|Couthon from a 19th engraving|
|Couthon's birthplace in Orcet|
Others were not entirely immune to Couthon's attractions - like Robespierre, he seems to have combined the allure of power with a personable appearance and a refined manner. Miette Taillhand-Romme, commented on his "remarkable head, his gentle physionomy and his considerate ways" and reiterated that his friends followed him everywhere - particularly Suzanne Mignot. Couthon's own feelings are totally elusive .There is no sense from his surviving correspondance that he was aware of any irregularity in his relationship with Citoyenne Mignot - he remained overtly and extravagantly attached to his wife, who returned to their family home in Orcet after his death and likewise remained loyal to her husband's memory. Perhaps he was being disingenuous, or maybe, like Robespierre, he was simply anxious to trust those closest to him.
Lenotre reproduces a report found among the papers of Fouché and then in the possession of Victorien Sardou, which casts a light on the full oddity of this ménage-à-trois. At the height of the Terror, the writer had come to Paris to plead the case of some local magistrates accused of "moderation":
"Couthon at home"
"I arrived in Paris and ventured to call at the Convention. But the Deputies with whom I was in relations were without influence, and only looked after their personal safety ... A lady, who had had relations with Mme. Couthon, proposed to introduce me to her, and advised me, if we succeeded in approaching the husband, to plead the cause of my unfortunate compatriots....
We arrived . . . Couthon had a kindly face and rather distinguished manners, especially for a time at which the most coarse language and most grotesque ways were common. He occupied, near the Tuileries, a fine apartment, the furniture of which showed great elegance.
He wore a white dressing-gown, and on his arm was a young rabbit which he was feeding with clover. His son, an angelically beautiful boy of three or four, alternately stroked his father's hand and the pretty white animal. These innocent surroundings and Couthon's great affability charmed me.
In what way can I be of service to you, Monsieur ? ' he asked. ' A gentleman who is recommended to me by Madame is entitled to my warmest regard.'
So I related the misadventure which had befallen my poor judges, and asked what advice I could give them".
[At first Couthon is affable and suggests that the magistrates lie low, but when his visitor ventures to call into question the crimes of the sixty-three prisoners the Revolutionary Tribunal is executing that day, Couthon reacts with sudden aggression]
"This reflection produced an indescribable effect on Couthon : his face became distorted and assumed a tiger-like expression. . . . He made a movement. The rabbit was overturned and the child, weeping, rushed into his mother's arms. . . . Couthon had seized the bell-rope, but the person who had introduced me threw herself upon him and held him in his arm-chair.
' Escape ! ' she exclaimed, with an emotion which chilled me with fright. Then, lowering her voice : ' Go and wait for me in the orangery ! '
I descended with lightning-like rapidity, and reached the end of the Terrasse des Feuillants at the top of my speed. As soon as I saw my guardian angel approaching in the distance, I rushed towards her and asked for an explanation of what had just happened.
'The wretched man, she replied, 'merely wanted to discover your inmost thoughts. Your cutting reproach was like a dagger-thrust in his heart. I, like yourself, thought that he was sincere ! . . . Couthon, like all the members of the Committee of Public Safety, has five or six guardsmen stationed at his house, and he was about to summon them when I held him in his chair. You would have been placed this very day in the fatal tumbril with the sixty-three victims of whom you spoke ! . . . Fortunately, I have succeeded in making him ashamed of the crime which he was about to commit against one whom I had introduced to him in confidence. I attentively followed everything you said. He is ignorant of the fact that you do not live in Paris. . . . Return home quickly, but, for fear you are recognised, do not travel by the ordinary route. And, finally, profit by this lesson.
I set off there and then without seeing anybody in Paris. The judges remained immured until the death of this man Couthon, of whom I cannot think without shuddering."
R.R. Palmer, Twelve who ruled. Princeton University Press, (1969) p.141-2
Francisque Mège, Le Puy-de- Dôme en 1793 et le proconsulat de Couthon (1877), p.212-3
"La folie XVIIIeme" blog posts. http://www.lafoliedix-huitieme.eu/les-lys-fanent/topic92-10.html
Text of "Couthon at home" in G. Lenotre ,Romances of the French Revolution. (1909) vol. 2, p.171-2. http://archive.org/stream/romancesoffrench01lenouoft#page/171/mode/2up