Have a Sadistic Bastille Day!


In honor of Bastille Day, you may want to check out the prison letters of the Marquis de Sade, or even sign up to be emailed a weekly letter from the Marquis.

When De Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille, sensing revolutionary stirrings, he shouted out from his window (falsely) that the inmates were being tortured and killed in hopes of provoking… well, the storming of the Bastille that occurred two weeks later. After, alas, the Marquis himself had been removed to an asylum.

It's hard to symptathize with de Sade—for all the self-pity in his letters, at least part of his punishment was well earned by his penchant for mistreating prostitutes. But his prison letters also—certainly more than his turgid, nigh unreadable novels or his sophistical philosophical tracts—are beautifully written and witty, probably one of the better samples out there of the epistolary form. If de Sade the man was unworthy of his prose, it remains, at any rate, fine prose. From a letter to his wife:

My manner of thinking, so you say, cannot be approved. Do you suppose I care? A poor fool indeed is he who adopts a manner of thinking for others! My manner of thinking stems straight from my considered reflections; it holds with my existence, with the way I am made. It is not in my power to alter it; and were it, I'd not do so. This manner of thinking you find fault with is my sole consolation in life; it alleviates all my sufferings in prison, it composes all my pleasures in the world outside, it is dearer to me than life itself. Not my manner of thinking but the manner of thinking of others has been the source of my unhappiness. The reasoning man who scorns the prejudices of simpletons necessarily becomes the enemy of simpletons; he must expect as much, and laughs at the inevitable. A traveler journeys along a fine road. It has been strewn with traps. He falls into one. Do you say it is the traveler's fault, or that of the scoundrel who lays the traps? If then, as you tell me, they are willing to restore my liberty if I am willing to pay for it by the sacrifice of my principles or my tastes, we may bid one another an eternal adieu, for rather than part with those, I would sacrifice a thousand lives and a thousand liberties, if I had them. These principles and these tastes, I am their fanatic adherent; and fanaticism in me is the product of the persecutions I have endured from my tyrants. The longer they continue their vexations, the deeper they root my principles in my heart, and I openly declare that no one need ever talk to me of liberty if it is offered to me only in return for their destruction.