The Poet's Princess

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Doubts and suspicions

The cause of Sarasin’s death has never been elucidated. All that we know with certainty is that he didn’t feel well during the ball on the November 17th 1654, that his illness started with a bout of fever which seized him while he was dancing and that his health worsened thereafter. Madeleine de Scudéry, Sarasin’s intimate friend, mentions the possibility of a violent death. A certain Danon was suspected of having conspired to poison the poet. She prefers not to follow up this clue, harmful to the poet’s reputation. The conjecture of murder is also supported by Cosnac, the eyewitness of Sarasin’s sickness:

“Sarasin seems to have been poisoned after consuming a soup brought to him by a husband whose wife slept with him after having slept, according to hearsay, with many others. This story is credible since this woman was taken ill on the same day, displayed the same symptoms and died on the same day and at the same time.”

Cosnac reports another piece of gossip:

“Father Talon says that the wife was not poisoned, that her husband, who was a titled man, spared her because of her parents who were of a higher standing than he was, but that he poisoned the lovers of his wife with a strong poison. He thinks that Monsieur de Candale also died of it because Sarasin encouraged him to go to bed with that woman, telling him that he had never found another woman to be such a good lay.”

A couple of other Sarasin’s friends, Pellisson and d’Olivet among others, do not specify the cause of the poet’s death. They call it “premature” and just drop a hint that it might have been unnatural.

Cosnac mentions:

“I still owe both to Conti’s reputation and to the truth the clarification of a false rumour that impressed itself on the minds of most noblemen. It was said that, when Sarasin refused to lend money to Monsieur the Prince de Conti, the Prince gave him such a blow with the fire-tongs that he died shortly after.”

To show the absurdity of this assumption Cosnac adds:

“This Prince was incapable of any such behaviour towards the lowliest of his servants.”

Shall the testimony of another nobleman, Vigneul-Marville help us find the truth?

“Monsieur the Prince de Conti verbally mistreated Sarasin and even injured him with fire-tongs because Sarasin had sold him to N.N. This poor man, outraged by such disgrace, went to bed and never got up again.”

Who is this mysterious N.N.? Is it Mazarin? Is Sarasin accused by Conti of having arranged the Prince’s marriage following his own interest?

Tallemant des Réaux finds the idea of accusing Conti of Sarasin’s death absurd:

“The Prince de Conti never used anything else than his tongue to hurt Sarasin. One would be wrong to say that he had hit him.”

This testimony is one of the most important to clear Conti of the charge of murder. A malevolent gossip like Tallemant would have dwelt on it with pleasure had he thought it possible.

Here is another piece of evidence lending support to Conti’s innocence: his reaction to the news of the poet’s demise, as recorded by Cosnac:

“He noticed an old man arriving from Pézenas. He told me: -“Here is someone who certainly brings us news of Sarasin’s death.“- In fact, this ecclesiastic gave him a letter from Father Talon, the Prince’s confessor. The letter began thus: Frater noster mortuus est. (Our brother is dead). The Prince seemed more amazed that grieved. After that, the Prince returned to Montpellier and broke the news to the Princess. I retired to my room from where he sent for me an hour later. I found him surrounded by a big crowd of courtiers in front of whom he pretended to be very sad. He made a sorrowful face and he called me to witness the tears he did not shed, for which I gave him credit. Nevertheless, that very evening, not knowing how to amuse himself, he sent for actors to play him a comedy.”

Cosnac’s account is another proof that the act of violence, committed by the Prince against the Poet, was not physical. Had he hit him, coward and hypocrite as he was, he would have put on a much more impressive show of loss and sorrow to lead the high society away from the truth.

Somehow I feel that Conti’s sorrow wasn’t faked, that he really needed those actors, he sent for, not to weep knowing his poet is gone forever. Where shall he find another “buffoon” capable of amusing him so marvellously well? And then: there was really “something” between those two men. Monglat, a member of the Prince’s inner circle, testifies that Sarasin’s influence on Conti was so persuasive that it did not end with the poet’s death. Nothing and nobody could divert Conti from his urge to govern Guyana, a venture for which Sarasin gave him the ambition and taste. Could such a death-defying urge be called love?

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