The Diary of a Madman
by Guy de Maupassant
He was dead—the head of a high tribunal, the upright magistrate,
whose irreproachable life was a proverb in all the courts of France.
Advocates, young counselors, judges had saluted, bowing low in token
of profound respect, remembering that grand face, pale and thin,
illumined by two bright, deep-set eyes.
He had passed his life in pursuing crime and in protecting the
weak. Swindlers and murderers had no more redoubtable enemy, for he
seemed to read in the recesses of their souls their most secret
He was dead, now, at the age of eighty-two, honored by the homage
and followed by the regrets of a whole people. Soldiers in red
breeches had escorted him to the tomb, and men in white cravats had
shed on his grave tears that seemed to be real.
But listen to the strange paper found by the dismayed notary in the
desk where the judge had kept filed the records of great criminals! It
June 20, 1851. I have just left court. I have condemned Blondel to
death! Now, why did this man kill his five children? Frequently one
meets with people to whom killing is a pleasure. Yes, yes, it should
be a pleasure—the greatest of all, perhaps, for is not killing most
like creating? To make and to destroy! These two words contain the
history of the universe, the history of all worlds, all that is, all!
Why is it not intoxicating to kill?
June 25. To think that there is a being who lives, who walks, who
runs. A being? What is a being? An animated thing which bears in it
the principle of motion, and a will ruling that principle. It clings
to nothing, this thing. Its feet are independent of the ground. It is a
grain of life that moves on the earth, and this grain of life, coming
I know not whence, one can destroy at one's will. Then nothing nothing
more. It perishes; it is finished.
June 26. Why, then, is it a crime to kill? Yes, why? On the
contrary, it is the law of nature.
Every being has the mission to kill; he kills to live, and he lives
to kill. The beast kills without ceasing, all day, every instant of
its existence. Man kills without ceasing, to nourish himself; but
since in addition he needs to kill for pleasure, he has invented the
chase! The child kills the insects he finds, the little birds, all the
little animals that come in his way. But this does not suffice for the
irresistible need of massacre that is in us. It is not enough to kill
beasts; we must kill man too. Long ago this need was satisfied by
human sacrifice. Now, the necessity of living in society has made
murder a crime. We condemn and punish the assassin! But as we cannot
live without yielding to this natural and imperious instinct of death,
we relieve ourselves from time to time, by wars. Then a whole nation
slaughters another nation. It is a feast of blood, a feast that
maddens armies and intoxicates the civilians, women and children, who
read, by lamplight at night, the feverish story of massacre.
And do we despise those picked out to accomplish these butcheries
of men? No, they are loaded with honors. They are clad in gold and in
resplendent stuffs; they wear plumes on their heads and ornaments on
their breasts; and they are given crosses, rewards, titles of every
They are proud, respected, loved by women, cheered by the crowd,
solely because their mission.is to shed human blood! They drag through
the streets their instruments of death, and the passer-by, clad in
black, looks on with envy. For to kill is the great law put by nature
in the heart of existence! There is nothing more beautiful and
honorable than killing!
June 30. To kill is the law, because Nature loves eternal youth.
She seems to cry in all her unconscious acts: "Quick! quick! quick!"
The more she destroys, the more she renews herself.
July 3. It must be a pleasure, unique and full of zest, to kill to
place before you a living, thinking being; to make therein a little
hole, nothing but a little hole, and to see that red liquid flow which
is the blood, which is the life; and then to have before you only a
heap of limp flesh, cold, inert, void of thought!
August 5. I, who have passed my life in judging, condemning,
killing by words pronounced, killing by the guillotine those who had
killed by the knife, if I should do as all the assassins whom I have
smitten have done, I, I—who would know it?
August 10. Who would ever know? Who would ever suspect me,
especially if I should choose a being I had no interest in doing away
August 22. I could resist no longer. I have killed a little
creature as an experiment, as a beginning. Jean, my servant, had a
goldfinch in a cage hung in the office window. I sent him on an
errand, and I took the little bird in my hand, in my hand where I felt
its heart beat. It was warm. I went up to my room. From time to time I
squeezed it tighter; its heart beat faster; it was atrocious and
delicious. I was nearly choking it. But I could not see the blood.
Then I took scissors, short nail scissors, and I cut its throat in
three strokes, quite gently. It opened its bill, it struggled to
escape me, but I held it, oh! I held it—I could have held a mad
dog—and I saw the blood trickle.
And then I did as assassins do—real ones. I washed the scissors
and washed my hands. I sprinkled water, and took the body, the corpse,
to the garden to hide it. I buried it under a strawberry-plant. It
will never be found. Every day I can eat a strawberry from that plant.
How one can enjoy life, when one knows how!
My servant cried; he thought his bird flown. How could he suspect
August 25. I must kill a man! I must!
August 30. It is done. But what a little thing! I had gone for a
walk in the forest of Vernes. I was thinking of nothing, literally
nothing. See! a child on the road, a little child eating a slice of
bread and butter. He stops to see me pass and says, "Good day, Mr.
And the thought enters my head: "Shall I kill him?"
I answer: "You are alone, my boy?"
"All alone in the wood?"
The wish to kill him intoxicated me like wine. I approached him
quite softly, persuaded that he was going to run away. And suddenly I
seized him by the throat. He held my wrists in his little hands, and
his body writhed like a feather on the fire. Then he moved no more. I
threw the body in the ditch, then some weeds on top of it. I returned
home and dined well. What a little thing it was! In the evening I was
very gay, light, rejuvenated, and passed the evening at the Prefect's.
They found me witty. But I have not seen blood! I am not tranquil.
August 31. The body has been discovered. They are hunting for the
September 1. Two tramps have been arrested. Proofs are lacking.
September 2. The parents have been to see me. They wept!
Ah!.October 6. Nothing has been discovered. Some strolling vagabond
must have done the deed.
Ah! If I had seen the blood flow it seems to me I should be
October 10. Yet another. I was walking by the river, after
breakfast. And I saw, under a willow, a fisherman asleep. It was noon.
A spade, as if expressly put there for me, was standing in a
potato-field near by.
I took it. I returned; I raised it like a club, and with one blow
of the edge I cleft the fisherman's head. Oh! he bled, this
one!—rose-colored blood. It flowed into the water quite gently. And I
went away with a grave step. If I had been seen! Ah! I should have
made an excellent assassin.
October 25. The affair of the fisherman makes a great noise. His
nephew, who fished with him, is charged with the murder.
October 26. The examining magistrate affirms that the nephew is
guilty. Everybody in town believes it. Ah! ah!
October 27. The nephew defends himself badly. He had gone to the
village to buy bread and cheese, he declares. He swears that his uncle
had been killed in his absence! Who would believe him?
October 28. The nephew has all but confessed, so much have they
made him lose his head! Ah!
November 15. There are overwheming proofs against the nephew, who
was his uncle's heir. I shall preside at the sessions.
January 25, 1852. To death! to death! to death! I have had him
condemned to death! The advocate-general spoke like an angel! Ah! Yet
another! I shall go to see him executed!
March 10. It is done. They guillotined him this morning. He died
very well! very well! That gave me pleasure! How fine it is to see a
man's head cut off!
Now, I shall wait, I can wait. It would take such a little thing to
let myself be caught.
* * *
The manuscript contained more pages, but told of no new crime.
Alienist physicians to whom the awful story has been submitted
declare that there are in the world many unknown madmen; as adroit and
as terrible as this monstrous lunatic.