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The Marquis de Sade
A Life

The definitive biography by Neil Schaeffer

Home : The Prison Letters : Archive : February, 1781
The Grande Lettre, Part 2 of 3
The following Sade called his "Grande Lettre." It is a very long justification of his innocence in all of the scandals that led to his imprisonment. This is the second of three parts.

Sade to his wife.

[February 20, 1781]

<< continued from last week

Having been reduced to spending my time alone in a very isolated chateau [i.e., La Coste], nearly always without you, and having as a tiny idiosyncrasy (one must confess it) loving women perhaps a little too much, I went to Lyons to see a well-known bawd, and I told her: I want to take back to my house three or four servant girls, and I want them young and pretty; supply them to me just that way. This bawd, who was called Nanon, this Nanon being a well-known bawd in Lyons--I will prove it when necessary--promises me these girls and in fact provides them. I take them with me; I use them. After six months, some parents appear to ask for these girls, assuring me that they are their children. I return them, and suddenly there appears against me a charge of kidnaping and rape! And there you have the greatest of all injustices. The law about that, as I got it from M. de Sartine (he had the kindness to explain it to me himself, one day; he should be able to recall it), is as follows: it is expressly forbidden in France for any bawd to furnish girls who are virgins, and if the girl furnished is a virgin and if she complains, it is not the man who is accused, it is the bawd, who is rigorously punished on the spot. But even if the man had asked for one [i.e., a virgin], it is not he who is punished: he is doing only what all men do. To repeat, it is the bawd who gave her to him and who perfectly well knew that that was expressly forbidden. Therefore, in this first deposition made against me, at Lyons, for kidnaping and rape, there was no legitimate charge; I was guilty of nothing. It was the bawd to whom I addressed myself who should have been punished, and not me. But there was no profit to be got with the bawd, and the parents were hoping to extract some money from me.

Let us go on. I earlier had an adventure at Arcueil in which an equally untruthful and scheming woman [Rose Keller], in order to get some money (which one [Mme de Montreuil] had stupidly paid [to get Keller to drop her charges]), had bruited about all of Paris that I had performed certain experiments and that the garden of my house was a cemetery in which I buried the corpses that had been used in my experiments. This idea was too advantageous; it too well served the rage of my enemies for them not to use it as a sauce to spice anything that might happen to me. As a result, the Marseilles affair was also seen as an experiment that I wanted to perform, and in this one, doubtless, it was another experiment on girls who would never show up again. But if all of them did not reappear at Lyons, all nevertheless did reappear in the world.

Let us examine the matter. These girls from Lyons, it is agreed, were five in number. One, frightened by the solitude where she was being kept (not in order to perform experiments on her, but because decency required it of me) escapes and goes to my uncle's [the abbé de Sade]. One knows what happened to her [for safekeeping, the abbé sent her to a hospital at l'Isle-la-Sorgue]. One [little Marie] openly stayed in my service and died of natural causes there, as was known by the entire province, quite openly in the village and well cared for by the director of public health. There you have another whose fate is known. Two have been returned to their parents. So their fate is also known. Finally, the fifth, loudly threatening to run off like her comrade and to spread gossip if one kept her too long in isolation, and not having any relatives to ask for her, had been sent by me to a peasant of La Coste, whom I will name when it will be necessary and whom you know very well, to be placed in service in Marseilles at his parents' house, and since I have all the proofs at hand, I declare that it would give me great pleasure to show them if need be. She was then conducted there, established, left, and a certificate to that effect was brought to me, placed where I well know and which can also be shown if need be. I have since learned that this creature had left that house and set herself up as a w[hore]. There, then, you have the lives of the five girls from Lyons clearly established, and in such a way that I can defy the most clever or rather the most wickedly false magistrate, to prove the contrary.

Let us continue. Three other girls, of age and condition not likely to be reclaimed by their parents, have also lived for a few weeks either before or after, at the chateau of La Coste. Let us give an account of them, so that this may be a general confession, because that is my intention, and I want, if possible, to clear away with absolute authenticity even the slightest hint of suspicion concerning all the horrors they were pleased to invent against me and which have encouraged Mme de Montreuil to treat me as she does, both because of her extreme penchant for believing everything, and because of the ammunition that that furnished to her vengeance.

The first of these three girls was named Du Plan; she was a dancer at the Comédie de Marseille. She lived at the chateau openly and not incognito, under the title of housekeeper; she also left it openly. More than a year later, I found her again at the Comédie de Bordeaux, and she was still alive and living in a small town in a province that had been named to me at the time of my voyage to Aix. So there is nothing to worry about in that case. The second girl came from Montpellier; she was named Rosette. She stayed for about two months, concealed in the chateau. Growing bored at the end of this time, she said that she wanted to leave, and we decided together that she would write to a man she knew in Montpellier, and that this man who was by trade a carpenter and, I believe, her host at the said town of Montpellier, would come to take her himself at the foot of the walls of the chateau. The hour, the place, the day, the rendezvous, all was made clear. On the stated day, the man arrived, and the girl was put by me into the hands of the said man, the girl named Marie (the last of the Lyons girls remaining in my service) carrying her bag, which was also given to the man who, having brought a donkey, put the girl and the bag on the donkey, received from me six gold louis that the girl asked me to give to him--a sum which she had earned from me--and they all departed. That happened in June 1775. In October 1776, I left, as you know, to spend two weeks at Montpellier and brought back the third girl, about whom I wish now to speak. The girl named Rosette was certainly alive and living at Montpellier at that time, so much so that I saw her there, that I saw her there in every way imaginable, or, to put it more decently, saw her in the fullest extent of the term, and that she was the one who convinced the third girl, named Adelaïde, to come and to work as she did, assuring her in front of two or three women, who perhaps will not be too bewildered in case I will have to speak about it, assuring the girl, I say, that she will only have reason, except for the loneliness there, to praise all I will do regarding her. It was only because of her personal recommendation that I got the other one who, not knowing me, would certainly not have come otherwise. So Adelaïde arrived and stayed until the third of Mme de Montreuil's disgraceful attacks [in 1775, when Sade left for Italy, following the third time his mother-in-law attempted to have him arrested], a time when the postmaster of Courthézon most definitely took her away. So there you have the fate of the third girl clearly established.

Two or three other girls, as cooks or kitchen helpers, among whom were those girls that we brought with us to Paris, at different times during my contempt sentence, lived at the chateau, but they were in residence so openly and for so short a time, and came and left in the same fashion, that I consider it pointless to discuss them. Among their number, there also was a niece [Anne Sablonnière] of that above-mentioned b[awd] Nanon, whom we placed in a convent. Mme de Montreuil had her taken out; so she knows what became of her. That is all. That is my most complete confession, and such that I would make before God, if I were on the verge of dying.

What then to conclude about all this? That M. de Sade, whom they undoubtedly charge with horrors, since they keep him in prison for such a long time, and whom they have every reason to fear, both because of what he soon will reveal, and because he has already twice suffered whatever the malignant slanders of the public could bring against him, is, nevertheless, no more guilty of tortures, of experiments, or of murders in this last episode than in any of the others; that M. de Sade has done what everyone in the world does, that he has met with girls, either already completely debauched or supplied by a b[awd], and that seduction, therefore, is not an issue in this case; and that nevertheless M. de Sade is being punished and made to suffer as if were guilty of the blackest crimes.

Let us now examine the evidence they bring against him: 1st--The testimony of an admittedly criminal b[awd]: but the selfish motives that she had to exonerate herself, were they not strong enough to suggest that she had, as much as she could, incriminated him whom she believed to be her accomplice? 2nd-- The death of the girls: I would bet my life on it and I would lose it without regret if they prove it to me. 3rd--Skeletal remains found in a garden: they had been brought there by one of those girls, named Du Plan. She is quite alive, and they can interrogate her. It was a joke, in good or bad taste (I leave it to you), to decorate a study with them. These bones were definitely used for that purpose and when that joke, or rather stupid prank, was over, they were disposed of in that garden. Let them take a count and make a comparison of what was found with the description that I have from Du Plan's own hand of the number and the sort of bones that she brought with her from Marseilles: they will see if any additional bone was discovered. All these verifications and comparisons are indeed essential in an account of this type: but have they taken the trouble to perform even one of those? Oh, no! In fact, it was not truth they were so eager to find: it was to put me in prison--and here I am. But one day perhaps I will get out, and when I do, they may perhaps do me enough justice to imagine that I would be able to clear my name and, in turn, to bring censure upon all those who treated me that way; or at least, if I am not able to succeed in that because of their money and their protection, at least, I say, I can publicly cover them with ignominy, shame, and confusion.

Let us continue: I do not want to leave any stone unturned. What can be added to all this evidence? The testimony of a child? But this child was a servant: therefore, as a child and as a servant, he cannot be believed. Moreover, there is another motive visible here: this child had a very greedy mother who believed that in making him say a thousand horrors, she was going to assure herself of a guaranteed income. She knew about the one hundred louis paid at Arcueil [by Mme de Montreuil to Rose Keller]. But, they may object, how do you know that the testimony of this child went against you? Since you are so afraid of his testimony, he must then have seen something, known something? That is what I was expecting from you, and that is precisely what is at the crux of the infamy. First of all, who would not be apprehensive, knowing that they were coming to take him back in the same way and by the same people and of the same sort as those who had already caused so much trouble in Lyons? First motive for me to be extremely suspicious that he made it all up, after the example of those others and with the same end in mind. But that is not all, and this is what I learned and what had been told to me during my trip to Provence by someone who seemed much too well informed about the facts for one to be able to suspect him of inventing. I have given my word of honor never to compromise him and I will certainly never name him. But I am also now giving my word that this secret will not be kept forever. If he is dead when I am released, I will no longer be bound, and I will name him; if he is alive, [I can] nearly guarantee I can get him to release me from my oath of secrecy, and then you will know who he is.

I am going to write as if he were directly speaking his own words in order to have them better understood: "You have everything to fear, Monsieur," he told me, "even if your affair at Aix is settled. The young boy you had as secretary in 1775, on his leaving the chateau, went to testify with his mother in different houses at Aix, for the use of the Chief Prosecuting Attorney, and there, I can also definitely assure you as if I had heard it, they sang like two trained canaries. M. de Castillon [Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Parlement of Aix], fearing, once your affair was settled, that you would attack his cousin, M. de Mende [King's Prosecuting Attorney at Marseilles], who had brought those unfair charges against you at Marseilles, little reassured by everything that was being reported to him from Paris, and able neither to guess nor to know your intentions, yet clearly seeing that the said M. de Mende would be lost if you counter-sued, was very pleased to protect himself against you. And so they concocted a tissue of lies and horrors for the mother and the child, they gave them some money, and the two of them said and wrote whatever was wanted from them. Then M. de Castillon, in order to appear the sort of man who, far from looking for more trouble, sought only to buy some time, informed your mother-in-law, and acting in concert, they had the mother and the child sent off to Paris, so well paid, so full of hope for the future, and so well instructed, the both of them, that they have probably continued to say the same things in Paris that they had been taught at Aix." That is what I was told, I give my word of honor, by someone who surely was in a position to know. Whatever happens, I swear to obtain from him permission to name him someday, and you will see then if I am lying.

Therefore, I have against me, in a matter so important, a b[awd] once in my service, and a child, also once in my service; a b[awd] who has the greatest motive to exonerate herself at my expense, and a child obviously paid by my worst enemies. I beg you, one simple observation, here, free from all my own arguments: have you not had proofs, as clear as day, that whenever they wanted, they perfectly well knew how to manage my ruin at Aix? Since you have had proof of this as clear as day in the first affair relative to Aix, why do you want to deny the proof that might exist in the second one? You will agree that this presumption is very strong indeed, and very much in my favor. Tell me this: would you willingly go into a forest where your purse had been stolen once before? and if it were stolen a second time, would you not be more than justified in thinking that these were the very same thieves? That alone would have been enough for me, if I were in Mme de Montreuil's shoes, to reject all charges made against my son-in-law coming from that particular town.

Let us continue...

Third and final installment next week!

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