SUNDRIES: An eighteenth century newsletter

N° 39 - July 14, 2006


LINKS: The Bastille; Bastille Day; the French Revolution inter text LINGUET: "Memoirs of the Bastille" inter text HOLIDAYS: A Bastille Day under Napoleon inter text EVENTS: The Storming: Afterwords

bastille icon THE BASTILLE: Words - Prisoners - The prison

inter cooking 18th CENTURY RECIPE: Dishes from the Bastille

fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys
Magasin Pittoresque: The Bastille


LINKS: The Bastille; Bastille Day; the French Revolution

For the Bastille itself, I am virtually forced to offer my own page on the castle for the simple reason that the subject per se does not seem to have interested anyone else enough to put up a site on it.

There's more on the famous holiday:

This article on Bastille Day from the Wikipedia is interesting, omits celebrations right after the fall of the castle.

Discover France's brief summary of the event is accurate and to the point.

The French embassy in Australia gives an interesting history of the holiday.

ehow, in its attempt to be the site that tells you how to do EVERYTHING, tells you how to celebrate Bastille Day.

This glimpse at LA in 1900 tells of a 'Bastille Ball'.

On the Revolution, this excellent site has been mentioned before: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité: Exploring the French Revolution

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LINGUET: "Memoirs of the Bastille"

It is apropos to recall that last fall I self-published a highly annotated edition of an 18th century translation of Simon-Nicolas-Henri Linguet's Memoirs of the Bastille. Many of the details about the Bastille which appear further on are from the notes to that edition. Here are some of the more concrete observations by that popular but controversial journalist himself:

- intake

"They take away his money, least it should afford the means of corruption amongst them; his jewels, on the very same consideration; his papers, lest they should furnish him with a resource against the weariness and vexation to which he is doomed; his knives, scissors, &c. least he should cut his own throat, say they, or assassinate his jailors: for they explain to him coolly the motives for all their depredations.

- lodging

These cells are all contained in towers of which the walls are at least twelve, and at the bottom thirty or forty feet thick. Each has a vent-hole made in the wall; but crossed by three grates of iron, one within, another in the middle, and a third on the outside. The bars cross each other, and are an inch in thickness" "in winter these dungeons are perfect ice-houses#, because they are lofty enough for the frost to penetrate; in summer they are moist suffocating stoves, the walls being too thick for the heat to dry them.
Two mattrasses half eaten by the worms, a matted elbow chair, the bottom of which was kept together by pack-thread, a tottering table, a water pitcher, two pots of Dutch ware, one of which served to drink out of, and two flagstones to support the fire, composed the inventory of mine.

- sharp objects

I observed that a prisoner was not permitted to have scissors, knife, or razors. Thus, when they serve him with provisions, repelled by his sighs and watered by his tears, it is necessary that the Turn-key cut every morsel for him. For this purpose he makes use of a knife rounded at the point, which he is careful to put up in his pocket, after each dissection. One cannot prevent the nails from shooting out, or the hair from growing. But a prisoner has no means of getting rid of these incumbrances without undergoing fresh humiliation: he must request the loan of a pair of scissors; the Turn-key stands by while he is using them, and carries them off immediately after.

- secrecy of imprisonment

A prisoner, whom an officer of the Bastille sees every day, will, when spoken of in the world, be denied with consummate effrontery ever to have been seen or known by him. When some of my faithful friends solicited of the Minister who presides over these dungeons, permission to visit me, he asked, as it were with astonishment, how they could suppose me to be in the Bastille?

- invisibility within the castle

he finds all silent, desert and obscure. The dismal croaking of the turn-key, by whom he is guided, serves as a signal for all to disappear, who might either see, or be seen by him. The windows of that part of the building where the principal officers hold their latent residence, of the kitchens, and of those parts where strangers are admitted, shield themselves instantly with curtains, lattices and blinds; and they have the cruelty not to proceed to this operation till he is in a situation to perceive it.

- the Bastille's true purpose

The express institution of this prison being to distract the mind, and to render life itself miserable.

- the great equalizer

the Bastille, like death, brings to an equality all whom it swallows up: the sacrilegious villain, who has plotted the destruction of his Country; the undaunted Patriot, guilty of no other crime but that of maintaining her rights with too much ardour; the Wretch, who has betrayed for gold the secrets of the cabinet, and he who has dared to speak truths to Ministers, useful to the State, but repugnant to their interest: as well he who is confined lest he should become a dishonour to his family, as he who is only obnoxious on account of his talents, are all overwhelmed alike in uniform darkness.

- letters

His letters, when he is allowed the means of writing, pass open to the Police, or are there broke open. The doleful lamentations of the captives afford no small amusement to the persons appointed to inspect them: they divert themselves# for a short time with the various notes of the different birds they have in their cage, and then tie up carefully in a bundle together the several epistolary productions of the day; not to be applied to any use, but either to deposit them in some hidden magazines, or to burn them: and neither the persons who wrote them, nor those to whom they are addressed ever see them or hear of them afterwards.

NOTE: This is an exaggeration, though not completely untrue. But when Linguet refused to eat because he was afraid of being poisoned (see below), it was discussed in the press soon after his arrest. A bit later, on October 17, 1780, Bachaumont wrote:

It is known that Me. Linguet is still in the Bastille, because though his letters are not exactly received, fragments concerning the articles he has requested from Monsieur Le Quesne for his use and needs are; apparently he is even very indiscreet in what he writes in this prison, so that only extracts are released and the originals do not arrive." Bachaumont, Tome XVI, (17, 26)

- turnkeys

The turnkeys are not even required to make the beds, or to sweep out the rooms. The reason assigned for it, is, that in the execution of this business they might be ill-treated, or perhaps assassinated. The justice of this pretext admits an enquiry; the thing itself is certain. Neither age, nor infirmity, nor delicacy of sex, can exempt the prisoners from this necessity; the man of letters, unaccustomed to these operations, and the opulent man no less unacquainted with them, are equally obliged to submit to the same etiquette.

NOTE: They were however supposed to clean the toilets - see below.

- the chapel

The chapel is situated under a pigeon-house, belonging to the King’s Lieutenant; it may be about seven or eight feet square. On one of the sides they have constructed four little cages or niches, each to contain just one person: these have neither the enjoyment of light nor air, except when the door is pen, which is only at the moment entering, or going out. There do they shut up the unhappy votary. At the instant of receiving the sacrament they draw aside a little curtain, the covering of a grated window, through which, as through the tube of a spying-glass, he can see the person who performs this service. This mode of partaking in the ecclesiastical ceremonies appeared to me so shocking and disagreeable, that I did not a second time give way to the temptation of accepting their offer. As to the confession, I know not how this matter is arranged: and I do not imagine that many of the captives, however devout, are desirous of having much to do with it. The Confessor is an officer of the higher order, on the establishment of the prison. Hence one may easily conceive with what security a prisoner might unbosom himself to this Confessor, supposing he had a conscience that wanted to be discharged. His office, then, is either a snare, or a mockery. It is beyond my conception, how they can have the audacity to propose to the prisoners in the Bastille, that they should open their souls to a base prevaricator, who prostitutes thus the dignity of his function; nor how a man, the hired instrument of the earthly power which oppresses them, can dare to address them in the name of Heaven that disavows him.

NOTE: The chapel was decorated with a painting of Saint Pierre-Aux-Liens (St. Peter-in-Chains), another example of the tactless decoration Linguet mentions elsewhere in speaking of the clock. It was taken to the Hotel de Ville the day after the Bastille’s fall.

- death in the castle

When a prisoner dies, whether after confession, or without it, I cannot say what they do with him; how they revenge themselves on the body for the flight of the soul, or where they suffer his allies to rest, when they are unable to torment them any longer. Thus far I know, that they are not restored to his family. Surely, since the first establishment of the Bastille, some deaths must have happened in it: but who has ever seen a mortuary extract dated from it, except that of Marshal Biron? Families are then abandoned without mercy to the confusion resulting from the absence of their head; and after the affliction they have suffered during his existence, they are denied even the said consolation they might derive from a certain knowledge of his fate.

NOTE: Deaths in the castle were duly recorded. Since the Bastille was in St. Paul’s parish, Catholic prisoners were buried in St. Paul’s cemetery. The Bastille paid the (modest) expenses. Bournon cautiously cites an account regarding a Bertin, who died in the Bastille March 3, 1779. That account says that his entry on the mortuary register was covered with a piece of paper, sealed with eight red wax seals marked "Royal Castle of the Bastille". Some Protestant prisoners seem to have been buried in the garden, giving rise to dark rumors when their remains were found after the castle's fall.)

- and La Harpe comments...

He only said, in long and tedious speeches, what everybody already knew, that is that how prisoners are treated in the Bastille is as arbitrary as the power that locks them up there; and how could it be otherwise? As this sort of illegal imprisonment is a vengeance and not a punishment, the treatment received there is always in proportion to personal resentment. Many individuals who have been in the Bastille say they were treated very gently there; several even with all sorts of consideration; others have been treated very harshly." La Harpe on Linguet's Memoirs of the Bastille in La Harpe's Correspondance Litteraire, IV (118-119)
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HOLIDAYS: A Bastille Day under Napoleon

Note that the start of this account shows that 14th of July was established early on as holiday:

It was not one of the least singular traits in Napoleon's character that during the first year of his reign he retained the fete of the 14th of July. It was not indeed strictly a Republican fate, but it recalled the recollection of two great popular triumphs, —the taking of the Bastille and the first Federation. This year the 14th of July fell on a Saturday, and the Emperor ordered its celebration to be delayed till the following day, because it was Sunday; which was in conformity with the sentiments he delivered respecting the Concordat. 'What renders me,' he said, 'most hostile to the re-establishment of the Catholic worship is the number of festivals formerly observed. A saint's day is a day of indolence, and I wish not for that; the people must labour in order to live. I consent to four holidays in the year, but no more; if the gentlemen from Rome are not satisfied with this, they may take their departure." The loss of time seemed to him so great a calamity that he seldom failed to order an indispensable solemnity to be held on the succeeding holiday. Thus he postponed the Corpus Christi to the following Sunday.
On Sunday, the 15th of July 1804, the Emperor appeared for the first time before the Parisians surrounded by all the pomp of royalty. The members of the Legion of Honour, then in Paris, took the oath prescribed by the new Constitution, and on this occasion the Emperor and Empress appeared attended for the first time by a separate and numerous retinue. The carriages in the train of the Empress crossed the garden of the Tuileries, hitherto exclusively appropriated to the public; then followed the cavalcade of the Emperor, who appeared on horseback, surrounded by his principal generals, whom he had created Marshals of the Empire. M. de Segur, who held the office of Grand Master of Ceremonies, had the direction of the ceremonial to be observed on this occasion, and with, the Governor received the Emperor on the threshold of the Hotel des Invalides. They conducted the Empress to a tribune prepared for her reception, opposite the Imperial throne which Napoleon alone occupied, to the right of the altar. I was present at this ceremony, notwithstanding the repugnance I have to such brilliant exhibitions; but as Duroc had two days before presented me with tickets, I deemed it prudent to attend on the occasion, lest the keen eye of Bonaparte should have remarked my absence if Duroc had acted by his order. I spent about an hour contemplating the proud and sometimes almost ludicrous demeanour of the new grandees of the Empire; I marked the manoeuvring of the clergy, who, with Cardinal Belloy at their head, proceeded to receive the Emperor on his entrance into the church. What a singular train of ideas was called up to my mind when I beheld my former comrade at the school of Brienne seated upon an elevated throne, surrounded by his brilliant staff, the great dignitaries of his Empire—his Ministers and Marshals! I involuntarily recurred to the 19th Brumaire, and all this splendid scene vanished; when I thought of Bonaparte stammering to such a degree that I was obliged to pull the skirt of his coat to induce him to withdraw. It was neither a feeling of animosity nor of jealousy which called up such reflections; at no period of our career would I have exchanged my situation for his; but whoever can reflect, whoever has witnessed the unexpected elevation of a former equal, may perhaps be able to conceive the strange thoughts that assailed my mind, for the first time, on this occasion. When the religious part of the ceremony terminated, the church assumed, in some measure, the appearance of a profane temple. The congregation displayed more devotion to the Emperor than towards the God of the Christians, —more enthusiasm than fervour. The mass had been heard with little attention; but when M. de Lacepede, Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honour, after pronouncing a flattering discourse, finished the call of the Grand Officers of the Legion, Bonaparte covered, as did the ancient kings of France when they held a bed of justice. A profound silence, a sort of religious awe, then reigned throughout the assembly, and Napoleon, who did not now stammer as in the Council of the Five Hundred, said in a firm voice: "Commanders, officers, legionaries, citizens, soldiers; swear upon your honour to devote yourselves to the service of the Empire—to the preservation of the integrity of the French territory—to the defence of the Emperor, of the laws of the Republic, and of the property which they have made sacred—to combat by all the means which justice, reason, and the laws authorise every attempt to reestablish the feudal system; in short, swear to concur with all your might in maintaining liberty and equality, which are the bases of all our institutions. Do you swear?" Each member of the Legion of Honour exclaimed, "I swear;" adding, "Vive l'Empereur!" with an enthusiasm it is impossible to describe, and in which all present joined. What, after all, was this new oath? It only differed from that taken by the Legion of Honour, under the Consulate, in putting the defence of the Emperor before that of the laws of the Republic; and this was not merely a form. It was, besides, sufficiently laughable and somewhat audacious, to make them swear to support equality at the moment so many titles and monarchical distinctions had been re-established.
Bourrienne, Memoirs of Napoleon
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EVENTS: The Storming: Afterwords

Just a sampling of mentions made in the year following the castle's fall:

- England's big chance

"Do you know, Milord," said the Viscount of Noailles to the Duke of Dorset, speaking of the revolution of July, "Do you know, Milord, that with this business your country too could become free?"
Quoted August 1789 in Grimm, Correspondance Litteraire, T15, 1787 (494)

- Richelieu, radical

It might nonetheless seem rather strange to those who knew the marshal de Richelieu to hear him always talk of despotism, of abuse of authority, of the humiliations of ministers and the great, as if he had had the honor last year to have found himself at the head of the heroes who invested the Bastille.
Grimm's February 1790 review of (marshal, not cardinal) Richelieu's memoirs in Correspondance Litteraire T15, 1787 (587)

- Over-praised

If one had wanted to intentionally make the great event of the taking of the Bastille look ridiculous, it would be difficult to do better than M. Dusaulx has done, with the best intention in the world of praising to the third heaven a conquest which circumstances made as easy in fact as it was marvelous in appearance.
Grimm's July 1790 review of Dusaulx's Of the Parisian insurrection and the Taking of the Bastille, historical discourse pronounced in extract in the National Assembly in Correspondance Litteraire T16, 1790 (54)

- A demurral


This is a brochure [from 1790] which carries as an epigraph these verses:

'When the people is master, it reacts only in tumult.
The voice of reason is never consulted.
The honors go always to the most ambitious,
Authority is given to the most seditious.
These little sovereigns made for a year
Seeing so short a term to their stubborn power
Abort the fruit of the finest intentions
Fearing to leave it to he who follows,
The worst of states is the popular one.'
Cinna. Tragedy.
[NOTE: by Corneille]

The pamphlet begins as follows: 'By what fatality has this cry of despair become universal? And so it was Pandora's Box, this terrible fortress, whose memorable fall has flooded the best empire in the world with so many ills, and left not even a weak ray of hope to the citizen, friend of liberty?' The author criticizes the liberty of the moment; his tone is that of a prophet: "Beware, citizens, despotism is never more fearful, it is never more terrible, than when it is disguised under the mask of liberty, it is so to say a lion that hides its claws to let them grow. But soon peaceful Saturn will *devour his own children*." After having foreseen the Terror during which the violent devoured each other, he foresees the dictatorship of the soldier.
Intermediare des Chercheurs Year 39 (1903-2) July 10, 1903 (47-48)

- A bullet for Bordeaux

The bullet of a conqueror of the Bastille - At the head of the first assailants of the Bastille was a fusilier of the company of Brache, named Turpin; he was lightly wounded. The bullet which transformed him into a hero, deserved to be recovered; he undertook to do so, and in his naive pride, he offered it 'as a monument of his courage to the people of Bordeaux'. The municipal archives of Bordeaux - register of correspondence 1790, p. 156 - hold a copy of the letter which was written to him to thank him for this unusual present:

'October 1, 1790 to M. Turpin Rue Saint-Honore, Paris

We have received with the greatest pleasure the bullet which struck you in the right hand when your courage pushed you to give to France the first signal of patriotism in attacking the Bastille, we thank you very much, sir, of the homage which you give us of this monument of your courage, we will treasure it with care. We are not less grateful for the offer you make of your services in the paid guard which when it is formed in the future for our city it will be our pleasure, monsieur, to offer to engage you in it. We are perfectly, (etc).'

The bullet has disappeared; some indiscreet person made off with it; there is no more respect.
Intermediare des Chercheurs Year 39 (1903-2) July 10, 1903 (48)

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Here is a sampling of references to the castle before it fell, giving some idea of how it was seen.

- The Encyclopedia: a definition

BASTILLE, small castle in the antique style fortified with turrets. That of Paris, built in 1169.
Encyclopedia (Table)

- Mercier: the book peddlers

The squealers war above all against peddlers, men who deal in the only good books one can still read in France, and in consequence banned. They are horribly mistreated; all the police bloodhounds chase after these poor men who have no idea what they are selling, and who would hide the bible under their coats, if the lieutenant of police decided to ban the bible. They are put in the bastille for trivial brochures which will be forgotten the next day.
Mercier, Tableaux de Paris, Chapter 66

- Abbe Galiani: why the French are so clever

The sublime the art of saying everything without being put in the Bastille in a country where it is forbidden to say anything. The constraint of decency and the constraint on the press have been the causes of the perfection of wit and the taste for turning a phrase among the French.
The Abbe Galiani, quoted in Grimm, Correspondance Litteraire T10 - 1772 (505)

- Grimm: good for sales

Until now the wise precautions of the government have always effectively protected us from the venom of the Encyclopedia, while the provinces and foreign countries are abandoned to the action of its poison. They have even put M. Le Breton, first ordinary printer to the King, in the Bastille, for having sent twenty or twenty-five copies to Versailles to different subscribers.... The indiscreet printer who is left with a half-interest in the costs and in the profits of this immense enterprise left the Bastille after eight days of prison. This Encyclopedia, despite all the travails it has suffered, or rather by the celebrity which these persecutions have brought it, will have produced a profit of some one hundred thousand crowns to each of the entrepreneurs. And so booksellers love nothing so much as authors whose authors are harassed: fortune lies at the end.
Grimm, May 1766, Correspondance Litteraire, T.7 (44-45)

- Grimm: the audience deserved the Bastille

September 1773...Two days after this famous judgement, "la Reconciliation normande" was shown at the Comedie-Francaise. There is in this play a scene where Falaise, speaking of the trial for which he has been brought, says: "In an obscure cause, Well-paid judges will see more clearly than us" The reference was unfortunately understood. The hall echoed with such mad and willful applause that it was impossible to finish the play. The orchestra seats, and all the boxes which were complicit in this insolence, merit at least the Bastille. I agree; but in recognizing their wrong, I like, I admit, to see myself carried for a moment to Rome or to Athens, to admire how much the taste for the arts, and above all for that of spectacle, inclines spirits to enjoy liberty and to give way to sallies of a lively and petulant gaiety.
Grimm, Correspondance Litteraire T10 - 1772 (294)

NOTE: This reminds me of an anecdote, under Communism in Eastern Europe, I believe in Czechoslovakia, when audiences regularly applauded a provocative line in a work seemingly unrelated to current events. The authorities warned that if audiences continued these outbursts, performances would be cancelled.

- Grimm: not quite right for the royal kids

September 1777 - PROVERB, by M. Sedaine This proverb was composed to be played by the princess of Piedmont, Mme Elisabeth of France, and M. the Count of Artois, in their childhood. The same author wrote several others for the same purpose; but they were not considered as appropriate, and they have not been played, because the scene takes place in the Bastille, and a prisoner breaks open its doors, which sets a very bad example.
Grimm, Correspondance Litteraire T11 - 1775 (519)

- Anonymous: Brutus in the Bastille

History has the proof in hand,
By example men are formed.
If God sent the Romans
To the poor century where we are,
Cato would turn in every wind,
Lucretius would be a girl,
Messaline would go to a convent,
And Brutus himself would go to the Bastille
Satirical verse quoted by Grimm, May 1776, Correspondance Litteraire T14 - 1784 (372)

- Sedaine: The mouse and the lion, retold in the Bastille

Grimm reviews Sedaine's play, "Le Comte Albert", a retelling of La Fontaine's fable of "the Rat and the Lion" which tells how "a man of quality" saves the life of a poor man being attacked in the street, and soon after is put in the Bastille. "Arrived in this castle, which M. Sedaine satisfied himself with designating by the name of the quarter of Paris in which it is situated," the hero is recognized by a turnkey - the very man he saved. Who of course helps him to escape. Grimm, December 1785, Correspondance Litteraire T14 - 1784 (487-488)

NOTE: On the one hand, Sedaine would probably have never written such a piece before Linguet's book became popular; on the other nor did he seem to feel safe actually naming the prison.

- Louis de Brancas, count of Lauraguais: Memoirs

London is a great abyss, dug first by the Danes, the Normans and unceasingly the French, in which sinks perpetually gold and the idiocies of the universe. An Italian, a Frenchman, though they merited the rope in their country, run to this one. One does not fail to say in landing that he escapes the Inquisition, the other the Bastille. It is enough for this to be possible to seem a frightful truth. If they have the art, customary with then, to excite the slightly barbarous mix of pity and derision, they are given a glass of beer in the first tavern. They note politely that in England one drinks to liberty, while elsewhere one only hopes for it.
Memoire for myself; by me Louis de Brancas, count of Lauraguais, quoted in Grimm, Correspondance Litteraire, T10 - 1772 (224)

- Smollett: The Adventures of Roderick Random

At these words, the chevalier in green started up in a great passion, and laying his hand on the hilt of his hanger, exclaimed, "Ah! foutre!" The Englishman on the other hand, grasping his cane cried, "Don't foutre me, sirrah, or by G--d I'll knock you down." The company interposed, the Frenchman sat down again, and his antagonist proceeded--"Lookey, Monsieur, you know very well that had you dared to speak so freely of the administration of your own country in Paris as you have done of ours in London, you would have been sent to the Bastille without ceremony, where you might have rotted in a dungeon, and never seen the light of the sun again.
Smollett: The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle

A lady of distinguished character having been lampooned by some obscure scribbler, who could not be discovered, the ministry, in consequence of her complaint, ordered no fewer than five-and-twenty abbes to be apprehended and sent to the Bastille, on the maxim of Herod, when he commanded the innocents to be murdered, hoping that the principal object of his cruelty would not escape in the general calamity; and the friends of those unhappy prisoners durst not even complain of the unjust persecution, but shrugged up their shoulders, and in silence deplored their misfortune, uncertain whether or not they should ever set eyes on them again.


- The youngest prisoner?

Not including, of course, those born there.

Year 1732. The little Saint-Pierre, girl seven to eight years old, convulsionist. Her detention lasted over a year.
The Bastille registers, cited in the Bastille Devoilee, cited in Grimm, Correspondance Litteraire, T15 1787 (495)

- A prisoner's letter

Having reproduced Pellisary's letter in "Memoirs", I have only recently encountered this further glimpse of life inside the castle:

Tort de la Sonde was put in the Bastille castle at the request of M. de Guines, ambassador to London. We have found, among the archives of the Bastille, this letter...

'Paris, July 24, 1771 To M. de Sartine, Lieutenant-general of police, My lord, I wanted to wait for my interrogations to end to beg you to grant the following favors: 1 - The permission to have a violin, in taking the precaution of only renting one with a mute and which muffles the sound, to the point of not hearing it from one end of the room to the other. It is less to distract myself that I take the liberty of asking you for this favor, my lord, then to maintain the little talent that I have to husband a resource which, given the uncertainty of my future state, will perhaps be very essential to me. M. the commissioner de Rochebrune, who is said to be a musician, has been kind enough to let me hope that he will make some efforts to obtain an instrument for me, if you deign not to oppose it. 2 - To permit that at an hour of the day I may take a walk, accompanied by a guard, in the garden or on the towers, on condition of withdrawing this permission, when the open air will have dissipated the very frequent spells I have had for a month. 3 - To ask M. the Major to take 150 pounds from the money he has of mine and to have them sent to my father, whose address I will give him. I do not ask to write him, my lord, only that I be allowed to continue to give him help without which he will be reduced to dire necessity; I have the honor to be, with the most profound respect, My lord, your very obedient servant.' [NOTE: Rarely was this standard formula used more literally.]

The request was favorably received. Tort [whose unfortunate name means 'wrong' in French] had been at the Bastille since April 28, 1771, he left on the following January 26.
Intermediaire des Chercheurs, Year 4 (1895-2), July 10, 1895 (11-12)

- Louis XV and the Man in the Iron Mask

M. de la Borde, Louis XV's valet, had a certain intimacy with his master, and frequently showed curiosity about the Man in the Iron Mask (which was, in reality, of black velvet.) But Louis was close-lipped:

'I regret it, but his detention did no harm to anyone but himself and prevented great disasters; you cannot be told.' And on this subject, he recalled that in his childhood he had shown the greatest curiosity concerning the story of the Iron Mask, and that he was always told that he could not know it before his majority; that the day of his majority he had asked about it, that the courtesans who beseiged the room of his door gathered all around him asking questions, that he had told them: 'You cannot know it.'
Cited in Grimm, Correspondance Litteraire, T15 1787 (500)

- After-effects

October 1768 ... M. Bossu was put in the Bastille for the bad he said of M. de Kerlarec; but this punishment altered neither his good humor nor his veracity. He left this royal lodging after six weeks, as vigorous as when he went in; what's more, this punishment was very unjust. M. Bossu submitted the printing of his voyages to all the bookseller's rules. His book appeared with the approval and the privilege of the king; if anything reprehensible remained in it, it was the censor who should have answered for it.
Grimm, October 1768, T. 8 (187)
The Bastille seemed to me a tomb where I was buried alive, and my pain was in not being able to set a limit to this sepulchral life. I did not have death to fear, first because I was innocent, and then because I knew well that the Government preferred to condemn to a life sentence than to the death penalty those who displeased it. I overcame my pain and my boredom in the Bastille by reading, meditation, speech, composition; I think I came out of it better, but no wiser.
Brissot, Memoires, (I,7)

The prison

Books have been written on this subject. Here are just a few glimpses at existence at the prison, taken (for the most part) from my own notes to Linguet's Memoirs of the Bastille.

- Social life

The right to talk with other prisoners varied somewhat over time, but was also a function of a prisoner's status. In the seventeenth century, Cardinal de Retz was shocked that a number of prisoners had (he claims) as much freedom as the governor. Not only was he able to visit them, he conspired with some, meeting with them several times. Retz, Book I. Madame de Staal writes early on of the measures taken to ensure prisoners did not see each other, but she later managed to carry on an affair with one man and to be propositioned by at least one other. People also met in her apartment, to the point even of putting her in ill humor. The notorious Count de Cagliostro used to walk on the very tower where, unknown to him, his wife was held. Several prisoners had one or more roommates, sometimes quite a few in succession. Bucquoy and Latude - the castle's two most famous escapees - both worked with others to plan their escapes. Dumouriez was kept separate for a long time from his two servants, and found them depressing once they joined him.

- Tips

Renneville says turn-keys took tips: "One turn-key, leaving here, bought a good piece of land for 80,000 francs with an estate that lets him live like a great lord."; "All the officers and especially the turn-keys did very well." But he then says that under the next governor, several were punished severely for accepting money to do favors for the prisoners. In a note to Renneville’ s account, Savine says they were not to accept any gratifications "except at [the prisoner’s] departure." Ru, a turn-key who was generally considered kind, complained bitterly that one prisoner only gave him three louis when he left. "A reasonable prisoner, when he leaves here, gives at the very least thirty louis."

- Toilets

This particular subject not only gives a particularly intimate glimpse of the life of a prisoner in France's most secretive prison, it was probably of unusual importance to the prisoners themselves. For someone living in one room day after day, with little exercise or entertainment, the highlight of the day would have been its three meals, which would have made the use of toilets that much more central to a prisoner's routine. Finally, this humble facility not only reflected the variations in class found throughout Old Regime France - the Bastille included - but played its part in at least one famous escape. Dumouriez, a favored prisoner, at one point was in the room above the chapel, considered an especially good one. By way of emphasizing its superiority, he said it had "the privy outside". Perhaps the Abbe Bucquoy was in the same room. He was one of the few prisoners to escape the Bastille, and found his facilities handy in planning his famous escape: "….he resolved to find his salvation in the privies, at the risk of plunging into fecal matter. The commodities of this room were on the ditch of the St. Antoine Gate. This was the luckiest thing in the world, except for the odor." Improbable as it seems, this may have in fact been an opening built into the (very thick) walls: "Near the door," said Renneville, "a smaller one led to latrines built into the thickness of the wall." Bournon says: "To almost all of the rooms of the castle was annexed, in the thickness of the wall, a nook serving as a privy." On the other hand, La Porte, writing in the seventeenth century, says he only had a terrine (an earthenware chamber-pot). He later says it was emptied by a soldier on the steps – meaning (one hopes) out the window from the steps? Most lists of furniture mention chamber-pots or close-stools (the French "pierced chair" – a seat with a hole in it). In one case, a chamber-pot was used as a weapon. In 1783, an order for furniture included "twenty-four chairs for commodes". Not every prisoner confined his needs to his chamber-pot. Renneville, horrified by the filth of his new room in the Bertaudière tower, was told that the previous prisoner had habitually urinated against the walls. Finally, though Linguet complains about how little domestic help the turnkeys gave the prisoners, in theory at least one of their duties (said the rules) was to "clean the commodes well every day".

- Celebrations

While 'fun' may not be the first word one associates with the Bastille, it had its moments (for those outside, anyway). In fact, if the castle still stood, no doubt a favored place to see the fireworks on Bastille Day would be... the Bastille!

On days of rejoicing when there is a display of fire-works or illuminations, the public are permitted even in crouds to ascend the Towers, that they may thence behold the sight to advantage. On such occasions they reflect the very image of peace and tranquility. All these gaping strangers are in perfect ignorance of what passes, and of what is shut up, within those impenetrable vaults, the outsides of which they gaze in with admiration.
Linguet, Memoires (88)
In the diverse quarters of Paris there were bonfires: called Saint Jean's, notably that of the Bastille for which the details are known; because a regulattion has been found in the archives of this ancient fortress for this date: in the morning, the cannon had three formidable discharges, in the evening, new salvos, accompanied by musket fire by the garrison troops, who stood at arms at the lighting.
Intermediaire des Chercheurs, Year 50, April 20, 1914 (522-523)

From CHEZ JIM Books:
and a history of the CROISSANT:

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18th CENTURY RECIPE: Dishes from the Bastille

The subject of food in the Bastille is sufficiently varied to have merited a separate appendix in my edition of Linguet's Memoirs. In a nutshell, several ex-prisoners left very appetizing descriptions of their meals, though others (and one guard) referred to "meat worse than soldiers eat" (which makes one feel for the period's soldiers) and other less than desirable fare. Only prisoners who were being punished or intentionally treated harshly ever seemed to have been reduced to bread and water (or wine). Even the more favorable mentions of food are often limited to very simple dishes such as roasts, salads and soups. But a few more individual dishes are named, notably by Marmontel (who, on the first night of a brief stay, ate his servant's meal - which he found excellent - before seeing his own - even better - appear and giving to his servant) and Renneville (who experienced a wide range of treatments, and so meals, in the years he was in the Bastille.)

Probably the most colorful-sounding dish named by any writer was one of several served to Renneville when he was still well-fed: "a stew of béatiles". The Quebec Office of the French Language usually provides excellent bilingual definitions, but for this dish sticks to French:

Beatilles Note(s) : Terme ancien désignant divers menus articles (crêtes et rognons de coq, ris d'agneau, foie gras en dés, champignons) liés de velouté ou suprême, employés comme garniture de vol-au-vent, de bouchée ou de tourte. Cet apprêt, qui date de la Renaissance, fut importé d'Italie par Catherine de Médicis. Son nom vient du latin « beatus » (bienheureux), les béatilles étant, à l'origine, de petits objets de dévotion confectionnés par les religieuses.

This is worth translating:

Old term referring to diverse small items (coxcombs and kidneys, sweetbreads, cubed foie gras, mushrooms) bound with velouté ou suprême, used as a garnish for vol-au-vent, bouchée or tarte. This preparation, which dates from the Renaissance, was imported from Italy by Catherine de Médicis. Its name comes from the Latin "beatus" (happy), béatilles being, originally, small objects of devotion concocted by nuns.
The Dictionnaire des Alimens calls them "Minutiae Esculente" - Succulent Minutiae? - and defines them as "little fine meats used in making tarts, stews, soups, &c such as sweetbreads, coxcombs, beef palate." (I, 122). Lovely as the name sounds - and appetizing as the dish probably was to gourmets of the time - it is in fact largely made up of organ meats. Though recipes for it seem rare in any era, they can still be found today: Ragout de béatilles

An American reader, at least, might think that coxcombs were very much an ingredient of the past, but in fact not only are they used in the preceding recipe, but in a number of others. The magazine Art Culinaire, for instance, offered this recipe (Issue 42 (26)) "Capon, Fricassée of, w/ Cocks Combs". They are also used in these:

Fritto Misto: mixed fried foods
Meat salad recipe - Quails roasted with ham, onions and carrots, set in aspic with truffles and served on a bed of rice "garnish in the center with a garnishing of cockscombs and small truffles"

For anyone who simply must be authentic, this seems to be the kind of thing people find in Chinatown. On the other hand, even in our period, it seems that some preferred to use a substitute:

To make artificial _Coxcombs._ From Mr. _Renaud._

Take Tripe, without any Fat, and with a sharp Knife pare away the fleshy part, leaving only the brawny or horny part about the thickness of a Cock's Comb. Then, with a Jagging-Iron, cut Pieces out of it, in the shape of Cocks Combs, and the remaining Parts between, may be cut to pieces, and used in Pyes, and serve every whit as well as Cocks Combs: but those cut in form, please the Eye best; and, as Mr. _Renaud_ observes, the Eye must be pleased, before we can taste any thing with Pleasure. And therefore, in Fricassees we should put those which are cut according to Art.
Richard Bradley, The Country Housewife and Lady's Director

A nineteenth century writer says that most "coxcombs" served then were actually beef palate. Surprisingly, recipes for béatille are rare (even though it reappears in the nineteenth century), and those I have found so far are for tarts, not stew. Still, for anyone who wants to treat their dinner guests like favored inmates of the Bastille, it should be easy enough to adapt the following to a stew:

Beatilles Tart

You clean them [presumably the coxcombs] well in hot water; after which you lay them out in your pie plate, with mushrooms, truffles, sweetbreads, artichoke hearts, & Beef marrow, all seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg, a packet of fines herbes, & grated or melted lard. Cover & gild it...; & having cooked around too hours over a low flame, put in lemon and mutton juice when serving.
Le Cuisinier Royale et Bourgeois (474)

The Dictionnaire, having cribbed the recipe above, also offers:

Another way to make a Beatilles Tarte

Blanch veal, chop it up with beef or veal fat & a little fresh butter, white capon meat, some giblets of fowl which you put in whole, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, salt & pepper. Put all that on a fine pastry base in a pie plate; cover it with another piece of the same dough, gild your pie, set it to cook in the oven, or in the hearth, with fire above & below.
(I, 122)

Renneville at one point says he had a slice of godiveau, which was probably not unlike this "Paté de Godiveau" described in Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois (342):

Make a good Godiveau, with veal rouelle, beef marrow or fat, & a little lard; season with salt, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, fines herbes & spring onion: lay out your Paté on a fine dough base in the form you want, round or oval, & two or three fingers high: garnish it with mushrooms, sweetbreads, artichoke hearts, morels & chitterlings in the opening in the center, & when serving pour a white sauce over it.

Marmontel was given "a small plate of fried artichokes in a marinade". One New York restaurant offers an Italian dish: "Twice Fried Artichoke Crisp fried artichokes in a roman fashion, sprinkled with parsley and sea salt." that sounds much like the Cuisinier's recipe 106):

Fried Artichokes

Cut them into slices, take out the choke, & bring them to a boil three or four times; set them to soak with vinegar, pepper, salt & spring onion; then flour them & fry them in refined lard or refined butter: serve with fried parsley.

His servant's meal - which he ate by mistake - included "a purée of white broad beans". Surprisingly, recipes for broad beans (a common enough item) are rare. This one is from Bonnefons' Delice de Campagne (153-154):

When broad beans are newest, prepare them without milling them (that is without taking off the skin) & fricassée them like tender peas, with browned butter, salt, spice & a little water to cook them; green savory is a fine herb which goes marvellously well with broad beans, & without which they cannot be well-seasoned, slices of lard & sweet cream, make them still tastier. When they are larger, mill them, & put in lettuce as with peas [to thicken a bit], & some purslane as well, without omitting the savory. Still larger ready to turn yellow, mill them, & cook them in steam with water, butter, spice & savory, then strain them through the strainer, & fricassée them in browned butter; on meat days cut up lard in little balls, & cook them in the frying pan with a little water first before putting in the paste of broad beans; for common household use, do not mill them, putting them simply to steam as above.
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fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys

Magasin Pittoresque: the Bastille

REMINDER: The Magasin Pittoresque was a nineteenth century French magazine. Issues can be found on Gallica.Also, most articles are accompanied by at least one image, and so some may interest even those who do not read French.

The Magasin often mentioned the Bastille, but it offered just a few articles that were actually about the Bastille or its former site:

  • The Bastille, believe it or not, was a tourist attraction. But visitors could only go as far as the collection of old weapons, which become the ancestor of a Museum of Artillery. A rare image of the Bastille's collection appears in this article: No 36 - 1868 (324-326).
  • Probably the most famous unbuilt monument proposed to replace the Bastille was a statue of a giant elephant (ordered built in 1810 by Napoleon), an image which can be seen in two articles in the Magasin: No 2 - 1834 (159-160) and No 72 - 1904 (282-284) (which also mentions that the Arc de Triomphe almost ended up there, in 1802). A history of the various projects from 1790 to 1830 was given in No 49 - 1881 (316-318).
  • One can still see in Paris the remains of a tower (the Tower of Liberty) which was discovered when building the Paris metro. No 57 - 1899 (89-90).

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End quote

"After all, better to sleep peacefully and keep one's mouth shut, and the most profound and luminous reasoning is not worth a night spent in the Bastille."

Grimm, August 1764, Correspondance Litteraire, T.6 (45)

FROM CHEZ JIM BOOKS Three works on eighteenth century subjects:

For some sample 18th century vegetarian recipes, click here.

copyright 2006 Jim Chevallier.
When using brief extracts from this site, please credit properly and provide a link back to this site.
(NOTE: Most translations, except where otherwise noted, are by Jim Chevallier and are copyrighted as such.)
Please do not reproduce extended pieces (recipes, translated pieces, etc.) without prior permission.


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