Thursday, 28 September 2017

A meeting with Robespierre - recollections of Paul Barras

In Spring 1794  Paul Barras and Stanislas Fréron returned from their victorious Mission in Toulon to face the opprobrium of the Committee of Public Safety.  Many years later Barras recalled a unannounced visit that he and Fréron made at this time to Robespierre in the protective sanctuary of the Duplays.  They met a strangely unresponsive Robespierre who, in these final months, evinced, as Peter McPhee has it, "the physical toll taken by his mental distraction" (McPhee, p.194)

I had never had more than a passing glimpse of Robespierre, either on the benches or in the hall- ways of the Convention; we had never had any personal intercourse.  His frigid attitude, his scorn of courtesies, had imposed on me the maintenance of a reserve which my self-pride dictated to me opposite an equal.  Fréron placed great importance regarding our safety on this visit, so we wended our way to the residence of Robespierre.  It was a little house situated in the Rue Saint-Honoré, almost opposite the Rue Saint-Florentin.  I think it no longer exists nowadays, owing to the opening made to create the Rue Duphot just at that spot.  This house was occupied and owned by a carpenter, by name Duplay.

This carpenter, a member of the Society of Jacobins, had met Robespierre at its meetings; with the whole of his household he had become an enthusiastic worshipper at the shrine of the popular orator, and had obtained for himself the honour of securing him both as boarder and lodger.  In his leisure moments Robespierre was wont to comment on the Emile of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and explain it to the children of the carpenter, just as a good village parish priest expounds the Gospel to his flock.  Touched and grateful for this evangelistic solicitude, the children and apprentices of the worthy artisan would not suffer his guest, the object of their hero-worship, to go into the street without escorting him to the door of the National Convention, for the purpose of watching over his precious life, which his innate cowardice and the flattery of his courtiers were beginning to make him believe threatened in every possible way by the aristocracy, who were seeking to destroy the incorruptible tribune of the people.

It was necessary, in order to reach the eminent guest deigning to inhabit this humble little hole of a place, to pass through a long alley flanked with planks stacked there, the owner's stock-in-trade. This alley led to a little yard from seven to eight feet square, likewise full of planks.  A little wooden staircase led to a room on the first floor.  Prior to ascending it we perceived in the yard the daughter of the carpenter Duplay, the owner of the house.  This girl allowed no one to take her place in ministering to Robespierre's needs.  As women of this class in those days freely espoused the political ideas then prevalent, and as in her case they were of a most pronounced nature, Danton had surnamed Cornélie Copeau "the Cornelia who is not the mother of the Gracchi." Cornélie seemed to be finishing spreading linen to dry in the yard; in her hand were a pair of striped cotton stockings, in fashion at the time, and which were certainly similar to those we daily saw encasing the legs of Robespierre on his visits to the Convention.  Opposite her sat Mother Duplay between a pail and a salad-basket, busily engaged in picking salad herbs.  Two men in military garb, standing close to her in a respectful attitude, seemed to be taking part in the duties of the household, obligingly picking herbs, in order to be free to chat more unrestrainedly under the shelter of this familiar occupation. These two men, since famous in their respective positions, were, the one General Danican, who since then, on the 13th Vendemiaire, became impressed with the idea that he was a Royalist, and who perhaps still retains the belief because he is one of England's pensioners ; the other was General, later on Marshal Brune. 

Fréron and I told Cornélie Copeau that we had called to see Robespierre.  She began by informing us that he was not in the house, then asked whether he was expecting our visit. Fréron, who was familiar with the premises, advanced towards the staircase, while Mother Duplay shook her head in a negative fashion at her daughter.  Both generals, smilingly enjoying what was passing through the two women's minds, told us plainly by their looks that he was at home, and to the women that he was not. Cornélie Copeau, on seeing that Fréron, persisting in his purpose, had his foot on the third step, placed herself in front of him, exclaiming, "Well, then, I will apprise him of your presence," and, tripping upstairs, she again called out, "Tis Fréron and his friend, whose name I do not know." Fréron thereupon said, "Tis Barras and Freron," as if announcing himself, entering the while Robespierre's room, the door of which had been opened by Cornélie Copeau, we following her closely.  

Robespierre was standing, wrapped in a sort of chemise- peignoir; he had just left the hands of his hairdresser, who had finished combing and powdering his hair; he was without the spectacles he usually wore in public, and piercing through the powder covering that face, already so white in its natural pallor, we could see a pair of eyes whose dimness the glasses had until then screened from us.  These eyes fastened themselves on us with a fixed stare expressive of utter astonishment at our appearance.  We saluted him after our own way, without any embarrassment, and in the simple fashion of the period.  He showed no recognition of our courtesy, going by turns to his toilet-glass hanging to a window looking out on the courtyard, and then to a little mirror, intended, doubtless, as an ornament to his mantelpiece, but which noways set it off; taking his toilet-knife, he began scraping off the powder, mindful of observing the outlines of his carefully dressed hair; then doffing his peignoir, he flung it on a chair close to us in such a way as to soil our clothes, without apologizing to us for his action, and without even appearing to notice our presence. He washed himself in a sort of wash hand-basin which he held with one hand, cleaned his teeth, repeatedly spat on the ground right at our feet, without so much as heeding us, and in almost as direct a fashion as Potemkin, who, it is known, did not take the trouble of turning the other way, but who, without warning or taking any precaution, was wont to spit in the faces of those standing before him. 

This ceremony over, Robespierre did not even then address a single word to us.  Fréron thought it time to speak, so he introduced me, saying, " This is my colleague, Barras, who has done more than either myself or any military man to bring about the capture of Toulon.  Both of us have performed our duty on the field of battle at the peril of our lives, and we are prepared to do likewise in the Convention.  It is rather distressing, when men have shown themselves as willing as ourselves, not to receive simple justice, but to see ourselves the object of the most iniquitous charges and the most monstrous calumnies. We feel quite sure that at least those who know us as thou dost, Robespierre, will do us justice, and cause it to be done us."

Robespierre still remained silent; but Freron thought he noticed, by an almost imperceptible shadow which flitted over his motionless features, that the thou, a continuation of the Revolutionary custom, was distasteful to him, so, pursuing the tenor of his speech, he found means of immediately substituting the word you, in order to again be on good terms with this haughty and susceptible personage.  Robespierre gave no sign of satisfaction at this act of deference; he was standing, and so remained, without inviting us to take a seat.   I informed him politely that our visit to him was prompted by the esteem in which we held his political principles;  he did not deign replying to me by a single word, nor did his face reveal the trace of  any emotion whatsoever.  I have never seen anything so impassible in the frigid marble of statuary or in the face of the dead already laid to rest...

Such was our interview with Robespierre. I cannot call it a conversation, for his lips never parted; tightly closed as they were, he pursed them even tighter; from them, I noticed, oozed a bilious froth boding no good.  I had seen all I wanted, for I had had a view of what has since been most accurately described as the tiger-cat. 

Memoirs of Barras, vol. 1 (trans. 1895) p166-172

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A Norwegian sea captain meets Robespierre

In 1793 a sympathetic Robespierre  helped the Norwegian merchant seaman,  Nicolay Linde (1755-1821)  to regain his ship which had been impounded by the Revolutionary authorities.  The circumstances of the Norwegian's encounter with Robespierre were recounted by his son, who died in 1879, and published in the journal Morganbladet in 1928 (translated for the Annales historiques de la Révolution française in the same year.) 

As one might expect from a third-hand account, many years later, some of the details are a doubtful - I wonder whether Robespierre would really have been seated at home dressed in his signature striped coat and "nankeen breeches" ?   Also the references to gout are odd, though it is known that Robespierre did suffer from an ulcerated leg.  Nonetheless the narrative is interesting;  not least for its naive and unusually sympathetic portrait.

In 1793 a Norwegian sea captain called Nicolay Linde, sailed from Bergen in the brig "Charlotte" with a cargo of fish eggs.  He landed at Douarnenez in Brittany only to have his ship detained  by the agents of the Revolutionary government.  The mayor advised him to go to Paris to appeal to Robespierre, and he made the arduous journey by stagecoach (which took six days and six nights).  On his arrival he was puzzled to find that  his intention to visit Robespierre was greeted only with smiles. He was bewildered to see in the streets processions of carts filled with men and women, some laughing and singing, others declaiming and crying. 

He found somewhere to stay and was eventually taken to the rue Saint-Honoré, to the atelier of a carpenter called Duplay.  Linde had difficulty believing that the most powerful man in France could occupy so modest a lodging, for the house was nothing more than a shed for carts.  He began to fear that his trip had been futile.  The place was very quiet with no-one around.  A Virginia creeper spread its dense leaves all over the house and covered the walls so completely that only the windows, with their little panes of glass, were visible.  Linde's guide, seizing his hand,  pointed to some windows among the foliage and said to him, "Robespierre sits up there"; then he left.  After climbing up a steep staircase, which creaked at his every step, he found a open door giving onto a room with a table in the middle.  A man was seated at it, in a light coloured striped coat, nankin breeches and white stockings covering his thin calves.  One of this person's feet, enveloped in bandages, rested on a chair under the table and Linde got the impression that he had been wounded.  His face was pockmarked and his complexion yellow, but his hair was carefully powdered and finished with a silk ribbon at the neck.  As soon as he saw Linde standing in the doorway he put on a pair of green spectacles, and said a few words, upon which a second person came out from behind a screen and stood by the window.  Linde took a step into the room and said that he was looking for a certain Monsieur Robespierre.

"What do you want with him?" said the man seated at the table.  Linde showed his passport and certificate, explained who he was and the misfortune that had befallen his brig,  and how he had come to Paris at the Mayor's advice to seek the help of Robespierre, the most powerful man in the country.  The person looked at Linde through his green glasses for a moment, then read his passport and certificate and finally invited him to sit down on a chair near the table.

"It is me whom you seek," he said, "and it would be my pleasure to render you a service.  I am sorry not to be able to do you the politeness of getting up: today gout prevents me."  Linde was then asked all about his first voyages to France, and about his relations; then Robespierre wanted to know how much the cargo was worth. "Unfortunately," he said, when he had obtained the information  he required, "I cannot help you on my own.  I will have to speak to the Committee of Public Safety.  Come again at the same time tomorrow, and we shall see."  And Robespierre held out his hand to Linde, to take leave of him, asking him again to excuse the fact that he did not get up because of the gout.  He nodded his head smiling, and said, "Au revoir monsieur", when Linde took his leave.

Linde found Monsieur Robespierre one of the most sympathetic gentlemen that he had ever met: so affable and courteous towards a complete stranger!  And further, that warm handshake seemed like a guarantee that his ship and cargo would be returned to him.  But in the streets he discovered that a strange silence reigned everywhere: he encountered lamentable convoys of prisoners, miserable carts careering through the streets....Finding it all very ominous, he hurried back to his lodgings.  There he had the impression that his host was astonished to see him again...

The next day, he returned at the appointed hour at the house in the rue Saint-Honoré. But this time he had to wait two hours to be received, as there were many people on the staircase and in front of the door waiting their turn to speak with the most powerful man in France.  When Linde went in, Robespierre was seated as he was the previous day, with his bad foot up on a chair.  Linde shook his hand, saying that he hoped his gout was better.  Robespierre thanked him and agreed that yes, it was a little better.  Behind Robespierre this time were seated two men in bonnets rouges, silent and watchful.

[Robespierre obliging gave Linde  the price of his cargo and a document guaranteeing the liberty of his ship and his person.]

Linde got up and gave Robespierre a long and fervent handshake, saying that he had never met a better man, although he had travelled throughout the world.  The green glasses that Robespierre was wearing prevented Linde from seeing his eyes, but he noticed that he was smiling, as were the two men in the bonnets rouges behind him.  Linde signed his receipt and took his money.  But as he was about to leave, Robespierre called him back, and gave him a safeconduct in case he was arrested once he left Paris.  Linde once again shook hands with Robespierre who once more excused himself for not being able to get up and see him to the door.

[Thanks to the safe conduct, Linde was able to regain his ship and successfully leave France].


Adolphe Berg and Marcel Simon, "Le capitaine Linde chez Robespierre: aventure d'un pêcheur de Bergen pendant la Revolution", Annales historiques de la Révolution française, 1928, 29: 457-62.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

An Englishman meets Robespierre

The Recollections of  the army surgeon and author John Gideon Millingen (1782–1862) first published in 1848 contain a rare and fascinating personal account of an interview with Robespierre at the height of the Terror.  Millingen, himself outlines the circumstances of their meeting. Millingen's father Michael Van Millingen, who was Dutch in origin, had moved to Paris at the beginning of 1790 and taken lodgings in the Hôtel de France, rue Vivienne (p.25).  The family was favourably  disposed towards the Revolution but came under suspicion when the war with England began; the elder son James, who was a clerk in the Mint, was arrested and detained first in the Luxembourg, then in the Collège des Écossais which served as a prison during the Terror.  The parents, ordered to leave Paris, moved to St-Léger.  Vouched for by the Albitte brothers, Montagnard deputies, they were subsequently allowed to return to the capital. Although only ten or eleven at the time, the young John attempted to intercede with various members of the Convention to secure his brother's release from prison.  He reports that saw Robespierre "two or three times"  and was received distanty but cordially, but that he talked often to his sister Charlotte and to Eleanore Duplay (p.292).

In Chapter 10, Millingen recounts his initial meeting with Robespierre.

My brother still remained a prisoner in the Collège des Écossais.  Having been successful in obtaining the recall of my father, and his liberation when arrested, through the exertions of the Albittes, I did not despair of being equally fortunate in favour of my brother.  The Albittes afforded me the facility I needed, to see the most influential personages of the day, and my first visit was to Robespierre.

He lived in an obscure house, No. 396, in the Rue St. Honoré, at a carpenter's, of the name of Duplay, with whose family he boarded. Strange to say, I observed, over the street entrance, a wooden eagle, that looked like a figure-head of a ship. A singular coincidence in the dwelling of a man who, beyond a doubt, aimed at dictatorship. I was ushered into a large room on the rez-de-chaussée, at the bottom of a timber-yard, and was most kindly received by an intelligent young man with a wooden leg, whom I thought was his brother, but found to be a nephew of the landlord, and Robespierre's secretary: I read to him my memorial, but when he saw that it was in favour of an Englishman, he shook his head, and frankly told me, that I had but little prospect of succeeding in my application.  He himself ushered me into Robespierre's cabinet.  He was reading at the time, and wore a pair of green preservers: he raised his head, and, turning up his spectacles on his forehead, received me most graciously. My introducer having stated that I was un petit ami de Dorival Albitte,—un petit Anglais.

Que veux tu ? que demandes tu ? was his brief and abrupt question.  I referred him to the contents of my memorial, on which he cast a mere glance, and then said, " If it were in my power to liberate an Englishman, until England sues for peace, I would not do it—but why come to me ? Why not apply to the Comité ?  Every one applies to me, as if I had an omnipotent power."  Here a strange twitching convulsed the muscles of his face.

At this present moment I recollect the agitation of his countenance.  He then added, "Your brother is much safer where he is.  I could not answer for the life of any Englishman were he free.  All our miseries are the work of Pitt and his associates; and if blood is shed, at his door will it lie.  Do you know, enfant, that the English have set a price on my head, and on the heads of every one of my colleagues?  That assassins have been bribed with English gold—and by the Duke of York—to destroy me?  The innocent ought not to suffer for the guilty, otherwise every Englishman in France should be sacrificed to public vengeance."

I was astonished. After a short pause he added, " Do you know that the English expected that this Duke of York would have succeeded the Capets? Do you know Thomas Paine and David Williams?" he continued, looking at me with an eagle eye; " they are both traitors and hypocrites." [See note 1]
He now rose, and paced up and down his room, absorbed in thought ; he then suddenly stopped, and, taking me by the hand, said," Adieu, mon petit, ne crains rien pour ton frère.” He then turned off abruptly, and my guide led me out.

There was something singularly strange and fantastic in this extraordinary man, at least, so it appeared to me.  He smiled with an affected look of kindness ; but there was something sardonic and demoniac in his countenance, and deep marks of the small pox added to the repulsive character of his physiognomy.  He appeared to me like a bird of prey—a vulture ; his forehead and temples were low, and flattened ; his eyes were of a fawn colour, and most disagreeable to look at;  his dress was careful, and I recollect that he wore a frill and ruffles, that seemed to me of valuable lace.  There were flowers in various parts of the room, and several cages, with singing birds, were hanging on the walls and near the window, opening on a small garden.

 There was much of the petit-maître in his manner and appearance, strangely contrasting with the plebeian taste of the times.  I was told that, in the society of women, he could make himself very agreeable; and the hand which, perhaps, one hour before, had signed the death-warrant of many of his supposed enemies, would indict sonnets and acrostics: while the voice that had eloquently denounced hundreds of victims, would sing gentle romances and love-sick ditties.

A few years before this sad epoch, he had got his portrait painted, with one hand upon his heart, and the other holding out a nosegay, with the motto, " à celle que j’aime." [See note 2]

On taking my leave, his secretary told me that he was certain Robespierre would be glad to see me, if ever I needed his assistance.  I availed myself of this permission, and called upon him several times, although I only saw him twice after my first introduction;  indeed, it was very difficult to obtain access to his presence.  On these occasions I never observed about the house those bands of ruffians by whom he was said to be guarded, although his door was crowded with wretched postulants who claimed his protection and influence. (p.281-5)

Millingen's subsequent account of Robespierre's personality is a mixture of first-hand impression, reportage and, inevitably, retrospective assessment. 

He notes, with accuracy, that Robespierre's domestic arrangements were "anything but comfortable".  His attachment to Eleanore Duplay was the "source of much discord" since his sister wanted him to reside with her and did as much as possible to create trouble with the Duplays.  Opinions differed as to whether he and Eleanore lived together as man and wife (p.285)

Whilst endorsing  the view that Robespierre behaved with arrogance and aspired to dictatorship, Millingen characterises him as hesitant and  pusillamous:  "Of an atrabilious temperament, he was morose an apprehensive of constant perils; inflexible in his passions, he was wavering in his determination....Although eloquent and volcanic in his language, he was anything but a man of action"(p.286) / "All his relatives asserted that from his childhood he had been of a timid character, and naturally humane" (p.286-7) 

Robespierre's capacity for cruelty had surprised all who knew him. He was apprehensive of falling victim of his opponents; in constant fear of evil, he showed little scruple about the means of obtaining his ends. He had sacrificed his friends, including " women he had loved" (p.289) . Millingen suggests he was troubled by conscience: he  uttered the names of his victims in his sleep and became  particularly agitated when Madame Roland was mentioned (p.289-90).

Despite his intellectual grasp, Robespierre's critical faculties deserted him. He became "what Parisians call a gobe-mouche",  believing even the most absurd assertions (p.290). He imagined Pitt and his gold everywhere -  this despite admitting to Millingen  his admiration for English institutions and remarking on his own descent on his mother's side, from an ancient Irish family (p.291).

In another passage, Millingen includes further personal details:

For hours he would rest his forehead on both hands, and often complained of violent headache, that obliged him to compress his brow with a tightened handkerchief.  His eyes, although they seemed to scintillate with ardour, were painful and impatient of light;  he therefore wore green preservers.

His mode of living was abstemious and frugal in the extreme, but he would occasionaly indulge in a free use of Burgundy wine.  He drank a great deal of strong coffee, which was followed by a petit verre, and I have been informed that he often took a dose of laudanum at night; his sister told me that he invariably carried poison about him.  He also rarely went out with pocket pistols, which had once belonged to the King, and a stiletto.[Note 3]  One these occasions he was always accompanied by a large dog, of the Pyrenean breed, of which he was very fond. Strange to say, several of these monstrous anomalies of the Reign of Terror, were most partial to animals; and the ferocious Couthon would shed tears when his favourite spaniel was ill.  Robespierre's dog always kept watch at the door of his master's bed-chamber

.......When boldly threatened, he was convulsed with concentrated rage and fear — his harsh features become more salient — he turned pale, and his whole frame shook in convulsive rigors ; his teeth chattered, his articulation became difficult, and foam issued from the angles of his mouth.  On such occasions, he has been known to thrust  one of his hands in his bosom, and lacerate it with his nails. 

Such was the violence of his passions, that he sometimes appeared threatened with suffocation.  This circumstance occurred during his accusation before the Convention, when one of the Duputies exclaimed, "Robespierre, le sang de Danton t'etouffe!".....That the wretch had moments of remorse, cannot be doubted:  often during the night he would start from his sleep, and pronounce the name of one of his victims....(p.288-9)

Millinge concludes only that Robespierre's personality was "a historical riddle";  he recalled returning home from his  interviews and reporting to his father that Robespierre appeared to be a madman (p.292). 

Portraits of other Revolutionaries

Millingen also recalls more briefly interviews that he had with Barrère and Danton:

p.298-9: At this period I also saw Barère, to whom I had been introduced both by the Albittes and my old friend, Dugazon, the comedian.  He lived in the Rue Saint Honoré, near the Place Vendôme, in an elegant apartment, the ante-chamber of which was ever crowded with petitioners, soliciting his assistance. He was a man of highly polished manners, possessing much suavity, and would have been thought of gentle disposition.  He spoke English tolerably well.  In his room was a collection of shells,  and when he observed that I was looking at them with a curious eye, he said, "As the son of a Dutchman, I suppose you must like shells;" and when he heard me remark on the beauty of some of his, he gave me some very valuable duplicates.  He made the same observation as Robespierre on my brother's imprisonment, and added, "that the English were much safer in a maison de détention than if they were at large in such troublesome times." (p.298-9)

The only member of the Government I saw, whose brutality revolted me, was Danton.  There was something inexpressibly savage and ferocious in his looks, and in his stentorian voice.  His coarse shaggy hair gave him the appearance of a wild beast.  To add to the fierceness of his repulsive countenance, he was deeply marked with the small-pox, and his eyes were unusually small, and sparkling in surrounding darkness, like the fabulous carbuncle......

Howbeit, this monster gave me but little consolation regarding my brother;  and, after having cast a hasty glance on my petition, he vociferated: "You may thank your starts, petit malheureux, that you and all you family have not been sacrificed to public indignation, to avenge the wrongs inflicted on us by your perfidious country!"  I need not add, that I was rejoinced when I left his room, and hastened down stairs much more rapidly than I had ascended them. (p.300-2)


John Gideon Millingen, Recollections of Republican France, from 1790 to 1801, vol.1(1848)

DNB entries: 
John Gideon Millingen,_John_Gideon_(DNB00)
James Millingen,_James_(DNB00)

Wilfred Breton Kerr, "Robespierre et le jeune Millingen" , Annales historiques de la Révolution française, 67 1935, p.38-45.  [Article on Stor]


Note 1: For the proposition by Carra that the Duke of York succeed to the french throne and Robespierre's denunciations of the "Hanoverian tyrant

Note 2:  This painting is documentated by Buffenoir and others; see G. H. Lewes; Life of Robespierre (1849) p.51: "The earliest portrait of Robespierre, that is in M. St.-Albin's collection, where he is represented with one hand holding a rose, the other placed upon his heart.  Underneath are the words, Tout pour mon amie". 

Note 3: Robespierre's pistols.  This is cited as an error, but Fréron.too said Robespierre owned a pair of pistols and practised with them in the garden.  

Friday, 22 September 2017

Robespierre chez Duplay - No.366 rue Saint-Honoré

On 17th July 1791, following the Champs-de-Mars massacre, the Minister of Justice denounced Robespierre's discourse to the public accuser and threatens him with pursuit.  According to Fréron, when the Jacobins broke up at 11pm, municipal troops had gathered and Robespierre had some difficulty in forcing his way through the assembled crowd.  He was understandably reluctant to return to to his lodgings, a mile and a half away in the Marais and the deputy Lecointre,  at his request, arranged for him to spend the night with the Jacobin and master-carpenter Maurice Duplay in the rue Saint-Honoré.  In Charlotte Robespierre's account, Duplay rescued him from a crowd of well-wishers in the street. He was eventually induced  to stay permanently.  His new hosts send for his trunk, "la malle du départ d'Arras" and his books from his lodgings in the rue Saintonge.  From this time on, apart from a short interlude when he set up house with Charlotte in the rue Florentin, he enjoyed the familial atmosphere and pious attentions of the Duplay family and "became more or less invisible".

The Maison Duplay, originally No.366 rue Saint-Honoré, was built before the Revolution by a community of nuns, the Dames de la Conception, on land adjoining their convent. Maurice Duplay leased the property for nine years in April 1779 and renewed the lease for a second term in 1788.  As a master carpenter he was modestly well-to-do, employing as many as a dozen journeymen and apprentices, and also owned three rental properties (in the rue des Mathurins, rue de l'Arcade and rue du Luxembourg). Duplay was "not one of those whom the Revolution enriched"; although he managed to buy the premises, now a bien national, in 1796, he was eventually forced to sell all his properties to satisfy his creditors.

"At home" with the Duplays - a 19th-century image
The layout of the Duplay house is known from a notorary document of 1779, from early 19th-century plans, and from the description of Elisabeth Le Bas. The entrance, on the north side of the rue Saint-Honoré, was via an arched carriage-gate (porte cochère). Over it, presumably as a trade sign, hung a wooden eagle, similar to the figure-head of a ship.  The door was flanked on one side by the shop of a jeweller named Rouilly, on the other by an eating house.  Within, the buildings were arranged around three sides of a small courtyard, with the carpenter's atelier to the left.  In the courtyard itself were two outhouses, the smaller of which was a wood store.  There was also a small garden belonging to the Duplay children.

Plans from Lenotre (after Sardou)

The main accommodation was arranged over two floors in the corps de logis at the back.  On the ground  floor were a dining room and salon facing onto the courtyard, and a study and kitchen looking out onto the convent garden.  On the floor above were the bedrooms of the Duplay family.  Robespierre occupied one of range of small rooms to the west above the workshop, looking out onto the courtyard.  Adjoined his were the rooms carpenter's young son Jacques-Maurice and his nephew, Simon Duplay. The configuration of the second floor over street is uncertain, but it seems that Charlotte and/or Augustin Robespierre were accommodated here.  At first Robespierre's chamber was entered by an external staircase which served the whole of the the south and west wings, but later Duplay built a more secure interior staircase, which could be accessed only through the outhouse to the west or via the dining room.  There was a small dressing room or anteroom.  Robespierre's room was modestly furnished with a small desk, a bed, some straw-seated chairs and a bookcase.  It is sometimes said that Robespierre's rooms were adorned with engravings and images of himself, but a careful reading shows that the sources refer to the Duplay salon and the little cabinet off it that was made available for Robespierre to receive guests.

To what extent does the original property survive?  

In the 1890s this was the subject of a notable controversy between the two doyens of Robespierre studies, Ernest Hamel and Victor Sardou.  In Hamel's view the property had been completely destroyed by the 19th-century extension of the rue Duphot which cut across the grounds of the former convent.  Sardou, however, convincingly identified it with No. 398, then the property of a baker named Vaury.  In the early 19th century the house had been bought from Duplay's creditors by his neighbour, the jeweller Rouilly, elevated and extensively rebuilt, but the original floor plan was still discernable.  Indeed, with the aid of the 1811 building plans, Sardou felt confident enough, to reconstruct the layout in some detail.
 In Sardou's time  it was still possible to identify the dining room and the salon (both relegated to bakery stores), to see where the glazed door between them had been walled up, and  to distinguish the little cabinet which had once contained Robespierre's bust.  The upstairs bedrooms of the main block were even better preserved with the boiseries still in place.  M. Vaury had dismantled Duplay 's staircase and replaced it with a stove, but he had taken the stairs themselves - in reality no more than  a simple ladder -  to his country house in Lieusaint.  At some point the ladder found its way to the Conciergerie, where it is now somewhat incongruously displayed.  Sardou also noted the survival of the enfilade of rooms on the west side, although the partition walls which existed in Robespierre's time had since disappeared.  A certain question mark remains over the exact disposition of Robespierre's chamber, since in 1899 an archivist named Coyecque unearthed a description of the property from 1789, which suggested a different layout from the one Sardou had reconstructed.  In particular it showed two large windows where there was now only one (implying perhaps a wider space?) and possibly a balcony.  John Haycraft in his book In Search of the French Revolution hypotheses a slightly more generous space (p.250):  

In the course of the 20th-century there have been considerable further alterations.  The carriage entrance has been replaced by a shop front, but the courtyard, though truncated, remains and the general disposition of the original corps de logis can still be seen.   The building to the rear is now a restaurant with a plate-glass front, today run by the adjoining patisserie, though in the 1970s and '80s it was home to the appropriately themed "Le Robespierre" (It was the restaurant's proprietor who was responsible in 1975 for securing the commemorative plaque in the rue Saint-Honoré).  The western part, where Robespierre once lodged, has had an assortment of tenants, including a travel agency and an up-market hairdresser.  In 2014 the artist and Robespierre enthusiast Anthony Pascal managed to inveigle his way inside and was able to match what he saw in some detail with Sardou's plan of the enfilade (see below).

At the turn of the century (from Sardou)
Maison Duplay in 1950 - photo for sale on ebay
The space today


Victor Sardou, La Maison de Robespierre (Paris, 1895). The BN copy contains a press cutting detailing Coyecque's findings.

G. Lenotre, "The Duplay household" in  Paris in the Revolution (original French ed., 1895)


Robespierre goes to stay with the Duplays:

On the day of the massacre on the Champs-de-Mars there was a meeting of the Jacobins. The friends of liberty were few in number and the courtyard was filled with National Guardsmen and chasseurs.  Robespierre trembled with fear when he came to cross the yard to go homeand heard the threats of the soldiers; he asked to be supported on either side by his fellow Jacobins Lecointe and Lapoype.  He did not dare to go back to the rue Saintonge in the Marais where he lodged, and so asked Lecointe if he knew a patriot near the Tuileries who could put him up for the night.  Lecointe suggested Duplay's house and took him there.  From that day to this, he has never left....  

 Fréron, "Notes sur Robespierre" Papiers inédits trouvés chez Robespierre.... vol. 1 (1828).

People will be curious to know how my brother Maximilien met the Duplay family. The day when the red flag was deployed and martial law proclaimed on the Champs-de-Mars by Lafayette and Bailly, my brother, who had seen the fusillades ordered by the hero of two worlds, and who returned, heartbroken with all these scenes of horror, following the rue Saint-Honoré. A considerable crowd pressed about him; he had been recognized, and the people cried vive Robespierre! M. Duplay, cabinet-maker, left his house, came before my brother, and engaged him to come into his house to rest.  Maximilien accepted his invitation. After an hour or two he wanted to return home, but he was kept for dinner, and not even that evening did they want to let him leave; he slept in M. Duplay’s house, and remained there several days.   Madame Duplay and her daughters showed him the liveliest interest, surrounded him with a thousand delicate cares.   He was extremely sensitive to all those sorts of things. My aunts and I had spoiled him by a crowd of those little attentions of which women alone are capable. All at once transported from the bosom of his family, where he was the object of the sweetest solicitudes, into his household on the rue Saintonge, where he was alone, let the change he had had to submit to be judged! The Duplay family’s provenances in his regard recalled to him those that we had had for him, and made him feel still more vividly the emptiness and solitude of the apartment he occupied in the Marais. M. Duplay proposed to him that he should come live with him, and be his host’s lodger. Maximilien, to whom this proposition was quite agreeable, and who besides had never known how to refuse in fear of disobliging, accepted and came to live among the Duplay family.
From Charlotte Robespierre's Memoirs: many thanks to Estelle La Chatte for the English translation! 

A little detached building on the rue Saint-Honoré, with a carriage-entrance and a shop on the ground floor, four windows on the first floor, with a loft above, and a roof, with two eaves covered with tiles.  Further, another detached building behind the first, on the west wing, also one storey in height and covered only by a sloping roof line with tiles.   Further, behind the said building is another detached building, forming a gable on the courtyard, oone storey in  height,and a loft above, with roof covered also with tiles.  The said courtyard contained between these three buildings enclosing an outhouse on either side, of which the one on the west is large, with a sloping roof.
 Lease document of 1779.Sardou, p.5-6. Translated in Lenotre.

Details on our residence and on our interior A large porte cochère. Two boutiques, one on each side, occupied the one by a jeweller and the other by a restaurateur. In front, only one floor, occupied by Robespierre’s sister and younger brother. The entrance to this apartment opened to the left, on a large staircase; in the courtyard, two hangars, one for the works, another for the wood; to the right of the courtyard, a little garden of twenty feet square; in the middle, something like a bed of lowers, where each of the children had his little corner.

Upon entering, a dining room, behind that a kitchen with a view of the garden of the nuns of the Conception, from whom my father rented. It was in that convent that my sisters and I had our first communion.

To the right of the dining room, a salon lit by a window giving onto the little garden; to the left of the salon, a little office, with a view of the cabin of the gardener of the convent of the Conception. In the dining room, a little wooden staircase leading to the apartments; to the right was my mother’s bedchamber, lit by two windows; to the right of that room, and attached to it, was a little powder room, which one crossed to enter Maximilien’s modest chamber.

It had only one window, a chimney; its furnishings were the world’s simplest: a walnut bed; bed curtains in blue damask with white flowers, which furnishing came from one of my mother’s dresses; a very modest desk; some straw-bottomed chairs; there was also a storage rack serving as a bookshelf. This room was lit by a window overlooking the hangars, so that Robespierre was constantly exposed to the sound of working, but without being troubled by it.

Past Robespierre’s chamber, but a degree lower, were two little rooms, lit from the same side as that room, occupied the one by Simon Duplay, my cousin, who lost a leg on the battlefield of Valmy, the other by my brother Maurice, a young schoolboy of fourteen years. The second little chamber gave onto Mlle Robespierre’s grand staircase, and thus rejoined the rest of the house.
Memoirs of Elisabeth Le Bas [translated by Estelle La Chatte on live.journal]

Charles Barbaroux (1767-94), the Girondin deputy, visited Robespierre at the Duplays shortly before 10th August 1792.
I was invited the next day to a meeting at Robespierre's.  I was struck by the decoration of his cabinet: it was a jolie boudoir where his image was repeated in all sorts of different forms and by all sorts of arts.  He was painted on the wall on the right, engraved on the left, his bust was on one side and his bas-relief on the other;  in addition on the tables were half a dozen small Robespierre prints.
Mémoires de Barbaroux, p.63

The Thermidorean Louis Marie de La Révellière-Lépeaux also visited the Duplays at about this time.
They welcomed me and took me into the salon, where the door to a little cabinet had been left open.  What did I see when I went inside?  Robespierre who had imposed himself on the household and now received the hommage due to a god.  The little cabinet was consacrated to him.  His bust was enshrined there among diverse ornaments, verses and decorations. The salon itself was adorned with little busts in terracotta and plaster, and papered with all sorts of portraits of the great man, both drawings, engravings and watercolours.  He himself, combed and powdered and in an immaculate dressing gown, sat in an armchair before a table laden with fruits, fresh butter and milk, plus the heady perfume of freshly brewed coffee....The god deigned to smile at me and offered me his hand.  Through the glass in the salon door could be seen a crowd of adoring fans extending back to the entrance of the courtyard waiting for a sign from the great man.....
Mémoires,  vol.1, p.114-5

The house in the 19th and early 20th centuries

 This house stood upon the site of the modern No. 398 of the Rue St. Honore. It is on the northern side of that street, about a hundred yards before you get to the Rue Royale, and just before the opening of the Rue St. Florentin. The house may be recognised, apart from the number, as that on either side of whose central doorway stand a jeweller's shop and a furniture shop.  It is the property of M. Vaury, whose bakery is next door. 
There has arisen upon the origin of the present building a discussion which once possessed a certain interest, but the solution of which is now so thoroughly arrived at that the quarrel may be almost neglected. It will suffice for this note if I say that without doubt not a particle of the original building remains, but, save that the front upon the street is a good deal deeper than it was originally, the plan of the house is much what it was in Robespierre's time. 

This house was, during the Revolution, of comparatively slight construction; it was only two storeys high in front, and with a depth of one room. The back, at the end of a courtyard, was also only two storeys high; and the back and front were joined precisely as they are now by a wing on the western side — that is, on the left side of the courtyard as you come in under the gate; but there was no corresponding eastern wing opposite as there is now, there was only a blank wall. In the years 1811 and 1816 two successive reconstructions destroyed all the original walls, and there were even new foundations laid; it was determined to make the house much higher, and the walls of the original two storeys were, according to the architect's report, not nearly strong enough to bear the weight. They were pulled down, the present house was raised to its six storeys, and the eastern wing was added. The carpenter's shed that stood in the courtyard was at the same time taken away. 
M. Sardou, who possesses a very valuable collection of revolutionary MSS. and documents, was under the impression that the house we now see is the original building. It is true that the actual space of Robespierre's room still exists surrounded by four walls, and that the place where the old window was is occupied by the present window overlooking the courtyard. It is the middle window on the left on the first floor; but the discussion as to whether the room is still in existence is a matter for metaphysicians rather than historians. When you have taken away the floor, the ceiling, and the four walls of a room, and in the new house you reproduce on much the same situation a new set of walls, floor, and ceiling, have you still got the original room? The discussion is a trifle scholastic.
Hilaire Belloc Robespierre, 1901, p.375-6.

In 1989...

Below the revolutionary's lodgings is today a jolly restaurant called, not surprisingly, Le Robespierre, where Monique Delcroix serves dishes with names like ''minced meat Charlotte Corday'' and ''salmon Robespierre'' - an allusion to his chilly nature.  Mrs. Delcroix agitated to have a plaque put up on the Rue St.-Honore to mark Robespierre's sojourn - which was finally done in 1975 - but she thinks that bygones ought to be bygones. ''Among my customers I even have Philippe d'Orleans,'' she bantered, referring to a gourmand of royalist descent. ''The Lions Club meets here, too"
James M. Markham, "In the Revolution's footsteps" The New York Times 19th March 1989

There is now a little plaque at 400 Rue St.-Honoré, which -- after much grumbling by the authorities, who still shivered at things Jacobin -- was put up some 15 years ago to mark Robespierre's sojourn, according to Monique Delcroix, owner of Le Robespierre. This is a restaurant-bar at the foot of the tiny courtyard, in the space where Maximilien used to drink his morning milk with the Duplay girls. The low-ceilinged, darkish room is well stocked with portraits of revolutionary figures, and a large color photograph of wigged and costumed living members of the "Maximilien Robespierre Association for the Democratic Ideal," whose newsletter declares them to be dedicated to correcting "two centuries of obscurism, negations and lies about the French Revolution," and in particular to proving that "the Jacobin republic isn't dead, she is only sleeping." Oh, Lord. I walked into the adjoining house on the left, and up the narrow, steep staircase the Duplays had once mounted; the garden they looked out on, shown in engravings of the period, has since been covered by another building. In my era it's a crowded block; to Robespierre this must have seemed not only a refuge, but a reward.
Mark Hunter, "A Revolutionary approach to Paris", The Washington Post, 12 March 1989

Today, Robespierre's original lodgings are still recognisable, now set ironically in a Rue St Honoré which has become one of the most luxurious shopping centres in Paris...Before the Revolution, St Honoré was residential, with noble mansions opening onto it.  The Duplay's house was surrounded by the gardens  of the Convent of the Conception,where the anarchist Hébert's wife had been a nun, and where Duplay's daughters went to school.

Entrance in the rue Saint-Honoré in the early '70s
Today, the original entrance of the house where Robespierre lived is partly blocked by a shop, 'Sonar'. which sells expensive oriental objects.   To get to the inner courtyard, you penetrate a narrow entrance, brushing the metal letter-boxes of present inmates.  Within, the layout is much as it was, except that the surrounding buildings are higher, and there is no garden on your right.  The original narrow staircase curves round on the left, its walls now covered with pretentious marbled wallpaper.  On the first floor, you go into a tourist agency to be confronted by a large room with wall-to-wall carpeting, a reception desk, and a photo-copiers in the corner.

Originally, this room was divided into various small bedrooms of the Duplay children.  Robespierre's was at the far end, tiny, looking onto the courtyard.  It had the simplicity of the ascetic.  A narrow, walnut bed was covered with  a quilt of blue damask with white flowers.  The shelves on which stood a few books, mainly Rousseau, were of pine.  A small table was often covered with a speech in preparation on closely written sheets, scratched with erasures. Beyond was a small dressing room which led onto a special staircase, built by Duplay, to allow separate access and protection from intruders.  This staircase has disappeared, and is now in a country house.  The rest of the Duplay family lived in the part of the house beyond Robespierre's dressing room, in what are now further offices of the tourist agency.
The original dining room, kitchen and sitting room, at the end of the courtyard, have now become a restaurant, Le Robespierre, where I have often eaten.  Their rabbit is excellent.  The décor is all red: lamps, tablecloths, wall coverings.  Blood or politics?, you ask yourself.  As you sit, surrounded by portraits of Robespierre, the restaurant is shaken suddenly by the Métro, passing below.  The rumbling is ominous, like the prelude to an earthquake.  Perhaps it is a modern echo of Robespierre's feeling of being continually threatened, while France seemed about to crumble. You imagine him leaning on the mantlepiece, paring his nails, or eating his favourite oranges, when a sudden presentiment of destruction makes his fingers tremble, and brings pallor to his greenish cheeks.

A calm blonde lady, Monique Delcroix, has run the Robespierre for twenty-five years.  Previously it was a café for Africans, called the Savernay.  When she acquired it, Monique didn't know that it had once been Robespierre's home, she told me.  This she discovered only two weeks before the opening.  Immediately she sent two thousand telegrams all over France, inviting friends, officials and journalists.  The party was a great success and went on till dawn.  
'Do you feel Robespierre's presence here? I asked her.
She shrugged her shoulders. 'No.'
'Do you like him - as a character?'
'I prefer Danton.  Robespierre was too cold, too detached.  France needed someone strong, tough.  The Germans do what they're told, but the French are all individualists - particularly at a time of Revolution.'
John Haycraft, In Search of the French Revolution, 1989, p.249-51

The commemorative plaque - smashed "once again" in 1999:

For a time, early last year, there was no trace of Robespierre to be found on the street where he lived in the days of his fame. The restaurant called Le Robespierre had closed its doors, and after a while its portrait sign was removed from above the entrance of the house on the rue Saint-Honoré. Once again, the plaque on the wall had been smashed. The marble was shattered, the letters gouged away by a vindictive chisel. Just before the Bastille celebration, on a day of misty heat, a new plaque appeared. In the interim, only the staff of the new patisserie were able to confirm that it was true: Robespierre lived here.

The house on the site has been rebuilt, and so the room he occupied is, as his biographer J.M. Thompson has said, a metaphysical space. You go down a passage between shops; it widens a little, into a high-walled enclosure. It doesn’t look like a place where a tragedy would occur, but if we had a diagnostic for such places we would always cross the road and stay away. In 1791 the gateway opened into a yard, with sheds where wood was stored; Maurice Duplay, who owned the house, was a master-carpenter. In this courtyard, Paul Barras saw two generals of the Republic picking over the salad herbs for dinner, under the eye of Madame Duplay. Robespierre lived on the first floor, in a low-ceilinged room with the plainest of furnishings.
Hilary Mantel in the London Review of Books 30 March 2000
And today

If you are lucky enough to get through the entrance door (difficult because there is an intercom) you can see some traces of the time when Robespierre lived in this house. After going through the passage you will find yourself in the courtyard, now a lot smaller than it was at the time of the Revolution.  On the left, on the first floor, you can see the window of Robespierre's room. This still exists but is now part of a private apartment.  At the back of the courtyard, still on the left, on the ground floor, you can see the dining room  which belonged to Robespierre's hosts, the Duplay family. Today it is a tea shop, which is part of the pâtisserie next to the entrance.  Twenty years ago it was a restaurant called "Le Robespierre" where you could have lunch or dinner in  "Revolutionary" surroundings.
Information posted on Trip Adviser, 11 February 2017 [translated]

In 2014  Anthony Pascal managed to visit Robespierre's rooms in what was at that time the premises of the hairstylist Syvlie Coudray:

When I first became interested in Robespierre several years ago, I learned that the Maison Duplay was still there today.  It was formerly No.366 rue Saint-Honoré, and today is No. 398.
When I visited the site for the first time I noticed that there was no longer a porte-cochère, but just the entrance to some flats on the left.... I was disappointed that the place seemed completely unrecognisable and left.  A few months later I returned and this time tried to get in through door on the left to see if there was anything to be found inside.  The intercom wasn't a problem;  the button at the bottom made the door open.   I was surprised to find that, beyond the opening passage, the famous little courtyard was still there!

In fact the dress shop in the middle of the block corresponds exactly to the site of the old porte-cochère.  The interior courtyards still exists but it is now behind this boutique.....

Here is the interior court as it is today.  (In the 18th century the house had only two storeys)  At the back, what was once the Duplay's kitchen is now a restaurant....

On the left hand side was the building where Robespierre and two of the Duplay family had rooms on the first floor.  Immediately to my left were some stairs which I climbed without really knowing where I was going.  I found a little corridor and more stairs....  but I soon realised that I had gone too far up.  To get to the place where Robespierre lived, I needed to go through a door on the first landing.  It just had to be there!  I noticed that it this was not a private apartment but some sort of business premises;  written on the door was "Sylvie Coudray - Workshop"

When I got home I discovered from the internet that Sylvie Coudray was a freelance hairdresser, who catered for a high class clientele.  I found an email address on her site, and contacted her to ask whether it was possible to visit.

This was last March.  Sylvie replied very graciously, and suggested that I call her to arrange a meeting.This was arranged and on 9th April at midday, I found myself outside Robespierre's door!  The thing which worried me most was whether the owner would let me take photos;  after all she wasn't obliged to even let me in.

I rang the bell and Sylvie's assistant greeted me and invited me in.  I remained standing in the waiting room while she went to find Sylvie.  Sylvie came, invited me to sit down and wait while she finished with a client.  Sylvie seemed a very pleasant woman;  the first impression was a good one.

I sat down on the first chair to hand and started to scrutinise the room.  I knew that the interior of the house had been modified in the last two centuries, partitions knocked down etc, but I also know that the original walls were still there.  I should therefore be able to recreate the original floorplan.
I consulted my plans and suddenly realised that I needed to look no further:  I was in the very place which used to be the row of rooms which included Robespierre's.
The opening at the back did not exist at the time of Robespierre.  Instead there was the little wooden staircase, which gave access to the family bedrooms on one side, and to these rooms on the other.  Effectively, there would have been a partition between each window.

Where was Robespierre's room? On the plan there was a narrow window next to the door to the Duplays' rooms; the next window was in the little antechamber, making the third window the one that belonged to Robespierre's room.  Without doubt this was Robespierre's very window.....

There are several photos but I don't want to reproduce them as they are M.Pascal's work.

The thing which struck me most was how small the room must have been.  The distance between the partition walls was no more than two metres! (I measured it)  The width of the room couldn't have been more than four metres.  There was just enough room for a bed in the alcove shown on the plan.  I now realise that the various reconstructions of Robespierre's room that I have seen in the past, are not credible.

The little "cabinet d'aisance" near the front of the suite of rooms also still exists and still houses a toilet

I was able to stay only a quarter of an hour...before Syvie's assistant found me to take me on a tour of the apartment.  Since I had already found what I was looking for I contented myself with a swift visit to the rest, including the former chambers of the Duplays and their daughters....

My exploration wasn't quite finished yet.  There was still the ground floor and the kitchen to see.  For this, all I had to do was have lunch in the little restraurant "Au delices de Manon".  As I have said, this area contained the dining room, kitchen, and a little salon.  These no longer exist, but the restaurant occupies the same space.  I ate peacefully there where Robespierre, Saint-Just, Couthon and others, ate between 1791 and 1794.   Tradition has it that here too Robespierre sometimes read to family and friends from Rousseau or Corneille.
Anthony Pascal, "J'ai visité la chambre de Robespierre".  Les Dentus, blog.  Post of 21st April 2014 [my translation]
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