by Christina Larsen | The Associated Press
Washington – “Not Without You.” “My dear friend.” “You whom I love.”
Marie Antoinette sent these expressions of affection – or more? – in letters to his close friend and rumored lover Axel von Ferssen. Someone later used dark ink to write on the words, apparently to reduce the influential, perhaps erotic, language.
Scientists in France devised a new method for uncovering original writing, by varying the chemical composition of the different inks used on historical documents. He tested his method by analyzing private letters between the French Queen and the Swedish Count, which are kept in the French National Archives.
This allowed him to read the original words and even identify the person who scratched them – Farson himself.
“It’s always exciting when you discover that you may know more about the past than you can imagine,” historian Rebecca L. said Spang, who studies the French Revolution at Indiana University, and was not involved in the study.
Letters were exchanged between June 1791 and August 1792 – a time when the French royal family was kept under close surveillance in Paris, after attempting to flee the country. Soon the French monarchy would be abolished, and the following year both Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI would be beheaded.
“At this time, people used a lot of flowery language — but here, it’s really strong, really intimate language. We know with this text, there’s a love affair,” said Annie Michelin, of the Sorbonne’s Conservation Center. said a physical analyst and co-author of the research published Friday in the journal Science Advances.
Extensive letters, written on thick cotton paper, discuss political events and personal feelings. Modified phrases, such as “madness” and “dear”, do not change the overall meaning, but change the tone of the relationship between the sender and receiver.
Marie Antoinette and Fersson met in France when they were both 18 years old. They kept in touch till his death.
“In 18th-century Western Europe, there is a sort of cult of the letter in the form of writing that gives you access to a person’s character like no other,” said Deidre Lynch, a historian who studied the period at Harvard. Studies literary culture and was not involved in the study.
“Like a metaphorical situation of getting dressed, they let their hair down and show who they really are,” she said.
But the knowledgeable writer also knew that his letters could be read by many listeners. In the 18th century some correspondents in Europe used famous secret codes and so-called “invisible ink” to hide their full meaning from certain prying eyes.
The letters exchanged between Marie Antoinette and Farson, who never married, were exchanged after the fact. Parts of the text were written with dark ink. His family kept correspondence until 1982, until the letters were purchased by the French National Archives.
In eight of the 15 letters the researchers analyzed, there were enough differences in the chemical composition of the ink – the ratio of iron, copper and other elements – that they could map each layer separately, and thus recover the original text. could do.
“It’s amazing,” said Ronald Schechter, a historian who studies Marie Antoinette’s library at William & Mary and was not involved in the study. He added that the technique could help historians “reinterpret or censor phrases and passages in diplomatic correspondence, sensitive political correspondence, and other texts that have been left out of historical analysis because of revisions.”
Michelin said the most surprising finding was that his team could even identify the person who censored the letters. It was Ferson who used the same ink to write and edit some of the letters.
However, his motivations remain the subject of speculation.
“I’m sure he was trying to defend his virtue,” Harvard Lynch said. “Throwing his letters out would be like throwing a lock of his hair. He wants two incompatible things: He wants to keep the letters, but he also wants to change them.