The Poet's Princess

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There's trouble brewing

His mission at the Cardinal accomplished, Sarasin waits in vain for the slightest proof of gratitude from “Monsignor the Prince de Conti, this new star of Christianity and of this century”, as he calls his master in a letter to Guez de Balzac. I can hear them both shrieking with laughter at this hilarious limerick, a bit too gross for the poet’s usual elegance. Maybe the Prince wasn’t that green as not to read between the lines. Maybe he just needed his poet too much to give him the boot. Maybe he thought: “Oh well, he’s just a clown. Why would a Prince take offence from a mongrel barking at the moon?” Though, maybe this explains why the Prince’s blows under the belt of the Poet were not just another proof he was a bastard.

Shortly after, Sarasin is once more obliged to leave Paris and follow Conti who takes part in a military campaign in Catalonia in May 1654. On June the 26th Conti arrives at Perpignan to prepare the assault of Villefranche. Sarasin will participate in the battle and, according to the testimony of Bussy-Rabutin, consider it a great fun.

No wonder. Taking the harsh facts as they were was unacceptable for the poet. He had to subdue and overpower them to be able to continue living. Nevertheless, he was one of the many casualties of this war even if its fatal mechanism needed sixth months to stop. At this time, neither his physical nor his psychological state gives us a warning that Sarasin won’t live the year out. It’s Conti’s health that seems to be in danger. In September 1654 the Prince feels so weak that he has to be carried on a litter from Bagnoles to Perpignan where, after a couple of days, he starts to recover. Bussy encourages him to return to the Army, as Conti himself wishes ardently. The doctors and the poet categorically advise against it.

Shall we ever know Sarasin’s reasons? The social life in Perpignan was certainly not worldly enough to satisfy a regular visitor of Madeleine de Scudéry’s literary Saturdays. Has Sarasin then felt the weariness of his illness setting in? Or was he simply disgusted with the military life? On November the 17th , Conti offers a treat to his officers. He gives a ball where Jean-François Sarasin will have his last opportunity to stand out at his brilliant best. The poet not only displays his sparkling wit. He also flaunts in the face of the clumsy warriors the sophisticated elegance of his steps: Sarasin is an accomplished dancer.

When, on the morrow, the Prince, without the slightest regard for the health of his “buffoon”, continues his journey towards Montpellier, the poet drags himself after him in a fit of violent fever. How much time had he spent at the bedside of the constantly ailing Conti, serenely putting up with the whims of this spoiled brat when called in at his master’s slightest discomfort? He was indulgent with the Prince to the point of becoming a target of the viperish anecdotes of Tallemant des Réaux:

-Somebody said to Sarasin: “What’s wrong with you? You look ill.”

“I don’t feel well,” he replied solemnly, “Monsieur le Prince is not quite all right.”

What a lark! Most probably Sarasin laughed the slander off.

The best way how to stand up for Sarasin is to stick to the facts. The symbiosis of the Prince and the Poet is based on business motives. On barter of mind against material security: putting it bluntly it goes about an affair of convenience. When the deal is through and the poet ceases to be entertaining, Conti dismisses him with the same purposeful brutality as he had cast out his mistresses and betrayed his sister. It’s up to you to judge!

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