Marie Jacinthe de Botidoux to Martha Jefferson (Randolph)

editorial note

The text that follows is part of what Botidoux referred to as one of her “journal” letters. The Editors have broken this manuscript, which spans nearly three months, into sections dated as Botidoux dated them, and grouped each transcription together with its translation. Unless otherwise noted, Botidoux’s original punctuation and spelling have been retained. Links to navigate from one dated section to another appear below.

To “journal” beginning 4 Nov. 1789To previous “journal” entry 2 Jan. 1790To next “journal” entry 8 Jan. 1790

Lundi 6 6. janvier [1790]

Ce papier de L’ami du peuple a fait un bruit terrible dans La Maison [. . .] don Frenelay a resté hier jusqu’à neuf heures du soir a faire un memoire pour envoyer à mr Bailly, on a aussi envoyé Un parent de sœur Madeleine chez mr marat pour Lui exposer les faits et La prier de ne plus rien dire Contre La maison, il paroit qu’il n’a pas fort bien reçu L’envoyé Ce qui afflige très fort Ces dames—je Les fais bien enrager Car Lorsqu’elles disent quelle n’a fait Mettre que des faussetés dans Ce papier, je Leur souttien soutiens que Cela n’est pas vrai, qu’on L’a Mise très souvent en penitence qu’on La faisoit un peu enrager, et que quand a Ce qui regarde Mde De Virieux il est très Certain que j’ai entendu tout Le Monde se dechainer Contre elle a Cause qu’elle L’aimoit et qu’on pretendoit qu’elle Lui rapportoit tout au fait il est sur que sr Catherine avoit un Mauvais Caractere, on en racconte plusieurs traits qui Le prouveroient si ils etoient vrais, mais pour d’être fourbe Cela est très Certain, elle vouloit Leur faire accroire qu’elle faisoit des Miracles, un jour elle a mis du sang sur son pied et a pretendu qu’une hache L’avoit blessée en tombant, mais que Cela s’etoit guerri tout de suite, une autre fois elle avoit Cassé un saladier elle L’avoit Mis dans Le panier aux ordures une demie heure après elle a tiré tous Les petits Morceaux Cassés, et a mis un saladier tout neuf a sa place quand Les sœurs1 ont vu Cela elles ont Crié au Miracle et presque tout Le monde La Cru. Ce n’est que depuis son depart que on a racconte tous Ces traits il est vrai aussi qu’on L’accable bien Ce qui m’empêche de Croire La moitié de Ce que L’on dit. dans Le tems qu’elle etoit Novice elle n’a [. . .] pas Mangé devant personne pendant trois jours Mde Du Cherie qui reellement Croyoit Cette fille très malade La prit au soir Chez elle et se mit presque a ses genoux pour La faire manger un peu de Confiture, non ma mere Cela ne m’est pas possible—Mais mon enfant qu’as tu? est tu Malade? non ma mere. as tu du Chagrin? qu est ce qu’il t’est arrivé? rien ma mere. enfin après une demie heure elle Consentit à manger gros Comme Le doigt de pain et Mde Du Cherie fut enchantée—C’est que pendant Ces trois jours elle s’alloit bourrer chez sa sœur—je te donne Ces histoires pour Ce que Cela me Coute C’est Mde Sabathier qui me Les a raccontée, Comme il est sur quelle Les avoit trompée pour sa mere il est très possible quelle Les ait trompées d’autres fois=il y a encore une autre Chose qu’on ne Concoit pas. elle avoit donné son amie Mde Lavoie Comme une riche jardiniere du fb st antoine, il se trouve que Cette Mde Lavoie ne L’est point mais aubergiste de Ces petites gargottes ou il n’y a que Les ouvriers qui y vont, elle avoit pretendu que C’etoit elle qui Lui avoit fait une pension de 200, Comme elle La disoit très riche Cela avoit paru simple Mais actuellement, on ne sait plus d’ou vient Cette pension puisqu’il est pour ainsi dire impossible qu’une Maitresse d’une aussi petite auberge L’ai pu faire—il paroit que son depart n’etoit Concerté avec personne, puisquelle s’en est allée toute seule a pied, je voudrais seulement savoir quelle est Cet homme qui L’a tirée du tour, j’ai dans L’idée que C’est un des2 suisses de La rue, imagines toi quelle etoit toute La journée au parloir de mde de virieux avec Matamé rodet à jouer aux Cartes avec Les suisses de L’hotel d’avaray, Maillebois & Car tous Ces mrs depuis au bout de La rue jusqu’à L’autre etoient de sa Connoissance et à ses ordres, Mde De faÿ L’y a trouvée une fois et Lui a fait une scene ainsi qu’a sa bonne amie Matamé rodet, qui a eu La bêtise de Lui demander pardon parsceque elle avoit Commencé par Lui Manquer, elle s’est même mise à Genoux, et Mde De virieux a eu La bonté ou plutot La bêtise de Laisser sa femme de chambre être grondée et se mettre à genoux devant mde de faÿ je Compte faire un petit sermon a Cette derniere La dessus et Lui demander Ce quelle avoit fait de son vœu d’humilité dans Ce moment—Le fait est que Cette fille avoit un singulier Caractere elle a plusieurs fois Manqué à Ces dames Mais il est aussi Certain qu’on L’a fait un peu enclaver—mde du Cherie est furieuse d’être nommée dans Les papiers, mde De faÿ est enchantée de n’y pas être mais je Crois que Cela ne durera pas Long tems Car C’est surement d’elle dont Mr Marat parle au Lieu de La pauvre mde betizi qui n’avoit pas vu sr Catherine depuis 6 mois d’ailleur C’etoit elle qui etoit sa maitresse depuis un an=

editors’ translation

6. January [1790]

This newspaper, L’Ami du Peuple, has caused an awful commotion in the house. Yesterday Don Frennelet stayed until nine in the evening, writing a report to Mr Bailly. A relative of Sister Madeleine was also sent to Mr Marat’s to report the facts and beg him not to say anything more against the house. It seems that he did not receive the envoy well at all, which distresses the ladies very much—I infuriate them because, whenever they say that Sister Catherine had Marat print only lies in that paper, I insist that this is not true, that she was often ordered to do penance, that people made her a little angry, and that, regarding Mde de Virieux, I had certainly heard everyone rant because she liked her and supposedly reported everything to her. Surely, Sister Catherine had a bad character. People tell several stories that would prove it if they were true. But as to being deceitful, that is quite certain. She wanted to make them believe that she performed miracles. One day she put some blood on her foot and pretended that a falling ax had injured her, but that it had healed immediately. Another time she broke a salad bowl and put it in the trash basket. Half an hour later she took out all the broken pieces and replaced them with a brand new salad bowl. When the sisters saw that, they hailed it as a miracle, and almost everyone believed it. It is only since she departed that people have recounted these stories. It is also true that people embellish, which prevents me from believing half of what is said. Once, when she was a novice, nobody saw her eat for three days. Mde du Cherie, who really thought the girl was very sick, took her in one evening and almost got on her knees to make her eat some jam. “No, Mother, it is not possible.” “But, my child, what is it? Are you sick?” “No, Mother.” “Are you sad? What happened to you?” “Nothing, Mother.” At last, after half an hour, she agreed to eat a piece of bread the size of a finger, and Mde du Cherie was delighted—The fact is that during these three days she went to stuff herself at her sister’s—I tell you these stories for what they are worth. Mde Sabathier told them to me. Just as she fooled them about her mother, she quite possibly fooled them on other occasions, too==There is yet another thing that is hard to understand. She had presented her friend, Mde Lavoie, as a rich gardener in the Faubourg Saint Antoine. It so happens that this Mde Lavoie is just an innkeeper who runs one of those cheap eating places where only laborers go. She had pretended that Mde Lavoie was the one who had set up a pension of 200 for her. Since she said that she was rich, this had seemed possible, but, in fact, one no longer knows where this pension comes from, because it is impossible that it could have come from the owner of such a small inn—It seems that she did not plan her departure with anyone else, since she left alone on foot. I would only like to know what man pulled her through the turn box. I have an idea that it is one of the doormen in the street. Mind you, she used to be with Matamé Rodet all day, at Mde de Virieux’s visiting room, playing cards with the doormen of the hotels d’Avaray, Maillebois, etc., for all these men, from one end of the street to the other, were acquainted with her and were at her beck and call. Once Mde de Fay found her there and gave her, and Matamé Rodet alike, a piece of her mind. The latter was so stupid that she asked to be forgiven, because by then she had started to neglect her duties. She even got down on her knees, and Mde de Virieux was good enough, or rather, stupid enough to let her maid kneel and be scolded in front of Mde de Fay. I intend to give a little sermon about that to the latter and ask her what happened to her vows of humility—The truth is that this girl has a singular character. She has broken the trust of these ladies several times, but it is also true that they kept her a little secluded—Mde du Cherie is furious about being named in the papers. Mde de Fay is delighted not to be, but I believe that this delight will not last very long, for she is surely the one about whom Mr Marat speaks, instead of poor Mde de Béthisy, who had not seen Sister Catherine for 6 months. Besides, she had been her mistress for a year==

To next “journal” entry 8 Jan. 1790

RC (ViCMRL, on deposit, ViU: Botidoux Letters, # 5385-aa); partially dated; quotation marks in translation editorially supplied. Translation by Dr. Roland H. Simon.

In the 5 Jan. 1790 edition of l’ami du peuple, Jean Paul Marat published the details of a conversation he had with “sœur Catherine,” a “grande, jeune et belle femme” who turned up at his door in distress after running away from the “Abbaye de Panthemon.” Revealing herself to be Anne Barbier, a twenty-three-year-old woman of Alsace, she described for Marat the harsh treatment she received from the nuns, including beatings and long periods spent on her knees in penitence, and she told Marat that their jealousies of and frequent arguments with her caused her distress and drove her from the abbey. Marat concluded that the young woman’s patriotic and democratic sentiments had triggered the nuns’ mistreatment and that they were “aigries par leur réclusion dans l'asyle des regrets, de l'ennui, de la douleur et des larmes” [embittered by their seclusion in the asylum of regrets, boredom, pain and tears]. He declared that, because the young woman sought to escape “la tyrannie” of the convent and reclaim her freedom, “soeur Catherine” was a “martyre de la liberté” (Marat, L’Ami du Peuple, ou Le Publiciste Parisien, Journal Politique et Impartial, no. 88 [5 Jan. 1790]: 208–12). tour: a turn-table box in the wall of an abbey through which messages, correspondence, and commodities were passed (Oxford English Dictionary).

1Manuscript: “soeur.”
2Manuscript: “de.”