The Limits of Acceptability: The Glorious Debauchee Jacques Vallée Des Barreaux. A Case Study
Le présent article consacré à Jacques Vallée Des Barreaux est une étude de cas visant à montrer ce que la notion d’acceptabilité peut avoir d’heuristique dans les travaux de sciences humaines et sociales. On prend ici en compte deux niveaux d’analyse, celui d’une œuvre poétique clandestine, où est adoptée une posture philosophique originale et radicale, mais composée aussi d’œuvres de circonstances plus convenues, et celui du personnage public Des Barreaux, fameux pour son comportement et ses propos scandaleux. Nous avançons la formule d’acceptabilité restreinte pour traiter de ces deux niveaux et de leurs relations. Des textes dont la publication sous nom d’auteur serait inacceptable, sont acceptés et rencontrent un public dans une clandestinité toute relative. Le personnage Des Barreaux, au comportement jugé scandaleux, apparaît parfaitement intégré à la vie curiale et mondaine et échappe à toute condamnation publique ; il est jugé acceptable dans les milieux et les lieux où il évolue. Parler d’acceptabilité restreinte nous permet de mettre en évidence que les limites de l’acceptable, dans les années mêmes de la reprise en main catholique de la France, étaient beaucoup plus lâches et élastiques qu’on ne pourrait l’imaginer.
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Notes de l’auteur
This paper was delivered at the John Hopkins University on 28 october 2014. I would like to thank warmly prof. Elena Russo for her invitation, Nicole Karam for her translation and the public for the quality of the discussion. A French version of this article is published in the online Brasilean journal : Problemata. http://periodicos.ufpb.br/ojs/index.php/problemata/article/view/18460/10688.
- 1 « Les frontières de l’inacceptable. Pour un réexamen de l’histoire de l’incrédulité ». Les Dossier (...)
1We propose in this paper a case study that aims to utilize the notion of acceptability, a term whose value for historical studies we have sought to demonstrate elsewhere, and which is associated here with the more familiar notion of censorship.1 Rather than working on pairs of notions that require the historian to intervene in the definition of specificities pertaining to the mentality or mentalities of a given time (such as speakable/unspeakable, representable/unrepresentable, thinkable/unthinkable, believable/unbelievable), what we propose here is to study the ways in which the boundaries of acceptability and unacceptability are constantly being shifted across all types of conflicts in a given time and society.
- 2 « Liberté d’expression ». In reality, Article 19 of the Declaration uses the syntagm “freedom of o (...)
2This modest approach, based as it is on empirical observation (i. e. on the examination of sources), may seem all too similar to the history of censorship (understood as the history of the institutions and procedures of censorship), and also to the complex history of the many forms of self-censorship, which are in general scarcely taken into account. It is legitimate therefore to ask: what distinguishes the history of the limits of acceptability from the history of the practices that censorship strikes down or curtails – namely, the thing that we call, in the wake of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “freedom of expression”?2
3As a matter of fact, what we plan to do here is to examine the censorship question both from an upstream and a downstream position, so to speak. Upstream – that is to say, we are going to look at the conditions determining the exercise of censorship not only of speech, but also of practices and behaviors: the formulation and the imposition of judgments of unacceptability may be subsumed under this a priori standpoint. Thus, we are not limiting ourselves to examining issues of freedom of expression, but we are also taking into account the set of judgments that condition and limit such freedom: judgments by dint of which words and conducts are deemed unacceptable and must therefore be censored.
4Therefore, the perspective of acceptability and unacceptability enables us to gain some speculative distance with respect to the problem of the censorship of freedom of expression, for it allows us to consider it within a larger context: not merely the freedom of spoken and written acts, but also the freedom of actions in general. Even more important, this approach leads us to examine the downstream aspect of censorship in a most concrete manner: namely, the practical, actual interaction with censorship, the empirical case-by-case study of the way censorship is exercised, the way actors elaborate strategies and tactics intended to avoid, circumvent or prevent its exercise, and in so doing strive to displace and modify its fields of application.
- 3 The expression “illustrious debauchee” (“illustre débauché”) was first used by Jean Chapelain, in (...)
- 4 See the Dictionnaire of Furetière, which presents, astonishingly for us, the expression “illustre (...)
- 5 According to Vanel, the young Des Barreaux had “a quick wit and a lively conversation, but was tho (...)
5Jacques Vallée Des Barreaux (1599-1673) is a figure known especially for having been the friend and, according to some, the lover of Théophile de Viau. But besides his relations and his questionable morals, Des Barreaux has emerged, thanks to the Historiette that Tallemant des Réaux has devoted to him and to other documents, as a glorious, illustrious3[« illustre »] figure of debauchee (even becoming the epitome of the worldly debauchee4), and as an impious freethinker (impie).5 But his impiety is thoughtless and fickle, for when he is sick and is about to die he embraces piety. His name is also associated with a series of sonnets found in many anthologies of libertine poetry, which sketch out a radical naturalist philosophy that vehemently rejects Christianity in favor of a brutal, exasperated and hopeless hedonism.
- 6 “Phylis, everything is fucked up, I am dying of syphilis,/[...] My God, I repent for having lived (...)
6These documents, without a shadow of a doubt, were absolutely unacceptable with respect to the criteria that regulated authorized publication during the 17th century. They became even more so after the condemnation of the Parnasse satyrique in 1662, a collection that included, among other items, a sonnet attributed to Théophile, who was incriminated for obscenity and blasphemy.6 The printed collections of licentious poetry were very numerous at the beginning of the 17th century. They became more rare, and strictly clandestine, following the condemnation of the Parnasse and the trial of Théophile.
- 7 Recueil de pièces nouvelles et gallantes, Cologne, Pierre Marteau, 1667.
- 8 The manuscript acquired by the Leiden Library in 1980 is without contest the least constrained and (...)
7The poetry of Des Barreaux, printed secretly and anonymously at the end of his life7 – the most shocking as well as the most innocuous – appears to have circulated widely, and one can find isolated poems or series of poems copied out in various manuscripts.8 As such, these poems are an example among many others of the restrained circulation, attested between the 16th and the 18th centuries within literary circles throughout Europe, of works, especially verse, that did not make it to print form (in fact, there are some that remain unpublished to this day) or were only printed in a strictly clandestine manner.
8Although it is rather difficult to define its contours, there was in France an audience for extremely licentious, impious, obscene, even pornographic, literature such as this, at a time when intolerance for obscene or irreligious expression was growing in the name of religious imperatives and linguistic and moral propriety. Such collections can be found among the manuscript holdings of many European libraries.
- 9 Recueil Conrart, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris, ms 3135, ms 4124 (t. XIX), ms 4128 (t. XXIII), 4 (...)
- 10 See, e.g., Arsenal manuscript 4123, Conrart Collection, t. XVIII.
9These collections run counter the dominant and constraining norms that were enforced for authorized, printed publications. And yet we must understand that these texts were not entirely marginalized or segregated. Obscene works are often found right next to perfectly admissible pieces that might very well have been printed, and often were. The holdings of Valentin Conrart, for example, held at the Arsenal Library in Paris, which, among many other items, includes manuscript anthologies containing pieces attributed to Des Barreaux (in particular those supposedly meant for Marion de Lorme9) is in this respect rather exemplary. Texts as diverse as extremely licentious poetry written in French and Italian may be found alongside gallant poems and light, occasional verse, in the same manuscript collection.10 Such collections demonstrate that the circulation of these texts was not primarily reserved to select, secluded circles, but was mixed with all types of manuscript works and compilations (verse, prose, theater, pamphlets, letters, songs, lampoons, historical pieces, etc.).
- 11 On Conrart, see the N. Schapira’s remarkable work, Un professionnel des lettres au XVIIe siècle: V (...)
- 12 See my reflections on this topic in Postures libertines, Avant-propos.
10At the intersection of worldly and erudite production, there existed a rather large milieu in which this type of text, as well as many others, circulated. These networks of amateurs were not composed of dubious, shady characters: one need only mention the names of a few of those who collected such texts, such as the Protestant Valentin Conrart of the Académie française, or the Dupuy brothers, librarians of the king, whose reputation was anything but scandalous, despite their wide-ranging contacts.11 The fact that these men collected this sort of manuscript, among the many others they held, does not turn them into culturally subversive agents secretly promoting a counterculture (understood in the sense of a cultural opposition to the public and dominant culture). On the contrary, the deliberate, purposeful subversion of cultural and political structures is virtually absent from these areas of production and circulation, where one finds nonetheless numerous satires or examples of political criticism, such as the mazarinades. The collectors who owned libertine texts may well have appeared incidentally as figures of opposition, but this should not lead us to see their collection of clandestine texts as the expression of a counterculture in rupture with the dominant one. On the other hand, some of Des Barreaux’s pieces, like his “philosophical” poetry, are obviously subversive and would fall under what we once used to refer to, before these appellations became trite, as underground or counterculture, when we wanted talk about a particularly radical avant-garde.12
11It is possible however to speak of restrained or limited acceptability with regard to the carefully managed spaces of publication of this type of production, because these texts were only tolerated or deemed acceptable in a state of semi-clandestinity. The move towards non-authorized, clandestine printing does not substantially modify this system, even if it widens the work’s audience considerably and reinforces its acceptability, especially when, as it is the case for Des Barreaux, the most compromising pieces are published alongside perfectly accepted texts.
- 13 See Léonce Janmart de Brouillant, Histoire de Pierre du Marteau, imprimeur à Cologne, Paris, Quant (...)
12That is exactly the case for the 1667 Recueil de pièces nouvelles et gallantes (Collection of New and Gallant Pieces) in which a large number of Des Barreaux’s poems, both “philosophical” and erotic, were published. It is a beautiful production of two volumes in-duodecimo (the first had already been published in 1663), bearing the name of the famous Pierre Marteau of Cologne, but actually published by Jean Elzevier in Amsterdam.13 It includes a mixture of prose and poetry pieces that have in common, as the publisher states, only the fact that they have previously circulated in manuscript form and are now being sought out by the cognoscenti [curieux]. We find here a wide selection of disparate works, both signed and anonymous, which, for all sorts of reasons, seem to have been unable to obtain authorization for publication: there is the first edition of the Voyage of Chapelle and Bachaumont; a gallant allegory by the Abbé Paul Tallemant (Le Voyage à l’île d’amour); Scarron’s letter to Fouquet about his squabbles with Boileau; La Fontaine’s elegy for the incarcerated superintendant Fouquet; several of Boileau’s satires (which had already appeared the previous year); Madame de Motteville’s letters; some pieces by Madame de la Suze, Madame de Scudéry, Pellisson, etc. All these items were either produced at the court of Louis XIV or in close proximity to it, and we may conjecture, but each case is different, that the motives for which they had been relegated (or promoted) to clandestine publication were several. It may have been for political reasons; or because they attacked morality and propriety and, in some rare cases, religion; or because they mentioned the name, and eventually jeopardized, the reputation of important personages; finally, because their authors were disinclined to publish under their own name, on account of their elevated status or their gender.
13But some of these pieces do not appear a priori to present any transgressive or offensive character (there are verses in praise of the king and Colbert for example), and they doubtless owe their presence in this collection to the fact that they enjoy some reputation without having yet been printed, or have been printed so recently that they still enjoy “the appeal of novelty,” as Boileau calls it.
14We can see therefore the extent to which the poetry of Des Barreaux is, by its very mode of publication, integrated into the flux of worldly and courtly productions – a fact that does not strip it however of its patently subversive character. This editorial ecosystem helps us to add some specificity and body to the notion of restrained acceptability that we are attempting to analyze here, and which is in effect characterized by its wide range and flexibility.
15These observations don’t apply only to the production and circulation of texts, but also, to an even greater extent, to speech and conduct – although we must keep in mind that we should make a distinction between the acceptability of texts and the acceptability of the practices and actions that the texts talk about. As Théophile’s famously wrote against his accusers: “To make up verses about sodomy does not make a man guilty of the act; poet and pederast are two different qualities” [“Faire des vers de Sodomie ne rend pas un homme coulpable du faict ; poëte & pederaste sont deux qualitez differentes.”] (Apologie de Théophile).
16We shall see that sodomy and his relationship with Théophile were one of the main issues that affected the reputation of Des Barreaux. The lines attributed to Des Barreaux that have reached us are almost entirely devoid of allusions to sodomy but, on the other hand, his poetry includes a series of pieces of the most extreme irreligion if not total atheism.
17It is the circulation of his poems, the fact that they were hand-copied and printed in a strictly clandestine manner, that I consider as a case of restrained acceptability. Their authorized publication as a printed book, with the name of the author, printing privilege, dedication, etc., was deemed absolutely unacceptable.
- 14 One example, among many: when Marcassus publishes in 1664 his Libre version des odes et des épodes (...)
18But the case of Des Barreaux presents another interesting aspect as well: unlike his licentious and impious writings, which were confined to secrecy, he was himself a public persona, a well-known character about whom songs, epigrams, satirical verses and all sorts of anecdotes were written and circulated throughout his life. He had an unseemly reputation, if not a scandalous one, and was known for having provoked, on numerous occasions, specific scandals. But he was never seriously in trouble with the judicial system, nor did he ever appear to have suffered any form of social ostracism among the circles he frequented, not even at court.14 That is extremely interesting within the frame of my analysis: the fact that he was largely accepted – neither ostracized, relegated, marginalized nor repressed by his contemporaries – yet every last one of those who brought up Des Barreaux described him has a person accustomed to scandalous acts and speech.
- 15 Tallemant, Naudeana et Patiniana, Amsterdam, 1703, p. 50.
19We may wonder why. The first answer that comes to mind is obviously his social status: Des Barreaux came from a rich, old and powerful family of magistrates hailing from Orléans, and he himself practiced as a magistrate for a time, thanks to his purchase, in 1625, of a position of councillor, which he carried on in a most negligent way, if we are to believe the rumors.15
- 16 It is necessary to correct Tallemant on this matter, in that he confuses the father and the grandf (...)
20A few racy items were always brought up regarding his genealogy: his grandfather, Jacques Vallée, who was superintendant of finances,16 was said to have died an atheist at Orléans; most crucial, his great-uncle Geoffroy Vallée had died at the stake in 1574 for having written the Beatitude des chrestiens ou le Fleo de la Foy [The Beatitude of Christians or the Scourge of Faith], an opuscule that stood accused of atheism. Yet, none of that ever turned the Vallées into an accursed family. They were and remained a great and powerful family of magistrates, perfectly integrated into the court and the state institutions.
21Des Barreaux also benefited from some very strong protection, in particular that of Gaston d’Orléans, the brother of Louis XIII: he must therefore have been considered untouchable, or, at the very least, very difficult to touch. But that’s not enough, and we must pursue our analysis to the obvious conclusion that the actual tolerance for deviance in Parisian society, both urban and courtly, during the 17th century, was much more pronounced than the rigid morality on display in the countless religious works of that period would want us to believe. To be sure, there is a strong link between this tolerance and the social status of deviants, as it is easily demonstrated. That’s how we must understand, for instance, the advice given by a doctor to his son, by Guy Patin, to stay clear of the libertinism of great lords. The son of a mere doctor could certainly not count on enjoying the same impunity afforded to the grandson of a minister of finance.
22Thus, Des Barreaux presents a double case of acceptance and acceptability, at two distinct levels: on the one hand, as a body of clandestine writing, protected by the shadow of semi-clandestinity, and on the other, as a public persona who, far from being isolated, was perfectly integrated into courtly and worldly life. Des Barreaux was even less likely to be isolated when we consider that he belonged to one or more networks of friends, all of whom were also accused of deviance (and who touted their own deviance as ostentatiously as Des Barreaux), but who also benefited significantly from the legal impunity and the social tolerance that was afforded to them by their social status. But not only by that. We must also conjecture – this needs to be carefully examined – that in the French society of the 17th century, under a strictly Christian regime of government (during the very years when Catholicism was recovering its supremacy in France), the limits of acceptability were much more loose and flexible than we have been told. To be sure, we must not speak of “French society” in general, abstract terms, but rather of socially specific places where it appears that, at certain moments, tolerance of speech and conduct was much more extensive than we thought: certainly the court, but also cabarets (a few more so than others); a number of private aristocratic residences and even some bourgeois homes.
- 17 See C.K. Abraham’s rather dissatisfactory work, Gaston d'Orléans et sa cour: Étude litteraire. Cha (...)
- 18 But see also, Baverel-Croissant, in his editions of Des Barreaux’s works, op. cit., p. 99-108.
23We have previously evoked the affiliation of Des Barreaux with networks of people considered deviant. More specifically, we have been referring to the group that he frequented during his maturity, which gravitated around Gaston d’Orléans, and to Gaston himself, at least before his “conversion” during the 1650s: they were aristocrats of the robe and the sword, such as Bardouville, Aubijoux, Fontrailles, Rivière, Coulon, Blot, Saint-Pavin, Félix de La Mothe Le Vayer (brother of François), Valliquierville, etc.17 These are just some of the names that are mentioned in Pintard’s Le libertinage érudit dans la première moitié du xviie siècle.18 These men, designated indeed as “libertines” or “freethinkers,” were for the most part just as well integrated at court and in town, and they belonged, in Marxist parlance, to the ruling class.
24We are now going to examine – holding on to our fragile distinction between the visibility of the public persona and the clandestinity or the semi-clandestinity of his writings – both the image of the man and that of his oeuvre. The latter coheres with his public persona and, despite its relatively clandestine status, contributes a great deal to the construction of this persona. The distinction therefore is merely analytic, but it corresponds to a reality that I want to lay bare: Des Barreaux’s writings are less acceptable than his public persona, his behavior and his actions, yet they remain a part of this behavior and these actions. Let me reformulate what I just said: the writings are among his actions those that are judged the least acceptable for the purposes of authorized and authorial publication, and are thereby considered acceptable insofar as they circulate discreetly. It is significant that his poetry only appears in a non-authorized printing in 1667 under cover of anonymity. This apparent paradox is easily resolved: reputation, as we have ascertained, may be fulfilled within the confines of reserved, semi-clandestine publications; it is not subject to being indicted through public, authorized writings. That’s how it becomes acceptable: the degree of publicity of the work consists less in how far and wide the work circulates than in the status of its publication, which is unofficial and thus devoid of the seal of approval that only public authority can provide.
- 19 Tallemant des Réaux, Historiettes, A. Adam, Gallimard, 1961, t. II, p. 29-33.
25We shall take the Historiette by Tallemant as the guiding thread for this section of our study. It was written during the life of Des Barreaux, probably around 1657, with the exception of the last sentence which was added after his death.19
26The first thing that must be pointed out is that the author of the Historiettes toowrites within the context of restrained manuscript diffusion. Much of the information that Tallemant gives and the comments he makes fall under the kind of restrained acceptability that it has been my objective to clarify: “I declare that I will talk about what’s good and what’s bad, without hiding the truth, and without relying on what may be found in printed histories and memoirs. I do this all the more freely as I know very well that these are not things to be revealed, although they may be quite useful. I am doing this for my friends, who have been asking me to do it.”Thus there are on the one hand printed stories and memoirs, which contain things worthy of publication, and on the other the “little stories” [historiettes], the content of which comes from private conversations and the author’s memories. The objective here is to communicate information that the author himself judges to be unpublishable.
- 20 Garasse, Mémoires, éd. Charles Nisard, Paris, Amyot, p. 78. Countering the conclusions of most cri (...)
- 21 Frédéric Lachèvre, Le libertinage devant le Parlement de Paris: Le procès du poète Théophile du Via (...)
- 22 “Not long ago a young fool, who is a principal member of the mysterious cabal, came to the house o (...)
27In the historiette that is dedicated to him, Des Barreaux is presented as debauched, having been seduced when he was very young by Théophile and his friends: “having lost his father too soon, he started to socialize with Théophile and other libertines, who ruined his mind and made him do a thousand nasty things. It is to him that Théophile writes in his Latin letters, where the inscription says: Theophilus Vallaeo suo. It was said in those days that Théophile was in love with him, and all that.” The Jesuit Garasse writes in his Mémoires that Des Barreaux’s Latin letters to Théophile, which were found at the time of Théophile’s escape to England, would have been sufficient cause, but for his young age, to condemn him to the same punishment as his great uncle.20 A letter from the public prosecutor Mathieu Molé to Dupuy, written shortly after Théophile’s arrest (October 1st, 1623), seems to confirm the accusation (if the friend in question was in fact Des Barreaux): “You know how much trouble I have always had with the person whose letters have been found, how many times I have blamed his libertinage,” and Molé points out, apparently to complain about it, that “these letters have been shown to everybody.”21 That proves that at the age of 24, Des Barreaux had already established a definite reputation, but also that he was obviously being protected by those who would bring Théophile to trial, who were no doubt mindful of Des Barreaux’s rank and family. Besides, in 1623, Garasse does not cite Des Barreaux by name in his Doctrine des beaux esprits, and does not publicly denounce him (whereas he does with Théophile); though he probably refers to Des Barreaux when he makes allegations of atheism.22
- 23 BNF fr. 12491, p. 134.
- 24 Ibid. p. 137.
28Tallemant adds : “Some time after the death of this poet [Théophile], while he was carousing with the now deceased count Du Lude, Des Barreaux started to whimper, which has always been a flaw of his, and the count said to him laughing: ‘Yeah, for Théophile’s widow, it seems that you’re making quite a ruckus.’” Des Barreaux would be stuck with that reputation for quite a while: for example, in the collection of vaudeville manuscripts, Les Roquentins de la cour, dated 1634, we read, in connection with his alleged liaison with Théophile (who has now been dead for eight years): “Of the dirty sport of life/ That one calls Sodomy/ The Councilor Des Barreaux/ Knows all its new pleasures” [« Du vilain plaisir de la vie/ Que l’on nomme Sodomie/ Le Conseiller Des Barreaux/ Y sait tous les plaisirs nouveaux »].23 The same vaudevilles also accuse him of practicing sodomy with his mistresses: “ Des Barreaux loves la Mesliant/ But you do not know how/ He caresses her from behind./ Théophile begged him, as he was dying/ That he should always fear the front.”24 That’s a clear allusion to Théophile’s famous sonnet from the Parnasse satyrique that I mentioned above.
29Tallemant then brings up Des Barreaux’s relationship with Marion de l’Orme, casting him as the sexual initiator of the young woman, who would eventually become a celebrated courtesan. Many accounts confirm this liaison, which is often perceived through the prism of some poems by Des Barreaux which dramatize this relationship with de l’Orme (or which are believed by his contemporaries to be doing that). Tallemant also insists on Richelieu’s infatuation with Des Barreaux’s mistress, which is also attested by other sources. This segment of Des Barreaux’s poetic work tends, through its form and the subject of its verses, and by the adventures they are meant to evoke, to maintain Des Barreaux in the norm of neo-Petrarchism, obviously heterosexual, which is perfectly suited to the young aristocrat that he is, for whom the activity of verse-writing is also, and perhaps principally, the affirmation of a social identity.
30But Tallemant, as it is his habit, tells the story with the most explicit crudeness, pouring out scabrous details as to the place and manner of the meetings (“he was hidden in her home for eight days in a nasty cabinet used to store wood; she brought his food there, and at night he slept with her”); he also evokes the multiple abortions of the young woman, who, he affirms, also bore the poet a son. The aspect that stands out is that of the impenitent debaucher, who “damaged Marion.” One might also notice that the story of Tallemant is largely complicit to the depravity that it describes, as when he recounts the anecdote of the little niece of Marion, who had said: “I saw Monsieur Des Barreaux sleep in this room with my aunt, but it was alright because they went to sleep standing up.”
- 25 The text actually says “impious or [rather] libertine,” [« impie ou [plutôt] libertin »] in order (...)
- 26 See, e.g., the epitaph attributed to La Place: “Here lies the famous Des Barreaux/ Patriarch of s (...)
31Sexual debauchery, otherwise of a rather ordinary nature (were it not for the reputation that Marion de l’Orme garnered later), is accompanied by vehement and impassioned impiety: “ Des Barreaux has always been impious or libertine,25 but quite often it was only to be a good sport. He made this evident during a grave sickness he had, for he acted like a religious zealot and kissed many relics. Several months later, having heard a sermon by the abbé de Bonzez [Bourzeis], he charged Madame Saintot to tell the abbé that he wanted to have a religious debate with him. ‘I’d be happy to,’ responded the abbé, ‘next time he gets sick.’” Tallemant adds that at the moment he is writing this, Des Barreaux “claims that he only faked devotion during his sickness in order not to lose an income of four thousand livres that he was hoping to receive from his mother,” who was extremely devout. But the text ends stating that the poet “had every opportunity to recant; [instead] he played the zealot at his deathbed, as he had done during his sickness,” which means that he died as a good Christian.26
- 27 See also the quatrain of the Valesiana, cit. supra n. 2.
32There are in fact several texts attesting to Des Barreaux’s Christian death and to his relationship with a Carmelite monk with whom he talked about spiritual matters, but who was also his dining and drinking partner. Hence the quip attributed to Chapelle that he underwent a “quarter of conversion” [« un quart de conversion »] (Menagiana).27
- 28 BNF nat 1697, f° 131 r.
- 29 BNF, fr 12618, p. 73. See also Boileau, Satire I, where he alludes to Des Barreaux in these verse (...)
33These are part and parcel of Des Barreaux’s persona, as it was constructed during his lifetime, and as it would remain: impious when he was in good health, but devout when he was sick. There are several works of verse on this topic: Saint-Pavin declares: “Sick, he is a good man:/ In health, a declared nonbeliever”28 [« Malade, il est homme de bien:/ En pleine santé, grand impie »]. According to an anonymous epigram, “ Des Barreaux tells us here/ That he believes in neither Devil nor God/ But it is sheer bravado/ He believes in them when he is sick” « Des Barreaux nous dit en ce lieu / Qu’il ne croit ny Diable ny Dieu / Mais c’est pure bravade/ Il y croit quand il est malade »].29 Des Barreaux himself composed a famous sonnet on the subject of his conversion, which contains in a manuscript the following words: “Sonnet (...) that he delivered before receiving his last rites” [« Sonnet (…) qu’il prononça avant de recevoir le Saint-Viatique »].
34On the basis of this reputation, at the end of the century, Pierre Bayle (in his Dictionnaire historique et critique, at the entry “Des-Barreaux”), saw in Des Barreaux the quintessential figure of what Bayle called the atheist of “debauchery,” for whom atheism was only a pose, whom he opposed to the thoroughgoing, “speculative” atheist [« athée de système »], who was virtuous, discreet and consistent, such as Spinoza might have been.
- 30 “The whole boat is painted black and polished; the hold is lined in black velvet on the inside and (...)
- 31 The truth of this anecdote is attested to in a letter from Henry Arnaud, written January 28, 1643, (...)
35Tallemant’s historiette continues with the reporting of a series of anecdotes that had been circulating about some scandalous acts perpetrated by Des Barreaux, almost all related to his immoderate drinking (an activity quite acceptable as such; the consommation of alcohol was not a major article of accusation in the denunciation of libertinism, but rather a part of the decor; a disorderly life must be alcoholic). These acts appear to us as either laughable or serious, but they are all put in the same basket by Tallemant, who blames them on insolence and drunkenness. Thus, during his trip to Italy, Des Barreaux uncovered a closed gondola, an act apparently judged to be among the most transgressive in Venice, and for which he was beaten.30 On another occasion, he was beaten at a ball by a servant he had humiliated by tearing off his wig. He barely avoided getting his skull pierced.31
- 32 Claude Picot, who translated Descartes’ Principes de la philosophie and who accompanied Des Barre (...)
- 33 Jean Alies, Baron de Caussade, Lord of Réalville, Maître d'hôtel du Roi, Receveur des Tailles et T (...)
36Other scandals are more substantial, and one can get here a full taste of Des Barreaux’s ostentatious irreverence. They are scenes of blasphemy that took place in holy sites or in front of clergymen of all persuasions: “One day that he had been drinking, he saw a priest who was carrying the corpus Domini and was wearing a calotte; he went up to him, threw his calotte into the mud, and told him ‘that it was quite insolent to cover oneself in the presence of one’s Creator’. The people became upset, and had it not been for several esteemed individuals who intervened to save him, he would have been stoned to death.” Another incident: Des Barreaux and his great friend the abbé Picot32 “traveled to Montauban and went to a protestant temple on sermon day and started to sing drinking songs instead of psalms. They couldn’t have been drunk, for it was eight in the morning. Without the help of a Monsieur Daliez,33 a nobleman of that area, they would have been thrown out the window.” “The following summer, he found himself in grave danger of being bashed by some peasants in Touraine. He had gone to see one of his friends who lived in the countryside, with whom two Franciscan friars had been staying. He told the lord of the house that he wanted to play the atheist and laugh at the expense of these good fathers; it didn’t take much effort on his part, and he said so many things that the friars finally protested that they would not sleep under the same roof with such a devil, and they left and took up lodgings with the parish priest. Unfortunately for Des Barreaux, the villagers caught wind of his behavior toward the friars, and when the grapevines froze that same night, they believed that the evil man was the cause of it. They laid siege on him in the home of their own lord; they were so relentless that the rascal barely escaped, and they went running after him him for a long time.”
- 34 Théophile de Viau, Œuvres, Édition Saba, t. II, p. 39 sq.
37These are some typical scenes that one comes across rather often in the Historiettes of Tallemant and, in similar forms, in the comic novels: the États et empires du soleil by Cyrano, the Aventures de Dassoucy, and even, well before these, La Première journée of Théophile, which relates at length an episode where Clitiphon, a friend of the narrator, refuses to bow in the street before a priest carrying the holy Viaticum and barely escapes being lynched. Commentators quickly made the connection between this Clitiphon and Des Barreaux (despite Clitiphon being a Huguenot in the story), and matched the scene with that of the calotte of the priest thrown into the mud.34 But the legal documents also describe similar scenes, one of which is found in the records of Théophile’s trial. The poet was alleged to have committed a scandal in Saint-Affrique in 1615, where he publicly made “impious and abominable remarks, including saying that the Holy Virgin Mother of God was a whore, and all who were called holy in paradise were her pimps.” The witness maintains that Théophile only got away with his life thanks to the intervention of the Viscount of Panat, a friend of the poet and the governor of the city.
- 35 Muze historique, letter 50, December 14, 1653, cited by Baverel-Croissant, ibid., p. 114.
38The versified gazette of Loret in 1653 relates a similar, but less serious incident, about a scuffle involving Coulon and Fontrailles, who, while they were in a carriage headed to Tours, were said to have “defrocked” some Feuillants monks and insulted some “ladies beyond reproach.” This episode is presented as the cause of their disgrace in the eyes of Gaston, now converted.35
39All of these scenes present more or less the same storyline: the “libertine” creates a public scandal by lashing out against symbols of religion, either by his speech or his actions, in front of the populace – that is, a crowd composed of individuals of a lower social order who make their superstition manifest and attempt to lynch the troublemaker, who is only saved in extremis by the intercession of high-ranking members of society, accomplices or not.
40We may of course wonder what is the share of reality in this endlessly repeated scene (it would be wrong, however, to consider it null). At any rate, what the scene demonstrates is this: that which is, or might be seen, as unacceptable by the common people is, if not accepted by highborn members of society, at least considered by them as not deserving mob justice or a trial by law. Solidarity among nobles is certainly an explanation, but cultural reasons play here as well: the aristocracy may have a broader mind; or it may be slower in building up outrage when the deeds are perpetrated in front of a rabble. What this means is that certain acts of blasphemy witnessed by members of the upper classes are minimized by them when they are carried out before an audience composed of the lower strata of the population. These same acts would be taken much more seriously were the authority of great lords publicly called into question. The blasphemous scene is comical when it’s aimed at shocking the yokels.
41Furthermore, it should be noted that these scandals take place almost always during a journey, in places where the “libertine” is far from his habitual residence, though this point does not lend itself easily to interpretation: does it mean that the libertine takes more care of his conduct when he is at home, in Paris for example, or does it mean that he resides in a place where scandal is more difficult to provoke?
- 36 De Vita Petri Boessatii, Grasse, 1680, p. 80.
42The texts that portray Des Barreaux in situ, among his peers, at court or in town, at balls, at the dining table, at the cabaret with friends or strangers, do evoke for sure his excesses, but in a manner that highlights his side as a debauchee, a drinker, an excessively extraverted character who likes to provoke, a loudmouth with a short fuse, a spinner of silly tales, especially toward the end of his life (see Chorier, Tallemant, etc.). His public impiety is toned down and presented as being only a façade, as Chorier (the author of the very libertine Dialogues of Louisa Sigeia) writes: “In regard to faith, he lied to himself: he didn’t believe his own lies, etc.36 On the other hand, Chorier acknowledges Des Barreaux’s erudition and culture.
- 37 “I have just heard that the debauched Des Barreaux has died; a beautiful soul before God, if he h (...)
- 38 This interest in cosmology and science is also affirmed in Marcussus’ verses, Les Amours de Pyraem (...)
43That is indeed a significant point: Des Barreaux was very interested in philosophy. Like Naudé, he made the trip to Italy to take Cremonini’s classes, as several contemporaries, among them Falconet and Patin, pointed out.37 A Latin letter by Théophile to Luillier written in the autumn of 1625 attests to Des Barreaux’s dedication to readings and speculations about the “origin of the world,”38 most likely materialist works, (incidentally, there is a letter in Latin by Théophile, that no one ever cites, which shows without a doubt, I think, that despite his prison and his supposed recantations and repentances, Théophile’s spirit remained free of the Christian religion). Des Barreaux was in fact a learned man who had knowledge of ancient languages, science, and philosophy (let us not forget that he was a student at la Flèche, where he met Descartes). That much may be deduced from the speculative coherence of his “libertine” poetry. But contemporaries hardly emphasized this aspect of his life, which nonetheless adds a certain weight to his deviance. In fact, they seemed rather to make fun of it: it really did not interest them, and what’s more it didn’t fit with the figure of the “illustrious debauchee” that had been taking shape and that Des Barreaux himself performed.
- 39 Nicolas Chorier, De Vita Petri Boessatii, Grasse, 1680, p. 80. (My thanks to Jean Letrouit, Sylvai (...)
44But there is more; Des Barreaux seems to have possessed, according to Chorier, a particular talent for making himself acceptable at the same time as he was making unacceptable utterances: “he had, in the prime of his life, a playfulness, a social grace, such that many of the absurdities he said in his extravagance on the nature of things were not without civility or charm. Ignorant people were astonished, stupefied: because of that, they liked to hear him speak, and yet they would become indignant that someone would have the perverse audacity to bring up, given the subject, those things which one could not even think of without dishonor.”39 When we read carefully this difficult passage, Des Barreaux seems to have been capable of uttering his most scandalous statements in a way that despite it all, did not alienate the sympathy of his listeners.
- 40 The Menagiana present an anecdote that relates to this passage of the historiette, as noted by Bav (...)
45One last passage by Tallemant, which touches on the reputation of the older Des Barreaux, provides a good transition to his poems: “Far from amending his ways as he aged, he wrote a song in which he said: ‘And through reason I try/ to turn myself into a brutish beast’ [« Et, par ma raison, je butte /A devenir bête brute. »] He preaches atheism wherever he goes, and once he was in Saint-Cloud, at the home of the dame du Ryer, for the Holy Week, with Miton, a great gambler, Potel (a councilor at the Châtelet), Raincys, Moreau and Picot, in order, he said, to celebrate Carnival with them.”40
46In other words, Des Barreaux remains the same: preaching atheism everywhere, which means that people everywhere do not seem to be getting more excited about it than it’s necessary... Atheism, expressed orally and in writing (especially in his poetry) is public knowledge (and let us not forget that the historiette was written during Des Barreaux’s lifetime), and, as such, it is deemed acceptable. We should note however that this expression of atheism always occurs in unpublished (that is, not formally published) texts: in songs that circulate through streets and taverns, in private texts and in letters. In this way Des Barreaux avoids public scandal and the public defamation of his name, all the way up to the end. Unlike Théophile, he was never exposed to a public indictment that would have forced the authorities to intervene officially.
47His texts and poems thus belong to this reserved space of limited communication, inside which they are accepted and sought out. Of course, as they are semi-clandestine, and are not claimed by the author as his own, some uncertainty remains regarding the authorship of several of them. However, a group of sonnets referred to as “libertine” are attributed to him in the manuscripts, and they show a lexical and stylistic unity sufficient for us to reasonably consider him their author.
- 41 Lachèvre points out two couplets of a song in Potocki’s collection attributed to Des Barreaux (le (...)
48Two lines of a song attributed to Des Barreaux, as we have seen, are cited by Tallemant: “And, through reason, I try/ to turn myself into a brutish beast.”41 Which literally means: “Using my reason, I propose it as my goal to become a brutish beast.” “Brutish:” that is, without reason. In fact, rather than pursuing “simple” atheism, which of course is often on friendly terms with reason, a much more radical approach is at play here: an approach that consists in the self-annihilation of reason, and which is a fortiori anatheist one. That is the doctrinal analysis that we are able to offer, which of course should not be split from the rhetoric of mockery and provocation that stands behind these words.
49These two lines are well-known thanks to Pascal’s mention of them in his Pensées: “Some wanted to give up passions and become gods, others wanted to give up reason and become brutish beasts” [« Les uns ont voulu renoncer aux passions et devenir dieux, les autres ont voulu renoncer à la raison et devenir bête brute »], and Pascal then adds the name of Des Barreaux (Lafuma 410). He embodied for Pascal the very type of the misologue “libertine,” who would like to be an animal devoid of reason, so as to escape the awareness of the misery and the greatness of man, but isn’t able to.
50The piece from which Tallemant takes these two lines is lost. However, we do have a sonnet by Des Barreaux, the incipit of which says: Qui addit scientiam addit et laborem (“He who increases his knowledge, increases his sorrow,” Ecclesiastes, 1:18). In this poem, Des Barreaux declares: “I am downgrading myself from Reason,/ I want to become a goose,/ And run toward ignorance// Drinking always the best,/ He who grows in knowledge/ Only grows his suffering” [« Je me dégrade de raison,/ Je veux devenir un oison,/ Et me sauver dans l’ignorance// En beuvant toujours du meilleur,/ Celuy qui croît en connaissance/ Ne fait qu’accroistre sa douleur »]. By writing this, Des Barreaux declares his opposition to the philosophical tradition most commonly espoused by those who were called libertines, namely the eclectic mix of Stoicism and Epicureanism which held that the use of reason would lead the wise man to live according to nature. A whole tradition, following Montaigne, insisted on the presence of a rational faculty in animals too, so that the rehabilitation of the animal side of humans did not at all involve the denial of reason.
- 42 Sonnet, Homine nullum animal aut misrius aut superbius (Pline), p. 269
51For Des Barreaux, however, reason is the source of all evils. It is reason which excites all destructive passions: “Regret for the past, fear of the future, /The sorrow of the present, the thought that it must end /[Reason] attacks us most harshly during our life, /Crimes committed by iron and poison, /Tears, moans, disquiet, /These are the handsome gifts that reason has for you”42; [« Le regret du passé, la peur de l’avenir,/ Le chagrin du présent, penser qu’il faut finir/ Qui nous livre en vivant les assauts les plus rudes,// Les crimes que commet le fer et le poison, Les larmes, les soûpirs, et les inquiétudes,/ Ce sont de beaux présents que te fait ta raison »].
- 43 “Pyrrhon the Philosopher, finding himself one day in a boat during a great storm, showed to those (...)
- 44 Sonnet, Emori nolo, me mortuum esse nihili aestimo, p. 263.
- 45 “But I know well that one lives happily /Drinking, eating and f...g”, (to be sung to the tune of th (...)
52That’s why Des Barreaux strives to reach out to a cynical brand of naturalism, rejecting the artifice of logos, creator of laws and constraints. His goal is a Pyrrhonist form of ignorance, like that of the pig on the boat caught in a storm that Pyrrhon takes as his model of conduct (see Diogenes Laërtius quoted in Montaigne43), to which Des Barreaux adds neo-Epicurean precepts that hover between the mournful hedonism of Théophile’s Première journée ( Des Barreaux wrote in that vein: “I have always had a taste for good things, /I like the sight of the sun and the crimson hue of roses”44) and the brutal injunction of the Baron de Blot: drink, eat, fuck.45
- 46 In this sonnet (Qui multiplicat intellectum multiplicat afflictionem, p. 272), this precept is pre (...)
- 47 Sonnet, Qui multiplicat intellectum multiplicat afflictionem, p. 272. The affirmation of the mortal (...)
- 48 Sonnet, Qui multiplicat intellectum multiplicat afflictionem, p. 272.
53Reason is the source of all affliction, and all pleasure comes from the senses. Hence the precept: “Let us strive for pleasure more than for knowledge,46/ And use our senses more than our reason;” [« Estudions-nous plus à jouïr qu’à connoistre, / Et nous servons des sens plus que de la raison »]. Going even further, we must fight against the faculty that makes us aware of our miseries, that informs us of our condition, and makes us see the truth, which is that of an irreparable and total death (“By eternal sleep my death will be followed, /I enter into nothingness when I leave life.” [« D’un sommeil éternel ma mort sera suivie,/ J’entre dans le néant quand je sors de la vie »]).47 “I give up common sense, I despise intelligence.” [« Je renonce au bon sens, je hay l’intelligence »].48
54 Des Barreaux thus reduces man to his animal condition, understood as the most material, the most physical, and the least intellectual state: “What does man do, having reason for his share,/ This man who is the living image of the living God?/ He gets up, goes to bed, sleeps, eats and drinks, and then belches, sleeps, farts, shits, pisses:/ Oh! What an honorable animal man is, Oh, how wonderful!”; [« Que fait cet Homme ayant la raison pour partage,/ Et qui du Dieu vivant est la vivante image ?/ Se lever, se coucher, dormir, manger et boire, et puis roter, dormir, peter, chier, pisser :/ O! le brave animal que l’Homme, ô voire, ô voire. ».]
55Vanity of man, therefore, and of human life: a famous theme of Ecclesiastes, which had already been dechristianized by others, primarily by Montaigne and Charron. Vanity of man’s pretention to dominate the animal world from the height of his reason; of his belief that part of him remains alien to nature, infinitely superior to all animal forms, because man is made in the image of God and he is like a little god on earth.
- 49 Sonnet, Sur la mort, p. 268.
56 Des Barreaux is certainly a hedonist, but an exasperated and hopeless one, who is convinced that life’s share of suffering and anguish is disproportionately larger than the pleasure that even the most resolute pleasure-seeker is able to attain. That’s the reason why he is haunted by the motif (baroque, if you like) of the vanity of all things and the triumph of death, from which he removes all spiritual and Christian dimension. He does not spare his imprecations against death; in On Death, he states: “Ruin of humans, oh abominable death!/.../ It takes you from behind, it takes you from the front” (the obscene reference is here quite evident); [« Ruine des humains, ô mort abominable !/…/ Elle prend par derrière, elle prend par devant »]; “Some will say to me ‘Why afflict yourself,/ Why torment yourself, there’s no remedy to it.’/ But damn it! That’s precisely what enrages me.” [« Quelques-uns me diront, pourquoy s’en affliger,/ Pourquoy s’en tourmenter, c’est un mal sans remède./ Et c’est cela, morbleu, qui me fait enrager »].49
- 50 Sonnet, « Que ta condition, Mortel, me semble dure », p. 271.
57To the consoling arguments of a Christian or philosophical ilk, Des Barreaux opposes execration, insult, rage – the polar opposites of both pious resignation and reasonable, rational mastery of the passions. In another sonnet, which calls on the reader (mortel) to take “all the pleasures that Nature allows” [« tous les plaisirs que permet la Nature »], Des Barreaux enacts a sort of dialectic, or rather a mutually reinforcing exacerbation of the “sorrow” that the thought of death involves, and the pleasures that nature has to offer: “...I know no greater happiness in life,/ Than to have a great reason to rage against death;” [« …je ne connois point, plus grand heur dans la vie,/ Que d’avoir grand sujet d’enrager de la mort »].50
- 51 Sonnet, « Dieu, Nature ou Destin, que tu nous fais grand tort ! », p. 276.
- 52 Sonnet, Qui multiplicat intellectum multiplicat afflictionem, p. 272.
- 53 Sonnet, « Dieu, Nature ou Destin, que tu nous fais grand tort ! », p. 276.
- 54 Stances sur l’affection de la vie, p. 277.
58The results is a rebellion against the natural condition of man that is formulated in a most lucid form: as a marked indifference toward the question of origins: “God, Nature or Destiny, how wronged we are by you! [...] whichever of you three is master of fate” [« Dieu, Nature ou Destin, que tu nous fais grand tort ! […] qui que tu sois des trois qui conduises le sort »].51 In reality, behind this show of doubt (which consists in presenting God as being the same as “Nature or Destiny”), the principle that the poet ceaselessly invokes and accuses is very much “la Nature”: “Mortals, who believe, when you are born/ That you are obligated to nature, oh what treachery!” [« Mortels, qui vous croyez, quand vous venez à naistre,/ Obligez à nature, ô quelle trahison ! »]52; “You give us nothing, treacherous Nature” [« Tu ne nous donnes rien, traîtresse de Nature »]; 53 “What an injustice, what an injury,/ What a shameful act of nature” [« Quelle injustice, quelle injure,/ Quelle indignité de nature »].54
59It is nature that makes us wretched, mortal, and, most important, conscious of being so. Nature overwhelms us with miseries, the worst of which is the knowledge we have of them. That is why nature deserves all of our fury. The expression of rage and indignation against the cruel mother nature (which is a fortiori blasphemous, for God is either ignored or, which amounts to the same, reduced to treacherous nature) appears above all as a very special pleasure. It is perhaps the only pleasure that is not dictated by nature, for it is opposed to it. It is this gesture of defiance that turns the very natural fear of death into a kind of pleasure .
60This special pleasure of defiance, of cursing and blaspheming is entirely encapsulated and discharged in the composition and the declamation of the poem (an exercise in which Des Barreaux seems to have excelled). These were of course eminently social activities that consisted both in the provocation and the complicity effected and produced through oral declamation, and in the written circulation of pronouncements that would otherwise have been found unacceptable in the context of a widely disseminated publication. But they were accepted, sought out, and eventually appreciated, within the aristocratic circles that Des Barreaux frequented, which we would be wrong to think had been composed exclusively of detractors who repudiated him, or of freethinkers who approved him. It is also very significant that so many of his contemporaries cast a doubt on Des Barreaux’s endorsement of his own words – which indicates that they judged them not as impossible, but as difficult to believe. And yet, in this indeterminate, unstipulated space separating provocation and complicity, ostentation and withdrawal, eccentricity and lucidity, scandalous propositions and playful versifying, in this gray area that bordered the unacceptable, these utterances were accepted, appreciated even, and so was their author, despite – or perhaps because – of a behavior that was judged alternatively – or simultaneously – transgressive and inoffensive, shocking and ridiculous.
1 « Les frontières de l’inacceptable. Pour un réexamen de l’histoire de l’incrédulité ». Les Dossiers du Grihl [Online], Les dossiers de Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, Les limites de l’acceptable, published online November 9, 2011. URL : http://dossiersgrihl.revues.org/4746, DOI : 10.4000/dossiersgrihl.4746.
2 « Liberté d’expression ». In reality, Article 19 of the Declaration uses the syntagm “freedom of opinion or of expression” (« liberté d’opinion ou d’expression »). In France, people already spoke of such freedoms before the Revolution, under different names, in positive as well as negative ways.
3 The expression “illustrious debauchee” (“illustre débauché”) was first used by Jean Chapelain, in a letter to Guez de Balzac, dated December 15, 1640.
4 See the Dictionnaire of Furetière, which presents, astonishingly for us, the expression “illustre débauché” with positive connotations: “Débauché – When this word is paired with a favorable adjective, it signifies one who loves honest pleasures, society, free life. ‘An illustrious debauchee,’ see St. Amant. ‘An amiable debauchee.’ ‘Epicurus was a very wise debauchee,” see René Rapin. ‘Des-Barreaux was a celebrated debauchee.’” A quatrain follows, taken from the Valesiana (1693): “Des-Barreaux, the old debauchee / Feigns an austere reform / He has however deprived himself / Only of that which he could no longer do.” [« Débauché. Quand ce mot est accompagné d’une épithete favorable, il signifie, Qui aime les plaisirs honnêtes ; la société ; la vie libre. Un illustre debauché. St. Amant. Un agréable débauché. Epicure étoit un debauché fort sage. Le P. R. [Père Rapin]. Des-Barreaux a été un fameux debauché. » « Des-Barreaux, ce vieux debauché / Affecte une reforme austere ;/ Il ne s’est pourtant retranché/ Que ce qu’il ne sçauroit plus faire. » Valesiana (1693).]
5 According to Vanel, the young Des Barreaux had “a quick wit and a lively conversation, but was thoroughly debauched and impious.” Gallanteries des rois de France du commencement de la monarchie jusques à présent, Paris, 1694, t. 3, p. 121.
6 “Phylis, everything is fucked up, I am dying of syphilis,/[...] My God, I repent for having lived so badly:/ And if your wrath doesn’t kill me this time,/ I swear from now on to fuck only in the ass.” [« Phylis, tout est …tu, je meurs de la vérole,/[…]//Mon Dieu, je me repens d’avoir si mal vécu :/ Et si votre courroux à ce coup ne me tue,/ Je fais vœu désormais de ne …tre qu'en cul. »]Le Parnasse des poètes satyriques, ed. G. Bougueuil, Paris, Passage du Nord-Ouest, p. 15.
7 Recueil de pièces nouvelles et gallantes, Cologne, Pierre Marteau, 1667.
8 The manuscript acquired by the Leiden Library in 1980 is without contest the least constrained and the richest. Ms. 1629, Henri de Kizielnicki, Amorum emblemata figuris incisa studio athonis vaeni Batabo-Lugdunensis Antwerpiae-venalia apud Auctorem, M.D.C. which attributes 28 pieces to Des Barreaux. On this manuscript see the edition by Baverel-Croissant, p. 184.
9 Recueil Conrart, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris, ms 3135, ms 4124 (t. XIX), ms 4128 (t. XXIII), 4129 (t. XXIV), ms 5418 (t. IX), ms 5422 (t. XIII).
10 See, e.g., Arsenal manuscript 4123, Conrart Collection, t. XVIII.
11 On Conrart, see the N. Schapira’s remarkable work, Un professionnel des lettres au XVIIe siècle: Valentin Conrart, une histoire sociale. Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2003.
12 See my reflections on this topic in Postures libertines, Avant-propos.
13 See Léonce Janmart de Brouillant, Histoire de Pierre du Marteau, imprimeur à Cologne, Paris, Quantin, 1888; Genève, Slatkine Reprints, 1971, p. 140-143. On the two editions from 1663 and 1667 in two parts, see A. Willems, Les Elsevier, Histoire et annales typographiques, Paris, La Haye, Labitte, Nijhoff, n° 1319, p. et n° 1387, p. 355.
14 One example, among many: when Marcassus publishes in 1664 his Libre version des odes et des épodes d’Horace, he dedicates each piece to a prominent figure, and, as Lachèvre states, “the entire court of Louis XIV shows up”; [« toute la cour de Louis XIV y passe »]. Des Barreaux, dedicatee of one of the odes, is not forgotten. Lachèvre, p. 224.
15 Tallemant, Naudeana et Patiniana, Amsterdam, 1703, p. 50.
16 It is necessary to correct Tallemant on this matter, in that he confuses the father and the grandfather, who are both named Jacques.
17 See C.K. Abraham’s rather dissatisfactory work, Gaston d'Orléans et sa cour: Étude litteraire. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1964, and Georges Dethan, La vie de Gaston d'Orléans, Paris, Éd. de Fallois, 1992.
18 But see also, Baverel-Croissant, in his editions of Des Barreaux’s works, op. cit., p. 99-108.
19 Tallemant des Réaux, Historiettes, A. Adam, Gallimard, 1961, t. II, p. 29-33.
20 Garasse, Mémoires, éd. Charles Nisard, Paris, Amyot, p. 78. Countering the conclusions of most critics, Antoine Adam denies that Des Barreaux is the author of these letters, and identifies him as Tircis, about whom Théophile complained so bitterly and who, according to Adam, could not be Des Barreaux, but rather a member of parliament. Adam does not however explain why Garasse explicitly attributes these letters to Théophile’s young friend and not to another. Théophile de Viau et la libre pensée française en 1620, Genève, Slatkine, 1935, p. 370.
21 Frédéric Lachèvre, Le libertinage devant le Parlement de Paris: Le procès du poète Théophile du Viau (11 juillet 1623-1er septembre 1625) ; publication intégrale des pièces inédites des Archives nationales, Paris, Champion, 1909, p. 206.
22 “Not long ago a young fool, who is a principal member of the mysterious cabal, came to the house of Saint Louys to find one of our fathers, who had once been his rhetoric teacher, to ask him a question worthy of such a disciple: after several compliments, he told him flatly that he was there for the express purpose of asking him a question that troubled him much: It’s that, he said, my father, I can’t persuade myself that the son of God incarnated himself sixteen hundred years ago, as we are asked to believe; for how likely can that be that God made himself man?” p. 267.
23 BNF fr. 12491, p. 134.
24 Ibid. p. 137.
25 The text actually says “impious or [rather] libertine,” [« impie ou [plutôt] libertin »] in order “to be a good sport” [« pour faire le bon compagnon »], which clearly means to say that Des Barreaux was not really impious, but only libertine. In other words, he played the impious without being such in a consequential manner, which conforms to the most common use of the term “libertine” in French as denoting less a deliberate, purposeful irreligion than a desire to show off and to appear impious at social gatherings. This usage indicates that this kind of behavior could be socially rewarding on many occasions. It was “cool” we might say today, to take a pose of irreligiosity.
26 See, e.g., the epitaph attributed to La Place: “Here lies the famous Des Barreaux/ Patriarch of skeptics:/ Who, dying pious as an apostle,/ Believed in God like any other”; [« Cy dessous gist le fameux Des Barreaux/ Patriarche des indevots :/ Et qui mourant pieux comme un apôtre,/ Croioit en Dieu tout comme un autre »], cited by Lachèvre, Le prince des libertins du XVIIe siècle : Jacques Vallée Des Barreaux, sa vie et ses poésies (1599-1673), 1907, p. 192.
27 See also the quatrain of the Valesiana, cit. supra n. 2.
28 BNF nat 1697, f° 131 r.
29 BNF, fr 12618, p. 73. See also Boileau, Satire I, where he alludes to Des Barreaux in these verses: “He who plays the daring man, and trembling with weakness,/ Waits for fever to press him to believe in God;/ And always lifting his hands up to the stormy sky,/ As soon as the calm returns he laughs at weak humans/ For to think that a God turns the world,/ And regulates the springs of the round machine/ Or that there is a life beyond death/ That’s what he can’t swear to, at least out loud”; [« Qui fait l’homme intrépide, et tremblant de foiblesse,/ Attend pour croire en Dieu que la fièvre le presse ;/ Et toujours dans l’orage au Ciel levant les mains,/ Dès que l’air est clame rit des faibles humains/ Car de penser alors qu’un Dieu tourne le monde,/ Et règle les ressorts de la machine ronde/ Ou qu’il est une vie au-delà du trépas/ C’est là, tout haut du moins ce qu’il n’avoûra pas »]. See also the Satyre des satyres by Edme Bousault (1666): “[Des Barreaux] plays the daring man, and, trembling with weakness,/ Waits for fever to press him to believe in God,/ And once outside danger laughing at the common sentiment,/ He preaches that Three makes Three and never One”; [« [ Des Barreaux] fait de l’intrépide, et, tremblant de foiblesse/ Attend, pour croire en Dieu, que la fièvre le presse,/ Et riant hors de là du sentiment commun,/ Presche que Trois font Trois et ne font jamais un »]. See also the Fable du faucon malade, “To Monsieur Des Barreaux, who did not believe in God except when he was sick” [« A Monsieur Des Barreaux, qui ne croyoit en Dieu que lorsqu’il étoit malade »], cited by Bavarel-Croissant, in his edition, Œuvres, p. 63, 65-68.
30 “The whole boat is painted black and polished; the hold is lined in black velvet on the inside and black serge on the outside, with leather cushions of the same color. Great lords are not permitted to have a gondola different from that of any other citizen, whatever his status; so that there is no point in trying to guess who might be inside a closed gondola.” President of Brosse.
31 The truth of this anecdote is attested to in a letter from Henry Arnaud, written January 28, 1643, the day following the event. Cited by A. Adam, Tallemant des Réaux, Historiettes, t. II, p. 936.
32 Claude Picot, who translated Descartes’ Principes de la philosophie and who accompanied Des Barreaux during his visit to Descartes in Holland in 1641.
33 Jean Alies, Baron de Caussade, Lord of Réalville, Maître d'hôtel du Roi, Receveur des Tailles et Trésorier de France à Montauban: in short, the most important dignitary of the region.
34 Théophile de Viau, Œuvres, Édition Saba, t. II, p. 39 sq.
35 Muze historique, letter 50, December 14, 1653, cited by Baverel-Croissant, ibid., p. 114.
36 De Vita Petri Boessatii, Grasse, 1680, p. 80.
37 “I have just heard that the debauched Des Barreaux has died; a beautiful soul before God, if he had believed in Him! He spoke like a man who had little faith in otherworldly affairs; but he infected several poor young men with his libertinage. They say that the seed was planted before he went to Italy, but that on his return it was in full bloom. A jolly type once said that too much conversation with monks had ruined him: he didn’t mean the anchorites of Thébaïde or our good men who are devoted to piety and and study, but those who are so numerous in the cities of Italy, for whom God is the least of their concerns.” Patin to Falconet, May 26, 1666, Guy Patin, Lettres, éd. J.-H. Reveillé-Parise, Paris, Baillère, 1846, t. III, p. 598 (passage cited by Bayle in his note dedicated to Des Barreaux, in his Dictionnaire historique et critique). “No one talks about Monsieur Des Barreaux any longer; I don’t know where he is at present. He has lived with the sect of Crémonin. They take no care of the soul and barely any of their bodies, if it’s not three feet underground. He corrupted the minds of a lot of young men who let themselves be infatuated by this libertinage,” Patin to Falconet, ibidem, t. III, p. 602 (these two texts are attributed in error to Falconet by B. Croissant).
38 This interest in cosmology and science is also affirmed in Marcussus’ verses, Les Amours de Pyraemon et de la belle Vénerille, in Muses Illustres, 1658, in a poem dedicated to Des Barreaux: “You show nature to your best friends,/ You discover secrets known to few,/ And penetrating air, fire, earth and wave,/ You meet nothing in this vast universe/ Of which you do not reveal the many miracles”; [« Tu fais voir la nature à tes meilleurs amis,/ Découvres des secrets connus à peu de monde,/ Et pénétrant les airs, le feu, la terre et l’onde,/ Tu ne rencontres rien dans ce vaste univers/ Dont tu ne fasses voir les miracles divers. »]
39 Nicolas Chorier, De Vita Petri Boessatii, Grasse, 1680, p. 80. (My thanks to Jean Letrouit, Sylvain Matton and Alain Mothu for their help in translating this difficult passage, which Lachèvre seriously mistranslates, op. cit., p. 185). The same text, which praises Pierre de Boissat (himself often cited for his libertinage) also states that “on the subject of God and his eternal majesty, which he declared himself the enemy of, neither Boissat nor Monsieur de Musy tolerated his poisonous inventions. When, as was his habit, he attacked it, it was not by refutation or blame that they rebuffed him, but by elegant and pleasant banter.” (Using here the translation of Lachèvre, Disciple et successeurs..., op. cit., p. 186.
40 The Menagiana present an anecdote that relates to this passage of the historiette, as noted by Baverel-Croissant (op. cit., p. 115): Des Barreaux and d’Elbene, during Lent, “wanted to eat meat and only found lard and eggs, with which they had an omelet made. While they were eating it, there came a thunderstorm so terrible that it seemed like the house was collapsing. Monsieur Des Barreaux, perfectly calm, took the plate and threw it out the window, saying: ‘That’s a lot of noise for a lousy lard omelet.’”
41 Lachèvre points out two couplets of a song in Potocki’s collection attributed to Des Barreaux (left out of the Baverel-Croissant edition): “We’re half a dozen here/ Who do not worry ourselves/ With neither the Old nor the New Testament./ And I consider it impossible/ To find under the sky/ Men less zealous about the Bible than us.” [« Nous sommes ici demi-douzaine/ Qui ne nous mettons guères en peine/ Du vieux ni Nouveau Testament./ Et je tiens qu’il est impossible/ De trouver sous le Firmament/ Des gens moins zélés pour la Bible »]. Couplet: “One does not f--- inside glory/ One can neither eat nor drink./ To always admire is idiotic./ To sing all life long/ Domine Deus Sabaoth/ At the end, by God, one gets bored.” In Lachèvre, Bibliographie des recueils collectifs de poésies publiés de 1597 à 1700, p. 95-96 ; [« On ne f… point dedans la gloire/ On n’y peut ni manger ni boire./ Toujours admirer est d’un sot./ Enfin chanter toute sa vie/ Domine Deus Sabaoth/ A la fin par Dieu, on s’ennuye »].
42 Sonnet, Homine nullum animal aut misrius aut superbius (Pline), p. 269
43 “Pyrrhon the Philosopher, finding himself one day in a boat during a great storm, showed to those around him who were the most afraid a pig, who was not at all worried by the storm, and encouraged them to follow its example. Shall we venture to say that the privilege of reason, which we celebrate so much, and in name of which we hold ourselves as masters and emperors of all other creatures, was placed in us for our own torment? What good is the knowledge of things, if it makes us lose our tranquility, which we would have without it, and if it puts us in a worse condition than that of Pyrrhon’s pig?”
44 Sonnet, Emori nolo, me mortuum esse nihili aestimo, p. 263.
45 “But I know well that one lives happily /Drinking, eating and f...g”, (to be sung to the tune of the Confiteor!). Recueil de chansons choisies. Pour servir à l’histoire, depuis l’Année 1660, jusqu’à présent, Bib. Nat. Ms fr. 15136, p. 20. See Fritz Nies, « Chansons et Vaudevilles d’un siècle devenu « classique » », Dietmar Rieger (dir.), La Chanson française et son histoire, Tübingen, Gunter Narr Verlag, 1988, p. 47-57.
46 In this sonnet (Qui multiplicat intellectum multiplicat afflictionem, p. 272), this precept is presented as an auto-citation (“I’ve said it before”). The line appears in effect in the sonnet: “To be neither magistrate, nor husband, nor priest”, p. 267. We can deduce that this piece is considerably older than the other poems cited here. This one is a rewrite of a sonnet by Vauquelin Des Yvetaux, which presents the choice of a free and secluded life. Des Barreaux takes these verses further than Des Yvetaux and describes a character who comes close to the one that his contemporaries would call a libertine: “To be neither magistrate, nor husband, nor priest/.../ to strive to enjoy more than to know:// For the sake of tranquility to have neither mistress nor master/.../ To purge one’s spirit of popular errors /.../ That everywhere make you wait quietly for death” [« N’estre ni magistrat, ni marié, ni prestre/…/ s’estudier bien plus à jouïr qu’a connoistre:// Pour son repos n’avoir ni maistresse, ni maistre/…// Avoir l’esprit purgé des erreur populaires//…/ Font attendre partout la mort tranquillement »]. (Cited ed. p. 267, Des Yvetaux’s sonnet is also found on page 38). But in the later sonnets (dating perhaps from the 1640s?) there is no longer any trace of this well-balanced figure of the aristocratic free thinker living peacefully on his income in the heart of a pleasant, and very sociable, retreat (see also the sonnet Serviet aeternum qui parvo nesciet uti, against courtiers).
47 Sonnet, Qui multiplicat intellectum multiplicat afflictionem, p. 272. The affirmation of the mortality of the soul is a constant theme in all of his pieces: “All our senses are extinguished when we die, /The the body does not split from the soul, It is only a pure extinction of heat.” [« Nos sens s’éteignent tous quand on vient à périr, /De l’âme avec le corps ne se fait point rupture, Ce n’est qu’extinction de chaleur toute pure ».] Sonnet entitled “Mortal, whoever you are, fear no more,” p. 275; [« Mortel, qui que tu sois n’aye plus à frémir »].
48 Sonnet, Qui multiplicat intellectum multiplicat afflictionem, p. 272.
49 Sonnet, Sur la mort, p. 268.
50 Sonnet, « Que ta condition, Mortel, me semble dure », p. 271.
51 Sonnet, « Dieu, Nature ou Destin, que tu nous fais grand tort ! », p. 276.
52 Sonnet, Qui multiplicat intellectum multiplicat afflictionem, p. 272.
53 Sonnet, « Dieu, Nature ou Destin, que tu nous fais grand tort ! », p. 276.
54 Stances sur l’affection de la vie, p. 277.Haut de page
Pour citer cet article
Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, « The Limits of Acceptability: The Glorious Debauchee Jacques Vallée Des Barreaux. A Case Study », Les Dossiers du Grihl [En ligne], Les dossiers de Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, Les limites de l'acceptable, mis en ligne le 16 novembre 2014, consulté le 23 avril 2017. URL : http://dossiersgrihl.revues.org/6198Haut de page
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