Louis-Anne du Pontavice was the cousin of the Marquis de la Rouërie, the organizer of the Breton Association/Conspiracy (a counter-revolutionary plot to return Brittany to the monarchy) who was accused of being a Vendean Conspirator and arrested on March 15, 1793 and imprisoned in the Abbaye. After evidence surfaced (bills for traveling expenses incurred by royalist sympathisers), Pontavice was sentenced to death.
He wrote the following letter to a trusted friend:
To Citizen Balsac, at the Hotel de La Providence, at Paris.
Receive all my thanks, my worthy friend, for the care and attention that you have expended in trying to save me. Fate has decided otherwise, my regrets are inexpressible. You know the object that is the cause of them [ed. note: Pontavice refers to his young wife, who had just given birth to their first child], be so kind as to mitigate hers, she has a child; let her preserve her heath for the unfortunate being who has need of her. As soon as you can, go and see M. Jouanne, the lawyer, and put him in entire charge of my unfortunate friend's affairs. I have no property of my own. I hope people will not trouble her on that account, everything is in the names of my wife and mother-in-law. Be my interpreter, I beg you, with all those persons who have been son kind as to take an interest in me. Here I am giving you a very painful task, given your sensitivity, for which I ask your pardon. I am, with the utmost gratitude, your friend.
After signing his name, Pontavice began what would be his last letter. Although he writes in a tone that is practical, urging his friend and his father to attend to his financial matters and his wife and child, there is a note of such meloncholy that it resonates all these years later. In this last letter, it is what Pontavice doesn't say that resonates the most.
To Citizen Pontavice,
living at La Branche, at Saint-Brice
I have just been condemned to death, my dear, loving father, after having gone through four months of imprisonment. I spared you until now the pain that learning of my detention would have caused you, but it was my duty to inform you of this terrible event the moment it could no longer be hidden from you.
I wish to spare my unhappy wife this sorrow. I would ask you, for her sake, as my last wish, to assist her in whatever she may need. I know noting in the world as estimable as her, she has a right to all of your most tender feelings. On 26 March she brought into the world a daughter who will be some consolation to her. Your care and good heart are for me pledges that you will do the rest; do not pity me, I die not guilty and without reproach. in a few hours, i shall be perfectly happy, the approach of death is not horrible to me, what follows cannot be.
I embrace my mother, my sister, my aunt. I remain worthy of their esteem and friendship.
Be so kind as to tear up the note of the money that you were good enough to lend me and do not demand payment for it from my poor wife. I do not think that what i ask is unjust. farewell, my worthy friend, my loving father, whose fine soul will learn of this event with all the heroism of which it is capable.
I am with respect,
Your son, Louis-Anne Pontavice
This 18 May 1793
POSTSCRIPT FROM LEAH MARIE BROWN: After posting this piece, I received several emails (and a tweet from a faithful follower) asking me if I knew what became of poor Pontavice's wife and child. Alas, I do not. I am sorry to say, that after numerous inquiries and searches, I was not able to discover the fate of Pontavice's unfortunate wife and infant.
I can tell you that Louis-Anne du Pontavice married Élisabeth-Louise Person, who was the daughter of Nicolas-Joseph Person, Chevalier de Saint-Louis. Élisabeth's father had been the master of the hunt to the Duc d'Orléans. That brave man died on July 14, 1789 while defending the Bastille.
This means Pontavice's wife was without the protection of a husband or father. We do know, however, that her mother was still living (for Pontavice mentions his mother-in-law in the letter).
Also, I did discover that Pontavice had a home in Fougeres, which still exists and today is a charming bed and breakfast. I've written the present owners of the home and will let you know what I discover.
Personally, I fear the fate of the young widow. Pontavice's letter to his father, while emotional, hints at some discord between the two. He writes," I know of nothing in the world as estimable as her, she has a right to all of your most tender feelings." It almost sounds like an admonishment. In the final paragraph, he beseeches his father to tear up a promissory note and not to demand repayment from Élisabeth. This does not suggest close ties, but perhaps I am wrong.
I was also asked if Citizen Balsac (Pontavice's friend) was the famous writer, Honoré de Balzac. The answer to that question is: No. Pontavice wrote his letter in 1793, but Balzac (the writer) wasn't born until 1799. However, it appears the "Balsac" Pontavice wrote to was Honoré de Balzac's father.
In fact, Balzac (the writer) paid a visit to R. du Pontavice de Heussy in Fougeres in Brittany. It was during that visit he conducted research for The Last Chouan. (Read more about Balzac's visit by clicking here)
Thank you for your questions! I love knowing I have such faithful and inquisitive followers.