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three pairs of lovers with space

A LETTER ON BOY PROSTITUTION IN PARIS, 1846

 

Presented here with the kind permission of the author, Jean-Claude Féray, is this website's translation from the French of his article about an anonymous letter sent to the police in 1846, complaining about boy prostitution in Paris. The original article appeared in Quintes-Feuilles, Bulletin mensuel no. 3, March 2013, pp. 7-9. The illustrations are from that article.

 

A curious and moving letter on the prostitution of young boys in Paris in 1846

The archives of the Paris Police Prefecture contain several letters, mostly anonymous, denouncing the scandal of homosexual prostitution. The author of such letters, very angry in general, adopts the tone of indignation to demand police measures aimed at abolishing the public scandal. Prostitutes are denounced as thugs of the worst kind.

The letter that we transcribe here stands out for the pitiful, almost tender, note that the author could not help expressing about the boys involved in this trade. One can find this compassionate touch quite natural, given the tender age and therefore the supposed innocence of the boys involved. But the moving regret expressed by the author for his passivity and his non-intervention in a furtive scene which shocked him, as well as the way of expressing this regret, lead us to wonder about his feelings towards childhood. Since it is not possible to draw firm conclusions from such tenuous evidence, we will leave the reader free to engage or not in an analysis of this aspect of the personality which expresses itself here.

The lack of experience there was at the time with methods of incarceration makes it difficult to judge the quality of the reasoning of this anonymous man when he wishes to see solitary confinement become general. On the other hand, one can easily judge his level of education by his style and his spelling. Transcribing this letter without making at least the essential spelling corrections would have made reading it laborious. Better than a few examples (like the name of Athènes which becomes Hatène) the photo below of part of the back of the letter will show how much a faithful transcription would have made the letter off-putting:

 

Transcription:

Paris, 2 February 1846

Mr. Prefect,

The indignation into which I was plunged by the infamous spectacle I saw yesterday evening obliges me to give you a detail of what you no doubt know better than I, but which cannot remain silent in a soul which not only is eager for justice but which also particularly detests the infamies which do not cease to dishonour our France by committing themselves, so to speak, in all parts of its provinces, especially in Paris.

Brothels of young boys very often cause desolation to honest families. (then formerly) Louvier Island and still today the squares of the archdiocese, the hall, then the Buttes Chaumont, Montmartre, the St Denis plain, it is said (then) other places and above all the Champs Elysées.

It is in this last place that yesterday evening, Mr. Prefect, I saw not for the first time, but I saw, I say, a spectacle which would have made you shudder if, like me, you had been the witness, especially being a father.

On the right side of the Champs-Élysées going up to the Arc de Triomphe, in the desert which surrounds the Restaurant des Ambassadeurs and National, it is a place where I spend almost all Sunday evenings and public holidays on my way to or back from the divine offices which are held in the church of the little fathers and which only end at ten o'clock.

So it was late and I didn't want to see these same horrors that I had already seen while spending a little time before. It was only about 7 o’clock and the dark weather seemed to want, in its obscurity, to protect a few men in the designs of their brutal passions; several poor children accosted by despicable sodomites whose elegant and rich dress did not proclaim them to be workers; and these poor children near them were preparing themselves for shameful prostitution; Alas! perhaps hunger alone made them act thus in order, by receiving a miserable gain, to be able to procure existence.

It is a fact that as I approached, I saw here and there like ghosts rising (in pairs) from behind the shadow of the largest trees, directing their unsteady steps towards these cafés so well lit by the gas. I took advantage of this light to observe them at my ease and I saw near one of these miserable gentlemen a little boy of a still very tender age, very poorly dressed and whose gentle countenance and the shame which was painted on his face downcast towards the ground did not yet proclaim a completely corrupted heart.

With pain I saw them again heading for the most secluded place in the world and my heart sank in such a manner that I had neither the strength nor the courage to cry out to make the culprit flee and bring back with me the poor child, who had perhaps not at that hour lost his innocence.

Oh! how I regretted not having had the strength to render him this service.

Come, child, I should have told him, if you are hungry, come with me, I will provide you with the means of survival and then an honourable [salary] or I will return you to your family which perhaps groan [groans] at your absence. Come, oh my brother, and do not give yourself up to shameful prostitution to satisfy the brutal passion of this unfortunate sodomite who, by this crime which degrades his human nature, deserves at every moment of his life the terrible punishment of the children of Sodom and Gomorrah who were all consumed by fire from the sulphur-ridden sky.

Ah! Mr. Prefect, the gaping mouth of these words capable of bringing the guiltiest back to himself, if I did not accomplish this fine mission, it is because my heart was beating violently, fearing that, in this desert, the wretch does not take advantage of the remoteness of the world and the darkness of time to avenge himself with murderous iron. Oh! yes, my fear was up to this point of mistrust because, in my thinking, the man who is cowardly enough to [to] degrade the human species by such basenesses fears neither God nor men and he there is capable of everything!...

We see big enough examples of this every day, and if further proofs are needed, I will give them later to the whole nation and it will shudder with horror.

What becomes of these poor children? Alas, Mr. Prefect, you know that from little vagabonds they become thieves through association with others who are bigger and more knowledgeable than them in the way of evil, and when [?] the police pick them up and the justice of Paris makes a game of depositing them pell-mell at the prefecture; and there, horror, a thousand plots are the subjects of their actions and [their] talks, and when they are free, instead of having [corrected] themselves, they become great wrongdoers, then prison, penal colonies and even the scaffold are the reward given to their perdition.

Ah! Sir, if I were a deputy, in approving prisons cells, I would also vote for remand prisons to be entirely made up of cells, with the sole purpose that there should no longer be any communication between those who will have to live in them for their own present and future interests.

Then I would also vote for there to be half as many police officers and once more surveillance in our capital.[1]

Accept, Mr. Prefect, the lively expression of my respect united to my sincere and devoted feelings of sensitivity which I share with my honest compatriots who, like me, suffer from not being able to punish as in past times French justice punished with the rigour the wretched sodomites from Athens and Sparta.

A.V. B. 2 February 1846. (in Paris) (Seine)

 

[1] Can anyone make better sense of this sentence, which reads in French, “Puis je voterais aussi pour qu’il y ait moitié moins d’agents de police et qu’il y ait une fois plus de surveillance dans note capitale.”?

 

 

Comments

Comments of general interest will be collected at Letters To The Editor (some editing may be involved)

 

Anonymous 86,  9 February 2022

Can anyone tell me anything about the last statue depicted in the article?

 

Editor, 13 February 2022

Following your query, it has been suggested to me by a good authority that this statue is probably by Dutch sculptor Wim van der Kant, but it can't yet be confirmed. It certainly looks to me very much in his style.

 

17 February 2022

An expert has now been consulted and has corrected the suggested attribution. The statue is known as "boy with a belt", and "is the work, considered to be the most important, of the Norwegian sculptor Lars Utne (1862-1922)." In case you are interested, the first statue of the boy with the butterfly was titled "Joyance" and "it was the work of the Welsh sculptor William Goscombe John, a follower of New Sculpture."

 

Anonymous 86,  23 March 2022

Thank you.

* * * * *

Louis,  3 April 2022

The logical sentence would be : 

“Puis je voterais aussi pour qu’il y ait moitié moins d’agents de police et qu’il y ait deux fois plus de surveillance dans note capitale.”

"Then I would also vote for there to be half as many police officers two times more surveillance in our capital."

Maybe there was a mistake in the transcription, or maybe the author wrote "une" instead of "deux".

 

Editor, 4 April 2022

Yes, that sounds likely. Thank you so much for your help.