9

According to this webpage, Madame de Sévigné wrote the following letter to her daughter (Madame de Grignan).

Surtout, ma chère enfant, ne venez point à Paris !

Plus personne ne sort de peur de voir ce fléau s’abattre sur nous, il se propage comme un feu de bois sec. Le roi et Mazarin nous confinent tous dans nos appartements.
Monsieur Vatel, qui reçoit ses charges de marée, pourvoie à nos repas qu'il nous fait livrer,
Cela m’attriste, je me réjouissais d’aller assister aux prochaines représentations d’une comédie de Monsieur Corneille "Le Menteur", dont on dit le plus grand bien.
Nous nous ennuyons un peu et je ne peux plus vous narrer les dernières intrigues à la Cour, ni les dernières tenues à la mode.

Heureusement, je vois discrètement ma chère amie, Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette, nous nous régalons avec les Fables de Monsieur de La Fontaine, dont celle, très à propos, « Les animaux malades de la peste » ! « Ils ne mouraient pas tous, mais tous étaient frappés ».

Je vous envoie deux drôles de masques ; c’est la grand'mode. tout le monde en porte à Versailles. C’est un joli air de propreté, qui empêche de se contaminer,
Je vous embrasse, ma bonne, ainsi que Pauline.

which Google Translate translates as:

Above all, my dear child, do not come to Paris!

No one goes out for fear of seeing this plague fall on us, it spreads like a fire in dry wood. The king and Mazarin confine us all in our apartments.
Mr. Vatel, who receives his tide loads, provides our meals which he has delivered to us,
It saddens me, I was excited to attend the upcoming performances of a comedy by Monsieur Corneille "The Liar", of which they say the best things. We are bored a bit and I can no longer tell you about the latest court intrigues, or the latest fashionable outfits.

Fortunately, I discreetly see my dear friend, Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette, we are enjoying the Fables of Monsieur de La Fontaine, including very aptly "The animals sick of the plague"! "Not all of them died, but all were struck."

I send you two funny masks; this is the great fashion. Everyone wears them in Versailles. It’s a nice air of cleanliness, which prevents contamination.
I kiss you, my dear, as well as Pauline.

The punctuation is incorrect, which makes me feel like the original letter might be different. Also, the letter is strangely similar to the lockdown measures in response to Covid-19 today. Is the letter real? Is the entire letter as written originally?

  • 3
    The google translation is pretty off the mark, especially in the penultimate paragraph, IMO – Boluc Papuccuoglu May 3 at 17:36
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    @BolucPapuccuoglu: You are encouraged to make it more accurate. – Oddthinking May 3 at 19:38
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    Note that, as of right now, the page linked in the question shows a prominent banner saying that the letter is fake. – sleske May 4 at 9:22
  • 3
    It's now a 404. – Thomas Ayoub May 5 at 12:50
32

It's hard to prove a negative, but here are some points against its authenticity:

  • This 12-volume edition of Madame de Sévigné's letters doesn't have any letter dated 30 April 1687 (the date given in the link). My French isn't so good, but I didn't immediately see any mention of plague in the letters around that date.

  • This shorter, searchable edition doesn't have any letter of that date either. The only hit for the word "fléau" is in a letter of 19 May 1676, and it appears to be in reference to a plague affecting the region where her daughter lives. The only hits for the name Vatel are from two letters of 24 and 26 April, 1671, telling of a butler named Vatel (without the honorific Monsieur) who had recently died.

  • The only prominent person named Mazarin associated with French royalty seems to have been Cardinal Jules Mazarin, chief minister to two kings of France - but he died in 1661, and so could not have been keeping people in their apartments in 1687. I couldn't find any mention of any other notable person by that name.

  • The date in the link is given as "Jeudi, le 30ème d'avril de 1687" (Thursday, 30th of April 1687). But 30 April 1687 was a Wednesday. (This is in the Gregorian calendar, which France had been using since 1582; and anyway, in the Julian calendar it would have been Saturday.)

The other "dropped names" seem to be consistent as to dates. Le Menteur was a real play by Corneille, first performed in 1644. "The Animals Sick of the Plague" was a real fable by La Fontaine; it seems to have been in Book VII of his Fables, which according to Wikipedia was published in 1678. Madame de La Fayette lived from 1634 to 1693 and was indeed a friend of Madame de Sévigné.

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  • 7
    Probably obvious, but 30 April 2020 was a Thursday. Also, found an article in French which debunked the claim with similar reasoning. – Andrew T. May 3 at 11:44
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    @AndrewT.: Do you mind elaborating about the 30 April 2020 part, please? I can't see its relevance, and feel I am missing something – Oddthinking May 3 at 11:55
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    It's sad that a humorous fake, identified as such by its own author (see Lettres FR's post below), ends up a "claim" that needs to be "debunked". – DaWaaaaghBabal May 3 at 12:17
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    @Oddthinking this is probably considered as a self-research and a weak reason (if so, feel free to edit my comment and remove the date part): The oldest text I could find was posted on Bottin Mondain on 23 April 2020 without mentioning the date at all. Someone probably added the date "Thursday, 30 April 2020" and replaced the year to 1687 to make it more authentic, but didn't change the day. Of course, this doesn't prove if the date was originally there – Andrew T. May 3 at 12:44
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    If Le Menteur was premiered in 1644 I would be very surprised if it was still performed 30 years later. I imagine at that time it wasn’t a classic yet. – 11684 May 3 at 21:00
37

A similar text was published on Instagram on April 29, 2020 by Véronique de Bure, a French author and one of the directors for Flammarion, a well-known French publishing house.

Un texte similaire a été publié sur Instagram le 29 avril 2020 par Véronique de Bure, une auteure française et directrice littéraire chez Flammarion.

Screenshot of Instagram post

Translation of the accompanying text by the author:

“By all means, dear child, do not come to Paris!” Freely imagined in the style of Madame de Sévigné's letters to her daughter. #madamedesevigne #epidemic #imaginarycorrespondence

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    @idmean She claims that she wrote it. It isn't a proof that she didn't steal it, but it is evidence that she wrote it. I added a translation of the author's blurb, which states explicitly that she wrote it in the style of Madame de Sévigné's letters. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' May 3 at 14:41
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    Where does she actually say that she wrote it? Saying it's "freely imagined" could imply that it was imagined by someone else. In particular, Andrew T's comment on my answer gives a link to the letter posted on the website of an apparently well-established magazine and dated April 23. So if she really did write it, we have to believe that she first published it in B.M. and only to her own Instagram a week later (without attributing B.M.); or if she did write it on April 30, then that B.M. stole it and backdated their page. – Nate Eldredge May 3 at 23:59
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    @NateEldredge In the comments of the Instagram post, someone asked the poster (de Bure) if she had the source. She replied "Bonjour, non je ne l’ai pas mais il s’agit bien sûr d’un pastiche" (Hello, no, I do not have it but of course it is a pastiche.) So she does not claim to have written the text. – Arnaud D. May 4 at 11:14
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    It's also worth noting that this is not exactly the same text : this version does not mention M. Vatel, the title of any Corneille play, nor masks, unlike the one in the question, and the sentence about Madame de Lafayette is slightly different. – Arnaud D. May 4 at 11:25
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    So, I had to downvote this answer, as it doesn't provide any actual evidence for its statement that de Bure composed the letter, and I think there is good reason to believe that this is not in fact true. And I find it kind of interesting that 22 other skeptics (plus me, previously) have voted it up on that basis... – Nate Eldredge May 4 at 16:47
2

This is a hoax.

In 1687, there was no epidemic in France. The only one recorded at that date was that of measles in the "Thirteen Colonies" which were the colonies of the British Empire in North America that gave birth to the United States of America.

Translated from Belgium's Hoax-Net.

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