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The Marquis de Sade
A Life

The definitive biography by Neil Schaeffer

Home : The Prison Letters : Archive : September 17, 1780
Sade to his wife.
[September 17, 1780]

I was going to write you, my dear friend, a fine letter of thanks for the restoration of my promenades; but no, they now tell me that I am mistaken.

This morning, the self-styled major comes to tell me that the king is granting me my promenades.

"Monsieur," I reply, "much obliged; I thank you, as well as the king."

"But Monsieur, that's not all; it's that you do not have any right . . ."

"What's this, Monsieur?" I interrupted, "is this a little sermon? Spare me it, I beg of you; I know all about morality."

"But, Monsieur, it's just that . . ."

"Monsieur," I added, "as long as the fellow to whom you are referring (the turnkey) is decent and courteous, he will find me gentle; but when he ceases to be so, he will find me entirely disposed to correct him, not being made to suffer insolence from any man and, all the more so, from a rascal of a turnkey . . ."

With that, the siege was lifted; and as I had refused, so they claim, to finish listening to Monsieur the ex-soldier's lesson in morality . . . no more promenades. So, my good friend, I am not thanking you at all, and you can save all my gratitude for when the favor will be granted without condition, and above all without moralizing.

I saw the moment when, if I had continued, they would not, I believe, have minded asking me to apologize . . . But what sort of men, then, are these, and with whom do they think they are dealing, or with whom are they accustomed to dealing?

Moreover, I am writing this down in order to record word for word what I said, so that they do not falsify my statements, something of which this gawky swindler of an ex-serviceman is perfectly capable. In writing these things to you, I repeat them and I swear and assert on all I hold most sacred that, were they to disembowel me alive, I will never in the least depart from my maxim: gentle and decent when they treat me so; extremely harsh and extremely critical when they fail.

I have received everything. I intend to make a large return package of books between the 20th and the 22nd, and I will write you at the same time regarding books and errands. In the meantime, I embrace you with all my heart.

Morning of the 17th.

P.S.--As far as I was able to see, from the beginning of the dry and tedious oration that was fired off at me, it seemed to me that the opening bit was supposed to lead to a discussion of the moral and physical essence of the contemptible atom known by the title of turnkey. I saw that the orator was going to be cold and dull, that he would speak by catachresis, without metaphors but with pleonasms, that his subject was badly chosen and his epigraph inapt, that each phrase would be constructed the same way, without grace and devoid of that piquancy and those nuances so essential to the soul of oratory and so recommended by Cicero; that the matter, moreover, dry enough in itself, was completely foreign to my life and to the kind of art that I cultivate. In consideration of which, I sent the orator packing. If, however, it is absolutely necessary that I thoroughly know what a filthy beast is he who earns his living by what would heap dishonor on an honest man, in order to spare me considerable boredom and to sow some flowers in this barren subject, let them make me a copy of the article in the Encyclopédie, I will learn it by heart; that is all that I can do. But let me have my promenades! I beg you as a favor to me, because I desperately need them, and my mind, I have told you this before, will never mature in the shade of prison walls.

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Sade was incarcerated for 14 years without trial before being freed by the French Revolution. In that time he wrote hundreds of letters to his wife. Receive a new letter every week never before translated into English. Click here to subscribe.

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