Madness and Glory (39): Arrest
The story of Phillipe Pinel father of modern psychiatry
Posted Jun 03, 2019
It was a group of four, two gendarmes and two soldiers. They entered the governor’s office on a cold fall day and announced they had come to arrest Guillaume Lalladiere.
“What does this mean? What has he done?” Pussin demanded.
“He has accused leaders of the government of conspiring to commit treason,” a thick mustached corporal said.
“Who has ordered this arrest? Lalladiere is an inmate here.”
Pussin knew Tallien’s intransigence and cruelty but, at risk to himself, he resisted. “The man is under our care. You cannot just take him out.”
“Citizen Tallien is a member of our Committee of Public Safety. The orders were countersigned by Director Paul Barras, they are exact and unchangeable,” the corporal said as the other soldier stiffened into a position of rigid attention. The gendarmes stood beside them, stern and menacing.
“I must call the Physician-in-Chief. He is in charge of all the inmates at Bicêtre.”
“Have Lalladiere brought here immediately or we go and get him ourselves,” the corporal said.
Pussin summoned attendants and sent them to get both the doctor and Lalladiere. Pinel, deeply troubled when he heard the reason he was called, came slowly to the governor’s office, considering what he could do. It was, he knew, because of Lalladiere’s accusation of conspiracy. Word must have reached the conspirators themselves. But Lalladiere was getting better, on his way to being cured, a model for the new treatment approach. Could that be used as an argument to keep him at the asylum? Lalladiere, it can be said, is a confirmed patriot. He spoke up powerfully for the ideals of the Revolution when the group of sans-culottes came to the Bicêtre courtyard. Would they consider that in his defense? I must, he thought, do everything I can to save him. He helped save me. Those allegations of his against Tallien and Barras I came to believe – the arrest now surely means they were the truth. But what, can I do? When Condorcet, my beloved friend and colleague, left the hiding place a few months ago, they took him to prison, where he died. I could do nothing, nothing at all, to stop that.
“This patient is under my care. He is receiving treatment for his sickness here at Bicêtre,” he said to the corporal who had officiously and belligerently repeated the orders to him. Firmly, he added, “You cannot remove him from the asylum.”
“We can, and we will.”
“I shall appeal this to the authorities.”
“The authorities?” spoke up one of the gendarmes who, unrecognized by Pinel, was there previously with the sans-culottes. “You must recall, citizen doctor, you were accused and only barely escaped arrest yourself a short while ago.”
Pinel stepped back. The Terror continued. People once considered guilty were never exonerated.
“The charges are very serious,” the corporal said. “This man has made accusations against government leaders, Jean-Lambert Tallien and Paul Barras.”
Pinel looked at Lalladiere standing in custody, face sad and tense, at the other side of the room. A fleeting remembrance came to him of Lalladiere’s ardent expression while speaking to the sans-culottes, rescuing him in the Bicêtre courtyard. He decided, biting deeply on his lip, that he must sacrifice his own strongly upheld ethics, even risk affront, to save Lalladiere’s life.
“But you cannot believe this man, corporal. No one can. He is a lunatic.”
Lalladiere, hearing, jerked backward in surprise. Then, in a gesture of despair, he turned his face downward and his shoulders slumped.
“Not by a long shot, doctor,” the gendarme said, spitting out the term of address contemptuously. “I was right here in the courtyard when this man gave a whole speech about you. Saved your hide. He spoke clear as me.” Looking at the corporal, he added, “The man’s as sane as we are.”
Lalladiere was taken away to the Conciergerie prison. There, he was arraigned briefly before the Tribunal and condemned to die. Pinel came, attempting to appear together with influential doctors Cabanis and Thouret and effect a release. They were denied a hearing. Barras and Tallien were fully in power.
In his prison cell, Lalladiere felt surprisingly calm. No longer did he deny death’s reality, and he was aware of feelings of fear, or more accurately, remorse about facing the end of everything for him. Death was not that previously dreaded retribution, the apt punishment for corruptions and sins. He had now committed no crime, real or imagined. Knowing that prevented the pain of ruminations and reproaches. Also, Genevieve came to be with him.
“Guillaume, I can not believe this. What, who, has done this to you? It must have been the vermin Desrouches, the time at my house. He did this, told those villains Tallien and Barras what you said. Is that not so?”
“Perhaps. I don’t know. The attendant Ajacis hated me. He could have done it. Heard about it maybe from someone.”
“Whatever happened, they apparently have caught up with me. I never have been able to stop them.”
“Guillaume, my love. Oh, my love.” Her voice cracked. “This must not be.”
“We are back together, discovered each other again.”
“Yes, I know it. And I prize it beyond imagining.”
“My father has petitioned the Directory, he has spoken in the Convention, he will have you freed.”
“I hope so. He may be at risk himself for doing that. These are vicious, conniving men.”
“You are so much better, Guillaume. We must be together. I know you for what you are and always will be.”
“I am able to love,” he said, then looked directly into her eyes. “And I do, again.”
Genevieve looked intently back at him. She traced the creases in his cheeks, followed the sharp angle of his jaw, his thin, sensitive mouth, the slightly downcast lids of his eyes. It was, she suddenly realized, as though she were searching his face for a clue to a question, an unformed question, in her mind. Completely unintentionally, too, she had been fixing each of his features in her memory. Filled immediately with self reproach at this terrifying premonition, her desperate question came bursting out.
“Was it my fault? Back then?”
“Your fault? What could be your fault?”
“Did I force you into that terrible abyss you lived in?”
“I don’t know what did it. But it was certainly not you.” After a moment, he said, “Necker’s downfall.”
“What about Necker’s downfall?”
“I caused it.”
“What do you mean? How did you cause it?”
“I made up a completely false, deceitful budget.”
“That was a misdeed,” Genevieve said hesitantly, “perhaps even a crime. But was such a thing the devastation that broke your mind?”
He didn’t answer. She looked at his eyes, they were clear and intense. “Well, perhaps it could. You have always been heroically idealistic, extraordinarily conscientious. Moral and beautifully devoted. But what a price to pay.”
She paused to grasp a thought, then said, “The budget wasn’t all of it, was it? My father – he was in the Assembly then – told me about Necker. He said the budget projections weren’t so much the problem, they looked reasonable when Necker first posed them. But Necker made a lot of mistakes during that time, serious ones. He was going downhill, opposed the paper money. You must have known that.”
“They looked reasonable? No, I knew about the paper money, not the rest.”
“But the budget wasn’t that bad.”
“Well, anyway, I didn’t know. And it wouldn’t really have mattered.”
“You mean it was his leaving, the fact that you told lies? Just that? Oh, this is a misery.”
“I can’t tell. Don’t know. I saw you everywhere. You were torturing yourself, miserable, changing. I thought you were falling apart. I felt lost, terrified beyond hope, a terror deep inside, connected with something. I was panicked that your mind was tearing to pieces.”
Genevieve, crying, disregarded a forewarned jail prohibition and moved forward to embrace Lalladiere. The watching jailor started toward them, but they remained clasped together. He kissed her eyelids, her wetted cheeks, and the corners of her mouth where tears were pooling. She grasped his shoulders with all her strength and kissed his mouth. In the split second before the jailor reached them, tender and aroused, he returned her kiss.
The jailor pushed them apart, shouting an obscene curse. He ordered Lalladiere to lean against the wall and searched his body. He moved then toward Genevieve to do the same with her but she scowled and moved vigorously away.
“Well, you sweet lovers won’t be together much longer,” he said, deciding not to press a deputy’s daughter. Then, as he reassumed his former position, “He won’t be so pretty when his head is separated from his shoulders.”
Genevieve’s face showed mixed fury and despair. She attempted, summoning up resolve both for Guillaume and herself, to blot out the jailor’s remark.
“Remember, Guillaume, our walks on the banks of the Seine. The sun was bright in the summer days and the light – can you recall it? – glinted off the tops of the bulrushes, leaving shadows deep within the clumps, glowingly lucent all around the ground. And along the way were edging rows of hardy violets, hyacinth – purple and yellow, white jonquils, pink cyclamen. We talked so much of our lives together, the house we would live in, what kind and where, my time spent writing, your plans for ways to bring hungry people food, sustenance with self-respect to the poor. We were always wise enough to walk northward, weren’t we, knowing to avoid those terrible odors blown over from the south of the city.” She jerked her shoulder toward the jailor, looked baleful, and laughed.
“Indeed, we did,” Lalladiere said, laughing also. “And we took boatrides in the river, darting back and forth between the fisherman. Watching them. They were very skillful, we could tell, maneuvering their poles or nets. And we just floated, thought and dreamed. We touched hands.”
“At night we went eating, telling stories, arguing with our friends,” Genevieve said, reassured by Lalladiere’s laughter and warmth, but still terrified by what the jailor said. “You always knew about such grand adventures, wars, great exploits.”
“How about the great exploit we carried out more recently, Jean-Luc and myself, at your house? Didn’t we shock the peacock lieutenant grandly and get him to run? The deputy, too, he scooted quickly believing he was going to be executed on the spot for listening to us.”
Genevieve started, and Lalladiere realized he touched the wrong note. She still was thinking of her suspicions about Desrouches and the arrest. A chill of sadness passed between them.
“Will you see that things go all right with Jean-Luc?” he asked.
“Of course I will. But by no means can you think you will not get out of here.”
“I am a danger to them.”
“My father will get you out, I know. Shall I go also to Dr. Pinel? He will testify for you.”
“He has already tried. He, too, has difficulty with being believed.”
“What do you mean?”
“He thought I would understand.”
“He went against everything, against his ethics and conscience I am sure, to say I was insane and my accusations should not be taken seriously.”
“They didn’t believe him.”
“But not that alone. I don’t just mean that. In the asylum, they say he is not believed by all of the doctors in France.”
“In all of France? What of Dr. Pinel do they not believe?
“He removed all the chains, and he helped sick ones – me and many others – get better without beating, bloodletting, opium, or purgatives. None believe it.”
“But you will change that. You will tell your story.”
“I don’t think so. You write it, Genevieve.”
“I write it now. I describe what you have done, how you have stuck with it.”
“All right, but go on and let people know that affinity, understanding, can move minds. Undo fear. Will you?”
“Every word, every detail,” she said, lowering her head to hide the tears that came to her eyes, the clutching grief inside.
They moved to sit side by side despite the menacing looks of the jailor. Again, he came to separate them. Genevieve’s threat to report him to her father, mentioning also other deputies’ names, stopped him. She talked then to Lalladiere of the future, of the future they would share together. Of their happiness.