Reading Time: 3 minutes
Toward the end of his life, the Chevalier de Seingalt (1725−1798) wrote a long memoir recounting his
life and adventures. The Chevalier was a somewhat controversial figure, but since he met many famous
people, including kings and writers, his memoir has become a valuable historical source about European
society in the eighteenth century. However, some critics have raised doubts about the accuracy of the
memoir. They claim that the Chevalier distorted or invented many events in the memoir to make his life
seem more exciting and glamorous than it really was.
For example, in his memoir the Chevalier claims that while living in Switzerland, he was very wealthy, and
it is known that he spent a great deal of money there on parties and gambling. However, evidence has
recently surfaced that the Chevalier borrowed considerable sums of money from a Swiss merchant. Critics
thus argue that if the Chevalier had really been very rich, he would not have needed to borrow money.
Critics are also skeptical about the accuracy of the conversations that the Chevalier records in the memoir
between himself and the famous writer Voltaire. No one doubts that the Chevalier and Voltaire met and
conversed. However, critics complain that the memoir cannot possibly capture these conversations
accurately, because it was written many years after the conversations occurred. Critics point out that it is
impossible to remember exact phrases from extended conversations held many years earlier.
Critics have also questioned the memoir’s account of the Chevalier’s escape from a notorious prison in
Venice, Italy. He claims to have escaped the Venetian prison by using a piece of metal to make a hole in
the ceiling and climbing through the roof. Critics claim that while such a daring escape makes for enjoyable
reading, it is more likely that the Chevalier’s jailers were bribed to free him. They point out that the Chevalier
had a number of politically well-connected friends in Venice who could have offered a bribe.