Saturday, 30 April 2016

A portrait of Voltaire's mother

Nicolas Largillière, Portrait of Marie-Marguerite, Madame d'Arouet, c.1700
Seventy years after her death, this  portrait of Madame Arouet hung in Voltaire's bedroom in Ferney - the only image he possessed of a mother he could scarcely remember: it is listed in his inventaire après décès (Besterman,ed. Correspondence and related documents App. D 503).  In 1979 it was included in an exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale together with a companion portrait of François Arouet, père.  The catalogue confirms that  "a long family tradition" identified the sitters as the parents of Voltaire, painted by Largillière:  Madame Denis took the portraits (of her grandparents, don't forget) back to Paris and, on her death, they were inherited by Voltaire's great-nephews Dompierre d'Hornoy. The owner in 1979 was identified as the "comte de Dompierre d'Hornoy".  The portrait of Voltaire's mother was subsequently sold by auction on 25th May 1986, and so presumably passed out of the family.  The image is now available commercially as part of the Bridgeman Art Library - no further information is given, apart from the fact that the picture is in a  "private collection".

René Pomeau, who had seen both portraits, was circumspect.  The "presumed" portrait of Voltaire's father shows a young man about town,  a "petit maître",  rather than a serious man of the law. He also commented wisely on the fruitlessness of speculations concerning the resemblance between mother and son, based only on Largillière's (disappointingly non-descript) portrait.  [René Pomeau, D'Arouet à Voltaire 1694-1734 (1985) p. 28 nt 3].


Bridgeman Art Library - Nicolas, Largillière:  Portrait de Madame Arouet, mère de Voltaire.

 Voltaire : un homme, un siècle, [catalogue of an exhibition held at the Bibliothèque nationale, 25 janvier-22 avril 1979], Nos. 4 and 5.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Voltaire: Jansenist?

Voltaire : was he influenced by Jansenism? 

René Pomeau has argued persuasively that a preoccupation with religion was a key aspect of Voltaire's psyche from an early age. In the years 1719-1722 he was already voicing his opposition to the "Dieu terrible" of the Jansenists and displayed a precocious anti-clericalism "whose origin escapes us"(La Religion de Voltaire, p.34).  It is hard not to see the negative influence of Armand: at the time of their father's death in 1722 both brothers were nominally still living together under the same paternal roof.  Their quarrels were echoed in the 1721 Epître in which Voltaire maintained that his brother would laugh at his funeral; Voltaire's accompanying note reports that he used to enrage Armand, "an extreme Jansenist",  by defending the Jesuits against him.(Epître XXI, A M. le Maréchal de Villars, 1721)

Pomeau concluded that the family background had created two brothers who were both obsessed with religion - Armand, a Jansenist troubled by doubt, and Voltaire, whose passionate hostility to religion was "un fanatisme retourné " (p.36)  A stark dichotomy between unbelief and absolute faith characterises the Jansenist mindset of the 1720s - Montgeron's spectacular conversion is a case in point.  According to the Jansenist manuscript Notes historiques, Voltaire himself maintained that one must be "either a deist like himself, or a secouriste like his brother (Gazier, p.625).  Much later in his life Jacob Vernet made the same point: Voltaire saw no middle ground between libertinism and religious enthusiasm (See Pomeau, p.36-7)

Anti-Jansenist poetics?

It is difficult to gauge the respective influences on Voltaire of home life, Jesuit education and the libertin milieux he frequented as a young man. But to an older generation, the Jansenist quarrel was a constant backdrop. Voltaire was supposedly asked his opinion of it as a boy by Ninon de Lenclos. The tragedies of Racine and Corneille were commonly interpreted in terms of the playwrights' opposing allegiances. Voltaire insisted that the opinion was current in his youth that Phèdre was "a just who lacked divine Grace" (to Capacelli, 23 December 1760)  According to his Commentaries on Corneille the appeal to divine justice in Oedipe  Act III, scene v, was was often learned by heart, having acquired "a new value due to the quarrels of the time". Voltaire similar rejected Jansenist predestination .In his own Oedipe, first performed in 1718,  he has Oedipus protest: "I am guilty of incest and parricide, yet virtuous / Unpitying gods, my crimes are yours / And you punish me for them." [Act 5, scene 4: Inceste et parricide, et pourtant vertueux [...]/ Impitoyables dieux, mes crimes sont les votres/ Et vous m'en punissez.]

In 1720 Louis Racine (youngest child of the dramatist) published his poem La Grâce, versifying Jansenist theology;  Voltaire, who had hitherto been friendly and admiring of Racine, promptly responded - his verses, published on 30th January 1722 in the Jansenist journal Mémoires historiques et critiques, denounced Racine's support for fanatical dogmas which portrayed God as a tyrant.  Later in 1722, in the Épître à Uranie, these sentiments become part of a thoroughgoing attack on Christianity: "They make of you a tyrant, but I seek in you my father / I am not a Christian, but it is in order to love you better"
[ix 365: On te fait un tyran, je cherche en toi mon père;/ Je ne suis pas chrétien, mais c'est pour t'aimer mieux]   J-B Rousseau discerned in Voltaire's works "a little levain of anti-Jansenism which is somewhat too marked" (letter of 1735)

Pro-Jansenist poetics?

Surely not. There are a couple of manuscript poems attributed to Voltaire which Auguste Gazier thought he might  genuinely have written (p.617-8). The subject matter is to say the least unpromising: in the better known, the Jansénius, a ghostly Jansen appears to Cardinal Fleury to plead the appellant cause; only the Arsenal copy of the manuscript ascribes it to Voltaire.  The second, Ode sur les matières du temps is a diatribe against Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits.  Since the first poem alludes to Bishop Soanen's imprisonment in the abbaye Chaise-Dieu it cannot date from before 1728, by which time Voltaire was already in England. There is absolutely no evidence that Armand wrote it either.

Voltaire and a Jansenist miracle

 Madame Lafosse

Voltaire's sympathy with the Jansenist cause is made more  plausible by his curious involvement with a Jansenist miracle. On 31st May 1725 Anne Charlier Lafosse, the wife of a cabinetmaker from Saint-Antoine, was cured of paralysis and haemorrhaging during a procession of the Holy Sacrament in the parish of Sainte-Marguerite, which had a Jansenist curé.  Voltaire's curiosity was piqued and he admitted visiting the woman often (Letter to the présidente de Bernières dated 27th June).  To his embarrassment he featured in Cardinal Noailles's pastoral letter of 10th August which defended the miracle.  He is described as a man well-known in society ("un homme connu dans le monde"). who had been moved by the miracle and tried unsuccessfully to press a charitable donation on M.Lafosse (p.12). Voltaire was called on by Mme Lafosse in person and found himself invited to a Te Deum at Notre Dame in thanks for the miracle.  In a further letter to Madame de Bernières, he dismissed the matter lightly: we learn that the abbé Couet, who had written the archiepiscopal mandement, had sent him a copy; Voltaire sent his tragedy Mariamne in return, declaring that the sum total of their joint efforts was bound to be a comedy....Many years later, in the Siècle de Louis XIV, he spitefully recounted the story, which was quite untrue, that Madame Lafosse had been struck blind three months afterwards.

The miraculous procession.
Voltaire's brief flirtation with the miraculous soon hardened in response to the events at St-Médard; in his opinion the tomb of deacon Pâris was "the tomb of Jansenism".  His abiding attitude is well summarised in his letter of December 1737 to the abbé Moussinot
Every good Frenchman applauds a Jansenist when he speaks out against formularies and excommunications, and makes a little mockery of the infallibility of the Pope;  but we despise a fool who has himself crucified, and  still more the idiot who is assists at  Jansenist "crucifixions in the attic".

René Pomeau, La religion de Voltaire (1974; originally 1954)
______,  D'Arouet à Voltaire 1694-1734 (1985)

A. Gazier, "Le frère de Voltaire", Revue des Deux Mondes, vol.32 (1906) 615-

Miguel Benitez, "Voltaire libertin : l’Épître à Uranie".Revue Voltaire 8 (2008), p. 99-135.

Letter of Voltaire to Madame de Bernières, dated August 1725
....Don't imagine that I spend all my time in Paris putting on tragedies and comedies.  I manage to serve both God and the devil at the same time.  Thanks to the miracle of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, I have acquired something of a reputation for devotion in society. The woman in the miracle came to my room this very morning.  See what an honour I bring to your house, and what an odour of sanctity surrounds us!  M. the cardinal de Noailles issued a fine pastoral letter on the occasion of the miracle and, as the summit of honour or ridiculousness, I am cited in the letter.  I have been formally invited to a Te Deum at Notre-Dame in thanks for Madame La Fosse's cure.  M. the abbé Couet, His Eminence's Grand-Vicaire today sent me a copy of the letter and I sent him Mariamne in return, with this little verse:
You send me a mandement
Receive a tragedy
That way between us
We give each other a comedy.......

Extract from The Age of Louis XIV. trans. Pollack (Everyman Library) Chapter 37.
....The enfeebled Jansenist party resorted to miracles; but even their miracles did not succeed. An aged priest of Rheims, named Rousse, who had died as they say in the odour of sanctity, cured toothache and sprains, but in vain; the Holy Sacrament was carried to the suburb of Saint-Antoine in Paris and after three months cured a woman, named Lafosse, of a haemorrhage, though at the same time turning her blind; but the miracle was no more successful than the first.

At length some fanatics conceived the notion that a deacon, named Paris, brother of a councillor in parliament and buried in the cemetery of Saint Médard, was about to perform miracles. Some votaries of the sect who went to pray upon his tomb were so carried away by their imagination that in their deranged state of mind they suffered slight convulsions.  The tomb was immediately surrounded by people; crowds gathered there night and day.  Some climbed on to the tomb, giving their bodies strange twitches which they regarded as miraculous signs.  The secret instigators of the sect encouraged such frenzies.  Prayers were recited in the vulgar tongue around the tomb;  the air was full of accounts of deaf people who had hard a few words, of blind who had caught glimpses of something, of cripples who had walked upright for a few moments.  The miracles were even attested before the courts by a whole host of witnesses who had almost seen them, since they had come there in the hope of doing so.  The government allowed the epidemic to run its course for a whole month.  But the crowds grew more numerous, miracles increased and it was necessary at last to close the cemetery and place a guard around it.  Thereupon the same fanatics proceeded to work their miracles in their own houses.  The tomb of the deacon, Paris, was in very truth the tomb of Jansenism in the minds of all sensible people.  In less enlightened times such farcical proceedings would have had serious consequences.  Apparently those who provoked them were unaware of the age in which they lived.

Superstition was so rife that Carré, a councillor the parliament, surnamed Montgeron, had the audacity to present to the king in 1736 a list of all these miracles, attested by a large number of witnesses.  This madman, the spokesman and dupe of maniacs, said in his memorandum to the king, "that one could not help believing witnesses who died in support of their evidence."  Should one day his writings be in existence while all other books are lost, posterity will look upon our age as an age of barbarism.

In France these absurdities were the dying strugglers of a sect which, no longer supported by men like Arnauld, Pascal and Nicole, and upheld only by convulsionaries, became degraced; one would hear little of such disputes which disgrace and harm the name of true religion, were it not for those few turbulent spirits who from time to time endeavour to fan the dying embers of a fire into a new conflagration.....

Religion has still power to sharpen the dagger point.  In a nation there are always certain persons who have no intercourse with honest people, who are not of the age in which they live, who are untouched by the advance of reason, and who may still be affected by the scourge of fanaticism like certain plagues which afflict only the lowest classes of society

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Armand Arouet, Voltaire's Jansenist brother

 "I  have two fools for sons, one in prose and the other in verse"
Attributed to François Arouet, father of Voltaire: 
 (Duvernet, Vie de Voltaire p.35)

"I used to have a Jansenist brother;  his ferocious manner gave me a distaste for 'the party'"
Letter of Voltaire to the marquis d'Argens, August 1752

Armand, brother of Voltaire

It is a fascinating, if little known, fact that Voltaire's elder brother Armand was a fanatical Jansenist.  Frustratingly, we know very little about him; Voltaire's writings amount to several million words but he is almost entirely silent on the subject of his family. Most of the information available derives from the researches of  Auguste Gazier who in 1906 published an article in the Revue des Deux Mondes entitled  "Le frère de Voltaire".

Armand Arouet was born on 22 March 1685, the oldest surviving child of François Arouet, a notary in the Châtelet court and Marie-Marguerite Daumard the daughter of a minor official of the Parlement of Paris. He was baptised on 5th April in the church of Saint-Germain-le-Vieil on the Île de la Cité.  His sister Marguerite-Catherine was born in December 1686 followed almost nine years later, in February 1694 by the youngest child, François-Marie, the future Voltaire.  In September 1696  Arouet père bought the hereditary office of receveur des épices (judicial fees rather than "spices") in the Chambre des Comptes and moved the family into substantial lodgings in the complex of buildings which made up the Palais de Justice.  He was well-to-do; he paid 240,000 livres for his post, over a thousand times the annual wage of a manual worker.  He owned two houses in Paris, one in the rue Saint-Denis and the other in the rue Maubué, as well as a sizeable property in the country at Gentilly. In 1709 he married his daughter to another wealthy magistrate, Pierre-François Mignot.  As well as his official post, François Arouet clearly had a substantial private legal practice; he is known to have administered the finances of the duc de Saint-Simon and at the time of his death held a promissory note from the duchesse These connections probably account for Armand's surprisingly illustrious godparents: his godfather was no less a person than Jean du Plessis, duc de Richelieu, the nephew of Cardinal Richelieu and his godmother was the aforementioned duchesse de Saint-Simon, Charlotte de l'Aubespine.  It is often remarked that Voltaire's godparents were notably less illustrious - a fact interpreted by René Pomeau and others as evidence of  his supposed illegitimacy.  Of the shared childhood of the two brothers, no echo remains, apart form a single letter of January 1744 addressed to Voltaire in which a certain Mlle Jonquet is mentioned as having cajoled the youthful Armand into having some teeth pulled. (see Bestermann, Voltaire, p.30)

Portrait from the Musée Lambinet  of a young man in clerical dress, for some reason "presumed to be Voltaire". There is no evidence to suppose it is Armand Arouet either, but intriguing nonetheless!  [Bridgeman Art Library]
It is one of the minor mysteries of Voltaire studies that Armand was sent to be educated by the Oratorians at Saint-Magloire, whereas Voltaire in 1704 attended the Jesuit Collège Louis-le-Grand. The rising tide of anti-Jansenist opinion is often cited in explanation, but would be nice to know a little more about the circumstances, especially since Saint-Magloire was not a school but a seminary. In 1709 both brothers attended the marriage of their sister Marguerite-Catherine;  Armand, then aged twenty-four, was described in the register as a tonsured cleric living at Saint-Magloire. (see Gazier p.616-7). In later years he liked to be known as "the abbé Arouet". However, there is no suggestion of a religious career; Armand inherited his father's office;  the Royal Almanach lists Arouet, père et fils, as officials of the Chambre des Comptes without interruption until Armand's death in 1745.

 There was little love lost between the two brothers. The earliest mention of Armand in the works of Voltaire is in an Épître dating from 1721, in which he claimed that his Jansenist brother ("mon janséniste de frère") wanted him dead.  By this time Voltaire had published Oedipe and  his freethinking credentials were well established. On 2nd January 1722 the brothers attended their father's funeral together at the church of  Saint-Barthélémy on the Île de la Cité; the acte de decès  gave the address for both as their father's apartments in the Palais.  In all probability they quarreled further over the inheritance. Voltaire contested the will: his father had divided his estate between the children but François-Marie was only to receive the interest, with capital sum held in trust until his thirty-fifth birthday. Presumably it was Armand who acted as trustee. We hear no more  until 14 June 1727, when Voltaire wrote from Wandsworth to his friend Thiériot in English, warning him not to tell Armand about his prospective return to France and his plans to have the Henriade printed: brother, especially, is the least proper person to be trusted with such a secret, not only on account of his indiscreet temper, but also of the ill usage I have received from him since I am in England : I have tried all sorts of means to soften, if I could, the pedantic rudeness and the selfish insolence with which he has crushed me these two years. I own to you, in the bitterness of my heart, that his insufferable usage has been one of my greatest grievances.  

And the Convulsionnaires

Armand was not merely a Jansenist sympathiser but an active supporter of the Convulsionnaires.  Something of his involvement  was pieced together by Auguste Gazier from a collection of manuscript Notes historiques  (not otherwise identified?) . There are also a number of references in Mongeron's La vérité des miracles; several sources mention Armand Arouet as a regular correspondent of Montgeron and a financial contributor to the Jansenist sanctuary at Treigny, but there is no further information available on the internet.  Voltaire owned a collection of notes in his brother's hand on the Convulsionaries  which subsequently found their way to the Hermitage (Longchamp & Wagnière, Mémoires sur Voltaire 1826, vol.1, p.24; presumably these no longer exist.)

It seems that Armand was probably initiated into the Convulsionist movement by a cousin. "Monsieur Archambault, gentilhomme de Meaux, de l'illustre famille des Archambault "described as a "good soul" who gave himself wholeheartedly to the Convulsionist cause.  Archambault died in his seventies in about 1765, having "exercised" for more than thirty years, with the only interruption two years from 1738 to 1740 in the Bastille (see Gazier, p.624. According to Montgeron there were in fact two Archambault brothers Louis-Antoine and Amable François-Pierre, both holders of the office of écuyer)

Jacques-Louis de Rochebouët
[ Château de Versailles]
Convulsionist meetings took place right on Voltaire's doorstep on the Île de la Cité.at the house of the curé of Saint-Germain-le-Viel, Jacques de Rochebouët.   Rochebouët was allowed to remain in charge of his parish unmolested from 1729 to his death in 1743 despite being a partisan of convulsions "à grands secours" in which participants were violently beaten and subjected to a range of physical tortures.  It was at his house that the miraculous cure of Madeleine Durand, a young girl  from Orléans with a horrible mouth cancer,  memorably illustrated by Restout, was said to have taken place in 1733.  Montgeron reproduces a  certificate signed by Armand Arouet and dated 8 June 1736, in which he describes how she repeatedly cut her tumour with a knife, then staunched the flow of  blood using water from the diacre Pâris's well.(La vérité des miracles, vol.3: Pièce justicatif, XV).  In another passage Montgeron recounts the case of la petite Aubignan who miraculously straightened and elongated her withered leg by beating it with a stick: the assistants were astounded; among them  M. de la Croix, the archdeacon and M. Arouet, both of whom were beside themselves ["en étaient tout hors d’eux-mêmes"]  (p.628-9)

Armand Arouet's name is also associated with Marie Sonnet, also known as la Salamandre, a well-known Convulsionary who displayed apparent invulnerability to fire. She would regularly fall into a trance over a burning fire or walk on red-hot coals.  Montgeron reproduces a certificate dated 12 March 1736, testifying to a miraculous roasting in which she remained over the fire "long enough to roast a piece of mutton or veal".  Armand is one of a number of illustrious signatories including a doctor of the Sorbonne, a canon from Bayeux, three bourgeois of Paris, Montgeron himself, Boindin, seigneur of Boisbessin, and the two brothers Archambault.("Idée de l'état des convulsionnaires", p.32; in La vérité des miracles, vol.2)

La petite Aubignan in action - plate from La vérité des miracles, vol. 3, possibly by Restout.

Relations with Gabrielle Moulère

Information from Gazier's Notes historiques provides a little more circumstantial detail. It included an alphabetical catalogue of people involved in l'Oeuvre de convulsions which devotes a dozen pages to "Monsieur Arouet, Armand, known as "The Brother with the ring" ["Le frère à la bague"]  and also Brou" .(Nothing further is know about these intriguing sobriquets; he was also referred to more straightforwardly as frère Armand, sometimes also frère Ésaü.  See Dedieu, "L'agonie du Jansénisme",Revue d'histoire de l'Église de France (1928) p.189 nt.) Much of the material comes from an unpublished Journal by Gabrielle Moulère, the famous convulsionary "à grands secours".  It is to Gabrielle that we owe the only assessment of Armand's character other than Voltaire's. She thought him mentally unstable and unreliable in his support for the cause; he vacillated wildly between extreme piety and doubt:

M. Arouet was older than Voltaire by ten years:  he had a peculiar mind ("un esprit singulier"); sometimes extreme in his devotion, at other times, not knowing what to think.  It was the same with regard to the miracles of the convulsions and everything else; in everything he was peculiar.  He succeeded Monsieur his father in the commission or charge of receveur des épices in the Chambre des Comptes.  This father said of his two children:  I have two sons who are both madmen;  one is mad for devotion and the other is mad over verses and the theatre. (quoted  Gazier, p.623)

It seems that Armand was first introduced to Gabrielle by Archambault in mid-May 1735. She started a penitential fast for "the Brother with the ring"; he and several others  witnessed her subsequent prolonged trance (Gazier, p.631-2)  On 30th October 1738 she was arrested and sent to the Bastille, then on 17th December transferred to the Salpêtrière. She was only sixteen years old. She was to die in prison on 29th March 1748 at the age of twenty-six, after nine years in captivity.  Armand seems to have developed an obsession with her. The manuscript relates how he tried to bribe a priest with a donation for the poor if he would only reveal her confession. On another occasion he set off for the Opéra, but at the last minute had his coachman take him to the Salpêtrière where Gabrielle was incarcerated; he was then overcome with remorse. There are also hints of associations with other young women in Convulsionnaire circles. Gabrielle and her companions did not regard him as trustworthy. He would absent himself from their gatherings, only to return abruptly asking them to pray for him. His cousin Archambault kept an eye on him and accompanied him whenever he found him in an unbalanced frame of mind. (Gazier, p. 633)

The fire at the Chambre des Comptes (October 1737)

On Saturday 26th October 1737 between two and three in the morning, a fire unaccountably broke out the Chambre des Comptes in an unoccupied room.  A cold wind fanned the flames and, since the court was in recess, it took two hours to find anyone with the necessary authority to summon help. In the end the conflagration lasted three days, several of those fighting the fire lost their lives, and the the buildings surrounding the hôtel of the Premier Président were completely destroyed.  The flames also consumed the greater part of the court's archives.  Question were naturally asked about how the such a blaze had begun.  Barbier insinuated that the Jansenists had started the fire to avenge Montgeron, who had just been sent to Avignon; a suspicious fire had occurred in the Hôtel-Dieu just three days after his arrest:."M. Arouet, receveur des épices in the Chambre des Compte, lived in the location of the room.  He is a great Jansenist; he is himself a decent man ("très-honnête homme"); but he keeps company only with Jansenists; there is a certain priest whom he thinks is a saint, who is a hot head, capable of such a piece of wickedness.  For my part, I would have arrested all those who were living or lodging in the vicinity of the room, drink-sellers, caretakers, servants and all the rest, and I would find out everyone who had entered on the evening before the fire...."(Barbier, Journal vol.3, p.103) [Who is the priest Barbier mentions?  I am not sure, though Armand had been advised against harbouring the notorious marquis de Blaru not long previously.]

View of the Chambre des Comptes in the later 17th century.

The account of the fire in Gazier's manuscript Notes historiques hints more explicitly at Armand's involvement.

While M. de Montgeron was in the Bastille, the lieutenant of police Hérault had the first edition of his work burned in the moat.  Several Convulsionaries were heard to say publicly: "They have burned the papers of God; God will burn theirs".  It was at about that time that a fire started in the Chambre des Comptes, without anyone being able to discover the cause. But it was noticed with amazement that the apartment of M. Arouet, trésorier, in the midst of blazing building, received no damaged.  During the fire, a convulsionary was in the apartment of this gentleman spreading soil from the tomb of M. de Pâris. (Gazier p.631)

An annotation in Montgeron's volume 3 repeats the story and observes that the convulsionary expressly predicted that the apartment would remain unharmed (p.346 - editorial note). We can only presumably she was successful in imparted the divine gift of incombustibility!  Armand was subsequently arrested but nothing was ever proved against him.  (See Desnoiresterres, p.136) 

In one of the few letters to mention his brother, Voltaire wrote to the abbé Moussinot from Cirey in December 1737 expressing his relief that Armand's lodging and furniture had not been destroyed in the fire as first reported. Perhaps Voltaire had heard rumour of Armand's liaisons with Gabrielle Moulère and her friends since he wanted to discover whether or not he might have married secretly (which would have affected his own project to marry off his niece,the elder Mlle Mignot): "They say that he is heavily involved with in the affair of the convulsionaries ("fort intrigué dans l’affaire des convulsions"). What fanaticism!  Do not have anything to do with such horrible follies!"   In a subsequent letter Voltaire commented that he had accepted his niece's rejection of his proposed suitor with good grace, so that she might appreciate "la différence de mon caractère avec celui d'Arouet".


From this point on Armand Arouet slips almost entirely from view, though his involvement with the Jansenist cause seem to have continued much as before.  After the death of Rochebouët the convulsionaries perhaps transferred more of their activities to his apartment in the Chambre des comptes; ,Montgeron reports two miracles taking place there in 1744 and 1745.  Both involved the administration of sword blows, to which the recipient was rendered miraculously invulnerable.  At the beginning of 1745 an "officer of distinction", a sceptic, was set set upon by four convulsionaries with a sword; he felt the points of the sword but was not wounded (p.724)  A more convoluted story, certified on the following page, involved a former Chef des travaux à l'Armée du Roi, who had fallen and hit his head, then been miraculously cured by sword blows administered by "sisters Félicité, Madeleine, Taïs and  Fanchon Le Moine, who were at M. Arouet's at the time"(p.724-5)

Armand died in his rooms in the Chambre des Comptes on 18th February 1745 at the age of almost sixty, probably from complications of a bad leg;  the funeral was held the next day in the Church of Saint-Barthélémy where Arouet père  lay buried.  Voltaire was his inheritor and signed the acte de décès: " Francois Marie Arouette (sic) de Voltaire, bourgeois de Paris, demeurant rue Saint-Honoré, in the parish of Sainte-Madeleine" (signed "f.m. arouet de voltaire").  In Voltaire's correspondence for 1745 there is no mention.


Louis Basile Carré de Montgeron, La vérité des miracles opérés par l'intercession de monsieur de Paris  vol.3(1747)

A. Gazier, "Le frère de Voltaire", Revue des Deux Mondes, vol.32 (1906) 615-

Gustave Desnoiresterres, Voltaire et la société française au XVIIIe siècle  Vol. 2: Voltaire au Château de Cirey. (1868).

The novelist Jean-Claude Bologne has written a fictionalised  biography of Armand,  Le frère à la bague (1999).

Saturday, 16 April 2016

A Convulsionist - Gabrielle Moulère

Gabrielle Moulère (sometimes Moller), and her sister Jeanne were among the best known practitioners of les grands secours, made famous - or notorious - largely through Montgeron's account and the set of anonymous engravings included in Book 3 of La vérité des miracles. Gabrielle was born in Paris on 10th March 1722, rue Saint-Victor, in the parish of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet.  Her father was a cobbler. There  were five children in all  - Jeanne (born 1712);  Marie (born 1715); Jean (born 1719); Gabrielle (born 1722) and Louison (born 1728).The whole family were involved in the oeuvre des convulsions,  with Madame Moulère  assisting at the secours of Jeanne and Gabrielle, in their own home or at the houses of their rich adherents.  Gabrielle was scarcely in her teens at the time.  The girls rapidly ran foul of the authorities: Jeanne was arrested at the home of the marquise de Vieuxpont on 22 November 1737 and Gabrielle on October 30th 1738 (according to some sources 1739) at the country house of  M. d'Arginvilliers in Lardi.  After a brief spell in the Bastille, they were incarcerated in La Salpêtrière and, in Jeanne's case, in Sainte-Pélagie.  Gabrielle was to languish in prison for nine years.

Illustration 1 - Gabrielle is beaten with a heavy iron bar
Despite the inevitable accusations of hysteria or deliberately manipulation of her well-to-do patrons, Gabrielle's commanding presence and sincere belief in her mission were widely attested.  Sympathetic eye-witnesses were deeply impressed by the power of her prophetic gifts. She refused steadfastly to abandon her faith in the secours, preferring to remain in the harsh confines of La Salpêtrière where she died at the age of only twenty-six on 29th March 1748.  After her death she was venerated as a Jansenist saint and the miraculous cure of one Mlle Cécile d'Achon, daughter of an advocate of the Présidial in Nantes, attributed to her intercession.

A biography which appeared in 1749 emphasised that Gabrielle demonstrated extreme piety and charity from earliest age;  as a small child she protected the identity of a boy who almost killed her by throwing a stone at her head (the source of her later mental state - who knows?)   At the age of nine - in 1731 at the high point of the miracles at Saint-Médard - she was sent as a day girl to the Soeurs Noires of Saint-Étienne, a fervently Jansenist convent.  At any other time her religiosity might have found a more conventional outlet; as it was, she was embued with Jansenist Millenarianism and the theology of the secours:

From the age of nine or ten, she was in the habit, in the evening when she returned home to her mother, of kneeling beside her bed before a Crucifix to pour out her heart in fervent prayers which she composed herself on the spot.

It was while occupied in this saintly exercise, that she was taken with her first convulsions, on the 10th April 1734.  In the midst of her prayers she fell into an ecstasy; she believed she saw and heard the Blessed Pâris and M. Desangins  who exhorted her to submit with full confidence to the will of God, making the sign of the Cross over her.  Since she replied to them out loud, her mother asked to whom she was speaking.  She replied that it was the  Blessed Pâris and M. Desangins.  Her mother was astonished at her reply and, scrutinising her, saw clearly that she was in a supernatural state.  After this ecstasy, Gabriel continued her prayers with even more fervour than before.  Her mother, seeing that she was not going to stop even though it was late into the night, ordered her to bed.  She obeyed but as soon as she was in bed she felt a sort of violent wind that pushed her out and on to the floor.  She declared to her mother that henceforth she would no longer sleep on a bed but on the floor, fully dressed, summer and winter, until God ordained otherwise.  Indeed, from that day on she slept on the ground, until the 30th October when she was confined to the Bastille; and on Sundays and Feast Days she didn't go to bed at all but passed the whole night in prayer, God having relieved her of the need for sleep.

She told her mother that the supernatural state, that God had caused her to enter, was a state of penitence, and warned her that she no longer needed trivial comforts, because she must follow promptly everything which God ordered.

For several months her convulsions consisted only in almost continual prayer and  these sorts of ecstasies, in several of which she was instructed to undertake harsh penances; which she did, not only with perfect submission, but with a joy mixed with humility.  She was often heard to repeat "How is it possible, My God:  that you wish to a miserable little creature like me a part in so great a work?"...

[The only thing which caused her anxiety was that in violent secours she would be obliged to allow men to approach her.  After a fortnight of fasting, God declared to her that he wished her to receive terrible secours, but that her modesty would not be compromised.]

After she made her First Communion on 29th September 1734, the Feast Day of St. Michael and the Holy Angels, she began to receive according to this ordinance of God, secours which were so marvellous they seem unbelievable;  this continued until 30th October 1738 when she was imprisoned in the Bastille....

M. le curé de S. Germain, her confessor, told everyone that she was not a girl but an angel, whose thoughts and every action were formed by God.

She always laid down in advance the manner, the day and the hour of the different secours to which she was to be subjected in the course of a novella; for each day there was a new one, each one more prodigious than the last.  All the details were noted down, and everything that she said.....
Court récit de la vie et des secours de Gabrielle Moler (1749), p.161-5.

The secours

Published details of the secours practised by Gabrielle Moulère derive mainly from Montgeron, who reproduces passages from a deposition signed by twenty-one eye witnesses (vol.iii, p.700ff.) The sources follow Montgeron in emphasising the high social standing of those concerned, who included  the comte de Novion and Edward Drummond, later 6th Earl of Perth, as well as several magistrates, officers of the King's Household, Army officers and priests of great piety. (The Jacobite Drummond was arrested along with Jeanne Moulère, and later with Gabrielle herself - on this second occasion, despite his high rank, he too was detained in the Bastille.)

The testimony records a series of secours of escalating violence, concentrating on beatings to the upper abdomen ("le creux de l'estomac") (p.703-4). Gabrielle laid on the ground on her back and had herself set upon with "a great iron bar weighing 48 livres."  One of her assistants raised the bar two feet into the air and allowed it to fall with full force 30 times on her stomach.  The furniture in the room, the windows and floor boards all shook, but she herself remained uninjured.  Standing with her back to the wall she had herself hit in the stomach with full force using an iron hammer.  (Elsewhere Montgeron recounts a similar beating which he himself had administered to Jeanne Moulère with a firedog; using similar force against the wall, he had knocked a hole in it.)

Illustration 2:  Gabrielle is stabbed repeatedly in the stomach
In the succeeding feats, Gabrielle commanded her assistants to stab her repeatedly with a heavy pointed iron bar, and to smashed her face into the floor by allowing a stone weighing sixty pounds to fall on her.  A series of four engravings highlight the weirdness of the proceedings.  Although these are not generally attributed to the pen of Jean Restout,  they follow his example in emphasising  the respectability and restraint of the protagonists.  
Illustration 3:   A crushing weight is applied to the back of Gabrielle's head
The final illustration shows the famous secours des épées of 1736, which was acknowledged as Gabrielle's particular invention. Supposedly guided by supernatural forces, Gabrielle pushed a sword into her stomach;  Instead of piercing her body, the blade merely curved, leaving Gabrielle herself unscathed.  Later she wielded the sword against her throat to similar effect, and finally swallowed the tip down into her esophagus without injury.  All these exploits, Montgeron emphasises, were carried out repeatedly and openly in homes of her adherents, with the upmost decorum. He himself was convinced of their divine provenance.  Gabrielle herself articulated their religious significance;  her acceptation of violence constituted a tableau vivant, representing the sufferings of the disciples of Elijah and figuring the spiritual invulnerability enjoyed by servants of the truth.  The plates are accompanied by a quotation from Exodus III, iii. on the miracle of the burning bush - flaming but invulnerable -  which embodies God's promise to deliver the Children of Israel.

Illustration 4 - Gabrielle undergoes the secours des épées

Imprisonment and death

The 30 October 1738 she was arrested at Lardi at the home of M. Dangervillers. She was just over sixteen-and-a-half years old;  she had experienced convulsions for four-and-a-half years, the most violent for more than four years.  

She was only held at the Bastille until 17th December.  M. de Marville judged it too great an honour for this sainted girl to be incarcerated in this notorious prison for State criminals. For people as guilty as Jeanne and Gabrielle Moler, ignominy must be joined to bad treatment.  In consequence, he ordered their transfer to La Salpêtrière, a prison for monstrous impure women who devote themselves to being the public victims of the libertine's debauchery....

The doctor of La Salpêtrière had the sisters bled excessively to calm their sufferings (caused by the absence of secours); but, far from bringing relief, this caused Jeanne  Moulère to develop hydropsy. The elder sister was cured suddenly and perfectly with relics of M. Paris.  But Gabriel died on 29th March 1748, refusing to the last to give up her belief in the secours:

When she was on her deathbed and  could no longer speak, a priest who was one of her persecutors,  took her hand to make her signal that she renounced, Paris, the miracles, convulsions and secours.  But Gabriel shook her head from right to left and left to right.
Court récit de la vie et des secours de Gabrielle Moler(1749), p.173-9.

"Court récit de la vie et des secours de Gabrielle Moler"
Suffrages en faveur des deux derniers tomes de M. de Montgeron (1749), p.161-219;

Louis Basile Carré de Montgeron, La vérité des miracles opérés par l'intercession de monsieur de Paris  vol.3(1747)

Here are some from Montgeron, translated into English: 
Agénor comte de Gasparin, Science versus modern spiritualism, 1857, p. 60-3.

I give below the account derived from Carré de Montgeron, which is on every point confirmed by the pamphlet entitled: "Vains efforts des mélangistes." The two hostile parties unite in attesting the following facts, that are supported, moreover, by numerous certificates.
"It is a matter of daily experience" (I quote, now, from Montgeron), "that the convulsionaries are more or less relieved in proportion as the blows administered are more or less heavy. . . . It has been proved by innumerable witnesses that when they are violently struck in the pit of the stomach with an iron instrument (this is one of the secours they most ordinarily demand), the instrument buries itself in their body, sometimes appearing to penetrate as far as the spine; and the further it enters into the stomach, the more relief the convulsionary experiences.

"The author of Vains efforts says : 'Jeanne Mouler, a young woman of twenty-two or three years of age, having supported herself against the wall, one of the stoutest men seized a firedog, weighing, it was said, twenty-five or thirty pounds, and struck her powerful blows in the stomach. This operation was repeated on various occasions, and at one time more than a hundred blows were counted. Another day, having given her sixty, he tried the effect of similar blows on a wall, and it is stated that at the twenty-fifth blow, he made an opening in it.' . . . The fire-dog here in question weighs twenty-nine or thirty pounds. It was with this instrument that the convulsionary submitted to the most terrible blows in the very pit of the stomach. ... I declare that I am the man of whom the author speaks as the brother who tried on a wall the effect of blows similar to the ones he had just given to this convulsionary. ... It was in vain that I employed, throughout, all the strength I could exert to redouble the weight of my blows ; the convulsionary complained that they procured her no relief. She compelled me to give the fire-dog into the hands of a very large, strong man, standing among the spectators. This person did not spare her. Instructed by my experience, that the blows could not be too violent, he struck her with so much force in the pit of the stomach, as to shake the wall against which she was leaning. The convulsionary made him give her in succession the hundred blows she had at first demanded, counting for nothing the sixty received from me." . . 

"'The exercise of the plank succeeded,' continues the author of Vains efforts. 'They placed upon the convulsionary, lying on the ground, a plank which entirely covered her; then, as many men mounted on this plank as it could hold. The convulsionary bore the weight of them all.' . . . More than twenty men have been seen gathered together on this plank, which was supported by the body of a young convulsionary. .... The body of this girl resisted the weight of more than three thousand, sometimes more than four thousand pounds— more than sufficient to crush an ox." . . .
"' The exercise of the stone (caillou) was not less perilous,' again remarks the author of Vains efforts. 'The convulsionary, lying on her back, a brother took a stone weighing twentytwo pounds, and with it inflicted repeated blows on her breast.' . . . It is to be observed that the person who struck her with this stone, placed himself on his knees at the side of the convulsionary, who was lying on the floor, that he raised the stone nearly as high as he could, that, after a few light trials, he precipitated it with all his strength upon the breast of the convulsionary, and gave her in succession a hundred similar blows. At each blow, the whole room shook." . . .....

"' The Salamander,' says the author of Vains efforts, ' cried: "Barley sugar!" This barley sugar was a stick thicker than the arm, sharp and pointed at one end. The convulsionary, in the centre of the chamber, curved her body in the form of a bow, and, balancing herself by her hands, rested on the point of the barley sugar; in this position, she cried out, 'Biscuit! Biscuit!' This was a stone weighing about fifty pounds. It was attached to a cord which passed through a pulley nailed to the ceiling of the room. Raised to the pulley, it was several times allowed to- fall on the stomach of the sister, her loins bearing all the time on the barley sugar.' . . . Neither the skin nor the flesh received the least injury, or suffered the slightest pain."
"A certain convulsionary receives, three time a week, the most terrible secours. Seated on the ground, the back against the wall, she induces those who come to witness her convulsions, to kick her in the stomach two thousand times in succession. . . . Extended on the ground, she causes herself to be violently struck with billets of wood on every part of the body. . . . Standing erect, her back against the wall, she takes a spit used in roasting meat, the strongest she can find; she places its point against the pit of her stomach, in the region of the short ribs; she then makes four, five, and six persons push against it, with all their strength, so that the spit bends perfectly crooked. . . . She sometimes puts the point of the spit to her throat or her forehead. ... In short, for the last two months, she has submitted every part of her body to sword thrusts. . . . Although her skin is indented by their points, and a slight red mark sometimes remains, yet the flesh is never cut." . . .

"Gabrielle caused the point of a certain rod to be put to her throat, just below the chin, and the point of a similar rod to be placed in the cavity at the back of her neck. Two persons, at the same time pushed against these two rods, with all their strength, repeating the operation several times in succession. But in vain did they try to make the points of the two rods penetrate beneath the skin—not the slightest puncture could be perceived. . . . Gabrielle, lying on her back, placed the edge of a shovel against her larynx, that is to say, exactly over the windpipe. She persuaded one of the spectators to exert himself to the utmost in pushing this shovel perpendicularly against her throat. . . . and she felt only an agreeable and salutary impression." . . . (See Montgeron vol. iii. p.693ff.)

For details of Edward Drummond, see:  Ruth Clark, Strangers and sojourners at Port-Royal (1932)p.248-9

In 1737 he was at the house of a Mme de Vieuxpoint where some thirty people, priests and laymen, were engaged in prayer with Jeanne Mouler.   The police burst in.  At first those present refused to give their names, but finally a list was made out and carried to Hérault.  After two hours orders were received to convey twelve of the prisoners to the Bastille. "Milord Perth Comte de Drummont"  was liberated this time, but two years later, on October 30th 1739, he was imprisoned. (See Nouvelles ecclésiastiques 1737, p.194-5

On that morning at six o'clock the police entered the country house of M. d'Angervillers at Lardy.  Everyone was still in bed, but they arrested Gabrielle Mouler, Lord Drummond and three others, piled them on a cart and sent them to the Bastille. (Archives de la Bastille xv, p.33-40)
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