hope and ruin

Meet Monsieur Ouvrard de Linières. He writes to Tissot with fears about his health. Having read Tissot’s treatise on Onanism, he details a range of behaviours that appear to derive from a seemingly innate inclination towards immoderate behaviour, expressing concern that he is suffering the potentially fatal after effects of excessive engagement with the pleasures of the flesh.

As a child, he gave himself over fully to the activities of childhood, playing games, running, exercising. But all of this activity was undertaken with excess. Later, he learned to swim. But, like his earlier physical engagements, he was unable to exercise moderation: he swam for five to six hours at a time, to the apparent detriment of his health.

Masturbation started as a teenager. Again, he found himself prey to his passions. He masturbated on the example of his friends and soon enough, by the age of 14, found himself in a sexual relationship with his mother’s chambermaid. (He notes that he swam frequently during this period. I’m sure this is relevant, but I’m not sure why, yet)

After his father’s death, some time during his late teens, he engaged in other encounters, but by this time, he had learned the virtue of circumspection.

Interesting in this letter is the positioning of masturbation as an extension of an already evident inclination for immoderate engagement in bodily pleasure. Thus, while games, races and exercise were common to children of his age, he practices them too much: he writes of “excessive” running, “strenuous” exercise. Excess also figures in his introduction to swimming:  it was not enough for him to learn how to swim; instead he had to swim for several hours a day. Similarly, while he points to the influence of others in introducing him to masturbation, his activities soon escalate into a sexual relationship. In each instance, he is seemingly unable to control his passions.

His life, in this sense, is marked by a seemingly inborn propensity for excess. Now in the veritable flowering of young adulthood, he is worried that he might have taken things too far. He writes that he is “prey to the progress of a disease that is as stubborn as it is destructive,” and declares that his only hope rests in Tissot. Is his condition fatal? Is he on the road to ruin?

[Bibliotheque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne, Fonds Tissot,  IS3784/II/144.01.07.26]

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