Sunday, July 14, 2019

Bastille Day and Other Convenient Myths

From Fr. George Rutler at Crisis:
While the adage obtains that those who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it, those who do not know their history can also be fooled. “Bastille Day” is the celebration of an inflated myth. Propagandists—and later romanticizers like Alexandre Dumas with his Man in the Iron Mask and the amiably pathetic Doctor Manette of Charles Dickens—made the storming of the prison the first thrust of the liberators.  The Bastille was far from a fetid torture chamber. It had a storied history. While at times it must not have been a congenial hospice, the number of prisoners dwindled under benign Louis XVI, making it the equivalent of an American “white collar” place of custody, with tapestries, paintings, a library, and at least one personal chef.

On July 14, 1789, there were only seven inmates, a couple of them mental patients. Ten days earlier, the Marquis de Sade, not a paragon of virtue, ran along the rampart of the prison shouting lies about inmates being murdered. This was too much for the congenial warden, the Marquis René Jourdan de Launay, to handle, and so the aristocratic patron of sadism was remaindered to a lunatic asylum in Charenton, founded by the Catholic Brothers of Charity, who were pioneers in psychotherapy.  The Marquis de Sade left behind his unfinished 1785 magnum opus, The 120 Days of Sodom, in the Bastille.

Yet the myth of the dank dungeon persists, and the one-pound-three-ounce key to the Bastille now hangs in Mount Vernon, the proud gift of the Marquis de Lafayette, sent in the summer of 1790 via Thomas Paine to New York where it was displayed as a relic at a presidential levee, and then through Philadelphia to Virginia. As for the Bastille, its remnant prisoners were an afterthought since the revolutionaries had pulled down its gates to get hold of 250 barrels of gunpowder. Indeed the confused inmates seemed reluctant to leave. The kindly, if dour, Marquis de Launay was dragged out and brutally stabbed, and then a butcher named Matthieu Jouve Jourdon sawed his head off. The prison was soon torn down, but bits and pieces are preserved as relics. (Read more.)

No comments: