• Tim Braithwaite

A Letter From Saint-Évremond to a Monsieur Dery on ‘a mild operation’ to Retain his Youthful Voice

‘I would say to you, in an entirely insinuated way, that you must make yourself sweetened [adoucir] by a mild [legere] operation, which will ensure the delicacy of your complexion for a long time, and the beauty of your voice for your entire life. The money, the red coats, the little horses that come to you are not given to the son of Monsieur Dery because of his nobility; your face and your voice earn them. In three or four years, alas! you will lose the quality of one and the other if you do not have the wisdom to prepare for it, and the source of all these graces [agrémens] will have dried up... But you fear, you say, that you will be less loved by the ladies. Lose your apprehension: we are no longer in the time of imbeciles. The benefit that follows the operation is nowadays quite recognised, and for one mistress that Monsieur Dery might have in his natural [state], the sweetened Monsieur Dery will have a hundred.’


‘Je vous dirai avec tous termes d’insinuation, qu’il faut vous faire adoucir par une operation legere, qui assûrera la délicatesse de vôtre teint pour long-temps, et la beauté de vôtre voix pour toute la vie. Ces guinées, ces habits rouges, ces petits chevaux qui vous viennent, ne sont pas donnez au fils de Monsieur Dery pour sa noblesse; vôtre visage et vôtre voix les attirent. Dans trois ou quatre ans, helas! vous perdrez le mérite de l’un et de l’autre, si vous n’avez la sagesse d’y pourvoir; et la source de tous ces agrémens sera tarie... Mais vous craignez, dites-vous, d’étre moins aimé des Dames. Perdez vôtre appréhension: nous ne sommes plus au tems des imbeciles; le mérite qui suit l’operation est aujourd’hui assez reconnu, et pour une Maîtresse qu’auroit Monsieur Dery dans son naturel, Monsieur Dery adouci en aura cent.’


Notes


Saint-Évremond to Monsieur Dery, 1685?, Lettres, ed. René Ternois, Société des Textes Français Modernes (Paris: Librairie Marcel Didier, 1968). My translation


Roger Freitas Freitas, “The Eroticism of Emasculation: Confronting the Baroque Body of the Castrato,” The Journal of Musicology 20, no. 2 (April 2003): 196–249


The painting below is Annibale Caracci’s depiction of Venus and Adonis (c. 1595.) Roger Freitas, in his article ‘The Eroticism of Emasculation,’ draws parallels between the youthful visage of Adonis, famed for his beauty, and the role of the Castrati in Baroque society.

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