‘A work of darkness’ (Voltaire)

Posted on 7th September 2023 by simonbeattie

Wikipedia calls Charles Théveneau de Morande (1741–1805) a gutter journalist, blackmailer, and spy. He was certainly ‘a large and charismatic man of great physical strength and presence, traits he used to bully and intimidate.  Having received an education in Arnay-le-Duc and Dijon, Morande joined the French army and was possibly wounded serving in the Seven Years’ War …  Having been demobilized after the war, Morande fled to Paris in mysterious circumstances.  There he resorted to petty crime, confidence tricks, befriending and blackmailing wealthy homosexuals, and pimping for wealthy courtesans, whom he exploited and abused ruthlessly.  He was arrested after a disturbance in a brothel in 1765, while undergoing mercury treatment for syphilis, and again in 1768 after his father requested a lettre de cachet.  Having been released for good behaviour in 1769, he soon reoffended and in 1770 fled to London ahead of a new arrest warrant.  He lived there, fêted as a refugee from French tyranny, for the next twenty-one years.

‘In August 1771 Morande published his most notorious work, Le gazetier cuirassé, ou, Anecdotes scandaleuses de la cour de France, a libellous attack on the ministry and court, which Voltaire denounced as “a work of darkness”’ (Oxford DNB).

The frontispiece above depicts ‘a libelliste, … as “the armor-plated gazeteer,” sending off cannon blasts in all directions against the abuses of the Old Regime’ (Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, p. 214). Despite the imprint, the book was printed in London.

For more details on this book, and other recent acquisitions, see my latest e-list.

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