|Portrait by Bonneville. Musée des beaux-arts, Lyon|
File:Roland de la Platière.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Tuesday 23 March 2021
Saturday 20 March 2021
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, alone in his 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
Sunday 14 March 2021
Radio 4 Things We Forgot to Remember - The French Revolution
Here is a radio programme from the archives that still makes interesting listening.
In this series of half-hour broadcasts, produced by the BBC in conjunction with the Open University, Michael Portillo "revisits the great moments of history to discover that they often conceal other events of equal but forgotten importance". Portillo isn't quite the UK's answer to Franck Ferrand, but he is definitely more appealing as a presenter than he ever was as a politician.
The episode on the French Revolution, which dates from 2007, did indeed venture onto new territory, at least for Anglo-Saxon listeners, in that it centred on the War in the Vendée. It features the English academics, William Doyle and Alan Forrest, plus a notable contribution from Jean-Clément Martin who gets his points across admirably in heavily-accented English.
Friday 12 March 2021
Wednesday 10 March 2021
Here are some notes from a TV documentary broadcast on 15th February on France 5 in which Philippe Charlier outline his latest researches into the "sick men of the Revolution", Robespierre and Marat.
Saturday 6 March 2021
We now come to 1793, the year of the Terror. Morice mentions the assassination of Le Pelletier de Saint-Fargeau on the eve of the King's execution, in January 1793. He personally had visited Le Pelletier in the place Vendôme on several occasions on legal business and recalled some disturbing ornaments in his reception room - a huge jewel on the chimney breast and, in lieu of a mantle clock, a glass dome housing a miniature guillotine with all its accessories.
The execution of Louis XVI
By this time Morice was enrolled in the National Guard, which became increasingly dominated by radical Revolutionaries. Morice twice found himself on guard at the Temple during Louis XVI's trial when his lawyers Malesherbes and de Sèze came to confer with him. He did not manage to see the King himself but, by an odd set of circumstances, he witnessed his execution:
On the day of the King's execution, my company of National Guard was required, like the rest, to furnish a certain number of guardsmen to attend and ensure good order. Only two or three individuals volunteered, so lots were drawn and I was among those chosen. I had never been to an execution of any sort before. Those who know my character, can imagine the effect that this one had on me. I managed at first to put on a brave face. But when the victim mounted the scaffold and had his coat removed, I could take no more; I found that I had fainted and I came round only when one of my companions offered me a few drops of eau-de-vie he had acquired from a nearby canteen. By then it was all over. Fortunately for me, I was surrounded by honest men who, like me, took little pleasure in the occasion.
The journée of 31st May
After the death of Louis XVI, the Revolutionary factions fell one by one. Morice, by this time under arms, now found himself a reluctant participant in the journée of 31st May, which accompanied the proscription of the Girondin deputies.
By the first days of May 1793 the National Convention had become the puppet of the Paris Commune; it was the Commune that really ruled. The Commune was dominated in turn by the Jacobin club. The Revolutionary Committees of the 48 sections were its eyes and ears. It seems that the Commune had experienced opposition from the Girondins. A campaign of petitioning was orchestrated in the Convention, but it was finally planned to strike a decisive blow. Thus the journée of the 31st May was organised.
At daybreak the tocsin sounded; the inhabitants of Paris were ordered to congregate in prominent locations in the sections. The notary that I worked for responded to the call, with his entire household, the more promptly since he had already been blacklisted by the Revolutionary Committee of the Bonnet Rouge section. Only the youngest pupil was left behind to receive callers in our absence.
All men able bear arms were ordered to assemble in the garden of the hospice des Petites-Maisons, rue de Sèvres. Guns were distributed to some, pikes and sabres to others. Some were forced to content themselves with sticks. We then set off at a brisk march, preceded by a cannon with its fuse already alight. We took the shortest route to the garden of the Tuileries, where we arrived before seven o'clock. We were assigned a position on the terrace, beside the water. It was cold - there had been hail in the night and conditions were still freezing at that hour of the morning.
The other terraces, the adjacent bridges, the place du Carrousel, the place de la Concorde and most of the boulevards were suddenly occupied, as if by magic, by armed bands like ours. Professionals reckon that there were more than 100,000 men under arms.
What was the purpose of this expedition? What were we going to do? We asked these questions to anyone whose appearance inspired confidence, but no-one could give us a reply. It was only two or three days later that we finally discovered the answer to the riddle....
Who would have believed that all these carefully planned measures were to prove a complete waste of time? We stayed shivering on our miserable terrace from seven in the morning until midnight...Such were our exploits on the 31st May and 2nd June. But so it was that the Girondin party was destroyed.
Guarding the Temple prison
|Anonymous engraving,Musée Carnavalet|
On the first occasion, the gate stayed open for an hour or so, and I was able to see them, since the screen which was normally positioned inside the gate had become displaced. The municipal officer on duty seemed less unpleasant that most of his colleagues. He allowed them as much liberty as his duty permitted. The dauphin, who was no more than six years old at that time, jumped and ran around in the small space. He came up close to me and seemed ready to respond to the advances I made in the hope of amusing him. But Madame Elisabeth took him by the hand and led him back inside the apartment.
Care was taken to choose guns which were smaller than normal when patrolling the Temple tower, as the roof was so low. The one given to me was also very light; it wasn't even loaded; I admit, to my shame, that I didn't trouble overmuch with my military duties. A book in my hand seemed much less inconvenient than a gun over my shoulder and, when my superior officers were not looking, I passed my patrol reading. That was how I was peacefully occupied that day, when the dauphin approached me. My gun, leaning against the wall, seemed to catch his attention. He dared not touch it, but he seemed drawn to it. I was about to show it to him when his aunt fetched him away.
Wednesday 3 March 2021
Morice was born in Paris on 21st February 1776. In 1789, at the start of the Revolution, he was working as a clerk in a notary's office. His employer later became suspect due to his aristocratic clients and counter-revolutionary opinions - he escaped death, but not imprisonment - and the young clerk, left without resources, found employment in the offices of the Committee of Public Safety. His position enabled not only to make a living but to survive the vicissitudes of the Terror. After Thermidor his office came under the Committee of Legislation presided over by Cambacérès, which dealt with many of the denunciations of former Terrorists. As head of the division of émigrés, Morice later had as his superiors Merlin de Douai and Fouché.
Morice was witness to a number of memorable events. On 10th August he was an unwilling participant in the attack on the Tuilleries; he saw the execution of Louis XVI and glimpsed Marie-Antoinette in the tumbril on her way to the scaffold. He also met both Robespierre and Carrier, as well as, at a later moment, trembling in the presence of Napoleon as First Consul.
1789: The Start of the Revolution
Morice was only thirteen years old in 1789, sixteen at the time of the Terror. Unlike the majority of his peers, he never supported the Revolution:
Whether through the principles instilled in me by my mother, whom I had recently lost, or through some other cause, I did not share the enthusiasm for the Revolution which was more or less universal among my contemporaries - an enthusiasm which was understandable when you consider how we were taught in the colleges. Our young heads were continually filled with accounts by Tacitus and others of the revolutions in Ancient Rome. Was it surprising that this generation, nourished by the milk of liberty, fell under the spell of a revolution that presented itself under the banner of liberty? Almost all my fellow pupils considered themselves to be so many Romans.
Morice's place of work was in the rue de Grenelle, not far from the rue des Saints-Pères, in a house which, by the 1890s, had long since been demolished. The notary, M. Denis de Villières, had been in practice there since 1780, and was to continue until 1822, so at this time he was still at the beginning of his career: seated in his bureau, bewigged and powdered after the fashion of the time, he would received his clients gravely. In 1789 business was much disrupted by the uncertainties of the political situation.
Morice visited the States-General at Versailles on several occasions - he was even present at the famous session in the Jeu de Paume - but he found himself only tired and bored by events. One day, however, he witnessed a scene which was still vivid in his memory years later:
I was crossing the place de Grève with my father, at the very moment when they took down the lifeless body of the unfortunate Foulon from the fatal lantern... I can still see his naked corpse, dragged along by the feet, his head bouncing on the cobbles, on its way along the quais to the Palais Royal... I can still hear the shouts of the men and woman who formed that horrible cortege... My father, who could not suppress an exclamation of horror, was almost struck over the head... He had the good fortune to escape death by losing himself in the crowd, and it was only with difficulty that I managed to rejoin him...
Supplice de Foulon a la Place de Grève, le 23 Juillet 1789, engraving after Pierre Gabriel Berthault.
Three months later, on 5th October, I again found myself on the square when an uncontrolled crowd forced General Lafayette to accompany them to Versailles to bring back the royal family. If the brave general ever needed a witness to the horror he felt when he was forced to concede to this mob, I would be happy to provide it....His face was as white as the linen at his neck...his appearance was a far cry from the proud show he put on when he reviewed the National Guard on the Champ de Mars.
Tuesday 2 March 2021
Here is a set of fifteen sketches by Georges-François-Marie Gabriel, from the Carnavalet, said to represent "clubbists" from the Revolutionary era. They were shown to the Friends of the Carnavalet as new acquisitions in 2010, but I can't find out any more details.
The individuals depicted are perhaps stock Revolutionary types rather than real people. Maybe Gabriel used them for reference to add hats and hairstyles to his portraits.
Black crayon and wash.
Monday 1 March 2021