Jeanne Julie Éléonore de Lespinasse  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

There is another work which reflects the erotic morals of France during the eighteenth century quite as faithfully, although it is not composed on so wide a background. This is the compilation of the Memoires secrets by the Royal Censor, Matthieu Frangois Pidausat de Mairobert. He was born in 1707 and committed suicide in his bath in 1779, when it became known that certain pamphlets directed against France which had appeared in the English press, had been composed by him. In his compilation of anecdotes not every bit of gossip is garnered up without criticism. All the little scandals that had been aired with gusto in the salon of Madame Doublet de Person by the daily visitors like Madame de Tencin, Du Deffand, Geoffrin, Lespinasse, Voisenon, or Piron underwent a very strict criticism as to their truthfulness; only after truth had been conscientiously sifted from fiction were they written down by Bachaumont and his successors. It would be more correct to say that Bachaumont wrote only the first form and half of the fifth volume between 1767 and 1771 ; and Pidausat de Mairobert took charge from 1771 and continued until his death in 1779. Then the author of the Private Life of Louis XV assumed control and together with a few others accumulated material until the year 1789.

These articles and memoirs contain more than mere gallant anec- dotes. Politics and religion likewise play important parts therein but the gallantries occupy chief place. Particularly interesting are the notices concerning erotic writings and pamphlets. Naturally these memoirs are not to be regarded as trustworthy historical sources, for many of them are obviously a result of prejudice, and there is certainly no denying the delight in piquant indecencies.

By and large however they constitute an unsurpassable reflection of contemporary social life.

The second work of this class is L'Observateur Anglais (1777- 78), reworked in L'Espion Anglais (1779). This too is probably the product of Pidansat's pen although there is no certainty on this point. At least this much is certain, that many remarks and verbatim quotations from this work were found scattered among his other writings. The work contains a collection of satirical and free pieces and is a most important source document for the study of prostitu- tion in eighteenth-century France. The infamous Mde. Justine and equally notorious Mde. Gourdan maintained the most lavish brothels in France. They were figures of national importance and exercised great influence on the moral conditions of their time.

There were many supplements to the memoirs of Bachaumont and P idausa t. The Marquis d'Argens, for example, served up some very saucy details concerning the amorous relationships of the French kings combined with anecdotes and satirical verses in his Memoires historiques et secrets (1739). And there were many other scandalous chronicles. The most infamous penny-dreadful journaHst of this time was undoubtedly Thevenot de Morande (1748- 1803) who proliferated a great deal of smut and obscenity. He led a rather active life. At the wish of his own family he was held in the Bastille for a while, and upon his release journeyed to England. Here he published the Le philosophe cynique and the Melanges Confus (1771 ), both of which caused considerable scandal and brought the author a considerable profit. Since his business was flourishing, he devoted himself to the accumulation of further scandals and anecdotes of a similar type.

He made a sally against Du Barry with a satiric blast: Vie (Vune courtesane du dix-huitihne siecle (1776), and at her instigation he was pursued by the London police. As early as 1774 she had sent the police inspector Receveur to London to bring the pamphletist back to France, but in vain. Persons of high and low degree feared his sharp tongue and pointed pen. Hence it was not considered at all queer to enter into negotiations with this dangerous pamphletist. For a second pamphlet which had already been printed, Du Barry paid the author 32,000 lires and assigned him an annual pension of 4800 lires, whereupon the edition was destroyed. It was only later in 1784 that the Marquis de Pellepart dared to lash Morande's shameless career in his Diable dans un benitier, but he himself brought out many scandalous stories about Dubarry, Gourdan, and others.

Thevenot de Morande wrote another amusing work which was not quite in the vein of his other satirical blasts. It is called La Portefeuille de Madame Gourdan ( 1783). A strongly augmented edition appeared the following year but still the work found far from sufficient recognition. The author states that he had come into possession of the letters which comprise the volume through a visit to Mde. Gourdan and was now giving them to the public. This lady was called by the pet name of La Comtesse and was, as we have mentioned above, one of the most notorious brothel-keepers of her time. She practised her extremely lucrative profession to- gether with the equally notorious Justine Paris from 1759 till her death, probably from poisoning, in 1783. This work presents a paragraph in the erotic history of France far better than many thick folios of that time. Here are a few specimen letters to be found in Morande's work.

From Mademoiselle Savigni, Paris, July / j, i'J7<f' Dear Mama,

The officer who supported me has had to return to his regiment because his furlough is over. I don't know what to do and am turning to you for help. You know that I'm a good girl, afraid of nothing, and that everything's all right with me provided I am well paid for it. I am not of the class that de- mands that everything be done according to rules of decency. That's nonsense. What do men expect to find? A regular whore is everywhere at her post and has every privilege. I hope that you will praise my principles and not forget your loving child.

From Mademoiselle Rancourt, July, 8, ijSi. Madame:

At the Italian theatre yesterday I saw in your com- pany a young pretty person. If you can get her for me for one night I shall pay you six louis d'or. Entirely yours, R.

From Mademoiselle Sophie, Paris, February 2j, ijS^. Dear Mama,

I've gotten into a hell of a hole with your damn Carmelite. He has gotten me into a terrible condition. Never in my life have I been so sick. A-Iy physician, for whom I have sent this morning, informs me that I shall be sick for at least two months. I hope that you will help me and not leave me in this condition. After all, I got this wound while under your stand- ards. Please send me by this messenger, two louis. You will greatly oblige. Yours gratefully, S.

From Madame Berbier, Paris, April p, I'jS^. Madame:

My daughter is not able to comply with your wish at this time. Immediately after the ballet she had a miscarriage. As soon as she will be well again, however, she will present her- self at A'ladame's, and will be ready for service.

I have the honor to be your very devoted servant.

Mrs. Berbier. ill


From Mademoiselle Frangois, Arpajon, May 27, 77^5. Madame:

I'm only a simple country girl but that I am pretty, no one can deny. I am an orphan, and not yet eighteen years old. I've heard the servants at the castle say that I have a maiden- head which would be bought dearly at Paris and that for you Madame, I would be worth much gold. Hence, I have obtained your address from them, who laughed at my request but gave it to me none the less. If you want me, you have merely to sum- mon me and I shall come with my maidenhead. I don't know yet what it is, but they say that you will take care of every- thing. I remain very respectfuly,

Your devoted servant.

From M. T., Paris, 2^rd June I'jj^. Madame:

My daughter is turning fourteen. If you wish we can talk about first fruits. It will not be at all difficult to win the youngster. With a few bonbons and a little courtesy one can do with her what one wills. One only needs certain preparations. It will be necessary that you take her to you as chambermaid. Please specify the time and I will come with my daughter and we shall settle everything. I have the honor to remain in all respect, your very devoted.


From Monsieur de B., May i, i'j'j6. Madame:

I possess a collection of the positions of Aretino in forty pictures. Since I am going to Rome I should like to dis- pose of them. It seems to me that as a room decoration nothing would be more suitable for you. They cost five thousand francs. Only a year ago I was unwilling to part with them to (Duke

de ) for a hundred louis. If you wish to inspect them I shall

remain at home all day tomorrow.



From Mr. D. (Book Agent), June 22, ijSo. Madame:

I have just received from Holland editions de luxe of the Virgin, Portier des Chartreux, Margo, Positions of Aretino, Ode to Friapus, Futromeni, Discourse of Two Nuns, for the instruction of young dames who want to enter into society. If any of these appeal to you, madame, please inform me at what time to bring them.

This sheaf of letters from the portfolios of the notorious and powerful panderess gives us some insight into the nefarious life which she and countless others of her ilk led, and the infinite mis- chief and corruption they engendered.

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