We know more about friendship as a literary construct in the minds of educated people than as a daily experience in the lives of working Parisians. French subjects made friends in many ways, in neighborhoods and workplaces, cafés and taverns, but friendship was not regularized and regulated within the social and legal structures of the Ancien Rêgime. As a result this form of voluntary connection, outside kinship and marriage, is not documented systematically in any specific series of records. Relevant evidence is gathered nowhere, scattered everywhere, for example in police reports about same-sex relations.

The Archives of the Bastille show not only that sodomites had sex with strangers they met in the Luxembourg and Tuileries gardens, subject to regular surveillance, but also with men they had met there or elsewhere or through others. Encounters and introductions created networks of friends who had sex with each other, casually or intimately, in their rented quarters and other private places not subject to regular surveillance, without much risk. The morals and prisoners series include an abundance of information about same-sex relations among workingmen that did not involve entrapment and arrest or procurement and money.

Louis Malissot, 22-23, tall, handsome, effeminate, former lackey, “corrupts young folks in order to place them,” as servants, “with folks of the taste of sodomy” (AB 11232, f. 83). When the police arrested him in his rented furnished room, they found “many letters” containing evidence of his “wicked affairs” and a lost list of names (f.75).[1] His dossier includes a letter signed by him (f. 77), a page with nothing more than the salutation “My dear friend” written on it (f. 78), and two unsigned notes in a different hand and more proper French (ff. 79, 81). The extant records do not reveal the identity of the other man but they do mention some close friends: Blondin, clerk, Duval, who referred to him as “my dear Malisset,” and Dumesnil Vatreuil. They also report that Malissot had been maintained, for some unspecified length of time, by président Dubois [see Magistrates] and that he had received an annual pension of 500 livres from an unnamed person for an unknown number of years, until the generous (and jealous?) benefactor learned that he “associated with too many people.” These three texts may be the closest thing to intimate exchanges between men from different backgrounds in the Archives of the Bastille.

My dear friend,

I received your [singular = informal] letter. It gave me infinite pleasure to hear your news. I am pleased by your attentions to me. I will try to deserve them more from now on than I did in the past. I will not overlook anything to that end. Farewell, my amiable [lovable?] one. I embrace you wholeheartedly.

Your [plural = formal] servant,


Is it possible, my dear friend, that in this Paris where I felt the first effects of your [plural = formal] kindness, where I had so often the pleasure of being close to you, we are now so far apart. I would be dead from sorrow already if the pleasure of seeing you again did not protect me from my worries. But alas, what can this pleasure delight me with because I am on the point of losing you despite all I have done to protect myself from it.[3]

Farewell, my dear. I do not have the time to say anything to you [plural = formal], so tell yourself, from me, all the tenderest things you can imagine, and perhaps you will still fall quite far short of what I feel.[4]

the two unsigned notes


The papers of commissaire Foucault remind us that friendship provided a safe or at least safer space than gardens and taverns did and, at the same time, that the police were suspicious not only of pairs of men who did not know each other but also of pairs of men who knew each other well, perhaps too well. As a friend of the feather dealer Samuel Pouteau, 22, a known pederast, the clerk Jean Baptiste Raimond, 19, “is more than suspected of the same inclinations” (AN, Y 13408, 16 September 1781). The clerk Jacques Alain, 25, and the French Guard Martin met in a tavern, “and since that time they have been friends (AN, Y 13408, 14 January 1781). “Asked if he has other acquaintances with whom he is intimately connected,” Alain replied, “no, he is always alone with Martin,” which seemed to incriminate both of them.

The unmarried Joseph Henri, marquis du Vivier, lived with Pierre Saget, 18, an attractive blond who “prostitutes himself to men of rank” (AB 10796, ff. 2-3). The older man described the younger one as a friend, but the police did not believe him because of the obvious differences between them. Friendship idealized in essays required equality or at least similarity in rank as well as age, and friendship experienced in Paris flourished within more than across social borders. The database will enable us to analyze sexualized connections within larger patterns of sociability and encourage us to compare the meanings and operations of friendship between men who desired men and between men who did not.

[1] The list is not, unfortunately, attached to f. 76, as a marginal note on that page suggests. Haimier recognized some of the names (f. 90).

[2] Mon cher ami

Je recue ta laittre qui ma faite une plaisire infinis daparendre tes nouvelle ie scui charmes de de tes atancion ie tachere de les merites plus par la suite que ie nes faite par le paces je ne negligeres rient pour cete efaite adieux mon emaimablle je vous enbrasse to tout mon Ceurs

Votre serviteur


[3] est il possible mon cher ami que dans ce paris ou jai ressenti les premiers effets de vous bontes ou j’avois si souvent le plaisir d’etre aupres de vous nous soyons a present si eloignez ie serois deja mort de douleur si le plaisir de vous revoir ne me defendoit contre mon ennuis mes helas, de quoi peut il me flater ce plaisir pars que ie suis sur le point de vous perdre malgré tout ce que j’ai fait pour men garantir

[4] Adieu mon Cher je nai pas le tems de de vous rien dire mais dites vous de ma part tout Ce que vous pouroit imaginer de plus tendre et peut etre seret vous encore bien loin de Ce que je sens

Author: Jeffrey Merrick