Reception of a French Academician in the XVIIth Century.

Jean Desmaret de Saint-Sorlin is one of the ancestors of the Forty Members of the Academie francaise.  He was one of the first to enter the Academy, but was a really nasty piece of work, whose name is carefully not spoken by anyone hoping to don the Academy’s green jacket.

Cardinal de Richelieu, who founded the Academy, was very fond of beautifully written literary and poetic works.  But although he was a political genius, his literary talents were non-existent, and it is our Desmaret who would ghost-write the verses that are slightly less bad that the ones that the Cardinal wrote on his own.  Under his name of Armand du Plessis, Richelieu even gives Mirame, a tragedy, ghost-written by this same Desmaret.  Naturally, the ghost draws advantages from this situation.  Lucrative positions for a start, and soon a seat in the Academy.  Beautiful in appearance, and in favour at Court, he then begins to lead a voluptuous life, woven with gold and silk…

In 1645, he arrives at the age of fifty and has an attack of religiosity.  He assures it anyway, in a work that he very simply entitles Les Delices de l’Esprit.  But our man has the itch for action, and the idea of serving the Church, excites him diabolically, literally…

As it happens, at this epoch, the Compagnie du Saint Sacrement is recruiting.  Founded by the Duke de Ventadour, the King’s Lieutenant-General in Languedoc, and Viceroy of Canada, this institution proposes to promote God’s glory “by all means”.  Which is supposed to make libertines, Protestants, unmarried mothers and prostitutes think twice, along with all those who are taking care not to let the lights of the Renaissance go out altogether, while awaiting those of the Grand Century…

Armand du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu

What is sure, in any case, is that our man enters into a secret Society, which acts everywhere in an underhand way, which declares the Arts and theatres to be heretical, and wants to purge society of all those who do not say their Rosary every day…  In the name of this Society, our religious man uses his pen with great zeal, spending whole days writing texts to save God and the Holy Church.

He is heard to thunder:

“Christianity is lost if a strong army does not rise to combat and exterminate impieties and heresies everywhere.  This army must be composed of one hundred and forty-four thousand fighters, who would have the mark of the living God on their foreheads.  Its chief must be Louis the Fourteenth in person.”

Although he is Controller at the Extraordinaire des Guerres and Secretary of the Marine du Levant, Desmaret has no intention of mounting a palfrey in an army of fighters of infidels.  He reserves for himself another role in this crusade.  The very distinguished role of snitch…

Let us leave our Academician for an instant and visit the little people, among those of “mechanical condition” as was said at the time.

Public writer's booth. That of Simon Morin was in Paris near Notre-Dame.

A man of the people, Simon Morin has a booth of writer-copier in the Notre-Dame quarter.  Which does not give him nor his children enough to eat every day.  But he doesn’t care, since Simon Morin is the Holy Spirit in person.

Illuminated people of this kind are legion under the Sun-King, a sombre epoch where spirits and spells still have all their powers.  For Simon Morin, the world has known only two religions:  a religion of the Jews, with Moses, a religion of the Christians, with Jesus.  But now a third religion is being announced, that of the Holy Spirit.  The Church, he proclaims, has nothing more to say, and the sacraments, along with laws of morality, have no more significance.  The Holy Spirit is here now, in the person of a few pure people.  And all is pure for the pure;  whatever they do, they commit no sin.  They are the annunciators of absolute liberty under the reign of the Holy Spirit…

And Morin carries his message to servant girls, washerwomen, shop girls, who are quickly won over to his prophecy, for he is a beautiful-looking man, his female assistant, as well as a few young, fresh male adolescents who barely leave him, and his wife, who says that all this will end badly.  In 1646, his pretty female penitents, whom he neglects from time to time, denounce him as being idolatrous.  He is imprisoned and almost immediately released for, with good sense, these Gentlemen of the Official, judge him to be more silly than heretical.  This brief stay in the Bastille builds up his popularity and his exaltation.  In 1647, he publishes Les Pensees de Simon Morin, that he dedicates directly to the King, to exhort him to get rid of the Church and take himself, Simon Morin, as his spiritual advisor…

As he persists and proclaims that he is the new Christ, he is bundled into prison for more than twenty months this time.  Upon leaving, he meets up with a cortege of his faithful followers, his legitimate children and others at their head, followed by a whole collection of washerwomen and maids.

After a short time of silence, he again says directly to the people of the City, that he is the messiah and the saviour of France.  This time, the ecclesiastical judge gets really upset.  Imprisoned for a third time, he is threatened with torture and even worse.  When he is presented with the brodequins and the red-hot pincers, he weakens and signs an abjuration in which he recognizes all his errors and swears that he will no longer prophesy…

A few years pass by, and one beautiful day our augure is again found perched on the grilles of the Louvre.  He wants to put into the King’s own hands, his most recent work, which he has modestly entitled Temoignage du Second Avenement du fils de l’Homme.  He is of course arrested, but, and here the justice of the Ancien Regime shows itself in an inhabitual light, the tribunal only sees in him an obstinate demented man and has him released.  But all these scandals have earned him disciples that are more and more numerous.  His wife keeps telling him that he is going to end by the hand of Charlot (the Paris executioner) he answers with outstretched arms and eyes raised to the sky:

“Gabriel and his celestial militia will come to deliver me!…

To be continued.

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