Reading Nancy Mitford’s bio of Louis XIV, I came across this description of Louis’ cousin, the Prince de Conti, who had the misfortune to outshine the King’s son and heir in just about every way.

The King got jealous and threw roadblocks in de Conti’s career for the rest of his life.

“…as the years dragged on uselessly and his hopeful youth was succeeded by a disillusioned middle age, the Prince de Conti became embittered and gave himself up to debauchery.”

Does libertinage deserve another look?

Which led me to wonder: why don’t mental health professionals ever suggest this? What depressed patient wouldn’t want to hear his therapist say, “We’ve found that wallowing in all the vices at once has had promising results. Do give that a go.” Sure, it’s expensive, destructive, and if you’re doing it right, immoral and criminal, but that’s how I feel when I pay my monthly health insurance bill anyway. At least this way there’s some fun in it.

The drawbacks

Translating this ancient tradition into modern-day practice is not without challenges, however. Patients considering this mental health solution should weigh these drawbacks carefully:

1. A significant cash outlay is required.

The Prince de Conti’s expenses will not be unfamiliar to his debauched 21st-Century counterparts: gambling debts, opium, spirits by the barrel, 15-course meals, bail, trollops, legal fees, property damage claims, and the inevitable blackmail payouts.

2. Without coachmen, it is much easier to inadvertently kill people.

The debauchery game has changed significantly now that one is expected to drive one’s own conveyance home after evenings spent in dissipation and depravity.

3. Strangers will butt in.

Where in simpler times a family member might entreat the local minister to intervene in one’s carousing, nowadays attorneys, judges, and Child Services are usually involved.

4. There is the matter of wench identification and procurement.

In the Prince’s day the respectable debauchee found his wenches at taverns or the cheaper seats at theaters. I am not sure what the current approximation is. My coworker suggested that it’s the type of gal who shows up at the bar of whatever hotel the Yankees are staying at.

5. The template for the female debauchee has, alas, yet to be perfected.

The Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957) came close: she strolled through Venice stark naked, served opium at tarot-readings, painted her house servants gold, and fished the occasional dead party guest out of her fountain. But she was also rather obviously off her rocker.

6. Guilt is not an option.

The debauchee’s commitment to perversity, turpitude, and sin must not waver. One cannot succumb to feelings of shame or regret for mortifying one’s family, scandalizing one’s neighbors, and appalling one’s friends. There is no crying in debasement.

When this content was published

The content on this page was first posted here in September 2012 and updated in April 2023. A version of this post first appeared on my older, now-defunct blog, Blessed Depth.

Image: detail of portrait of François Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, Anon., French school, 17th century. {{PD-art}}.

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