Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de SADE
Lettre autographe paraphée à sa femme. De l'athéisme à la loi du Talion : « sur ce que j’ai de plus (...) sacré, jamais je ne croirai aux leçons des sectateurs d’un dieu qui se croient permis d’outrager la créature pour honorer le créateur."
s.l. (Vincennes) s.d. (septembre 1783), 11,4x18,1cm, 4 pages sur un feuillet remplié.
Authograph letter, initialed.
“Je vous prie de m’écrire je suis inquiet de votre santé [I beg you to write, I am worried for your health.]”“Sur ce que j’ai de plus en plus sacré jamais je ne croirai aux leçons des sectateurs d’un dieu qui se croient permis d’outrager la créature pour honorer le créateur. [“However close I get to the sacred, I will never accept the teachings of the followers of a god who thinks himself entitled to defame the created to honor the creator”.]“[…] si les hommes me refusent leur justice, il me restera toujours des moyens de me la faire. Elle a aussi des yeux – […], il ne faut que de l’argent pour trouver des coquins…[If I am refused the justice of men, I will find a way to manage. She, too, has eyes…and with money you can always find a way…”]Initialled autograph letter from the Marquis de Sade to his wife. Four pages on bifolium, written in a fine and close hand.
Several underlinings in Sade’s hand.
Madame de Sade’s Paris address to half of fourth page.
Small dampstain to foot of sheet, not affecting legibility.An important letter in which are expounded the two great themes of Sadean philosophy: radical anticlericalism and fantasies of violence.
Not dated, this letter was, according to Jean-Jacques Pauvert (Sade vivant
), written in September 1783 during Sade’s imprisonment at Vincennes.
Madame de Sade – whose address in Paris features on the fourth page – was at the time at the Saint-Aure convent, where she was enjoying – insofar as she could – the peaceful atmosphere, despite the numerous ailments after which her husband enquires. (“I beg you to write, I am worried for your health.”
) But Sade very quickly moves on to his own problems; he, too, is having terrific trouble with his eyes, as he explains: “If you had any interest in me, I would tell you that from four o’clock till midnight these damned eyes give me terrific agony.”
His eye pain is a recurring theme in Sade’s life, as Maurice Levert notes: “Both at Vincennes and the Bastille, Sade was seen by the most famous eye specialists of the day, including the Grandjean brothers, of whom the elder, Henri, was the king’s eye specialist, and Demours Fils.” (Sade vivant
, p.337). Despite a number of creams and various pieces of good advice (including that he should take up knitting!), the Marquis was more and more afraid of going blind; he more or less completely lost the use of one eye between January and July 1783.
This letter also gives us an idea of the Marquis’ living conditions and more particularly about the various rights he had, notably the right to correspond with his nearest and dearest. Sade complains about “a miscreant who…thinks he’s greater than Alexander and more profound than Lycurgius (sic)”
who, as one can easily gather, is none other than the superintendant, Le Noir, who is in charge of authorizing the Marquis’ various privileges, such as days out, visits and correspondence. Once again, we can see a Sadean irony breaking through: “Attempting to annihilate the interest of a husband for his wife is one of the most sublime policies that ever existed – there’s something of an angelic spirit therein, a marvelous construction, and we learn to recognize great men by their great works.”
One can also see in this letter the romantic ritual of their correspondence which necessarily touches upon a reproach of disinterest (“…I beg you, if at all possible, not to write, but rather send the staff here a little note…that semi-proof of your existence…will reassure me at least to some extent”
) mixed with domestic concerns: “you have a pretext, which I gave you on purpose two months ago, I have a big package all wrapped up to be given you.”
The reference is to a book (but which?!). In essence, Sade’s other main activity – despite his poor eyesight – was editing or rewriting his works, which he then sent to his wife, to the Abbé Amblet or La Jeunesse to be corrected. This is just such a matter of literary exchange: “This packet contains six pieces of parchment…they surround my latest work that I would very much like to get to you, especially so La Jeunesse can put it in order so I can move on to other things, which is not possible while I still have this previous work in my hands; I want to work, I have a plan knocking around my head that I must absolutely complete. I must make up for lost time, they wake me at five each morning.”
But it’s the author’s diatribes against religion that constitute the real heart of this letter, full of the Marquis’ libertarian spirit. He mentions some attempts to proselytize on the part of the prison authorities:
“In that respect it resembles Chapel, with which they try to fill my head day after day, they write, and for not having added faith in the redoubtable mysteries of the religion of Christ, they’ll cram his head with Chapel every day for 6 months, and you’ll see how he’ll end up believing that god and a piece of bread are one and the same thing. It’s much the same way as they converted the anti-papists in the Cévennes, and since that was less than 80 years ago, no one can have forgotten how that turned out.”
The fact that Sade refers here to the Camisards is not without significance for the Marquis, and we can see, among the list of works he requests from his wife Antoine Court’s Histoire des troubles des Cévennes, ou de la Guerre des Camisards sous le règne de Louis le Grand
(1760) [History of the Troubles in Cévennes, or on the War of the Camisards during the reign of Louis le Grand]. He was to use an episode from this war for Juliette
(1800), evoking the flagellation of young girls from the Cévennes who refused to convert to Catholicism.
Even more violent, the following passage echoes his famous first pamphlet, the Dialogue entre un prêtre et un moribund [Dialogue Between a Priest and Dying Man]
, written in secret in the same location the year before:“Oh no, no, no matter how close I get to the sacred, for sure I will never accept the teachings of the followers of a god who thinks himself entitled to defame the created to honor the creator. Build your infamous chapels, worship your repugnant pagan idols. But since you break the most sacred laws of nature to do so, remember that you will force me only to despise you and hold you in contempt.”
According to Pauvert, this tirade certainly contributed to Sade’s continued incarceration despite a visit on the 7th
December 1783 from Minister Breteuil, who was in favor of the abolition of the instrument of the lettre de cachet
: “Under a king who was willing to concede reforms but was nonetheless ‘not kidding around when it came to morality, religion and public order’ (Maurice de La Fuye), a Minister of his court could not allow himself to cut these three pillars of society off below the knee.” No doubt this very forceful demonstration of anticlerical thinking, a future rallying-cry for the Revolutionaries, was still far too daring at the time.
If this libertarian outpouring was inspired by the Dialogue
, the final part of the letter heralds the advent of an even more radical Sade – the Sade of the 120 Days of Sodom
– in the imagined violence of the tortures with which he threatens his mother-in-law:
“But patience, if I am refused the justice of men, I will find a way to manage. She, too, has eyes – and I will also have powder; with money you can always find a way, as she has demonstrated, a lesson I will make use of.”
Provenance : family archives.