The love life of Lapérouse
|During the course of a campaign that he waged in the Indian Ocean from 1772 to 1777, Lapérouse had as his base of operations Île de France (present-day Mauritius). There he met the daughter of a civil servant in the Department of the Navy assigned to the island. This sensitive and attractive young woman, Louise-Eléonore Broudou, had acquired the charm of the beautiful creole women of these regions, of the type represented by the touching Virginie, from the novel Paul et Virginie by Bernadin de Saint-Pierre (late 18th century).|
Mademoiselle Broudou was more than just beautiful; she was also modest and distinguished; Lapérouse’s Southern soul was drawn to her elite nature, and he fell madly in love with her. His love was returned, and he promised Eléonore that there would never be another woman in his life but her.
He hastened to confide in his older sister.
Île de France, 1 August 1775
I have received only one letter from you, my dear sister, in the three years that I have been in India. I have just returned from a voyage along the Malabar Coast. There I was attacked by pirates to whom I gave a thrashing before returning safely to Île de France. I have amassed something of a small fortune and now possess booty money in the amount of 90,000 pounds. Rest assured that I have not forgotten you and that I shall bring you some paintings, and other gifts, from India.
I have become very fond of a person who lives here, and this affair could lead to marriage. But nothing has yet been decided. I do not expect to return to France before 1777, and then with the general, who heaps upon me so many kindnesses and whose destiny I shall always share. He has requested the Croix de St. Louis on my behalf, but I do not know if he will succeed in obtaining it.
I am closely associated here with Monsieur de la Tour, who has given up ironworking and now has a successful farming operation. His daughter is not married and has lost almost all hope of finding a husband, although she is pleasingly pretty.
There you have it, dear sister—a summary of everything that is going on in my life; I am assuming that your letters were lost in transit, since it is not possible that you have written to me only once.
All good wishes to your husband and your children, and much love to you.
Lettre no. 2
|Upon his return from India, Lapérouse shares with his family his marriage plans. His father is ill to the extent that he has to dictate to his daughter Victoire the following letter.|
Albi, 20 October 1777
You make me shudder, my son; is it possible that you have actually given calm consideration to the consequences of entering into a marriage that digraces you before the eyes of the minister and that causes you to lose the protection of powerful friends! You scorn the support of your colleagues and will lose everything that you have accomplished professionally over twenty years, as well as the respect that you have apparently earned through your high-mindedness. We have been delighted with your accomplishments, but by degrading yourself you humiliate the entire family as well as your heritage. You are headed only for remorse; you are sacrificing your fortune and your honorable status to a frivolous beauty whose apparent charms perhaps exist only in your imagination. Is it possible to lose one’s way so deliberately? The laws of neither honor nor integrity oblige you to adhere to the poorly considered promises that you might have made to this person or to her parents. Do you not realize that you are under my power, that you are not free, that any promises you might have made are not sustainable?
You could, however, enter into a marriage appropriate to your financial and social standing and in accordance with the wishes of your family. In this case, would it not be advisable to put your finances in order? I have noticed over six months that you have been unsure about your personal finances, wanting at one moment to buy foreclosed land and at another moment wanting to acquire income-producing properties. You have no assured town residence. Is your country house adequate for receiving a wife? Is it livable in winter? Will she have to trot through the mud to get to mass? Will you have the means to provide her with a carriage? A thousand questions come to mind that make me realize just how ridulous your plans are. You say that there are some fifty naval officers who have entered into such marriages as you are proposing. What have people thought of these men? By entering into such marriages, have they won the respect of their fellow officers?
In any case, you have excellent role models available: M. de La Jonquière and so many others married creoles, whose inadequacies in family background, however, were offset by financial assets. Without this equilibrium these men would not have sunk so low as to marry those persons.
-For my father, De Galaup, Victoire
Lettre no. 3
|Not wanting to go against his parents’ wishes, and especially those of his ill father, Lapérouse returned to sea. He enjoyed glorious success, but his father was still very hard on him. His mother had deramed that he would enter into a brilliant marriage, to Mlle de Vésian, the daughter of one of her friends.|
If, Madame, during the time I have had the honor of knowing you, you have been able to look into my heart, you would have found there all the sentiments that you could desire in a son-in-law. You have always been for me a model of the kind of woman who could bring happiness into my life. Your daughter, brought up by you, formed by your guidance, should by all rights resemble you; I know her only as I remember her as child, and I swear to you that if I were the most perfect man on earth, I would prefer her to all other women. The idea of happiness that I have created for myself could not have been fashioned without the virtues you have provided as examples in your family.
Born extremely sensitive, I would be the most unhappy being if I were not loved by my wife; if I did not enjoy her intimate trust as her best friend; if being part of my family and her own, surrounded by her children, did not render her perfectly happy; and if, finally, my soul were not impressed solely by the pure pleasures of good character and of decency. I desire one day to regard you as my mother and, from today, as my best friend, I open my heart to you. Consult your daughter; it is up to you to determine if we are a suitable match. You love us both enough to tell us no if that is your opinion; and permit me, starting now, to regard you as the best friend I have in all the world. I owe you my intimate trust, so I authorize my mother to give you the full story regarding a previous love. I was only thirty then; being always a romantic at heart, the more inappropriate my sentimental choices, the happier I was. But I never forgot either the respect that I owed my parents or their wishes; it is they who stopped me from making a bad choice, and I feel today that it is one of their greatest gifts to me. I hope that, in a short time, I will be free; if then I have your reply and, moreover, if I can make your daughter happy and if she finds my character to be suitable, I will fly to Albi, kiss you a thousand times, and feel the same affection for you as I do for my mother and sisters. I am your child, your best friend, and I thank the Almighty for having led me to the only sort of life that could make me happy.
I remain, Madame, with all the feelings of affection and respect that I have vowed to you, your Lapérouse
Lettre no. 3bis
On board the Sceptre, anchorage of Cadiz, 10 February 1783
My mother did not fail to let you know, sir, how ardently I would like to become your son-in-law. The qualifications I put before you are the feelings I have in my heart; I dare to believe that they would be agreeable to you if I could express them as well as I feel them: the truest and most sincere devotion that I feel for your daughter, the same respectful devotion toward your family that I feel toward my own; a constant awareness of what might add to your daughter’s happiness—there, Monsieur, is the matter on which I wanted to engage you. But I must admit that I would find it distressing if your daughter’s hand were not given to the person of your choice and if she were not to accede to the wishes of her parents.
I therefore implore you, Monsieur, to not impede in any manner Mlle de Vésian’s inclinations and to bear in mind, in order that we both are happy, that there should be no loathing to overcome; I should inform you, sir, that although my eagerness has prompted me to write to you without delay, I do, however, have some business to complete that does not permit me to proceed exactly as I would like; my mother will provide you with the details. I hope to be free within six weeks to two months; my happiness will then be inexpressible if I obtain your agreement and that of Madame de Vésian, and if I can also be certain that I have not proceeded against the wishes of your daughter.
I have the honor of being, with the most respectful devotion, sir, your most humble and obedient servant.
Lettre no. 4
Paris, 25 May 1783
Madame de Vésian had forseen it, my dear mother: she knew my heart better than I did myself . . . I have seen Eléonore . . .I have not been able to fight the remorse that has devoured me. My extreme affection for you made me violate all that is most sacred in a human being: I forgot my oaths, my heart’s wishes, the cries of my conscience.
I had been in Paris for twenty days; faithful to the promises that I had made to you, I had not gone to see her at all . . . I receive a letter bathed in tears . . . No reproaches, but a deep feeling of sorrow was expressed therein . . . I am beginning to see everything clearly now. My situation is repugnant to me . . . I see all my crimes . . . I no longer see myself as anything but a perjurer, unworthy of Mlle de Vésianto whom I would offer a heart torn apart by remorse and consumed by a passion that nothing can extinguishand unworthy of Mlle Broudou, whom I have had the cowardice to want to forsake. My excuse, my dear mother, is in the extreme desire that I have always had to please you: it is for you alone and for my father that I have wanted to get married. Because I want to live with you, I asked you to find me a woman with whom you would be compatible. The choice of Mlle de Vésian overwhelmed me, because her mother is the woman in this city for whom I have the most affection, and God is my witness today that I would have preferred her daughter to the most brilliant match in the universe. I wrote to her four days ago on this subject: but how can my letter be reconciled with my present situation? I suppressed my remorse; I believed that I knew what I was doing; I violated divine and human laws. Virtue, innocence, and sweetness were sacrificed to the pattern of devotion that I have created for myself to adhere to all your wishes; but, my dear mother, this motive, so pure in itself, would become a weakness if I were to proceed in this manner. I have been unwise to enter into an engagement without your consent; I would be a monster if I violated my oaths and delivered to Mlle de Vésian a blighted heart and a conscience torn apart with remorse. I have no doubt, my dear mother, that you understand my situation and that you shudder perhaps at the depths into which I think I have fallen. I can belong only to Eléonore. I hope that you will give your consent; my fortune will be sufficient to meet her needs, and we will live with you as equals; but I will come to Albi only after Mlle de Vésian will have married and when I will have been assured that another man, a thousand times more worthy of her than myself, will have sworn to her a devotion purer than that which was within my power to offer.
I am not writing to either Mme or M. de Vésian. Please add to your kindnesses that of conveying this frightful and distressing message.
Lettre no. 5
|Lapérouse must now fulfill a duty to a family that he has always held in high esteem and whose son he was supposed to become and whom he has perhaps just offended. His fiancée is going to marry the baron of Sénégas, and he hastens to offer his apologies and his regards to M. de Vésian.|
I wanted, sir, before coming to see you, to send you a letter that would let you know how touched and grateful I am for all you have done. You have every right to accuse me of flightiness; I should at my age be better acquainted with the state of my heart; but God is my witness that in wronging you I myself made a serious mistake, and that if I had been free with 100 thousand ecus of income, I would have offered them to Mlle de Vésian. Because I never had the honor of knowing her, my motivation could only have been the deep desire to belong to you, as well as to Mme de Vésian, and it would be impossible for me to express to you fully my heartfelt affection and gratitude. I would be forever despondent and unhappy if my thoughtlessness had stood in the way of the happiness of mademoiselle your daughter; but, fortunately, you have my flightiness to thank. Inferior to M. de Sénégas in all regards, I would not have been able to equal him except in my deep affection for you and yours.
I have the honor of being, etc. Lapérouse
Lettre no. 6
Your letter of the 8th reached me only on the 15th, my dear friend. I shed tears of joy on receiving it. It dissipated cruel anxieties. A week of uncertainty as to your fate caused me terrible anguish; I imagined you ill or overcome with grief from the letters that I supposed you received from your father. I imagined the most distressing scenes; and not being able to write to you added to my agony. I do not know if I would have been able to bear much longer such a state of mental unrest. Finally, I have news of you. I am a little calmer now that I know that you are in Paris, working to obtain the necessary permissions to enable us to finally consummate our happiness. Hope is now the balm that soothes my soul; I try to nourish myself with it as much as possible; I am convincing myself that your parents will not always be opposed to our wishes. I am counting at least a little on their compassion. Your conduct toward them so merits their tenderness, and if they have the the capacity to love, how could they object much longer to such overwhelming desires? The happiness that comes with being able to make people happy is so rare, so sweet—how is it possible that one would not seize the opportunity, given that there are no disadvantages in doing so. I very much believe in the rightness of uniting two beings who are so perfectly compatible in terms of tastes, character, and principles, and I am so convinced that only good can come of such an opportunity that if I had a request to make to the Almighty, such as pure joyfulness and charitable virtue, I would ask for the possibility of satisfying the persons who might find themselves in the position where we find ourselves at the present time. I believe that I would never have to be sorry for such a worthy act.
I have just sent for the mail: no letter from my friend today. He is without a doubt angry with his Eléonore; but if he is fair, he will excuse her for not having sent any news and will love her always.
Good-bye, my dear, my very good friend. I love you, I adore you. I embrace you with all my heart. Farewell Eléonore
Because it is necessary to expect anything in case your father and the minister again refuse your request, and in anticipation of the follies that could result from your having such a tender nature, remember, my friend, what I swore to you and what I still swear to you, that I love you more than I love myself, that I can suffer anything except the sorrow of causing you to make sacrifices; if it is necessary for you to leave your present situation in order to marry me, I will never be your wife, because my wedding day, which should be the happiest day of my life, would be for me a day of mourning and preparation for eternal remorse.
Lettre no. 7
|The marriage took place, however, without the knowledge of the minister; it was necessary to admit this violation of the rules. Lapérouse apologizes with his characteristic frankness.|
Albi, 12 August 1783
The bountiful kindnesses with which you have honored me require that I make a confession to M. le maréchal de Castries and not to the king’s minister; I have married and have escorted my wife from Paris to Languedoc. My story is a romantic story that I beg you to be kind enough to read. Madame the princess of Bouillon has been informed, and she has perhaps spoken to you about it.
Eight years ago, at Ile de France, I fell madly in love with a very pretty and kind young woman whom I wanted to marry; she had no fortune, and the chevalier de Ternay opposed the marriage. My parents had given him complete legal authority over me. This power, together with that which he himself had assumed, made him immovable, and he told me that love passes and that there was no consolation in poverty once one was married.
Léonore and I said our good-byes soon thereafter at Ile de France. I was as much in love as ever and told my lady to come to France where I would marry her. Her mother was at that time in Nantes, and her father, who wanted very much that I become his son-in-law, sent his daughter off to Europe on a ship that set sail two weeks after mine. During the crossing, this young person was very uncomfortable, and to make matters worse, when disembarking at Lorient, she fell into the sea, which resulted in an illness that lasted three years. However, the objections of the chevalier de Ternay and those of my parents, who envisaged for me the possibility of a grand marriage, had strongly diminished my love for Eléonore. War was declared, and I wrote to her that I had decided to participate in it so diligently that it would be impossible to consider marriage for the time being. She replied sweetly that we would wait for peace. The young lady stayed at the convent in Paris, and my love faded away. I requested to be released from my promise to marry her, offering up to 80,000 livres, an immense sum relative to my assets at the time. But I could marry in Languedoc a young woman having an allowance of 20,00 livres, or a lady from an important family, which would greatly enhance both my social and financial standing. I again took steps to be released from my promise to marry Eléonore; I then learned that my fiancée had been in tears since the declaration of peace and that she was going to become a nun. I went to see her; I could not resist. Reproach would have been her most effective weapon for causing me pain, but she expressed none. I recalled that I was thirty years old when I gave her my word, and she was fifteen; I felt that it was a religious duty for me to keep sacred promises, made at an age when flightiness cannot be used as an excuse. The young lady was extremely honest, virtuous, and sweet. She had used no violent means. As for me, ambition alone had stifled my feelings, which nonetheless had remained deep in my heart, though less strong than before. I then broke off the engagements that my parents had made for a marriage I could only have dreamed of. I told Léonore that I had about 12,000 livres income, that if she wanted to live on our land with my parents, taking care of me only when I was there and letting me pursue my military interestsand remembering that it was possible that we would have to be separated for five or six yearsthen I would marry her, without fanfare and without letting anyne know, and would take her immediately to Languedoc. My proposals were accepted. The young lady was at the convent of Saint-Antoine; we got married at Sainte-Marguerite parish with no other witnesses than those that were formally necessary. I took her to Albi, where I was received in as lovely a manner as if I were a war hero returning from battle. I left her in the charge of my elderly mother. I am determined never to think that although I was no longer in love, I made great sacrifices for her, because I believed that I acted out of a strong duty and also because she used no weapons other than tears and was totally honest. But we agreed that I would seek compensation in military service, and I am ready, sir, to go around the world for six years if you order it. I give you my word of honor, sir, that this is a true avowal of my conduct and my feelings; you may be my judge. I would never have believed to be worthy of your estime had I conducted myself otherwise, and I beg you, sir, maréchal de Castries, to offer my apologies to the minister of the navy, to whom I have requested permission to marry.
If you do not reply at least briefly to this letter, I shall be very worried. I shall be in Paris awaiting your orders.
Lettre no. 8
|The maréchal de Castries, who held Lapérouse in high esteem, replied right away.|
Versailles, 25 August 1783
I understand perfectly, sir, all the emotions you have experienced, as well as the sentiments that determined your fate. Because the actions you have taken should not distract you from carrying out your duties, you can count on the king’s consent.
If the lady you have taken as your wife has honorable sentiments and if she warrants your having chosen her, you have entered into a good marriage; true suitability should be based on one’s feelings, and I will always be more disposed to this kind of union than to a more conventional one motivated by practical interests.
Rejoice in the pleasure of making someone happy and in the badge of honor and distinction you have received from your fellow citizens; you deserve it, and as a former resident of Albi, I add my heartfelt good wishes to theirs.
Maréchal de Castries
Lettre no. 9
|This happiness, so wished for, did not last very long, because during the years that Lapérouse spent in France after his marriage, he was often away from Albigeos, as is seen from his correspondence, sometimes postmarked Lorient, sometimes Paris.|
From Paris, where he awaited orders from the minister, Lapérouse wrote his wife, Eléonore, some letters that show that just before his departure, he was as much in love with her as ever.
Paris, 8 February 1785
I am still uncertain regarding my future destiny, my dearest; nothing has been decided. M. de Castries heaps upon me friendship and kindness, but he comes to no conclusion. I am spending both my time and my money far from the one I love. In truth, I have not suffered such harm from my most cruel enemy.
M. de Cossigny leaves again for Gaillac on Thursday; I want him to arrange for a dress for my Eléonore; I very much fear that this is risky since it might not be the correct size, but you will know how to alter it and it will give you some idea of what is in fashion.
Farewell, my Eléonore, my tender friend; I love and adore you with all my soul.
Lettre no. 10
Paris, 26 February 1785
You will receive, my love, some earrings [?], some songbooks, and for my mother six pounds of tobacco [c’est bien le poids dont il parle—our peut-être la valeur monétaire?]. I shall also send you at the earliest opportunity a fashionable taffeta dress with an overblouse in the very latest style. I am using as a model Mme Le Couteulx, who is about your same size.
Tell Mme de Rivières, the abbot Massol, and Mme Gilbert that I shall send them replies by the next post, also Rosières. Especially thank Mme de Rivières for the charming things that she has told me and the pretty couplets she has sent. I will also mail to her right away the rouge she requested.
I compliment you, my dear, on your certainty regarding your condition. I must admit that the fatigue and suffering you might experience in childbirth is of more concern to me than the pleasure I would derive from having a child, even though that would make me very happy since I would hope that it would take after you. But, once again, it is your health, my dearest, that interests me, and all the rest is of no importance.
Please check with Mesdole to see if he has sent to M. de Saint Julien in Paris everything I need in order to be reimbursed on 1 April. Tell my sister that during the course of this month I will repay the 4,000 pounds I owe her. If by chance M. Mesdole tells you that I will need in Paris my clergy contract, you will find it in the top left-hand drawer of my desk beneath the rolltop, which you should not have to open. Please be careful in reclosing the drawer so that no papers go astray. The locksmith can make a key for you.
You should have received the taffeta from M. Dhutine and the 800 pounds from M. de Roquefeuil.
Nothing new here, but I am certain to have constantly plenty of work to do . Heaven only knows to what extent!
Good-bye, my dearest; I love you with all my heart.
Lettre no. 11
Paris, 8 February 1785
Again, my dear, make no further observations regarding my mission, because that would cause me to despair, and everything has already been decided.
I am taking your brother with me; I am obtaining for him the certificate of ship’s lieutenant lieutenant de frégat; I shall watch over him for two or three years, and if he is a good pupil, he will be on his way to an honorable career.
Good-bye, my angel; I adore you with all my soul.
Lettre no. 12
|This is one of the last letters that Lapérouse wrote before leaving France.|
Your friendship, madame, is crucial to my happiness; that was how I felt when I was in Albi, and I dared to build castles in the air, imagining my wife and myself spending two months every year with you. I deluded myself that I could receive you in my home; my vanity even allowed me to go so far as to hope that I could make bearable for you a sojourn in such a small town.
How different my situation is today! I am leaving on a voyage around the world.
If personal sacrifices could be compensated for by other advantages, I would be able to wish for nothing more. But a higher rank, even some celebrity—none of that makes for happiness.
I am leaving with principles you would have inspired in me had we had the time to discuss this trip together. I will make every effort to ensure that the inhabitants of the islands that we might visit never have reason to be sorry for having welcomed us. Your friend (for I dare assume this title) will likely never be a great man, but he will be a good and moderate one, and on reading his story you will not have to make any excuses for unjust behavior on his part.
You will receive by the same post a medal that marks the occasion of my departure; I do not know if on my return I might rather have merited a more modest one. To be truthful, I fear that this trip might be of much less importance than one has conceived it to be.
Take good care of your health; it is so necessary for your family and friends that you do so! If you could be so kind as to send me one more letter to Brest, I would be most grateful. I am, Madame, with the sentiments that I have vowed to you forever, and without further ado, your
LETTER FROM LAPEROUSE TO GENERAL ROCHAMBEAU, MARCH 1781