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The Marquis de Sade
A Life

The definitive biography by Neil Schaeffer

Home : The Prison Letters : Archive : January, 1780
Sade to La Jeunesse.
[January, 1780]

Here is another strong letter to Sade's valet Carteron, also called La Jeunesse and Monsieur Quiros. Sade is particularly angry at his in-laws the Montreuils and Lieutenant General of Police Sartine, among others. When he comments on the whores of Marseilles, he refers to prostitutes he hired there in June 1772. He had whipped some of them and was whipped in turn. Although Sade was eventually exculpated of any crime, the escapade made him notorious. Later in the letter, Sade refers to the numbers he believed contained coded secret messages that his enemies put into the letters he received.

I seize with alacrity, Monsieur Quiros, the occasion of the New Year in order to wish much happiness to you and yours. At last, my pains and my afflictions abate, Monsieur Quiros: thanks to all the goodness and the concern of Madame la Présidente de Montreuil, I look forward, M. Quiros, to being able to give you my wishes in person the day after tomorrow--five years hence. Long live influence, Monsieur Quiros! If my unlucky star had bound me to any other family, I would be here for the rest of my life, since you know, Monsieur Quiros, that in France one does not, with impunity, show disrespect to whores [referring to the Marseilles]. One may criticize the government, the king, religion: nothing to worry about. But a whore, Monsieur Quiros, Gadzooks! you'd better take care to give no offence to a whore because immediately the Sartines, the Maupeous [Chancellor of the Parlement of Paris], the Montreuils, and their fellow pimps, rush up like good, little soldiers to champion the whore and to bravely haul you, a nobleman, off to prison for 12 or 15 years--over one whore. Could anything be finer than the French police?

If you have a sister, a niece, a daughter, Monsieur Quiros, advise her to become a whore; I challenge her to find a better career. And, indeed, where could a girl be better off than in a country where, in addition to the luxury, to the languorous ease, to the continuous and heady pleasures of the debauch, she can still obtain as much support, as much credit, as much protection as the most sober and upright member of the middle class! That is what is called encouraging morality, my friend; that is what goes under the name of discouraging good girls from a life of dissolution and crime! How this stinks to high heaven! Oh, Monsieur Quiros, they are indeed wise in this age of ours! But as for me, I give you my word of honor, Monsieur Quiros, if heaven had not put me in a position to be able to feed my daughter, I swear by all I hold most sacred that I would immediately make her a whore.

I trust, Monsieur Quiros, you will allow me for your New Year's gift to present you with a small new work, selected by your dear mistress' rascally horde and therefore perfectly suited to their taste. Indeed, I was confident that the perusal of this small work would please you, and so I am giving it over to you. It is anonymous. As you know, the best authors try to appear incognito. But as we bibliophiles love to pierce the disguise, I think I have truly evaluated this one. And if this book is not written by the picklock lurking in the shadows of your street, then it is most certainly by Albaret [formerly Sade's servant, then Mme de Montreuil's]. This worthy offspring can have no other father than one or the other of these two great fellows: the street market or the inns of court, there is no middle ground. The extreme similarity of these two styles is the reason for my error: it is so easy to mistake one for the other that one can be thoroughly fooled. It is like the paintings of Carraccio and of Guido; these two illustrious masters ascend so equally to the sublime that it is sometimes possible to confuse their strokes. Yegods! Monsieur Quiros, it is a delight to discuss art with you. The Palmieri, Albinis, Solimenas, Dominicos, Bramantes, Guercinos, Michelangelos, Berninis, Titians, Paul Veroneses, Lanfrancos, Espagnolets, Luc Giardinos, the Calabri, etc., you know all these painters the way Sartine knows whores and Albaret pimps. But when I want to talk about all of that here, they do not understand what I am saying. There is just Lieutenant Charles [a member of the staff of Vincennes] a very well educated fellow who will tell you, if you let him, that in the twelfth century the dungeon of his fortress was under siege with canon fire. However, one is not fortunate to speak with him as often as one wishes . . . He is like Molé [the celebrated actor of the Comédie-Française]: he performs only on special occasions.

I have supplemented the enclosed book with some explanatory notes which, I hope, will not displease you, Monsieur Quiros, and I flatter myself that you will cherish this little present of mine all your life. I have included a little song, somewhat old and bawdy, but which will not be the less suitable for amusing you and your friends, Monsieur Quiros, when you come to dine on a blanquette or a larded rabbit at Vincennes, at La Rapée, or at La Redoute [three state prisons].

Which reminds me, Monsieur Quiros, be kind enough to tell me if you are keeping up with the fashion, if you have on running shoes, buckles and such-like horse trappings, and a windmill on your head. I have a special wish to see you decked out in this style, and you ought to be quite lovely that way. The other day I had a wish to deck out my head with one of these windmills. It was Lieutenant Charles who trod the boards that day (it was a fine day); oh well! Monsieur Quiros, you would not believe how much I took on the appearance of a cuckold as soon as my brow was fitted out with that headpiece. --Now then! in what consisted this look, Monsieur Quiros (because it was there)? Was it in the hat? was it on my brow? was it in Lieutenant Charles? This is a question that I leave you to settle.

I would be sincerely obliged to you, Monsieur Quiros, if, in gratitude for my attention to you, you would send me a small paper model of the lewd headgear of your friend, Monsieur Albaret. I have a pregnant woman's craving to see a model of this diadem. Get the address of his hatmaker, I beg you, because the first thing I will do when I get out of here will be to go there to be fitted out for that hat.

And what are you doing for fun, Monsieur Quiros?
Which one, Bacchus or Eros,
Today for glory vies?
What! . . . you'll praise 'em both
And seek to win the double prize?

I believe you quite capable of it, and the wines of Meursault, of Chablis, of the Hermitage, of Côte-rôtie, of Lanerte, of the Romanée, of Tokay, of Paphos, of Sherry, of Montepulciano, of Falerne, and of Brie lubriciously titillate your loins for the unpolluted thighs of the misses Pamphale, Aurore, Adélaïde, Rosette, Zelmire, Flore, Fatime, Pouponne, Hyacinthe, Angélique, Augustine and Fatmé. Splendid! Monsieur Quiros. Believe me, that is how one ought to pass one's days. And when the author of nature on the one hand created wine and on the other c[un]ts, you can be very sure the intention was that we enjoy them.

As for me, Monsieur Quiros, I also have my little pleasures, and if they are not so heady as yours, they are not the less refined. I am constantly stamping my feet to keep warm; I have, for amusement at supper (and that by way of a great favor), a fellow who regularly and with no exaggeration takes ten pinches of snuff, sneezes six times, blows his nose twelve times, and spits phlegmy gobs at least fourteen times, and all that in a half hour. Do you think that is not perfectly generous and entertaining, especially when I am to leeward? . . . It is true that in order to amuse me, every fortnight there comes a tall disabled soldier who brings me a mandate to sign yet again and, once a year, comes Lieutenant Charles to play the boor on cue. --Come now, Monsieur Quiros, admit that these pleasures are much better than yours; yours mire you down in all the vices, mine lead me to all the virtues. Ask, ask Madame la Présidente de Montreuil if there is any better means than prison bars to lead one to virtue? I well know that there are creatures--like you, Monsieur Quiros (I truly beg your pardon)--who say and who maintain that prison can be tried once, and that if it does not succeed, it is very dangerous to try it again. But this proposition, Monsieur Quiros, is dumb. Here is how they ought to reason: prison is the only remedy that we have in France; following that thinking, prison must be good; and since prison is good, it must be employed in every case. "But it has not been effective, neither in the first instance, nor in the second, nor in the third . . ." Very well! they answer, that's a perfect reason to try it four times; it's not prison that's wrong, since we only had to assert, not to prove, that it was good; therefore it's the individual that's wrong, and so it's necessary to put him back there. Medically, bleeding is good for a fever; we have nothing more effective in France; thus, bleeding is supreme. However, Monsieur Quiros, someone who, for example, has delicate nerves or thin blood is not improved by bleeding: a different remedy must be sought. "Not at all!" your doctor will say, "bleeding is excellent for a fever; we have asserted that. Monsieur Quiros has a fever: therefore he must be bled." And that's what they call brilliant logic!

To that, men of much more intelligence than you, Monsieur Quiros, who are a booby (I offer you my sincere apology), say: "Pagans! atheists! heretics! How can you confound diseases of the body with those of the mind? Do you not realize that there is no connection between the body and the mind? And in proof of that, there you are, whoremaster, drunkard, you have sold your soul to the Devil, while your body is in a cabaret in Saint-Eustache! So there is a very big difference between the soul and the body: therefore, one cannot establish any conformity between the manner of conducting cures of one and the manner of conducting cures of the other. Besides, as a doctor, I earn my living by having you bled: I earn so-much for each incision; therefore, you must be bled." "And I, Sartine, I earn my living by having you put in prison: I earn so-much for each prisoner; therefore, you must be locked up." What can you say to this reasoning, Monsieur Quiros? "Come on, trust me; just shut up and do not meddle by intruding your hackneyed objections: prison is the most wonderful establishment of the realm . . ." La Présidente de Montreuil will also tell you, "If I had not kept my son-in-law in prison, would I have been able to marry the 5s, the 3s, and the 8s? would I have been able to make fit the 23s and the 9s? to arrange matters so that from the first visit my daughter will have with her husband to her last, that is, when she will go to fetch him out of there, more than eighty numbers will be found to be identical? What! booby!" the présidente will go on to tell you, "would I have been able to do this if I had aimed for my son-in-law's well-being, the restoration of his mind, or his return to virtue? and are not these number codes [i.e., signals] truly worth all of the stupid measures that you counsel me to do? Well-being, virtue, mental therapy, they are commonplace. But the conjoining of numbers, their relationships, their correspondences, only my darling Albaret and I could perform these sorts of things."

At this profound logic, Monsieur Quiros, your arms will fall, your big mouth will grin straight up to your ears, your right eyebrow will cross with your left, your nose will swell, your brow will sweat, your knees will knock, and you will shout in your madness: "Ah! I have always said that this very b[it]ch was smarter than me, and my cousin Albaret too!" --Come on, Monsieur Quiros, cough, blow your nose, spit, fart, and sing me Margot a fait biribi.

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