FEW historical figures have taken a higher place in the popular imagination than Masers de Latude. That celebrated prisoner seems to have accumulated in his life of suffering all the wrongs that spring from an arbitrary government. The novelists and playwrights of the nineteenth century have made him a hero; the poets have draped his woes in fine mourning robes, our greatest historians have burnt for him the midnight oil; numerous editions of his Memoirs have appeared in quick succession down to our own days. Even by his contemporaries he was regarded as a martyr, and posterity has not plucked the shining crown of martyrdom from his head, hoary with the snows of long captivity. His legend is the creature of his own unaided brain. When in 1790 he dictated the story of his life, he made greater calls on his glowing southern imagination than on his memory; but the documents relating to his case in the archives of the Bastille have been preserved. At the present time they are to be found dispersed among various libraries, at the Arsenal, at Carnavalet, at St. 169 Petersburg. Thanks to them it is easy to establish the truth.
On March 23, 1725, at Montagnac in Languedoc, a poor girl named Jeanneton Aubrespy gave birth to a male child who was baptized three days later under the name of Jean Henri, given him by his god-parents, Jean Bouhour and Jeanne Boudet. Surname the poor little creature had none, for he was the illegitimate child of a father unknown. Jeanneton, who had just passed her thirtieth year, was of respectable middle-class family, and lived near the Lom gate in a little house which seems to have been her own. Several cousins of hers held commissions in the army. But from the day when she became a mother, her family had no more to do with her, and she fell into want. Happily she was a woman of stout heart, and by her spinning and sewing she supported her boy, who shot up into a lad of keen intelligence and considerable ambition. She succeeded in getting him some sort of education, and we find Jean Henri at the age of seventeen acting as assistant surgeon in the army of Languedoc. Surgeons, it is true, made no great figure in the eighteenth century; they combined the duties of barber and dentist as well as leech. But the situation was not good enough. “Assistant surgeons in the army,” wrote Saint-Marc the detective, “who really worked at their trade, made a good deal of money.” At this time, being reluctant to bear his mother’s name, the young man ingeniously transformed his double forename into Jean Danry, under which he is 170 designated in a passport for Alsace, given him on March 25, 1743, by the general commanding the royal forces in Languedoc. In the same year 1743, Danry accompanied the army of Marshal de Noailles in its operations on the Maine and the Rhine, receiving from the Marshal, towards the end of the season, a certificate testifying to his good and faithful service throughout the campaign.
Four years later we find Danry at Brussels, employed in the field-hospital of the army in Flanders, at a salary of 500 livres a month. He was present at the famous siege of Bergen-op-Zoom, the impregnable fortress which the French so valiantly stormed under the command of the Comte de Lowendal. But peace being concluded at Aix-la-Chapelle, the armies were disbanded, and Danry went to Paris. He had in his pocket a letter of recommendation to Descluzeaux, the surgeon of Marshal de Noialles, and a certificate signed by Guignard de La Garde, chief of the commissariat, testifying to the ability and good conduct of “the aforesaid Jean Danry, assistant surgeon.” These two certificates formed the most substantial part of his fortune.
Danry arrived at Paris about the end of the year 1748. On any afternoon he night have been seen strolling about the Tuileries in a grey frock and red waistcoat, carrying his twenty-three years with a good grace. Of middle height and somewhat spare figure, wearing his brown hair in a silk net, having keen eyes and an expression of much intelligence, he would probably have 171 been thought a handsome fellow but for the marks which smallpox had indelibly stamped on his face. His accent had a decided Gascon tang, and it is obvious, from the spelling of his letters, not only that he could not boast of a literary education, but that his speech was that of a man of the people. Yet, what with his brisk temperament, his professional skill, and his favour with his superiors, he was in a fair way to attain an honourable position, which would have enabled him at length to support his mother, then living in solitary friendlessness at Montagnac, centring on him, in her forlorn condition, all her affection and her dearest hopes.
Paris, with its gaiety and stir, dazzled the young man. Its brilliant and luxurious life, its rustling silks and laces, set him dreaming. He found the girls of Paris charming creatures, and opened his heart to them without stint, and his purse too; and his heart was more opulent than his purse. Ere long he had spent his modest savings and sunk into want. He fell into bad company. His best friend, an apothecary’s assistant named Biguet, shared with him a mean garret in the Cul-de-Sac du Coq, in the house of one Charmeleux, who let furnished lodgings. Than these two no greater rakes, wastrels, or thorough-paced rascals could have been found in all Paris. Danry in particular very soon got a name all over his neighbourhood for his riotous, threatening, and choleric temper. Dying of hunger, threatened with being ejected neck-and-crop from his lodging for nonpayment of rent, he was reduced at last to write for 172 money to his mother, who, poor thing, had barely enough for her own modest wants.
As yet we are a long way from the “handsome officer of engineers” who lives in our remembrance : we see little likeness to the brilliant picture which Danry drew later of those youthful years during which he received, “by the care of his father the Marquis de La Tude, the education of a gentleman destined to serve his country and his king.”
Having come now absolutely to the end of his resources, Danry took it into his head that, at the siege of Bergen-op-Zoom, he had been stripped by some soldiers of all his clothes but his shirt, and robbed of 678 livres into the bargain. This story he worked up in a letter addressed to Moreau de Séchelles, commissary of the army I Flanders, hoping to get it corroborated by Guignard de La Garde, the commissary under whom he had himself served. In this letter he demanded compensation for the losses he had suffered while devoting himself under fire to the care of the wounded. But we read, in the Memoirs he wrote later, that so far from having been stripped and robbed, he had actually purchased at Bergen-op-Zoom a considerable quantity of gods of all kinds when they were sold off cheap after the sack of the town. However that may be, his experiment was a failure. But Danry was a man of resource, and not many days had passed before he had hit on another means of raising the wind.
At this time everybody was talking about the struggle 173 between the king’s ministers and the Marquise de Pompadour, which had just ended in a triumph for the lady. Maurepas was going into exile, but it was generally believed that he was a man who would wreak vengeance on his enemy, and the favourite herself openly declared that she went in fear of poison. A light dawned on the young surgeon’s mind as he heard such gossip as this; he caught a sudden glimpse of himself — even he, the ragged outcast — arrayed in cloth of gold and rolling in his carriage along the Versailles road.
This was his plan. On April 27, 1749, in a shop under the arcade of the Palais-Royal, hard by the grand staircase, he bought of a small tradesman six of those little bottle-shaped toys, once called Prince Rupert’s Drops, out of which children used to get so much harmless amusement. They were globules of molten glass, which, on being thrown into cold water, had taken the shape of pears, and which, if the tapering end was suddenly snapped, crumbled with a loud report into dust. Four of these crackers Danry placed in a cardboard box, binding the thin ends together with a thread which he fixed in the lid. Over these he sprinkled some toilet powder, and this he covered with a layer of powdered vitriol and alum. The whole packet he then enclosed in a double wrapper, writing on the inner one, “I beg you, madam, to open the packet in private,” and on the outer one, “To Madame the Marquise de Pompadour, at court.”
Cover of the explosive box sent by Danry to the Marquise de Pompadour. The words almost obliterated are : “Je vous prie, Madame, d’ouvrir le paquet en particulié.” Below is the record and the date of Danry’s examination, with his signature, and that of Berryer, the lieutenant of police.
At eight o’clock in the evening of the next day, 174 Danry, having seen his packet safely in the post, hurried off himself to Versailles. He had hoped to gain admittance to the favourite herself, but being stopped by Gourbillon, her principal valet, in a voice trembling with emotion he related to him a frightful story. Happening to be at the Tuileries, he said, he had observed two men seated in animated conversation, and on going close to them heard them mouthing the most horrible threats against Madame de Pompadour. When they rose he dogged their footsteps, which led direct to the post office, where they consigned a packet to the box. Who the men were, and what was the nature of the packet, were natural questions to which Danry had no answer; all he could say was that, devoted to the interests of the Marquise, he had instantly sped off to reveal to her what he had seen.
To understand the impression produced by the young man’s information, it is necessary to bear in mind the feverish excitement then prevailing at court. Maurepas, the witty and sprightly minister who had won Louis XV.’s special affection because of the charm with which he endowed mere business for “the man who was always bored” — Maurespas had just been exiled to Bourges. “Pontchartrain,” the king sent word to him, “is too near.” The struggle between the minister and the favourite had been one of extraordinary violence. Maurepas was for ever dashing off satirical verses on the girl who had reached the steps of the throne, and incessantly pursuing her with the cruel and insolent 175 shafts of his wit; his muse indeed did not shrink from the most brutal insults. Nor was the Marquise a whit more tender towards her foe : she openly dubbed him liar and knave, and assured everybody that he was trying to get her poisoned. A surgeon was actually required to be in constant attendance upon her, and she always had an antidote within reach. At table she was careful never to be the first to partake of any dish, and in her box at the theatre she would drink no lemonade but what had been prepared by her surgeon.
The packet which Danry had posted arrived at Versailles on April 29, and Quesnay, the physician to the king and the Marquise, was requested to open it. Having done so with infinite precaution, he recognized the vitriol and alum and toilet powder, and declared at once that there was not a pennyworth of danger in the whole contrivance. But since alum and vitriol were substances capable of being turned to baneful uses, he thought that possibly it was a case of a criminal design clumsily executed.
There is not a shadow of doubt that Louis XV. and his mistress were seriously alarmed. D’Argenson himself, who had upheld Maurepas against the favourite, had the greatest possible interest in seeing the affair cleared up as soon as possible. The first move was altogether in favour of the informer. D’Argenson wrote to Berryer that Danry was deserving of a reward.
No time was lost in instituting a search for the authors 176 of the plot. The lieutenant of police selected the most skilful and intelligent of his officers, the detective Saint-Marc, who put himself in communication with Danry. But he had not spent two days with the assistant surgeon before he drew up a report demanding his arrest. “It is not unimportant to note that Danry is a surgeon, and his best friend an apothecary. In my opinion it is essential to apprehend both Danry and Binguet without further delay, and without letting either know of the other’s arrest, and at the same time to search their rooms.”
Accordingly Danry was conveyed to the Bastille on May 1, 1749, and Binguet was secured the same day. Saint-Marc had taken the precaution to ask the assistant surgeon for a written account of his adventure. This document he put into the hands of an expert, who compared the handwriting with the address on the packet sent to Versailles. Danry was lost. Suspicion was but too well confirmed by the results of a search in his room. Being shut up in the Bastille, Danry knew nothing of all these proceedings, and when, on May 2, the lieutenant-general of police came to question him, he replied only with lies.
Berryer, the lieutenant of police, was a man of much firmness, but honourable and kindly disposed. “He inspired one’s confidence,” wrote Danry himself, “by his urbanity and kindness.” This excellent man was vexed at the attitude taken up by the prisoner, and pointing out the danger he was incurring, he besought him to 177 tell the truth. But at a second examination Danry only persisted in his lies. Then all at once he changed his tactics and refused to answer the questions put to him. “Danry, here we do justice to every one,” said Berryer to him, to give him courage. But entreaties had no better success than threats. Danry maintained his obstinate silence; and D’Argenson wrote to Berryer : “The thorough elucidation of this affair is too important for you not to follow up any clue which may point towards a solution.”
By his falsehoods, and then by his silence, Danry had succeeded in giving the appearance of a mysterious plot to what was really an insignificant piece of knavery.
Not till June 15 did he make up his mind to offer a statement very near the truth, which was written down and sent at once to the king, who read it over several times and kept it in his pocket the whole day — a circumstance which indicates to what importance the affair had now swelled. Suspicions were not dispelled by the declaration of June 15. Danry had misrepresented the truth in his former examinations, and there was reason to believe that he was equally misrepresenting it in the third. Thus he owed his ruin to his silence and his self-contradictory depositions. Six months later, on October 7, 1749, when he was at Vincennes, Dr. Quesnay, who had shown much interest in the young surgeon, was sent to find out from him the name of the individual who had instigated the crime. On his 178 return the doctor wrote to Berryer, “My journey has been utterly useless. I only saw a blockhead, who persisted nevertheless in adhering to his former declarations.” Two years more had passed away when the lieutenant of police wrote to Quesnay: — “February 25, 1751. Danry would be very glad if you would pay him a visit, and your compliance might perhaps induce him to lay bare his secret soul, and make a frank confession to you of what up to the present he has obstinately concealed from me.”
Quesnay at once repaired to the Bastille, bearing with him a conditional promise of liberty. Working himself up into a frenzy, Danry swore that “all his answers to the lieutenant of police had been strictly true.” When the doctor had taken his leave, Danry wrote to the minister : “M. Quesnay, who has been several times to see me in my wretchedness, tells me that your lordship is inclined to believe I had some accomplice in my fault whom I will not reveal, and that it is for this reason your lordship will not give me my liberty. I could wish, my lord, from the bottom of my heart, that your belief were true, for it would be much to my profit to put my guilt upon another, whether for having induced me to commit my sin or for not having prevented me from committing it.”
It was the opinion of the ministers that Danry had been the instrument of a plot against the life of the Marquise de Pompadour directed by some person of high rank, and that at the critical moment he had either taken 179 fright, or else had made a clean breast of the matter at Versailles in the hope of reaping some advantage from both sides. These facts must be kept in mind if we are to understand the real cause of his confinement. Kept, then, in the Bastille, he was subjected to several examinations, the reports of which were regularly drawn up and signed by the lieutenant of police. Under the ancien régime, this officer was, as we have seen, a regular magistrate, indeed he has no other designation in the documents of the period; he pronounced sentence and awarded punishments in accordance with that body of customs, which then, as to-day in England, constituted the law.
Binguet, the apothecary, had been set at liberty immediately after Danry’s declaration of June 15. In the Bastille, Danry was treated with the utmost consideration, in accordance with the formal instructions of Berryer. He was provided with books, tobacco, and a pipe; he was permitted to play on the flute; and having declared that a solitary life bored him, he was given two room mates. Every day he was visited by the officers of the fortress, and on May 25 the governor came to tell him of the magistrate’s order : “That the utmost attention was to be shown him; if he needed anything he was to be requested to say so, and was to be allowed to want for nothing.” No doubt the lieutenant of police hoped, by dint of kindness, to persuade him to disclose the authors of the unfortunate plot which was the figment of his imagination.180
Danry did not remain long in the prison of the Suburb Saint-Antoine; on July 28 Saint-Marc transferred him to Vincennes, and we see from the report drawn up by the detective with what astonishment the Marquis du Châtelet, governor of the fortress, heard “that the court has resolved to send him such a fellow.” Vincennes, like the Bastille, was reserved for prisoners of good position; our hero was sent there by special favour, as he was told for his consolation by the surgeon who attended him : “Only persons of noble birth or the highest distinction are sent to Vincennes.” Danry was indeed treated like a lord. The best apartment was reserved for him, and he was able to enjoy the park, where he walked for two hours every day. At the time of his admission to the Bastille, he was suffering from some sort of indisposition which later on he ascribed to his long confinement. At Vincennes he complained of the same illness, with the same plea that his troubles had made him ill. He was attended by a specialist as well as by the surgeon of the prison.
Meantime the lieutenant came again to see him, reiterating assurances of his protection, and advising him to write direct to Madame de Pompadour. Here is what Danry wrote: —
“VINCENNES, November 4, 1749.
“MADAM, — If wretchedness, goaded by famine, has driven me to commit a fault against your dear person, it was with no design of doing you any mischief. God is my 181 witness. If the divine mercy would assure you to-day, on my behalf, how my soul repents of its heinous fault, and how for 188 days I have done nothing but weep at the sight of my iron bars, you would have pity on me. Madam, for the sake of God who is enlightening you, let your just wrath soften at the spectacle of my repentance, my wretchedness, my tears. One day God will recompense you for your humanity. You are all-powerful, Madam; God has given you power with the greatest king on all the earth, His well-beloved; he is merciful, he is not cruel, he is a Christian. If the divine power moves your magnanimity to grant me my freedom, I would rather die, or sustain my life on nothing but roots, than jeopardize it a second time. I have staked all my hopes on your Christian charity. Lend a sympathetic ear to my prayer, do not abandon me to my unhappy fate. I hope in you, Madam, and God will vouchsafe an abundant answer to my prayers that your dear person may obtain your heart’s desires.
“I have the honor to be, with a repentance worthy of pardon, Madam, your very humble and very obedient servant,
A letter which it is a pleasure to quote, for it shows to great advantage beside the letters written later by the prisoner. It was only the truth that he had no evil design on the favourite’s life; but soon becoming more audacious, he wrote to Madame de Pompadour saying that if had addressed the box to her at 182 Versailles, it was out of pure devotion to her, to put her on her guard against the machinations of her enemies, in short, to save her life.
Danry’s letter was duly forwarded to the Marquise, but remained without effect. Losing patience, he resolved to win for himself the freedom denied him : on June 15, 1750, he escaped.
In his Memoirs Danry has related the story of this first escape in a manner as lively as imaginative. He really eluded his jailers in the simplest way in the world. Having descended to the garden at the usual hour for his walk, he found there a black spaniel frisking about. The dog happened to rear itself against the gate, and to push it with its paws. The gate fell open, Danry passed out and ran straight ahead, “till, towards four o’clock in the afternoon, he fell to the ground with fatigue, in the neighbourhood of Saint-Denis.”
There he remained until nine o’clock in the evening. Then he struck into the road to Paris, passing the night beside the aqueduct near the Saint-Denis gate. At daybreak he entered the city.
We know what importance was attached at court to the safe custody of the prisoner : there was still hope that he would make up his mind to speak of the grave conspiracy of which he held the secret. D’Argenson wrote at once to Berryer : “Nothing is more important or more urgent than to set on foot at once all conceivable means of recapturing the prisoner.” Accordingly 183 all the police were engaged in the search : the description of the prisoner was printed, a large number of copies being distributed by Inspector Ruilhière among the mounted police.
Danry took up his lodging with one Cocardon, at the sign of the Golden Sun; but he did not venture to remain for more than two days in the same inn. He expected his old chum Binguet to come to his assistance, but Binguet was not going to have anything more to do with the Bastille. It was a pretty girl, Annette Benoist, whom Danry had known when he was lodging with Charmeleux, that devoted herself heart and soul to him. She knew she herself was running the risk of imprisonment, and already strangers of forbidding appearance had come asking at the Golden Sun who she was. Little she cared; she found assistance among her companions : the girls carried Danry’s letters and undertook the search for a safe lodging. Meanwhile, Danry went to pass the night under the aqueducts; in the morning he shut himself in the lodging the girls had chosen for him, and there he remained for two days without leaving the house, Annette coming there to keep him company. Unluckily the young man had no money : how was he to pay his score? “What was to be done, what was to become of me?” he said later. “I was sure to be discovered if I showed myself; if I fled I ran no less risk.” He wrote to Dr. Quesnay, who had shown him so much kindness at Vincennes; but the police got wind of the letter, and Saint-Marc arrived and 184 seized the fugitive in the inn where he lay concealed. The unlucky wretch was haled back to the Bastille. Annette was arrested at the Golden Sun at the moment when she was asking for Danry’s letters; she too was shut up in the Bastille. The warders and sentinels who were on duty at Vincennes on the day of the escape had been thrown into the cells.
By his escape from Vincennes, Danry had doubled the gravity of his offence. The regulations demanded that he should be sent down into the cells reserved for insubordinate prisoners. “M. Berryer came again to lighten my woes; outside the prison he demanded justice and money for me, inside he sought to calm my grief, which seemed less poignant when he assured me that he shared it.” The lieutenant of police ordered the prisoner to be fed as well as formerly, and to be allowed his books, papers, knick-knacks, and the privilege of the two hours’ walk he had enjoyed at Vincennes. In return for these kindnesses, the assistant surgeon sent to the magistrate “a remedy for the gout.” He asked at the same time to be allowed to breed little birds, whose chirping and lively movements would divert him. The request was granted. But instead of bearing his lot with patience, Danry grew more and more irritable every day. He gave free rein to his violent temper, raised a hubbub, shrieked, tore up and down his room, so that they came perforce to believe that he was going mad. On the books of the Bastille library, which circulated from room to room, he wrote ribald verses against the Marquise de Pompadour. 185 In this way he prolonged his sojourn in the cells. Gradually his letters changed their tone. “It is a little hard to be left fourteen months in prison, a whole year of the time, ending to-day, in one cell where I still am.”
Then Berryer put him back into a good room, about the end of the year 1751. At the same time he gave him, at the king’s expense, a servant to wait on him.
As to Annette Benoist, she had been set at liberty after a fortnight’s detention. Danry’s servant fell sick; as there was no desire to deprive the prisoner of society, he was given a companion. This was a certain Antoine Allègre, who had been there since May 29, 1750. The circumstances which had led to his imprisonment were almost identical with those to which Danry owed his confinement. Allègre was keeping a school at Marseilles when he learnt that the enemies of the Marquise de Pompadour were seeking to destroy her. He fabricated a story of a conspiracy in which he involved Maurepas, the Archbishop of Albi, and the bishop of Lodève; he sent a denunciation of this plot to Versailles, and, to give it some semblance of truth, addressed to the favourite’s valet a letter in disguised handwriting, beginning with these words : “On the word of a gentleman, there are 100,000 crowns for you if you poison your mistress.” He hoped by this means to obtain a good situation, or the success of a business project he had in hand.
Intelligent, with some education, and venturesome, 186 Danry and Allègre were just the men to get on well together, so much the better that the schoolmaster dominated the comrade to whom he was so much superior. The years that Danry spent in company with Allègre exercised so great an influence on his whole life that the lieutenant of police, Lenoir, could say one day : “Danry is the second volume of Allègre.” The letters of the latter, a large number of which have been preserved, bear witness to the originality and energy of his mind : their style is fine and fluent, of the purest French; the ideas expressed have distinction and are sometimes remarkable without eccentricity. He worked untiringly, and was at first annoyed at the presence of a companion : “Give me, I beg you, a room to myself,” he wrote to Berryer, “even without a fire : I like being alone, I am sufficient for myself, because I can find things to do, and seed to sow for the future.” His temperament was naturally mystical, but of that cold and acrid mysticism which we sometimes find in men of science, and mathematicians in particular. For Allègre’s principal studies were mathematics, mechanics, and engineering. The lieutenant of police procured for him works on fortification, architecture, mechanics, hydraulics. The prisoner used them to compile essays on the most diverse questions, which he sent to the lieutenant of police in the hope of their procuring his liberation. Those essays which we possess show the extent of his intelligence and his education. Danry followed his example by-and-by, in this as in everything else, but clumsily. Allègre was 187 also very clever with his fingers, and could make, so the officials of the château declared, whatever he pleased.
Allègre was a dangerous man : the warders were afraid of him. Some time after his entrance into the Bastille he fell ill, and a man was set to look after him; the two men did not agree at all. Allègre sent complaint after complaint to the lieutenant of police. An inquiry was made which turned out not unfavourable to the keeper, and he was left with the prisoner. One morning — September 8, 1751 — the officers of the Bastille heard cries and clamour in the “Well” towers. Hastily ascending, they found Allègre in the act of stabbing his companion, who lay on the floor held down by the throat, wallowing in the blood that streamed from a gash in the stomach. If Allègre had not been in the Bastille, the Parlement would have had him broken on the wheel in the Place de Grève : the Bastille was his safety, though he could no longer hope for a speedy liberation.
Danry, in his turn, wore out the patience of his guardians. Major Chevalier, who was kindness itself, wrote to the lieutenant of police : “He is no better than Allègre, but though more turbulent and choleric, he is much less to be feared in every respect.” The physician of the Bastille, Dr. Boyer, a member of the Academy, wrote likewise : “I have good reason to distrust the man.” The temper of Danry became embittered. He began to revile the warders. One morning they were obliged to take from him a knife and other sharp 188 instruments he had concealed. He used the paper they gave him to open communications with other prisoners and with people outside. Paper was withheld : he then wrote with his blood on a handkerchief; he was forbidden by the lieutenant of police to write to him with his blood, so he wrote on tablets made of bread crumbs, which he passed out secretly between two plates.
Beginning of a letter written with blood on linen by Danry (Latude), while a prisoner at Vincennes, to Rougemont, the king’s lieutenant.
The use of paper was then restored to him, which did not prevent him from writing to Berryer : “My lord, I am writing to you with my blood on linen, because the officers refuse me ink and paper; it is now more than six times that I have asked in vain to speak to them. What are you about, my lord? Do not drive me to extremities. At least, do not force me to be my own executioner. Send a sentry to break my head for me; that is the very least favour you can do me.” Berryer, astonished at this missive, remarked on it to the major, who replied : “I have not refused paper to Danry.”
So the prisoner forced them more and more to the conclusion that he was a madman. On October 13, 1753, he wrote to Dr. Quesnay to tell him that he wished him well, but that being too poor to give him anything else, he was making him a present of his body, which was on the point of perishing, for him to make a skeleton of. To the paper on which he wrote, Danry had sewn a little square of cloth, adding : “God has given the garments of martyrs the virtue of healing all manner of diseases. It is now fifty-seven months since I have been suffering an enforced martyrdom. So there is no 189 doubt that to-day the cloth of my coat will work miracles; here is a bit for you.” This letter was returned to the lieutenant of police in December, and on it we find a marginal note in Berryer’s hand : “A letter worth keeping, as it reveals the prisoner’s mind.” We know in what fashion madmen were wont to be treated in the eighteenth century.
But suddenly, to the great astonishment of the officers of the château, our two friends amended their character and their conduct. No more noises were heard in their room, and they answered politely anyone who came to speak to them. But their behaviour was even more odd than ever. Allègre used to walk up and down the room half naked, “to save his toggery,” he said, and he sent letter after letter to his brother and the lieutenant of police, asking them to send him things, particularly shirts and handkerchiefs. Danry followed suit. “This prisoner,” wrote Chevalier to the lieutenant of police, “is asking for linen. I shall not make a requisition, because he has seven very good shirts, four of them new; he has shirts on the brain.” But why declined to humour a prisoner’s whim? So the commissary of the Bastille had two dozen expensive shirts made — every one cost twenty livres, more then thirty-three shillings of our money — and some handkerchiefs of the finest cambric.
If the wardrobe-keeper of the Bastille had kept her eyes open, she would have noticed that the serviettes and cloths which went into the room of the two companions 190 were of much smaller dimensions when they came out. Our friends had established communications with their neighbours above and below, begging twine and thread from them and giving tobacco in exchange. They had succeeded in loosening the iron bars which prevented climbing up the chimney; at night they used to mount to the platforms, whence they conversed down the chimneys with prisoners in the other towers. One of these hapless creatures believed himself to be a prophet of God; he heard at night the sound of a voice descending upon his cold hearth : he revealed the miracle to the officers, who only considered him still more insane than before. On the terrace Allègre and Danry found the tools left there in the evening by the masons and gardeners employed at the Bastille. Thus they got possession of a mallet, an auger, two sorts of pulleys, and some bits of iron taken from the gun-carriages. All these they concealed in the hollow between the floor of their room and the ceiling of the room below.
Allègre and Danry escaped from the Bastille on the night of February 25, 1756. They climbed up the chimney till they reached the platform, and descended by means of their famous rope ladder, fastened to a gun-carriage. A wall separated the Bastille moat from that of the Arsenal. By the aid of an iron bar they succeeded in working out a large stone, and they escaped through the hole thus made. Their rope ladder was a work of long patience and amazing skill. When in after days Allègre 191 went mad, Danry appropriated the whole credit of this enterprise which his friend had conceived and directed.
At the moment of leaving, Allègre had written on a scrap of paper, for the officers of the Bastille, the following note, which is an excellent indication of his character : —
“We have done no damage to the furniture of the governor, we have only made use of a few rags of coverlets of no possible use; the others are left just as they were. If some serviettes are missing, they will be found at the bottom of the water in the great moat, whither we are taking them to wipe our feet.
“Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam !
“Scito cor nostrum et cognosce semitas nostras.”1
Our two companions had provided themselves with a portmanteau, and they made haste to change their clothes as soon as they had cleared the precincts of the fortress. A foreman of works whom Danry knew interested himself in them, and conducted them to one Rouit, a tailor, who lodged them for some little time. Rouit even lent Danry forty-eight livres, which he promised to return as soon as he reached Brussels. At the end of a month our two friends were across the frontier.
It is very difficult to follow Danry’s proceedings from the time when he left Rouit to the moment of his re-incarceration 192 in the Bastille. He has left, it is true, two accounts of his sojourn in Flanders and Holland; but these accounts are themselves inconsistent, and both differ from some original documents which remain to us.
The two fugitives had considered it advisable not to set out together. Allègre was the first to arrive at Brussels, when he wrote an insolent letter to Madame de Pompadour. This letter led to his discovery. On reaching Brussels, Danry learnt that his friend had been arrested. He lost no time in making for Holland, and at Amsterdam he took service with one Paul Melenteau. From Rotterdam he had written to his mother, and the poor creature, collecting her little savings, sent him 200 livres by post. But Saint-Marc had already struck on the track of the fugitive. “The burgomaster of Amsterdam readily and gladly granted the request made by Saint-Marc on behalf of the king, through the ambassador, for the arrest and extradition of Danry.” Louis XV. confined himself to claiming him as one of his subjects. Saint-Marc, disguised as an Armenian merchant, discovered him in his retreat. Danry was arrested in Amsterdam on June 1, 1756, conducted to a cell belonging to the town hall, and thence brought back to France and consigned to the Bastille on June 9. Word came from Holland that Saint-Marc was there regarded as a sorcerer.
By his second escape the unhappy man had succeeded in making his case very serious. In the eighteenth century, escape from a state prison was punishable with 193 death. The English, great apostles of humanity as they were, were no more lenient than the French; and everyone knows what treatment was meted out by Frederick II. to Baron de Trenck. He was to have remained in prison only one year; but after his second escape he was chained up in a gloomy dungeon; at his feet was the grave in which he was to be buried, and on it his name and a death’s-head had been cut.
The government of Louis XV. did not punish with such rigour as this. The fugitive was simply put in the cells for a time. At the Bastille the cells were damp and chilly dungeons. Danry has left in his Memoirs an account of the forty months spent in this dismal place, — an account which makes one’s hair stand on end; but it is packed full of exaggeration. He says that he spent three years with irons on his hands and feet : in November, 1756, Berryer offered to remove the irons from either hands or feet at his choice, and we see from a marginal note by Major Chevalier that he chose the feet. Danry adds that he lay all through the winter on straw without any coverlet : he was actually so well supplied with coverlets that he applied to Berryer for some others. To believe him you would think that when the Seine was in flood the water rose as high as his waist : as a fact, when the water threatened to invade the cell, the prisoner was removed. Again, he says that he passed there forty months in absolute darkness : the light of his prison was certainly not very brilliant, but it was sufficient to enable him to read and write, and 194 we learn from letters he sent to the lieutenant of police that he saw from his cell all that went on in the courtyard of the Bastille. Finally, he tells us of a variety of diseases he contracted at the time, and cites in this connection the opinion of an oculist who came to attend him. But this very report was forged by Danry himself, and the rest he invented to match.
In this cell, where he professes to have been treated in so barbarous a manner, Danry, however, proved difficult enough to deal with, as we judge from the reports of Chevalier. “Danry has a thoroughly nasty temper; he sends for us at eight o’clock in the morning, and asks us to send warders to the market to buy him fish, saying that he never eats eggs, artichokes, or spinach, and that he insists on eating fish; and when we refuse, he flies into a furious passion.” That was on fast days; on ordinary days it was the same. “Danry swore like a trooper, that is, in his usual way, and after the performance said to me : ‘Major, when you give me a fowl, at least let it be stuffed!’ ” He was not one of the vulgar herd, he said, “one of those fellows you send to Bicêtre.” And he demanded to be treated in a manner befitting his condition.
It was just the same with regard to clothes. One is amazed at the sight of the lists of things the lieutenant of police got made for him. To give him satisfaction, the administration did not stick at the most unreasonable expense, and it was by selling these clothes that Danry, at his various escapes, procured a part of the money he 195 was so much in need of. He suffered from rheumatism, so they provided him with dressing-gowns lined with rabbit-skin, vests lined with silk plush, gloves and fur hats, and first-rate leather breeches. In his Memoirs Danry lumps all these as “half-rotten rags.” Rochebrune, the commissary charged with the prisoners’ supplies, was quite unable to satisfy him. “You instructed the,” he wrote to the major, “to get a dressing-gown made for the Sieur Danry, who asks for a calamanco with red stripes on a blue ground. I have made inquiries for such stuff of a dozen tradesmen, who have no such thing, and indeed would be precious careful not to have it, for there is no sale for that kind of calamanco. I don’t see why I should satisfy the fantastic tastes of a prisoner who ought to be very well pleased at having a dressing-gown that is warm and well-fitting.” On another occasion, the major writes : “This man Danry has never up to the present consented to accept the breeches that M. de Rochebrune got made for him, though they are excellent, lined with good leather, with silk garters, and in the best style.” And Danry had his own pretty way of complaining. “I beg you,” he wrote to the governor, “to have the goodness to tell M. de Sartine in plain terms that the four handkerchiefs he sent me are not fit to give to a galley-slave, and I will not have them on any account; but that I request him kindly to give me six print handkerchiefs, blue, and large, and two muslin cravats.” He adds, “If there is no money in 196 the treasury, go and ask Madame de Pompadour for some.”
One day Danry declared that something was wrong with his eyes. Grandjean, the king’s oculist, came more than once to see him, ordered aromatic fumigations for him, gave him ointments and eye-salve; but it was soon seen that all that was wrong was that Danry desired to get a spy-glass, and to smuggle out, with the doctor’s assistance, memoirs and letters.
On September 1, 1759, Danry was removed from the cells and placed in a more airy chamber. He wrote at once to Bertin to thank him, and to tell him that he was sending him two doves. “You delight in doing good, and I shall have no less delight, my lord, if you favour me by accepting this slight mark of my great gratitude.”
“Tamerlane allowed himself to be disarmed by a basket of figs presented to him by the inhabitants of a town he was proceeding to besiege. The Marquise de Pompadour is a Christian lady; I beg you to allow me to send her also a pair; perhaps she will allow her heart to be touched by these two innocent pigeons. I append a copy of the letter which will accompany them : —
‘MADAM, — Two pigeons used to come every day to pick grains out of my straw; I kept them, and they gave me young ones. I venture to take the liberty of presenting you with this pair as a mark of my respect and affection. I beseech you in mercy to be good enough to accept them, with as much pleasure as I have 197 in offering them to you. I have the honour to be, with the profoundest respect, Madam, your very humble and obedient servant,
“ ‘DANRY, for eleven years at the Bastille.’ ”
Why did not Danry always make as charming a use of the permission accorded him to write to the minister, the lieutenant of police, Madame de Pompadour, Dr. Quesnay, and his mother? He wrote incessantly, and we have letters of his in hundreds, widely differing one from another. Some are suppliant and pathetic; “My body is wasting away every day in tears and blood, I am worn out.” He writes to Madame de Pompadour: — “Madam, — I have never wished you anything but well; be then sensible to the voice of tears, of my innocence, and of a poor despairing mother of sixty-six years. Madam, you are well aware of my martyrdom. I beg you in God’s name to grant me my precious liberty; I am spent, I am dying, my blood is all on fire by reason of my groaning; twenty times in the night I am obliged to moisten my mouth and nostrils to get my breath.” Everyone knows the famous letter beginning with the words, “I have been suffering now for 100,000 house.” He writes to Quesnay : “I present myself to you with a live coal upon my head, indicating my pressing necessity.” The images he uses are not always so happy : “Listen,” he says to Berryer, “to the voice of the just bowels with which you are arrayed”!
In other letters the prisoner alters his tone; to plaints 198 succeed cries of rage and fury, “he steeps his pen in the gall with which his soul is saturated.” He no longer supplicates, he threatens. There is nothing to praise in the style of these epistles : it is incorrect and vulgar, though at times vigorous and coloured with vivid imagery. To the lieutenant of police he writes : “When a man is to be punished in this accursed prison, the air is full of it, the punishments fall quicker than the thunderbolt; but when it is a case of succouring a man who is unfortunate, I see nothing but crabs;” and he addresses to him these lines of Voltaire : —
“Perish those villains born, whose hearts of steel
No touch of ruth for others’ woes can feel.”
He predicts terrible retribution for the ministers, the magistrates, and Madame de Pompadour. To her he writes : “You will see yourself one day like that owl in the park of Versailles; all the birds cast water upon him to choke him, to drown him; if the king chanced to die, before two hours were past someone would set five or six persons at your heels, and you would yourself pack to the Bastille.” The accused by degrees becomes transformed into the accuser; he writes to Sartine : “I am neither a dog nor a criminal, but a man like yourself.” And the lieutenant of police, taking pity on him, writes on one of these letters sent to the minister of Paris : “When Danry writes thus, it is not that he is mad, but frantic from long imprisonment.” The magistrate counsels the prisoner “to keep out of his letters all bitterness, which can only do him harm.” Bertin 199 corrected with his own hand the petitions Danry sent to the Marquise de Pompadour; in the margin of one of them we read, “I should think I was prejudicing him and his interests if I sent on to Madame de Pompadour a letter in which he ventures to reproach her with having abused his good faith and confidence,” Having amended the letter, the lieutenant of police himself carried it to Versailles.
The years of captivity, far from humbling the prisoner and abasing his pride, only made him the more arrogant; his audacity grew from day to day, and he was not afraid of speaking to the lieutenants of police themselves, who knew his history, about his fortune which had been ruined, his brilliant career which had been cut short, his whole family plunged into despair. At first the magistrate would shrug his shoulders; insensibly he would be won over by these unwavering assertions, by this accent of conviction; and he ends actually by believing in this high birth, this fortune, this genius, in all which Danry had perhaps come to believe himself. Then Danry takes a still higher tone : he claims not only his freedom, but compensation, large sums of money, honours. But one must not think that this sprang from a sordid sentiment unworthy of him : “If I propose compensation, my lord, it is not for the sake of getting money, it is only so that I may smooth away all the obstacles which may delay the end of my long suffering.”
In return, he is very ready to give the lieutenant of 200 police some good advice — to indicate the means of advancement in his career, to show him how to set about getting appointed secretary of state, to compose for him the speech he is to make to the king at his first audience. He adds : “This very time is extremely favourable to you; it is the auspicious hour : profit by it. Before they take horse on the day of rejoicing for the conclusion of peace, you ought to be a counsellor of state.
He is very ready also to send to the king schemes conceived in his prison for the welfare of the realm. Now it is a suggestion to give sergeants and officers on the battlefield muskets instead of spontoons and pikes, by which the French arms would be strengthened by 25,000 good fusiliers. Now it is a suggestion for increasing postal facilities, which would augment the resources of the Treasury by several millions every year. He recommends the erection of public granaries in the principal towns, and draws up plans of battle for giving unheard-of strength to a column of men three deep. We might mention other and better suggestions. These notions were drowned in a flood of words, an unimaginable wealth of verbiage, with parallels drawn from the history of all periods and every country. His manuscripts were illustrated with pen and ink sketches, Danry copied and recopied them incessantly, sent them to all and sundry in all sorts of forms, persuaded the sentinels that these lofty conceptions intimately concerned the safety of the state and would win 201 him an immense fortune. Thus he induced these good fellows to compromise their situation by carrying the papers secretly to ministers, members of the Parlement, marshals of France; he threw them from the windows of his room, and, wrapped in snowballs, from the top of the towers. These memoirs are the work of a man whose open and active mind, of incredible activity indeed, plans, constructs, invents without cessation or repose.
Among these bundles of papers we have discovered a very touching letter from the prisoner’s mother, Jeanneton Aubrespy, who wrote to her son from Montagnac on June 14, 1759: —
“Do not do me the injustice of thinking that I have forgotten you, my dear son, my loving son. Could I shut you out of my thoughts, you whom I bear always in my heart? I have always had a great longing to see you again, but to-day I long more than ever, I am constantly concerned for you, I think of nothing but you, I am wholly filled with you. Do not worry, my dear son; that it is the only favour I ask of you. Your misfortunes will come to an end, and perhaps it is not far off. I hope that Madame de Pompadour will pardon you; for that I am trying to win heaven and earth over to your cause. The Lord is putting my submission and yours to a long test, so as to make us better realize the worth of His favour. Do not distress yourself, my son. I hope to have the happiness of receiving you again, and of embracing you more tenderly than ever. Adieu, my son, 202 my dear son, my loving son, I love you, and I shall love you dearly to the grave. I beg you to give me news of your health. I am, and always shall be, your good mother,
Is not this letter charming in its artless pathos? The son’s reply is equally touching; but on reading it again one feels that it was to pass under the eyes of the lieutenant of police; on examining it closely, one sees the sentiments grimacing between the lines.
No one knew better than Danry how to play on the souls of others, to awake in them, at his will, pity or tenderness, astonishment, or admiration. No one has surpassed him in the art, difficult in very truth, of posing as a hero, and genius, and a martyr, a part that we shall see him sustain for twenty years without faltering.
In 1759 there entered upon the office of lieutenant of police a man who was henceforth to occupy Danry’s mind almost exclusively — Gabriel de Sartine. He was a fine sceptic, of amiable character and pleasing manners. He was loved by the people of Paris, who boasted of his administrative abilities and his spirit of justice. He exerted himself in his turn to render the years of captivity less cruel to Danry. “He allowed me,” writes the latter, “what no other State prisoner has ever obtained, the privilege of walking along the top of the towers, in the open air, to preserve my health.” He cheered the prisoner with genial words, and urged him to behave well and no longer to fill his letters with insults. 203 “Your fate,” he told him, “is in your own hands.” He looked into Danry’s scheme for the construction of public granaries, and when he had read it said, “Really, there are excellent things, most excellent things in it.” He visited Danry in prison and promised to do his utmost to obtain his liberation. He himself put into the hands of Madame de Pompadour the Grand Mémoire which Danry had drawn up for her. In this memorial the prisoner told the favourite that in return for a service he had rendered her in sending her a “hieroglyphic symbol” to put her on her guard against the machinations of her enemies, she had caused him to suffer unjustly for twelve years. Moreover, he would not only accept his freedom along with an indemnity of 60,000 livres. He added : “Be on your guard! When your prisoners get out and publish your cruelties abroad, they will make you hateful to heaven and the whole earth!” It is not surprising that this Grand Mémoire had practically no result. Sartine promised that he would renew his efforts on his behalf. “If, unhappily, you should meet with some resistance to the entreaties you are about to make for me,” wrote Danry, “I taken the precaution of sending you a copy of the scheme I sent to the king.” (This was the memorial suggesting that muskets should be given to the officers and sergeants.) “Now the king has been putting my scheme in operation for five years or more, and he will continue to avail himself of it every time we are at war.” Sartine proceeded to Versailles, this marvellous scheme in his pocket. He 204 showed it to the ministers and pleaded on behalf of this protégé of his who, from the depths of his dungeon, was doing his country service. But on his return he wrote to the major of the Bastille a note in regard to Danry, in which we read : “They have not made use, as he believes, of his military scheme.”
Danry had asked several times to be sent to the colonies. In 1763 the government was largely occupied with the colonization of La Désirade. We find a letter of June 23, 1783, in which Sartine proposes to send Danry to La Désirade “with an introduction to the commanding officer.” But nothing came of these proposals.
All his life, Danry sought to compass his ends by the aid of women. He was well aware of all the tenderness and devotion there is in these light heads; he knew that sentiment is always stronger in them than reason : “I was always looking out for women, and wished to find young women, for their gentle and loving soul is more susceptible of pity; misfortune moves them, stirs in them a more lively interest; their impressionability is less quickly dulled, and so they are capable of greater efforts.”
While taking his walk on the towers of the Bastille in the fresh morning air, he tried by means of gestures and signals to open relations with the people in the neighbourhood. “One day I noticed two young persons working alone in a room, whose countenances struck me 205 as pretty and gentle. I was not deceived. One of them having glanced in my direction, I wafted her with my hand a salutation which I endeavoured to make respectable and becoming, whereupon she told her sister, who instantly looked at me too. I then saluted them both in the same manner, and they replied to me with an appearance of interest and kindliness. From that moment we set up a sort of correspondence between us.” The girls were two good-looking laundresses named Lebrun, the daughters of a wigmaker. And our rogue, the better to stimulate the little fools to enthusiastic service in his behalf, knocked at the door of their young hearts, willing enough to fly open. He spoke to them of youth, misfortune, love — and also of his fortune, prodigious, he said, the half of which he offered them. Glowing with ardour, the girls spared for him neither time, nor trouble, nor what little money they had.
The prisoner had put them in possession of several of his schemes, among others the military one, with letters for certain writers and persons of importance, and in addition a “terrible” indictment of Madame de Pompadour for the king, in which “her birth, and her shame, all her thefts and cruelties were laid bare.” He begged the girls to have several copies made, which they were then to send to the addresses indicated. Soon large black crosses daubed on a neighbouring wall informed the prisoner that his instructions had been carried out. Danry seems no longer to have doubted that his woes were coming to an end, that the gates of the Bastille 206 were about to fly open before him, and that he would triumphantly leave the prison only to enter a palace of fortune : Parta victoria! 2 he exclaims in a burst of happiness.
And so we come to one of the most extraordinary episodes in this strange life.
In December, 1763, the Marquise of Pompadour was taken seriously ill. “An officer of the Bastille came up to my room and said to me : ‘Sir, write four words to the Marquise de Pompadour, and you may be sure that in less than a week you will have recovered your freedom.’ I replied to the major that prayers and tears only hardened the heart of that cruel woman, and that I would not write to her. However, he came back next day with the same story, and I replied in the same terms as on the previous day. Scarcely had he gone than Daragon, my warder, came into the room and said : ‘Believe the major when he tells you that within a week you will be free : if he tells you so, depend upon it he is sure of it.’ Next day but one the officer came to me for the third time : ‘Why are you so obstinate?’ I thanked him — it was Chevalier, major of the Bastille — for the third time, telling him I would sooner die than write to that implacable shrew.
“Six or eight days after, my two young ladies came and kissed their hands to me, at the same time displaying a roll of paper on which were written in large characters the words : ‘Madame de Pompadour is dead!’ The 207 Marquise de Pompadour died on April 19, 1764, and two months afterwards, on June 19, M. de Sartine came to the Bastille and gave me an audience; the first thing he said was that we would say no more about the past, but that at the earliest moment he would go to Versailles and demand of the minister the justice which was my due.” And we find, in truth, among the papers of the lieutenant of police, the following note, dated June 18, 1764 : “M. Duval (one of the lieutenant’s secretaries) — to propose at the first inspection that Danry be liberated and exiled to his own part of the country.”
Returning to his room, Danry reflected on these developments; for the lieutenant of police to show so much anxiety for his liberation was evidently a sign that he was afraid of him, and that his memorials had reached their destination and achieved their end. But he would be a great ass to be satisfied with a mere liberation : “100,000 livres” would scarcely suffice to throw oblivion over the injustices with which he had been overwhelmed.
He revolved these thoughts in his head for several days. To accept freedom at the hands of his persecutors would be to pardon the past, a mistake he would never fall into. The door opened, the major entered, bearing in his had a note written by de Sartine : “You will tell County Number 4 that I am working for his effectual liberation.” The officer went out; Danry immediately sat down at his table and wrote to the lieutenant police a letter replete with threats, insults, and obscenity. 208 The original is lost, but we have an abstract made by Danry himself. He concluded with leaving to Sartine a choice : “he was either a mere lunatic, or else had allowed himself to be corrupted like a villain by the gold of the Marquis de Marigny, the Marquise de Pompadour’s brother.”
“When Sartine received my letter, he wrote an answer which the major brought and read to me, in which these were his very words : that I was wrong to impute to him the length of my imprisonment, that if he had had his way I should have long ago been set free; and he ended by telling me that there was Bedlam for the mad. On which I said to the major : ‘We shall see in a few days whether he will have the power to put me in Bedlam.’ He did not deprive me of my walk on the towers; nine days after, he put me in the cells on bread and water.” But Danry was not easily put out. No doubt they were only meaning to put his assurance to the test. He went down to his cell singing, and for several days continued to manifest the most confident gaiety.
From that moment the prisoner made himself insufferable to his guardians. It was yells and violence from morning to night. He filled the whole Bastille with bursts of his “voice of thunder.” Major Chevalier wrote to Sartine : “This prisoner would wear out the patience of the saintliest monk”; again : “He is full of gall and bitterness, he is poison pure and simple”; once more : “This prisoner is raving mad.”209
The lieutenant of police suggested to Saint-Florentine, the minister, to transfer Danry to the keep of Vincennes. He was conducted there on the night of September 15, 1764. We are now entering on a new phase of his life. We shall find him still more wretched than in the past, but constantly swelling his demands and pretensions, and with reason, for he is now, mark you, a nobleman! He had learnt from a sentinel of the Bastille of the death of Henri Vissec de la Tude, lieutenant-colonel of a dragoon regiment, who had died at Sedan on January 31, 1761. From that day he determined that he was the son of that officer. And what were his reasons? Vissec de la Tude was from his own part of the country, he was a nobleman and rich, and he was dead. These arguments Danry considered excellent. He was, however, in complete ignorance of all that concerned his father and his new family; he did not know even the name “Vissec de la Tude,” of which he made “Masers de la Tude”; Masers was the name of an estate belonging to Baron de Fontès, a relation of Henri de Vissec. The latter was not a marquis, as Danry believed, but simply a chevalier; he died leaving six sons, whilst Danry represents him as dying without issue. It goes without saying that all that our hero relates about his father in his Memoirs is pure invention. The Chevalier de la Tude never knew of the existence of the son of Jeanneton Aubrespy, and when in later years Danry asked the children to recognize him as their natural brother, his pretensions were rejected. Nevertheless our 210 gentleman will henceforth sign his letters and memoirs “Danry, or rather Henri Masers d’Aubrespy,” then “de Masers d’Aubrespy,” then “de Masers de la Tude.” When Danry had once got an idea in his head, he never let it go. He repeated it unceasingly until he had forced it upon the conviction of all about him — pertinacity which cannot fail to excite our admiration. In the patent of Danry’s pension of 400 livres granted by Louis XVI. in 1784, the king calls the son of poor Jeanneton “Vicomte Masers de la Tude.”
As may well be imagined, the Vicomte de la Tude could not accept his liberty on the same terms as Danry. The latter would have been satisfied with 60,000 livres : the viscount demands 150,000 and the cross of St. Louis to boot. So he writes to the lieutenant of police. Sartine was too sensible a man to be long obdurate to the prisoner on account of these extravagances. “I was transferred to the keep of Vincennes on the night of September 15, 1764. About nine hours after, the late M. de Guyonnet, king’s lieutenant, came and saw me in the presence of the major and the three warders, and said : ‘M. de Sartine has instructed me to inform you, on his behalf, that provided you behave yourself quietly for a short time, he will set you free. You have written him a very violent letter, and you must apologize for it.’ ” Danry adds : “When all is said and done, M. de Sartine did treat me well.” He granted him for two hours every day “the extraordinary promenade of the moats.” “When a lieutenant of 211 police,” says Danry, “granted this privilege to a prisoner, it was with the object of promptly setting him free.” On November 23, 1765, Danry was walking thus, in company with a sentinel, outside his keep. The fog was dense. Turning suddenly towards his keeper, Danry said, “What do you think of this weather?” “It’s very bad.” “Well, it’s just the weather to escape in.” He took five paces and was out of sight. “I escaped from Vincennes,” writes Danry, “without trickery; an ox would have managed it as well.” But in the speech he delivered later in the National Assembly, the matter took a new complexion. “Think,” he cried, “of the unfortunate Latude, in his third escape, pursued by twenty soldiers, and yet stopping and disarming under their very eyes the sentinel who had taken aim at him!”
When Latude was at large, he found himself without resources, as at his first escape. “I escaped with my feet in slippers and not a sou in my pocket; I hadn’t a thing to bless myself with.” He took refuge with his young friends, the Misses Lebrun.
In their keeping he found a part of his papers, plans and projects, memorials and dissertations. He sent “a basketful” of these to Marshal de Noailles, begging him to continue to honour him with his protection, and imparting to him “four great discoveries he had just made; first, the true cause of the tides; secondly, the true cause of mountains, but for which the globe would 212 be brought to a standstill and become speedily vitrified; thirdly, the cause of the ceaseless turning of the globe; fourthly, the cause of the saltness of sea-water.” He wrote also to the Duke de Choiseul, minister of war, in order to obtain a reward for his military scheme; he wrote making overtures of peace to Sartine : in return for an advance of 10,000 crowns of the 150,000 livres due to him, he would overlook the past : “I was resolved,” he says, “to stake all on one cast.” Im reply, he received a letter naming a house where he would find 1200 livres obtained for him by Dr. Quesnay. He proceeded to the address indicated — and was there captured.
He was at once taken back to Vincennes. He declares that he was about to be set at liberty at the moment of his escape : and now a new detention was commencing. We shall not relate in detail the life he was now to lead. Materially he continued to be well treated, but his mind became affected, his rages became more and more violent, reaching at last paroxysms of fury. Here are some extracts from letters and memorials sent to Sartine : “By all the devils, this is coming it too strong. It is true, sir, that I’d defy the blackest devils in all hell to teach you anything in the way of cruelty; and that’s but poor praise for you.” He writes on another occasion : “The crime of every one of us is to have seen through your villainies : we are to perish, are we? how delighted you would be if some one told you that we had all strangled ourselves in our cells!” Danry reminds the lieutenant of police of the tortures of Enguerrand de Marigni, adding: 213 “Remember that more than a thousand wretches have been broken in the Place de Grève who had not committed the hundredth part of your crimes.” . . . . “Not a single person would be astonished to see you flayed alive, your skin tanned, and your carcase thrown into the gutters for the dogs to eat.” . . . “But Monsieur laughs at everything, Monsieur fears neither God, nor king, nor devil, Monsieur swills down his crimes like buttermilk!”
In prison Latude wrote memoirs which he filled with calumnies on the ministers and the court. These memoirs are composed in the most dramatic style, with an inimitable accent of sincerity. It was known that the prisoner found a thousand means of sending them outside the walls, and it was feared that they might be circulated among the populace, whose minds — the year is 1775 — were beginning to ferment. Latude had just been flung into a cell in consequence of a fresh outbreak against his jailers. “On March 19, 1775, the king’s lieutenant entered, accompanied by the major and three warders, and said to me : ‘I have obtained leave to let you out of your cell, but on one condition : that you hand over your papers.’
“ ‘Hand over my papers! I tell you, sir, I’d rather be done to death in this cell than show the white feather so!’
“ ‘Your trunk is upstairs in your room : I’ve only to say the word and the seals would be broken and your papers taken out.’214
“I replied : ‘Sir, justice has formalities to which you are bound to conform, and you are not allowed to commit such outrages.’
“He took five or six steps out of the cell, and as I did not call him back, he came back himself and said; ‘Just hand them to me for ten days to examine them, and I give you my word of honour that at the end of the time I will have them returned to your room.’
“I replied : ‘I will not let you have them for two hours even.’
“ ‘All right,’ he said; ‘as you won’t entrust them to me, you have only to stay where you are.’ ”
Latude relates in his Memoirs with great indignation the story of a flute he had made, on which he used to play, his sole diversion during the long hours of solitude; his jailers had the barbarity to take it from him. The governor of the fortress, out of compassion, offered to restore it. “But it will only be on condition that you play by day only, and not at night.” At this stipulation, writes Latude in his Rêveries, “I could not refrain from bantering him, saying, ‘Why, don’t you know, sir, that forbidding a thing is just the way to make me eager for it?’ ”
And so at Vincennes as at Paris they came to consider Danry as a madman. Among the books given him for his amusement there were some dealing with sorcery. These he read and re-read, and from that time onward he saw in all the incidents of his life nothing but the perpetual intervention of devils evoked by the witch 215 Madame de Pompadour and her brother the magician, the Marquis de Marigny.
Sartine came again to see the prisoner on November 8, 1772. Danry begged him to send a police officer to make a copy of a memorial he had drawn up for his own justification; to send also an advocate to assist him with his advice, and a doctor, to examine the state of his health. The police officer arrived on the 24th. On the 29th, he wrote to the lieutenant of police : “I have the honour to report that in pursuance of your orders I proceeded to the château of Vincennes on the 24th curt., to hear from Danry something which, he asserts, concerns the minister : it is impossible to hear anything which concerns him less. He began by saying that to write all he had to tell me I should have to remain for three weeks with him. He was bound to tell me the story of 180 sorceries, and I was to copy the story, according to him, from a heap of papers he drew from a bag, the writing of which is undecipherable.”
We know from Danry himself what passed at the visit of the advocate. He entered the prisoner’s room about noon. Danry handed him two memorials he had drawn up and explained their purport. “Instantly he cut me short, saying, ‘Sir, I have no belief whatever in witchcraft.’ I did not give in, but said, ‘Sir, I cannot show you the devil in bodily shape, but I am very certain I can convince you, by the contents of this memorial, that the late Marquise de Pompadour was a witch, and that the Marquis de Marigny, her brother, 216 is at this very time still having dealings with the devil.’
“The advocate had read but a few pages when he stopped dead, put the manuscript on the table, and said, as though he had been wakened out of a deep sleep, ‘Would you not like to get out of prison?’ I replied : ‘There’s no doubt of that.’ ‘And do you intend to remain in Paris, or to go to your home?’ ‘When I am free, I shall go home.’ ‘But have you any means?’ Upon this I took his hand and said, ‘My dear sir, I beg you not to take offence at what I am going to say.’ ‘Speak on,’ he said, ‘say whatever you like, I shall not be offended.’ ‘Well then, I see very clearly that the devil has already got hold of you.’ ”
In the same year, Malesherbes made his celebrated inspection of the prisons. “This virtuous minister came to see me at the beginning of August, 1775, and listened to me with the most lively interest.” The historian who has the completest knowledge of everything relating to the Bastille, François Ravaisson, believed that Malesherbes left the wretched man in prison out of regard for his colleague Maurepas. “One would have thought that Maurepas’ first act on resuming office would have been to release his old accomplice.” This conjecture is destroyed by a letter from Malesherbes to the governor of Vincennes : “I am busy, sir, with the examination of the papers relating to your various prisoners. Danry, Thorin, and Maréchal are quite mad, according to the particulars furnished to me, and the two 217 first gave indubitable marks of madness in my presence.”
In consequence, Danry was transferred to Charenton on September 27, 1775, “on account of mental derangement, in virtue of a royal order of the 23rd of the said month, countersigned by Lamoignon. The king will pay for his keep.” On entering his new abode, Latude took the precaution to change his name a third time, and signed the register “Danger.”
In passing from the fortress of Vincennes to the hospital of Charenton, Danry thought it was as well to rise still higher in dignity. So we see him henceforth styling himself “engineer, geographer, and royal pensioner at Charenton.”
His situation was sensibly changed for the better. He speaks of the kindnesses shown him by the Fathers of La Charité.3 He had companions whose society pleased him. Halls were set apart for billiards, backgammon, and cards. He had company at his meals and in his walks. He met Allègre, his old fellow-prisoner, whom he came upon among the dangerous lunatics in the dungeons; Allègre had been removed in 1763 from the Bastille, where he was shattering and destroying everything. His latest fancy was that he was God. As to Danry, he has taken so kindly to his rôle as nobleman that to see his aristocratic and well-to-do air, to hear his conversation, 218 full of reminiscences of his family and his early life, no one could have doubted that he actually was the brilliant engineer officer he set up for, who had fallen in the prime of life a victim to the intrigues of the favourite. He hobnobbed with the aristocratic section of society at Charenton and struck up an intimacy with one of his associates, the Chevalier de Moyria, son of a lieutenant-colonel, and a knight of Saint-Louis.
Meanwhile the Parlement, which sent a commission every year to inspect the Charenton asylum — a commission before which Danry appeared on two separate occasions — did not decide that he ought to be set at liberty. But one fine day in September, 1776, the prior of the Fathers, who took a quite exceptional interest in the lot of his pensioner, meeting him in the garden, said to him abruptly : “We are expecting a visit from the lieutenant of police; get ready a short and taking address to say to him.” the lieutenant of police, Lenoir, saw Danry, and listened to him attentively, and as the prior’s account of him was entirely favourable, the magistrate promised him his liberty. “Then Father Prudentius, my confessor, who was behind me, drew me by the arm to get me away, fearing lest, by some imprudent word, I might undo the good that had been decided on” — a charming incident, much to the honour of Father Prudentius.
But on consideration it appeared dangerous to fling so suddenly upon society a man who would be at a loss how to live, having neither relatives nor fortune, having no longer the means of gaining a livelihood, and a man, 219 moreover, whom there was only too much reason to mistrust. Lenoir asked the prisoner if, once set at liberty, he would find the wherewithal to assure his existence; if he had any property; if he could give the names of any persons willing to go bail for him.
What did the mean — if he had any property, if he could find sureties? He, Masers de Latude! Why, his whole family, when the Marquise de Pompadour had him put in the Bastille, was occupying a brilliant position! Why, his mother, of whose death he had had the agony to hear, had left a house and considerable estates! Latude took his pen, and without hesitation wrote to M. Caillet, royal notary at Montagnac : “My dear friend, I would bet ten to one you believe me dead; see how mistaken you are! . . . You have but to say the word and before the carnival is over we shall eat a capital leveret together.” And he speaks to his friend the notary of the fortune left by his mother, and of his family, who all of them cannot fail to be interest in him. Latude himself was not greatly astonished at receiving no reply to this epistle : but it must have passed under the eyes of the lieutenant of police, and what more did he want?
Latude’s new friend, the Chevalier de Moyria, had already been for some time at liberty. The prisoner hastened to send him a copy of his letter to the notary. “The reply is a long time coming, M. Caillet is dead, doubtless.” What is to become of him? These twenty-eight years of captivity have endangered his fortune, have made him lose his friends; how is he to find the 220 remnant of his scattered family? Happily there remains to him a friendship, a friendship still recent, but already strong, in which he places his whole confidence. “Chevalier, it would only need your intervention to deliver me, by inducing your good mother to write to M. Lenoir.” The Chevalier de Moyria sent an amiable reply. Danry wrote another and more urgent letter, with such success that not only the Chevalier’s mother, but also an old friend of the Moyria family, Mercier de Saint-Vigor, a colonel, and controller-general of the queen’s household, intervened, and made applications at Versailles. “On June 5, 1777, King Louis XIV. restored to me my freedom; I have in my pocket the warrant under his own hand!”
On leaving Charenton, Danry signed an undertaking to depart immediately for Languedoc, an undertaking which he did not trouble to fulfil. Paris was the only city in France where a man of his stamp could thrive. He was now fifty-two years old, but was still youthful in appearance, full of go and vigour; his hair, as abundant as it had been in youth, had not become white. He soon found means of borrowing some money, and then we see him opening a campaign, exerting himself to get in touch with the ministers, gaining the protection of the Prince de Beauvau, distributing memorials in which he claimed a reward for great services rendered, and launched out into invectives against his oppressors, Sartine in particular. Minister Amelot sent for him, and 221 in tones of severity notified him that he was to leave the city at once. Latude did not wait for the command to be repeated. He had reached Saint-Bris, about a hundred miles from the capital, when he was suddenly arrested by the police officer Marais. Brought back to Paris, he was locked up in the Châtelet on July 16, 1777, and on August 1 conducted to Bicêtre. The first use he had made of his liberty was to introduce himself to a lady of quality and extort money from her by menaces. The officer found a considerable sum in his possession.
Bicêtre was not a state prison like the Bastille and Vincennes, or an asylum like Charenton; it was the thieves’ prison. On entering, Danry took the precaution of changing his name a fourth time, calling himself Jedor. He is, moreover, careful in his Memoirs to give us the reason of this fresh metamorphosis : “I would not sully my father’s name by inscribing it on the register of this infamous place.” From this day there begins for him a truly wretched existence; huddled with criminals, put on bread and water, his lodging is a cell. But his long martyrdom is nearing its end : the hour of his apotheosis is at hand!
Louis XVI. had now been on the throne for several years, and France had become the most impressionable country in the world. Tears flowed at the slightest provocation. Was it the sentimental literature, which Rousseau made fashionable, that produced this moving result, or contrariwise, was the literature successful because it hit the taste of the day? At all events, the 222 time was ripe for Latude. His recent unlucky experience was not to dishearten him. On the contrary, it is with a greater energy, a more poignant emotion, and cries still more heartrending, that he resumes the story of his interminable sufferings. The victim of cruel oppressors, of cowardly foes who have their own reasons for smothering his voice, he will not bend his head under his abominable treatment; he will remain proud, self-assured, erect before those who load him with irons!
On the birth of the Dauphin, Louis XVI. resolved to admit his wretched prisoners to a share of his joy and to pronounce a great number of pardons. A special commission, composed of eight counsellors of the Châtelet and presided over by Cardinal de Rohan, sat at Bicêtre. Danry appeared before it on May 17, 1782. His new judges, as he testifies, heard his story with interest. But the decision of the commission was not favourable to him. He was not so much surprised at this as might be supposed : “The impure breath of vice,” he wrote to the Marquis de Conflans, “has never tainted my heart, but there are magistrates who would let off guilty men with free pardons rather than expose themselves to the merited reproach of having committed injustice of the most revolting kind in keeping innocence for thirty-three years in irons.”
Giving rein to the marvellous activity of his brain, he composed at Bicêtre new schemes, memorials, and accounts of his misfortunes. To the Marquis de Conflans he sends a scheme for a hydraulic press, “the 223 homage of an unfortunate nobleman who has grown old in irons”; he induces the turnkeys to carry memorials to all who may possibly interest themselves in him. The first to take compassion on him was a priest, the Abbé Legal, of the parish of St. Roch, and curate of Bicêtre. He visited him, consoled him, gave him money, showed him attentions. Cardinal de Rohan also took much interest in him, and sent him some assistance through his secretary. We are coming at last to Madame Legros. This wonderful story is so well known that we shall tell it briefly. A drunken turnkey chanced to lose one of Latude’s memorials at a corner of the Rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois; it was picked up and opened by a woman, a haberdasher in a small way. Her heart burned within her as she read of these horrible sufferings, depicted in strokes of fire. She inspired her husband with her own emotion; henceforth it was to be the aim in life of these worthy people to effect the unhappy man’s deliverance, and Madame Legros devoted herself to the self-imposed task with indefatigable ardour, courage, and devotion. “A grand sight,” cries Michelet, “to see this poor, ill-clad woman going from door to door, paying court to footmen to win entrance into mansions, to plead her cause before the great, to implore their support!” In many houses she was well received. President de Gourgues, President de Lamoignon, Cardinal de Rohan, aided her with their influence. Sartine himself took steps on behalf of the unhappy man. Two advocates of the Parlement of Paris, 224 Lacroix and Comeyras, devoted themselves to his cause. Copies were made of the prisoner’s memorials and distributed in every drawing-room; they penetrated even into the boudoir of the queen. All hearts were stirred by the accents of this harrowing voice.
The Marquis de Villette, who had become celebrated through the hospitality he showed to Voltaire when dying, conceived a passionate enthusiasm for Danry. He sent his steward to Bicêtre to offer him a pension of 600 livres on the sole condition of the prisoner’s leaving his case entirely in the Marquis’s hands. Latude received his singular proposal with becoming dignity. “For two years a poor woman has been devoting herself to my cause. I should be an ungrateful wretch if I did not leave my fate in her hands.” He knew that this pension would not escape him, and it was not for 600 livres that he would have consented to rob his story of the touching and romantic features it was increasingly assuming.
Further, the French Academy actually intervenes! D’Alembert is all fire and flame. From this time a stream of visitors of the highest distinction flows through the squalid prison. At length the king himself is led to look into the affair. He has the documentary evidence brought to him and examines it carefully. With what anxiety everyone awaits his decision! But Louis XVI., now acquainted with the case, replies that Latude will be released — never! At this decree, to all appearance irrevocable, all the 225 prisoner’s friends lose heart, except Madame Legros. The queen and Madame Necker are on her side. In 1783, Breteuil, the queen’s man, comes into power; on March 24, 1784, the release is signed! The Vicomte de Latude receives a pension of 400 livres, but is exiled to his own part of the country. New importunities, new applications; at last they succeed; Latude is free to live in Paris!
This is the grandest period in the life of the great man! Latude is soon in occupation of a modest but decent and well-ordered suite of rooms on the fourth floor. He lives with his two benefactors, M. and Madame Legros, petted, spoilt in a thousand ways. The Duchess of Beauvau has obtained for Madame Legros from Calonne, out of funds intended for the support of distressed gentlefolk, a pension of 600 livres : the Duchess of Kingson4 grants a pension of the same amount. In addition to the royal pension, Latude receives 500 livres a year from President Dupaty and 300 from the Duke d’Ayen. Moreover, a public subscription is opened, and the list is filled with the greatest names in France. An agreeable competency is assured to the Legros couple and their adopted son. At its sitting on March 24, the French Academy 226 solemnly awarded the Montyon prize to the valiant little haberdasher. “The Dame Legros came to receive the medal amid the acclamations of the whole assembly.”
The name of Latude is on everyone’s lips; he wins admiration and pity on all sides. Ladies of the highest society are not above mounting to the fourth story, accompanied by their daughters, to bring the poor man “aid in money, with their tears.” The hero has left a complacent description of the throng : duchesses, marchionesses, grandees of Spain, wearers of the cross of St. Louis, presidents of the Parlement, all these met at his house. Sometimes there were six or eight persons in his room. Everyone listened to his story and lavished on him marks of the most affectionate compassion, and no one failed before going away “to leave a mark of his sensibility.” The wives of Marshals de Luxembourg and de Beauvau, the Duchess de la Rochefoucauld, the Countess de Guimont, were among the most zealous. “Indeed,” says our hero, “it would be extremely difficult for me to tell which of these countesses, marchionesses, duchesses, and princesses had the most humane, the most compassionate heart.”
Thus Latude became one of the lions of Paris : strangers flocked to his lodging, hostesses ran off with him. At table, when he spoke, all voices were hushed with an air of deference and respect; in the drawing-room you would find him seated in a gilt chair near the fireplace where great logs were blazing, and surrounded by a thick cluster of bright, silky, rustling robes. The 227 Chevalier de Pougens, son of the Prince de Conti, pressed him to come and stay at his house; Latude graciously consented. The American ambassador, the illustrious Jefferson, invited him to dinner.
Latude has himself described this enchanted life : “Since I left prison, the greatest lords of France have done me the honour of inviting me to eat with them, but I have not found a single house — except that of the Comte d’Angevillier, where you could meet men of wit and learning in scores, and receive all sorts of civilities on the part of the countess; and that of M. Guillemot, keeper of the royal palaces, one of the most charming families to be found in Paris — where you are more at your ease than with the Marquis de Villette.
“When a man has felt, as I have felt, the rage of hunger, he always begins by speaking of his food. The Marquis de Villette possesses a cook who is a match for the most skilful in his art : in a word, his table is first-rate. At the tables of the dukes and peers and marshals of France there is eternal ceremony, and everyone speaks like a book, whereas at that of the Marquis de Villette, men of wit and learning always form the majority of the company. All the first-class musicians have a cover set at his table, and on at least three days of the week he gives a little concert.”
On August 26, 1788, died one of the benefactresses of Latude, the Duchess of Kingston, who did not fail to mention her protégé in her will. We see him dutifully assisting at the sale of the lady’s furniture and effects. 228 He even bought a few things, giving a louis d’or in payment. Next day, the sale being continued, the auctioneer handed the coin back to Latude : it was bad. Bad! What! did they take the Vicomte de Latude for a sharper? The coin bad! Who, he would like to know, had the insolence to make “an accusation so derogatory to his honour and his reputation?” Latude raised his voice, and the auctioneer threatened to bundle him out of the room. The insolent dog! “Bundle out rogues, not gentlemen!” But the auctioneer sent for the police, who put “the Sieur de Latude ignominiously outside.” He went off calmly, and the same day summoned the auctioneer before the Châtelet tribunal, “in order to get a reparation as authoritative as the defamation had been public.”
In the following year (1789) Latude made a journey into England. He had taken steps to sue Sartine, Lenoir, and the heirs of Madame de Pompadour in the courts in order to obtain the damages due to him. In England, he drew up a memorandum for Sartine, in which he informed the late lieutenant of police of the conditions on which he would withdraw his actions. “M. de Sartine, you will give me, as compensation for all the harm and damage you have made me suffer unjustly, the sum of 900,000 livres; M. Lenoir, 600,000 livres; the heirs of the late Marquise de Pompadour and Marquis de Menars, 100,000 crowns; in all, 1,800,000 livres;” that is to say, about £ 160,000 in English money of to-day.229
The Revolution broke out. If the epoch of Louis XVI., with its mildness and fellow-feeling, had been favourable to our hero, the Revolution seems to have been ordained on purpose for him. The people rose against the tyranny of kings : the towers of the Bastille were overthrown. Latude, the victim of kings, the victim of the Bastille and arbitrary warrants, was about to appear in all his glory.
He hastened to throw into the gutter his powdered peruque and viscount’s frock; listen to the revolutionist, fierce, inflexible, indomitable, uncompromising : “Frenchmen, I have won the right to tell you the truth, and if you are free, you cannot but love to hear it.
“For thirty-five years I meditated in dungeons on the audacity and insolence of despots; with loud cries I was calling down vengeance, when France in indignation rose up as one man in one sublime movement and levelled despotism with the dust. The will to be free is what makes a nation free; and you have proved it. But to preserve freedom a nation must make itself worthy of it, and that is what remains for you to do!”
In the Salon of 1789 there were two portraits of Latude with the famous ropeladder. Below one of these portraits, by Vestier, a member of the Royal Academy, these lines were engraved: —
Instruit par ses malheurs et sa captivité
A vaincre des tyrans les efforts et la rage,
Il apprit aux Français comment le vrai courage
Peut conquerir la liberté.5
From the Painting by Vestier (Hôtel Carnavalet ).
In 1787 the Marquis de Beaupoil-Saint-Aulaire had written, inspired by Latude himself, the story of the martyr’s captivity. Of this book two editions appeared in the same year. In 1789 Latude published the narrative of his escape from the Bastille, as well as his Grand Mémoire to the Marquise de Pompadour; finally, in 1790 appeared Despotism Unmasked, or the Memoirs of Henri Masers de Latude, edited by the advocate Thiéry. The book was dedicated to La Fayette. On the first page we see a portrait of the hero, his face proud and energetic, one hand on the ropeladder, the other extended towards the Bastille which workmen are in the act of demolishing. “I swear,” says the author at the commencement, “that I will not relate one fact which is not true.” The work is a tissue of calumnies and lies; and what makes a most painful impression on the reader is to see this man disowning his mother, forgetting the privations she endured out of love for her son, and ascribing the credit of what little the poor thing could do for her child to a Marquis de la Tude, knight of St. Louis, and lieutenant-colonel of the Orleans Dragoons!
But the book vibrates with an incomparable accent of sincerity and of that profound emotion which Latude knew so well how to infuse into all those with whom he had to do. In 1793, twenty editions had been exhausted, the work had been translated into several languages; the journals had no praise strong enough for the boldness and genius of the author; the Mercure de France 231 proclaimed that henceforth it was a parent’s duty to teach his children to read in this sublime work; a copy was sent to all the departments, accompanied by a model of the Bastille by the architect Palloy. With good reason could Latude exclaim in the National Assembly : “I have not a little contributed to the Revolution and to its consolidation.”
Latude was not the man to neglect opportunities so favourable. To begin with, he sought to get his pension augmented, and presented to the Constituent Assembly a petition backed by representative Bouche. But Camus, “rugged Camus,” president of the committee appointed to investigate the matter, decided on rejection; and at the sitting of March 13, 1791, deputy Voidel delivered a very spirited speech; his view was that the nation had unhappy folk to succour more worthy of their concern than a man whose life had begun with roguery and villainy. The Assembly sided with him; not only was Latude’s pension not increased, but on consideration, the pension granted by Louis XVI. was altogether withdrawn.
Horror and infamy! “What madness has seized on the minds of the representatives of the most generous nation in the world! . . . To slay a hapless wretch the mere sight of whom awakens pity and warms into life the most sluggish sensibility . . . for death is not so terrible as the loss of honour!” The valiant Latude will not abide the stroke of such an insult. Ere long he has brought Voidel to retract; in the heart of the Assembly 232 he gains an influential supporter in the Marshal de Broglie. The Constituent Assembly is replaced by the Legislative, and Latude returns to the charge. He is admitted to the bar of the House on January 26, 1792; the matter is re-committed and gone into a second time on February 25. We should like to be able to quote at length the speech which Latude himself composed for his advocate; here is a portion of the peroration —
“That a man, without any outside assistance, should have been able to escape three times, once from the Bastille and twice from Vincennes, yes, gentlemen, I venture to say he could not have succeeded except by a miracle, or else that Latude has more than extraordinary genius. Cast your eyes on this ladder of rope and wood, and on all the other instruments which Latude constructed with a mere knife, which you see here in the centre of this chamber. I resolved to bring before your own eyes this interesting object, which will for ever win admiration from men of intelligence. Not a single stranger comes to Paris without going to see this masterpiece of intelligence and genius, as well as his generous deliverer, Madame Legros. We have resolved to give you, gentlemen, the pleasure of seeing this celebrated woman, who unremittingly for forty months set despotism at defiance, and vanquished it by dint of virtue. Behold her there at the bar with M. de Latude, behold that incomparable woman, for ever to be the glory and the ornament of her sex!”
It is not surprising that the Legislative Assembly was 233 deeply moved by this eloquent harangue and this exhibition of the lady, as touching as unexpected. It unanimously voted Latude a pension of 2000 livres, without prejudice to the pension of 400 livres previously awarded. Henceforth Latude will be able to say : “The whole nation adopted me!”
However, the little mishap in the Constituent Assembly was to be the only check that Latude suffered in the course of his glorious martyr’s career. Presented to the Society of “Friends of the Constitution,” he was elected a member by acclamation, and the Society sent a deputation of twelve members to carry the civic crown to Madame Legros. The leader of the deputation said, in a voice broken by emotion, “This day is the grandest day of my life.’ A deputation from the principal theatres of Paris offered Latude free admission to all performances, “so that he might go often and forget the days of his mourning.” He was surrounded by the highest marks of consideration; pleaders begged him to support their cases before the tribunals with the moral authority bestowed on him by his virtue. He took advantage of this to bring definitively before the courts his claims against the heirs of the Marquise de Pompadour. Citizen Mony argued the case for the first time before the court of the sixth arrondissement on July 16, 1793; on September 11 the case came again before the magistrates : Citizens Chaumette, Laurent, and Legrand had been designated by the Commune of Paris as counsel for the defence, and the whole Commune was present at the hearing. 234 Latude obtained 60,000 livres, 10,000 of which were paid him in cash.
And now his life became more tranquil. Madame Legros continued to lavish her care on him. The 50,000 livres remaining due to him from the heirs of the Marquise were paid in good farm lands situated in La Beauce, the profits of which he regularly drew.
Let us hasten to add that France did not find in Latude an ungrateful child. The critical situation in which the nation was then struggling pained him deeply. He sought the means of providing a remedy, and in 1799 brought out a “Scheme for the valuation of the eighty departments of France to save the Republic in less than three moths,” and a “Memoir on the means of re-establishing the public credit and order in the finances of France.”
When the estates of Madame de Pompadour were sequestrated, the farms Latude had received were taken from him; but he induced the Directory to restore them. He was less fortunate in his requisition for a licence for a theatre and a gaming-house. But he found consolation. The subsidies he went on extorting from right and left, the proceeds of his farm, the sale of his books, and the money brought in by the exhibition of his ropeladder, which was exhibited by a showman in the different towns of France and England, provided him with a very comfortable income.
The Revolution became a thing of the past. Latude hailed the dawning glory of Bonaparte, and when 235 Bonaparte became Napoleon, Latude made his bow to the Emperor. We have a very curious letter in which he marks out for Napoleon I. the line of conduct he should pursue to secure his own welfare and the good of France. It begins as follows: —
“SIRE, — I have been five times buried alive, and am well acquainted with misfortune. To have a heart more sympathetic than the common run of men it is necessary to have suffered great ills. . . . At the time of the Terror I had the delightful satisfaction of saving the lives of twenty-two poor wretches. . . . To petition Fouquet d’Etinville on behalf of the royalists was to persuade him that I was one myself. When I braved death in order to save the lives of twenty-two citizens, judge, great Emperor, if my heart can do ought but take great interest in you, the saviour of my beloved country.”
We are given some details of the last years of Latude’s life in the Memoirs of his friend, the Chevalier de Pougens, and in the Memoirs of the Duchess d’Abrantès. The Chevalier tells us that at the age of seventy-five years he still enjoyed good health; he was “active and gay, and appeared to enjoy to the full the delights of existence. Every day he took long walks in Paris without experiencing the least fatigue. People were amazed to find no trace of the cruel sufferings he had undergone in the cells during a captivity of thirty-five years.” His popularity suffered no diminution under the Empire. Junot awarded him a pension from funds at his disposal. 236 One day the general presented him to his wife, along with Madame Legros, whose side Latude never left. “When he arrived,” says the Duchess d’Abrantès, “I went to greet him with a respect and an emotion that must have been truly edifying. I took him by the hand, conducted him to a chair, and put a cushion under his feet; in fact, he might have been my grandfather, whom I could not have treated better. At table I placed him on my right. But,” adds the Duchess, “my enchantment was of short duration. He talked of nothing but his own adventures with appalling loquacity.”
At the age of eighty, a few months before his death, Latude wrote in the most familiar terms to his protector, the Chevalier de Pougens, a member of the Institute : “Now I assure you in the clearest possible words, that if within ten days of the present time, the 11th Messidor, you have not turned up in Paris (the Chevalier was staying at his country estate), I shall start the next day and come to you with the hunger of a giant and the thirst of a cabby, and when I have emptied your cellar and eaten you out of house and home you will see me play the second act of the comedy of Jocrisse6; you will see me run off with your plates, and dishes, and tankards, 237 and bottles — empty, you may be sure — and fling all your furniture out of the window!”
On July 20, 1804, Latude compiled one more circular, addressed to the sovereigns of Europe : the kings of Prussia, Sweden, and Denmark, the Archduke Charles, brother of the Emperor; and to the President of the United States. To each of them he sent a copy of his Memoirs, accompanied by the famous scheme for replacing with muskets the pikes with which the sergeants were armed. He explained to each of the sovereigns that as the country he ruled was profiting by this child of his genius, it was only just that he should reap some benefit.
Jean Henri, surnamed Danry, alias Danger, alias Jedor, alias Masers d’Aubrespy, alias De Masers de Latude, died of pneumonia at Paris, on January 1, 1805, aged eighty years.
1 “Not unto us, O Lord, but unto thy name give glory!
“Know our heart and search out our ways.”
2 “The victory is won!” — T.
3 Charenton was under the direction of a religious order known as the Frères de la Charité, who undertook the care of the sick and weak-minded poor. — T.
4 This was Elizabeth Chudleigh (1720-1788), the notorious beauty who privately married the Hon. Augustus Hervey, afterwards Earl of Bristol, separated from him after three years, and became the mistress of the second duke of Kingston, whom she bigamously married. After his death she was tried by the House of Lords for bigamy, and fled to France to escape punishment. Her gallantries and eccentricities were the talk of Europe. — T.
5 Instructed by his misfortunes and his captivity how to vanquish the efforts and the rage of tyrants, he taught the French how true courage can win liberty.
6 Jocrisse is the stock French type of the booby, and as such is a character in many comedies. He breaks a plate, for instance; his master asks him how he managed to be so clumsy, and he instantly smashes another, saying, “Just like that!” His master asks him to be sure and wake him early in the morning; Jocrisse answers : “Right, sir, depend on me; but of course you’ll ring!” — T.