Prison letters with important autobiographical content

Morphy, Michel, French writer (1863-1928). 4 autograph letters signed.

Paris, 30 Oct. 1881 - 30 Aug. 1883 and no date.

8vo and 4to. (16 + 2 + 4 + 2 =) 24 pp. (mostly on bifolia, one on prison paper).

 6,500.00

A collection of four letters by the young Morphy to his employer, the socialist publisher Maurice Lachâtre, mostly or possibly all written from prison (Mazas and Le Santé are named). During his youth, Morphy - still a minor when he penned these letters - moved among radically socialist and anarchist circles (which included Louise Michel, previously an important figure in the Paris Commune) and was repeatedly sentenced to prison and exile. A complex personality, Morphy founded several newspapers, including "L'Anti-Ferry", before focusing on serialized sentimental novels ("Les Mignon") and becoming a close friend of General Boulanger, who had suppressed the Commune, as well as of the cabaret singer and performer Aristide Bruant.

In the first of these curiously jaunty missives to Lachâtre, some of which are of great psychological interest, Morphy writes that he has been a prisoner at Mazas for the past eight months, which may explain the extreme length of his letter. He recounts how he made fun of the police, repeatedly escaped them, but finally ended up in the courtroom, where he continued to befool the judge, who sentenced him to nine months of confinement. Morphy complains about the food, but on the whole his lot is none too bad: "En somme, je ne suis pas mal dans cette lugubre et humide maison; j'ai la bibliothèque de faveur qui contient quelques milliers de bons ouvrages et je lis beaucoup. Au début de mon emprisonnement j'étais de mauvaise humeur et très souffrant; c'est passé. L'isolement absolu a son heureux coté: on peut s'admirer au verre grossissant toute une journée: il est si doux de se faire illusion sur soi même!" His letter includes a long autobiographical account, mentioning his parents, the Irishman Morphy MacSweeny and his beautiful wife Louise Coustillier, who died young ("Morphy Mac Sweeny inaugura son mode d'éducation (le meilleur de tous, à ce qu'il a souvent répété), il consistait à nous terroriser"), but also discusses radical politics ("Tenez, je sais que les socialistes collectivistes possibilistes sont en guerre avec les socialistes collectivistes dictaturistes, eh bien!"), the imprisonment of John Most, and his future literary plans.

In other letters, Morphy assures Lachâtre of his revolutionary zeal ("Nous allons démolir Paris ensemble!"), though he must worry for his family: "Ma femme a horreur de l'Angleterre [...] Ma fille a moins de deux ans et mon garçon plus de six mois ... et ils mangent et ils usent et ils cassent! Cet âge est sans pitié". Even now he toys with the idea of writing serialized stories for the papers: "Je sais bien qui le public lit plus que jamais! Mais que lit-il? That's the question, comme dit l'anglais. Savez-vous ce que m'écrivent mes meilleurs amis? Pas de politique, du feuilleton, encore et toujours du feuilleton!" He asks his elder friend's advice: "En ce moment, je suis moralement libre. Quelle route choisir en sortant? En politique, je suis fixé... J'étai et je reste un "irréconciliable" de la République opportuniste". He acknowledges Lachâtre's financial support during the time of his incarceration and offers him manuscripts to pay his debts. "La prison par elle-même ne m'affecte pas moralement car je me suis toujours complu dans l'isolement".

A fascinating ensemble.

For Lachatre's collaboration with Morphy in the 1880s cf. F. Gaudin, Maurice Lachâtre (Limoges, 2014), pp. 363ff.