The Poet's Princess

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Putting one's head in the lion's den

In 1644, Jean-François Sarasin is as free as when he arrived to Paris. Free mind, empty pockets, this time of his own free will. On the 23rd of May 1644, Sarasin resigns from his post of “Treasurer of France” in Caen, an office which was probably his only source of income. His father has left him nothing but debts. He realises that the only freedom he has now is to starve to death. To survive he considers the burden of marriage easier to bear than finding himself once more “in service”.

Dreading to lose his independence he looks for a plain and old wife, the richer the better. Dame Marguerite Bouer, the widow of Jacques de Pille, introduced to Sarasin by his friend, Robert de Pille, has all the required qualities. What’s more, she even seems to be generous: she sets 3O OOO pounds in a joint account and assigns Sarasin as her heir-at-law.

The marriage, celebrated on the 25th April 1644, is based however on a misunderstanding: Jean-François offers nothing but his name with a garland of superb titles - Sieur de Hermanville, Councillor to the King, Treasurer of France, General Secretary of Finance, Lawyer and Secretary to the Court of Revenues at Rouen-, while Dame Bouer means to acquire a man, body and soul. The very moment she recognises her mistake she snatches her money back.

This “affair” was not just a complete failure. It was a disastrous error that turned Sarasin into the laughing stock of all Paris and offered Tallemant des Réaux another occasion to sharpen his tongue on poet’s distress.

“He was fooling around writing poetry and had to marry an aged Madame de Pille, widow to an accountant. He was yapping about it and concocted a strange story about his marriage. Among other things he wrote that he would no longer be “without cross or cash”. To pay him back in the same coin, he was reminded very often that if had he taken a cross upon him he surely would have to renounce on the cash: his wife tormented him and did not give him a penny to cross himself with. She would have given him a thousand pounds if he had slept with her. He refused. Ménage told him:

“My dear friend, why don’t you sleep with her?”

“Sleep with her yourself if you wish,” Sarasin replied.”

No need turning your noses up at my poet. Sarasin’s bitter, sardonic strokes against his wife are no affectation of immorality. It is the despair of an “honnête homme”, a man of breeding in poor circumstances, forced to live out a banal existence, the discomfort of a refined mind suffocating under the vulgarity of every-day-life, his nausea in front of its ugliness. There is no freedom without money. To get it is often degrading.

Sarasin will bear his “cross” until the end of his life. One court procedure follows the other and, on the 16th of December 1645, Marguerite Bouer asks for a separation of property. Then, on the 16th of December, she undertakes another legal action compelling Sarasin to reimburse all the money she had given to him.

Their separation, however, was never to be finalised in the legal sense. “The King’s Notification” of 1652, banishing his enemies from Paris, also concerns Sarasin’s wife.

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