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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

Man who loved Rats

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

Simon Schama




Jean Henri Latude -- attempting to find favor with nobles, tipped a courtess to someone having sent her a gift of poison. Which was all well and good, except that someone was Latude, and apparently he didn't cover his tracks very well. So prison. Then escape. Then he wrote the courtess an apology, dutifully including a return address. So prison again, this time in the 'maximum security' area of The Bastille.

"in this genuinely nightmarish confinement that he discovered new companions: the rats. Compared with the inhumanity Latude had endured, the rats seemed endearing. Using pieces of bread he trained them to eat off his plate and to allow him to scratch them around the neck and chin. They too were given names, and some, like the female “Rapino-hirondelle,” would even beg like a dog or do jumping tricks for her pieces of bread. The scene of an idyll in hell was completed when Latude managed to make a primitive flute out of bits of his iron grille so that, from time to time, he could serenade his rodent friends with an air or a gavotte as they gnawed contentedly on his leavings. They were, as he wrote, his 'little family,' all twenty-six of them." - Simon Schama

The inny's story was seized by the revolution, along with many inventions of the horrors of what the modern author Schama claims was a pretty decent prison by the standards of the 1700's. Or 1800's for that matter. But at this point, the Old Regime was not being graded on a curve.

Once the Bastille was wrenched from Royal control, "Warders...gave guided tours of the cells, embellishing their anecdotes to conform with the standard mythology of torture and chains. Women locked themselves in overnight so that they could claim in the morning to have slept with the rats, spiders and toads that had been the companions of Latude."

Toy Bastilles were made with little attachable escape ladders so you could imagine putting pieces in place for one of Latude's liberations.