Friday, 27 February 2015

IX. Adventures of M. Deslon

Half of these were in Arthur John Butler's translation, but it would have been ridiculously short if I had just stuck to those that weren't.

Like my father, M. Deslon was a native of the Vosges, where his family was settled.
On the way back from Besançon, where he had obtained his doctorate in medicine, he found himself in a public coach with a young officer and a Capucin. As soon as the journey started, the officer started to mock the clergyman and harassed him for the whole day. M. Deslon had started to smile at some of his barbs, but soon they bored him, and in the end they disgusted him; finally, half a league away from the place where they would part, M. Deslon, having exhausted his patience, could remain silent no longer, and he told the Capucin:
“By God, Father, I have to say you are full of composure!”
“What,” the officer interjected, “does that mean you lack it?”
“Had I been the insulted one, this would have ended long ago!”
“Then there is no time to lose”, the officer replied, slapping him across the face.
They stopped the carriage. The two fighters stepped down, drew their swords, and in a matter of minutes, M. Deslon, who was both brave and agile and had just won a fencing prize in Besançon, inflicted a fatal wound. His opponent, who was enjoying his first furlough, was half a league away from his family home; he only arrived there to die, after declaring that he had been in the wrong and demanding that they do not sue M. Deslon. The unfortunate victor was appalled by this whole affair, and whenever he was reminded of it, he repeated: “After twelve hours of patience, I only had to wait for fifteen more minutes, and I will forever remain inconsolable that I could not endure it long enough.”
After finishing his provincial medicine studies with much distinction, M. Deslon pursued them in Paris; one of the courses he attended was M. Petit’s. One day as this learned anatomist demonstrated to his students that hanging provoked the most intense pleasure, M. Deslon, who had become one of M. Petit’s favourite pupils, asked:
“But, Monsieur, since you are by no means an enemy of delights, how come you have not yet experienced this one?”
“My friend,” M. Petit answered, “I save it for last.”
One day, M. Deslon persuaded my father to accompany him at an anatomy lecture; my father was ill for the rest of the day. He avenged himself by taking Deslon to watch Le Médecin malgré lui. It was a comical scene. Deslon was furious to see his honourable profession being thus satirised. With each line, he exclaimed: “What a load of nonsense!”, and with each exclamation, my father burst into laughter.
When my father got married, Deslon, as one of his witnesses, stood near him; he leant close to his ear and said: “My friend... my friend... it is still time, run!... For Heaven’s sake, run away!” And once my father said yes, he changed his mantra: “Ah! my poor friend,” he exclaimed, “now, hang yourself!”
Despite his regrets after his first duel, M. Deslon was about to fight another one in Paris. He had not provoked it, but his stubbornness and vehemence in this quarrel seemed to make reconciliation impossible. A few friends, having failed to appease him, at least got him to agree that the fight would be postponed to the next day and they went to see my father, who ran to Deslon’s place at once; but the doctor, having shut himself in, received nobody. Then my father wrote him a long letter which M. Deslon still quoted as a masterpiece of reason and strength of persuasion twenty-two years later; it ended with this conclusion: that in this circumstance, Deslon fighting the duel would only be thoughtless or cruel. This letter struck him, and the reflections it inspired him enabled him to resolve the dispute peacefully.
He was offered an appealing marriage with a beautiful young woman who seemed very much in love with him. Everything had been arranged, the date was set, but he happened to witness a quarrel between the bride and her governess; the young lady was in the wrong, but she grew stubborn, imperious and harsh. M. Deslon concluded that she lacked intelligence; seeing no possible happiness without this quality, he broke off the engagement. Despite both families’ attempts to sway him, he remained adamant, and the young lady died of despair.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

VIII. Beware of Creoles...

Skipping the Thiébaults' return to Paris in 1784, which you can find in Arthur John Butler's translation, I'll just give you a small tale related to magnetism which the good Englishman did not see fit to include. For the record, Charles Deslon (1750-1786) was, as you can infer from what follows, a successful magnetic healer. He was also a friend of Dieudonné Thiébault, which explains why the father and the son were often found around his "tub" despite their relatively good health.

Among all of M. Deslon’s lady regulars, I could mention Mme X..., a young Creole who first aroused a surprise that soon turned into horror.
It was one o’clock when she came to M. Deslon’s for the first time. “Monsieur,” she said, going straight to him as he stood up to greet her, “I burnt myself and I would like you to heal me.” At once, the determined nineteen-year-old woman uncovered one of the most beautiful arms in the world, tainted by an ugly wound.
After showing her a seat, M. Deslon politely inquired as to the causes of this accident...
“It does not matter,” she answered; “I was burnt and I suffer; I was told that magnetism would relieve and even heal me, and I have come to try.”
The other guests’ surprise rose even higher, but M. Deslon simply magnetised her, and he took away the inflammation in half an hour. Then he said:
“Now, Madame, keep your arm covered at all times, and it should heal soon.”
She thanked M. Deslon, said “This is extraordinary” two or three times, and left.
On the next morning, when everyone had all but forgotten about her, she came again and said:
“Monsieur, I need your services once more.”
He examined her arm; the flesh was raw and badly inflamed.
“Madame,” he asked, “what has happened to the scab that should have formed?”
“I tore it off, Monsieur.”
This attracted everyone’s attention, and M. Deslon’s face turned cold and stern...
“Monsieur,” the young lady pursued in a firm and assured tone, “you may find my conduct surprising, but let me explain it. I have a little daughter whom I adore; I heard so much about magnetism that I thought it could save my child, should anything happen to her; however, before using it on her, I wanted to try it on myself. Since my health was perfectly good, I decided to inflict a wound on myself; I put hot wax on my arm, and after tearing it off, I came to see you yesterday morning. You relieved me incredibly fast; yet I was still not entirely convinced; hence I tore the scab off, and I have come for the last trial.”
You can imagine the effect this speech from a calm, charming and perfectly tranquil young woman had on us. As for M. Deslon, he answered:
“Madame, I respect your motives, even though you used contemptible methods; once again, I will do my utmost to soothe your pain; but I must warn you that should you come here again after another impudence of this nature, I will not be able to take care of you.”
The session was longer than the previous day’s, but equally successful. Everyone had observed this new experience very intently, mostly because of the young woman’s expression and attention, as her eyes went from her arm to her hands, then to M. Deslon’s arms and his own arm; she looked entirely foreign to what happened around her as well and to her own pain; so that she was regarded as a heroic mother. Once M. Deslon was finished, she said:
“Monsieur, I am entirely convinced.”
When she stood up to leave, several ladies came to speak to her, to talk about her courage and the daughter who had instilled it in her; they even expressed a desire to see this child; she promised to bring her, and she did. The child was a sweet one-year-old girl, endowed with a remarkable liberty of movement: from the moment of her birth, she had been rolling around on rugs and carpets and was often exposed to the fresh air and even to the sun; when she was four months old, she already made her way everywhere she wanted, using chairs to support herself.
Mme X... visited M. Deslon several times; but suddenly, an adventure that complements everything I have already said about her made her disappear. Here is the story:
This lady, who was born into a distinguished family and had married into another, had a lover who was also married. The previous anecdote has shown her strong passions, imperious will and exalted mind; you can guess that while she was demanding, she could not always be expected to act with caution. The offended wife had suspicions and stopped entertaining the rival mistress, and the two women had not seen each other for six months when the former fell ill. She recovered soon and had started receiving when, one evening around nine o’clock, Mme X... entered. This visit seemed extraordinary, but everything remained within the boundaries of politeness. After spending some time near the ill woman’s bedside, Mme X... walked to the fireplace to warm her feet, moved aside a soup dish placed in front of the fire, and left shortly afterwards. Then, the other lady asked for her soup; but as she swallowed the first spoonful, she spat it out at once, exclaiming: “What have you given me? This pottage tastes foul!” They went to the kitchen, and the broth they found here was delicious. Besides, there could be no suspicion about her servants, all honest and devoted people, while Mme X...’s conduct seemed increasingly suspicious with every passing second. A doctor arrived soon; he was told about what had just happened; they gave some soup to a dog, which at once showed signs of violent poisoning and died. Now the matter was too grave to ignore; the lady’s brother ran to see the police prefect and gave him an account of everything. At midnight and a half, the police arrived at Mme X...’s. She had just gone to bed and looked scandalised that anyone would dare come at this hour. They asked for the key to her desk drawers; she handed them without resisting; they found nothing. They then asked for her purse, which she refused to give. They took it by force, and inside, they found traces of arsenic and a small piece of paper that has contained it. This was all the proof they needed, and the scaffold was a fitting punishment for such a crime; but Mme X...’s and her husband’s family obtained a lettre de cachet, which allowed the culprit to disappear. In 1814, in Paris, I met a colonel who came back from emigration; he knew all the protagonists of this affair and remembered every detail.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

VII. Pride in prejudice

Warning! As it turns out, Thiébault was as much of a prejudiced bastard as most of his contemporaries. He could have just talked about the Jewish community in Berlin, but no, he had to add a good dose of anti-Semitism (along with the first of a series of particularly nasty remarks about Black people).
Also, I apologise for the bad wordplay, but our dear narrator doesn't sound particularly guilty of being so prejudiced.

My first impressions gave me an insurmountable antipathy for the Jews, and my education compounded this with an aversion for actors; to complete these confessions, I must add that I loathe Negroes. I know everything there is to be said in that respect and I repeated these arguments to myself a hundred times; but in spite of my dislike for prejudices, these ones, if they must be called as such, have overcome everything that should have seemed fit to extinguish them1.
Anyway, this antipathy for the Jews led me to declare war on all the young Jews of my age whom I happened to meet; they soon formed a troop, while I found auxiliaries. We had two battles, during which some unexplainable instinct led me to execute a flanking movement while they faced the main body, and with the help of a few determined lads, this manoeuvre secured my victory.
However, one of my most beautiful memories is the way the Berlinese Jews celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. The Tabernacles I speak of are very different from those described in the Gospels; they serve to commemorate the days spent by the Hebrews in the desert. During this feast, one of the three major solemnities of the Jewish calendar, the Jews gather in the synagogues and outside. I will only speak of the exterior ceremonies, and in that respect, the celebration consisted in spending eight days in grass cabins, built in the open, wherein they ate, among other things, unleavened bread, which I found quite good.
The wealthiest Jews built very nice cabins in their gardens; the others gathered in vast enclosures, which looked all the more like one of Moses’ encampments. The head of each family had his tabernacle, which he adorned, depending on his means, with chosen branches or trees, with flowers and garlands that were sometimes arranged with both care and good taste, and were renewed every day. A description can hardly do justice to the sight of these tabernacles, which we only visited at night, when illuminations that were sometimes dazzling completed this delightful spectacle.
The family that most distinguished itself in such occasions, especially in Berlin, through the size and beauty of their tabernacles, was the Hitzich family. Their immense wealth made lavishness easy, and the number of children and grandchildren of the old head of this Isreaelite family gave this reunion a very patriarchal character.
The eldest Hitzich had sixteen sons and daughters, all of them married with children. I was told several times that he had given or promised two millions to each child. Although this rumour might have been exaggerated, which is impossible to verify, it is nonetheless true that they were all very wealthy. He owned and lived in a beautiful mansion located on the right bank of the Spree, facing the Dome.
To make sure that the children he married away were not left to themselves, he wanted them to stay at his house during the six months following their marriage; after that, having grown accustomed to each other, they took their own house. Every Saturday, his children and grandchildren had dinner with him, and when he entered the room, where ninety-two or ninety-five children, sons- and daughters-in-law and grandchildren were gathered, they all came to kiss in hand, calling him Father.
Two of his daughters became relatively famous, one because of her poor health, the other because of her beauty, or rather, its consequences; for all of his daughters were quite good-looking. The former, when I saw her in 1783 or 1784 in her handsome manor near Berlin, had been living on one sherbet and one cup of watered-down coffee a day for the past six years. She was extremely thin and pale; her body was so weak that she only left her bed to be carried to her sofa, yet she still had a charming and remarkably graceful figure. The other daughter, splendid in her beauty worthy of Antiquity, had settled in Vienna. Soon after she arrived in this capital, Joseph II gave a masquerade; she came, magnificently dressed and covered in diamonds, and all eyes were trained on her. The Emperor danced with her and ended up unmasking her. It was said that her beauty and her wits charmed him even more than his figure and dress had. I will pass on what was then said about this encounter and the interview that followed it; but a historical fact is that her husband, M. Arnstœdt, was made a Baron, and, despite Baron Rothschild’s claims, he was the first Jew who was thus ennobled and titled. This beautiful woman, but whose race never inspired me anything, grew attached to me. She had an album, the first I saw, which we called a “stammbuch” in German, already filled with many respectable and noteworthy memories. I do not know what made her want to have something from me; but I remember that thanks to the skill of one of my art teachers, I painted a rather good Cupid, and my father helped me compose the four verses I wrote below, which were no doubt very chivalrous, but I cannot remember anything of them.
1Thus I never had any meaningful relationship with any comedian, and this might have been my loss; I have known beautiful Jewish women, but an insuperable repugnance always kept me away from them; as for negresses, I will not even mention them: to me, they are only talking animals. I wonder what someone would feel if a pig started to speak. Well! This about sums up what I feel when a Negro talks to me.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

VI. Luncheons on the Grass

Another picturesque slice of Berlinese life (with yet another portrait of someone we won't ever run into again!).
I grew accustomed to putting measurement conversions and other specific translation points in brackets, but they can move elsewhere if someone finds them too irreverent.

It is a well-known fact that the shortest summers are the hottest, and this excess of heat must be the cause for the violence of storms in the Northern regions. Indeed, it was in Berlin that I witnessed the most terrible I ever saw. Thunder and bolts crashed uninterrupted for four hours. I do not know how many times lightning struck, but it caused significant damage in seventeen different places. Nine people were killed, and outside of the Brandenburg Gate, people flocked to see two handsome trees that had been split open by lightning, from roots to top, and whose wood, bark, branches and leaves had turned blood red.
The French part of our circle, that is, about sixty people, had gathered on that day for a picnic in a castle’s garden, where the storm took us by surprise around four o’clock. The rain was so abundant from the onset that all we could do was hurry and take shelter in a beautiful orangery, located on a patio, which acted as a summer parlour amidst the gardens. At the height of the storm, a M. Charpentier, a batty and witty Frenchman, the same who, as he arrived one day at my mother’s house covered in mud, excused himself by saying that he had run into a Kircheisen, the name of the police president, which he used to refer to all the mud piles which this president should have cleared off; the same who shouted: “What sort of cuisine is this, serving only cold soup1, raw meat and cooked lettuce!”, this M. Charpentier, wanting to entertain the frightened ladies who cried or prayed to God, climbed on some chairs and improvised a homily, which would have amused his audience in other times, but this time, it went unheeded. Having failed in his first attempt, M. Charpentier wanted to convince them that the storm would end soon; he opened the door of the orangery to have a better view of the horizon, but just then, ten lighting bolts flashed and it looked as though the orangery had caught on fire. The most remarkable aspect of this scene was the scream which all the ladies let out in unison, and their spontaneity as they fell to their knees2.
For my part, I was not afraid. I have always loved storms, and since they are very violent in Berlin, I could not ask for anything better. When they broke out at night, I never failed to run out from my bed, to sneak into a large attic and, from there, to enjoy the sight of the lighting bolts striking the crosses and weathercocks topping the churches’ roofs; nothing could bring me to renounce this entertainment, neither my parents’ scolding when they caught me, nor a thunderbolt that almost blinded me.
Coming back to our picnics, we had another that became quite remarkable, courtesy of a jest of the same Charpentier. In such events, everyone brings their own dish, and generally, they try to bring something no one else has thought about, wrongfully surrounding it with mystery. The day before the set date, or even before, this original Charpentier came to see all those who were expected at the party and sounded them out on what they would bring. Whatever they answered, he replied: “Do not bring this, this is Mme ...’s dish; but here is something no one will have thought about and which should please everyone: a suckling pig.” Thus we had sixteen suckling pigs, and it was quite comical to hear everyone’s exclamations for each new piglet they unwrapped.
I remember another dinner at Charlottenburg, at Mme Schmitz’s. It was her name day, but she had told her husband that she did not want to celebrate it on this year, and that if he still wanted to bring a few people over from Berlin, he should limit himself to one carriage’s worth of guests.
Consequently, only one carriage arrived; it did not enter the courtyard, but placed itself obliquely in such a way that only one door was visible, and Mme Schmitz saw forty-two people successively stepping down from it, wishing her a happy name day and staying for dinner. After the sixth person, Mme Schmitz started laughing; after the seventh, she protested, even more so after the eighth person came in; after the ninth, she understood the secret behind this pleasantry, which was completed by the next arrivals.
As for this lady’s husband, I have much to tell about him, at least about his extraordinary physique.
When he came to Berlin for the first time, the carriage in which he travelled along with another young man, which was not robust enough for its charge, broke down a few miles away from the city. They were in a hurry to arrive; but it was a Sunday; the workers were resting. To get them out of this embarrassing situation, Schmitz’s travelling companion came to see the workers he needed and told them in a very mysterious tone: “I come to present the King with a giant aged only ten. I cannot allow him to be seen on the road; but if you repair the carriage which broke down under his weight, I will show him to you.” All the workers hurried to see young Schmitz stepping down as nimbly as a ten-year-old child, although he was actually eighteen or twenty, and already stood at six feet tall [French feet, obviously, around 6’5’’ or 1m95].
At twenty, he stood at six feet two inches [2m]. Given his girth, he did not look colossal; but as soon as he stood next to someone else, his appearance almost seemed frightening.
He soon required special stockings, gloves, hats and even carriages. I remember that one evening, in Charlottenburg, wanting to finish a card game with M. de Morinval and my father and to ease transportation arrangements, he lent his carriage to someone else, reserving himself a place in M. de Morinval’s; but when came the time to leave, the Big Schmitz (as he was known) could not enter this carriage in any position he tried. After all manners of attempts, he had to resign himself, and M. de Morinval’s carriage left empty while a servant went to fetch one of the Big Schmitz’s four-horse carriages; meanwhile, they came back inside for a new game.
All houses where he was a regular guest had special chairs for him; anything else would break under his weight. I saw one of those in my father’s parlour, and one in the dining-room. During meals, he had to be in a corner, otherwise his gut kept him too far away from the table. He also had to sit next to the most voracious eaters and drinkers, for next to ordinary guests, he was ashamed at the amount of food he consumed; and indeed, if there were thirty different dishes, he took a share of all thirty of them and could sit down and eat for three or four hours3.
This huge man was also prodigiously strong; one evening as he dined at my father’s house, I saw him making the second heaviest guest sit on his hand, whose proportions were not so different from a chair’s, and carrying him through the whole parlour with his arm extended. When I left Berlin, the unfortunate Big Schmitz had grown so heavy that he needed several servants to get in and out of bed; he required four just to turn around.
Had he been poor, a man like him would have been extremely unhappy; but even with his considerable wealth, his was not an enviable fate. He married a short, thin and delicate woman, and they had no children.

1In Berlin, during the hottest days of the year, in 1784, they still used to serve cold soup for supper, sometimes made out of beer, sometimes out of rice and lemonade, sometimes made of Champagne wine with sugared toasts. What he referred to as raw meat was smoked beef from Hamburg, and the cooked lettuce was stewed chicory.
2The day ended on a much merrier note, at least for most of the guests. Around eight o’clock, the rain had almost stopped; the storm still roared, but in the distance; night was falling, and we were four leagues away from Berlin. Thus we considered leaving; but the question was how. The carriages could not come close to the orangery; they were four hundred paces away, and this interval, like the rest of the gardens, was under several inches of water. After a few failed attempts, it was decided that the men would carry the ladies and children. Not all the men had Atlas’ strength, some of the ladies would have given trouble even to Hercules, and, despite all the precautions taken, some carriers slipped and fell, and these falls were all the more comical to the spectators as they were unpleasant for their victims.
3This Big Schmitz had a very tall and fat sister, although she was nothing compared to her brother; she remained single. Having retired in a country house which I think was three miles away from Berlin, she once put a basket containing sixty-four hard-boiled eggs as part of her provisions. Finding herself alone and bored, she started eating one egg, then a second one; and she liked them so much that at the end of her journey, she had eaten the sixty-four eggs in a row, without drinking; she did not even fall ill.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

V. Precocity? (bis)

Another bit of Thiébault's early love life that Arthur John Butler chose to excise (... that word choice feels very inappropriate right now).

My constitution gave me a particular affinity for music; I was highly enthusiastic, electrified by all the domains of fame and glory; I adored my parents more than I loved them, and I cherished my friends to a point they could not reciprocate; with all of this, it was only natural that love should blossom into me before the time it usually does. And indeed, by the time I left Berlin, at the end of my fourteenth year, I had already had mistresses (one of whom married an artillery major three years later) and a great passion.
Do not think that this word of passion is exaggerated; it is exact, and the delight brought by this pure and spotless love accompanied me through my whole life, still bound to the name of Philippine Hoffmann, who breathed it into me. Indeed, at fifteen, she was lovely, and so was her figure. She had a blonde’s softness without any of the blandness. White like lilies, fresh like morning, she was also endowed with this embonpoint without which voluptuousness seems inconceivable to me; lastly, she was both clever and kind, with a tactful spirit and a bewitching voice. There was truly nothing this ravishing creature lacked; but what Nature had given her was much more than it took to kindle fires in my heart, which time fuelled even as they grew hopeless, and which eventually turned into a tender and eternal fondness.
I met her in the garden of the Comte de Reuss. One of my mother’s friends (Mme Morel) spent her summers there; the Hoffmann had also rented an apartment there for the season; we went there every day after dinner. I noticed this young Philippine from the first days. The season, the place, everything added to my delight, and it was a motive to desire to approach her; but from the motives to the means, there is a large enough distance that a thirteen-year-old may be forgiven for finding it difficult to cross. Philippine had a brother, whom I already mentioned, and it took me only a few days to strike a friendship with him, and also with his intimate friend, the son of the philosopher Nicolaï. Having taken this first step, I managed to establish a few ties between the object of my first adoration and my sister. I fostered this relationship, and by the time winter brought everyone back to Berlin, we could visit each other. This was how a friendship was born and became so tight that, even though our parents did not see each other, Philippine, her elder sister and her brother went to our house as often as we went to theirs.
One of this young girl’s triumphs was to make me dance. Until then, I had stayed away from balls, even those that my father organised quite often to please my sister, who danced very well, and my mother, who loved dancing. To jump on one foot, then the other, and to twist oneself trying to look graceful always felt ridiculous to me, and I still thought it was absurd; but to become Philippine’s partner, even for an instant, to hold her hand, to interlock my arms with hers, to be able to talk to her without constraint, all such small pleasures made me enjoy this torture.
Thus I danced during my last winter in Berlin; I even kept dancing for similar reasons, and despite my aversion for dancing, I ended up mastering the entrechats, jetés and brisés of 1786 with some distinction.
My departure from Berlin at the height of my passion left me truly dismayed; I cried bitter tears, and when I heard of her marriage two years later, I fell ill with chagrin.
I do not know whether she had all the happiness she deserved; but Fortune did favour her. She had three sons. At the time of France’s prosperity, she was enthusiastic over our glory, and some of her narrow-minded fellow countrymen, unable to rise to the level of her ideas and feelings, blamed her instead. Since 1784, I have only seen her twice in 1807, and even then those were mere glances; the first time was when I came from Fulda to Tilsitt, the second time on the way from Tilsitt to Paris. Under too many respects, after finding her, I was still looking for the one whose presence I had wished for so many times. After all, everything had changed for us; the difference in our ages had played against me in 1784, and now it was a misfortune for her. I was still relatively young, and no doubt she was not old; but my memories, rekindled by my imagination, were necessary for the illusion of my first feelings. What a painful situation that one where, after a long separation, after yearning for this reunion, we are left saying: “Alas! What happened to their beauty, my ardour, and most of all these hopes for a life that has now mostly flowed and withered away!”

Monday, 2 February 2015

IV. Second skins

A few more episodes from Thiébault's life in Berlin. From what I have seen, the Revolutionary wars are quite thoroughly covered, so I might decide to just jump to what was shaved off altogether (that is, the great epochs of his love life and everything after Napoleon's second abdication) and occasionally insert small amusing anecdotes without regard for chronological order (I always try to indicate when they took place anyway).
Surprisingly, there is one crossdresser that Arthur John Butler let slip past his Victorian radar, and it is M. de Marbitzky, mentioned in connection with M. Deslon's magnetic cures.

 After three months spent in Lyons, we moved to Paris around mid-February. I thought that this city was the most beautiful in the world, and I was surprised by the sight it offered. The Faubourg Saint-Jacques and the centre are hardly beautiful, even today; but at that time, they were horrible. There were neither gates, nor new boulevards; most streets were both snakier and narrower than they are now, while the houses were taller in places, and much uglier; the quays and the bridges were crowded with multi-storied houses; the place was horribly muddy, the shops were low, without adornments and almost without light; a few old scattered lamp-posts made up all the lighting of this city, which we entered at night.
We received MM. Deslon, Joly, Bacher and Rossel—my father’s childhood friends—almost daily. As for me, none of my bonds with them date from that time, and I will come back to them later. I will merely name M. Cadet, of the Academy of Sciences, whom my father visited to run an errand for M. de Sozzi; but I cannot be so laconic about his son, who was then eight years old, and looked to us like the most spoilt child in the world1. This handsome little boy had been to the ball on the day before our visit. He claimed to be tired, and we found him as we left him, wrapped in a white silk dressing gown with flower patterns, lying on a sofa, from where he did not move at all while we were there.
It was also during this journey that I was introduced to my godfather, the Count of Guines, as my father tells in his Recollections2. Finally, I will stop one moment, not on Count Golowkin, who also appears in my father’s work3, but on his daughter, who was to me one of these phenomena one never forgets. I was utterly struck by what her father told me about her upbringing. I never grew tired of looking for the young lady under her men’s clothing, and I could not picture her eating only vegetables and milk, bathing in cold water every day, swimming like a sailor, riding like a jockey, shooting and fencing like a second lieutenant and walking a full stage every day. In short, I did not know what I saw in her, and I understood her neither as a girl, nor as a boy4.
To me, Mardi Gras is associated with one of the weirdest memories anyone can imagine. Indeed, there is no way to render what Paris looked like in these last moments of the carnival. It was as though the whole city was taken with dementia. The bourgeoisie and even the highest classes did not limit their masquerade to a few evenings in their salons, they took a public part in this delirium; anyone who could find a disguise of any kind dressed up, or rather, disfigured themselves, for the poorest smeared colours all over their faces and covered themselves in rags to make themselves look grotesque. It was not as it is now, where ugly maskers are only seen here and there, in pairs, in small groups or in isolated carriages; there were hundreds, thousands of them, crowding the streets and squares, most of them on foot, no doubt, but with many in more or less magnificent carriages or chariots. On Sunday and Mardi Gras, these masquerades started in the morning, ending only late at night and going on under the light of torches, held by maskers spread around on chariots, perched on their nags or standing in front, behind and even above some carriages and a great many fiacres. The places where this crowd was the most considerable and went beyond everything we could say were the Rues Saint-Honoré, de la Ferronnerie, de la Verrerie and Saint-Antoine, and the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. My father and my mother took me on that grand tour of Paris, first by day and then at night. As for the impression these bacchanalia left on me, with the general state of inebriation and the chivaree of shrieking voices, high-pitched screams and horrible laughs, it was made up of an inexpressible blend of surprise, of some horror and in short of a pleasure that is accessible to a seven-year-old; it was all the stronger as, having spent my early childhood in Berlin, which has nothing resembling such disorders, nothing had prepared me to spectacles of this nature.
When I came back to Paris in December 1784, this savage fury still existed with all its might; the carnaval of 1785 differs little from that of 1777; but from that time, the taste for such follies faded perceptibly and nothing came to invert this trend. Today, there are barely a few children or a few fools who join the arlequins and the pierrots paid—and badly paid—by the police, to
Dare retrace a shadow of ancient times,
and even then, they seemed ashamed at their prostitution. Now, there are no more scenes, no more concerted roles; nothing that can compensate for all the disgusting aspects of this display. The procession of the fat ox for rogues and onlookers, and the Opera balls for the middle to upper classes, are all that remain of these saturnalia.


To my sister and me, our mother’s and our father’s name days were much more joyful occasions than our own name days. Indeed, in the latter, we only needed to receive, while in the former, we could give tokens of our tenderness. For several years, we had used our little savings to buy trinkets which we thought our parents would like, especially our mother; but we were forbidden to make such presents, so that in 1784, around 25 August, my mother’s name day, we agreed that we would perform a play and we obtained permission from our father to go have supper in the Park after that, along with those we would invite pending his approval. To that end, we turned the great parlour into a theatre; we set it up while our father took our mother to visit a lady who lived in the same house, and, once our guests were seated, once the theatre was lit, we sent for my mother. We had concealed our preparations so well that this came as a complete surprise to her. Finally, after we played an overture behind the backdrop, my sister on the piano, me with my violin, and assisted by our music teachers and a few artists or amateurs we had invited, we hastily took the piano away, and the curtain rose.
My mother recognised my sister and the other actors. As for me, I played a woman’s role, and with my size and features, I looked at least eighteen under my disguise; she did not recognise me. Every time I appeared, she would ask her neighbours: “Who is this sweet young lady?”; and since everyone was in on the secret, they laughed and answered nothing. At last, when the play ended, we came to offer her flowers and kiss her, and she was very surprised to discover the truth.
I was genuine, and I did not feel so bad; in fact, I felt so good that I wanted to go to the Park in my disguise. As I stepped down from the carriage and into Corsica’s, the delicatessen where the finest Berlinese society gathered for such events, I was noticed by two officers of the gendarmerie. Lacking the shyness usually associated with my dress, I soon went into the garden for a walk as was my wont, and the officers followed me. When I became aware of their presence, I started to act like a coquette; I dropped my fan; they hurried to pick it up and behaved very courteously. I was called for dinner, and the officers could not help going back and forth in front of the door of the room; since I had related my adventure to M. von Platen, a major in the gendarmerie and one of our guests, the rest of the company placed me so that these gentlemen could admire me all they wanted. This jest lasted for a good part of the meal; but, while my corset had been quite bothersome before we sat for dinner, it became unbearable now that I had eaten, so that, just as my admirers looked at me in utmost rapture, I unravelled my scarf, cut the tie and made myself comfortable. All was well that ended well, as M. von Platen told the officers to come in and congratulated them on their good taste; they laughed with us at their mistake; my father invited them to sit down, and they dined in our company.
Around eleven o’clock, my father, following a remark by M. von Platen, sent all the carriages away to the Brandenburg Gate, and said that we would take advantage of the beautiful weather to go to the Gate on foot and through the woods. We had barely walked a hundred paces when the gendarmes’ musicians, following a parallel street, started playing and accompanied us all the way to the carriages. This was a delightful surprise, and the music of these wind instruments, at night, was a perfect complement to this day, one of the most pleasant in my life both because of its details and my mother’s enjoyment of it.

1This son of M. Cadet’s became known as a litterateur, under his father’s surname “de Gassicourt”. He became Paul Thiébault’s close friend, and this friendship will be explored later.
2At that time, in wealthy German families, a child’s baptism was the occasion for a great reception, and the celebration was postponed until the day the mother had recovered from the birth and could preside the ceremony. As it were, in the interval between Paul Thiébault’s birth and baptism, M. de Guines, sent from France to Berlin, was suddenly recalled by M. de Choiseul. Someone else had stood for him at the ceremony, and he did not meet his godson before this presentation. (Ed.)
3Count Golowkin, a Russian by birth and close friend of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, known as “Golowkin the philosopher”, was the director of the theatres in Berlin for two years. His sister, Countess Kameke, a distinguished lady who enjoyed high esteem at Frederick’s court, is often mentioned over the course of these Mémoires. (Ed.)
4Struck by gout from an early age, Count Golowkin wanted to protect his children from this ailment, and following the advice of his friend Jean-Jacques, he accustomed them to bathing in cold water when they woke up each morning, and to eating only milk and vegetables. His daughter, “a charming young man until one o’clock, then a very lovely young lady from that moment till the evening”, dressed as a boy in the morning and as a girl for the rest of the day. (Ed [though it is almost entirely copied from Dieudonné Thiébault’s Recollections].)

III. Monsieur de Sozzi

A few stories about Thiébault's maternal great-uncle, Louis-François de Sozzi (1706-1780), whom Thiébault met in 1777. This, too, comes from the beginning of Tome I.
The poem featured is actually much longer in the original; I just cut to the essential because I did not want to bother trying to come up with proper rhymes and rhythm.

M. de Sozzi’s father, born into an old Tuscanian family, left Italy at a time of civil unrest and, collecting whatever he could of his wealth, he came to France with his two sons and his daughter. One of his sons took up the religious mantle and became the bishop of Cluny; his daughter married M. Dozzi, a jurisconsult, and died giving birth to my mother, whose father did not outlive his wife by much; lastly, M. de Sozzi devoted himself to literature and the law, and he soon made a reputation for himself in Paris as an eminent jurisconsult. As a consulting lawyer, he pleaded only a few cases, and he only did so out of friendship for the defendants; but since he won every case he took up, there was not a single one of them that did not add to his reputation. One of the most remarkable was the one that cost their wealth to the family of the Counts of Hautoy, which he won after eight or ten years of sustained work and effort, through sixteen or seventeen decrees obtained or wrestled from the authorities in Nancy, Paris and Versailles, notably struggling in the first of these cities against the influence of Lorraine nobility, against the courts’ partiality and against King Stanislas’ favour.
There is an anecdote about this case that paints M. de Sozzi’s character. Upon arriving in Nancy, he called on M. Mathieu, the other party’s lawyer, and told him that he never took up cases which he did not have enough power to settle amicably, he offered him to join their efforts and try to avoid a trial, which would bring much graver problems than just the fees.
“What,” the distinguished M. Mathieu replied, “you want me to lose an occasion to measure up against a man of your merit, a famous jurisconsult, a lawyer from Paris, when this has been my ambition for twenty years? Oh! Monsieur, I do not have that courage.”
M. de Sozzi rose with indignation and said:
“Very well, Sir, I accept your challenge, and I will teach you how badly you wanted to lose.”
Indeed, he won the case brilliantly and completely.
But while he was noticed in the courts for his eloquence, his deep culture, his sense of equity, his tact and his utmost dignity in all things, he was also a very learned man. He was a historian and a Hellenistic scholar, and his spirit rivalled his affability. Among his friend were many striking figures, and his closest were the Chevalier Deville and M. de Polignac, King Stanislas’ secretary of commandments.
He was a friend of the Chevalier d’Orléans, the grandmaster of the Grand Priory of France, and this prince’s desire to live with him, so to speak, gave him the rank of bailiff in this sort of city. The Temple was then an asylum where debtors were safe from any pursuit; only the bailiff could use this privilege, which he had to grant to misfortune and not to bad faith; but the price that the asylum seekers were ready to pay usually made the position of bailiff a very lucrative one. This was not how M. de Sozzi intended to occupy it; he accepted it as an actual magistracy, and what had served to enrich his predecessors for the sake of the highest bidders was only an occasion for sacrifices and generosity on his part. He had no need of the profits which he was not made to receive. However, one day, wanting to save the Chevalier Deville, he vouched for him, and since he had been deceived about the actual state of this man’s affairs, his kindness cost him 300,000 pounds, that is, more than half of his wealth.
This decided him to leave Paris and he ended his career in Lyons1. The desire of seeing him was what brought us to this town.
Although he was a magistrate, he had also been one of the handsome dancers of his time; he excelled at physical activity, but what surpassed all of his other merits was the graciousness and dignity of his manners.
A true miracle saved him at the celebrations held for Louis XVI’s marriage. Carried away by two young ladies’ solicitations, he had agreed on taking them to the Place Louis XV to see the fireworks. Having arrived in the Rue Royale, he guessed from the noise ahead of him that there were troubles, and he tried to turn back; but the crowd was too dense to allow it. Just then, the door of a nearby hôtel opened, and he rushed in, along with thirty or forty other persons. The owner of the hôtel, hearing the commotion, had everyone thrown out at once and he came in person to oversee the execution of his orders; all those who had entered were ruthlessly expelled; but when he reached M. de Sozzi, he was so struck by his noble and venerable figure that he said:
“Monsieur, this order cannot concern you.”
Those who had been thrown out were trampled; as for M. de Sozzi, he waited in the apartments of the owner—whose name I completely forgot—for the next sunrise, that is, for the end of this frightful brawl.
The most remarkable episode of his life involves Mme the Duchess of Orleans almost as much as M. de Sozzi himself. He had met the princess at the house of the Chevalier d’Orléans; soon afterwards, he had courted her in her own house, and since she soon opened her eyes to his merit, they soon became lovers. I do not know how long this affair lasted; nor do I know who wronged the other first, what was the nature of these wrongs and what graver wrongs they brought about; but anyway, a violent scene made their break-up an open secret. Either out of jealousy, either by revenge, or because M. de Sozzi knew things that this princess wanted to bury in eternal secrecy, it was rumoured that she wished for his death. Anyway, those are the facts as M. Sozzi told them and as my father and mother so often repeated them: one evening, as he came home around midnight, on foot to enjoy the good weather, he was shot almost at point-blank range at the cross between the Rue de Bercy and the Rue Vieille-du-Temple, near the Saint-Jean market. The bullet grazed him and did not wound him. But since he had fallen to his knees in surprise, he had the good idea of letting himself go entirely and play dead. Two men went to examine him at once. One of them lifted his arm and let it drop, saying:
“I think he’s dead.”
“Yes,” the other replied, “he’s dead all right.”
And they left in large strides. After some time, M. de Sozzi rose back to his feet and came home with the certitude that these assassins could only be emissaries.
Indeed, that “he’s dead all right” proved that he and no one else was the target; and what proved it beyond doubt was that the two men had left a beautiful diamond ring on the hand they had picked up, as well as his golden snuffbox, his purse, his two watches and their golden chains; whereas ordinary thieves would have searched him and robbed him.
But there was only one person who could so intently wish for his death; it was the Duchess of Orleans. Indeed, she had promised she would have her revenge; this ambush could only have been arranged on her orders. Since there could be a second attempt, he decided to leave at once; he sent for two post horses and an outrider, wrote a few business notes and rode away around three in the morning. But first, he wanted to obtain one last certitude from the effect his unexpected presence would have on the princess. He passed in front of the Palais-Royal, stopped, dismounted, and, using hidden stairs and passages, he boldly entered the Duchess’ bedroom. Woken up by the noise, she recognised him, thought it was a ghost and let out awful screams.
“Now I have the confirmation of what I sought to know,” M. de Sozzi said.
Once she recovered from her fright, she threatened to have him arrested.
“You have no time for that,” he replied, and while she called for her servants, he hurried back to his horse and left to Switzerland.
At the second post house of Paris, he found only one coachman; this man was asleep, and in spite of everything M. de Sozzi said, he refused to get up. To put as many leagues as possible between him and the princess, M. de Sozzi put his saddle on the first horse he found, bridled it, mounted and tried to leave the house. But the coachman had jumped down from his horse and now blocked the way, armed with a pitchfork. In a quick and violent move, M. de Sozzi took one of his pistols, shot the coachman, threw him backwards, jumped over him and resumed his flight. His generous tips allowed him to find horses in every subsequent post house, and he left France, having only eaten soups, a few glasses of wine and biscuits on the road. His absence lasted eighteen months; after that time, he was assured of a safe return to Paris and came back in a post coach.
He had not forgotten about the coachman; but he hoped that the man had been more afraid than hurt, given that when he had examined his [fontes] upon reaching Geneva, he had found a bullet, which could have fallen from the pistol he had shot due to the horse’s movement. Coming back to the fateful house, he would have liked to ask for news of the man; but this would have been a confession of his guilt. He waited until he was on the road to start chatting with his coachman; and at some point, he asked him for how long he had been in that post house.
“Twenty-five years, Monsieur.”
“Gosh,” M. de Sozzi replied, “that makes quite a long time for such a hard trade.”
And the coachman only talked about general matters.
“At least, if it was only by day... but to risk being denied sleep when you’re tired, this is the worst.”
“And I am sure you must have to deal with harsh and violent travellers,” M. de Sozzi insisted.
“Ah! Sometimes, yes,” the coachman said; “indeed, barely eighteen months ago, it was a close shave. I was in the wrong, but by God, that one traveller wasn’t nice.”
There, he told the whole story. M. de Sozzi breathed in relief; at the next house, he gave the man one louis, saying:
“Here’s to comfort you after these misfortunes.”
I come back to my own life. While I had been struck by M. de Sozzi’s venerable figure, I was equally struck by his conversation. No one in the world talked more nobly and graciously, and he told stories with incomparable spirit, softness and charm. Although I was but a very young child, I listened, and I was often surprised, sometimes delighted, always interested. Among all the anecdotes he told us, there is one I never forgot. The names of those involved have faded from my memory; but M. de Sozzi knew the family of the unfortunate protagonist, and the story is undoubtedly true, although there must be no one besides me who knows about it today.
A young man destined for a legal career, who had a fine figure, all the gracefulness of his age and a brilliant spirit, was tempted to go to a masked ball at the Court. He managed to obtain an invitation and soon found himself the partner of a lovely princess. Both dancers were delighted with the contredanse, and they reunited a second time, then a third, after which the princess, who had tried and failed to guess with whom she was dancing, asked all of a sudden:
“Who are you, Monsieur?”
The young man tried to evade the question; but the princess insisted:
“Give me your name, Monsieur, or I will tell everyone to unmask.”
He had to confess that he was not of the Court, to give his name and ask for forgiveness; but he did so with so much spirit and charm; he had made the princess so inclined to indulgence; and the threat resulted from a motive so far removed from anger that she forgave him and promised to keep his secret, on condition that he came back to the next ball, for which she even gave him an invitation. This second meeting took place an was more typical than the first. They danced little but talked much. The disguises allowed for long hushed talks; there were even talks of absences; when the hour of separation rang at last, the young admirer felt emboldened by the feelings that the princess was no longer concealing, and he dared give her a poem that alluded to the fates of Ixion and Endymion. The princess wrote back on the next day, joining a few more verses to her letter:

Ne redoute pas d’Ixion
La funeste torture;
Ose espérer d’Endymion
La brillante aventure
Viens avec moi, voisin des dieux,
Au séjour du tonnerre:
Si tu ne peux monter aux cieux,
Je reste sur la terre.
[Do not fear Ixion’s deadly torture;
Dare to dream of Endymion’s brilliant adventure
Come with me, neighbour of the gods,
To the Thunder’s abode;
If you cannot ascend to the skies,
I shall remain on the land.]

What followed such tender inspirations is easy to guess; but such secrets do not remain hidden for long, not so near the seat of power which is so ruthless for a thousand reasons. This sweet affair ended on the death of the young man, who was assaulted by some assassins as he crossed the Pont Neuf, stabbed multiple times and thrown into the Seine.
M. de Sozzi’s stay in Paris also evokes an anecdote that almost cost my father his life. M. de Sozzi had a dog that he loved very much. This dog, a handsome Danish hound named Médor, was bitten in the Luxembourg by a very small dog, hard enough to make him bleed and howl. M. de Sozzi called out to the small dog’s master, shouting that those who had aggressive dogs should leave them at home.
“Well! Monsieur,” the man retorted, “your dog can defend itself, it’s ten times stronger than mine.”
But Médor fell ill, and on a Sunday, it escaped, bit several people in the Rue de Tournon, where M. de Sozzi lived, and disappeared. We did not see him for the rest of the day; but on the next evening, while we calculated that if he was rabid, he would soon come back, this dog, which the servants had orders not to let in, slipped by unnoticed and hid behind his master; he had a black eye and dirt in his maw. A few outsiders were there and ran away this instant. My mother and one of her cousins also fled, so that only my father and M. de Sozzi remained in the parlour.
The latter persisted in saying that his dog was not rabid and did not want him to be put down. However, he could not resist the insistence of the house’s owner, who lived there, and decided, in his name and that of the other tenants, that the dog would be shot; but a hunter of the Prince of Soubise could only come around eleven in the evening, and it was midnight past when my father left home, to the Rue Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois. The state of the Police in Paris at that time is well known, and so is the dreadful part played by the French Guards. Indeed, they were the ones hired to perform a great number of the murders committed in the capital; anyway, as he arrived at the level of a narrow street near the Saint-Germain fair, my father was at once surrounded by nine guards, all of them armed. He was doomed, but he remembered just in time the case of a doctor from Lorraine who had skilfully gotten himself out of an analogous ambush2, and, thinking that these soldiers were waiting for someone else, he said: “Good evening, gentlemen”, in the most natural tone; the nine soldiers let him go at once.
His presence of mind saved him on other occasions: as he came back from a supper in town with one of his friends, they stumbled over the corpse of a man who had just been murdered. The frightened friend wanted to stop. My father did not let him, and he did well to keep walking and talking as though nothing had happened; for, a few paces further, they passed by a squad of watchers lying in ambush, and pretended not to notice them. They could have paid a high price for interfering in a nocturnal execution.

1He bought for his wife, with whom he no longer lived, and for his last remaining daughter, an estate near Lyons, called le Musard. Having hopes of bringing my father and mother closer to him, and wanting them to settle near Mme de Sozzi and their daughter, he convinced them of investing my mother’s dowry into a country house named la Grivollière. This estate, located in the vicinity of Lyons, was therefore bought in January 1777 and inhabited by us at once. We did spend fifteen days there, where I remember picking up strawberries under the snow. M. de Sozzi’s projects fell down after his death. Left to the servants, la Grivollière, instead of becoming a source of income, became an object of spending, and my father soon sold it again with heavy losses. As for the Musard, which was then worth a hundred thousand francs, it ended up as the prey of an intriguer named Derieux. Indeed, this scoundrel had abused Mme de Sozzi’s progressive senility, and in 1793 and 1794, he made her certify that she had received in gold what he had paid in assignats, and he was the master of the house upon her death. All we received from the father’s and the daughter’s inheritance was M. de Sozzi’s library and a small painting depicting Mlle de Charolais dressed as a Cordelier, where Voltaire inscribed those four verses:
Frère Ange de Charolais,
Dis-nous par quelle aventure
Le cordon de Saint-François
Sert à Vénus de ceinture.
I do not know how this pretty little painting had come into M. de Sozzi’s possession, nor how, where and when it disappeared from my father’s house.
2M. Moureau, a man of merit, but above all a kind and charitable man, was, in a canton of the Vosges, the doctor of the wealthy because of his skill, and of the poor because of his benevolence. One night, as he rode through a vast forest on his small horse to perform house calls, he saw a man pointing a gun at him in the moonlight. At once he shouted: “Who goes there?” No one answered; he shouted again, in vain; the immobility of the man he saw and this silence aroused his suspicions; he came closer, and as it turned out, what he had mistaken for a man with a rifle was only a tree with a peculiarly placed branch. But his shouts had echoed through the forest and put him in actual danger. Indeed, after a few paces, he was assaulted by a man who jumped out of a bush and grabbed the horse’s reins, telling him to stand and deliver! Taken by surprise, absolutely defenceless against an armed man, he thought that his only option was to give his identity, and he took on a very calm and natural tone as he said: “Good evening, Sir.” At once, the man let go of the reins and came back into the woods, exclaiming: “Ah! It’s M. Moureau.” Two months ago, M. Moureau had saved his life, curing a grave illness for free.

II. Precocity?

I just figured that there is nothing wrong with short excerpts. So enjoy the very early beginning of Thiébault's womanising career. And you will see much more of it, because Arthur John Butler prioritises Thiébault's military career and anecdotes about Napoleon over his sentimental shenanigans.

I was almost ten years old when Mme du Troussel1 made me the target of a jest which I never forgot.
“My dear friend,” she said one day, “will you be my lover?”
She might as well have spoken Greek. But since my mother told me that being her lover meant being devoted to her, and that there was no way to refuse such a proposal from a beautiful lady, I answered:
“Yes, Madame.”
“Very well,” she replied, “but, if you become my lover, your life must answer for your fidelity.”
This sounded quite serious, and although she declared that this would be reciprocal, although this word of fidelity was not very clear in my mind—though it did feel like a forbidden fruit—, I did not care much for that pact. Despite everyone telling me that it would be a long time before I had any merit in remaining blameless, I did not want to gamble my head on something that sounded all the more tempting as it looked important to defend it. It took many explanations and the promise of candies, a beautiful Turkish dress and most of all a large sabre to defeat me. I soon received all of these presents, and it was with my Oriental garb, my yellow slippers, the sabre at my side and a pearled turban on my head that I knelt to pledge the oath that was demanded of me. This jesting was amusing for some time; but as you can imagine, it was worn out long before my dress, which did not last for very long.
1At the court of Frederick the Great, her beauty, her spirit and her grace had earned her a brilliant reputation. The daughter of General Schwerin, she had first married a Protestant canon from Brandenburg, Herr von Kleist, and after divorcing him, she was shining under the nicknames of “the beautiful Schwerin” or “the beautiful von Kleist”, when an artillery colonel of French origins, M. du Troussel, fell for her and married her. [Details about the end of this second marriage are found under “Ghost Stories”]. (Ed.)

Sunday, 1 February 2015

I. Ghost stories

The following excerpts, arranged in chronological order, come from the early chapters of Tome I. Since they are quite short by themselves and are all linked by a common theme, I figured it was easier to ignore continuity and gather them here. For the sake of giving some context, I included some text that was already translated by Arthur John Butler.

My first clear memory dates back from 1772 and evokes a wall being destroyed. Destruction is always made to stir children’s enthusiasm; a continuous activity may catch their attention, but what is sudden, noisy, quick and moving always strikes them the most; it is to the point that they would be less interested in the building of the Vatican than in the destruction of a hovel. Indeed, it feels like destruction is Man’s natural vocation, and when I consider all the upheavals I have witnessed, I see a sort of omen in that first clear memory of my life. Although this moment was fifty-five years ago1, I can still see the two masons at work; I see their tools and the layers of plaster they tore off, falling noisily and leaving bare the wooden skeleton that supported them. But there is nothing more beyond that. Without even knowing how that frame later fell, I reach my fifth or sixth year without finding any luminous spot in this dark night that surrounds my childhood memories.
After this vague time, or rather, blending with it, I find the memory of these ridiculous ghost stories that were done away with over the century; fifty years ago, every maid had her own to tell, attacking the children’s judgement and common sense at the root, so to speak, turning their ideas upside down, firing up their imaginations, making them vulnerable to a thousand fears and leaving deep marks which only weakened over the years. I did not know if there is any country where this sort of superstition was taken as far as it was in Prussia; at least it is truthful to say that some of these stories were entirely veridical in the people’s eyes. I remember, among other things, the pains my mother took to make me understand how absurd and even irreligious it was to believe for instance that the marène, a very small and delicate fish, perhaps the most delicate in existence, which is found only in one lake near Berlin, was only brought into existence there because of a pact, through which some former owner of the lake had given his soul to the devil in exchange for these fishes that bring about wealth and excite gluttony.


I met many young people in Berlin, (...) but one of those I was closest to was Prince Serge Dolgorouki, the nephew of Prince Dolgorouki, the Russian ambassador in Berlin.
This Prince Serge came almost every evening along with his governor, to dine with my father. We often went on walks together. Thus we were truly intimate when he left Berlin one year before me. I met him again in Brunswick when my father and I came back from France in 1784. He received me with great friendliness and showed me the most interesting sights of this city. He even gave me a medal with Pius VI’s profile, that had been made for him. He later became a general in the Russian army; one feat earned him a golden sword from Catherine II and for a long time, he was the Russian envoy in Naples. I had been without news of him for years when, as I was at M. Denon’s with my daughters in 1822, Prince Serge Dolgorouki was announced. It had been thirty-eight years since we last saw each other, and he did not recognise me any more than I would have recognised him had he not been named. I even doubted that it was the Prince Serge I had met in my youth. Thus I requested M. Denon to ask him a question, and, since his answer left no room for doubt, I gave him my name; he embraced me, asked me about my sister’s health and seemed very pleased to meet me again; but he did not go any further. “Diplomacy”, I thought to myself, “must have hardened his feelings to the point that he is now indifferent to his early friends; or is it that his pride is hurt that I am now a lieutenant general like him?” I was floating amidst these uncertainties when I learnt that, having caused grief to a high-ranking married woman, he had become devoted to her, had left the diplomatic world, had settled with this lady in Paris, and that he now lived more or less in hiding; to avoid revealing his name and rank, he had almost become a recluse. I pitied him with all my heart, yet I found it satisfying to think that I could blame on his position what I would have hated to blame on his heart.


Having mentioned Prince Dolgorouki as I talked about his nephew Serge, I will relate an anecdote involving him. My father witnessed it, but I could not get him to insert it in his Recollections, even though he told it a hundred times. Besides, the story was confirmed by Mme de Kameke and various other people, including Prince Dolgorouki himself, who said one day as someone had brought up the subject:
“It is not in my character to ridicule myself; and my position in this country gives me a duty not to do so. Yet, as for the story in question, while I see it as nothing more than an extraordinary coincidence, you can name and even quote me, given that there are forty living witnesses.”
After this preamble, I will tell the story literally, without personal comments or additions.
Mme de Kameke’s merits and qualities, along with her rank and wealth, had turned her house into the meeting point of the finest Berlinese society, and when she lived at her estate of “Mon choix” in summer, she invited her favourite people from Berlin for prolonged stays. Prince Dolgorouki was among them.
One morning as the Prince entered the parlour around lunch hour, those present—the ladies and a few other people, among whom was my father—noticed his tired and preoccupied air, and they asked him about his health with more solicitude than usual. The embarrassment apparent in his answers made them insist; at last, yielding to his own need to talk, he answered: “If, after more than twenty years among you, I had any doubt about the way I am judged in this country, I admit I would be pained to tell you what has been troubling my sleep; but being sure that I will have to face no false interpretations, I will speak:
‘I have a brother, whom I love very tenderly and who loves me back. Having spent part of our youth in close proximity, we truly despaired at the thought of being separated.
‘You would hardly believe the details of the last moments we spent together. What I can tell you is that our exaltation was such that as we parted, we swore than, should one of us die before seeing the other again, he would bid him farewell. Well! Madame,” he pursued, turning towards Countess von Kameke, “last night, around one o’clock, I was woken up by my brother’s voice, and I very distinctly heard him calling out to me and saying farewell. I must admit I felt a very strong emotion then. However, I managed to rein in my senses, to convince myself that this could only be a sort of delusion, and to go back to sleep; but having heard the same voice and the same farewells one more time, I could not close my eyes again for the rest of the night.”
Everybody protested. Reminding the Prince of the good news they had recently received of his brother, they recalled the anecdotes most likely to reassure him; they argued on the impossibility of the fact itself, and they blamed everything on bad dispositions and digestive troubles, concluding that the Prince should drive all manner of doubt and apprehension away from his mind and forget what they called his bad dream.
But fifteen or twenty days later, he received news that his brother, a lieutenant general in the Russian Army, having swum through a river on his horse as he marched with the troops he led, was seized by pneumonia and died within the same night and at the same hour that the Prince heard his farewell.
A second story of the same nature seems to fit here; it dates back from the same time, and I am equally certain of its authenticity; like the previous one, my father witnessed it and told it a hundred times. Although I could never believe in such tales, those are the only two which I cannot disprove.
In his Recollections, my father makes a mention of Colonel du Troussel’s suicide; he gave two possible causes for this worthy man’s act of despair; but the one he favours is his wife’s conduct, whereas this seems to me the most unlikely. While he might have been absolutely determined not to go home, at the onset of a war, an officer of M. du Troussel’s rank and character could not renounce to fighting and dying in a blaze of glory. For instance, Prince Guillaume of Brunswick, having resolved to die and having the choice between suicide and a glorious death, got himself killed in the first battle Romanshoff fought against the Turks, having enlisted as a volunteer.
Thus M. du Troussel ended his career for other reasons than those relating to his wife, for reasons that brooked no respite.
From the moment he had asked for an authorisation to divorce his wife, which he could not obtain, his relationship with the King had been strained, and it became even more so when he was reorganising Prince Henri’s artillery in Magdebourg. These reproaches weighed on him so much that he could not resist the need to pour his heart out, which he did in a letter to Prince Henri in which he recapped and developed his grievances against Frederick, while at the same time writing a purely military letter to the monarch. Having composed the two letters, he sent them. The Prince, who was only a few leagues away, received the package bearing his address in a matter of hours, and, having found inside the letter to the King, he sent it back to M. du Troussel along with a note starting with these words: “My dear friend, what have you done?...”
There was no doubt left. In a fatal mistake, caused by the resemblance between the two sheets of paper, the letter destined to the Prince had ended up in the King’s hands. This letter, written without restraint, was a crime, and Frederick’s character made it unforgivable. But the most cruel aspect of that situation was that this letter compromised both M. du Troussel and the Prince, for M. du Troussel could only have written to Prince Henri knowing that this would not displease him. As he pondered this, M. du Troussel realised that he had denounced his benefactor, and in his despair, he resolved to die immediately. He spent a few hours writing farewell letters, and, at three in the morning, he blew his brains out.
Now, Mme du Troussel had had three daughters from her first marriage with a M. de Kleist. The youngest, whom her stepfather loved tenderly, was called Minette.
Just as M. du Troussel killed himself in Magdebourg, Minette, who slept in the same room as her two sisters in Berlin, woke up with horrible screams. Her sisters tried to ask her what was wrong and to snap her out of this, but Minette did not listen to them, only repeating in a frightened voice: “I can see my father, he is covered in blood... There he is... There he is...” The two sisters left their beds, lit a candle, examined the room, found nothing, and yet they could neither reassure Minette nor calm her down.
Mme du Troussel was told this as soon as she woke up; on that day, she was entertaining a large company. At the end of the dinner, the conversation turned towards Minette’s extravagances; she was severely scolded and cried much, but on the next morning, they learnt the death of M. du Troussel, a death whose date, hour and main circumstance coincided eerily with Minette’s vision.
My father once told these anecdotes do Mme de Genlis, who, far from looking surprised, countered with several of the same kind and claimed, among other things, that at the very moment her only son died, she was in bed and she distinctly saw him hovering over her head in the shape of a blue-winged angel. Those were her own expressions.
What can I add about these stories, no less bizarre than their subject? … Only one word. Born with as much imagination and sensitivity as anyone in the world, twice in my life, at times where I was distraught by my pain, I tried to summon such apparitions with all the exaltation and willpower I could muster; thus I went at night on the places of my misfortunes; I went after dusk to perform evocations over tombs, and, as you can imagine, I never heard or saw anything; which, under the double effect of painful experience and common sense, irrevocably reduced such undeniable facts, in my mind, to illusions of the senses or extraordinary coincidences, less extraordinary however than such stories could be.

1This first part of the Mémoires was written in 1822.