Madness and Glory: (24): A Visit

The story of Philippe Pinel, father of modern psychiatry

Posted May 26, 2019

This is a work of historical fiction.

Chapter 24

Throughout his time at the asylum of Bicêtre, Lalladiere had never had a visitor. Now, through the haze of dizziness after bloodletting, he felt a surge of surprise at hearing that a woman had come to see him. The attendant Victor, standing at the door of his cell, spit out the announcement, adding that the inmate better move fast because she certainly wouldn’t stay long. Lalladiere rose from his mat weakly, awkwardly, and with leg chains dragging, he slowly followed the impatient Victor to the Humanité governor’s apartment. As he pushed himself forward, he shook his head from side to side.

Careful, on guard, the woman’s out to get you.

The voice got louder, the warning recurring over and over. Again, he shook his head, trying to throw off the blasting noise.

They arrived at the small room in the apartment where visitors were allowed. Lalladiere jerked upward, shaking inside on seeing Genevieve sitting there. Placed in a row near her were two empty straight-backed wooden chairs and a third on which sat Marigaux, the superintendent-governor. He motioned Lalladiere toward one of the chairs and nodded to Victor, who also sat down.

“Lalladiere, this is a visit. This lady, the daughter of a deputy, has come to see you,” Marigaux said. “She says she knows you well and is concerned about your welfare.”

Lalladiere, face expressionless, stared at Genevieve in silence. The blasting noise had suddenly stopped. After a long pause during which Genevieve leaned forward and Marigaux shifted uncomfortably, Lalladiere said:

“He is the most unconfared person in the world.”

“Guillaume,” Genevieve said. “I have thought and thought about you since—since—all of it happened. That I have not come to see you before does not mean I have not worried constantly, thought of you, and—” Seeing him move his head backward, she paused, then added, “cared”.

“Cared may be peared, salted, and scared,” Lalladiere said.

Genevieve looked at Marigaux. “What is he saying?” she asked.

“He is a lunatic. It is wild garbage.” Marigaux answered sharply.

“What do you say, Guillaume?” Genevieve persisted. “I can not understand what has happened to you. So strong, so idealistic. Now this. How did you come to this?”

“Come to this. He cannot piss. The twisting man always prevents it. Out of the joint, time is out of the joint. Out of joy.”

“Stop that. You must not use such words in the woman’s presence,” Marigaux said harshly.

Genevieve was silent. From the first, she kept her eyes on Guillaume’s face watching his reactions to her or Marigaux. He was flatly without expression even when he spoke.

“Guillaume,” she started again. “I cannot stand this. Tell me something, I must know. I must know how you are. I’m so sorry.”

“Dossierlated, desolated. He was really desolated. Hid in the slot, the little one. And the bittle boy came later. But he really was alone. It was the conspirafactory. Lost his necker but he was there.”

“Who was there, Guillaume?” Genevieve asked. There was desperation in her voice.”

“Salt tax, the taile—yen. He knew him. The other was the bar—ber, barrabas.”

Marigaux, very angry, broke in. “No more of this. What are you saying? You must go back to your cell.” He looked at Victor, who stood up.

“No, please, let him go on. He at least is talking,” Genevieve said sadly.

“No, no, no. In the slot, stalking,” Lalladiere continued. “The barber was talking, but the tail did all the devisering. In his golden robes the king. They will do it, they will kill him.”

Marigaux, whose concern to stay on the good side of Camille Raston’s daughter had dissolved into rage, no longer could contain himself. “What is this? Who will be killed? You must stop this lunatic nonsense.” He looked at Victor, “Take him back. Now.”

As the attendant grabbed his shoulder, Lalladiere, charged with resolve again, leaned forward toward Genevieve.

“Support and elevate Robespierre. Danton next is destroyed, “he said, clearly and resolutely.”The man undoes himself, or else—”

“What?” Genevieve asked.

“Or else—what else?—they will find a way to bring Robespierre down.”

“What is this, Guillaume? What are saying?” Genevieve said, amazed and disturbed.

“Lunatic. Madman,” Marigaux shouted at Lalladiere. “How dare you talk of the downfall of our leaders? If I report you, that insane head of yours will be sliced from your shoulders.” He turned to Genevieve, addressing her firmly with as much modulation of tone as he could muster.

“Do not be disturbed, citizenness, I have heard that he has said wild, dangerous things before, went raving right up to citizen Robespierre’s lodgings. That’s when they brought him back here.” To Victor, who had not moved, he said sternly, “Didn’t I say to take him back?”

Victor, close to risking insubordination, had paused for some time because of his surprise at the insane man’s suddenly politically charged references. He grabbed Lalladiere under his shoulders and pushed him toward the door. Stumbling side to side over the leg chains, Lalladiere turned his head toward Genevieve as he reached the opening, and with a wailing sound, said:

“They must be saved. Save them. The fate of the Revolution. Remember what I say.”

Genevieve stood up and started toward the door but Marigaux stopped her. Victor expertly shifted his grip to encircle both of Lalladiere’s arms at the elbows, and moved him completely out of the room, pushing him rapidly down the hallway.

“These are the ravings of a deranged maniac, citizenness,” Marigaux said more calmly. “Visits disturb them. We see it all the time. They rave, tell everyone they are great people. Like this one here, saving everything, saving the world.”

Genevieve, feeling upset and confused, left the asylum. For several days afterward, she tried to make sense of what happened, of Lalladiere’s terrible insanity, the things he said. To see him still so changed, wild and incoherent, tore at her mind. She had felt unnerved in the visiting room, her hands icy cold, her entire body at times quivering. Each time she thought about the visit, coldness and quivering returned. But what about his coherent words at the end, his declaration of something sounding like a plot to get Danton and Robespierre, undo the Revolution? Could such a thing be true? Was it something he knew, even possibly going back a very long time? Maybe, she thought, that was what drove him out of his mind. “No,” she said out loud, catching herself up, sadly. “Of course not. The terrible thing happened before the king was deposed, before Danton and the others became important.” What could she be thinking? She knew why he became insane.

Marigaux advised against it, but Genevieve decided to attempt regular visits to the asylum. Lalladiere was several times too weak from the bloodletting to come meet with her, at other times he was reported to be in a motionless shell. Twice Marigaux forbade the visits outright without giving a reason, but she nevertheless managed, in the ensuing months, to see him five or six times. The sessions were short, often similar to the first where she could understand little of what he said. Occasionally, he broke out with clear references to the plot, or aspects of it, but when she attempted to ask questions, Marigaux prohibited further discussion. He could not easily keep anyone, especially an important person, from visiting, but Marigaux pre-arranged with accompanying attendants to take Lalladiere, when starting such outbursts, immediately back to his cell.

She had loved him deeply once. Troublesome as the visits were, she felt she had to go. During the time there and after, memories always crowded in, even more detailed than before. She envisioned the two of them walking together near the Seine, speaking of their lives and dreams. He was so intensely grateful for having become the assistant to the exalted and beneficent finance minister to the King. He spoke fervently, uplifted about his own hopes for France. Someday, he believed, all the poor of the country would be fed, privilege would be abolished, the nobles and the clergy no longer would have the right to avoid taxes, give orders, live off the sweat and pain of those considered beneath them. Persons of merit, not heritage alone, would run the government. He talked of a time when people wanted to treat each other with kindness, children growing up to follow whatever were their inclinations and skills without fear of exclusion by law or custom, and without fear of poverty. She asked, and he tried to tell her, where his ideas may have started from. He couldn’t figure out very much about his background but he remembered and described to her vivid, detailed pictures of himself as a boy walking alone both day and night through streets and fields. He knew then he was searching for something, a person or persons, or possibly a thing. He could never tell what it was. Other times he stayed home, still lonely despite his mother’s presence. He read voluminously, most of the books he found were about misers, misanthropes, and charlatans. The stories made him—no, she thought he said, helped him—vow to devote his life to helping others.

His mother was a disciplinarian, he told her as the setting sun highlighted facial lines of pain, some would say a martinet. Always he heard her dictate rectitude, especially about what she believed—absolutely knew, she said—he felt or thought. And he always tried to think what she said she wanted him to think, feel what she wanted him to feel. Throughout long days and sometimes long nights alone together, she spoke of evil: about household chores, his father, the neighbors, even the food and weather. He strove mightily to avoid the pitfalls she described, and be absolutely moral. But still she told him often he too was damned and evil, and he couldn’t understand why.

He kept away from other children, especially the boys who teased and degraded him. When she asked him, at times when his memory seemed clearest, why that happened, he couldn’t give her reasons, saying only there was something about him they hated. Maybe, he answered once, it was because he started out small and weak. He couldn’t play rough games, lift loads, win fights. But, she remembered him saying, while pounding his fist against his hard thigh, that he changed all that as he grew up, built up his body as strong as it could be. Maybe also, he offered, they hated him because he often sat by dreaming.

She told him too about her younger days, especially her abiding love and devotion for her father. She thought about saying, one morning as the sun sprinkled light and shadow on the bridge-fringing earthbank they sat on, how sad she felt when her father left each day for work. How, many times, when she heard sounds of his nightly return, she jumped up happily and clapped her hands. On memorable occasions when he took her to the Justice palace where he worked, it was very exciting in those days to see, before they were known to be repugnant, courtly men and elaborately dressed women go by. She dreamed of someday being in the government herself, or writing about it, making wise observations like her father. Once, seeing the king pass outside in his carriage, she said with a laugh, she envisioned being in his palace standing or sitting near him, hearing him address her appreciatively about something she had written. She told Guillaume some of her other secrets, too: that she used to make up love and adventure stories and tell them to her friends. And she wondered, when sometimes these same friends made fun of the stories, whether that was really because they thought she was too clever. She felt she couldn’t at all tell the stories to boys, and was, anyway, mostly not very popular with them. She had always longed for a boy who could be her friend. Turning then to look at him as they walked, she remembered that he gazed thoughtfully into her eyes.

Continuing her visits to Hospice d’Humanité, she felt increasingly distressed. Lalladiere, when she was able to see him, was so deranged, his moments of lucidity, always focused on the supposed plot, were few and far between, and Marigaux was outrageously overbearing and vicious. She decided something had to be done. Her father, several months before, had interspersed within his usual dinner news commentaries a description of a doctor who was supporting a new kind of treatment of lunatics. She listened carefully because the doctor was at Bicêtre, Guillaume’s previous asylum. Her father didn’t at the time know the exact details of the treatment but said it had excited controversy, even serious opposition. Inmates were allowed to walk around without chains, and some were given work in paying jobs for the governor. He heard that the doctor, Philippe Pinel, met with and talked with the inmates, and called his approach “moral treatment,” a very appealing name.

Genevieve believed she had to grasp at straws. Seeing Guillaume close at hand, she could definitely tell he was not getting better, and seemed to be much worse. The chains he always had on were horrifying to look at and often she noticed bruises on exposed portions of his body. She knew little about insanity or any treatments, but how could chains and beatings help? In any event, whatever they were doing at Hospice d’Humanité was not beneficial. He had, of course, escaped twice from Bicêtre so it might be intolerable for him at that asylum as well. But, then, she never did visit him while he was there. Not that visits from her would have stopped him from running away—she couldn’t blame herself for that—but with another new start at Bicêtre, she would plan to go regularly and might be able to keep up with what went on. They said that the second time he escaped he was intending to go see a young boy. That didn’t sound so bad, not so insane. She couldn’t tell what Dr. Pinel’s “moral treatment” her father spoke of might be, but Guillaume, who was, she knew, extremely moral, might after a time possibly find it helpful. In any case, there were no chains and her father thought there were no beatings there. She would ask him to intervene and arrange with the authorities to have Guillaume transferred back to Bicêtre.

Raston knew of Pinel’s appearance before the Committee of Internal Affairs and was therefore very reluctant to accede to his daughter’s request. He was intrigued by the Bicêtre treatment, deeply believed in liberty for everyone, and was not afraid of disapproval by Committee head Couthon, a man he considered to be a toady of anyone in power. But he was unsure of getting involved in medical controversies or presenting himself as knowledgeable about Lalladiere’s insanity. His wife Veronique also was volubly and consistently opposed to Genevieve’s involvement with the man. She disapproved of their daughter’s visits to him at Hospice d’Humanité and, when hearing the request, she raved to her husband that the open, less restrictive Bicêtre would allow even greater opportunities for contact between them.

Genevieve persisted, describing to both parents Lalladiere’s terrible deterioration at the Hospice d’Humanité. She proclaimed, despite her mother’s disapproval, Lalladiere’s worthiness and her hopes for his improvement. Over and over, she described superintendent-governor Marigaux’s unfeeling behavior with her, his cruelty to Lalladiere, the evidence of frequent beatings. Felice Raston relented, but not before extracting a promise that Genevieve would agree, at least occasionally, to see other men. Camille Raston, remembering Lalladiere’s former competence and aware of his daughter’s unmitigated feelings of self-reproach about his illness, finally decided to use his influence to effect the transfer back to Bicêtre.