La mort de Condorcet

The guard open the door to the dank, but light cell. One of the men inside was holding on to the bars of the window, calling out for help.

-‘Here, here, I’m here. Why you going and making that racket for ? Want to wake the dead?’ And as he said this he noticed the other man, lying inanimate on the floor and recoiled.

-‘How long’s he been like that ?’ The other man, who’d moved away from the window and edged as close to the door as he could without actually getting out, replied : – ‘I don’t know. I just woke up, and he was dead. It could have been any time in the night’

The guard took in the scene. The man’s breeches were wet, as was one of his stockings. The other one was torn, but that was from two days ago, when they’d dragged him in here. His wig was knocked sideways, uncovering a thin layer of red hair turned mostly grey. A book was sticking out of the inside pocket of his vest, and near his right hand, a signet ring, opened and empty.

– ‘The bastard’s gone and offed himself then, before we could find out who he was’.

The guard had been hoping that this one would turn out to be a good catch, some runaway aristocrat that he could bring back to Paris and receive a small quantity of gold and short lived glory for. He leaned foward towards the corpse and grabbed the book. Shoving the other man back in, and ignoring his pleas to be let out, he locked the cell and stepped outside the station, taking in the morning air of Bourg-La-Reine as was, or Bourg -l’Egalite as was supposed to be.

He opened the book in the middle and swore : all latin. And no matter how much more attention he should have paid in school, there’d be no way he could read that many words crammed together on one page. The most he could find out was that the book was by Seneca. A rich man who’d killed himself to avoid justice, was what he remembered. Maybe the book was a manual on suicide for aristocrats.

The shouts from inside the gaol were getting louder and more desperate. He figured he’d better check it out again, and went back in.

He opened the narrow door again and saw that the live prisonner was shaking like a leaf, and that much like the dead one, he’d wet himself. Oh well, he thought. If he has any money I’ll ask Mary or her sister to wash his clothes. They won’t mind the work. He turned his gaze to the corpse, which seemed to be the source of the other man’s terror. Except it wasn’t a corpse. It was moving. Twitching, rather, and making a noise too, a sort of coarse, low crackling sound. He recoiled first, but forced himself to take a step forward. The prisonner’s eyes were open, but turned inside, leaving the white, shot with more red than would be right in a healthy man.

– ‘I’d better get the doctor’ stammered the guard. The other prisonner grabbed on to him : – ‘Are you out of your mind? Don’t you actually know what’s happening ? Have you never seen it before?’ – ‘No. Have you?’ The prisonner took a deep breath : – ‘Well, not as such. But my brother’s nurse knew a man who had a turn just like this a few months ago, and he got up and attacked his family. I didn’t see it myself, but I’ve heard other such reports’. -‘Well, if you didn’t see it yourself, what do you know ?’ replied the guard, somewhat a little more unnerved by the other man’s apparent madness. ‘I’ll get the physician, he said. You wait here.’ And he closed the door on the man’s face once more.

When the guard and the physician on cal for Bourg la Reine returned an hour later or so, having just stopped for a cup of coffee at the guard’s sister’s house, they found the dead man sitting up and finishing a hearty but messy breakfast of the other man’s leg. The other man did not appear to be in any pain, but had started to moan and groan like the first one before him.

The Marquise de Condorcet was informed of her husband’s suicide in a prison cell several months after the fact. He had given a false name but been identified by a book he was carrying, and a signet ring, in which he carried the poison that killed him. Condorcet was subsequently buried in the Pantheon, as a mark of respect for his work, and his dedication to the liberty of the people of France. But the casket was empty, as his body was never found.


Letter from Lou Andreas Salome to Martha Freud, on the subject of Nietzsche’s flesh eating sickness.

1 February 1889, Jena

Dear Martha,

I trust you and little Mathilda are doing well, and that she does not keep you up too much at night. I have just returned from visiting our patient with Frau Nietzsche. He is doing as well as can be expected. I think we have hit on the right degree of sedation, and he can now be sufficiently awake to play the piano, but not so much that he is a danger to himself or others. We will need to reassess in a few weeks’ time, but for now, we can can rest in the knowledge that he and those around him are reasonably secure. Throughout my visit Frau Nietzsche has been a model of graciousness to me and kindness to her son. Now that Fritz is no longer in a position to aggravate her every attempt at caring for him, she is finally able to act like the mother she never was, and it suits her personality well. To me, she almost apologized for her behaviour six years ago, and told me that she was happy that I did not accept her son’s proposal of marriage, because I do not have to bear the burden of his disease now.

She is very glad of our decision not to put an end to his days, and is asking me constantly to give her details of Bertha’s recovery, last year, from the same condition. I do not want to give her hope as I am far from convinced that Fritz’s disease is not more advanced than Bertha’s was. Bertha’s violence was always easily contained. Also, I beg you to remember that we do not know as yet what effected Bertha’s recovery. Though I am only your agent abroad, while you make the decisions based on your studies of all the cases, I ask you to bear in mind that I do observe these people first hand, whereas for the past eighteen months, you have been confined in Vienna, relying on others’ testimonies to build up your cases. Still, I bow to your superior knowledge and abilities, and I am yours, ever,

Lou Andreas Salome

PS: If you hear from Andreas, could you please repeat to him that I am visiting a sanatorium for the purpose of research and that he is not to worry? Give my best love to the little one and yourself.


Dead man walking in Turin, part 2

Franz Overbeck’s diary.

10 January 1889, Basel.
Dr Bettman advised for Nietzsche’s immediate removal from Turin. His situation could only worsen now, he said, and we would want him somewhere safe, where he could harm nobody. I asked whether we should not destroy him, adding that Fritz and I had often discussed this eventuality and that he had extracted a promise from me to end his days, should the disease take over. Bettman stopped me. There was still a faint possibility of recovery, he said. I must not lose hope yet. There was to date at least one case we knew of, a young woman in whom the disease had been significantly advanced, and who was now fully recovered and leaving a productive life in Frankfurt. If we could take him as far as Wille’s Sanitorium, in Basel, he would have chance of getting better. I agreed. The journey turned out  despite my fears to be fairly uneventful, but I could not have managed without the dentist. We injected Fritz with strong doses of bromide and chloral hydrate.  Bettmann was firm and confident in his every move and Fritz, sensing that, bowed easily to his authority. He could still talk a little but there was not the shadow of his former self in his mad discourses. When I dropped him off at the Sanatorium, this morning, I could not but help thinking that my good friend Nietzsche, despite what Bettmann says, is well and truly dead.

18 January, Jena.

Yesterday, having left my family again, I assisted the removal of my friend to a clinic in Jena. His mother, Fransizka, requested the move, so that she could be with him every day, and Martha approved it.  I am concerned that his new surroundings are not secure enough, as Fritz has become increasingly violent. In the train, he attempted to bite Frau Nietzsche’s arm. She had been warned not to let any contact take place and she escaped unscathed. But what will happen if another patient finds himself or herself in Fritz’s path? At least Wille knew what he was up against. He has written to the director of the Jena clinic, to tell him of precautions he must take, but I worry that this will not be enough. The last thing we need is an epidemic of the disease starting among the insane. Lou has promised that she will come to talk to Fransizka about daily routines and caution her more against physical contact. I am glad of it as I do not feel I have the strength to continue in this effort to  keep alive the monster that once was my friend. I return home today, and intend to devote myself to my wife and children and my work at the university for a good long while before I go out on Martha’s business again.

Dead man biting, in Turin.


Franz Overbeck’s diary.

8 January, 1889, Turin.

I left Basel on the morning of the 3rd, leaving Ida and the children with promises to be back soon. I took the train to Bern and from there waited for the sleeping car to Turin. The journey was uncomfortable but uneventful. It was not the first time I spent the night in a Pullman wagon, so I was prepared for all the shaking and the noise, and I did not wake more than two or three times. In the morning I carried my bag – hastily packed, with a few items of clothing, and the medicines I had saved up for this very occasion – straight to the house on via Carlo Alberto where I was expected. The Finos were friendly and hospitable as ever but – unsuprisingly – greatly over-wrought. Senior Fino had put on weight since I had last seen him, and that, together with the current situation, seemed to have taken its toll on his health. His eyes were not as vivacious as they’d once been, and there was a distinct lack of joy about his demeanour. Seniora Fino was unchanged, her hair perhaps a little more unkempt than usual, her pinny tied a little less straight, but the same smile on her face and in her eyes. Both looked exhausted which I could not avoid putting down to the fact that Fritz’s behaviour had worsened over the past few days, and that he kept them awake most nights with his playing and chanting. They took my bag and sat me down with a cup of dark, oily coffee, and, while his wife went to order breakfast, Senior Fino informed me in hushed tones that on the previous night he had found my friend naked in the corridor, screaming wildly and chasing after the house cat. I understood then that he must want him out, and I begged him to let us stay a few days which he agreed to, provided I brought a psychiatrist to see Fritz and that I followed his advice to the letter. Continue reading

How Rougeville nearly lost his face, and the Queen her head.

London, September 1795.

Last week I saw my friend Rougeville again – though I dread to call him that, now I have heard the rest of his story. But the poor man will not live long, I can no longer restrain him from harming himself. I fear I cannot blame him and even must admit that I would be tempted to do the same were I in his place.

Rougeville wanted, before leaving this world, to recount in full his last encounter with Marie-Antoinette, and the circumstances of her death. He does not beleive these will be properly recorded for posterity, and tells me already that a certain drawing of the Queen going to the scaffold has been falsified. He has entrusted me with the original, by a man called David and I am reproducing it below, following the Chevalier’s express wishes.

Continue reading