Jacques Cazotte and the Dinner Party of Terror

CW: suicide, execution

Jacques Cazotte (1719-1792)

In 1788, one year before the Reign of Terror began, a writer and would-be mystic was at a dinner party. Jacques Cazotte was a man of standing and was dining with the great and good aristocrats of France, poised to spoil everyone’s appetites. Speaking to the assembled guests, he announced his prediction that he and his companions would die horribly. Either by suicide, noose or by guillotine, each of the diners would be dead, and soon. One by one, the assembled aristocracy perished.

Cazotte is frequently labelled as the ‘man who saw death’ due to a reported string of accurate, bloody predictions such as these. He had a full and varied career, with much of his life spent around French aristocratic circles. Cazotte was born in 1719/20 (reports vary) and was educated by Jesuits before working for public office in Martinique and returning to his homeland as Commissioner General. He long held an interest in the esoteric and the occult, becoming involved with the Illuminati and several mystical belief systems.

The dinner party of death. Image via Alamy.

It wasn’t until he reached his forties that Cazotte entered the world of writing. At this time, French literary fashion leaned towards rationalism, meanwhile the English were knee deep in the early days of the Gothic. Cazotte had little interest in his country’s tastes and wrote several gothic-adjacent stories, translated several Arabian stories into French and completed his magnum opus, the fantastical gothic The Devil in Love (Le Diable Amoureux).

This growing interest in the unexplained and unseen led him into the world of mystics and seers, where he soon found himself in the company of Martinez de Pasqually. Pasqually was a theosophist and Martinist – Martinism having a complicated cosmic doctrine within a Masonic structure. According to our old friend Wikipedia, their belief system is summarised thus (if you can make sense of this, you’re a better person than me):

“God, the primordial Unity, had a desire to emanate beings from his own nature, but Lucifer, who wanted to exercise his own creative power, fell victim to his own faults. In his fall, which included his followers, he found himself trapped within an area designated by God to serve as their prison. God sent man, in an androgynous body and endowed with glorious powers, to keep Lucifer’s rebels at bay and work towards their reconciliation. Adam prevaricated himself and fell into the very prison he was to contain, becoming a physical and mortal being, and was so thus forced to try to save both himself and the original creation. It can be done via inner perfection with the help of Christ, but also by the theurgic operations that Martinez taught to the men of desire he found worthy of receiving his initiation.”

Martinez de Pasqually

This esoteric Christian mish-mash hit home with Cazotte and he soon began marketing himself as a ‘mystical monarchist’. As such, we return to the dinner party. Cazotte told all the diners that they would die by hanging or execution, but saved a grizzly prediction for theatre critic Sebastien Chamfort. Cazotte boldly stated that ‘You will slash your own wrists 22 times before dying a long and miserable death.’ Horrible, scary…and true. 

Chamfort. Not a happy bunny.

Initially, Chamfort supported the French Revolution from an idealistic and humanistic perspective, however it soon became too violent for his tastes. As soon as he began to condemn the movement he once celebrated, he was labelled a traitor and sentenced to death. His execution date was set, but Chamfort was not to meet the baying public. The critic slashed his wrists 22 times with a dull razor before dying at his own hand. (Although the initial prediction doesn’t state that he was found unconscious and suffered for a whole year before finally dying).

Philosopher and mathematician the Marquis de Condorcet also received a similar prediction, with Cazotte stating that he would also die by his own hand. This too came true in 1794 when the philosopher took poison to escape a public execution.

And what of Cazotte? The self-styled mystic’s accuracy didn’t fail when it came to his own fate. After anti-revolutionary letters were intercepted, Jacques Cazotte was guillotined for treason on September 25th 1792.

Now where does Cazotte’s story fall apart? One of the diners was said to be Dr. Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814) whose surname is a little self-explanatory. At the time of the ominous dinner party, he hadn’t yet invented the device that became such a ubiquitous, bloody image in the French Revolution.

Did the dinner party of predictions even happen? Sources are sparse at best. However, it is argued today that the dramatic scene of deathly prophecy was little more than a work of fiction taken into the public’s imagination. In 1806, writer Jean-François de La Harpe published ‘Prophétie de Cazotte’, a story of a dinner party…

Perhaps the mystical predictions of Cazotte’s dinner party shouldn’t be taken seriously today, but understandably captivated many for centuries. With little paperwork left behind today, we can’t be sure if Cazotte ever was a genuine prophetic force and oracle of death, but hey, it’s a damn good story.

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