Wednesday 28 October 2015

The Bastille - 1889

In 1889 the tower of the Bastille once more loomed (briefly) over Paris....

The Universal Exhibition of 1889, which commemorated the centenary of the Revolution, is remembered almost exclusively today as the occasion for the construction of the Eiffel Tower. But it also featured this extraordinary - and massive - reconstruction of the Bastille itself. The project was the brainchild of Jean-Marie Perrusson, an industrialist and manufacturer of ceramics in Saône-et-Loire, who picked up the whopping tab of 12 million francs (as opposed to a mere 7.8 million for the Eiffel Tower)  It was designed by the architect Eugène Colibert (1832-1900) and, as well as the fortress itself, included a portion of the adjacent rue Saint-Antoine complete with houses and shop fronts. It was situated on the corner of avenue Suffren and avenue de la Motte Picquet, at the edge of the Champs de Mars, five kilometres away from the original site.  During the Exhibition  crowds could attend banquets inside in the Hall of Festivities and were treated to daily re-enactments of the Latude's famous escape as well as, of course, the events of 14th July themselves. Although the attraction was overshadowed by the Eiffel Tower, it still amassed receipts of over 100,000 francs. 


 Souvenir de la Bastille : 1789-1889 [portfolio of photographs]

A contractor charged with clearing the former Perrusson factory in 1960 unearthed a whole load of documents concerning the reconstruction. You can read all the details in the book L'Ephémère resurrection de la Bastille by Thierry Van de Leur (2011).

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Jean Jacob, "doyen de France"

« J. Jacob, né à Charmes, âgé de 122 ans, d’après nature en 1789 lorsqu’il fût présenté au Roi »
Watercolour and gouache, 15cm x 11 cm
This little picture, which was auctioned by Pierre Bergé in June 2013, represents Jean Jacob, the "Centenarian of the Jura", who in 1789 at 119 years old was believed to be the oldest man in France.   In October 1789 the sudden appearance of this ancient peasant in the National Assembly caused a minor sensation and catapulted the old man briefly to celebrity status. The picture had been in the possession of the Jacob family since the 18th century. 

There was little remarkable about Jean Jacob apart from his advanced age.  He had been born in the remote  hamlet of La Charne in the commune of Charcier, near Lons-le-Saunier,  apparently - though the documentation is no longer extant - as long ago as 10 November 1669. Except for a brief trip to Paris at the age of eighteen he had lived out his entire life in the Jura town of Montfleur.  In his youth he had served on the estates of the Prince de Bauffremont, then worked as a day labourer until an advanced age.  He had married twice (in some accounts three times)  and had ten children, though by the 1780s there were only two left alive; his second wife, Marie-Françoise Baud, died at the beginning of 1789.  He lived  with his daughter Pierrette and had a son living in Nantes (aged 34 in 1789 and thus born, as was pointed out, when his father was already 85)

Jean Jacob first became  known beyond the confines of his village in 1785 when his daughter Pierrette made a request for his financial support which was forwarded by the Intendant of Besançon to the Controller-General of Finance.  An accompanying certified copy of his baptismal record confirmed that Jean Jacob was then 115 years 10 months old.  According to some accounts, his advanced age piqued the generosity of the Princess Élisabeth. He was granted a pension of 200 livres, to which the King added an extraordinary gratification of 1,200 livres.  The lawer Renaud who went to announce the news to the old man, found him "in perfect health, with a good memory and sound appetite, having a happy disposition and no wrinkles on his forehead, although a bit deaf and blind..."  Jacob was delighted and drank the King's health. The local curé was charged with receiving the pensions and guarding against the depredations of the old man's daughter.  In February 1786 and again in January 1788, certificates were issued confirming the old man's age and affirming that he was still in good health.

The existence of this ancient soon  piqued more general interest in Paris. In October 1788 a description  of the old man appeared in the  Journal de Paris written by Joseph-Antoine Cerutti, a former Jesuit and popular journalist of some repute. Cerutti's romanticised account of his meeting anticipates much later speculation about the causes of longevity and the virtues of rural simplicity.  Reading between the lines, however, Cerutti found the old boy disappointingly unresponsive, if not positively senile.

In 1789; somebody supposed it would be appropriate -  and presumably profitable - for Jean Jacob to make the journey to Paris. Remarkably he survived the 300-odd mile trip,  nursed by Pierrette and three cousins or neighbours, one of whom, Joseph Thevenin, was a doctor. The three men funded the venture.  On his arrival, at the beginning of October. he was said to have stayed in the same inn as on his first trip to Paris, over a hundred years ago.

Workshop of Joseph Rosset,  "Jacob du Iura mort a Cent Vinte An AD"
   Musée Antoine Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin, c. 1790.  Marble. 28 cm.
On October 11 he was taken to the Tuileries to be presented to the King;  When Louis asked the secret of his longevity Jean Jacob obliging cited his diet of ?maize potage ("les gaudes").   A fine portrait  by Jean-François Garneray (now in the Musée Lambinet) was painted soon afterwards. It was later presented to the National Assembly and a print sold for the profit of the old man.

Jean-François Garneray,  Portrait of Jean Jacob 
Musée Lambinet
Versailles ,1789.  Oils
 Two weeks later, on October 23, Jean Jacob paid an unexpected visit to the National Assembly, which, having followed the King to Paris, was then meeting in the Archbishop's palace. He appeared in mid-session:
"They announced an old man of 120 years, born in the Jura mountains. He wished to see the Assembly which had freed his homeland from the bonds of servitude".

The abbé Grégoire declared that the Assembly should show its respect by rising to its feet when this astonishing old man entered, a proposal which was greeted with transports of emotion.  He walked in on crutches, led and supported by his family, clutching his baptismal record.  The Assembly duly stood.  He was seated opposite the President, replaced his hat on on his head and sat through the session.  It is tempting to imagine that the deputies were somewhat taken aback by the spectacle of this almost moribund ancient, quite unlike the sturdy survivor portrayed by the press.  They were rescued by the deputy Nairac who remarked that the visitor's great age had enabled him to witness the regeneration of France and proposed that a collection should be made for his family. 

Jean Jacob appears before the National Assembly  Illustration from
Musée des familles: lectures du soir, vol. 38 (Paris 1871), p.49
The President then announced a request from the deputy Bourdon de la Crosnière, "the author of a plan for national education" that the old man should be accommodated in his patriotic school to enable  pupils to learn respect for the elderly. Mirabeau retorted swiftly "Do as you will with the old man, but see that he remains free". It seems unlikely that Bourdon had appreciated the decrepitude of the old man; nonetheless he kept him in his charge long enough for the artist J-M. Flouest to complete another portrait "at the window of the hôtel belonging to Société d'Emulation de M. de Lacrosniere"  Retrieved by his family, Jacob was reestablished  in lodgings in the rue Marivaux, where he could be seen by the curious, presumably for some appropriate donation.  It rapidly proved too much for Jacob, who died on 29th January 1790.  He was buried with some ceremony in the church of St. Eustache. It is usually added that Pierrette returned to Montfleur where she died in 1828 at the age of "only" ninety-five.

Jean Jacob habitant de Monjura agée de 120 ans.  Print after a portrait by J. M. Flouest

Writings about Jean Jacob reveal both Enlightenment curiosity about longevity and a fashionable sentimental esteem for his simple life of honest labour;  according to Jean-Pierre Bois, historian of  the "myth of Methuselah", the Revolutionaries  venerated old people in the same way as they did the young and the married, as the natural building blocks of a regenerated society.   Their attitude nonetheless represented a departure from earlier more fanciful speculation about advanced old age - Jean Jacob was simply a very old man.


Jean-Pierre Bois Le Mythe de Mathusalem (2001)

M. J. Sydenham, Léonard Bourdon: The Career of a Revolutionary, 1754-1807 (1999), p.34-7

Shenandoah Davis, "Vie de Jean Jacob, vieillard du Mont-Jura, agé de 120 ans, pensionné de la sa Majesté Louis XVI" La Maraîchine Normande [blog]. Post of 17 April 2014.  [Reproductions of various primary sources]

The local authorities in Montfleur have recently named a "rue Jean Jacob" in honour of their famous centenarian; this writer is unimpressed; he would have prefer a Napoleonic hero.
Reveil de Montfleur, 26 February 2014


Joseph Cerutti   Journal de Paris 20th October 1788
Extract translated from Musée des familles, lectures du soir, vol. 38 (1871)

During the trip that I have just made to Franche-Comté, they told me of an old man who was 119 years old.....MM. the curés of Montargis and Saint-Julien took me to the house where this patriarch lived... We founded him sitting on a stone bench outside the door of his house. He comes here every day to rest, or rather to revive himself in the sun.  When we arrived he was asleep.  His sleep was the easiest in the world, his breathing easy, his pulse regular and calm, the veins on his forehead were transparent blue and alive;.  Snow-white hair fell to his collar and strayed onto his cheeks, which were the healthy colour of an infant's.

They woke him up to make him speak.  He then seemed to me less lively and attractive.  He was deaf and his eyesight was feeble; but he had lost his sight and hearing only three years ago.  At 115 years old, no-one would have supposed him more than 80.  At 110 he was still one of the most tireless workers in the countryside, even leading the band of haymakers in the haymaking season.  At table he distinguished himself with his hearty appetite and his singing, with a voice which  astonishingly full and melodic.

At about this age he conceived a desire to see the village of Clervaux where he was born and he travelled there on foot. When he arrived the inhabitants were in dispute with their seigneur about the position of a cross which marked the boundary between their lands and his.  The old man....went to examine the cross .... and recognised that it was not in the same place as the border of former times.  He took the inhabitants to a pile of stones a league away and, when the stones were removed, they discovered the old boundary cross; which put an end to the whole affair.

In his first youth, he had been in the service of M. de ***, one of the greatest nobles of the province, who still exercised the full tyranny of the feudal regime.  He recounted that one of the pleasures of his illustrious master was to shoot the masons who were working to finish his chateau. In true seigneurial fashion, he called this pastime "hunting the peasants" (les vilains)  The old man added, it is true, that after assassinating the masons, he had them buried with ceremony and undertook the upkeep of their families.  He killed of his free will, but he paid for it.

Informed of the existence of Jean Jacob (this was the name of our centenarian), the minister M. de Maurepas, took an interest in him and obtained for him a royal pension of a hundred francs.  It is impossible to convey the emotion shown by  the old man at the very mention of the King.

If I was a few years younger, he said to me, I would go to Versailles to thank him; I cannot but my thanks can be addressed to the sky which is the neighbour and friend to all."

"Histoire du centenaire Jean Jacob décédé à  Paris le 29 janvier 1789"  Le Conservateur de la Santé  Vol.5 (1807).[ This account was said to be based on the testimony of Joseph Thevenin, the surgeon who had accompanied Jacob to Paris in 1789].

Jean Jacob was born at Sarsie (sic) in the mountains of the Jura, where it snows almost seven months of the year, on 10th November 1669.  He lived, almost without interruption for fifty years, in the place of his birth….  His food, to the age of eighteen, consisted only of bread made from oats, barley and beans, and a potage of maize made with water and salt; he drank only pure water and milk.  In these mountains a little cheese is all the poor have to season their bread… [As domestic servant]....he lived better and drank wine, for which he showed a great taste all the rest of his life. …

... Jacob was among the strongest and most resourceful of his class, as well as being very hard-working;  he had a reputation as the most active and intelligent of workers.  His occupations, over the course of his life, were successively, domestic servant, farmer worker, day labourer, woodman and shepherd. He kept his strength until  the age of 106 when a mule kicked him and broke his leg.
This accident deprived him of the capacity to work, but without removing his long custom of exercise; he still walked around with the aid of crutches.  He liked the fresh air and, despite his infirmity, could commonly be found stretched out on the bare earth asleep, exposed to the full force of the burning sun.  All his life he retired to bed early and rose early; this habit never left him even in extreme old age.

....He was blessed with a strong physique, a easy walk and firm carriage. He was five feet six, with well-formed limbs and pronounced  muscles which proclaimed his strength. A fine head, only lightly wrinkled even in extreme old age, surmounted wide shoulders and an ample chest.  He worshipped cleanliness;  he washed his hands and face in cold water whatever the weather, and often his feet as well.  He took good care of his hair which still covered most his head at the time of his death and was still only grey.  He shave regularly with cold water.

Contemporaries testified that he had never given way to debauchery or contracted any anti-social disease.....

When he was a hundred years old he still braved all weathers.  He habitually dressed in rough cloth, often tattered, and from Spring to Autumn wore only simple trousers and shirt, going barefoot almost all the year.  After this age he feared the cold and took to wearing a woollen bonnet.....

This fine old man preserved for a century the use of all his senses; he then lost successively his hearing and his sight; but even at 120 years-old he could still hear a little, so that it was possible to make him understand and get a sensible response from him.....

Jean Jacob was married three times.  With his first wife he had four children; three died in infancy, the fourth married and died at sixty-nine....His second wife gave him two children; one died in adolescence and the other on the battlefield.  Finally he had three children by his third wife, two daughters and a son.  Two are still alive; the daughter is married and aged about fifty-five (?maybe in 1789) The son was in Paris in 1789, having come from Nantes especially to see his father.  He was then thirty-six...meaning that he had been born when his father was eighty-five years old.

The reputation of the centenarian Jacob came to the attention of the King....People came from all around to visit the old man out of curiosity.  He always conserved his rounded stomach and happy face, his good memory and his gaiety.  If there was to be a visit, Jacob brought out a few glasses of wine, sang a song and told his listeners an fifty-year old story.  They increased his pleasure with gifts of money, wine and tobacco which he always kept for himself.  Although reduced to a state of vegetation, he vegetated with pleasure and kept to the end of his life three passions - vanity, anger and love of money.

Jacob was pious.  He prayed regularly night and morning and also during the day;  he wore a cross to which he venerated greatly, but he accompanied this with a great deal of superstition.  He seriously believed in ghosts, witches, spectres and phantoms....

The Revolution began; another order of things was seen and everyone wanted to take a part.  It was some such motive which inspired Jacob's relatives to make him undertake a second journey to Paris.....

Jean Jacob only survived three months after all these deonstrations of curiosity, respect and interest;  he died on the 29th January 1790, at No 7 rue de Marivaux, having received the consolations of religion from M. Poupard, the cure of St Eustache.  The old man suffered no agonies, but died quietly like a light going out.  He was clean to the last and never soiled his bed.  His pulse remained strong.  When he left this world, Jacob was aged one-hundred and twenty years, two months and twenty days.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Guillaume Delorme, black sans-culotte

October  - at least in the UK  - is "Black History Month".  I have been casting around for a suitable subject.  Pierre Bardin, an expert on the French Caribbean and biographer of the Chevalier de Saint-George, has recently pieced together what little is known about the black sans-culotte Guillaume Delorme, who is an interesting and equivocal figure.  This summary is based mainly on his researches.

In Sept 1777 all negroes and mulattos in the juridiction of the Amirauté de France were obliged to declare their presence. There were 309 declarations in total for 1777, among them, on 22nd September:
Guillaume Delorme, mulatto, free man, born in Le Cap, aged about 20-and-a-half years, baptised.  Left Le Cap in 1761 on a ship destined for Bordeaux which was taken by the English in 1762, and then arrived at Le Havre in the same year on an English packet.  Exercises the profession of carpenter/coachmaker. Living in the rue Beaubourg, in the parish of St. Merry, at the house of sieur France, a wine merchant.

In 1778 he is again listed,at the same address. By 1783 he had moved to the cul-de-sac St.Sébastien.
The Répertoire du personnel sectionnaire parisien de l’an 2 (Soboul and Monnier,1985) adds a few further details. Delorme was resident in Paris from 1774 and  was a master carpenter and coachmaker. During the Revolutionary years he also worked as a contractor building military carriages for the  Armée du Nord.  He was paying 35 livres in taxation in 1791, which suggests that he was comparatively well-off among the artisans of the Saint-Antoine district.

Nothing is known of Delorme's early years.  He was later closely associated with the radical Revolutionary Louis Fournier, "l'Américain" and it was often said (assumed?) that Fournier had originally arrived with him from St Domingue. If so, the circumstances are not clear; Delorme had arrived as a child in 1762 whereas Fournier returned to France only in 1783. At his trial Delorme claimed to have been a soldier "since 1760" so perhaps he had been part of a military contingent. What is certain - and remarkable - is that Delorme had lived without formality in France for fifteen years, become a skilled artisan, even a master craftsman, and integrated successfully into Parisian society.

Physical descriptions of the man come down to us only in 19th century publications, but, even so,  they preserve a convincing memory of his considerable physical presence and huge energy, - as well as his evident capacity for violence.  He was "a Hercules",  1.85 metres (5 pieds 8 pouces) in height, "capable of bending an iron bar across his knee" and "a  powerful fellow" with "a large face and considerable girth" as befitted a wheelwright.

Like his artisan neighbours in the  Faubourg St. Antoine, Delorme embraced the Revolution with enthusiasm. He participated in the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789 - he is listed as "Delorme" on the official roll of Vainqueurs.  He joined the Parisian National Guard on 20 August 1789.  Pierre Bardin identifies him as the "De Lorme" who signed a Cahiers de Doléances  drawn up on behalf of the American colonists in November 1789; this time his address is given as rue du Pont aux Choux in the parish of St. Nicolas-des-Champs.

September massacres

In the massacres of the opening days of September 1792, Delorme's name is often mentioned among the chief perpetrators along with Charlat, the assassin of the princesse de Lamballe and the butcher Allaigre who killed "for the simple pleasure of killing". Larmartine credits him with murdering two hundred people in two days and nights and provides a lurid description of  his bare bronze torso, reddened with blood.  He is often accused of having stripped the body of the princess,  its whiteness contrasting provocatively with his own black complexion. ( The Secret Memoirs of the Princess Lamballe  claims intriguingly that the death blow was delivered by "a mulatto whom she had caused to be baptised, educated and maintained but whom, from ill-conduct, she had latterly excluded from her presence". (p.327-8) Without any other evidence it is hard to make any sense of this, though it seems inherently unlikely that Delorme had ever come into previous contact with the princess.)  Here is the relevant passage from Lamartine:

Santerre and his detachments had the utmost difficulty in driving back to their foul dens these hordes, greedy for carnage - men who, living on crime for seven days, drinking quantities of wine mingled with gunpowder, intoxicated with the fumes of blood, had become excited to such a pitch of physical insanity that they were unable to take repose.  The fever of extermination wholly absorbed them. Some of them, marked down with disgust by their neighbours, left their abodes and enrolled as volunteers, or, insatiable for crime, joined bands of assassins going to Orleans, Lyons, Meaux, Rheims, Versailles, to continue the proscriptions of Paris.  Among these were Charlot, Grizon, Hamin, the weaver Rodi, Henriot, the journeyman butcher Alaigre, and a negro named Delorme, brought to Paris by Fournier l'American.  This black, untiring in murder, killed with his own hands more than two hundred prisoners during the three days and three nights of this fearful slaughter, with no cessation beyond the brief space he allowed himself to recruit his strength with wine.  His shirt fastened round his waist, left his trunk bare, his hideous features, his black skin red with splashes of blood, his bursts of savage laughter displayed his large white teeth at every death-blow he dealt, made this man the symbol of murder and the avenger of his race.   It was one blood exhausting another;  extermination punishing the European for his attempts on Africa.  This negro, who was invariably seen with a head recently cut off in his hand, during all the popular convulsions of the Revolution, was two years afterwards arrested during the days of Prairial, carrying at the end of a pike the head of Féraud, the deputy, and died at last the death he had so frequently inflicted upon others.Larmartine, History of the Girondists,  Book 25, chpt 20:

Gaetano Ferri, Death of the princess de Lamballe 1792 
Turin, Musée Civique  (detail)

Although Fournier was incarcerated  in the Abbaye prison from February 1794 to September 1795, Delorme  remained unmolested and continued to take an active part in Revolutionary movements. On 9th Thermidor, he was recorded as  commander of the Popincourt Section gunners when they responded to the Commune's call to defend Robespierre. 

Insurrection of Prairial Year III (20 may 1795)

Delorme's last appearance in history is in the final abortive popular rising of Prairial Year III. So conspicuous was he that Duval in his Souvenirs thermidoreans  of 1844 attributed to this "monster belched up by the African coast" the entire responsibility for organising and galvanising the insurrection at the instigation of the Montagnards. On 1 Prairial a crowd had invaded the Convention demanding bread and the Constitution of 1793.  The head of the deputy Féraud, who had been shot, was paraded provocatively round the Assembly on a pike, some have it by Delorme himself.  In the evening the Muscadins penetrated into the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and attempted to take possession of the Popincourt cannons, only to be met with determined resistance from Delorme and his men. On 4 Prairial the Convention finally sent in regular troops under General Menou and ordered the three Sections of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine to surrender their guns: only when he perceived that the situation was hopeless, did an enraged Delorme finally hand over his sabre.  He was arrested immediately and condemned by the Military Commission. He is recorded as answering his accusers defiantly: "I have been a soldier since 1760 and I would die a soldier". He was guillotined on the place de la Révolution on the following day, 5 prairial III (24 May 1795).

Here is the sympathetic account given by Jules Clarétie  in Les derniers Montagnards (1867), based in part on documentation submitted to the military tribunal:

The gunners of the Popincourt section were commanded by a negro from Saint-Domingue, Guillaume Delorme, a formidable colossus, living in the cul-de-sac Sebastien, who lead the whole quarter with a mere wave of his hand . He was  thirty-eight years old.  He was a Hercules; a wheelwright-locksmith by trade, he could bend an iron bar over his knee.  On the fourth, half naked, he commanded his guns in his shirt sleeves, with pistols hanging from the red belt slung about his hips.  He could be seen on the barricade, his bronze face lit up by a savage smile, with his frizzy hair, white teeth and bare legs"

[Delorme refused to surrender and ordered his men to fire on the Muscadins.  When they refused, he struggled in a drunken rage to light the fuses himself. The locksmith Dube and another gunner threw themselves on the cannons to prevent him.  He found himself standing alone before the company of jeunes gens.  A fellowed called Séguin approached one of the batteries]

When the Sectionnaires consented to hand over their guns, in front of the Muscadins and the troops of the line, when the dragoons entered the faubourg, Delorme followed them.  The insurgents gave up their weapons though keeping their rebellious look.  He, with his enormous head, his face of an ox, looked the soldiers in the face.  The National Guards of the Lepellier section advanced towards him.

"If you go any further, I'll run you through with my sabre!"  menaced Delorme.  So General Menou himself went up to him:  "Are you a republican?"
  "Have you any b-b-bread you c-c-can give me?" asked Delorme, who had a stutter.
"Give me your sabre".
"Here you are, "he said, after much hesitation.  "Don't worry, it will never be in better hands than mine!"

And pointing out the gunners:  "If I give you my sabre, it is because these cowards have surrendered their guns!  They did not want to give you a lathering this morning! Ah! The cowards!
They arrested him on the spot.


Pierre Bardin, "Guillaume Delorme - Le Montagnard" Généalogie et Histoire de la Caraïbe (2015)

François Gendron The gilded Youth of Thermidor (1993) p.155-6.

Sunday 18 October 2015

The Comte de Lorges - imaginary prisoner of the Bastille

The deficiencies of the real prisoners of the Bastille on 14th July was soon made good by a fictitious addition to their number, the Comte de Lorges.  Although he gained a curious life of his own, the Comte de Lorges was entirely imaginary.  He was a sort of composite figure borrowing elements from the real prisoners and also from popular ideas of the Bastille as a place of secrecy, dark dungeons and instruments of torture.   "In the story of the Count de Lorges, historical fact and audience expectations, oral rumours and journalistic imagination met  in a mixture typical of its time"  (Lüsebrink and Reichardt, p.108)

His story started to circulate almost immediately after the events of 14 July. The English Dr Rigby in his Journal - probably with reference to Whyte - reported that a "Count D'Auche" had been  found on the morning of the 15th in "one of the deepest Dungeons", where he had been confined for 42 years.  An anonymous pamphet claiming to be a letter written on the 15th described a "Count d'Estrade", "beautiful man" of sixty-five to seventy years who had been accused of Lèse-majesté and sentenced to lifelong imprisonment.   Other pamphlets mention "a harmless old man" who had been imprisoned for "near thirty years" and a "Comte Straze" who had languished for "thirty-two years" and whose "beard reached his stomach".  By the end of August the prisoner had a fixed name the "comte de Lorges". His image appeared in numerous prints and broadsides. 

See: Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink, Rolf Reichardt, The Bastille: a history of a symbol of despotism and freedom (Duke University Press, 1997), p. 106-8  

"Deliverance of M.le Comte de Lorges"

The key publication in the formation of the myth was the journalist Jean-Louis Carra's  little book Le comte de Lorges which appeared in the middle of September 1789.  The title informs the reader that the comte had been "a prisoner in the Bastille for thirty-two years, from the time of Damiens until his release on the 14th July 1789".  He was described  as "an old man whose beard descended to his waist, made venerable by his sufferings and the length of his capitivity". Carra claimed to have heard his story personally as he was  led to the safety of the Hôtel de Ville.  Like Latude, the comte had been imprisoned for an indefinite period of time at Madame de Pompadour, supposedly having complained about the corruption at Court; his only crime was his "republican soul" and his desire to see virtue triumph over vice.  The archetypal forgotten prisoner, he is made to lament: "The years flew by and brought no change at all in my fate; sad and in low spirits I let my days pass in bitterness and sorrow and cursed Despotism and its accomplices". Wearied by returning to a world he no longer recognised, the comte de Lorges (conveniently) died soon after his liberation.
 Jean-Louis Carra, Le comte de Lorges, prisonnier à la Bastille pendant trente-deux ans ; enfermé en 1757, du temps de Damien, & mis en liberté le 14 juillet 1789
Detail from L.Carpantier, L'Heure première de la liberté (detail)

Apart from  Carra's pamphlet the main impetus behind the comte de Lorges story was the publicity machine represented by the Bastille's enterprising demolition contractor Palloy  In the summer months of 1789 visitors flocked to the fortress in their thousands, to tour the horrors of the Bastille in the company of  accredited guides in Palloy's employ. They were shown damp dungeons, instruments of torture, remains of skeletons and "death machines unknown to man". The press even published inscriptions written on the walls of the cells. In August 1789 Mauclerc, an office scribe from Chalons in Burgundy, composed a pamphlet Le Langage des murs, ou les Cachots de la Bastille devoilant leurs secrets.( in which he claimed to have discerned the imaginary comte's name etched on the wall of a dungeon together with a suitably despairing Latin quote.

 Some visitors were of course sceptical.  Louis Abel Beffroy de Reigny remarked that he had been shown several different dungeons, each of which workers claimed had been occupied by the "comte d'Orges" (p.82).  Louis-Pierre Manuel noted that he had been shown the comte de Lorges's dungeon and seen a waxwork by Curtius laden with chains, but the registers of the Bastille and the depositions of the turnkeys mentioned only seven prisoners - the comte couldn't be identified with Whyte, who had been in the Bastille only since 1784 and was a madman (p.132-3).

Louis Abel Beffroy de Reigny,  Histoire de France pendant trois mois .....(1789) p.82
La Bastille dévoilée (1789) attributed to Louis-Pierre Manuel or "Charpentier"

The comte in Saumur

On 5th December 1790, at the instigation of the local deputy Cigongne, the town of Saumur was ceremonially presented with a block of stone from the Bastille to honour Aubin Bonnemère, a soldier in the Royal-Comtois regiment who had taken part in the events of 14th July. (His chief claim to fame was that he had rescued Mlle de Monsigny, daughter of the commander of the Compagnie des Invalides.)  The Vainqueurs de la Bastille provided a written certification that the stone came from the very dungeon "in which the comte de Lorges had been imprisoned for thirty-two years".  According to at least one 19th-century account  Bonnemère  himself later claimed  to have personally liberated the comte from his "gloomy cell" . To the intense irritation of latter-day Vendéens, the stone - engraved with a plan of the fortress and some boastful verses by Bonnemère - is still to be seen embedded in the wall of Saumur's 16th-century town hall.

Eugène BONNEMÈRE, Etudes historiques saumuroises,  1868, p. 97-124

"Une pierre de la Bastille sur la mairie de Saumur" ,  Vendéens et chouans [blog] post of 8 April 2015

Madame Tussaud's comte

The comte in a late 19th century photography
Madame Tussaud archive
By the beginning of 1790 Curtius already had an effigy of the comte on display in his waxworks. In later years it was the first figure of the Revolutionary period for which Madame Tussaud herself took full credit.  The 1820 Tussaud catalogue even claimed that she had met the comte: "The existence of this unfortunate man in the Bastille, has by some been doubted.  Madame Tussaud is a living witness of his being taken out of that prison, on the 14th July 1789.  Madame T. was then residing in the house of her uncle ...The Count was bought to the house, but his chains had been taken off." Her Memoirs of 1838 describe how the prisoners were discovered in dark dungeons beneath the Bastille.  The "most remarkable" among them, "he was brought to her to take a cast from his face, which she completed, and still possessed in her collection...He had been thirty years in the Bastille and when liberated from it, having lost all relish for the world, requested to be reconducted to his prison and died a few weeks after his emanicipation"  (see Bindman, p.40-1).

The waxwork (or the cast) was brought to England from France in 1802 and was on almost continuous display until as late as 1968. In 1989 the wax head was lent to the British Museum's "Shadow of the guillotine" exhibition and is presumably still extant. The wax effigy was unusual in being full length and was much admired;  one Liverpool paper in 1821 commended it as "a fine piece of physiology"  According to Kate Berridge, the figure,with its chains and long beard, is "the perfect realisation of the mental images that haunted the popular imagination about the victims of the Ancien Régime, incarcerated in dark dungeons called oubliettes, and forgotten by the outside world' (Kate Berridge, p.116)

The wax figure of the comte is described by Charles Dickens in his account of the Chamber of Horrors(All the Year Round, 7 Jan.1860, ,p.252 quoted in Bindman, p.92):

"To enter the Chamber of Horrors rather late in the afternoon, before the gas is lighted, requires courage. To penetrate through a dark passage under the guillotine scaffold, to the mouth of a dimly-lit cell, through whose bars a figure in a black serge dress is faintly visible, requires courage. Your eye-witness entered, on the principle which causes judicious persons to jump headlong into the sea from a bathing-machine instead of gradually and timidly emersing themselves from the ankle upwards. Let the visitor enter this very terrible apartment at a swift pace and without pausing for an instant, let him turn sharply to the right, and scamper undert he scaffold, taking care that this structure – which is very low – does not act after the manner of the guillotine it sustains, and take his head off. Let him thoroughly master all the circumstances of the Count de Lorge’s imprisonment, the serge dress, the rats, the brown loaf – let him then hasten up the steps of the guillotine and saturate his mind with the blood upon the decapitated heads of the sufferers in the French Revolution – this done, the worst is over."

Kate Berridge,  Waxing mythical: the life and legend of Madame Tussaud (2006)  p.115-117
David Bindon, The shadow of the guillotine: Britain and the French Revolution (1989 Exhibition catalogue).  No 25." Wax model of the head of comte de Lorges..."

Saturday 17 October 2015

The prisoners of the Bastille in 1789

The details of the prisoners "liberated" on 14th July 1789 testify nicely to the declining importance of the Bastille as a political prison in the closing years of the Ancien régime.  The fortress yielded only seven prisoners, four of them common criminals and the remaining three incarcerated at the request of their own families.

Prisoners of the Bastille led to safety on 14th July (print)
Four Counterfeiters

Of the seven, four (Jean La Corrège, Jean Béchade, Bernard Laroche known as Beausablon, and Jean-Antoine Pujade)  were counterfeiters imprisoned in 1787 on the charge of having forged bills of exchange accepted by the banking firm of Tourton-Ravel. In other words they were common criminals, arrested on ordinary warrants from the Châtelet, who could easily have been held elsewhere. Pujade testified to the Hôtel de Ville that he had left the prison on the afternoon of the 14th in company of Béchade, but they had later became separated.  All four were subsequently rounded up and a few days after their "liberation" were reincarcerated in Bicêtre.

On 17th April 1790 a decree of the Assembly ordered the Châtelet to continue their proceedings against them but the Châtelet itself was abolished on 11 September and they were not pursued further

James Francis Xavier Whyte (Whyte de Malville)

Whyte was a private prisoner.  He was of Irish Jacobite descent.  He was born in Dublin in 1730  and had served during the Seven Years War, first as a cornet in the Soubise Volunteers then a captain in Lally Tollendal's Franco-Irish regiment.  In 1781 he had suffered some kind of mental breakdown and been confined in Vincennes at the expense of his family.  When Vincennes was closed as a prison in 1784 he was transferred with the marquis de Sade to the Bastille.  In March 1789 he had been declared interdit and control of his property transferred to his two daughters.  

Whyte was paraded around the Palais-royal in the evening of 14th and on the 15th taken to the Hôtel de Ville and thence to the prison-asylum at Charenton. On July 31st 1795 he was finally transferred to the asylum of Petites Maisons.  He was described as completely deranged in an almost comically stereotypical fashion,  imagining himself to be Julius Caesar, St Louis and occasionally the Almightly himself. ["ce particulier se disoit Major de l'Immensité et tenoit des propos qui manifestoient la perte entière de sa raison" Procès-verbal des séances et délibérations de l'Assemblée générale des électeurs de Paris, réunis à l'Hôtel-de-Ville le 14 juillet 1789  p.380]

L.Carpantier, First hour of liberty

Whyte was of striking appearance, with a massively long unkempt beard. The English doctor Edward Rigby, who was in Paris at the time of the fall of the Bastille describes in his journal for 15th July a prisoner who is clearly Whyte:  "He was draped in a greasy reddish Cloak - his beard was very long & his Hair which had not been combed during this long Period was grown very long - closely matted together - was divided into two Parts & reached lower than is Knees".  In a letter of Sunday 19th,  Rigby's companion Samuel Boddington notes:  "His beard was of great length and his hair which appeared never to have been combed was entangled in large nets as if it have been wove.  It was parted into two long parts and coming over his shoulders reached below his knees.  His face was ...quite pale, and he looked about him as one should conceive a man to do who for the first time had the use of his eyes."
[George Cadogan Morgan, Travels in Revolutionary France ed. by Mary-Ann Constantine  (University of Wales, 2012), p.17-18.]

Madame Lambert, née Sophia Whyte
Painting by Henri-Pierre Danloux
Sold at Sotheby's, 19 June 2006
Retired diplomat and Surrey local historian Mr Keith Evetts supplies a nice piece of trivia on the Whyte family which relates them to high British military and naval circles. Whyte's wife was Catherine Lambert,  sister to Capt. Robert Alexander RN of Thames Ditton, whose family was of Huguenot descent. One of  Robert Lambert's sons was to become a vice-Admiral and commanded the squadron protecting St Helena during Napoleon's exile; another, John Lambert, commanded the Tenth Brigade at Waterloo. On 27 September 1789 the younger of Whyte's daughters, Sophia, was granted dispensation by a French Court in order to marry her cousin Henry Lambert. (The 21 year-old Sophia de Whyte is identified in the document as daughter of "M. Jacques François de Whyte, Comte de Whyte, seigneur de Malleville and of Anne Lambert his wife".) After her husband's death Lady Sophia Lambert remarried in 1805 to Lt Col. Henry Francis Greville. She died in March 1839. Whyte's widow Anne died in London in October 1826 at the age of 85.

[Keith Evetts, "A skeleton in the cupboard". Article first published in Thames Ditton Today, June 2014 .]

Nicolas Whyte,
who is a descendant, thinks that Whyte was probably the grandson of Charles Whyte who was Jacobite MP for Naas and governor of Kildare in the 1689-92 war.  James II's ambassador in the Hague, Sir Ignatius Whyte,was a cousin.,-by-James-OFee.html


Auguste-Claude Tavernier 

On the face of it Tavernier is a better candidate for a political prisoner -  it is often stated that he had been  incarcerated in 1759 for supposed complicity in Damien's attempt to assassinate Louis XV. This, however, is not quite the full story.

In fact Tavernier had also been imprisoned by his own family. The records of the Bastille describe him as a nothing ("un homme de néant") , the son of a domestic servant, ferocious, cruel and insolent". His father Nicolas had  been a porter in the service of Jean Pâris de Monmartel, one of the famous banker brothers of Louis XV. Born in 1728, Auguste-Claude had been a wild young man.  He was first detained at Charenton in 1745 at the request of his father on account of his "excessive idleness and libertinage", later reincarcerated in Saint-Lazare, and finally sent to the prison on the Île Sainte-Marguerite in the bay outside Cannes, where his family agreed to pay 300 livres a year for his upkeep.  He resisted the offer by Monmartel of a position abroad with the Compagnie des Indes.

In 1759 events took a serious turn when Tavernier was denounced by a fellow-inmate on the Île Sainte-Marguerite, the chevalier de Lussan, for a plot to assassinate the King.  The authorities had no choice but to take the matter seriously; he was transferred to the Bastille for interrogation in July 1759 and,since the case was never resolved, finally left quietly to languish. Lisa Jane Graham in her book If the King Only Knew (2000) reconstructs the circumstances based on two cartons of documents in the Archives Nationales. The details of the supposed plot were massively convoluted; probably the two men were in collusion; Tavernier apparently had the idea of negotiating a hearing before the Parlement of Paris, denouncing the lettres de cachet and thereby securing his release: "he would let M. Louis Quinze know that if Damiens had missed him, he would not miss him and that he would make known for centuries to come his project to exterminate innocent people between four walls with lettres de cachet".  Some of Tavernier's prison writings are preserved and make interesting reading. A Voltairean deist, he worked up his personal resentments into something approaching an Enlightenment case against arbitrary imprisonment. According to Lisa Jane Graham, he was "a shrewd and resourceful man who could not immediately be dismissed as crazy".  Nonetheless, he was unstable and by 1789, at the age of sixty, had been in prison for almost all his adult life. Following the 14th July, he was found wandering the streets at two in the morning, held under guard in the district of Saint-Roch and exhibited to the public for a few days, then finally, on Sunday 19th, surrendered to the Hôtel de Ville.  The following day he was taken to Charenton by M. de La Chaise, a guard in the employ of the duc d'Orléans.  He is recorded as having left Charenton in July 1795 but it does not seem known what subsequently became of him.

[Lisa Jane Graham, If the King Only Knew: Seditious Speech in the Reign of Louis XV (2000)

"Tavernier trente ans a la bastille" See Affaire de Tavernier. 23 november 1759. In Archives de la Bastille, vol. 17 (1866)

Hubert de Solages

The final prisoner, Hubert de Solages, was again a private prisoner, who was said to have been guilty of "perverted sexual practices", namely to have committed incest with his sister Pauline.  The official documents record merely that he had been imprisoned at the request of his father "due to his dissipation and bad conduct".  In fact the "Affaire de Solages" was a lot more complicated.  The circumstances were examined in a 1914 book by Auguste Pius which is summarised in some detail on Wikipedia. A member of a minor noble family from Languedoc, Hubert de Solages was born in 1746 and at the time of his initial incarceration in 1765 was a  sub-lieutenant in the Regiment of Condé-Dragoons.  He appears to have been involved in an ill-conceived plan to help his twenty-five-year-old sister to abscond from her husband Jean-Antoine Barrau, who, according to their uncle Gabriel, Chevalier de Solages and to Pauline herself, was a hard, jealous and cruel man.  It was Barrau rather than the young man's father who was the prime mover behind his  imprisonment - it is possible, though by no means certain, that his primary motivation was financial.  Solages was held successively at the  château de Ferrières near Castres,  at the fort de Brescou off the Cap d'Agde, then in the fortress of  Pierre-Encize in Lyon from which he managed to escape..  Following a series of deliberations in 1781, he was transferred to Vincennes in 1782, then to the Bastille on 28th February 1784.  Pauline was similarly confined in a succession of convents.

In the Bastille Solages occupied a room on the fourth floor of the tour de la Bertodière overlooking the rue Saint-Antoine, where he spent his time quietly, playing the violin, reading and writing.  His family paid 2, 300 francs for his pension and 400 francs for his keep. It is recorded that at quarter-past seven on the evening of the 14th July, the deputies from the district of the Oratoire admitted to their presence a gentleman from the Languedoc who, though shabby in appearance, was "a noble and imposing figure" who expressed eloquently  his gratitude for his liberation   He was lodged at the Hôtel de Rouen, rue d'Angivilliers at the expense of the districts and presently, with the help of his uncle the Chevalier, was able to return home to the Albigeois.  He died on 2nd October 1824.

[Wikipedia: "L'affaire de Solages; based on Auguste Puis, Les Lettres de cachet à Toulouse au dix-huitième siècle, Toulouse et Paris, 1914]
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