Near the end of his life, the Chevalier de Seingalt (1725-1798) wrote a long memoir recounting his life and adventures. The Chevalier was a controversial person, but since he knew many famous and influential people of his day, including kings and writers, his memoir has become a valuable historical source about European society in the mid to late eighteenth century. However, some critics are skeptical regarding the legitimacy and accuracy of the memoir. They claim that the Chevalier distorted or invented many events in the memoir to give his life the appearance of glamour to make it seem more exciting than it really was.
For example, in his memoir the Chevalier writes that while living in Switzerland, he was very wealthy. It is certain that he spent a great deal of money there on parties and gambling; however, evidence has recently been uncovered suggesting that the Chevalier borrowed large sums of money from a Swiss merchant. Critics thus argue that if the Chevalier had indeed been as rich as he writes in his memoir, he would not have needed to borrow money.
Critics are also skeptical about exaggerations and falsifications in the conversations that the Chevalier records between himself and the famous writer Voltaire. It is a historical certainty that the Chevalier and Voltaire met and conversed. However, critics assert that the memoir cannot possibly capture these conversations with total accurately, given that it was written many years after the original conversations occurred. Critics point out that it is at best unlikely and at worst impossible to remember exact phrases from conversations held many years earlier.
Critics have also called into question the memoir's account of the Chevalier's escape from a notoriously famous prison in Venice, Italy. The Chevalier claims to have escaped the prison in Venice by using a piece of metal to break a hole in the ceiling and then climb through the roof. Critics claim that while such a daring escape is an enjoyable read, it is more likely that the Chevaliers jailers were bribed to free him. Critics also point out that the Chevalier had a number of politically well-connected friends in Venice who could have offered a bribe.
No memoir can possibly record every exploit and detail with total accuracy, but still, the Chevalier's memoir is overall fairly consistent, clear and accurate; it is, by and large, a reliable historical source. Let's take a look at the accuracy of the three episodes mentioned in the reading.
First, the loan from the merchant. It is clear that this doesn't mean that the Chevalier was poor. Let me explain. We know that in Switzerland, the Chevalier spent a small fortune on parties and gambling. He has wealth. But it wasn’t easily accessible funds; his wealth lay in property, which you have to sell first to get money. So it usually took a few days to convert his assets into actual money. So when he ran out of cash, he was forced to borrow some while he was waiting for his money to arrive. In his eyes, a small price to pay for his lifestyle.
Second, the conversations with Voltaire. In his memoir, the Chevalier states that each night, immediately after conversing with Voltaire, he wrote down everything he could remember about that particular night's conversation. It seems that the Chevalier kept his notes of these conversations for many years and used them as a reference when writing his memoir. Witnesses who lived with the Chevalier in his later life confirmed that he regularly consulted notes and journals when composing the memoir.
Third, the Chevalier's escape from a prison in Venice. Other prisoners in the same prison had even more powerful friends than did the Chevalier, and none of them were ever able to bribe their way to freedom. This makes bribery hardly seem likely in his case. The best evidence, though, comes from some old documents from the Venetian government. The documents state that soon after the Chevalier escaped from prison, the ceiling of his old prison room had to be repaired. Why would they need to repair a ceiling unless he had escaped exactly as he said he did?
Main points: Some claim Chevalier distorted or invented many events in the memoir.
Sub point 1: He was very wealthy but still borrows large sums of money.
Sub point 2: Exaggerations and falsifications in conversations after writing it down many years later.
Sub point 3: The prison break is questionable; maybe he bribed his way out.
Attitude: The memoir is overall accurate.
Sub Point 1: Loan doesn't mean poor. (He has properties.)
Sub Point 2: Conversations are wrote down every night. (Witness confirmed he consulted the notes.)
Sub Point 3: Other prisoners have bigger friends. (Documents says ceiling of prison need to repair.)
The reading passage raises several doubts about the accuracy and objectivity of the memoir written by the Chevalier de Seingalt. In contrast, the professor defends the memoir by clarifying the seeming contradictions in the Chevalier's accounts.
The professor argues that while he was living in Switzerland, the Chevalier occasionally had to borrow funds to pay for expensive recreational activities because he was rich in assets but poor in cash. According to the professor, having low amounts of cash is not the same as being destitute or financially poor. The added transaction of borrowing temporary funds may have made him appear this way. The reading, however, holds that as someone who had to borrow large amounts of money from others, the Chevalier might have fabricated stories of his wealthy life in Switzerland.
Moreover, the professor challenges the charges of fabrication in the reading regarding the reliability of the Chevalier’s conversations with Voltaire in the memoir of the former. Because the Chevalier had a habit of recording each conversation with Voltaire immediately after they met, asserts the professor, he was able to reference these documents when writing about their discussions in detail even years later.
Finally the professor rejects the claim in the reading that the Chevalier bribed his way out of a Venetian prison. Because none of the other prisoners, even those with better resources than the Chevalier, had been able to bribe their way out of jail it seems bribery was an unlikely solution to the Chevalier’s imprisonment. Furthermore, she points to a government paper that recorded the repair work done to the Chevalier's prison cell, citing this as strong evidence that his escape by breaking a hole in the ceiling of the prison and escaping was indeed accurate.
Historian should strive for objectivity.
2. Recreational: 娱乐的，消遣的
Those investment bankers hardly had any time for recreational activities.
3. Destitute: 赤贫的
The earthquake left thousands destitute.
4. Citing: 引用，引证
Citing many examples from normal life can prove a theory.