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.

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, 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

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.

Sunday 14 March 2021

The Brits and the War in the Vendée

 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

Jean-Clément Martin: The Terror as "fake news"

The following is a translation/summary of an interview with Jean-Clément Martin on the theme of "the Terror", which was published in the magazine Historiens et Géographes in May 2019.

The intention of the interviews in this series is to allow historians to present their ideas in a straightforward fashion for the benefit of school teachers who need to cover the material in their classes.  As such, it gives J.-C. M. a good opportunity to summarise his highly controversial views on the Terror in a relatively abridged form. 

Most references are to J.-C.M's book Les échos de la Terreur which was published in September 2018.

Wednesday 10 March 2021

Philippe Charlier on Robespierre and Marat

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.

This is one of those documentary with an irritatingly long preamble.  Philippe Charlier introduces his work as a  forensic pathologist and anthropologist.  Historians Serge Bianchi, Olivier Coquard and Patrice Gueniffey outline biographies of Robespierre and Marat, with the aid of some, admittedly well put-together, dramatic tableaux.

Saturday 6 March 2021

Memoir of the Revolution (cont.)

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

Again as a National Guardsman, Morice was  stationed at the gate of the Temple prison where Marie-Antoinette, Madame Elisabeth, Louis XVII and Madame Royale were imprisoned. He was able to catch a memorable glimpse of the royal family.

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

A Memoir of the Revolution

I came across the memoirs of J-G-P Morice when I was looking for material on the section of the  Bonnet-Rouge  -  reading more, I became totally engrossed.  This seemed to me a source worth sharing.  Extracts from the text were published in the Revue des questions historiques in 1892 but, as far as I can tell, it has never been produced in a modern edition.  There is certainly no English translation, so here is my version, translated (fairly loosely) from the 1892 article.

We read in the introductory notes that the author was a certain Jean-Gabriel-Philippe Morice, who died on 15th October 1847.  His daughter bequeathed the manuscript to the academician Xavier Marmier, who in turn confided it to the 1892 editor, the vicomte de Broc.  The complete manuscript occupied 227 pages of quarto, in a regular legible handwriting (p.445-6). 

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.

Memoirs of J-G-P Morice, published in:  Revue des questions historiques, vol. 52 (1892), p.453-498.

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

Gabriel's "clubbists"

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.

Musée Carnavalet, D.16398 à D.16412.  
The drawings are about 7.5 cm x 5.5 cm. 
Black crayon and wash.
Displayed in uniform mounts.


Monday 1 March 2021

Gabriel: Revolutionary caricatures


The musée Carnavalet possesses a striking series of small portraits of famous Revolutionaries, the work of the miniaturist and illustrator Georges-François-Marie Gabriel (1775-1865).  There are thirteen in total, each measuring about 10 cm by 7 cm.
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