Archive for March, 2011

Pascal Forthuny.

Sometimes Pascal Forthuny’s clairvoyance is expressed by plays on words, almost puns.

On 10 Febuary 1926, the writer addresses two young men who had come together to the Institut metapsychique:

“I see the name Cardinal.  I see masonry, brick constructions on which there are things in glass.  You aren’t crystal merchants, however…  It’s chemistry…  They are test tubes… ”


“You’re not a cardinal?”

“Oh, no!”

“However, I see a cardinal…  Do you work with little bodies, very tiny ones?”


“It’s a luminous matter that you manipulate, an explosive matter.  You don’t make powder, though.  Cardinal…  You make powder to blow up cardinals?”

“Not at all!”

“But, I am thinking of a cardinal of the Curia…  The Roman Court…  The Roman Curia…  Ah!  The Curie!  It’s radium that you manipulate!”

The two young men were in fact pupils of Madame Curie.


The name Pascal Forthuny was only a writer’s pseudonym.  His real name was Cochet.  The son of a Parisian architect, he was born in 1872 and died in 1962.  After brilliant studies, he was successively – or simultaneously – charge de mission by the Government, painter, composer, journalist, art critic, poet, novellist and playwright.  He published more than twenty works and had half-a-dozen plays performed in theatres.  Extremely gifted for languages (he spoke six) he entered the Ecole des langues orientales at the age of forty-one and was diplomed in Chinese three years later.


Before the famous 1921 seance at the Institut metapsychique where he had the revelation of his extraordinary clairvoyancy gift, he had had a strange premonition ten years earlier, while he was a journalist with Le Matin.  It happened on 12 January 1911, in the Sedan train station.  He had been given by his paper a story on the strikes in Alsace, and was about to go to Mulhouse with a photographer.

The two men were queuing in front of a ticket counter where they were supposed to take their tickets when, suddenly, Forthuny says to his companion:

“Listen, we have to return to Paris!”

The photographer is stunned.  What about Mulhouse and Colmar, where they are supposed to be going?

“You go if you want.  I’m going back!…  Don’t laugh at what I’m about to say:  I just saw, over there, beside the luggage, a coffin covered with a black pall and candles on each side of it.  Let’s get away!”

The photographer insists.  What about the story?  The people at Le Matin are going to be furious!

“I don’t care!  I’m going home!”

Half-an-hour later, he abandons the photographer and boards the train for Paris.

At home, he finds his worried wife.

“I’m glad that you came home earlier than you thought.  Your mother took cold and isn’t well… “

Forthuny rushed to Neuilly to his parents’ home.  His mother had pneumonia.  She died the following day…


He had no other similar premonitions.  Many serious events later occurred in his life without him having the slightest presentiment.  For example, at the time that his son Frederic was killed in an aeroplane accident, in 1919, he was classing documents on his desk “without the slightest emotion touching the threshhold of my conscience”, he would later say.


The death of his son had, naturally, thrown him into great disarray.  In an attempt to help him to recover, one of his friends lent him a book on spiritism.  Forthuny read it and concluded:

“It’s a fragile hypothesis.”

And he didn’t say anything else about it.  But on 18 July 1920, while he was at his desk writing a novel, his hand, as if compelled by an outside force, suddenly started to draw a series of sticks.  Astounded, Forthuny took another sheet of paper and placed his hand on it as it continued to draw sticks, then curves of all sorts, then finally, letters and words.  Very impressed, the writer called his wife.

And in front of her, he had another try.  Immediately, his hand started to write – in a jagged way – words with no logical connection.  This first seance of automatic writing lasted two hours.

Later, the words became better formed and the sentences were intelligible.  Even though his hand ran over the paper at lightning speed.  Sometimes, he even wrote from right to left and had to use a mirror to read what he had written.


They were messages of a spiritual order, advice on morality, a philosophical teaching and descriptions of the after-life…  It all happened as if his hand was guided by an invisible spirit that wanted to help him.  In the presence of these texts of a tone and style very different one from the other, it seemed to him that they came from two spiritual entities:  one, which would never give its name and signed “Your guide”, the other, Frederic, his own son.


This “impulsive” writing lasted six months.  Exactly from 18 July to 25 December 1920.  On the last day, because it was Christmas, Pascal Forthuny wanted to converse with his son.  He sat down at his desk.  Immediately, his hand started to move, but very weakly.  Slowly, it raced “Ad…”, then stopped forever.


Until the famous seance of 1921 at the Institut metapsychique, he lived quietly and, although his son had announced, in one of his last messages, that he would become a clairvoyant and a healer, he consecrated himself entirely to literature.


In Pascal Forthuny’s case, the clairvoyance was often “verbal”.  He saw – or received – words.  And it is through a rather bizarre approach that he arrived at his goal.  For example, he says one day to a lady:

“I see “geometry”.  You are a Mathematics professor?”

“Not at all.”

“Geometry…  Geometry in space…  Volume…  You work with voluminous things?

“No, but I’m a librarian and I sell volumes… “

His clairvoyance therefore expressed itself by verbal association.  Another day, he stops in front of a gentleman and says:

“Zola…  Why Zola?…  Zola…  I am thinking of La Faute de l’abbe Mouret…  Mouret…  Moutet…  Your name is Moutet?”

The gentleman’s name was Moutet…


Charles Richet says that what gives such importance to Pascal Forthuny’s experiments is that, with him, the processes through which the sixth sense becomes a detective of reality, can be followed.  Firstly, there is a vague impression, then a word, often only half-understood, comes which, by a series of verbal associations, by stumbling, often by puns, leads to reality.


Doctor Eugene Osty.

Forthuny participated in the experiments at the Institute for four years, from 1922 to the Spring of 1926.  In the beginning, he just walked around the audience and dialogued with a few people who had made a word or an image surge into his mind.  Then Doctor Eugene Osty, who was particularly interested in his case, had the idea of an experiment which was taken up by many parapsychologists, notably the famous American, J. B. Rhine.  It’s the famous “empty chair test”.  Doctor Osty had a chair designated in a room where the meeting was to take place.  Pascal Forthuny then described in detail the physical aspect and the life of the person who was going to sit in it.  At the opening of the doors, each spectator pulled a number from a hat.  The number corresponded to a chair.  It was therefore chance which indicated his place to him.  But the person who was going to sit on the chair, chosen the day before, corresponded exactly to the portrait made of him by Pascal Forthuny.  Everything was rigorously confirmed:  his name – or the initial of his name – his physical appearance, his age, his profession, his town of birth and all the details concerning his life…


There was no possiblity of fraud.  On top of which, Dr Osty personally controlled the unfolding of the operations and Pascal Forthuny was not a man capable of cheating on this sort of experiment.


Before a collection of facts which uncontestably prove the existence of this sixth sense of which Dr Richet speaks, or this faculty psi as parapsychologists call it, why are there still so many scientists who refuse the evidence and deny all paranormal faculties?  Lamarck said:

“It is often more difficult to make known the truth than to discover it…”



Pascal Forthuny.

On 2 December 1925, Pascal Forthuny enters the room and, without even looking at the audience, cries:

“I hear something like the noise of a big printing plant.  It’s all a rumbling of machines underground.  It’s two o’clock in the morning, there’s a strong smell of printing ink.  I see a gentleman coming out of an office, he descends into the building’s underground rooms to look at what is called the formes’ of a newspaper.  My thoughts are being taken toward the newspaper Le Matin where I used to be an editor.  I don’t think that there’s a Matin editor in the audience.  However, there is here a man who has an important function in a newspaper where he has to descend at two o’clock in the morning to see the formes’.”

He approaches a gentleman, unknown to everyone, who has come to the Institut de metapsychisme for the first time.  He takes his hand and continues:

“I am being given a big letter L…  There is fog, there is water…  there are boats…  the smell of colonial goods, of yellow, grey water.  Do you descend at two o’clock in the morning to see the formes’, Sir?  You are Belgian?  What is Lanoy?  You go on boats?  You light cigars from the Antilles or something, with captains of boats at a club?  You meet captains of boats at a club and there you are given a cigar?  Herick?…  Is that the captain’s name?…  You have lost a bet in a circle?  I see a big port, it is full of smoke and goods, it’s Anvers.  Are you are an editor at the Matin of Anvers, Sir?”

He is.

“And Lanoy?”

“There’s a letter missing.”

“Well, put it in.”

“My name is Landoy.”

Monsieur Landoy then explains that he is Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Le Matin, at Anvers, and that he quite often meets, at the French circle in this town, a former ship owner with whom he usually plays billiards.  The prize for winning the game is always “a cigar”…

Another evening, Pascal Forthuny addresses a gentleman, whom he had never met, at the Institut.

“I see the letter D.”

The gentleman tells him that it is the initial of his name.

“I see music around you.”

The gentleman is a musician.

“I see something funny, even comical:  you’re climbing a straight staircase made of planks.  It’s dirty, dusty, everything’s dark.  The lights are out.  You’re very uneasy because there are no lights.  Then you arrive on a floor.  You’re afraid that you’ll bump into something.  You know the place well and the way that it’s set out, but you have some apprehension.  Something is different this day.  I’m being shown a cello bow that has fallen on the floor.  And I’m shown the cello in the corner, as if it has been abandoned.  You have the idea that it might be broken, and that bothers you.”

Monsieur D. reveals that he is a musician in a chapel and he explains:

“The staircase that you saw leads, in fact, to a dusty estrade where we play music.  It’s very dark and you risk breaking your neck.  You can bump into music stands and all sorts of things.  As for the cello abandoned in a corner, it’s an image that I can easily translate, for, on that day, this instrument was absent and I was personally very upset that it wasn’t there…”


Robert Tocquet, Professor at the "Ecole d'anthropologie" and Member of the "Comite directeur de l'Institut metapsychique international", wrote many works on parapsychology.

On 27 January 1926, Pascal Forthuny addresses a gentleman whom he didn’t know:

“You were in the war…  I see one of your companions who was not killed by enemy fire, but who was crushed under an artillery piece… “

The gentleman, very impressed, rises and explains that he had been to the war as a lieutenant in the reserve artillery and that one of his companions did effectively pass under a canon in the forest of Villers-Cotterets.

Then, before a very attentive public, a curious dialogue is engaged between Pascal Forthuny and the unknown man of whom it is learnt, after the seance, that his name is Monsieur Robert Tocquet and that he is a Professor at the College d’Avallon.

P. F. :  “I am being shown a lake with a swan and I hear:  Bert, Bertille, Berty…  I am given a W which marks a place.”

R. T. :  “That’s right.”

P. F. :  “Behind, there are slopes over which I see a sort of cupola…”

R. T. :  “Yes.”

P. F. :  ” …which is central in the town.  Ah!  What’s all this?  The swan is passing again, it’s in a theatre, I see.

R. T. :  “Yes, that’s right.”

P. F. :  “I am being given a big M.”

R. T. :  “Very good.”

P. F. :  “It’s curious, this story.  The letter M is in the central box.  It’s a man that I see like this.  (Here, P. F.  takes on a stiff, energetic stance.)  “Oh!  What a head!  I see the cupola again and, above it, a K which is the designation of the place of the cupola.”

R. T. :  “Very good, very good.”

P. F. :  “Now you’ve left, there are four of you, there, in a…  it’s not a promenade.  You haven’t paid?  You are told:  ‘Go on, that’s enough.’ “

R. T. :  “I wasn’t told:  ‘That’s enough’, I was told ‘Go on, it’s free.’ “

P. F. :  “Were they playing Lohengrin at the Wiesbaden Theatre?”

R. T. :  “Yes.  And the W, is Wilhelm’s box.”

P. F.  (putting himself back into the energetic stance) :  And isn’t this Mangin?”

R. T. :  “It was Mangin!… “


Afterwards, Robert Tocquet confirmed in detail the visions of Pascal Forthuny and explained certain obscure passages.  Here is the text of a letter that he wrote to Doctor Osty:

“I stayed about two weeks, as part of the occupation troops, in Wiesbaden, in 1920, in the company of a young German girl who familiarly called me Robert, but pronounced “Bert”, absolutely like Mr Forthuny did.  Not having immediately seized the meaning of Bert, Mr Forthuny must have relied on my expression, and wandered to Berty and Bertille…

“One day, two of my companions, this young girl and myself went to visit the Kurhaus of Wiesbaden (signification of K) a monument surmounted by a vast cupola and occupying the centre of the town.  To the North of Wiesbaden, there is the Taunus chain.

“I remember that on this same day, in a public garden near the Kurhaus, a musical audition was given by German artists.  Entry was paying for the civils and free for the military.  I think that I gave a few coins to the ticket controller – which could explain Mr Forthuny’s words:  ‘That’s enough’

“A few days later, still in the company of this young girl, I went to hear Lohengrin at the Wiesbaden Theatre.  This theatre is a few tens of metres from the Kurhaus.  General Mangin was in the imperial box, which is decorated with a big W, the initial of Wilhelm II.  It is the only opera that I heard in Wiesbaden.

“I don’t very well remember if a swan passed on the stage, it’s probable.  However, a few days after this performance, I saw in a garden of the Kurhaus a fireworks piece representing a swan.

“I wish to point out that there is a logical thread among the different images seen by Mr Forthuny.

“My stay in Germany was effectively only the prolonging of my life at the front since, immediately after the Armistice, I was part of the occupation troops.

“Further, when I mentally evoke the episodes of the war, I always associate them with the facts related to this stay which was terrible for me in sentimental events, that are strongly entrenched in my memory.

“At the moment when Mr Forthuny was describing the theatre episode, I was not conscious of the facts recalled by him afterwards, but these facts, or facts of the same order, would have automatically and necessarily reappeared in my consciousness.”


To be continued.

Doctor Eugene Osty (1874-1938) succeeded Doctor Geley in 1924 as Director of the International Metapsychical Institute.

Pascal Forthuny was one of the strangest clairvoyants of the XXth Century.

One evening in 1921, a few people are gathered in a salon of the Institut psychique de Paris.  Among them, Gustave Geley, the author of works on the Unconscious, Doctor Osty, who has published studies on the phenomena of premonition, Charles Richet, a member of the Institut, a professor at the University, and the author of a famous book on the “sixth sense”, and a few foreign scholars who have been studying for years, with the greatest scientific rigour, the phenomena of extra-sensory perception.

This evening, among all these men of science, there is a writer, playwright, art critic, who has been brought along by a friend.  His name is Pascal Forthuny.  He is a cultivated man, of great sensitivity, brilliant intelligence and universal curiosity.  Extremely gifted in many domains, he fluently speaks French, Chinese, English, Spanish, Italian and German.  He plays the piano admirably, composes music, writes poems and regularly exhibits greatly appreciated paintings at the Salon.

Attracted to the phenomena of metapsychism (the word “parapsychology” is not yet used) Pascal Forthuny has wanted for a long time to attend a meeting of the Institut, directed by Gustave Geley.  So he is delighted for, this evening, the greatest researchers in this rather special domain are gathered here.  And he is very happy to think that he is certainly going to see some enthralling experiments.

The seance begins.

Doctor Geley holds out a letter folded in four to a clairvoyant, Madame de B.  He asks her to touch the letter and tell him what this contact suggests to her.  Pascal Forthuny intervenes with a smile:

“It can’t be difficult to recount something applicable to anything.  Allow me.”

And he takes hold of the letter.  Immediately, he says:

“Oh, oh!  I see a monstrous person…  A beard… cadavers…  It’s Bluebeard!!!”

Very impressed, Doctor Geley takes back the letter and tells him that it was written by Landru.  All of the members of the Institut look at each other in amazement.  Madame Geley tells Forthuny that he has an extraordinary gift.  He laughingly denies it.

“I have no gift.  I just said whatever came into my head…  Luck did the rest… “

Mme Geley asks him to attempt another experiment.  He agrees.

The Institute Director’s wife then takes a fan from a little side-table and puts it into Pascal Forthuny’s hand.  She asks him to tell her where it comes from.  He says that he doesn’t know.  She insists, asking him what it makes him think of.

“I don’t know why, a name comes to mind:  Elisa…  Yes, Elisa…  It’s strange, I feel as if I’m suffocating… “

Mme Geley is now looking at him, astounded.

“It’s fabulous!  This fan belonged to an elderly lady who was one of my friends.  She died of pulmonary congestion.  During her illness, she used it to give herself some air and breathe more freely…  And the lady who cared for her was called Elisa!… “

Mme Geley calls everyone over and they form a circle around the writer, who is a bit taken aback at being transformed into a star attraction.  Mme Geley, who had left for a moment, comes back with a walking-stick.

Pascal Forthuny, who does not at all believe in his gift, jokingly takes on the voice and the manner of a fairground somnambulist and begins to describe countrysides and army movements “far away, somewhere in the Orient”.  Then he talks about a young officer who had owned this walking-stick.  And he adds:

“This officer was coming back to France when his boat was torpedoed… “

This time, Mme Geley considers Pascal Forthuny in stupefaction:

“All this is rigorously exact.  This walking-stick belonged to a young Frenchman who, as an officer, participated in the Greek campaign.  Upon his return to France, his vessel was torpedoed.  Saved from the wreck, he died some time later… “

Pascal Forthuny still remains incredulous, in spite of the emotion of those around him.  He asks if they are playing a joke on him.  Dr Osty answers:

“No, Sir, I assure you that everything that you said is true.  I know the story of this walking-stick.”

Then, for the first time, Pascal Forthuny seems troubled:

“So I have a faculty that I didn’t know I had?”

Dr Osty says:


But Mme Geley, who wants to continue with the experiment, has gone to her bedroom.  She comes back this time with a letter that she puts into Pascal Forthuny’s hand, and asks him what he sees.  The writer doesn’t hesitate for even a second:

“Oh!  Madame, this letter was written in a very pretty town.  It’s the Orient…  There is a port.  It’s admirable!  What a magnificent view!  What a beautiful blue sky!… “

Mme Geley then reveals that this letter had been writtten to her twenty years before at Constantinople, by her father…


The members of the Institut metapsychique, who had never met a subject of this quality, immediately decide to perform public experiments with Pascal Forthuny.

Here is how they proceed.  The writer penetrates the room where there are around fifty people who are absolutely unknown to him.  Following his inspiration, he addresses one or the other of them and says aloud whatever enters his head.  The results, often “verbal approximations”, according to Mr Geley’s expression, are astounding.

Dr Osty and Charles Richet wrote down a great number of them.  Here are a few.

One day, Pascal Forthuny approaches a lady who is carrying a muff.  He takes it and says:

“This muff gives me the impression of being a block of crystal rather than fur.  It is becoming brighter and brighter…  I see this object growing smaller now, diminishing and taking on a geometric aspect…  It has the form of a cut stone…  of a diamond…  I see you surrounded by diamonds…  If I wanted to give you a nickname, I would call you Mme Diamond…  Gagne!  Gagne! [Won!]  I hear Gagne!…  Fortune!…  Diamond!… “

The lady tells him that her husband sells diamonds.  Pascal Forthuny asks:

“But what does the word “gagne” mean?”

The lady explains that her name is Mme Gagnerot…

To be continued.

The "City of Limerick" received the visit of the ghost of a living American woman.

After a long voyage by train, then in a small cart, the American, Harold Wilmot, and the Irishman, William Tait, arrive at the industrialist’s home in Connecticut.

When Mrs Wilmot comes to greet them, the Irishman receives a shock:  the young woman before him is the one whom he had seen in the ship’s cabin:  the same blue eyes, the same hair-do, the same impish air.

Harold Wilmot, who has noticed his friend’s emotion, leads everyone to the salon and undertakes to recount his voyage.  Suddenly, Mrs Wilmot, who has been looking at William Tait with a strange expression on her face, interrupts her husband:

“It’s curious.  I have the impression that I have already met this gentleman… “

Her husband asks her where.

“I don’t know…  Ah! yes…  You resemble someone in my dream… “

She turns to her husband.

“One afternoon, I was in this armchair;  I went to sleep and had a very clear dream.  I was in my dressing-gown and I was travelling across the sea, during a big tempest.  I was looking for your boat.  Suddenly, I saw a steamship painted black.  I landed on the deck, went through a salon and entered a cabin…  There, a detail struck me:  the upper bunk was longer than the lower one.  A man was lying on the top one and was looking fixedly at me.  He was a redhead with a beard, exactly like you, Sir…  I was rather troubled for an instant, then I went over to you, Harold, and kissed you on the forehead…  After which, I left… “

Harold Wilmot forces himself to laugh:

“In the middle of a storm!…  With your yellow dressing-gown…”

“Ah no!  I was wearing the new dressing-gown that I had just bought.  It is very pretty, you’ll see it tonight.  It is white, with blue stripes… “


This story is known through the Society for Psychical Research.  This English society is well over a century old and is the ancestor of all parapsychological societies.  As soon as it heard about this story – William Tait had talked about it abundantly, upon his retun to Ireland – the S. P. R. made a very long and very serious enquiry.  It interrogated:  firstly, all the boat’s passengers, including of course William Tait and Harold Wilmot;  secondly, Mrs Wilmot, to verify the time during which she had dreamed (time which, allowing for time zone differences, coincided exactly with the time of William Tait’s vision);  thirdly, Mrs Wilmot’s friends, for the young woman had been so troubled by her dream – dream which she remembered with extraordinary clarity – that she had talked about it to those around her.

The Society for Psychical Research was therefore able to acquire the certitude that we are in the presence of an exceptional case of “telepathic apparition”, a case where any kind of trickery was excluded…  And it published the result of the enquiry in its magazine….


A telepathic apparition is what parapsychologists call the apparition of the ghost of a living person…  When people speak of ghosts, they are generally evoking the apparition of a dead person;  but, from time to time, apparitions of a living person’s double are also seen…  This was the case, for example, for Emilie Sagee, the teacher who lived in 1845 and who divided into two in front of her pupils.


Specialists consider the Wilmot case as a complete case, in that Mrs Wilmot’s double not only left her dream to haunt her husband’s dream, but it was seen by a witness who was awake…


There is no satisfactory explanation for these phenomena.  Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, thinks that it would be a mistake to see in this case any manifestation of the supernatural.  He says that it is certainly just a question of a simple power of the human mind.  And that one day, perhaps, we will know how to master this power and use it to project ourselves throughout the world.  He adds, with humour, that the problem of the noise made by supersonic aircraft would then be resolved…


A phantom on board

The "City of Limerick", which assured the liaison Dublin-New York, received the visit of the ghost of a living American woman, who was in Connecticut at the time...

On 3 October 1863, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the City of Limerick, a paddle-boat passenger ship, leaves the port of Dublin for New York.

Around seven o’clock at night, the ship penetrates an agitated zone, and a steward warns the passengers that the evening might be a bit rough.  He is right.  One hour later, the City of Limerick is rolling so much, that the rare people who had risked the dining-room, quickly return to their bunks.  However, not everyone is suffering from seasickness.  In one cabin, two passengers, whom chance has thrown together, are trying to play American manille by the light of a candle, in spite of the vertiginous rolling.

One of them, tall, red-haired and bearded, is called William Tait.  He is a rich Irishman.  The other, Harold Wilmot, is an American industrialist who is returning to Connecticut where his wife and children are waiting for him.  The two men, who had already met during an earlier voyage, had been delighted to see each other again.  But a problem had presented itself when it was time to choose their bunks.  The cabin that they are occupying being situated at the ship’s stern and taking its curved form, the top bunk is longer than the lower one.  And each of the two men had of course wanted the other to have the better place.

Finally, all had been decided by flipping a coin, and luck had attributed the higher bunk to William Tait.

It is therefore on Harold Wilmot’s bunk that they are sitting for their game of manille

Suddenly, a wave makes the ship leap, and the cards fall to the floor.  They decide to go to sleep.

And, as calmly as if he were in his Connecticut bedroom, Harold Wilmot dons his nightshirt and lies down.  He is asleep within five minutes.

William Tait, who is not as used to ocean crossings as his companion, is feeling a bit tense.  He climbs up onto his bunk and lies down, completely dressed, leaving the candle alight.

Suddenly, he has the impression that something light-coloured has moved in the cabin.  He leans over and sees, astounded, a young blonde woman dressed in a blue and white striped dressing-gown who, seeming to come from the gangway via the door which he had himself locked, is heading towards the bunks.  After having glanced uneasily at William Tait, she leans over Harold Wilmot and kisses him on the forehead.

More and more astonished, the Irishman makes a sudden movement to sit up and loses the mysterious visitor from sight for a second.  When he raises his head, the young woman has disappeared.

William Tait descends from his bunk and goes to examine the door.  It is still locked.

Very intrigued, he climbs back to lie down and reflects on it.

“Let’s see, for this young woman to come in the middle of the night, dressed in a light dressing-gown, into the cabin where Wilmot is sleeping, he and she must be closely connected.  This begs the question:  if Harold is travelling with his mistress, why isn’t he sharing his cabin with her?”

William Tait continues to reflect and soon thinks that he has found the solution to the enigma:  Harold Wilmot, who is married, must be travelling with a lady who is also married.  To save appearances, they each took a cabin.

“It’s as simple as that.  And the American gave his key to his girlfriend so that she could join him at nightfall…  They couldn’t have known that a tempest would prevent me from sleeping;  and that is why the poor woman seemed so uneasy when she saw me awake, and limited herself to chastely kissing Harold Wilmot before leaving to run to her cabin…”

The Irishman, delighted with having elucidated this little mystery, stretches out and, the tempest having calmed a bit, finally goes to sleep.

Early in the morning, when he awakes, he calls to the American:

“So, Sneaky, we give appointments to ladies at night?”

The other man looks blank.

“You should have told me…  I would have gone to sleep in her cabin… “

The American doesn’t know to what his cabin companion is referring.

“Go on!  Don’t deny it.  I saw her…  She came while you were asleep… “

This time, Wilmot seems stunned.  He assures the Irishman that he doesn’t understand a word that he is saying.  His evident sincerity troubles William Tait.  He explains that, during the night a young blonde woman dressed in a blue and white dressing-gown had entered the cabin and kissed the American.  Wilmot bursts out laughing and says that he must have been talking in his sleep.  Tait asks him why he thinks that.  Wilmot replies that he had dreamed that his wife came to the cabin to kiss him.  And that she was wearing a dressing-gown.  This time, it is the Irishman who is astounded.

“Is your wife blonde with her hair wound in plaited buns over her ears?”

She is.

“Does she have very light blue eyes?”

She does.

“Does she have a blue and white striped dressing-gown?”

No, it’s yellow.

“What colour was it in your dream?”

He didn’t notice.

All morning, the two men compared memories…  Finally, they came to the conclusion that William Tait had seen, in the cabin, Mrs Wilmot acting exactly the way that she had acted, at that same moment, in the American’s dream…

All that day and those that followed, this story is the only topic of conversation among the passengers.

Then the ship arrives in New York, and Harold Wilmot, who wants to understand what had happened, takes William Tait home with him to Connecticut.

To be continued.

Louis XV.

It took the mortal illness of Louis XV for the French Court to see things differently.  The dead King had declared himself to be against innoculation and the young Dauphin refused to submit to it.  Only the Orleans family and a few enlightened nobles had up until then shown the way, if we except the massive character of the Franche-Comte operation.  As early as 13 May 1774, or three days after the death of the Bien-Aime, an innoculating doctor offers his services to the Count de Provence and the royal family in general.  Some are worried when, on 13 July, the Gazette de France announces the imminence of the operation.  It is thought that this decision has been taken under the influence of the Queen [Marie-Antoinette] who was able to see the efficacy of the procedure at the Vienna Court.  Worried, the Duke de Croy nevertheless concludes that

Marie-Antoinette and her children.

“if this goes well, it would be great worries the less and perhaps a revolution in the King [Louis XVI] which could make him make children, a consideration which could have entered into the just views of the Queen”.

The uncertainty is a burden nonetheless, and is translated by the brutal fall of the course of shares in the Compagnie des Indes orientales.  [Doctor] Tronchin having apparently managed to extricate himself from the solicitations of which he is the object, the innoculators retained are Richard, inspecteur general des hopitaux militaires, Lassone, the Queen’s doctor, and Jauberthon, a reputed Parisian innoculator.

Louis XVI.

The three men will firstly select a good “variolifere” (smallpox carrier):  the daughter of a laundry couple whose morality is guaranteed by the lieutenant general de police.  The King and the Princes go to Marly on 17 July.  They are joined by the sick girl on the following day.  Richard removes, via a lancet, the necessary pus from the child and then pricks Louis XVI, his two brothers and the Countess d’Artois.  After the first pains felt on the 22nd, the fever appears in the King on the 24th, soon followed by nauseas and shivers, but things get better from the 26th, and the eruption of the 27th has only a benign character.  After the suppuration engaged on the 30th, the absence of secondary fever over the course of the following days signifies that the sovereign is now out of danger.  The same goes for his two brothers and his sister-in-law.

Encouraged by this success and impressed by the size of the campaign in Franche-Comte, Louis XVI is favourable to a generalization of the procedure.  In 1782, the efforts deployed in Normandy by Doctor Lapeyre end in the creation, near Caen, of a specialised establishment.  On 24 September 1786, Calonne informs the Intendants that

“the King’s intention being to extend the progress of innoculation into the province, His Majesty has approved the project of having innoculated all of the foundling children who are in the villages and the countryside, as well as orphan children and others received into the hospitals, and who are in their charge”.

Doctor Jauberthon is given the task of supervising the operations.  The intention is laudable, but the Intendants’ responses highlight the material difficulties which the carrying out of such an enterprise will face.

The Revolution changes nothing about the case, and we have to wait until 1799, when Doctors Pinel and Leroux, from the Ecole de medecine, suggest the creation of an innoculation clinic for the purpose of using the “vaccine” procedure elaborated in England by Edward Jenner.  In 1798, in London, An Enquiry on the Causes of the Pox Vaccine [Une enquete sur les causes de la variole vaccinee] had appeared.  In it, Jenner demonstrates the anti-smallpox properties of cow-pox.  This possesses numerous advantages that the former innoculation did not have.  With vaccine, it is no longer necessary to treat the patient after innoculation, which permits envisaging it on a large scale.

Within a few years, it will allow the massive regression of deaths from smallpox.  From 50,000 to 80,000 victims before 1800, the number falls to under 10,000 from 1805.  From 1804, under the impulsion of the prefets, who receive instructions in this sense from the central power, sous-prefets, mayors and curates are mobilised for the creation of local vaccination committees.  The efficacy of the procedure is rapidly verified and overthrows the last reticences, particularly as the new innoculation no longer involves the very real risks which always accompanied the old one.  However, the road will still be long to the 1902 law which will make anti-smallpox vaccination obligatory in France.  It is only in 1910, that the illness will have almost totally disappeared, before being finally eradicated from the planet at the end of the XXth Century.

The empiric procedures of medicine, which is still in its infancy, or “old wives” remedies are hardly in measure to be able to cure smallpox.  But all will change with the introduction and the diffusion throughout Europe of the innoculation procedure.  It is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of His Gracious Majesty’s Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, who gives this method the publicity which will rapidly make it a success.  The smallpox epidemics which strike Istanbul in 1701 and 1709 reveal the positive effects of a preventive innoculation practised by two Greek fortune-tellers.  Informed by two Greek doctors of the protective consequences of the operation, Lady Wortley Montagu, who arrives in the Ottoman capital with her husband in 1717, is directly concerned by this question:  her brother died from the disease in 1713 and she caught it herself two years later.  She takes it upon herself to have her son innoculated and, upon her return to London, she does the same thing for her daughter, in April 1721, with the help of the surgeon Maitland.  In August 1721, King George I orders that the experiment be performed on six Newgate prisoners, who have been condemned to death, thereby saving them from hanging.  Five orphan babies, who are in turn innoculated, contract a completely benign smallpox and are therefore immunised.

In April 1722, it is the turn of the Princess of Wales’ children, and several hundred subjects are then innoculated over the course of the following months.

The death of a three-year-old child and that of an adolescent calm the enthousiasm for a while, but the practice remains, in spite of the polemics.  In the first line of attack, William Wagstaffe rebels, in the name of medical science, against this “old wives remedy”.  The Reverend Edmund Massey, for his part, calls upon the Holy Scriptures to condemn a practice considered to be diabolic.  On the other side, James Jurin refers to the statistical results and underlines that, out of 481 people innoculated between 1721 and 1725, 447 artificial smallpoxes were transmitted, only nine of which were mortal, which constitutes a more acceptable mortality risk compared to the usual ravages attributed to smallpox itself.  One death out of fifty people innoculated, while the illness kills one person out of ten, or even seven.  The risk still appears too high and, from 1727, the innoculations are practically stopped.


The Regent, Philippe d'Orleans.

In spite of the interest manifested in the beginning by the Regent, France remains reticent.  For certain members of the Faculty, it is unacceptable to introduce an illness germ into a healthy body.  This is notably the opinion of Doctor Hecquet in his work entitled Raisons et Doutes contre l’inoculation.  In England, this procedure is again used in 1743, on the occasion of an epidemic which is ravaging Middlesex.  Five years later, Doctor Tronchin of Geneva has his son innoculated in Holland and, in 1754, La Condamine presents before the Academie des sciences a Memoire historique et critique en faveur de l’inoculation.  That same year, a four-year-old child is innoculated in France, soon followed by a young noble of twenty.  On 12 March 1756, the Duke d’Orleans has his children innoculated by Tronchin, which makes people forget about the death of a young girl of fourteen, a victim of the operation.

There are roughly 200 innoculated people in the kingdom in 1758, and the method spreads to the whole of Europe, except for Spain.  In 1760, Bernouilli demonstrates, in his Mortalite causee par la petite verole et les avantages de l’inoculation pour la prevenir, that a generalization of the procedure to the whole of the kingdom’s population would be greatly beneficial, whatever the statistical risk of failure.  D’Alembert pronounces himself for innoculation also, but leaves each person the free choice of using it or not.

On 8 June 1763, the Paris Parliament delivers a famous judgement on the question.  It orders

“the Faculties of Theology and of Medicine to assemble, to give their precise opinions on the fact of innoculation […] and if it is appropriate to permit it, defend it or tolerate it;  and meanwhile, by provision, it is forbidden to practise this operation in the towns and outskirts of the court’s resort”.

Those who choose to have themselves innoculated will do it in the country and will remain there

“from the day that they are innoculated, until six weeks after their recovery”.

As for the virtues or dangers of the procedure, the doctors are divided on this question and are incapable of finding an agreement.

Louis XVI.

Meanwhile, Doctor Girod, who is helped in this by the support of Intendant Lacoree, sets up an impressive campaign of innoculation of the population, in Franche-Comte.  But it is in 1774, thanks to the decision of Louis XVI, his two brothers and the Countess d’Artois to use this practice, that it is going to develop.  So, 33,619 people will have been innoculated in Franche-Comte between 1765 and 1787 and it can be thought that, on the scale of the kingdom, 60,000 to 70,000 individuals are concerned, while there are over 200,000 in England.  Except for the exceptional case of Franche-Comte, it is the nobility milieux which use it in priority.  This has several reasons.  While, in the popular classes, the illness strikes in childhood, it touches those privileged by birth and fortune more often at adult age, and its effects are suffered with more difficulty for this reason.  It makes the risk of innoculation appear smaller when, once recovered from it, there is the guarantee of escaping the disease.  On top of that, the operation and the rest that it imposes, cost a lot and are not accessible to everyone.

A true caste privilege in most cases, innoculation causes, in spite of everything, a lot of worry.  The tears of the Duchess d’Orleans when her husband decides, in 1756, to have Tronchin innoculate their two children, the Duke de Chartres and Mademoiselle de Montpensier, show this.  In 1774, the Duke de Croy, whose grandsons had successfully submitted to the operation three years earlier, is, however, indignant that it has been decided to innoculate Louis XVI and his two brothers at the same time – it is too risky for the throne’s succession.  However, Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria had had all of her children innoculated in 1768.  And Empress Catherine II of Russia had submitted to the same operation three months later.

To be continued.

Louis XV.

Smallpox raged in Europe for a long time, even before the term “picote” designated it in France, in the XIIIth Century.  The word was replaced by that of “variole” [“pox” in English] or “verole”, which is of Italian origin, from the XVth Century.  In the XVIth Century, “petite verole” [“small pox”] or “petite variole” is distinguished from the “grosse verole”, syphilis, also known as “French pox” or “Napolitan pox”, which was perhaps imported from the recently conquered New World.

It is thought that it was the Arabian conquests that, from the early Middle Ages, had disseminated the disease throughout all the Western countries.  However, Gregoire de Tours evokes it as early as the Merovingian times.  The Muslim Doctors Rhazes and Avicenne were particularly interested in this disease, which was very common in the Europe of the Middle Ages, and quickly reached the New World, where it decimated the Amerindian populations, from the XVIth Century on.  However, the illness did not really reach South America until the XVIIth Century, along with South Africa and Southern Asia, from Sri Lanka to the Philippines.  When the King dies from it in 1774, smallpox is a real plague:  it provokes roughly one tenth of all mortality.

Louis XV.

Presenting various forms, the illness reveals itself after an incubation period of two weeks.  After a phase marked by a certain lassitude and headaches, the patient suffers nauseas, perspiring and fever, soon followed by an eruption of blisters, firstly on the face, then on the whole of the body.  After a few days, the blisters suppurate and the fever worsens.  The moment is delicate, for two hypotheses are then presented:  either the organism succeeds in surmounting the illness, the blisters dry up and a cure follows, even if it leaves its sad stigmata of scarred skin – that of a Mirabeau for example –  or the blisters invade all of the body (known as the “confluent”) and join up, which prepares death by asphyxia, for the respiratory organs are soon affected.  The intensity of the disease can vary.  The “discrete” smallpox only kills one tenth of the patients, the one that is baptised “malignant” kills one fifth of them, while the “confluent” spares only half, or even one third of its victims.

Louis XV.

Multiple complications alter the different organic functions, notably sight, but also respiration or digestion.  This is why the fragility of his respiratory passages, inherited from his smallpox, cost the life of Louis XV’s son, the Grand Dauphin Louis, who died in 1765.  What can be said about the not very attractive aspect that the illness gives to faces, and the terrible sequels that it leaves behind?  According to Doctor Husson, who wrote these lines in 1821,

“it covers the skin with a thousand hideous difformities:  in one place there are vast scars, in others repulsive excavations and excrescences, and not only does it deform and mutilate the appearance, but it often annihilates the most precious senses;  deafness, loss of sight and the complete disorganization of the eye are some of its ordinary effects”.


In the XVIIIth Century, smallpox is said to have caused up to sixty million deaths and was, without a doubt, the primary cause of mortality, until the arrival of the vaccine popularised by Edward Jenner.  Both endemic and epidemic, smallpox engendered spectacular spikes of mortality over the course of the XVIIIth Century:  14,000 deaths in Paris in 1710 and 20,000 in 1723, 6,000 deaths in Rome in 1752, 6,000 also in Naples sixteen years later…  While only 60 deaths occurred in London in 1684, in 1763, there were 3,528 in the English capital.  Without taking into account its various forms, it is generally estimated that around 10% of all deaths in the XVIIIth Century were due to smallpox.

The illness strikes children in priority, and more than 90% of its victims are under ten in XVIIIth Century France.  The popular classes are the most exposed to it, because of the lack of hygiene and the promiscuity born of poverty.  In the world of the nobility, the disease is contracted more often in adulthood and the scarred skin that it leaves on its surviving victims is mourned.  A number of monastic vocations are revealed in this way, after the passage of the terrible “picote”, and people do not refrain from nastily underlining the marks that it leaves behind it, in this world devoted to appearance.  Madame de Sevigne, who will die from it in 1711, is therefore able to present a friend of Fouquet who had survived the disease, as someone who is

“abusing the permission that men have to be ugly”.

To compensate for the ugliness thus engendered, people had recourse to often surprising remedies, among which

“lard from a very fat male pig, sperm from a whale, white vinegar mixed with urine from a young female who drinks only wine, bulbs of white lilies in urine from a girl of nine or ten, slugs crushed with sugar candy… “

A very singular therapeutic arsenal which does not contain anything to calm the anguish born of the monstrous illness.  Camphor, marine salt or antimony are advised for preventing the illness but, since Avicenne, people also think that emptying the umbilical cord of its blood at the moment of birth guarantees against smallpox, which is supposed to come from the uterine impurities transmitted to the child via the umbilical canal…  To affront the illness once it has declared itself, the doctors of yore firstly relied on the “heating” or “phlogistic” method, which consisted in placing the patient inside an overheated room, under a pile of blankets, so that he could “expulse” the unhealthy principle which was at the origin of the illness.  Diverse alcohols and remedies based on viper flesh could only aggravate his case, as the absence of hygiene favorised the progress of the infection.  Recommended at the end of the XVIIth Century by Sudenham, the “refreshing” or antiphlogistic method became the rule at the epoch of Light.  The lightly-dressed patient was exposed to air currents, he was made to drink cool teas, he was made to vomit, he had cataplasms applied to him which were supposed to accelerate the suppuration, and multiple cold baths were administered, while at the same time, his sheets and lingerie were frequently changed.  Certain charlatans, such as Hecquet and Chirac, praised the virtues of blood-letting, but others feared that it deprived the patient of the necessary strength to fight against the illness.  The virtues of the clyster were believed for a long time, and the unfortunate Louis XV had to suffer a memorable enema, recounted by the Duke de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt.  With the results that we have seen…

To be continued.

Louis XV.

On Monday 2 May, there is an improvement in the King’s health.  His temperature is lower, his urine is abundant and clear, and the suppuration seems to indicate that the process of expulsion of the illness has started.  The optimism is not, however, general, and Doctor Lorry discretely declares to one of his friends:

“The King is better, everyone is clamouring victory.  He will go on like this until the 11th, then the smallpox will turn to its worst, and on the 13th, he will no longer be alive.  Believe my experience, he has a smallpox from which one does not return.”

The improvement is however confirmed on 3 May.  The Duke de Belle-Isle reports in his Journal de la maladie du Roy, that Cardinal de La Roche-Aymon, the Grand Chaplain, has come to congratulate the patient

“for the notable improvement in which he was, and that he attributed it principally to the fervent prayers of forty hours that Monsignor the Archbishop had ordered”.

The Countess du Barry in 1789.

But it is on this same day that the sovereign understands, on his own, that he is suffering from smallpox.  For the partisans of Madame du Barry and the Duke d’Aiguillon, this is a catastrophe.  Their fears are quickly confirmed, for, in the evening, the patient sends his chambervalet, Laborde, to find the favourite.  Poor Jeanne, who has watched by the King’s bedside each night, the daytime being reserved for his daughters, hesitates.  She is, according to the Duke de Croy, “held back and encouraged by her Party” and herself wishes “to go away”, in these circumstances where she might risk being reproached for the death of her royal lover in a state of mortal sin.  She obeys the King’s order, however, when he says to her around midnight:

“My duty is to God and to my people.  So, you must retire from the Court tomorrow… “

Louis XV.

On 4 May the patient’s state worsens, with the ceasing of the suppuration.  He is made to drink Spanish wine to start it up again but, inexorably, “the poison turns inward”.  Around ten o’clock in the morning, the Duke d’Aiguillon receives instructions about Mme du Barry’s departure.  She leaves Versailles in the middle of the afternoon.

At midday, the Archbishop de Paris comes again to celebrate Mass in the King’s bedchamber, and Louis lets him know, on two occasions, that he is aware of the nature of his illness.  However, the Archbishop does not seem in any hurry to evoke the necessary sacraments – the Duke d’Aiguillon’s Party is still insisting to the Grand Chaplain, Cardinal de La Roche-Aymon, that they would kill the patient.  The Duke de Croy reports that the King’s daughters are still

“in the appalling dilemma of wanting him to confess himself, and of fearing that the revolution of fright and sacrifice would kill him”.

Louis XV.

The situation remains stationary on the 5 and 6 May.  The dying man’s mind is weakening, while no-one yet decides to administer the Last Rites to him.  Even worse, Abbot Maudoux, the Curate of Saint-Louis de Versailles, who demands to hear the penitent, is kept away.  Convoked on the evening of 5 May, the Grand Chaplain does not go to the patient’s bedside, and he has to wait until the night of 6 to 7 May, around two o’clock in the morning, when, in a moment of lucidity, Louis XV orders the Duke de Duras to call Abbot Maudoux.  He even has to repeat his demand, for the Duke pretends not to have heard him.  And even then, to justify himself in the eyes of the gathered courtiers, he thinks himself obliged to declare:

“Messieurs, you hear it, the King orders me to have his Confessor brought to him”.

A bit of time is gained, because of the inability of being able to find the required Confessor, to the point that, around four o’clock in the morning, the King worries about it.  The Confession can at last take place half-an-hour later.  In the morning, Cardinal de La Roche-Aymon administers the Last Rites.

This day of 7 May is marked by a real improvement, and La Martiniere is able to declare to the monarch, who has asked him to take his pulse,

“that it is better than before your Confession and if Your Majesty permits me to speak to him frankly, it will be even better when he has received Holy Communion, that will calm you”.

It is just the improvement that precedes the end.  The fever redoubles, the suppuration ceases and calls to the innoculator, Robert Sutton, remain unanswered.  During the day of the 9th, the Duke de Croy reports that

“the scabs are stopping the King from being able to see […].  He has a mask like bronze, made bigger by the scabs […] his mouth open, without the face being deformed elsewhere, nor showing agitation, sort of like the head of a Moor, a Negro, wax-like and swollen”.

Around nine o’clock in the evening, the dying man asks for Extreme Unction and the Prayers for the Dying.  Abbot Maudoux remains the whole night near his penitent.  In contradiction to the black legend which presents a dying Louis XV tormented by anguish and terrorised by the vision of infernal flames, all of the direct witnesses report that the King faced death courageously and calmly.  The next day, a violent storm strikes Versailles while the royal family is praying in the chapel, and it is a little after three o’clock in the afternoon, after an agony which had begun two hours beforehand, that the King fades away in the arms of Laborde, his chambervalet.


The risks of contagion explain why the inhumation is organized according to a simplified rite.  This ceremonial is the same as that which had accompanied the funeral of the Grand Dauphin, Louis XV’s grandfather, and of the Duke de Bourgogne, Louis XV’s father, both dead from smallpox in 1711 and 1712.  That puts paid to the myth which says that the King’s funeral takes place in secret because of the King’s unpopularity.  The remains are placed, surrounded by perfumed linen, inside a lead coffin placed inside another coffin of oak.  Two days later, the King’s body is taken to Saint-Denis.

Louis XVI.

Louis XVI is now King of France.  Immediately, the conditions in which his grandfather has disappeared (and, before him, two other generations of dead Dauphins, they too of smallpox) raises the question of innoculation.  Of all of Europe’s princes, the new sovereign and his two brothers, the Counts of Provence and of Artois, are the only ones not to have been innoculated.  The operation, having become relatively common over the previous thirty years, has, at the time of Louis XV’s death, already opened the way for the future eradication of the disease.


To be continued.

Louis XV.

Louis XV.

While the Faculty’s representatives busy themselves around the dying monarch, the affrontment of the clans and factions is in full swing at the door of the royal bedchamber.  Jacob Nicolas Moreau indignantly says:

“Everybody is thinking of himself.  Nobody is thinking of the King or of the State.”

It is a sacred union against Madame du Barry and the Duke d’Aiguillon.  Among them, the partisans of Choiseul, the King’s three daughters, and the Clerical Party which hasn’t forgotten the expulsion of the Jesuits…  In his Correspondance politique et litteraire, Metra, although hostile to the King, comes to pity

“the unfortunate Louis XV.  The most appalling intrigues were being woven right up to the foot of his death-bed.  In his last moments, there were three or four cabals which were tearing each other apart, even in his bedchamber.  Some wanted the priests to take hold of his person, the others wanted to get him away from their power.”

In a letter adressed to his sister on 5 May, Prince Francois-Xavier de Saxe also evokes

“all the indecent and unworthy cabals and intrigues which are taking place here, and which horrify.  If it weren’t for my attachment, and if I dare say, my love for the dear and worthy King, which makes me remain here, I would like to be far away so as to see and hear nothing.”

In fact, two principal camps are going to affront each other:  that of Mme du Barry and the Duke d’Aiguillon on the one hand, and that of the partisans of Choiseul on the other.

The Countess du Barry in 1789 at Louveciennes where she retired after the King's death.

A former fashion salesgirl, Jeanne Becu, the mistress of Jean du Barry, was noticed in 1768 by Louis XV;  her vivacity lit up the elderly sovereign’s final years.  However, Choiseul’s disgrace, in 1770, is attributed to her, as well as the creation of the triumvirat which unites Chancellor Maupeou, Abbot Terray and the Duke d’Aiguillon.  Obviously, the King’s death would endanger the political changes which have occurred over the course of the last few years.  Even the administration of the Last Rites is dangerous:  by imposing the banishment of the favourite, it would shake up a good number of acquired positions (the memory of the departure of Madame de Chateauroux, thirty years earlier, is still raw).  Mme du Barry’s partisans intend, therefore, to hide the gravity of his illness from the King for as long as possible, so as to avoid the ultimate Confession, which would be the signal for the banishment of the favourite, an act which could very possibly be definitive.  Even if the King recovers, he will have then taken the engagement to escape the state of mortal sin into which his guilty liaison had plunged him.  At his age, and fearing an approaching death, it is probable that he would not reverse Jeanne’s banishment, which would have the same disastrous consequences for the Party whose spokeswoman she had become.  The Duke d’Aiguillon and his followers are therefore going to insist that the gravity of the patient’s state not be revealed to him, and that the administration of the Last Rites be deferred for as long as possible.

The partisans of Choiseul, who had been disgraced four years before, remain hopeful on this point.  They fear that they will be reproached with the sovereign’s eventual death if they insist on the administration of the Last Rites, which could strongly shock the patient’s mind.


Louis XV.

The hostilities had begun in a muffled way as early as 29 April, even before the eruption of the redness which will reveal the nature of the illness.  It then concerned the imposing of a third blood-letting on the patient.  Now everyone knows that the King considers, according to the witness report of the Duke de Croy,

“that one must not go to the third blood-letting unless one has christianly prepared oneself for death”.

So, prodded by the Duke d’Aiguillon’s Party, the doctors, Bordeu, Lorry and Lemonnier, renounce performing the third blood-letting.  When the illness declares itself, the debate gets nasty – the Duke de Croy, the most reliable witness to the events, gives this account of it:

“Some were saying that it would be appalling, through prejudice, to kill him on purpose by frightening him;  others that it would be appalling to risk leaving him to die without sacraments, which would be without precedent since Clovis.”

The doctors fearing that the slightest fright could “make the poison turn inward” and finish off the patient, it is decided not to inform him of his state, with the agreement of his three daughters.

Disappointed, Choiseul’s partisans think for an instant that they are going to reverse the situation for their own benefit when the arrival at Versailles of the Archbishop of Paris is announced.  No-one doubts that he is coming to the Palace to hear the royal patient’s Confession.  With his habitual gruffness, Christophe de Beaumont is readying himself to bluntly reveal to the sovereign the gravity of his illness and demand the immediate departure of Mme du Barry.  Her partisans play their last card by mobilising  Madame Adelaide, the King’s eldest daughter, thanks to Madame de Narbonne, her governess.  Mme Adelaide begs the Prelate to say nothing about the smallpox and the Last Rites, for the motive that such words would be fatal to the patient.  On Sunday 1 May, the Archbishop comes to celebrate Mass in the royal bedchamber but retires without having had a private conversation with the patient.  Followed by his chamber-pot – for he is afflicted with very painful nephritic colics – he goes to Mme Adelaide who exhorts him to discretion so as to avoid making “the poison turn inward” in her father’s body.  Convinced, the Prelate is then buttonholed by the Duke de Richelieu who also dissuades him from evoking the Last Rites during his next interview with Louis XV.  This interview will last only a few minutes and it is mainly the King who enquires about his visitor’s health.  An attitude that is surprising at the very least, and which makes several witnesses indignant.  The Duke de Croy reports that

“the Archbishop de Paris, dying of gravel, came this day, saw the King, that it was great question of the Archbishop’s malady, and then that’s all;  and, extraordinary thing, that the Archbishop returned to Paris”.

Jacob Nicolas Moreau is no less indignant:

“Instead of sending away all these base courtiers and doing his job, the Archbishop contented himself with answering the questions that the King asked him about the Archbishop’s own health;  His Majesty talked to him about his nephritis, had his pulse taken by his doctors, and the poor Prelate left…”

The Archbishop of Paris’ strange attitude has a reason.  The Prelate, it is true, detests Louis XV, even though it is the King who had him named Archbishop of Paris in 1745;  but it is also the King who decided the expulsion of the Jesuits.  As well as that, he knows that Louis XV risks dying in a state of mortal sin.  However, he is not in a hurry to send him a priest.  Why?  Because he fears that the banishment of the favourite might result in the return of Choiseul, his sworn enemy.

To be continued.

%d bloggers like this: