Louis-Raphaël-Lucrèce de Fayolle, comte de Mellet, was born in 1727 in Périgueux, a city in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, in southwestern France. His was a noble family and he inherited the title of chevalier (knight) along with extensive holdings of land and wealth. Later, his title was elevated to comte (count) as a reward for his service to the king. De Mellet’s military career included service as a musketeer, the chief of the corps of bodyguards for the king of Poland, knight of the Order of Saint Louis, officer of the corps of bodyguards for the king of France, governor of the French provinces of Maine and Perche, lieutenant general of the king’s armies, and field marshal to the king himself. The count was married to Élizabeth-Mélanie le Daulceur in 1763 and they had five children. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, as an avid supporter of the king, de Mellet was compelled to flee the country. He went to Germany and his lands were confiscated, he died in1804. (Vine, 146-148)
De Mellet had been a subscriber to de Gébelin’s Monde primitif at least since the publication of the third volume, in 1775. At that time, he began corresponding with deGébelin when he wrote to the esteemed savant to debate an issue on grammar. It seems that de Mellet’s maternal uncle, Henri-Léonard-Jean-Baptiste Bertin (1717-1794), may have provided the introduction to de Gébelin. Bertin was also a subscriber. Presumably he helped spark de Mellet’s interest in Chinese philosophy, which was a major influence on French intellectuals in the day. Bertin was considered an expert on Chinese philosophy and culture, having supported the French Jesuit mission in China, and was noted for his private collection of Chinese artifacts. In Article V of de Gébelin’s Tarot essay, he identifies Bertin as the person who brought to his attention a Chinese artifact with a series of images grouped in sets of fourteen and seven, like the divisions in a Tarot deck. Additionally, Bertin, de Mellet, and de Gébelin were all followers of the then-current economic movement known as physiocratie that promoted the centrality of agriculture as the route to national prosperity. We can see that both essayists associated the Tarot suit of Batons with agriculture and wealth. Both single out the Greek hero Hercules as an example of the virtue inherent in working the land.
It is not clear how de Mellet’s essay came to be included in de Gébelin’s encyclopedic work. The two men could have been working together on theories concerning the origin of the Tarot in the course of their correspondence. Conversely, they may have developed similar ideas while working separately and later have compared notes. There are many places where they agree and yet, in other areas, the two men diverge. We are not sure who influenced whom. Perhaps they influenced each other. I feel that the fact that de Gébelin published an essay that disagreed with his own on a considerable number of points demonstrates his humility. It suggests that he did not think his was the final word on the subject. De Mellet was the only other author to be included in de Gébelin’s encyclopedia. De Gébelin repeatedly expressed his admiration for de Mellet’s ideas and admitted that de Mellet’s interpretation of the Tarot trumps was the completer and more coherent of the two men’s presentations. Having closely compared them, I came to agree, which influenced my decision to create the deck that the count described.