Friday, 23 June 2017

Saint-Just - Angel of Death?

By Jean-Baptiste Greuze, oil on canvas, 1,44 m x 1,20 m
Musée de Saint-Omer

The following is (mostly) taken from the opening chapter of Bernard Vinot's biography of Saint-Just, the  French text  of which is available on Google Books.

The physical appearance of a man of state has rarely assumed such importance as it has in the case of Saint-Just.  History is facinated by the image of Saint-Just as the ruthless angel of the Revolution, by his androgynous beauty.  But was he really so handsome?

Attributed to Jacques-Louis David.  oil on canvas
50 cm x 71 cm. Private collection
Even contemporary witnesses do not entirely agree with each another.  His sister Louise, reminiscing to her grandchildren, recalled his "great beauty", whilst his childhood friend from Soisson, Lejeune, spoke only of his "honest appearance".  His colleague Levasseur de la Sarte described him as "physically weak", whereas Desmoulin insisted on his stiff carriage  ("raideur"): "You see from his way of walking and his posture that he considers his head the cornerstone of the Republic, and  he carries it on his shoulders like the object of some holy sacrament".  Paganel,  a fellow  member of the Convention, left a more detailed portrait:

 Of middle height, with a healthy body, proportions which show strength; a big head, thick hair, bilious colouring, small lively eyes, a disdainful expression, regular features and an austere appearance, strong, but veiled voice, with a note of anxiety, a sombre air of preoccupation and determination, an extreme coldness of tone and manner - thus appeared to us Saint-Just, who was not yet thirty years old.

Outside the traditions of the family, none of these recollections is free from antagonistic bias. Later literary accounts further distorted Saint-Just's appearance for effect, mostly to vilify his memory. Thus Mignet: "He had a regular face, with large features and a strong, melancholy expression;  his eyes were staring  and penetrating, his black hair flat and long". Lamartine described him "immobile at the tribune, cold like an idea...the calm of absolute conviction spread across his almost feminine features".   But it was Michelet above all, who was responsible for the image of Saint-Just as the Angel of death, a pitiless androgynous youth, with steely blue eyes:

Engraving by Bosselman fils
Without his fixed, hard eyes, his heavily drawn brows, Saint-Just might have passed for a woman.  Was this the virgin of Tauris?  No, neither the eyes nor the skin, though white and fine-textured, suggested a sentiment of purity.  This very aristocratic sin, with its singular lustre and transparency, seemed too lovely, and led one to suspect its healthiness.  The huge, close-knitted cravat, which he alone wore at that time, made his enemies say, perhaps without reason, that it concealed cold humours.  The neck was virtually suppressed by the cravat and by the high, stiff collar; an effect all the odder in that his long waist did not lead you to expect this foreshortening of the neck.  He had a very low forehead, the top of his head appearing depressed, so that the hair, without being long, almost touched his eyes.  But strangest of all was his gait, of an automatic stiffness which was entirely his own.  Robespierre's stiffness was nothing to this.  Did it derive from a physical oddity, from his excessive pride, from a calculated dignity? - No matter.  It was more intimidating than absurd.  One felt that a being so inflexible in his movements must also be inflexible in his heart.  Thus, when in his speech, taking up the Gironde and abandoning Louis XVI, he turned stiffly, all of a piece, to the right of the Chamber and released along with his words his whole person as well, particularly his hard and murderous stare, there was no one present who did not feel the chill of steel.  History of the Revolution  V, ix.5  1851.

Christophe Guérin, Portrait assumed to be Saint-Just, 
Sanguine, 34cm x 24.2 cm Musée Carnavalet
Visual representations are almost equally unreliable.  In the years following the Revolution, Saint-Just often came to be seen as the embodiment of beauty and youth. Portraits of elegant young men, with or without high cravats, were identified as him, for example the sanguine attributed to Christophe Guerin in the Carnavalet which has no established connection. (Saint-Just is not usually portrayed as wearing an earring!) Numerous representations created after his death, such as the medallion and bust by David d'Angers or the engraving by Bosselman fils to illustrate Lamartine's History of the Girondins, show just how quickly the myth of Saint-Just's beauty hardened into received fact.

Pierre-Jean David d'Anger, Medallion, 25 cm.  Musée Carnavalet

Bust by David d'Angers, 1848

Some  portraits, however, can lay claim to authenticity. One is the anonymous pastel, created when Saint-Just was at the hôtel des États-Unis, which was later retrieved by Élisabeth Le Bas and kept by the Le Bas family as a venerated souvenir. 
Anonymous pastel, 75.5 cm x 59 cm.  Musée Carnavalet 
 Another is the portrait by Prud'hon; the artist was a fervent admirer of Robespierre and a regular at the Duplay household where he probably met Saint-Just.  In the corner of the canvas is a personal dedication: "A Saint-Just.  P.-P. Prudhon 1793".  The two portraits are similar; they show the same oval face, the same lips, clear eyes (brown rather than blue), long nose and long chestnut hair.  These features are also evident in the portrait by David and in one by Greuze, where the young deputy poses with his ceremonial sabre as Représentant en mission close by.

Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, oil on canvas, 1793 
Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon
Also worthy of note is the engraving by François Bonneville, an artist who specialised in portraits of Revolutionary celebrities. It is the only representation of Saint-Just  which gives his title, the date and place of birth (albeit inaccurately) and the date of his death. It is incontestably more or less contemporary.  The engraving which appeared in 1796, at the height of the Thermidorean reaction, is unflattering....but it at least contradicts Michelet's claim that the habitual cravat concealed a blemish to the throat. The subject is portrayed with an open collar, hard features, and the long nose of his father.  He ressembles the man depicted by Greuze and David, but appears older or more fatigued.

Bernard Vinot concludes that in reality Saint-Just was not particularly feminine, or even all that good looking.  He  inherited the unappealing features of his two parents: a long face, long nose and long neck.  These were were softened by his youth and camouflaged by his sure dress sense, but no doubt the passage of time would have accentuated them. Had he lived to middle age he would have come to resemble his father - strong, masculine and serious to be sure, but without beauty.  (I think Bernard Vinot is being  kind here;  what he really wants to say is that Saint-Just would have been ugly, just like his dad.)  This aging process, aggravated by stressful days and nights without sleep was probably perceptible even in 1793.


Bernard Vinot, Saint-Just, Fayard, 1985.

On images:
Iconography and portrait sections on the "Site Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just"
The Association pour la sauvegarde de la Maison de Saint-Just has several interesting portraits and engravings among its acquisitions/

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Celebrating Saint-Just

The little market town of Blérancourt in the department of Aisne in Hauts-de-France in northern France is gearing up to celebrate the 250th anniversary of its most famous son, Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just, born on 25th August 1767.  Last Saturday (17th June), the festivities kicked off with the planting of a Tree of Liberty on the Place du Général-Leclerc, situated  right outside the surviving gateway to what was once the feudal château which dominated the village (now the museum of Franco-American co-operation). 13th July will see the reopening of Saint-Just's childhood home, now a museum to his memory.

The preservation of the maison Saint-Just  has owed much to the efforts of determined individuals - particularly  Anne Quennedy, president of the Association pour la sauvegarde de la Maison de Saint-Just, and Patrick Laplace the longstanding Leftwing mayor of the tiny commune (which in 2014 boasted only 1231 inhabitants). The Association was set up on the initiative of Saint-Just's biographer Bernard Vinot in 1985 to raise funds for the purchase and restoration of the property, which was first opened to the public in 1996.  Sadly, in 2012 disaster struck when the house was badly damaged by a fire, caused by the explosion of a bottle of barbecue gaz in a neighbouring garden. The cost of renovations was put a€600,000. Also lost was the new interactive display with five screens which had been set up in the interior.  Anne Quennedy was determined not only to make good the damage but to improve on the restoration of the 1980s. There are plans to develop a library and permanent commemorative museum. Two temporary exhibitions will mark the anniversary celebrations, one on images of Saint-Just  and the other on the Revolution in postage stamps.


“Le village de Blérancourt rend hommage à St-Just”  L’Aisne Nouvelle, 16.06.2017

Association pour la sauvegarde de la Maison de Saint-Just

Newspage reports of the fire

Full details of the architecture of the house and its restoration can be found on the Association website, including a video featuring Bernard Vinot:
In this more recent video, from 2016, part of a France3 series on "famous houses", Bernard Vinot, and mayor Patrick Laplace visit the maison as it is today and discuss their plans for the future.  (It is curious to see the memory of Saint-Just evoked in this peaceful provincial setting, by such pleasant and mild-mannered middle-aged men - And yes, Patrick Laplace really does describe the enfant terrible of the Convention as "un peu James Dean"...)

Les maisons illustres - épisode 3 : la maison de Saint Just

Saint-Just in Blérancourt 

Blérancourt was Saint-Just's family home for the greater part of his short life.   It was here that he composed his first works, tradition has it in the little bower ("chaumille") by the stream in the grounds.  As Norman Hampson emphasises, the record of his early life is necessarily  "a matter of births, deaths and marriages". He was born in Decize, the son of a retired cavalry officer.  When he was nine the family moved to Blérancourt where his father, Louis Jean, paid 6,000 livres for one of the most substantial houses in the little town (the grounds and dependencies were much more extensive  in those days ).   His pension, combined with rents from 50 acres of land, would have situated the family firmly, if modestly, among the local elite. After Louis died in 1777 his widow struggled to maintain their social status and no doubt placed most of her hopes in her only son.  In 1779, when he was twelve, Louis-Antoine was sent to board at the Oratorian College at Soissons.  In September 1786, in a spectacular escapade, he absconded to Paris with a quantity of the family silver and  his mother was obliged to have him tracked down and imprisoned (in Saint-Lazare) for six months.  On his return he is thought to have worked as a clerk to a Soissons solicitor and enrolled as a law student at the university of Reims, but never proceeded as a degree. Instead he sought literary fame -  his first substantial work, the Organt, a mock-heroic poem after Voltaire, was published in spring 1789. 

The outbreak of the Revolution was now to change dramatically the life of this restless and ambitious young man.

Louis-Jean de Saint-Just de Richebourg,  father of the Conventionnel; pastel
Musée National de la Coopération Franco-Américaine, Blérancourt
Saint-Just's mother,
Marie-Anne Robinet
As Bernard Vinot notes in the video, from 1789  to 1792  Saint-Just, debarred by his youth from the national stage, made the Revolution "au village", in Blérancourt.

The dynamic of local politics was provided by the control of a few wealthy landowners, foremost among them Louis Antoine Gellé, the agent of the absentee seigneur. The young Saint-Just is said to have been thwarted in his suite for Gellé's daughter Thérèse who married a local notary, Emmanuel Thorin, in 1786 (in 1793 she was to abandon her husband and follow Saint-Just to Paris).  In 1775 during the guerre de farines Gellé had faced down a stone-throwing crowded in the marketplace and prevented them from imposing price controls.  The events of 1789 afforded a chance of redress. Emmanuel Descaine, who in February 1790 married Saint-Just's elder sister Louise-Marie-Anne, drafted Blérancourt's cahier des doléances which complained of appropriation of common land, recommended that farmers be allowed to cultivate no more than 150 hectares, and asked for the crown to take over the property of the local monastery. 

 By Summer 1790  the radicals gained control in the municipal elections.  Saint-Just became "lieutenant-general" of the local National Guard in which capacity he attended the Fête de la Fédération in Paris on 14th July.  He demonstrated his  political ambition by becoming a prominent agitator at local assemblies,  writing to Desmoulins that he looked forward to joining the National Assembly in due course.  The archives record his involvement in various unsuccessful tussles to gain control of electoral assemblies to the Legislative Assembly in course of 1791.   Rumours that Blérancourt was to be deprived of its market provided the occasion for a first obsequious letter to Robespierre.

By time of elections to the National Convention Saint-Just was twenty-five and of age. In Blarencourt conspicuously few citizens voted and the radicals carried the day:  Saint-Just was chosen as one of the commune's electors, gaining 164 votes out of  only 177 cast.  This initial victory was confirmed at the actual election of the departmental deputies in Soissons.  The two sitting members were returned, followed by two international celebrities, Tom Paine and Condorcet.  Saint-Just came fifth with 349 votes out of 600. 

Bernard Vinot's researches suggest that, despite his personal ambition, Saint-Just expended much genuine energy in  furthering his ideas for social justice during the years in Blérancourt; his friends insisted, even after his death, when it became dangerous to defend him, that he did not spare himself in his concern for his poorer neighbours, tramping over the countryside to consult them and representing them in legal tussles with the local seigneur.  He had, comments Vinot, "a goodness that all his comrades appreciated" (though his enemies perhaps a little less so?)

After his election to the Convention, Saint-Just was to return to Blérancourt only once, briefly, in the Spring of 1794, when he spent a night in the family home during one of his missions to the Armée du Nord.


Bernard Vinot, Saint-Just (1985)
Vinot's findings are followed in the English account by Norman Hampson, Saint-Just (1991), chpt.1.

For a more chatty version:
Lenotre, "Saint-Just at Blérancourt" in Romances of the French Revolution [1908 transl.]

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Lyon - the Revolution in pictures cont.

Here are more plates:  from the second volume of Alphonse Balleydier's Histoire politique et militaire du peuple de Lyon pendant la Révolution française, 1789-1795, 3 vols. 1845-6.

 ‎Benoît Gingenne, brave defender of Lyon

Every conflict, even the grim internecine struggle of the Lyon insurrection, needs its dashing hero. ‎ Benoît Gingenne was a native of Lyon, born in the parish of St. Georges on 13 October 1755. Before the Revolution he had been a career soldier.  In 1773 at the age of eighteen he had joined the grenadier regiment of "la Couronne" and in 1775 was one of two thousand guardsmen who had attended the coronation of Louis XVI.   In 1781, having reached the rank of sergeant, he obtained his discharge, returned to Lyon and became a pork butcher.  At the beginning of the Revolution, when the Lyon militia was suppressed, he rallied to the cause and became commander of the batallion of grenadiers in the section of rue Royale.  In the events following the King's execution, his batallion had attempted to suppress pillaging of shops by the women of Lyon;  the Jacobins despoiled his premises and he was temporarily forced to go into hiding.

Gingenne was a prominent participant in the famous journée of the 29 May 1793, commanding a column which marched against the Hôtel de Ville. His horse was shot from under him and he was forced to retreat to the place des Cordeliers, but rallied his men and joined the command of Madinier who entered the Hôtel de Ville the next day.  He was named adjutant general of the rebel National Guard.

Under the comte de Précy, he was given command of 1200 men who left for Saint-Étienne to seize control of the arms manufactory.  He returned with a dozen waggons of guns and took charge of forces stationed in the Carmelites convent.  When the rebel forces fell back to the Croix-Rousse, Gingenne was took command of the strategically important post in the gardens of the maison Combe, which came to bear his name, "the inpregnable Gingenne". His six companies of grenadiers and six pieces of artillery valiantly defended the plain against the neighbouring battery in the maison Panthod which had fallen to the Convention.  After fifty days of combat, on the morning of 27 September, a ball pierced the wall of Gingenne's command room and shattered his leg.  He was taken to the infirmary at the Archbishop's Palace where his leg was amputed, an ordeal which he faced with great sang-froid. There is no shortage of legs in la Grenette (Lyon's woodturning district), he quipped.

After the fall of Lyon Gingenne managed to escape to Switzerland.  He lived in Constance for two years, before returning to Lyon in 1795.  Not until 1814 did he receive his reward, when the comte d'Artois made him Chevalier of the Order of St Louis and gave him a pension.  He died in October 1825 at the age of 70 and was  buried in the Cimetière de Loyasse with full military hoonours.  

The devotion Gingenne inspired in his men was legendary;  Dubois-Crancé was heard to have lamented that such a man belonged to the muscadins.  Précy called him the "Saint-Peter of la Croix-Rousse" since he held the keys of the door in his hand. (This compliment though was too sophisticated for the brave Gingenne who had to have it explained)

Obituary of Gingenne,  Archives historiques et statistiques du département du Rhône, Volume 2 (1825), p.455 

General Précy

The crossing of the Rhône by Dujast and Larençon

This picture depicts another conspicuous episode of heroism on the part of the defenders of Lyon.  A great deal of damaged was being inflicted by enemy retrenchments on the left bank of the Rhône which were protected by great pieces of wood. Under the watchful eye of Précy a military engineer had tried in vain to cross in a boat and  set them on fire. Two youngful Lyonnais soldiers, Larençon et Barthélémy Dujast then took up the challenge. They bravely swam across the river by night, set the fortifications alight  and returned under a rain of enemy bullets.  Dujast was carried by the current to the pont de la Guillotière but, taking courage from a prayer to the Virgin that his mother had taught him, finally managed to gain the shore.  The young men steadfastly refused to accept any reward for their exploit.

The death of M and Mme de Visagué

This scene serves to demonstrate the ferocity shown by the Jacobins in the final stages of the conflict. Following the capture of the rebel-held château de Chazelles, Republican troops were said to have murdered Madame de Visague, a young woman of seventeen who would not abandon the body of her husband.

The arrival of the Montbrisonnais

On 5 September 1793, in the final stages of the siege, the remnants of the Departmental Army arrived in Lyon from Montbrison in Le Forez. A column some four kilometres long comprising 800 men, accompanied by waggons and civilians, crossed the Saône via the pont du Change to the enthusiastic welcome of the defenders.  Despite courageous engagements, notably the capture of the loge du Change, the reinforcements could do little to prevent the fall of the city on 9th October.

Joseph Barou,"Les Foréziens de l'Armée départementale de Rhône-et-Loire (9 juillet - 9 octobre 1793)" on the website Forez Histoire

Portrait of Barthélémy Dujast in 1851, by his nephew the painter Louis Janmot 

Janmot wished to recall to the Lyonnais " names and the features of their heroic ancesters, defenders of their town against the invasion of the barbarians and executioners of 1793" .

Michel Biard reviews a modern study of the Dujast family which still perpetuates an "unnuanced hostility to the French Revolution" Michel Biard, "Familles lyonnaise victimes du siège de Lyon en 1793" Annales historiques de laRévolution française, 339 | 2005, 170-172

Journée of 29 September

By the end of September 1793 Lyon was surrounded by  60,000 enemy troops.  On 29th the forces of the Convention launched a series of attacks on the fortified perimeter.  The Lyonnais successfully repelled assaults at La Mulatière, Perrache et les Brotteaux, but with heavy losses.  Realising that the situation was hopeless, Précy now prepared his troops to break out from the city and retreat.

Pierre-Baptiste Guillemot,   "La sortie de l'armée lyonnaise, 9 octobre 1793" ,  Atelier numérique de l’histoire 

A Mass is held for the defeated Lyonnais

At five o'clock on the morning of 9th October Précy joined fifty officers and men in a cellar in the place croix-Paquet to celebrate a Catholic Mass before their departure from Lyon.  The priest, a volunteer in the army, took off his uniform to officiate and an altar was improvised from drums.

Madame Loras and her family before Couthon

Jean-Mathias Loras, member of the rebel municipality, was among the first to be executed by the victorious Jacobins.  Madame Loras, with her eleven children, pleaded on his behalf to Couthon but to no avail. The Revolutionary Tribunal reportedly gave her what she thought was a letter of reprieve but which turned out to be an order for her husband's execution.  In reality, as an active insurgent, Loras can scarcely have hoped for clemency.

One of the eleven children later became the first Catholic Bishop of Dubuque in Iowa
More details are supplied in an article on

Mitraillades at Les Brotteaux

Colonel Chenelette

Jean-Baptiste Agniel de Chenelette (1739-1823), a former noble and career army officer, was the chief architect of the defences of Lyon during the siege.

"Chenelette, l’artilleur du siège de Lyon", Musée d’Histoire Militaire

The death of the lawyer Balleydier

Jean Louis Balleydier, a 30 years old lawyer, was among several men denounced to the Revolutionary Tribunal in Bourg en Bresse as royalists and guillotined in Lyon on 14th February 1794.  In the confusion preceding the execution, his fiancée was able to throw upon her beloved and promised very movingly to join him soon; two months later she was dead.

Arrest of M. de Tours and M. Stéphanois

The episode depicted is the transfer of prisoners from St-Étienne, Montbrison and Feurs to Lyon for imprisonment and execution in January 1793.  It is not quite certain who is depicted:  M. Gerbes de Tours was a lawyer from St-Étienne.  The picture is sometimes alternatively said to represent a M. Delours whose eighteen-year old daughter followed the entourage from Feurs.

List  of artists

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Lyon - the Revolution in pictures

Here are a few memorable events and personalities from the Revolutionary era in Lyon as depicted in Alphonse Balleydier's Histoire politique et militaire du peuple de Lyon pendant la Révolution française, 1789-1795, 3 vols. 1845-6.  I found this particular set on the website of the  LYNA Lin Yu-Nu Art Foundation an Art consultancy that operates in Paris, Beijin and Taipei, but the three volumes with their illustrations are also available on Internet Archive. 

The Military federation, 30th March 1790

On 30 May 1790 the municipality of Lyon organised a huge civic fête on the plain of Les Brotteaux, involving twenty-eight batallions of the Lyon National Guard and delegates from neighbouring departments.  For the occasion Cochet constructed a temple of Concord and a Rocher de la Fédération surmounted by a statue of liberty, the plans for which still exist in the Lyon municipal archives.

Paul Feuga, "À propos de la Révolution et de deux dessins de Claude Cochet", Muncipal archives of Lyons.

Joseph Chalier, leader of the Lyon Jacobins

The plate illustrates the contradictory character of the excitable Chalier:
 He trembled with joy before a model of the guillotine, he fell into ecstasy before a flower, the leaf of a tree, a blade of grass;  he wanted to wash his hands in the blood of aristocrats, yet he would kiss the beak of a pet dove, which he called his best friend after his mistress;  he declaimed against the absurdities of the Catholic church, but forced his brethren to kiss a stone from debris of the Bastille or a scrap of Mirabeau's clothing. (Balleydier, vol.i , p.32)

The taking of the château de Poleymieux, 26th June 1790

The medieval château of Poleymieux was owned by Aimé Guillin Dumontet, who had retired there in 1785 after an illustrious career in the navy and Compagnie des Indes.  His brother had been implicated in the Counterrevolutionary Lyon Plot and the local population suspected that Dumontet himself had assisted in the flight to Varennes.  On 26th June 1791 delegates from the municipalities of Poleymieux, Quincieux and Chausselay arrived at the château with 400 National Guard to search for arms. They were later joined by a considerable crowd. Guillin, resisted, firing potshots, the situation escalated and he was finally lynched.  It was said that a local butcher dismembered his body; his head was carried to Couzon and his heart to Neuville-sur-Saône where it was eaten in an auberge. The château itself was burned down and never rebuilt.  Today only a few stones and the former dovecote(the tour Rysler) remain.

"Notice sur Guillin Dumontet", in Revue des Lyonnais, vol. 3 (1836)

Camille Jordan

Camille Jordan (1771-1821) was a prominent Lyon writers and politician, who escaped to Switzerland after victory of the Convention, and later served as deputy to the Conseil des Cinq-Cents.  In one of his first publications, La Loi et la religion vengées (1792) the young Jordan protested against attempts in Lyon to impose the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.

Heads of the murdered officers of the Royal-Pologne regiment are shown to the audience in the Théâtre des Célestins, 9th September 1792.

On 9th September 1792, in response to rumours of the prison massacres in Paris, eight officers of the regiment of Royal-Pologne who had been detained in the fortress of Pierre-Scize, were seized and killed, together with three refractory priests.  Their severed heads were paraded around the city.  In the evening, the grisly relics were presented by torchlight to terrified theatregoers in the Théâtre des Célestins.

Journée of the 13th January 1793 - the citizens of Lyon are forced to sign a petition demanding the execution of the King.

On 13th January 1793 the administration of the department met in the Hôtel de Ville  to vote an address to the Convention in support of the execution of Louis XVI.  In the following days many reluctant citizens of Lyon were coerced by the Jacobins of the Sections into signing a petition for the King's death.

Chalier harangues the Jacobins of Lyon

The violence of the Jacobin Sautemouche

The splendidly named Sautemouche was a officer of the Jacobin municipality, who gained a reputation for brutality.  He exacted forced contributions armed with a great sabre, which he referred to as "the instrument of the law".  The two demoiselles Cognet, shown in the picture, were so terrified by his depradations, that one died of fright the next day and the other lost her mind. After 29th May the rebel municipality let Sautemouche have his freedom but he was set upon by a band of muscadins in a tavern and stabbed to death.

 General Kellermann

Camp of Dubois-Crancé, Representative on mission to the Army of the Alps

The courage of Madame Chappuis

 This episode shows the human side of Dubois-Crancé, who was later recalled by the Convention for his lack of Revolutionary zeal.  A  young matron called Madame Chappuis was brought before him accused of writing a letter in which she condemned the "bloody hoards" of the Convention and wished Dubois-Crancé himself dead. So impressed was Dubois-Crancé with the courage of the muscadine lyonnaise that he let her go, commenting wrily, "We are in Sparta here, citizens!"

To be continued.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Songs of the Lyon insurrection

The insurrection of the Lyonnais is remembered in its songs, of which La Ligue noire, the song of the Lyon Infantry, is the best known and (to judge from Youtube) the only one much performed today.

The mid 19th-century history by Alphonse Balleydier has a few paragraphs on the background to the military songs.  The rebel army, he tells us, marched into the line of fire with gaiety, repeating the songs that their poets had composed in the bivouacs. The infantry and the cavalry had their war songs, which they sang before and after battle and sometimes even during the action.  Those that tradition has preserved are marked by the colour of the times, characterised by their wild bravado, and "laisser-aller du style".  The Song of the Infantry was composed by a chasseur from the  Bataillon de la Déserte and set to the air "Aussitôt que la lumière", a drinking song from the beginning of 17th century which supplied the tune for a number of revolutionary songs (such as "Est-il bien vrai que je veille", and "Le réveil du père Duchêne").  In the recording it sounds more like a dirge than a battle hymn, but there are more up-beat versions on Youtube -  less authentic in instrumentation but possibly closer in spirit; see, for example,
I expect 18th-century soldiers could muster the drums if not the electric guitars!

I haven't been able to find an English translation of the lyrics.  Loosely, despite the forces ranged against them, the infantrymen will drink and fight and not give a f...;  anyone who dies for la patrie and for liberty, will have lived enough.  Widows must not tolerate the courtship of  cowards, for a man who who trembles in battle is useless as a lover ("jean-foutre en amour")   There will be no more peace until all the brigands of the world are dead at the feet of the Lyonnais. Under the leadership of Précy, they will be known from the Rhône to the Ganges as a band of brothers with Mars for their father.

The Song of the Lyonnais Cavalry, which is similar in vein, has a nice little story to go with it.

The composer was a mysterious cavalryman, known only as Petit-Frédéric,  who seemed to have appeared in Lyon out of nowhere.  He was, we are told, a small man of noble but undoubted military bearing, with an air of melancholy and an imperturbable sang-froid.  A recent scar extended down one side of his face.  Speculation had it that he was a Swiss Guard in disguise or an agent of the emigré court.  In the early days of the siege he  was seen in long conversation with Précy in the vestibule of the Hôtel de Ville;  the general offered him a lieutenancy his privileged personal regiment but he preferred to serve as a simple soldier.

On the night which Frédéric composed his song, his detachment found themselves defending the advanced post in Les Tupiniers-Grézieu. Dubois-Crancé's troops charged twice and were twice repulsed by the Lyonnais bayonets and by fire from the battery of four canons.  On third advance, they were about to dismantle the battery, when the Lyonnais infantry engaged their flank and allowed the cavalry to charge, pistols and sabres in hand and turn back the enemy column.

Following the action, the night was tranquil; the Republican campfires could be seen in the distance and the cries of their sentries could be heard,  along with snatches of song.  Frédéric did not sleep but instead set himself the task of composing a warsong as beautiful and consoling as the strains of the Marseillaise which could be heard drifting from the the enemy camp.  He had no knowledge of music but a tumpeter took down the tune which he composed.

Finally, Alphonse Balleydier tells us, the gunners too would have had their song, but Crécy forbade it due to its overt royalism ("Let us swear love of Kings / Death to their assassins")

Alphonse Balleydier, Histoire politique et militaire du peuple de Lyon pendant la Révolution ...vol.1 (1845), p.377-83.

Song of the Lyonnais prisoners

The memoirs of Antoine Delandine capture the note of resigned bravado which existed among the prisoners of Lyon awaiting the verdict of the implacable Commission Révolution. Those sentenced to detention in particular wiled away the time with songs and charades, and bouts, rimés, and enigmas.  The English traveller Anne Plumptre translated several, including the song which Delandine himself composed, "Le bateau" .  It is a sentimental little piece, counselling the patriot to quiet acceptance of his storm-tossed fate.

Cheerly, my friends, in prison pent!
  If from our present sufferings grows
Advantage to the state, content
  Each patriot will sustain his woes.
Let dungeons yawn, let scaffolds rise,
A thankless people's jealousies
  My ready pardon gain;
And smoothly down life's rapid tide
I leave my little boat to glide
 To Fate's eternal main.

Cheerly, my friends! soon brisk and gay
  Joy shall again our virtues bless; 
Or if we sink, blind Error's prey, 
  Calm let us wait our last distress. 
For his lov'd country proud to fall, 
The patriot's soul no fears appall, 
  His pangs our envy gain; 
Then smoothly down life's rapid tide-
Leave we our little boat to glide 
To Fate's eternal main.

Anne Plumptre,  A Narrative of Three Year's Residence in France (vol. 1, 1810) p.304

Songs of the Jacobins

The insurgents by no means had the monopoly on songs.
The Commission Temporaire orchestrated a whole calendar of Revolutionary celebrations and ordered "civic hymns" to be printed and distributed to their "brothers the sans-culottes".
Among standard Revolutionary fare, is to be found a hymn to the "immortal memory" of Joseph Chalier. It is stirring stuff: 
To arms, Citizens, all of us: up to its very name/ Swear, swear to annihilate infamous Lyon.
Here is a translation of the Hymn to Chalier from the Marxist archive: 

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