The Devils of Loudun Page 4

Loudun’s new parson was too normal and had too hearty an appetite to think of turning his bed into a laboratory. But, like Bouchard, Grandier was the scion of a respectable bourgeois family; like Bouchard, he had been educated at an ecclesiastical boarding school; like Bouchard, he was clever, learned and an enthusiastic humanist; and like Bouchard, he hoped to make a brilliant career in the Church. Socially and culturally, if not temperamentally, the two men had much in common. Consequently what Bouchard has to say of his childhood, his schooldays and his holiday diversions at home may be regarded as being indirectly evidential in regard to Grandier.

The world revealed by the Confessions is very like the world revealed to us by modern sexologists—but, if anything, a little more so. We see the small fry indulging in sexual play—indulging in it freely and frequently; for there seems to be singularly little adult interference with their activities. At school, under the good fathers, there are no strenuous games, and the boys’ superfluous energy can find no vent except in incessant mast***ation and the practice, on half-holidays, of homosexuality. Pep talks and pulpit eloquence, confession and devotional exercises are to some slight extent restraining influences. Bouchard records that, at the four great feasts of the Church, he would refrain from his customary sexual practices for as long as eight or ten days at a stretch. But, try as he might, he never succeeded in prolonging these interims of chastity to a full fortnight, quoy que la dévotion le gourmandast assez—despite the fact that he was not a little checked and chided by devotion. In any given set of circumstances our actual behaviour is represented by the diagonal of a parallelogram of forces having appetite or interest as its base and, as its upright, our ethical or religious ideals. In Bouchard’s case and, we may suppose, in the case of the other boys whom he names as his companions in pleasure, the devotional upright was so short that the angle between the long base and the diagonal of manifest behaviour was of only a very few degrees.

When he was at home for the holidays Bouchard’s parents assigned him sleeping quarters in the same room with an adolescent chambermaid. This girl was all virtue while she was awake, but could not, it was obvious, be responsible for what happened while she was asleep. And according to her private system of casuistry, it made no difference whether she was really asleep or merely pretending. Later on, when Jean-Jacques’ schooldays were over, there was a little peasant girl who minded the cows in the orchard. For a halfpenny, she was ready to grant any favours her young master might demand. Yet another maid, who had left because Bouchard’s half-brother, the Prior of Cassan, had tried to seduce her, now re-entered the family’s service and soon became Jean-Jacques’ guinea-pig and co-worker in the sexual experimentation described in the second half of the Confessions.

Between Bouchard and the heir to the throne of France the gulf was wide and deep. And yet the moral atmosphere in which the future Louis XIII was brought up is similar in many respects to that breathed by his humbler contemporary. In the Journal of Dr. Jean Héroard, the little Prince’s physician, we possess a long and detailed record of a seventeenth-century childhood. True, the Dauphin was a very exceptional child—the first son born to a King of France in more than eighty years. But the very preciousness of this unique infant throws into yet sharper relief certain, to us, most extraordinary features of his upbringing. If this sort of thing was good enough for a child, for whom, by definition, nothing was good enough, then what, we may ask ourselves, was good enough for ordinary children? To start with, the Dauphin was brought up with a whole flock of his father’s illegitimate children by three or four different mothers. Some of these left-handed brothers and sisters were older than himself, some younger. By the age of three—and perhaps earlier—he knew very clearly what bastards were and in what manner they were fabricated. The language in which this information was communicated was so consistently coarse that the child was often shocked by it. “Fi donc!” he would say of his Gouvernante, Mme. de Montglat, “how nasty she is!”

Henry IV was very partial to dirty songs, and his courtiers and servants knew large numbers of them, which they were for ever singing as they went about their business in the palace. And when they were not vocalizing their smut, the Prince’s attendants, male and female, liked to joke obscenely with the child about his father’s bastards and his own future wife (for he was already as good as betrothed), the Infanta, Anne of Austria. Moreover, the Dauphin’s sexual education was not merely verbal. At night the child would often be taken into the beds of his waiting-women—beds which they shared (without nightdresses or pyjamas) either with other women or their husbands. It seems likely enough that, by the time he was four or five, the little boy knew all the facts of life, and knew them not merely by hearsay, but by inspection. This seems all the more probable since a seventeenth-century palace was totally without privacy. Architects had not yet invented the corridor. To get from one part of the building to another, one simply walked through a succession of other people’s rooms, in which literally anything might be going on. And there was also the matter of etiquette. Less fortunate in this respect than his or her inferiors, a royal personage was never permitted to be alone. If one’s blood were blue, one was born in a crowd, one died in a crowd, one even relieved nature in a crowd and on occasion one had to make love in a crowd. And the character of the circumambient architecture was such that one could scarcely avoid the spectacle of others being born, dying, relieving nature and making love. In later life Louis XIII displayed a decided aversion for women, a decided, though probably platonic, inclination for men, and a decided repugnance for all kinds of physical deformity and disease. The behaviour of Mme. de Montglat and the other ladies of the court may easily have accounted for the first and also, by a natural reaction, for the second of these two traits; as for the third—who knows what repulsive squalors the child may not have stumbled upon in the all too public bedchambers of Saint-Germain-en-Laye?

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