloves of garlic, a half-glass of vinegar, salt, pepper. Simmer and strain with the wheat. This must have the consistency of a double cream. One can also make this with parsley or another green.
Les Dons de Comus (I, 71)

(The Dictionnaire des Alimens has a very similar recipe (III, 340))

Filet of duck á la Manselle

Take two or three seasoned and tender ducks. Pluck them & freshen them. Put them on the spit & half-cook them. Take them off & cut the stomach of your three ducks. Be careful not to lose the juices which come out. Take off the skin & score them up lengthwise. Chop up in a casserole a pinch of shallots, a truffle, a foie gras, salt, pepper, a half-spoonful of white veal stock, half a glass of wine, two spoonfuls of oil. Boil all this for a quarter of an hour. Put in your duck filets, & keep them on hot cinders. They must not boil; when serving, [add] lemon juice.
Les Dons de Comus (II, 233-244)

The above can be cooked in a terrine as explained in the previous article, and served with a green sauce.

back to top

fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys

Magasin Pittoresque: No - 18

REMINDER: The Magasin Pittoresque was a nineteenth century French magazine. Issues can be found on Gallica. Also, most articles are accompanied by at least one image, and so some may interest even those who do not read French.

Notre Dame, naked - Statutes of 1712 and 1725 set the size of heating pipes - "The railroad from Paris to Saint Germain is to be five leagues long" - The fifteen year old Louis XIV danced as the rising sun - It was tough to tell the Guise apart (the Guise came in many guises? - La Bruyere called great libraries "tanneries" - Confetti, which replaced fine candies in the carnival, were once made of chalk or plaster - Ricquet's boyhood dream became a great basin - The Sunni and the Shiites "have not stopped dividing Islam to this moment" - Luxury compared across centuries - Volta's battery was useful for experiments, spectacle.... Hmm, what else could they do with it.... - The 1692 earthquake reshaped Jamaica's very mountains - In 1672, a quirk of tide saved the town of Schevelinges - The wreck of Le Vengeur was once one of the most famous events of the French Revolution - "My art is excellent, but there is no fashion" - Instead of one more boring speech, the abbe Gastelier offered a song - "History shows us that each of the painters in antiquity excelled in some part" - Flute, syrinx, harp and lyre, jamming in Athens - Once a carrousel was, it seems, one hell of a party - "The friendship of a great man is a blessing of the gods." - Was Xenophon the first stenographer? - The king had his personal forger - July 7, 1788 the first postal coach arrived from London in Glasgow (which took 63 hours, vs 44 in 1836) - "He can't be a Jansenist... because he doesn't believe in God!" - Under Richelieu, a law from Louis XI's time was revived to justify the death of De Thou - Calonne didn't mind embezzling to save the state - Before the sign painter could buy his colleague a drink, a coach took the man away - A book on trades was "a window open on the sixteenth century" - Little is known about Metzu, but his work is in the Louvre - "the passion for autographs, this ruinous passion" appeared in the 19th century - If only Ampere had been more organized, he might have done something important... - Society ladies developed a brief fashion for golden thread - Take that, Comedie Francaise! (says the Italian town of Pezenas) - A man found on an island had known the Dutch admiral over 40 years ago - Painting in France had less glorious beginnings than in Italy - Hard to keep those Condés straight... - Saint-Aubin had a natural taste for the grotesque - The market wasn't all that made noise at the Place Maubert (until the pope told both parties to shut up) - Henri II forbid prisoners being held below ground level; so did Louis XIV.... - "The cult of... Grisgris is above all a cult of terror." - "This passion for a flower was only a pretext for disguising a passion for gambling." - Abraham Bosse, studying law, became a painter by accident - Do not offer others the rest of your soup - Once, every architect was a sculptor - "We count the number of the dead, but we do not count the moments of suffering of each" - Van Vliet: imperfect figures, great light and shadow - Would you fill in for the executioner if you got the dead man's goods? - "The Pandurs are the most infernal troupe of war that ever was.... Above all in the German wars of the eighteenth century" - "We are surprised, at two centuries of distance, to see so many great and awful writers together" - "One no longer dares to deny the fact [of toad storms] but it remains to explore the circumstances" - Grandville didn't mind sharing his secrets; he had no fear of imitators - Two Corneilles, and both painters - Byron buried his thirty-third year - The Porte St. Denis is a triumphal arch (much over-shadowed by another)

30 - Apartment heating through the ages
45 - Genealogy of the House of Lorraine-Guise
52 - The history of bookbinding
76 - Earthquake in Jamaica
79 - two caprices of the sea during battles
81 - The loss of Le Vengeur
88 - Andre Both's "The Poor Painter"
91 - A short song for Louis XIV's grandson 125 - Carrousel of 1662
156 - Avoir la plume (cour de Louis XIV)
187 - Genealogy of the De Thou house
239 - Parfilage 1772- 1775
262 - history of painting in France (up to the 18th)
267 - Homonyms of the Condé family
275 - Quarrel of the Carmelites at the Place Maubert
287 - The Tulip Mania
294 - The history of sculpture in France
341 - A field of batttle under Louis XIV
362 - The Pandurs
366 - The Hotel Rambouillet (17th c meeting place of the literati)
394 - Homonyms among French painters

39 - Louis XIV: his motto; ballets
58 - Ricquet and the Saint-Fereol basin
63 - Alexander Volta
115 - Poussin on some painters of antiquity
143 - Napoleon and Alexandra of Russia
178 - Louis XIV's preference for atheists over Jansenists
201 - Minister of finance Calonne
203 - the count of Caylus and the sign painter
209 - Dutch painter Gabriel Metzu
221 - Andre-Marie Ampere
247 - Moliere's Italian armchair
262 - Admiral Ruyter and Jean Compani
273 - engraver Augustin de Saint-Aubin
289 - painter Abraham Bosse, student of Callot
352 - painter Jean-George Van Vliet

Off-topic, but of interest
5 - Notre Dame (without steeple)
35 - "Locomotive steam machine"
54 - The Venice Carnival
58 - Sunnis and Shiites
59 - 15th and 16th c accounts
124 - musical instruments used among the ancients
147 - the history of stenography
159 - rapid growth of Glasgow
203 - Trades in the 16th c
210 - autographs (with numerous examples)
278 - French prisons in the 16th c
279 - Gris-gris men in Sierra Leone
290 - 15th c table etiquette (in verse)
354 - Henri IV and condemned man's goods
370 - Toad storms
384 - Oriental proverbs ("No son is innocent whose mother thinks him guilty")
387 - Different facial shapes (sketched by Grandville)
406 - Byron's epitaph for a year
407 - Several Arcs de Triomphe compared

back to top

End quote

"Fréron still lives; only his works are dead."

Voltaire, La Defense de Mon Oncle ('Sodomie')

FROM CHEZ JIM BOOKS Three works on eighteenth century subjects:

For some sample 18th century vegetarian recipes, click here.

copyright 2006 Jim Chevallier.
When using brief extracts from this site, please credit properly and provide a link back to this site.
(NOTE: Most translations, except where otherwise noted, are by Jim Chevallier and are copyrighted as such.)
Please do not reproduce extended pieces (recipes, translated pieces, etc.) without prior permission.


Questions? Comments? Corrections? Write:

Chez Jim

Memoirs of

the Bastille

Return to
Welcome to

the Bastille
Chez Jim