Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Last days of Roland


Portrait by Bonneville. Musée des beaux-arts, Lyon
File:Roland de la Platière.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Yet another sorry end from the annals of the Revolution......

At the end of January 1793, three days after the execution of Louis XVI, Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière resigned his post as Minister of the Interior.  For four months he managed to lived quietly with his wife in the rue de la Harpe.  On 31st May 1793, his arrest was ordered.  He immediately slipped out of the house and took refuge with his friend the naturalist Louis-Augustin Bosc in the rue des Prouvaires.  Manon Roland, having petitioned energetically on his behalf,  was arrested at one o'clock the following morning. 


In the forêt de Montmorency

Roland remained hidden with Bosc throughout 1st June.  On the 2nd the whole of Paris was in arms, the bells sounded their alarm, patrols were out in the streets.  With all eyes  focused on the Convention,  Roland and Bosc left Paris unchallenged and reached the forêt de Montmorency where Bosc owned a country retreat, the former Priory of Sainte-Radegonde where he would go to botanise.

File:Foret de Montmorency - Cimetiere de Bosc 01.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
The prieuré du Bois Saint-Père, or prieuré de Sainte-Ragegonde, near the château de la Chasse in the forêt de Montmorency, was a foundation which dated back to the 12th century.  In December 1789 it was sold as a bien-ecclésiastique and bought by Bosc in the name of his friend Bancal des Issard,  deputy for Drôme.  It was described as having an room with an oven on the ground floor,  two rooms with chimneypieces on the first floor, plus the chapel and outbuildings. Today nothing remains.  A short walking tour in the Forest, the "Chemin du philosophe" takes in the surviving historical sights of the surrounding area: the Montmorency hunting lodge, the fountain of Sainte-Radegonde, and Bosc's private cemetery in the forest where he was buried in 1828.  
See Journal de François, post of 03-06-2019
Forêt de Montmorency: Le prieuré du Bois Saint-Père (journaldefrancois.fr)


In Rouen

Roland stayed at the priory for a fortnight until around 15th June. It is not known exactly when he left, but by the 22nd Bosc had informed Manon Roland that her husband was staying in Rouen in the apartment of their friends the Malortie sisters, in the rue des Ours. Whilst in Rouen Roland continued to correspond with his wife - though exactly how is uncertain; even when imprisoned at Saint-Pélagie she knew where her husband was and the miseries that consumed him.  Roland was tortured by his own predicament and Manon's infidelities.  She informed her lover Buzot that "the old uncle" had declined into a sorry moral state (letter of 6th July)  He had prepared an "exécration publique" against his rival which she only dissuaded him with the greatest difficulty from publishing (to Buzot, 31 August).  Yet  the besotted Roland still schemed futilely to rescue her from prison (to Buzot, 3rd and 6th July).


 In 1908 the local historian Armand Le Corbeiller lived in the Malortie house at 15 rue des Ours.  At this time the attic windows set in the roof still betrayed the building's 17th-century origin.  The sisters' fathered had moved into the property in 1738.  In the 1760s Roland, who lived in Rouen at the time, was one of a group of young men, probably friends of Malortie's son Nicolas, who congregated there. At one point he was engaged to the youngest  sister, who had died prematurely.  More recently, in 1781 and 1784, Manon had stayed with the surviving two sisters.  After Roland's suicide the younger sister was incarcerated at Gravelines, but she was released after Thermidor.  In 1795 they became guardians to Roland's orphaned daughter Eudora. 
For more details, see:
Armand Le Corbeiller's article of 1908 and  Claude Perroud in Études sur les Roland, vol.2.

15 rue des Ours on Google maps
Today this part of the rue des Ours, in central Rouen, has been completely redeveloped.  I spotted this plaque commemorating the Rolands outside no. 15 - not sure if it's official though.  


Death 

On Sunday 10th November 1793 Roland learned of Manon's impending execution, "qu'on allait engorger ma femme", and resolved to die himself. "With extraordinary courage" (according to the historian Claude Perroud) he held a consultation with his friends. He considered returning to Paris to turn himself over dramatically to the Convention  and perish, like Manon,  under the blade of the guillotine.  But this would ruin their daughter Eudora, since the property of the condemned would be confiscated.  Instead he determined to commit suicide, out in the open, at a distance from those whom he might incriminate.

The château de Coquetot, from an old postcard  
Today the château de Conquetot, where Roland committed suicide, still survives, but is in private hands and not accessible to the public. 

He burned his papers and took his leave at six o'clock that evening.   On the morning of the following day, Monday 11th November, his body was discovered by a passerby eighteen kilometres away.  It lay just off main road from Rouen to Paris, in the woodland avenue leading up to the château de Cocquetot in Bourg-Bedouin.  At one o'clock in the afternoon the local Justice of the Peace arrived, accompanied by the Mayor of nearby Radepont and a surgeon.  Roland was found to have plunged the blade of his sword-stick into his left side.  He then seems to have pulled out the weapon and stabbed himself a second time.  He may even have fallen upon the knife, since, according to the procès-verbal, it was deeply embedded as far as the  dorsal vertebrae, "into which it was firmly fixed".  His pocket contained two cartes de sûreté and various papers, one of which mentioned the address of the Malortie sisters in Rouen. Another contained Roland's famous final letter:

Pdf (reseau-canope.fr)

 " Not fear, but indignation.

" I left my place of refuge as soon as I learned  that my wife was to be killed; I will not remain on an earth burdened with crimes . . . . "

---------------------------------------------

"Whoever finds me lying here, respect my remains; they are those of a man who died as he lived, virtuous and honest.

"A day will come, and it is not so far off,  when you will have a terrible judgment to bear. Await that day.  You will then be able to act in full knowledge of the cause and will recognise the justice of this warning.

"May my country, finally, abhor so many crimes and return to humane and social feelings.

" J. M. ROLAND."


Suicide of Roland, Bridgman Images (Private Collection)

The representatives in Rouen, Legendre and Delacroix, who  were hastily informed, arrived on the 12th.  Legendre was able to identity Roland by sight. He was buried on the spot where  he was found. Legendre ordered a marker to be erected, with an inscription announcing his crime to the world; but this was never furnished, if indeed it was seriously intended. In 1851 a local historian, Fallue,  encountered an elderly eyewitness: without any coffin, Roland had been buried at night by the light of two lanterns.   Fifty-eight years later, all trace was erased.   In 1908 the local archaeological society instigated official attempts to recover Roland's body, and transfer it to the Pantheon, but no remains were ever recovered.
Old photograph showing Roland's sword-stick which was at one time on display in the museum in Rouen 
Bulletin of the Académie de Villefranche en Beaujolais, 1978 pdf (free.fr)

See Lenotre, p.193:
This stick is in the Rouen Museum, in the room devoted to French arms. The catalogue contains the following indication of its origin :
 Roland de la Platiere's dagger-stick, and with which he committed suicide on November 10th, 1793, on the territory of the Commune of Radepont or Bourg-Bandouin (Eure). This object, which was preserved by M. Mauchretien, juge de, paix at Pont-Saint-Pierre, who drew up the report relating to the removal of the body, was made over by his son, M. Mauchretien, 153, Rue des Charrettes, Rouen.

Lenotre notes that the stick was ornamented with a brass knob, and by touching a spring divided into two unequal parts, in each of which was fixed an eighteen inch blade. These weapons, when the stick was closed, slipped conjointly into two sheaths in juxtaposition. 


References


M. Fallue, "Note sur la sépulture du ministre Roland" Revue de Rouen,  1852, p.81-86
Revue de Rouen et de Normandie - Google Books

Claude Perroud, "Note critique sur les dates de l'exécution de Madame Roland et du suicide de Roland", Études sur les Roland, vol. 1 (1900),  p.287  
Études sur les Roland. Tome 1  Internet Archive
_____, "Les demoiselles Malortie" vol. 2, p. 197

Armand Le Corbeiller, "La Maison des Malortie et le séjour de Roland  à Rouen", Bulletin; Amis des monuments rouennais (1908), p. 45-82

G. Lenotre, "The death of Roland ", Romances of the French Revolution, trans.Lees (1909)
Romances of the French revolution Internet Archive

J. Furet, Jean-Marie Roland, ministre girondin (1754 [sic, pour 1734]-1793) (1910)



Readings

Roland's suicide plan

Account by Luc-Antoine Derozière de Champagneux, a lawyer and journalist from Rouen who had been an intimate friend of the Rolands. 

[Roland] had been at the home of the Malortie sisters in Rouen since 24th June 1792. They did not hesitate to give him sanctuary, even though it would have cost them their lives if this act of humanity had been discovered.

At the news of the death of his wife, which was impossible to hide from him, Roland fell into such a state of crisis that it was feared that his final end had come . However, he regained his senses, and with them felt the full weight of despair.  The arguments and concern of his friends did nothing to lessen his pain. It was impossible for him to survive without the woman he loved so much.   In order not to compromise the sisters he decided to carry out his plan away from their house.

When his friends were convinced that they could not dissuade Roland, they had the courage to deliberate with him on the sort of death to choose.  It is from their own mouth that I learned these and I can testify to their truth.

At first sight, one might be tempted to condemn as insensitive their participation in this consultation; but theirs was a sublime demonstration of friendship and virtue; they did not to abandon the unhappy Roland in a crisis which might have driven away less dedicated friends.

Two plans were discussed: according to the one Roland would return incognito to Paris, make himself known in the midst of the Convention, and use the element of surprise to deliver truths he believed were useful to his country.  He would then demand to die on the scaffold where his wife had perished. The second plan was to retreat several leagues from Rouen and deliver the fatal blow himself. Roland at first favoured the first option, since  it offered the prospect of making his death more useful and glorious; but he changed his mind when he realised that his goods would be confiscated and his daughter reduced to penury. He therefore decided to commit suicide. He asked for a pen, wrote for a quarter of an hour, then took a sword-stick, and said his final farewells to his friends.

It was six o'clock on 15th November when Roland left his sanctuary.  He followed the road to Paris as far as Bourg-Baoudoin, about four leagues from Rouen, then he he took an avenue leading to the house of the C. Normand,  sat down on the verge and plunged into his chest the knife which he had brought with him. No doubt his death was swift, but he embraced it so peacefully that he did not even change position; the next day several passersby, who saw him sitting propped up against a tree, assumed that he was asleep.
"Preliminary discourse" to Campagneux's edition of the works of Madame Roland, published in Year VIII (p.lxxxvi-lxxxvii)

Discovery of the body of Roland; engraving by Levachez after Jean Duplessis-Bertaux
https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6950473h/f1.item.zoom

Official reports:

1.  Procès-verbal concerning the removal of the body of Roland, drawn up by  Mauchrétien, Justice-of-the-Peace at Pont-Saint-Pierre. Copied from the Radepont registers for 1793.  

In an avenue in the woodland about thirty to forty paces from the main road from Rouen to Paris, we found a dead body lying on its back on the verge. It was wearing a rough fustian coat, a waistcoat the front of which was made of the same material, a fine linen shirt, a pair of black cloth breeches, black silk stockings, and a pair of shoes fastened with black silk laces.  We instructed Brossier the surgeon to proceed to an immediate examination.  Brossier observed that the body was a man of about sixty years. Death had been caused by two knife wounds in the epigastric region on the left side. The wounds were about an inch ("une pouce") long,  about an inch apart and between three and five inches deep. The diaphragm, the wall of the stomach and a portion of the liver had been pierced, resulting in extensive  hemorrhaging in the abdomen.   In the lower wound was lodged a lance in the form of the blade of a knife, which had penetrated as far as the dorsal vertebrae and was firmly held there, having entered the bone....

Since it appeared from the documents found on him, that this could be Roland, the ex-minister, we deferred permission to bury the body and transferred it to a house in Radepont, to which officials were summoned. 
(Published in Perroud, "Note critique", p.292-4).



2. Report of Legendre to the Convention, dated 23 brumaire. (13th November 1793) 

Fellow citizens, we were informed yesterday evening that a man had been found dead five leagues from here, on the main road from Paris to Rouen. We were advised that papers had been found in his pockets which gave rise to the suspicion that this was Roland, former Minister of the Interior. We ordered that one of us should be taken there immediately. Legendre arrived during the night;  he had the body shown to him and easily recognised the former Minister Roland, who had killed himself to escape the blade of the law.  The Justice-of-the-Prsvr submitted to us four items which had been found in his pockets.  The first contained an apology for his life and death, with prophetic imprecations; two others were cards from his sections;  the forth was the address of a person whom he no doubt intended to stay with in Rouen;  she is under arrest.  We required the Justice-of the-Peace to bury him where he was found.   The National Convention will perhaps find it necessary to place a post on the grave with an inscription in order to mark for posterity the tragic end of a perverted minister who poisoned public opinion; who paid dearly for his reputation as a virtuous man; and who was chief of a criminal coalition who wanted to save the tyrant and annihilate the Republic.

See Champagneux, p.lxxxvi-lxxxvii. . A curé who had been present at the time related to Champagneux that the provocations Legendre had addressed Roland's dead body had made him shiver with horror.  Champagneux wondered what could have inspired such hatred,  since Legendre had been Roland's  butcher and had always been treated by him with exemplary courtesy. 


 THE DEATH OF ROLAND, BY LENOTRE

THE flat where Mme. Roland and her husband settled down in January 1793, on their leaving the Ministry, was on the second floor of a house in the Rue de la Harpe, opposite the Church of Saint-Côme.  The building which had an exit into the Rue des Maçons-Sorbonne was a large one. Their little apartment looked on to the courtyard; its rental was 450 livres; and the tenants had signed a lease for six years, dating from Easter 1792. A six years' lease at such a time!

The somewhat cramped rooms were tastefully furnished. In the drawing-room were arm-chairs and bergères, upholstered in Utrecht velvet, surrounding an Erard pianoforte, then a still little known instrument.  The windows were covered with checked white and yellow cotton curtains, in front of which were draped other larger curtains in yellow taffetas. The bedroom was furnished in exactly the same style but in blue; there were the same bergères and the same little checked curtains [Archives of the Seine. Dom: 124-3-44]

The Rolands had two servants : a valet de chambre named Louis Lecoq and an honest Picardian of about thirty-four, Marguerite Fleury.  Fleury  - it was by her surname that the family called her - carried out the duties of femme de chambre, cook, and confidential maid. She had been thirteen years in Mme. Roland's service, had been present at her daughter's birth, and followed her wherever she went.  Little Eudora was over eleven years old when her parents went to live in the Rue de la Harpe.  She was placed under the care of a governess, Mlle. Mignot, whom Roland, however, soon afterwards dismissed. 

Long were the hours and dreary was existence, during the early months of 1793, in this poor little flat, poor, that is, compared to the fine Ministry of the Interior which they had just left. Since their fall they had been left almost entirely to themselves. To declare, a year before, that you were a friend of Roland was equivalent to classing yourself with enthusiasts; now -  such progress had the Revolution made - it was an act of incivism, and you ran the risk of proscription.  A few intimate friends, however, still had the courage to cross his threshold: Bosc, a friend of twelve years' standing and the most faithful, Brissot, Louvet, and Buzot.  The Rolands knew, moreover, that they were threatened, and their great desire was to retire to their Clos estate, in the Beaujolais, where formerly, "in a rustic and rather wild retreat," they had lived a few years which then appeared to be monotonous, but which now seemed full of sweetness.  But how were they to leave Paris?  Was not Roland a sort of hostage?  His papers had already been seized on the night of March 31st.  Now he was in daily fear ; and on certain occasions the danger seemed so imminent that he sought an exile for his wife and child in the suburbs, it is believed at Champigny.

Nor was this the least of his troubles.  Mme. Roland loved Buzot with an impetuosity worthy of her heroic soul. She had struggled and the conflict had been fierce.  "When a woman possesses both love and virtue," says La Rochefoucauld, " how much she is to be pitied!" Mme. Roland had nobly disclosed this chaste passion to her aged husband, and had confessed that she no longer felt for him anything more than "the feelings of a sensitive daughter for a virtuous father."  The unfortunate man, who adored her, was tortured with jealousy, yet was bound to bow his head.  What could he say?  Of what could he reproach a woman of this stamp, guilty only of loving?  What possible issue was there to this family drama? Take her away to a place of refuge far from Paris? But flight meant self-denunciation; it meant immediate arrest and the scaffold. Give her her freedom and disappear?  It is said that Roland resolved on this; but he loved her so much that his heart failed him: he could not resign himself to the idea of parting.

No story is better known than this; but none is more tragic, and one wonders what the evenings of husband and wife must have been during that spring of 1793 as they sat in the blue bedroom of the Rue de la Harpe, with the windows, looking on to the quiet courtyard, open: she, dreaming of the other; he, watching her, his soul torn to shreds; full of love, rage, esteem, and admiration for the woman who so loyally was breaking his heart. When silence reigned, how ominous it must have seemed; what confidences they must have exchanged when they spoke! And thus they reached the point of wishing that one of the sentries whom they could hear pacing the street in the distance would stop at their door, break into the house, and drag them away.

One day, the 31st of May, it happened.  Since morning, Paris had been crowded with armed troops directing their steps towards the Convention.  But one cannot relate, after Madame Roland, the incidents of that famous day: her journey in a cab to the Assembly, her vain attempts to enter, and her return home, where the door-keeper, Lamarre, whispered to her that Roland, after having taken refuge in the flat of M. Cauchoix, the landlord, at the bottom of the courtyard, had slipped out through the Rue des Maçons door.  Then came her journey through Paris in search of her husband, whom she doubtless discovered at Bosc's, in the Rue des Prouvaires; her fresh attempt to enter the Convention, her return, jolting through the streets, and her typical anecdote relating to the cabman, whose only thought, on that day of agitation, was for a poor lost dog which persisted in following his cab.  Finally, there was her return to the Rue de la Harpe, her arrest during the night, and her immediate imprisonment at the Abbaye.  What a feeling of joy there must have been in her heart when she realised that, without fear of succumbing to it, she could unreservedly express her love, since, between her and the man she loved, there was exile and the bars of a prison! In those passionate letters which, by some unknown means, she got to Buzot, then in hiding at Caen, she refers to her husband, news of whom she had succeeded in obtaining.  So as not to discourage "the man the most beloved by the most loving woman, ''  she led Buzot to hope that perhaps at an early date she would be free [Letter of 31st August 1793]  What a relief it would be to be delivered from the tormenting constraint of life in common with her husband -  from marital obligations! " Thanks be to heaven," she wrote, " for having substituted my present chains for those I formerly wore. . . . How I cherish these irons which leave me free to love you wholly, to think of you ceaselessly." [Letter of 7th July , 1793].

Roland, saved by Bosc, wandered about for twenty days before finding a place of refuge.

Bosc was a tender-hearted man. He also was slightly in love with Madame Roland, and knowing that he could not hope to see it returned he had long since decided to be simply the most devoted and faithful of friends.  He consoled himself by botanising.  Whenever he had a half-day to spare he took the Montmorency conveyance and, with vasculum slung over his shoulder, wandered into the forest to collect plants.  His friend Bancal, the member of the Convention - another intimate friend and suitor of Madame Roland - had bought there, at the beginning of the Revolution, a sort of hermitage, hidden in the forest, called the Priory of Sainte-Radegonde, and which he placed at Bosc's disposal. It consisted of a garden of seven arpents.  an ancient chapel with a steeple, and a small house, with a room and a cellar on the ground floor and two bedrooms on the first floor. Thus, almost, the Hermitage of Sainte-Radegonde still remains. On Sundays Bosc used to leave the Rue des Prouvaires for this solitary spot and spend the day there searching for plants amongst the underwood.

As soon as he heard of his friend's arrest, on June 1st, he hastened to the Rue de la Harpe and found the household in great alarm; the good-natured Fleury in tears, and little Eudora in despair. Taking the child, he placed her under the charge of the wife of a deputy, Mme. Creusé-Latouche, who occupied, in the Rue Hautefeuille, an ancient house known as the Maison des trois tourelles.   He then returned home, where Roland was anxiously awaiting him.  On June 2nd, whilst an army of eighty thousand patriots was blockading the Convention, whilst the tocsin was being sounded and soldiers were scouring the streets,  Bosc succeeded in passing the city gate with the proscript and in reaching Sainte-Radegonde, where the ex-minister remained in hiding for twelve days.

A longer sojourn could not be thought of.  How could an isolated house that was almost always closed be supplied with provisions without arousing suspicion? Bosc, who had contrived to carry on his back to Madame Roland a basketful of flowers from the Hermitage, hit on the idea of taking the ex-minister to Rouen, where he knew of a safe hiding-place.  The journey lasted six days, but how it was made is unknown.  All we know is that, from June 20th, Roland was in such a place of retreat at Rouen that nobody could suspect he was there.

Before his marriage he had lived several years in Normandy and had fallen passionately in love with a young girl of Rouen, Mlle. Malortie, who had since died.  He had kept up relations with this young lady's two sisters,  who lived very quietly in the Rue aux Ours. 

Mlles. Malortie were no longer young in 1793.  Sensible and pious, but without bigotry, they had taken part until 1790 in the management of the finances of the chapter of the Cathedral, of which their father had been receiver-general.  They were not well-to-do, and in order to make ends meet it was even necessary for them to do sewing. These good- natured women, doubtless consulted by Bosc, courageously opened their door to Roland.

Irritated by inaction and tortured by recollections, his life there was a five months' nightmare, every hour quickening his anguish.  All his political friends were either proscribed or dead ; his dream of liberty and justice had vanished ; he was in despair at seeing the revolution which he had so ardently desired, and which he had served with so much abnegation, end in anarchy  and blood.  But nothing was so bitter to this shattered, doleful, and suspicious old man as his jealousy, haunted as he was by the image of his wife whose love, at the height of its passion, went out to another, to a man who, not yet thirty- three, was active and courageous.  With the pitiless cruelty of indifference, she made no attempt to hide her feelings. He knew that to her and the man she loved he was "the old uncle,' such being the name by which she referred to him in her letters to Buzot, and which he conjectured were as ardent as their young hearts, as eloquent as love itself.  So, in his anger, he decided to hold his rival up to the people's execration by means of "a poisoned document", and forthwith set to work on this savage, splenetic, and detestable task, which, however, brought relief to his sorrow. . . . But even this revenge was refused him.  Madame Roland, hearing of what he was doing, showed displeasure, and the wretched man - vanquished - destroyed the manuscript.  Triumphantly, she immediately informed Buzot of the good news. " Le vieil oncle" she wrote, " is horribly depressed ; he declines in a terrible manner. Sophie (herself) has got him to burn the testament of which you know, and which, on your account, so affected her.  It was not an easy undertaking, but, as she demanded it, he made this last sacrifice. . . ." [Letter of 31st August]

From this time the proscript entered upon a period of terrible inactivity. He no longer wrote and he never went out. What disclosures did he make to his two old friends ? What reproaches did he utter? I cannot say.  But "he found that life was torture, and such he made it to those around him." Yet he did not wish to die, for, however wretched his existence might be, it was an obstacle to his rival's happiness.  Through desire for vengeance and in a spirit of despair and hatred he persisted in living.

On November 10th - a Sunday afternoon - he heard that his wife, who had been brought before the revolutionary tribunal two days before, in the morning, had been condemned to death. How was the news brought to him ? Doubtless through the same mysterious channel that had served to keep up relations with Paris during the past five months; but perhaps simply by some Parisian newspaper printed on the evening of the 8th and distributed in Rouen on the morning of the 10th.

Roland did not concern himself. A consultation was immediately held with Mlles. Malortie with the object of deciding what he was to do.  He was now quite ready to die, but undecided as to the form his death should take. How, he asked, could he make it useful to the Republic ? One plan particularly took his fancy: that of setting out for Paris, striving to reach it without being detected, slipping into the Convention, suddenly appearing, some fine day, in the tribune to put the debased Assembly to shame, and, then, perishing under the same knife that had just guillotined his wife. But to deliver himself up in this manner would ruin Eudora, since the property of the condemned was confiscated by the nation. This idea was therefore rejected and suicide decided upon. The question remained : Where was he to die? Far from Rouen, so as not to compromise the friends who had provided him with an asylum. How was he to kill himself? And when? As soon as possible.

Terrifying must it have been to hear these two old maids speaking of such things to this poor man, to whom they were, however, greatly attached, but whom they knew was so wretched that they could not find a word to dissuade him from his project.  At night-fall he gravely and deliberately burnt his letters; and, with his friends looking on, sat down to write. He wrote for a quarter of an hour, folded the paper, and put it in his pocket; then rose, put on his overcoat, a long frock coat made of coarse beige fustian, and took a stick which Bosc had given him some months before.  This stick was ornamented with a brass knob, and by touching a spring divided into two unequal parts, in each of which was fixed an eighteen inch blade.  These weapons, when the stick was closed, slipped conjointly into two sheaths in juxtaposition. 

Roland prepared to leave the house.  It is difficult to imagine the looks that were exchanged at that moment, the last words of recommendation that were spoken, the vain but very natural objections that perhaps were made, objections based on the bad weather, the fatigue he would feel, and the uncertainty of finding a place to eat.  Then, at six o'clock, when the darkness had gathered in, came farewells and departure, the sound of feet descending the staircase, the closing of a door, and silence . . . Finally, there was the solitude of the two old maids, the evening passed under the light of the lamp, whilst the rain beat against the window- panes, and they thought, with a shiver, of the dead man who but a short time before had been with them.

The proscript tramped through the muddy streets. For the first time for five months he breathed in the open air and rubbed shoulders with his fellow men. It does not appear that anyone noticed this tragic old man with quaker-like face, flat white hair, long grey coat, breeches and black stockings, walking through the moonless night. He wandered into the streets surrounding the Cathedral, reached the quay,  followed the old Cours Dauphin, and began to mount the steep hill of Sainte-Catherine. The wind was violent and the rain fell in a lashing downpour. The road, doubtless, was deserted.  Moreover, the main road to Paris which Roland was following did not then, as now, pass through the villages of Blosseville, Mesnil-Esnard, Saint- Pierre de Franqueville, and Boos. Bending a little to the left, it passed the hamlets of Mouchel, Lefaux, and the Bergerie farm.  This ancient way did not touch the new road until La Lande was reached, half an hour before reaching Bourg-Baudouin.

It must have been about ten o'clock at night when Roland reached La Lande three long leagues from Rouen.  Tired and depressed as he is shown in his wife's correspondence, and unaccustomed to walking, he advanced along the wet, slippery road with difficulty staggered almost under the squalls of wind.  And what thoughts escorted him! His dearly beloved wife, bound with cords; her beautiful brown hair cut by the rough hands of the executioner's assistant; her fresh white neck imprisoned by the brutal guillotine and severed amidst a terrible splashing of blood. What was he going to do?  And where was his daughter?  Who had undertaken to tell her of her mother's death? Who, in two days' time, would tell her of that of her old father? And this nightmare followed him. Why not end it, once and for all? He had already, during his long journey, seen many spots along the roadside which he had doubtless said were suitable for what he had to do.  But he put it off and continued to advance.

When La Lande was passed, he walked for a quarter of an hour and reached some houses on his left  - the extremity of the village of Mesnil-Raoul. On the other side was a wood, the first he had met since leaving Rouen -  a wood in which, that stormy night, the wind howled with rage. A quarter of an hour later, at a turning in the road, he caught sight of a covered path leading into the underwood.  This sinister spot, this dark avenue, made him decide. He left the road and entered it.

It was a road leading to the Château de Cocquetot, belonging to Citizen Normand and situated within the Commune of Radepont.  The spot was little frequented, for it was not until late the next morning that a passer-by saw the body,  face upwards, some thirty to forty yards from the main road.  It was not until one o'clock that the juge de paix of Pont- Saint-Pierre was informed.  He proceeded to Cocquetot, accompanied by his clerk, the Mayor of Radepont, and a surgeon. The last-named examined the body and found that death had been caused by two dagger wounds in the left side.  In one of them the weapon was still sticking, and at such a depth that it touched the dorsal vertebrae" in which it was firmly fixed."  The body was undressed, and whilst the doctor continued his examination, the juge de paix searched the pockets of the deceased's great-coat.  In them he found two cartes de section and a few papers, including the address of " Mlles. Malortie, Rue aux Ours, at Rouen", and the famous letter the text of which, now to be seen in a glass case in the museum at the National Archives, has been so often quoted :

" Whoever may find me lying here, respect my remains those of a man who died as he lived, virtuous and honest.

" A day will come and it is not far off when you will have to pass a terrible judgment. Await that day. You will then be able to act with a full knowledge of the matter and will recognise the justice of this warning.

"May my country, finally, abhor so many crimes and return to humane and social feelings.

" J. M. ROLAND."

On another fold of the letter were the words :

" Not fear, but indignation.

" I leave my place of retreat on hearing that my wife is to be guillotined ; I do not desire to remain any longer on an earth burdened with crimes . . . . "


On learning, in this manner, that the suicide was a noteworthy man, the Mayor of Radepont sent a messenger to Legendre, the member of the Convention, who was then at Rouen on a mission.  Awaiting his arrival, the body was carried to the Château de Cocquetot, where it was placed on a large table in a low-ceilinged room and covered with a shroud.  It remained there the whole night and part of the next day, the 12th.  When Legendre arrived and had officially authenticated the identity of the deceased - "thanks to his knowledge of the said Roland's physique" - he ordered that he should be buried on the very spot where he had committed suicide; and even expressed a wish "that there should be placed above the ditch a stake bearing an inscription informing posterity of the tragic end of a perverse minister who had poisoned public opinion, bought most dearly the reputation of a virtuous man, and who was the leader of a criminal coalition whose object was to save the tyrant and destroy the Republic.' And having delivered himself of this phrase, he returned to Rouen to throw one of the Mlles. Malortie into prison.

Nobody, however, went to the expense of putting up this sign of infamy.  Roland's body was buried somewhere there, but the exact spot is unknown. An old wood-cutter who was present at the interment, and who was still alive about 1852, said it was "thirty yards from the road,"  which leads one to believe that Legendre's order was, in this respect, strictly carried out. Local tradition has it that the body was buried upright in the ditch, but neither of this nor its mound, which long pointed out the place, is there trace or recollection.

A few days before her mother's execution, little Eudora left Mme. Creusé-Latouche's and was boarded, under a borrowed name, with a Mme. Godefroid. There it was that Bosc told her of the two terrible events which made her an orphan.  As soon as the Terror had come to an end and he dare show himself again, he appointed himself the child's guardian, and it was under his charge that she returned to the flat in the Rue de la Harpe, where, on the night of May 31st, 1793, she had been torn from her mother's arms.

The verification of the contents of the flat took place on January 7th, 1795. Notwithstanding the laconicism of the inventories, they give us some idea of what the young girl's feelings must have been on entering that apartment, full of relics of her parents.  Her mother's summer dresses were still hanging in the wardrobes:  two dresses en chemise, one in linon and the other in coarse muslin ; a cap in linon trimmed with lace; a dress en chemise in striped taffetas and a deshabille in pique, both of them old; two trimmed muslin dressing-gowns; two pairs of corsets, one in muslin, the other in linon, and both the worse for wear; a pierrot in flesh- coloured taffetas, etc."" x Passing to the wardrobe in which the austere Roland kept his clothes, there were found " two old round hats, two old pairs of shoes, and a pair of worn black breeches . . ." Bosc obtained for the child the right of keeping out of the sale any objects she required for her personal use, so Eudora chose "two little medallions with engraved heads ; a pencil portrait under glass in a gilt frame"; some furniture, linen, and the Erard piano, which had been given to her, it appeared, on January 1st, 1793, as a New Year's gift. [Archives de la Seine]

This heritage came in the nick of time.  Guardian and ward were almost without a bite to eat an inconvenience which Bosc hardly felt at all, being passionately in love. He had loved the mother so deeply that he quite naturally came to have an affection for Eudora.  She was barely fourteen years of age, whereas he was on the verge of forty.  Someone, doubtless, made him see that he really ought to wait until the child was of an age to reason before declaring himself, for he immediately asked Mlle. Malortie, who had been out of prison since the 9th of Thermidor, to come to Paris, and on her doing so placed the girl under her charge.

This was at the end of November 1795. In order to reach Rouen, Eudora had to pass along the Bourg-Baudouin road, within thirty yards of the ditch into which Roland's body had been thrown.  She lived in the flat in the Rue aux Ours which her father had left to commit suicide. Everybody, in those days, lived in the midst of tragic recollections; and people had become so accustomed to them that they were no longer disturbed by phantasms.

As to the ever amorous Bosc, he decided to leave the country, and as he was without resources he set out on foot for Bordeaux, where he embarked on a sailing vessel for America. When he returned to France two years later he was still suffering from his chronic complaint; but during his absence friends had hurriedly married Eudora, who had become Mlle. Champagneux.

Bosc died in 1823.  His wish was to be buried at his beloved Hermitage of Sainte-Radegonde, in the Forest of Montmorency. Eudora Roland survived him thirty years: she died in Paris, in the Rue de Fleurus, on July 19th, 1858. 


Saturday, 20 March 2021

The last days of Condorcet

Of all the many personal tragedies of the Revolutionary epoch, none seems more poignant than the death of Condorcet, the great exponent of human progress,  in his lonely prison cell.  The nature of his death remains uncertain;  did he attempt to take charge of his fate by an act of suicide or did he merely succumb, more mundanely but mercifully, to a medical condition - a heart attack or a stroke?  Here are a few notes on the lead up to Condorcet's arrest, and what is know of his final end.

In the rue Servandoni - With Mme de Vernet

On 8th July 1793 Condorcet's arrest was decreed by the Convention and his possessions seized.  A few days later, his name appeared with those of Brissot, Valazé,  Gensonné and Vergniaud, on the list of Girondin deputies condemned to death for conspiracy against the Republic. Condorcet now published an open letter, justifying his flight from "tyranny".  He immediately left his house at 505 rue de Lille and fled first to Auteuil, where he had a pied-à-terre at no.2 Grande-Rue.  The doctors Pinel and Boyer, friends of Cabanis and of Félix Vicq d'Azir managed to find  him refuge in Paris with a widow, Mme de Vernet, at 21 rue des Fossoyeurs, now 15 rue Servandoni.  

Although they were not previously acquainted, Mme de Vernet, with considerable generosity of spirit, sheltered and provided for him.  For the next eight months he lived quietly, dividing his days between working, reading and the society of the household.  His wife, who at this time made ends meet by portrait-painting, was able to visit him once or twice a week; she came on foot from Auteuil, disguised as a peasant and would mingle with the crowds from the guillotine so as not to be noticed. He was also able to receive  a few intimate friends - Cabanis, Diannyère, Cardot.  Mme de Vernet's lodger, Marcoz, who was deputy for Mont-Blanc, furnished him with books (he devoured "an enormous quantity of novels"), newspapers and news from the Convention. At the end of October, unsurprisingly, he was thrown into a state of considerable agitation by the execution of his fellow Girondists. 

It was during this  period in the rue Servandoni that the Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain was written:
 "The serenity that distinguishes the Progress of the Human Mind was an artistic effect;  it reflected no counterpart in Condorcet's own state of mind" (Gillespie, Science and polity in France (2014 ed., p.331) 



File:Plaque Nicolas de Condorcet, 15 rue Servandoni, Paris 6.jpg - Wikimedia Commons


In Fontenay-aux-Roses - the Suards

At the end of March 1794,  as repression intensified, Condorcet  was obliged to reconsider his  situation.  He feared for Mme Vernet, his family, his friends and determined to leave the rue Servandoni. There were warnings of impending visitations, but also the promise of a new refuge - probably from Garat, the former Minister of the Interior.  He entrusted his papers to Madame Vernet's companion, the mathematician Sarret, for safekeeping and declared his intention to absent himself for a few days. 

On the day of his departure, Tuesday 25th March, he wrote on the flyleaf of a history of Spain, his "Testament", a moving final set of advice to his infant daughter Éliza in which he commended Mme Vernet to her as a "second mother" [English translation:   Condorcet - Google Books  ]At ten in the morning  he went upstairs on pretext of searching for his tobacco, then slipped out of the the house secretly, dressed in his customary disguise of a  carmagnole jacket and woollen bonnet.  Sarret accompanied him. They went up the rue Servandoni, turned right into the rue de Vaugirard opposite the Luxembourg prison, then managed to cross the Barrière du Maine without incident.  Once out in the countryside Condorcet took his leave of Sarret, stating that he would go to his old friends Jean-Baptiste and Amélie Suard at Fontenay-aux-Roses and then perhaps on to Le Pecq.

As ill luck would have it, when Condorcet reached Fontenay, the Suards were absent in Paris.  He presented himself twice without finding them in, and was reduced to sleeping rough for two nights in a nearby quarry.  He returned a third time on Thursday 27th March at nine in the morning. This time he was invited in and stayed two hours with Suard.  According to Amélie Suard, he was given a substantial meal, money and bandages for a leg injury he had sustained in the quarry.  Suard then returned hastily to Paris in search of a passport.  For fear of spies, Condorcet was sent away from the house; again according to Amélie Suard it was arranged that he should return at eight in the evening to spend the night.   Later the Suards were to be subject to bitter recriminations, particularly from Mme Vernet,  for their failure to offer Condorcet immediate shelter.  See Robinet (1894), p.21:
"Suard sent Caritat on his way and entrusted him, in broad daylight, to the open road!  Three hours later, he was arrested; it was all over....Any commentary is useless"



7 rue Jean Jaurès in Fontenay-aux-Roses, where the Suard residence once stood. The property, which dated from the late 17th century, was bought by Suard in 1782 and  became a hub for the intellectuals of the later Enlightenment. Amélie Suart described it as "an attractive house in a charming situation" with views of an "amphitheatre of superb extensive woodland" and "great fields of roses and cherry trees".  A little hard to imagine now! In 1974 the existing property was demolished and replaced by modern flats.  A single surviving gate,  incongruously preserved, serves as a reminder of Condorcet's unhappy visit.


See: Liens de mémoire; bulletin des Archives de Fontenay-aux-Roses, no.25. 2015.


In Clamart - Arrest

Condorcet left Fontenay at about eleven o'clock in the morning, in the direction of Clamart, three kilometres away, where he arrived at about one in the afternoon.  Here he entered the inn of  Louis Crépinet,  a member of the municipal committee and chief of the armed force for the commune.  By ill luck, the most notorious terrorist of Clamart, Nicolas-Claude Champy, was also present, drinking with another farmer, François Breau. Condorcet excited their suspicion - so the tale goes - by asking for a twelve-egg omelette. He was unable to produce any papers, or answer their questions convincingly.   Champy denounced him to the local committee of surveillance, who had "le quidam" brought before them in the sacristry of the church.  It was now two in the afternoon.  He was searched and his personal effects taken. When interrogated Condorcet gave his name as "Pierre Simon" and claimed he was the former valet de chambre of MM. Trudaine and Dionys du Séjour; he signed under the false name without however troubling to disguise his handwriting.

Emile Antoine, in his article of 1890, published the procès-verbal of the arrest.  The committee voted by eight out of twelve, that Pierre Simon  should be taken by the gendarmerie to the district of l'Égalité, that is to Bourg-la-Reine.  This order was  carried out immediately , with the Committee of General Security and the Committee of Public Safety informed.

Fichier:Maison ancienne de clamart.jpg — Wikipédia 

This house, 7 rue Chef de Ville in Clamart, is known locally as the "Auberge Condorcet", though according to Émile Antoine the actual cabaret belonging to Louis Crespinet had been demolished by 1890, as had the sacristy where the local revolutionary committee met.

The last meal of Condorcet, from Louis Figuier, Vie des savants illustres
https://www.akg-images.com/archive/-2UMEBMYQHF2UF.html



Bourg-la-Reine - Imprisonment and death

Condorcet, with his bad leg, had to be transported  the six kilometres to Bourg-la-Reine in a commandeered cart, between two gendarmes.  He was delivered to  the Maison d'arrêt in the late afternoon or early evening of Thursday 27th; he spent Thursday night there; then Friday and the following night, then part of the day on Saturday.  At four in the afternoon on Saturday 29th March, the prison concierge Antoine Chevenu  found him dead in his room.  He was fully dressed, lying face down on the ground with his arms stretched out by his sides.  He had no weapon or other object which could give rise to suspicion of suicide.  At ten in the evening, the Justice of the Peace, Antoine Morelle, arrived to verify the death, accompanied by Labrousse the medical officer for the locality.  The body was stripped and death declared to be  due to  a "sanguinary apoplexy".  The remains were then handed over to an agent of the commune charged with their burial.

The formal procès-verbal of the removal of the body and the death certificate itself, both first published by Émile Antoine in 1890, confirm the date of death as Saturday 29th March 1794 (9 Germinal Year II)  The following day Condorcet's body was buried in a common grave in the cemetery of Bourg-l'Egalité in the presence of the gardener Jean Crette and the joiner Cholot.

By a judgment of the tribunal of the 1st arrondissement of  Paris, dated  12 Ventôse Year III, the official record was rectified and the name "Pierre Simon" replaced by that of Condorcet. The body was never recovered;  when the philosopher's remains were "transferred" to the Pantheon in 1989 the coffin was empty.

pic.gif (640×480) (patrimoine.asso.fr)

No trace remains in Bourg-la-Reine today of the maison d'arrêt where Condorcet died. There used to be a commemorative plaque  where it once stood, at what is now 81 Avenue du Général-Leclerc.  However, in 2006 , when the site was redeveloped, the plaque seems to have been taken down and never replaced.

"Condorcet commits the act of suicide in prison to avoid his sentence". Engraving after Alexandre Fragonard, published in London in 1803.
https://purl.stanford.edu/dn367hd9535


Did Condorcet commit suicide?


The timing of Condorcet's death, days or even hours before he was inevitably exposed and sent to Paris for execution, seemed suspiciously convenient.  Contemporaries almost unanimously concluded that he had committed suicide using a poison which he "always kept with him". This poison certainly existed: it had been concocted by Cabanis in the highly charged atmosphere of late 1793 and distributed among his close circle where it was known gamely as "the bread of brothers";  the abbé Morellet had even seen a ball of it in the possession of Suard.   Cabanis never denied giving the poison to Condorcet. In the 1890s the historian Antoine Guillois, a native of Fontenay, unearthed  a manuscript note written by the deputy Jean Depry, dated June 1793 in which he reveals that Condorcet shared his supply of poison with him as a "gift of friendship"; he remarked that Condorcet wished "to remain in all eventualities, the sole master of his person".  Garat, in his memoirs, also referred to a poison which he and Condorcet "shared between us like bread among brothers"   The unanswered question, of course, is whether Condorcet still had the poison on him in March 1794 when he staggered into the inn in Clamart.  The only direct evidence a cryptic remark he reportedly made to Suard that, if he had one night in front of him, he was certain to escape his executioners. 

The circumstances of his death seem to make poisoning unlikely, though they do not absolutely exclude it. 


Timings: 

Many commentators, his daughter included, made the mistake of assuming Condorcet died during his first night in gaol. In fact he was arrested on Thursday 27th but was not found dead until the afternoon of Saturday 29th, after two nights in prison.  This does not fit very well with the idea of staying "one night ahead" and skeptics wonder why he chose that particular time to commit suicide.

Logistics: 

Could Condorcet really have hidden the wherewithal to poison himself?  At the time of his arrest  his personal effects,  including the knife and scissors which could potentially have been suicide weapons, had all been seized.  The room was also thoroughly searched after his death. Certainly there was no chance of keeping a flask or the ring with a concealed cavity favoured by more romantically-inclined historians. That said, Cabanis's poison didn't need a container as such: it is described as being made up into "pieces of barley sugar" or as a ball about the size of half a little finger.  It could be broken up and dissolved directly on the tongue.  


Medical evidence: 

The death certificate and the official report of the removal of the body, still assumed to be that of the vagrant Pierre Simon, yield only two pieces of  medical information:

  • The corpse was found in an odd position, face down on the floor with arms stretched out stiffly by the sides.
  • There was bleeding from the nostrils.  Based on this, the medical officer had no hesitation in concluding that "sanguinary apoplexy", that is to a say a stroke,was the cause of death.  No postmortum was carried out.  
Was poisoning possible?  Cabanis's poison is known to have been a  combination of  concentrate of opium, and stramonium, that is to say an extract from the plant stramonium datura,  known in 18th-century France as "l'herbe aux sorciers" or "l'herbe au diable".   Both poisons attack the nervous system, causing hallucinations and, in high concentrations, multiple organ failure and death. Modern experts are divided as to whether this is consistent with the description of Condorcet's body.  Régis Olry and Geneviève Dupont, in their 2006 article, say not: there should have been vomiting and signs of convulsions, or at least evident distress. 

In contrast, Michel Biard, in his 2015 book on death and the deputies to the Convention, concludes that poisoning was indeed feasible.  He consulted two modern forensic medical practitioners,  Gérard Lahon, at the court of appeal in Rouen and Jean-Georges Anagnostides, an expert at the Cour de cassation.  Both felt that the acute poisoning could not be discounted, perhaps in conjunction with a preexisting cardio-vascular condition. The position of the body seemed to them unnatural, as though manipulated post mortem by a third party.  The thought is that the suicide had been concealed in order to avert charges of negligence - but this is to add a whole new layer of supposition.


Comparable cases:  

This line of inquiry does not get us very far:

  • Loménie de Brienne, former finance minister and Archbishop of Sens, died, ostensibly of heart failure, on the night following his arrest on 18th February 1794. He was widely assumed to have taken poison - perhaps even "les pastilles de Cabanis".  However, his 19th-century biographer Perrin, was doubtful;  the accounts are contradictory and  members of the family were convinced that he had died of natural causes. A postmortum revealed no traces of poison.

See: Joseph Perrin,  Le cardinal de Loménie de Brienne, archevèque de Sens; ses dernières années  (1896), p.187-191.  https://archive.org/details/lecardinaldelom01sensgoog/page/n202/mode/2up

  • Napoleon attempted suicide  in the early hours of 13th April 1814 by taking poison or medicinal opium. It was thought that he once possessed Cabanis's poison, but the capsule he actually took had been prepared by his personal physician Dr Alexandre-Urbain Yvan.  Thanks to prompt intervention, he suffered only spasms, nausea and vomiting.  
 

Condorcet's state of health: 

Condorcet would certainly have been exhausted, debilitated and profoundly mentally stressed by the time he reached Bourg-la-Reine:

  • He was forced to spend two March nights sleeping rough in a quarry, which must have been quite an ordeal for a man who was used to a warm bed.  During this time he sustained a leg injury.   
  • There was some dispute whether Condorcet had eaten with the Suards, or was starving and had been driven by hunger into the inn in Clamart.
  •  He was so exhausted he had to be loaded on a cart to be taken from Clamart to the prison in Bourg-la-Reine.  
None of this in itself suggests Condorcet was close to death.  He had walked the three kilometres to Clamart, gone into the inn and then appeared before the committee in the church sacristy without collapse. He had answered his accusers coherently. Nor should it be assumed  his condition worsened in the Maison d'arrêt - it seems quite likely that he would have been given a mattress and food of some sort. It takes more than tiredness and stress to kill a well-nourished fifty-year-old man.

We are therefore forced back on the possibility that he had an underlying medical condition, which could have caused a stroke or heart failure.  There is some evidence to support this.
  • Condorcet was known to be sensitive to stress and to have a delicate temperament which was taxed by his intellectual labours.  At the beginning of the Convention, he declared in the Chronique de Paris 1792,  that his health had been adversely affected.
  • Isambert in the Nouvelle Biographie générale writes that Condorcet was tall, with a large head, wide shoulders and a robust body, but weak spindly legs. He habitually stooped. (See Robinet, p.264)  
  • In the winter months at the rue Servandoni, he suffered from the cold, particularly in the legs, perhaps a sign of poor circulation.  Sarret reports he would stay in bed until midday to keep his legs warm and Mme Vernet depicts him shivering in front of the fire.  
  • He had difficulty in walking with Sarret to Fontenay,  a journey of 8 kilometres, which took him four hours. 
  • When Mme Suard saw him for the last time, admittedly after two nights sleeping rough, he was bent double, unrecognisable, walking with difficulty. 
  • Régis Olry and Geneviève Dupont state that Condorcet had previously suffered a minor stroke This seems important point, but they do not give a reference and I have been unable to find one. 

.  

Conclusion?

In the absence of conclusive evidence either way, it is perhaps safest to accept the official verdict that Condorcet died of natural causes, a stroke and/or heart attack. On the other hand, Condorcet had on several occasions expressed his intention to take his own life rather than submit to trial -  the timing must surely supports the idea that he did so.  It is certainly comforting to imagine, with his friends and family, that he was able to confront his fate and chose a philosopher's death. 

References

Émile Antoine, "Pèlerinage de Bourg-la-Reine: les derniers jours de Condorcet", La Revue occidentale philosophique, sociale et politique, No.2, March 1890, p.124-154 

Jean-François Robinet, Condorcet: sa vie, son oeuvre (1894)

Antoine Guillois - notes for a history of Fontenay, composed in 1907.

Archives & patrimoine Hauts-de-Seine, "Arrestation et mort de Condorcet" [images of Condorcet's original death certificate and the rectifications approved after the deposition of his widow]

"Condorcet à Clamart",Paris myope [blog], post of 04.12.2011.

Régis Olry and  Geneviève Dupont, "Did Jean Condorcet (1743-1794) commit suicide?"  Journal of Medical Biography2006: vol 14(3), p.183-6.
This article is restricted but, with patience, it is possible to see most of it on Google "snippet" view Journal of Medical Biography - Google Books

Michel Biard, La liberté ou la mort, mourir en député, 1792-1795 (2015)
La liberté ou la mort, mourir en député, 1792-1795 - Google Books


Readings


From the letters of  Mme Vernet:

 Condorcet's daughter (Mme O'Connor) wrote a set of notes on her father and mother in which she transcribed extracts from several letters written to her by Mme Vernet.  Mme Vernet had been a generous hostess, but as Eliza O'Connor  noted, in later years she made "something of a cult" of her attachment to the great philosopher.

It was I, together with M. Sarret and M. Marcoz, who informed [Condorcet] by our sad faces, of the assassination of his colleagues.  He was holding a paper where he was writing in the margin the "Progress of the Human Mind".  He was sitting in a big armchair, his legs stretched out in front of the fire because he was cold.  He laid his head on my chest, crying for the loss of his friends, and it was on that sad day that he said to me "I will be an outlaw and you too;  I must leave"."No stay; the Committee of Public Safety can place you outside the law, but I will not place you outside humanity..."

He stayed for five more months after that fatal day , and it was only on the 5th of April that he escaped from me, by the ruse of the tobacco box, accompanied by my good Sarret.  The cry of poor Manon (the servant) when she found him gone left me unable to move for four hours.   Good Sarret, who arrived back half-dead, informed me that he had left him at the door of that monster Suard....It was at 10:30 in the morning, on the 5th April that they left.  They had embraced, with the promise of a return on the 7th of the month...

This incomparable man, left after ten, accompanied by M. Sarret, with the sun shining...it took them four hours to arrive at Fontenay-aux-Roses...They had to rest often on the way ; your poor father had difficulty walking, through having been indoors so long....
Robinet, App. I Condorcet - Google Books


Account by J.-B. Sarret:

The mathematician Sarret accompanied Condorcet as far as Fontenay

At the time of his proscription, Condorcet found by fortunate chance, a secure refuge, even an agreeable one, with a woman who was almost unknown, though distinguished by her moral qualities...

For the whole time that Condorcet passed in this retreat, that is eight whole months, I had the good fortune, since I lived under the same roof, to live with him, to second the vigilance and share, as far as I was able,  the care given to him by his guardian angel.  For these eight months,  we did not lose sight of him for an instant.   We witnessed and admired his gentleness, patient, his unfailing calmness of spirit, and his resignation to a fate he had done nothing to deserve.  He was indifferent to his own welfare, for the objects of his greatest concerns were always the Republic, his wife, his child, his friends.

He divided his time between work; reading (mainly novels of which he devoured an incredible quantity) and the society of his benefactress, whom he named his second mother.... [He also enjoyed the company of ] Citizen Marcoz, member of the Convention, who lived in the same house...it was he who procured the books, newspapers and other papers, and brought news, particularly of the Convention....and also me myself.

He worked routinely every morning until dinner.  He would remain in bed until midday, to guard himself against cold in the legs,  to which he was very susceptible; the time after dinner, until seven or eight, was devoted to social intercourse -  reading newspapers and [agreeable conversation] .  At eight o'clock he began work again until ten.  He passed the interval between ten and bed time with his second mother and me.

Such was the way of life of Condorcet in this refuge; as he said more than once, he only lacked for contentment, the happiness of his country and the presence of those close to him.
It was here that he composed his posthumous works (Progress of the Human Mind/ The Advice to his daughter etc.) ...

I now come to that cruel catastrophe that cost us, and continues to cost us, so many tears and regrets.

We had been threatened for some time with a domiciliary visit... The day before Condorcet left his sanctuary (4 Germinal Year II), an unknown man called...on pretext of viewing an apartment which was for rent...He talked of visitations in search of saltpeter and gave it to be understood that...if we had something more precious we should be on our guard... The next day Condorcet received a letter warning him of a visit to the house in search of fugitives from the Midi. 

This letter, which indicated another possible retreat, obliged him to leave the refuge where he had proposed to spend his life. Alas! We did not foresee that his absence, which was planned to last only three or four days, was to become an eternal separation.  I did not imagine that our embrace on the plain of Montrouge, - to which I had accompanied him alone and in full daylight - would be our last farewell.

He went on to Fontenay-aux-Roses, to the home of Suard, his old friend.  I never found out exactly what happened between them; but two or three days later, the unfortunate Condorcet was arrested in Clamart in a cabaret where hunger had driven him, and from there he was taken as a criminal to the prison in Bourg-Egalite, where ...he finished his days by poison.
"Notice sur la vie de Condorcet pendant sa proscription" published in his edition of Condorcet's Observations pour les instituteurs sur les élémens d'arithmétique à l'usage des écoles primaires, ( (Year  VII/1798/99)  p.ii-xi.  Google Books  This work was among the manuscripts left in Sarret's care. 


From the Memoirs of Garat 

 Dominique-Joseph Garat, the former Minister of the Interior, attempted to arrange a new hiding pace for Condorcet at the time of his arrest.

As soon as Condorcet was forced to seek an asylum, I offered him the hôtel next door to me which belonged to the Ministry of the Interior...When [he was forced to leave Mme Vernet],  I proposed that he should go to a house I possessed ten leagues away from Paris,  where everything had been made ready to receive him. [The house in question was in Auvergnaux, south of Corbeil; a place with "very few people but lots of rocks"] The great distance, the  difficulty of crossing from one department to another without a passport, made this project too dangerous;  I was in the process of arranging an alternative  closer at hand when we learned that that the unfortunate Condorcet had fallen into the hands of those who mete out death to those who do not chose it themselves.
Mémoires sur la Révolution (Paris, Year III, March 1795), p.202-3.  Google Books

Account by Amélie Suard:

Mme Suard and Condorcet had once been intimate correspondents of Condorcet. These memoirs, published years later, in 1820, were  inevitably something of an essay in self-justification.

M Suard and I had gone to Paris for two or three days.  When we came back, we learned that a man with a scruffy bonnet, trousers and a long beard, had come to the door twice at Fontenay, and had appeared distressed not to find us in. [The next morning at nine the maidservant informed her that she had shown the man in to Suard.  Mme Suard suspected that he might be a wanted man seeking shelter but concealed her suspicions from the patriotic servant.]

...soon M. Suard came in and said to me quickly: Give me your keys quickly, my dear; give me the key to the cupboard, to the wine; get me some tobacco. My God,  I said to him, giving him everything he asked for, what is it?  I will tell you everything he replied, but stay here;  I forbid you to come up....It was more than two hours before M. Suard appeared in my apartment.  [From my window] I saw the man leaving, but I only saw his back and his bearing alone inspired me with the deepest pity.  He looked in his pockets for something he could not find.  He left; and M. Suard came to tell me that the man was M. de C** who had been so dear to us. 

...He had just abandoned his hiding place, for fear of compromising the generous woman  who had given him refuge and wanted to keep him with her.  This man who had once been so dear to all that knew him... had been dying of hunger and thirst for three days, and had found nowhere to lie his head except the floor of one of the quarries along the road to Fontenay.  A loose stone had injured his leg.  Having no passport, he dared not make himself known except to us....

M. Suard gave him Malaga wine, a substantial meal, and tobacco, for which he had recently developed a passion.  I had given a paper cone of tobacco to M. Suard; but to my distress,  I found it on the floor of the salon!  It was this tobacco he looked for before he opened the gate; I am convinced that it was this misfortune which made him enter the cabaret in Clamart, in the hope of finding more;  he could not have been hungry after the meal that he had eaten.  M. Suard had also given him him money, and bandages for his injured leg, plus a copy of Horace to pass the time.  He had arranged a rendez-vous for eight in the evening, at nightfall.

He had asked M. Suard if he could give him shelter. M. Suard replied that he would willingly sacrifice his own life but that he could not risk mine....M. Suard told him that we lived in a detestable commune, that Condorcet himself would be in danger, that we suspected our servant. However, he could stay one night without endangering himself or me.  Suard added that he would leave immediately for Paris, where he would see our old friends and try to acquire a passport; that he was to return at eight that evening, that  our servant would be sent away, that he could pass the night under our roof and then, equipped with the passport, move on to somewhere more suitable.

He said to M. Suard that he only feared arrest in the daytime, and that if he had a night before him, he was certain to escape his executioners....

M. Suard left on foot and returned, very tired, but pleased to have a passport that Cabanis had given him.  I was happy too.  We dismissed our cook until ten, closed the door to our apartment via the stair so that the only entrance was from the garden.  He was to sleep on the couch in the salon, which we had filled with food, wine, clean linen, tobacco, all that he could want...We waited fruitlessly until ten o'clock.  We imagined he had gone to Auteuil where his wife and daughter were; but the next evening [they learned that he had died in prison in Bourg-la-Reine]
Essais de mémoires sur M. Suard...(1820), p.195-203.  Google Books


Notes by Condorcet's daughter:

[According to Mme Vernet] ..it was about ten o'clock, on the pretext of going up to fetch his tobacco, that he left her house accompanied by M. Sarret.  He arrived in Fontenay-aux-Roses at the Suard house about four hours after his departure from Paris.  Suard has said, and it has been printed, that he was not in when Condorcet arrived, and that, if he had seen him, he would have received him. I think that Garat has repeated the same thing....Later, in 1825, Mme Suard admitted in her memoirs that Suard had seen him and talked to him.  Mme Suard said that her husband asked my father to return in the evening and come in by the garden gate, which would be left open for him.   What is certain is that after he left Mme Vernet, my father wandered without shelter in the country.  My mother was told that he had hidden in the quarries. Was the Suard's garden gate left open for him, as promised?  Mme Vernet has repeated to me many times that a few days after my father's departure, she visited this little gate...there was grass a foot high, which established beyond doubt that the gate not been opened for a long time.

It was certainly hunger which led my father to go into a cabaret, for it was the great number of eggs in an omelette that he asked for, which made him noticed.  Since he did not have a passport he was arrested and taken to the prison in Bourg-la-Reine.  When questioned, he identified himself as Simon (I believe he said he was a carpenter), born at Ribemont on 17th September 1743; it was objected that the skin of his hands proved he was not a carpenter. He was put in prison.  The next day, the gaoler found him dead.  For a longtime, he had carried with him a poison, prepared from a concentrate of opium. 
Robinet, App. I Condorcet - Google Books


Comments of Antoine Diannyère:

A visitor at the rue Servandoni, Diannyère,  also blamed Suard for not protecting Condorcet.

Why, when a well-founded fear of a raid on his place of asylum, forced him to leave, why was he not received on the spot by the man who had been his friend?  You deprived France and the whole world, by abandoning him to his naivety and his honesty.  In spite of his disguise, he could not satisfy the questions of a municipal officer in Clamart-sous- Meudon; his clothes, his beard, announced a beggar; his responses were those of a well-educated man man who did not know how to dissimulate.  His very qualities led him into the abyss; he was taken to a prison in Bourg-l'Égalité.  He is no more;  he escaped through poison, on 9 Germinal Year II, the agony that awaited him in Paris. 
Notice sur la vie et les ouvrages de Condorcet (1796), p.51-2.Google Books

From the Memoirs of the abbé Morellet 

Morellet, who had lodged with Cabanis at Mme Helvétius's house in Auteuil before the Revolution, seems likely to have heard most of his account first-hand.

p.102: At the time of the arrest of Brissot and his partisans, [Condorcet] fled from pursuit and lived a wandering hidden life; the summit of misfortune.....

He was taken in in Paris by a women who knew him only by reputation and who generously gave him refuge.  He stayed there until the period of domiciliary visits in April 1794.  At this time, and no doubt to avoid endangering his hostess, he left his retreat. He left Paris safely enough, without carte de civisme, with a white bonnet on his head.  He wandered for several days in the area around Clamart and Fontenay-aux-Roses, and in the bois de Verrière, two or three leagues from Paris. 

M. and Mme. Suard, with whom  he had lodged for several years and been intimate friends, - though he hadn't seen them since the death of the king -  had a house in Fontaney, composed of two corps-de-logis: one was let to M. de Monville, a magistrate of the Parlement. Condorcet presented himself one morning at M. de Monville's door, believing he was at the Suards' residence. A servant opened the door and [directed him to the right place].

Condorcet entered Suard's house and found him in.  Suard sent away his maidservant and learned from Condorcet the nature of his situation.  He gave him bread and cheese and wine.....He offered to go immediately to Paris and try to obtain, through Garat, a [certificate of invalid status] which would serve instead of a carte civique;  they agreed that Condorcet would come back the next day to collect this safe conduct.  Condorcet asked him for a Horace and some tobacco...they made him up a horn of tobacco which he had the misfortune to forget when he left.

Suard rushed to Paris, and talked to Garat.  The latter came to Auteuil and gained from Cabanis, who worked in the hospitals, a sort of pass, which allowed a soldier who was  discharged to go from one department to another.  Suard came back with this makeshift passport and waited for Condorcet, who had agreed to reappear at eight in the evening.  Suard had to send away his maidservant; his wife took her with her at about three in the afternoon to pay a call in the village.  Left alone, he waited.  The whole evening passed without seeing anyone; his wife returned at half-past nine.  Neither that day, nor in the two days that followed, did they receive any news; finally, on the evening of the third day, they went to spend the evening in one of the houses of the village, and there they learned that a man had been arrested in Clamart, whom they believed to be Condorcet; as was indeed the case. 

The poor wretch, having left the Suard house, from which he took a little bread, returned to the bois de Verrière, where he had spent the night.  The next morning, he went to Clamart; and ate so hungrily an omelette in the inn, that his long beard, neglected appearance and nervous air, brought him to the attention of one of those zealous observers, willing spies that infested the whole of France.  The spy asked him who he was, where he came from and if he had a carte de citoyen.  Condorcet, who was flustered, said at first that he was the servant of M. du Séjour, magistrate in the Cour des Aides...  But since his replies did not seem satisfactory, the spy took him to Bourg-la-Reine, the district capital, where, since he could not give a satisfactory account of himself, he was thrown in prison. 
Mémoires of the abbé Morellet, vol.2 (1821), p.100-  Google Books


Procès-verbal of Condorcet's arrest 

On 7 Germinal, two members, Nicolas-Claude Champy, François Breau, brought before the committee a personage... who  declared  himself to be Pierre Simon, native of Ribmont, district of Saint-Quentin, in the department of L'Aisne, aged fifty years. He declared that he had left his native region 20 years ago, and since that time had served as valet de chambre to Trudaine, the intendant of finances, and Dionise du Séjour, magistrate of the former Parlement of Paris, whose service he had left twenty months ago.  When asked where he had spent the last twenty months, he declared that he had lived on his savings in Paris, at 505 rue de Lille, section de la Fontaine de Grenelle...

Described as five feet five pouces, with chestnut hair, receeding hair line, grey eyes, medium mouth , aquiline nose, round chin, round face scarred by small pox, with a mark above the right eye.
Robinet, Appendix H, no. 1. p. 358. Condorcet - Google Books


Did Condorcet take poison?

 Procès-verbal of the removal of the body 

The Justice of the Peace for the canton of l'Égalité testifies that on 29th March 1794 (9 Germinal) at 9 o'clock in the evening, he received notice that a man detained in the Maison d'arrêt in l'Égalité. had been found dead in his  chamber.  Accompanied by the required officials, he arrived there at 10 o'clock in the evening.  The concierge Antoine Chevenu, showed him the prison register.  He declared that he himself had found the prisoner Pierre Simon dead on his 4 o'clock rounds....

Citizen Labrousse was required immediately to verify the state of the body and to establish the cause of death.  We went with him into the chamber where we saw the corpse with its face turned towards the ground and the arms stretched out by the side of the body. There were no weapons or instruments present that could lead to a presumption of suicide. The clothes consisted of a carmagnole jacket and soft grey trousers; a striped silk waistcoat of green and grey; a shirt, well-made and unstained; a flannel waistcoat worn underneath the shirt; grey cotton stockings, high round hat; cotton bonnet; a handkerchief with red squares; black silk cravat; lace shoes with over-stitching. The dead man appeared to us to be about fifty years of age, with light brown hair and eyebrows, grey eyes, a thick brown beard, large flat nose, receding hairline, smallpox scars; height about five feet five.

Citizen Labrousse examined the individual and declared that he had died from a "sanguinary apoplexy"; he observed to us that there was blood coming from the nostrils.   We searched the pockets and found the sum of 23 livres...which together with the clothing, we took to be deposited at the tribunal of the VIe arrondissment.  We finished by placing our seal on the forehead of the body....

We drew up this procès-verbal and completed our work at half-past eleven in the evening.  We entrusted the body to the agent of the commune present, who was charged with the removal and burial.
Robinet, Appendix H, no. 2. p. 360. Condorcet - Google Books


Death certificate, dated 10 Germinal  (30 March 1794) 

The death was declared  by Edme-Laurent Cholot, gardener, 50 years old, and Jean Cretté, carpenter, 27 years old, who were  present at the inhumation. 
 
It appears that an individual detained in the maison d'arrêt at l'Égalité and imprisoned under the name of Pierre Simon had been found in his room dead as a result of a sanguinary apoplexy, as stated in the report of Citizen Labrousse, health official, expert for the district;  the said male body was delivered by the Justice of the Peace to the national agent of the commune of l'Égalité to be removed and buried in the cemetery of said commune.
Robinet, Appendix H, no. 3. p. 361  Condorcet - Google Books


From the Memoirs of the abbé Morellet

The next morning, he was found dead.  He had taken stramonium combined with opium, which he always had with him; it was that which made him say to Suard as he left:  "If I have a night in front of me, I am not afraid of them; but I do not want to be taken to Paris".....

The poison which he used seems to have acted gently, without causing pain or convulsions.  The surgeon called to confirm the death declared in the procès-verbal that [he] had died of apoplexy; he was bleeding from the nose.

The Archbishop of Sens [ie.the former finance minister, Loménie de Brienne] had used a similar poison.  He had tried to procure poison from his nephew the coadjutor but did not manage.  Suard had some; he showed it to me:  it was a sort of ball, about the size of half a little finger;  it could be broken into little pieces, and melted in the mouth... (p.105-6)
Mémoires de l'abbé Morellet - Google Books


From the Memoirs of the comte de Beugnot

Beugnot was imprisoned in La Force during the Terror, where he tells us  that a poison known as "Cabanis's pastilles" was in circulation. 
Beugnot, Mémoires, vol. 1 (1866), p.232.  See p.270 for Loménie de Brienne. 
Cabanis had conceived some pastilles, the base of which was laudanum, but so well prepared that they were able to deliver one quietly into the next world.  All the prisoners who belonged to the philosophical sect were furnished with them; I myself kept hold of mine, even though I was little disposed to use them.  These pastilles were provided to us by another doctor, Guillotin... 


 Note of Jean Depry, published by Antoine Guillois

p.83: Condorcet, although still at liberty, no longer had any illusions and prepared himself for every eventuality, as this note by his friend [Debry] shows:

At Auteuil on 30 June 1793, at midnight.  Condorcet, proscribed by the detestable faction of 31st May last, before fleeing the assassin's dagger, shared with me, as a gift of the friendship which unites us, the poison that he had conserved in order to remain in all eventualities, the sole master of his person.  Jean Debry.
Guillois, Le salon de Madame Helvétius : Cabanis et les idéologues (1894)


The testimony of Garat 

In his Memoirs Garat recounts that he and Condorcet both had access to poison, though he himself had decided against suicide if he was condemned.

Under Robespierre and Billaud, having little doubt as to the fate that awaited me, I never went out without the means to take control promptly of my own destiny. It was a comfort to me to have the wherewithal, and to have the choice; but after mature consideration, I decided against this course of action. ...The principles of Socrates of submission to the law and social...still appeared to me sacred and sublime. But in the midst of so many horrors it would cost little to endure a few more hours in order to show the people how an innocent man, who has been inequitably condemned,  faces death.

O, you who stayed the hand that traced the progress of the human spirit, to lift to your lips the fatal potion, other thoughts and feelings inclined your will towards the tomb.  You gave to eternity your republican soul, with the poison that we shared between us like bread among brothers!  
Mémoires - Google Books

See also Guillois, p.98: 

The question has been much discussed whether Condorcet had hastened his end or died naturally. The note of Jean Debry, dated 30 June 1793, serves on its own, as conclusive proof.  In addition Cabanis always acknowledge that he gave the poison to Condorcet.  There is in the archives of the Institute, a letter from M. Fayolle to Arago, dated 28th February 1842, which is no less conclusive.

It is from Garat that I learned that Cabanis had given to several of his friends, in 1793, a certain poison, opium combined with stramonium, that he called "le pain des frères".  Since Bonaparte, at a certain time, used to see Cabanis at the home of Madame Helvétius in Auteuil, this doctor gave him the poison in question in the form of sticks of barley sugar. I have all these details from Garat and M. Feuillet [the librarian of the Institute] must also know them.

Note. According to Frédéric Masson, after 1808 Napoleon carried with him a sachet of the poison prepared by Cabanis;  but in 1812 he received from Yvan, his surgeon, a poison of a different formula.
 https://archive.org/details/lesalondemadame00guilgoog


The Death of Condorcet,  from Mercier's Nouveau Paris, 1798

Mercier was a dissenting voice among contemporaries, insisting that Condorcet died of natural causes.  (But I doubt that  a prisoner would really have been left alone for two days without inspection and allowed literally to die of hunger as Mercier's informant maintained). 

Since the death of Condorcet has caused a universal sensation, people are anxious to know the details.  Here is what an eyewitness told me.

He was arrested in Clamart, in a cabaret which he had entered through hunger, and taken before the local committee - for even the smallest townships have their committees of sans-culottes. He was interrogated, searched, but identified himself only as Simon, a former domestic servant. He had no papers, cards, passports, but only a copy of Horace, in which he had penciled some words in Latin. Seeing this one of his interrogators remarked, "You claim you are a servant, but I think you are a ci-devant who used to have servants! As a result of the interrogation, "le quidam" was taken to Bourg-l'Égalité to be dealt with.  Transferred on foot in the middle of an armed escort, he could go no further than Châtillon, where he fell down in defeat and exhaustion.  They were obliged to borrow a horse from a local vineyard owner. On his arrival, he was immediately imprisoned.

Plunged into a damp cell, without a bed or food, he was forgotten for nearly 48 hours. Only on the day after his entry did the warden visit:  he found him stretched out, lifeless, on the floor.  Is there any need to speculate on how he died?  The poor wretch did not have time to finish his meal in the cabaret in Clamart; he died of hunger in his cell, having already been at the end of his strength; it is perhaps for this reason that this event, which would naturally have excited interest, has been kept secret until now, and that rumours of poisoning have been put about.
Le nouveau Paris - Louis Sébastien Mercier - Google Livres

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