Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Last Words: Countess Di Vercellis

“Well! A woman that can fart is not yet dead!”

-       La Contessa Therese Di Vercellis

Madame di Vercellis (1670-1728), the wife of Count Hippolyte Vercellis, a Sardinian army officer, married at age 20 and was a childless widow 6 years later. In 1728, when she was aged 58, she employed 16 year old Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had run away from Geneva, as a footman. 

Rousseau would later find fame as a philosopher, writer and composer of 18th century French Romanticism.  His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution  as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.

In 1728 such fame was still a long way away.  His employer, Madame di Vicellis, was dying of breast cancer.  Becoming increasingly unable to write, she utilised the young Rousseau to take down dictation and look after her correspondence. 

Rousseau was with her at her death and recorded her last words in his posthumously published  autobiography, Confessions:

At length we lost her--I saw her expire. She had lived like a woman of sense and virtue, her death was that of a philosopher. I can truly say, she rendered the Catholic religion amiable to me by the serenity with which she fulfilled its dictates, without any mixture of negligence or affectation. She was naturally serious, but towards the end of her illness she possessed a kind of gayety, too regular to be assumed, which served as a counterpoise to the melancholy of her situation. She only kept her bed two days, continuing to discourse cheerfully with those about her to the very last. At last, when she could hardly speak, and in her death agony, she let a big wind escape.  “Well!” said she, turning around, “a woman that can fart is not yet dead!” These were her last words.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau


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