The Marquis de Sade
The definitive biography by Neil Schaeffer
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Prison Letters : Archive : December 2, 1779
|Sade to his wife.
[December 2, 1779]
In truth, Madame, I think that you believe I complain for no reason but to
get your attention. Good God! what would such a stupid trick get me? What
possible use could it be to someone, absolutely convinced that his sentence
is determined, and that were he on his death bed, nothing could either shorten
it or make her tell it to him? Do I not already know what that stupid old
woman is capable of? . . . Oh! do not worry that I mean to take revenge .
. . I would consider that beneath me . . . Thus, since you certainly do not
believe that the abuses I complain about are perfectly true, it is necessary,
in order to justify the slender interest that they arouse in you and the
continuation of your back-stabbing even in my wretched situation, it is
necessary, I say, that those here who ought to depict them honestly, minimize
them . . . But this tactic of theirs does not really surprise me . . . They
really are not stupid enough to report the abuses one suffers here: the true
picture would only have the effect of causing the prisoner's release . .
. And then, say goodbye to profits on room and board! Must blood forever
flow into the maw of the cannibal who feeds on gore? What would become of
him if this river dried up? Yes, Madame, I am suffering, and, what is worse,
more and more every day.
Would you like me to tell you a small example of the compassion of the
administration of this place? Last night, feeling rather more ill for a few
days, I thought to write a note to the surgeon, in which I asked him for
a different medicine, from which I hoped for some relief. I go to bed and
sleep a bit easier in the expectation that they are going to bring me what
I asked for. . . .
"Well now," I say upon arising the next morning, "do you have what I
"Not at all," he replies, "I am returning your letter."
"Yes, sir, your letter. You addressed it to the surgeon, and that is a violation.
You have to address it to the commandant."
"And my medicine?"
"Oh! the medicine. When your address will be done properly . . ."
Hey! what do you say to that? Is that nice, is that generous, is that kind?
But I am fair, I know very well that it is not the fault of those who are
just following orders, and I confine myself to condemning the monumental
stupidity of those who give them. . . .
And would you like to hear another charming, petty regulation? . . . For
three or four days, because of the cold, I was not able to go down into the
garden. A nice day arrives . . . I go down there . . . While I am there,
I am informed that the surgeon has come.
"Very well!" I say, "let him come to the garden."
"Sir," I am answered, "he certainly won't do that. That's something expressly
forbidden to him. Choose, sir: either lose the surgeon's visit, or lose the
"Alas!" I reply, "but both of them would have done me some good."
"That may be, sir, but it's not your good that's wanted here, it's the rules.
. . ."
What? Madame, what, indeed, do you have to say to that? A surgeon cannot
see a sick man in the garden! . . . As if he must be at death's door to have
the right to consult a surgeon! What depravity! . . . And the eye of Government,
does it not shed light upon such abominations? And do they not denounce the
self-importance of a petty fellow capable of submitting decent people to
all the tyrannies, to all the caprices that pass through his imbecilic
imagination? And the whole world, would it not know about him some day? I
would rather they cut off both my hands than not perform the service to my
country of shedding light on such abuse. . . . And how should abuses not
exist, when he on whom all of that depends, M. Lenoir [Lieutenant General
of Police and responsible for state prisons], who alone has the responsibility
and the duty to keep an eye on this sort of thing, blindly puts his faith
in a subordinate who has the greatest interest in deceiving him? Oh! I will
reveal them, all the horrors, all the whole despicable system, all the schemes
contrived by greed and rapacity! I know them all now. I learned them to my
own cost. Now all of France must know them too. . . .
And here is yet another one. Even as I wrote this to you, my letter to the
surgeon is returned because the address, first made out to him, afterwards
to M. Rougemont [the governor of Vincennes], is scribbled over. "A proper
address or else no medicine . . ." The dear fellow, I think, he has gone
crazy. I must chide his petty pride a bit, and I am going to do it with a
letter attached to this one. You indicated to me that he gave me permission
to write to whomever I liked. It would look very strange indeed if I can
write to friends and not send a note about my health to a surgeon. One is
unfortunate indeed to have to deal with lunatics who, completely puffed up
with the pride of the person the soldiers and the jailers call mon commandant,
presume to have the right to redouble the chains their superiors authorize,
when chance or misfortune brings one to their hostelry. Have the kindness
to get a determination if I can inform the surgeon by writing of the state
of my health, yes or no, whether it is at an inconvenient time, or if I do
not consider it necessary to have him make a special trip, but merely desire
to consult with him. What a place! what a man! If he only knew how much I
despise him, how much I loathe him! If he only knew how much his petty nonsense
disgusts those who have any sense at all! But some day I hope to inform him
of all that. This fond wish is all that keeps me alive. So send me the books
on the short list that I recently sent you. It is unbelievable that you did
not want to send them to me. I am distressed that the author [Abbé
Joseph de La Porte] of the Voyageur français is ill. He is a wonderful
writer. Read this book if you want to read something delightful. I know nothing
so informative and at the same time so amusing. I promise you that this is
the first book that my son will read. Keep me informed how this writer is
doing. I have a special interest in him because of the delightful nights
I spent with him last winter, and this one . . . A Father Inquisitor, a
fellow-traveler in the Holy Office, an itinerant knife-sharpener from Auvergne,
all that filthy scum will live til eighty, because they say that it
is the peculiar nature of all the most useless and harmful creatures to live
longer than the others, and an abbé de La Porte, a delightful and
charming author, who ought to be the ornament of his society as he is of
those who read him, will be cut down in the midst of his career and will
not have the glory of finishing his work! . . . And yet Providence is just!
. . . Oh! don't bet on it! My chest, worse than ever . . . How can it get
better with these same disturbances going on every day? Even so, this will
end, and I will still have these two hands. I beg of you, if there is time,
add to the dispatch a pot of beef-marrow pomade or ordinary pomade, one pound
of powder, and not of plaster, like last time, and a pair of leather gloves
like the last shipment.
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