Saturday, 14 August 2021

The end of the Girondins in St-Émilion

[cont. from previous post]

Those who harboured the Girondin fugitives in Saint-Émilion lived under constant threat of retribution. At the beginning of October the Representative of the Convention Tallien had marched into the little town, replacing the municipal government and placed several officials under arrest. Summary executions now took place in nearby Libourne, The Bouquey household was subject to repeated searches and, according to Louvet, an "intimate friend" of Guadet -  identity unknown  - had  signaled his intention to betray the fugitives' whereabouts.  Madame Bouquey was finally pressurised by her relatives into relinquishing her guests.  In the early hours of 13th November 1793 they said their tearful farewells. Valady made for Périgueux where he had relatives (he was later captured and guillotined) and Louvet, the sole member of the group to survive, subsequently set out for Paris.  The rest remained in the local area.  Guadet and Salles  returned to Saint-Émilion where they hid in Guadet's father's house, whilst Madame Bouquet secured Buzot, Barbaroux and Pétion  a new refuge with a wigmaker in the town. 

The Arrest of Guadet and Salle

In the following months the manhunt intensified.  In February 1794 Tallien was replaced as Representative in Bordeaux by Marc-Antoine Jullien, who pursued the search with renewed vigour. Volunteers were enlisted, particularly from the Protestant community of  nearby Sainte-Foy.  The quarries and underground passages around Saint-Émilion were searched using the fearsome local "dogues".  (Vatel met the son of the butcher Marcon, who reported that his father, one of the search party members, had bred "enormous and terrible" dogs, famed in the region for fighting.)

When this strategy failed, the pursuers turned their attention again to the Maison Guadet, which was situated just outside the town walls on the road from Lussac to Montagne.   On 17th June 1794 Guadet and Salle were found hiding  in an attic room.  It was said that they were placed in irons and left in a cabaret in Saint-Émilion.  Guadet père, his sister and two of the servants were confined under guard.  Robert Bouquey, Madame Bouquey, her father aged seventy-seven, and their servant Anne Bérard were  also arrested as accomplices, their house searched and the underground refuge discovered.  At about half-past two that same afternoon the prisoners were all loaded onto a cart to be taken to Libourne.  The elder Guadet was seen to comfort his son, who was distraught at having compromised his family:  "If we die, it is for a good cause" (see Vatel, vol. 3, p.702) The two deputies were executed in Bordeaux  on 19th June 1793 and the members of the Guadet family on 20th July, just seven days before the fall of Robespierre.  Guadet's brother, Saint-Brice Guadet initially escaped arrest, but was apprehended and guillotined on the 21st June.

The arrest of Guadet in Saint-Émilion; engraving by Duplessis-Bertaux
The vineyard, Saint-Julien Château Guadet on the site of the Maison Guadet has been owned by the Lignac family since 1844.  I am not quite sure whether the 18th-century house still survives, but Élie Guadet himself  is remembered in the Château Guadet label.

The Flight of Buzot, Pétion and Barbaroux 

Site of the wigshop which served as a refuge for Buzot, Pétion and Barbaroux 

Buzot,  Pétion and Barbaroux meanwhile had spent a miserable five months hiding out in a dirty garret belonging to the wigmaker, Jean-Baptiste Troquart, at the corner of the Grande Rue - now rue Guadet - and the rue Cap-du-pont. The officials who later searched the premises described it as horrible, a stinking den ("un taudis infecte"), encumbered with all sorts of papers and rubbish. In much of the space it was impossible to stand.  Buzot and Pétion shared the single bed, whilst Barbaroux slept on a mattress on the floor.  According to Troquart's later testimony,  Buzot and Barbaroux occupied themselves with ceaseless writing, whilst Pétion sat in an old armchair; Buzot (Vatel, vol.3, p. 686)

Illustration by Fernand Labat from  Bertin-Roulleau, La fin des Girondins (1911)

On the morning of the 17th June 1794 they learned with dismay of the arrest of  Guadet and his family. In the heat of the afternoon, they watched through the shutters  as the requisitioned cart containing the prisoners  passed in front of the Maison Troquart on its way to the porte de la Madeleine to join the road to Libourne.  The wigmaker's shop was full of soldiers and it was rumoured that the town was about to be searched with dogs; Oré, one of the commissaires sent by Jullien, even attached the bridle of his horse to a bar on the shop window.

In a state of despair, the fugitives determined on immediate departure.  They each entrusted Troquart  with a final letter  - Buzot and Pétion for their wives, Barbaroux for his beloved mother.   In the quiet of the night they left the town by the Porte Brunet.  From later descriptions, we imagine them in a disheveled state, but armed determinedly with pistols and, in the case of  Barbaroux,  a hunting knife.  Troquart had furnished them with basic provisions, a "large loaf filled with cold meat and green peas".

The Porte Brunet today

The men presumably had  some intention of making their way to the Spanish border.  They travelled south  from Saint-Émilion, via Mondot, avoiding the villages, hoping to cross the Dordogne at the little village of Civrac.  By daybreak they had covered only two leagues.  They were on the territory of the commune of Saint-Magne, next to Castillon, having crossed the main road from Bergerac to Bordeaux.    Between the road and the wood was a corn field, where some bushes offered shade. It was here that they sat down to share their meagre provisions. At that moment  some volunteers passed by, en route from Saint-Magne to Castillon. Tradition has it they were preceded by a drummer. The sound  probably alarmed the fugitives who imagined themselves pursued. 

The agony of Barbaroux

 The men made a dash for a small plantation of pines, a "pinada",  at the far side of the field.  The thought is that the prematurely corpulent Barbaroux, found himself left behind; he draw a pistol, put it to his right ear and fired. 

Their abandoned meal confirms that they were indeed surprised.  A  letter from the administrators of Libourne  attests: "On the approach of several citizens to notice them, one of them blew his brains out and the others took flight, leaving behind their arms, munitions, bread and the mouchoir on which they had laid out their food."  (Vatel,vol 3, p.742):

The depositions and letter read out in the Convention imply that the volunteers carried the wounded Barbaroux to Castillon immediately, but Vatel, who questioned the elderly locals extensively, was surprised to discover that this was not in fact the case.  A letter from the municipal officers of Saint-Magne confirmed:  it was only some time after half-past three, that they  arrived on the scene with twelve National Guardmen .  They found the wounded man still lying there in the middle of the cornfield.(Vatel, vol. 3, p.740).  Since they suspected that he was an émigré,  no-one had dared to provide  medical attention, but simply left him in to suffer the heat of the day.  The officials ordered him to be carried to the nearby farm, the Métairie German.  But the farmer refused to take him in, or even give him water to dress his wound or straw to sleep on.  He fared little better at the Metairie de l'Allée on the other side of the road.  Finally he was left outside the farm, close to the main road, propped up on a borrowed chair.  Crowds of sightseers gathered.  According to an elderly man questioned by Vatel: "I saw him sitting on a chair, dying, covered in blood; his eyes were fixed; he looked at the people who surrounded him without being able to speak". The witnesses confirmed that he was not  carried into Castillion - an agonising two hours journey - until gone six in the evening.  

His linen, marked with a BS, prompted the question whether he was Buzot, or Barbaroux.  He was able acknowledged his identity with a nod of his head.   After three days in prison, the maimed man was fastened to a mattress and carried by boat to Bordeaux, where the guillotine finally put an end to his torture.  His brief trial, on 25th June, was  curtailed because of his "démence", though the record of his responses suggests he was coherent and able to speak (p.190).   He was taken out to be executed immediately -  those close said they hear him sob a final quiet farewell to his mother. 

The end of Buzot and Pétion

It is not known exactly how Buzot and Pétion met their end. They almost certainly committed suicide.  

 Locals claimed hat they heard two shots in the night of the 18th-19th.   It was not until the evening of 25th June, eight days later, that a peasant called Béchaud was alerted to the presence of two bodies by the sound of dogs growling in a rye field adjoining the pinewood.  He disturbed three gaunt dogs, fighting over the mutilated corpses which lay hidden in the rye.  They were only about 600 metres from the spot where Barbaroux had been found.   The municipal authorities were alerted; the Justice of the Peace and officials from Castillon arrived at four o'clock the next morning. The dead men could be identified,  but the bodies were in such an advanced state of decomposition, and gave off such a pestiferous odour, that the medical officer with the party refused  formally to examine them. The official account states that the cadavers were "eaten away by worms and by the dogs".  According to  one witness,  they were swollen and "black as the back of a fireplace"; the dogs had ripped out the entrails.  The official descriptions give details of hair colour and clothing, but do not mention facial features, which makes it seem likely that, like Barbaroux, they had shot themselves in the head; the flattened rye around gave rise to speculation that perhaps they did  not  die instantly, though there is no evidence either way.   With the help of some tools,  the investigators managed to retrieve Buzot's watch, but nothing else was found in the men's pockets.  Their pistols, hats and handkerchiefs  were dispatched to Bordeaux.  By seven in the morning  there were almost a hundred onlookers present. It was decided to bury the men on the spot.  Two trenches were dug and the bodies unceremoniously pitchforked into them.   A perfunctory report was dispatched to the Convention.


Monument erected near Saint-Magne-en-Castillon.  The inscription reads:
"To this spot, on 18th June 1794, was carried the Girondin Barbaroux, who had attempted to commit suicide when hunted down by terrorist troops.  He was taken first to Castillon, then to Bordeaux where he was executed.  On the other side of the road, in a field long known  as the "field of the émigrés", the Girondins Buzot and Pétion committed suicide on the evening of the same day. 
"Saint-Magne de Castillon", on Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs  [website]


Entries for "Barbaroux", "Buzot" and "Pétion" on the Tombes et sepultures website:

Charles Vatel, Charlotte Corday et les Girondins (4 vols, 1869-72), 
On Google Books:  Volume 2 [documents]  Volume 3;  Plates

Pierre Bertin-Roulleau, La fin des Girondins : histoire des derniers Girondins, après leur proscription, dans la Gironde (1911).  With engravings by Fernand Labat.

See also: 
G. Lenotre, “La proscription des Girondins” Revue Des Deux Mondes (1829-1971), vol. 35, no. 2, 1926, pp. 241–282. 

Guillaume Mazeau, "L’errance républicaine, les Girondins et l’exil intérieur",  La République en voyage: 1770-1830 (2013), p.149-161.  Open Access.


Earlier thoughts of Suicide

It is clear enough from the memoirs of Louvet and the fragmentary writings left behind by the others, that dead men had long contemplated the possibility of suicide.   Pétion mentioned several times his intention to "blow out their brains" rather than submit to arrest.  As early as 2nd June he records an incident which prefigured his later fate:

From the Memoirs of Pétion, describing his flight from Paris on 2nd June 1793.
 I was with Guadet...We arrived in the fields; we noticed some tall rye and threw ourselves down into it; we lay there on our stomachs and began to consider our situation...After an hour later we heard some people moving around in the rye.  We got our pistols out from our pockets, and prepared to blow our brains out....The people moved away and we breathed again....We were in this awful situation, for seven hours, without eating or drinking, not daring to speak, or scarcely to breath. 
(Quoted Vatel, vol.2, p.152)

Similarly Louvet Barbaroux had rehearsed this final act:

From the Memoirs of Louvet
Once my fortitude having failed, and the courage of Barbaroux having deserted him, I took hold of one of my pistols, and looked at him with a languid smile; he followed my example.  We both kept silence, but our eyes counselled each other fatally;  one of my hands fell on his: he pressed it with a sort of furious ardency equal to that which inspired me.  The moment was now come, that we should give ourselves up to despair: the signal of death was on the point of being given, when Valady, who had been watching our motions, cried "Barbaroux! you have a mother! Louvet! think of Lodoiska!"  The sudden revolution these words produced, is inconceivable.  Our fury subsided into tenderness; our weapons fell from our hands:  our weakened bodies sunk down: we mingled our tears together 

Last letters of Buzot, Pétion and Barbaroux

These moving notes, penned in haste by the three fugitives, entrusted to Troquart, were found among the deputies' papers by the Revolutionary authorities. 

Pétion to his wife: My dear friend, I have lived for you, for my young son, for my country, for my friends, murdered with cruelty and cowardice, for my honour. I have experienced many hardships;  I have borne them with courage;  my character has never wavered.  I do not care what men might think of me;  I have performed my duties zealously; I have always sought the good of my country and my conscience is clear.
I now find myself in the most cruel situation possible to imagine.  I throw myself into the arms of Providence, without hope of return.....
 I embrace you a thousand times my dearest wife;  I embrace my son; my last wishes are for you; that he remembers his father.  Reward as well as you can, this brave man (Troquart) who brings you this letter;  he has done all he can to be of use to us.  

Barbaroux to his mother:  Oh Mother, my dear good Mother!  I have no time to say more. I surrender myself to Divine Providence in the hope of finding some refuge; do not despair of my fate and, if you can, reward the brave man (Troquart) who has this note delivered to you.  Farewell, good mother, your son sends his love.

Buzot to his wife:  My dear friend,  I entrust to a man who has given us great services, these last words of a husband who loves you.  We have to leave a secure, trusted refuge to run new risks;  a terrible catastrophe has taken away our last hopes. I do not hide from myself the pressing dangers which threaten us, but I hold on to my courage...My dear friend, time presses; we must leave.  I ask you, above all, to reward as much as you are able, the generous man who brings you this note. 
Farewell - I will await you in the resting place of the just. 

Quoted: Bertin-Roulleau La fin des Girondins  p.158-60.

The suicide attempt of  Barbaroux 

Letter addressed  Jay deputy for the Gironde, read to the Convention,  8 Messidor (28th June)
On the day before yesterday, in the morning, several volunteers were passing a field of corn, half-a-league away from Castillon, when they heard a pistol shot and saw two men running off into a dense pine-wood. They immediately went to the spot and found a man bathed in his own blood;  they took him  and carried him to Castillon.  Lagarde arrived immediately. Noticing that the linen of the wounded man had the initials R.B, he asked him, "Are you Buzot?".  He could not reply since he had shot himself in the  jaw. but he shook his head; he was then asked if he was Barbaroux and signalled yes;  A request was immediately sent to Jullien for instructions  regarding the captive and the two men seen escaping. Jullien sent Batut and another official, swiftly followed by Laye and Pré... The woman who had harboured the fugitives was interrogated yesterday evening; letters found in her possession identified them as Pétion and Barbaroux. She admitted that ...Salles and Guadet were at the property of Guadet's father, and that Péton, Buzot and Barbaroux were in another house.  It is thought that the people hiding the latter, saw that the Guadet family had been taken, and sent them away; but you can count on them being captured if they are not already, for all the forces in the region are on the alert. 
(Vatel, vol. 2, p.164)

Letter from the Administrators of the District of Libourne, to the Commune of Saint-Magne, dated 30 Prairial, Year II.
We have just been informed that three individuals were noticed on the territory of your Commune who appeared suspect; that on the approach of several citizens to observe them, one of them blew his brains out with a pistol and the other two took flight, leaving behind  their arms, munitions, bread and the handkerchiefs on which each of them had laid out their food.  

And to the Revolutionary Committee in Bordeaux 
...The accomplices of Guadet are not yet all arrested; one of them, who wanted to blow out his brains but missed, was found almost dead in a rye field on the plain of Saint-Magne near Castillon.  He was carried into the Commune of Castillon and placed in the hands of the Medical officers,  who do not despair of his recovery.
Some believe him to be Buzot, others Barbaroux.
The two others who were with him took flight and are wandering in the countryside.  We are pursuing them and we hope to soon have them in our prisons.
(Vatel, vol. 3, p.742-3)

Deposition of two commissaries, Laye and Oré, sent by Jullien to Castillon, (3 Messidor Year II)
In our presences, the Justices of the Peace, Serezac and Lavache, questioned  the unknown man, who had shot himself in the right ear; and established that he was the former deputy Barbaroux.  A procès-verbal was drawn up concerning the removal of his body, the place where he had been found, his possessions, clothing etc.

We conferred and took the advice of Citizens Verneuil and Lassime, health officials,  that by transporting a bed in a boat, he could be transferred to Bordeaux without danger.  As a result the Municipality requisitioned a boat, we deposited a bag containing the said Barbaroux's personal effects and ordered Batut, with a municipal officer, four guardsmen, and Verneuil, officer of health, to take him to Bordeaux.  They left at nine in the morning.
(Vatel, Vol. 2, p.134-6.)

Accounts of witnesses questioned by Charles Vatel in 1869

 Pierre Galineau,  82, then aged nine:  It was around  Saint-Barnabas Day,  when they make hay;  an unknown man shot himself with a pistol the end of the Allée de Trapeau.  He missed and they carred him to the farm of the Allée.  I saw him I saw setting on a chair, dying, covered in blood; his eyes were fixed; he looked at the people who surrounded him without being able to speak.  I can still see him;  he had duck trousers with blood all over them. I only arrived at the end of the day, but the event had occurred in the morning.

François Lapade, 87, then aged thirteen:   This is what I know about Barbaroux.  I had climbed a tree, one of the elms on the way into Castillon.  I saw a crowd running in a great hurry;  I got down to find out what was going on.  I heard that they were going to see a man who had just shot himself with a pistol and was still alive.  I ran with the rest...

When we arrived at the métairie de l'Allée we saw in front of the door a poor wretch sitting on a chair, with his head hanging as though he was unconscious.  He had a wound under and behind his right ear;  it was bleeding copiously.   They spoke to him; he did not reply.  They touched him; he gave no sign of life.  They investigated his wound but did not find the ball.   M. Lawaich, who had been the mayor of Castillon, questioned him, but in vain;  he couldn't or wouldn't talk.

He was a brown man - that is to say he had brownish skin, black hair and beard - tall, dressed in a heavy overcoat.  Some people said "It is a traitor from Paris".  Others claimed he was Petion or Buzot.  Later on we learned that he was Barbaroux.

They gave him nothing to help  - not water, not wine, nothing.  Minds were so worked up in those days!

I am certain that he had only one wound, beneath the ear.  I myself touched it.  At first there were only twenty or so people there, but later the whole of Castillon arrived.

There could have been two or three hours.  They carried him off towards evening.

The chair was in front of the gate.  Barbaroux was thrown across the back, half dead.  He stayed several days in Castillon.  He was then taken away in a boat;  I never saw him again.

Three or four days later, they found Petion and Buzot, all decomposed.  I did not see them.  They were buried near M. Devalz's pines.

(Vatel, Vol 3, p.720-28)

Discovery of the bodies of Buzot and Pétion 

Description and removal of the bodies of Buzot and Pétion    Continuation of the report of Laye and Oré (8 Messidor).

On 8 Messidor, at four in the morning, we received an order...informing us that two bodies had been found in a cornfield, a short distance away from where Barbaroux had shot himself. They were presumed to be those of Buzot and Pétion.

We left immediately with [various officials]  The justice of the peace has drawn up a Proces-Verbal on the state of the two bodies, the personal effects found on them etc.  It was truly surprising that neither body had any form of papers nor any money;  in the waistcoat pocket of Buzot, we found a gold watch; Petion did not have one.  Inspite of the pestiferation of these two bodies, eaten by worms and gods, we cut open their pockets with tools, without finding anything.   We found on the two bodies the following distinguishing features: 

Buzot:  Black hair, dark brown coat with red velvet collar, half-length breeches in blue striped material, with matching waistcoat, shoes with straps, black silk neckerchief, gold watch.

Petion: Grey hair, light brown coat with red velvet collar; white waistcoat and blue striped breeches..

We sent to Citizen Jullien the weapons, watch, hankerchiefs and hat found on the bodies and next to them.....  

Given that the two corpses were polluting the air we ordered the municipality of Saint-Magne to bury them immediately. 
Vatel, Vol. 2, p 152-3.  

The procès-verbal  of the inhumation  (p.158) confirms: it was too dangerous to transport the cadavers to the cemetery, so they were buried on the spot in two ditches dug to a depth of six feet.

Vatel informs us that he owned a little painting by Guérin which, poignantly, showed Pétion in a coat with a red collar.  Now doubt it is this one, now in the Versailles collections.  Louvet complained that Pétion contrived to have distinctive white hair and beard even though he was under forty (p.129)

File:Jérôme Petion de Villeneuve.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Account of Pierre Galineau, aged 82: 

At the moment when [Barbaroux] shot himself, two others who were with him, ran off in the direct of the wood belonging to M.Devalz.  Two shots were heard, pop,pop. Not much attention was paid at the time.

Eight days later they were found in a field of rye, turned onto their backs.  They were black like the back of a chimney and all swollen up. 

It was though that they had shot themselves in the body.  Around them we lots of pistols, perhaps five, six, seven or eight.

Thy brought in twelve men from the National guard, I don't know why; it was useless.

They went about burying them in a very simple manner.there was no coffin, they were placed in the ground at the bottom of two holes that were dug.
Vatel, vol. 3, p.720-21

Letter from the Popular Society of Castillon to the Convention (from the Moniteur 20 Messidor Year II)

Citizen Representatives, our search has not been in vain.  When we annonced to you that the scelerat Barbaroux had been taken, we assured you that his accomplices Pétion and Buzot would soon be in our power.  We now have them , Citizen Representatives, or rather they are no more. 

The end which the law prescribes was too good for such traitors; divine justice reserved for them a fate more fitting to their crimes. We found their bodies, hidden and disfigured, half eaten by worms; their scattered limbs had been devoured by dogs, their bloody hearts eaten by ferocious beasts. Such was the horrble end of their still more horible lives.  People!  Contemplate this awful spectacle, the terrible monument to your vengeance!... Signed The Sans-Culottes of the Societe populaire et republicain de Castillon. (p.166)

The executions of Guadet, Salle and Barbaroux

Account from the "famous trials" of Dessesserts, published in 1796. 

The death sentence was pronounced...and a few hours later Salles and Guadet appeared, tied up and bound, to be taken to the scaffold on the place de la Révolution [in Bordeaux]. When they arrived they said a final farewell of friendship; they wanted to address the people, but the drums drowned out their voices and only the last words shouted by Guadet could be heard:  "People!:  this is the only expedient of tyrants;  they smother the voices of free men in order to commit their crimes".  They mounted the scaffold and died with great courage.  [According to one story Salle had sufficient sang-froid to explain a difficulty with the guillotine; "two minutes later, his head fell"].

Several days later Barbaroux was brought out to the same scaffold. Exhausted by pain, death must have been a blessed release to him; his feelings could not be fathomed; he was  only heard to pronounce the name of his mother, whom he  had cherished;  after having so charmed his life, it seems that she was with him in his last moments to ease his misery and pain.

A month later the Guadet family were collectively condemned. They were executed only eight days before 9 Thermidor: 

A witness worthy of trust, an official of the tribunal who was present in the room where final preparations for execution were made, has related to us the circumstances of these final moments: 

Guadet's father calm and tranquil, seemed occupied only in consoling his family.  "My children", he said to them, "isn't it better to go to one's grave, than to exist among such monsters...What can be done in a country where one is no longer allowed to be a father, where the most sacred sentiments of nature have become crimes!...

Those who saw the Guadet family walk to their death remarked in the expression of the father...a calmness and serenity which seemed to derive from goodness itself; there were few vociferations during their progress;  he representatives  of the tribunal could not command on this occasion any shouts of enthusiasm or anger. The spectacle of a whole family being led to their deaths and an old man bent under the weight of his years, who had no other crime than his virtue, silenced all the prejudices of party. 
Desesserts, Procès fameux, vol. 12, p. 87-88

The death of Madame Bouquey

After the reading of the verdict, whilst the crowd which filled the court-room was applauding or hooting, she, furious and beside herself, pushed aside the ushers and rushed " towards the President, as though she would tear him to pieces." She was removed, foaming with rage. When they came to cut her hair, she escaped from the executioner's assistants. A struggle followed, and " it was necessary to employ violence to hold her." Old Guadet approached her, opened his arms, and pressed her to his breast. Then she burst into sobs, and " emotion brought rest to her heart." 

A law-suit which ensued a few years later between the heirs of Bouquey, brought to light a painful detail of the execution. It was necessary to prove which of the two Bouqueys was the last to die, their marriage contract containing a stipulation that all property should, in the event of the death of either husband or wife, pass to the survivor. But they both died the same day, the same hour, and almost at the same blow. The case lasted until 1810, when the Court at Libourne ordered an inquiry, and the executioner, who was still living, was examined. He stated that, at the foot of the scaffold, " Bouquey, seeing his wife advance alone towards the fatal plank, said to one of the assistants, ' Ah ! give Madame your hand/ But she, quite calmly, earnestly desired to be executed the last, wishing to spare her husband the grief of seeing his wife's blood shed." 

G. Lenotre, "Madame Bouquey", Romances of the French Revolution, trans. Lees (1909), p.304-325.
Romances of the French Revolution | Internet Archive

Friday, 13 August 2021

The Well of the Girondins

  She was like a mother in the midst of her children, for whose sake she was sacrificing herself. 
Louvet on Madame Bouquey

The proscription and hunting down of the Girondin deputies in 1793 is a particularly bleak episode in the Revolution and has left little in the way of "places of memory".  One of the few which has caught the imagination is famous "well of the Girondins" in the picturesque wine town of Saint-Émilion.

Physionotrace portrait of Élie Guadet, reproduced in
Vatel," Excursion à Saint-Émilion", facing p.257 

On the morning of 23rd September 1793 a little group of fugitive deputies, led by Élie Guadet, a native of Saint-Émilion, landed in the Gironde estuary off a ship from Brest. They spent a miserable few days on the Bec d'Ambès, in Guadet's father-in-law's deserted house, where they soon discovered that Federalist resistance had been extinguished in Bordeaux, leaving them without support, homeless exiles with no other goal than survival.  On 28th September, fearing that their whereabouts had been betrayed. they took a boat up the Dordogne  and walked to vicinity of Saint-Émilion. The Guadet family home was under close surveillance, so they were obliged to spent a day and a night hidden in a quarry.  The group then separated; Guadet and  Salle ventured into Saint-Émilion, whilst  Louvet and his companions were given shelter in the outlying countryside, first by a priest and then by a local farmer. They found themselves in desperate straits; in his later interrogation Guadet affirmed:  "I passed five or six weeks going from place to place, without anywhere to stay, since my father was under arrest and had guards in his house." (p.642)


With Madame Bouquey in Saint-Emilion

At this point, the story is cheered by the appearance on the scene of  Guadet's sister-in-law Thérèse Dupeyrat, the wife of  Robert Bouquey, former procureur du Roi in Saint-Émilion. Thanks to the influence of Guadet, Bouquey had become registrar of national domains, a post  which carried with it right of residence in the former château of Fontainebleau. However, in October 1793, prompted by a letter from her father, Madame Bouquey  returned to Saint-Emilion to offer her aid to the fugitives. The men's surviving memoirs and correspondence are full of praise for the exceptional courage and generosity of this woman, "an angel who rushed a hundred leagues to offer us her care, her house, all that she possessed" (Buzot, cited Vatel, vol. 2, p. 382). As Louvet tells the story in his memoirs, she cheerfully welcomed Guadet and Salles, then Louvet, Barbaroux and Valady,  and finally Buzot and Pétion, seven men in all.

The only image of  Madame Bouquey is  this amateurish portrait, known from its reproduction in Vatel (facing p.246). Lenotre, condescendingly imagines her as "one of those good-looking, neat housewives of olden times, whose hearts were as spotless and well-ordered as their houses."  Fortunately, the  fugitives themselves were less chauvinistic. Louvet noted that, throughout their tribulations, the fugitives were helped by brave women who were prepared to risk their lives.

Amidst such excess of depravity, however, it is truly consoling, to have to declare, that, even in France, there still exist some who are worthy of liberty.  We have found them chiefly in that sex, which is esteemed trifling and timid.  The kindest attentions, the most spirited assistance, that interested compassion cannot refuse to undeserved misfortune, have been lavished on us by females.  O Madame______!  ....the God of goodness and beneficience will keep in mind the hazardous offices you went through for us, and that, surrounded with our executioners, you carried off their prey"  (Memoirs of Louvet, English translation p.88)

The Maison Bouquey, where the deputies took refuge, was a substantial 17th-century house, with outbuildings, a central courtyard and two gardens. It occupied an area in the upper town between the rue des Grands-Bancs (now rue de Guadet) and the rue du Chapitre  (now rue Madame Bouquey).  As with many buildings in Saint-Émilion, the property was built over the subterranean galleries which criss-cross beneath the town, their origins lost in the mist of time.  In this case, a substantial chamber had been divided off, which offered a ready hiding place.   There were two entrances. The first, near the house and covered by paving slabs, was intended to collect rainwater.  Madame Bouquey's servant later confirmed that she had seen the "two largest" deputies (no doubt ? and Pétion) raise the stones and emerge from this spot. Access via a ladder was relatively easy;  but the location was considered dangerously conspicuous. The second entrance was via a well in the garden - the famous "puit des Girondins", which could be scaled precariously using holes cut into the interior wall.  At about thirty feet down an opening gave onto a substantial underground space with access at one end to a further cave at a lower level. 

In October 1867 the historian and collector Charles Vatel went on an "excursion" to Saint-Émilion to retrace the steps of the Girondin refugees.  In those days the Maison Bouquey was an elementary school run by the Frères de la Doctrine chrétienne.  Vatel reports that the exterior of the building was 17th or early 18th century in style.  Inside, the surviving vestiges indicated a once-luxurious decor. The former salon still had a white marble fireplace with a coat of arms bearing the intertwined initials "R" and "B" (for "Robert Bouquey").

The Maison Bouquey still stands today. The entrance, at No 17 rue Guadet, is next door to  the Mairie.  The site is still a Catholic school, now the École Saint-Valéry, owned and managed by the "Association des Girondins".

 A plaque on the door commemorates Madame Bouquey's brave assistance to the proscribed deputies.  

Vatel was able to venture into the caverns beneath the house on many occasions.  On the site of the original descente the Frères had constructed a convenient staircase with twenty-three steps, corresponding roughly to the thirty feet specified by Louvet (See reading). In contrast, the entrance through the well retained all its original terrors. Vatel reports that the well was twenty metres deep and just over a metre in width, square in shape, dug into the rock.  The water in it, supplied by a spring, rose to a height of two or three metres.  The footholds inside the walls were sixty centimetres apart, and arranged alternately on the left and right.   The opening onto the underground gallery was ten metres down and measured about 1.5 metres high by 65cm in width. Without a ladder, the descent was not an inviting prospect:

Such a piece of gymnastics seemed to me terrifying.  It was useless to assure me that men in the trade went up and down daily;  that may be so, but I did not avail myself of the offer to watch the spectacle.  Whatever anyone says, you have to rest suspended over the void, held only by your own hands, with no other support than a wet hole where your foot could slip.

Vatel's guide confirmed that, even using a rope attached to a pulley, the experience was nerve racking.  The Girondins did not have a rope;  as  Louvet put it laconically "the entry to the underground was very dangerous".

Reconstruction of the exterior of the well as it may have looked in the 18th century
Vatel, facing page 21o

Sketch of the interior of the grotto, drawn by Vatel, "Excursion", facing p.216
  A - Entrance from the well; B  - Opening in the wall of the well;   C  - Chambers in which the Girondins took refuge

Inside the Grotto of the Girondins

The Revolutionary officials who later uncovered the hideout, gave the following account of the interior: 

After the opening was uncovered at the place indicated, we went down with ropes  and weapons....We found a large open space  ("un très-vaste local" ) hewn into the rock, which we investigated several times without discovering any sign of the reported beds or silverware.  However, as we searched with torches, we notice  in one corner that earth had been brought in and trodden down, and that there were toolmarks on the adjacent rocks.

At three feet down we found a plank which concealed a cave...of about five foot by six foot square, where we found a sabre and a sword, a cutting tool, two beds, bedding, two chairs, lantern, dining table, a bucket containing mortar, cutlery; and books: a volume of the Voyages de Sirie and another of the Esprit des Lois...

We looked for the communicating entrance to this hideout, but after two hours of searching, we found nothing. 
Report of the commissioners Laye and Oré, 3 Messidor Year II; published in Vatel, Charlotte Corday et les Girondins, Vol. 2, p.139-40;  see also the Procès-verbal of the search,  p. 141-3.

Following in their footsteps,via the modern staircase, Vatel found that the angle of the soil was at first steep and the vault low.  He then arrived at a sort of crossroads which was quite spacious -  no doubt the "large open space" of the report.  On the left were two square rooms, separated by a narrow passage which gave access to the well. The cave where the Girondins spent the night was no longer accessible, though Vatel was still able to observe the tool marks described in the report.  A  local quarrymaster informed him that there were two distinct types of underground chambers in Saint-Émilion, galleries created by quarrying and ancient hideouts dug by long-forgotten fugitives.  The thought is that the cave where the proscrits spent the night was one of these latter. It would probably originally have had both an entrance and an escape route out - but these were so well hidden that they had never been discovered, even though the officials searched for two hours.

The "grotto of the Girondins" is now closed off and can be seen  on the internet only in an old postcard.  In 2012 local writer and self -styled "subterranologue", Stéphane Rousseau received official permission  to make a descent of the well and take photographs for a forthcoming book.  There was a row: Rousseau was accused of unauthorised excavations and prosecuted by the Direction régionale des affaires culturelles; a photo showed him in a hole two metres deep surrounded by his "finds".  The official from DRAC found the place in a "lamentable state" and had it closed up pending an enquiry. I haven't managed to find out the outcome of the case. 

Article of 29.07.2013, on Rousseau's "excavations" in
Saint-Emilion : une plainte pour des fouilles non autorisées ( 

"La Grotte des Girondins" Blog de JM 33500,  post of 25.02.2006

The seven men spent a whole month  in this hideout. 

The conditions in the grottos of Saint-Émilion and the surrounding areas were notoriously unhealthy. The atmosphere is cold, damp and noxious.  According to one report, the search parties hunting the deputies exposed themselves to great danger by venturing into the quarries: "If providence had not watched over their conservation, they would all be dead, for they emerged frozen and hardly able to speak".  (Letter of 8 Messidor, published in the Moniteur; Vatel, vol. 2, p.163)  According to Louvet the fugitives were able to spend some time in the house, but they still spent long hours underground.They suffered from the lack of fresh air; and dared not start a fire for warmth. They also feared that the reverberating echoes would give them away. Finding provisions for seven young men was a continual challenge, which Madame Bouquey addressed cheerfully;  she was, wrote Louvet, "like a mother in the midst of her children". [To be continued]

Illustration by Fernand Labat (1889-1959)  from Bertin-Roulleau, La fin des Girondins (1911).  


Charles Vatel, Charlotte Corday et les Girondins (4 vols, 1869-72), 
On Google Books:  Volume 2;  Volume 3;  Plates
Vatel's  account of his journey to Saint-Émilion is in Volume 3; it was also published separately:  Excursion à Saint-Émilion : extrait de l'ouvrage intitulé "Charlotte de Corday et les Girondins (1872)

Pierre Bertin-Roulleau, La fin des Girondins : histoire des derniers Girondins, après leur proscription, dans la Gironde (1911)

In English:

 "Madame Bouquey", Romances of the French Revolution, trans. Lees (1909), p.304-325.
Romances of the French Revolution | Internet Archive

John Rivers, Louvet: Revolutionist and Romance writer (1910)

Here is the relevant account from Louvet's memoirs:

In the meantime we learnt, that Guadet and Salle, after having knocked without effect, at the doors of fifty (?thirty)  friends, had found every kind of assistance, and a good asylum in the house of a woman, as compassionate, generous, and intrepid, as all those creatures, who are nevertheless called man had proved themselves cowardly, selfish and inhuman.  From the moving description given us of the deeds of that angel of heaven, we found it was needless to ask her for shelter, if she could give it us.  We need only to acquaint her with our situation. We sent a messenger to her, who quickly returned to tell us to come all three.  She only advised us, not to come till midnight, and to use every precaution, that we might not be seen; as our safety with her must chiefly depend on our exactness in following these, her conditions...

By midnight we arrived at the house of another fairy. There, with a thousand pieces of attention...we were to find courage, constancy, and devotion to our service without bounds Our two friends [Guadet and Salles] were lodged thirty feet under ground;  and the entrance to their subterraneous abode, not a little dangerous in itself, was so concealed, that it was impossible to discover it.  Spacious as was the cavern, five men residing constantly in it might spoil the air, which could not be easily renewed.  In a different part of the house, therefore, we formed another strong hold, more salubrious, almost as secure, and almost as difficult to be discovered.  A few days after, Buzot and Pétion having sent us notice, that they had changed their retreat "seven times within a fortnight", and were at length reduced to the last extremity. --"Let them both come hither; " said this remarkable woman.  Nor let it be forgotten, that she was threatened almost every day with a general search;  and she was so strongly suspected of being virtuous, that they often talked of imprisoning her.  And, every day some head or other fell under the guillotine, and the banditti committed horrible excesses.  They were continually swearing, that they would burn alive, in their own houses, such persons as should be found to conceal us.  They even talked of setting whole towns on fire.  "My God!  Let the searchers come!", she would say to us, gaily and unmoved, "provided you do not take upon yourselves the task of receiving them; I am only afraid lest they should arrest me; and then what would become of you?

Our two friends arrived, and retired into the cave.  Thus we were now seven in all; and the great difficulty was to procure us food.  Provision was scarce in the department: our hostess could only get a pound of bread a day, but there were potatoes and kidney beans in the cock-loft.  To save breakfast,we lay in bed till noon. A dish of soup made of pulse served us for dinner.  When night came, we peaceably left our abode, and joined her.  Our supper consisted sometimes of a small bit of beef, with difficulty brought from the market; at others of a dish of poultry from the yard, which could not last long; with one or two eggs, some vegetables, and a drop of milk; of which she could never be prevailed on to take much, that the more might be left for us.  She was like a mother in the midst of her children, for whose sake she was sacrificing herself.  Here we abode a whole month..
An account of the dangers to which I have been exposed: Internet Archive, p.148-150.

Thursday, 12 August 2021

Joseph Cange

Pierre-Nicolas Legrand de Sérant (1758-1829)
Portrait of Joseph Cange, clerk of the Saint-Lazare Prison, Paris, 1794
oil on canvas 70cm
 x 56cm

Musée de la Révolution française, Vizille, Isère (MRF 1989-11)

This beautiful and sympathetic Revolutionary portrait  by Pierre-Nicolas Legrand de Sérant, was acquired by the Museum of the French Revolution in Vizille in 1989.  Its subject, Joseph Cange, and the story of his charitable actions, briefly fired the imagination of Thermidorian France, which was hungry for sentimental tales of reconciliation and humanity as a counterpoise to the violence and treachery of the recent past.

Cange, who was born in Sarrebourg, Lorraine in 1753, was a clerk at the prison of Saint-Lazare  during the Terror.  The story goes that, he was so moved by the poverty of the family of one of the prisoners, that he decided to share his meagre resources with them.  With commendable modesty, he made the woman and her three children believe that the money came from the imprisoned father (In some versions Cange, whose total fortune was 100 livres,  gave 50 livres to the wife supposedly from her husband and another 50 livres to the prisoner supposedly from his wife).  After Thermidor, the prisoner was freed and hastened to make the identity of his benefactor known. Cange became a minor hero and had several poems and plays written about him.  

A second painting,  by Legrand, now in the Dallas Art museum, shows the emotional reunion of the former prisoner with Cange and his family:

Pierre-Nicolas Legrand de Sérant
A good deed is never forgotten ("Une bonne action n'est jamais oubliée") 1794/95
Oil on canvas  63cm x 80cm 
Dallas Museum of Art (1989.134.FA) 

The identity of the recipient of Cange's kindness is not known for certain.  In the plays he is given only  a generic name,  either "Durand" or "Georges". However the playwright Georges Duval, in his Souvenirs thermidoriens, identifies him as a certain Thomassin, a plumassier (that is a dealer in feathers) in the rue du Petit-Lion-Saint-Sauveur.  According to Duval, the man's only crime was to have laughed at Grelat, the president of the Revolutionary Committee of the section of Gravilliers, who was a hunchback and cripple (p.5,nt).  There seems no reason to doubt Duval  though, if  Thomassin financed Legrand's pictures, he cannot have been the humble tradesman depicted in the plays. Souvenirs thermidoriens - Google Books

There is no information on the circumstances in which the two pictures were commissioned.  The Dallas painting was exhibited in the Salon in the Summer of 1796 and Cange's portrait was reproduced in high-quality engravings - by Bonneville for vol. 2 of  his "Men of the Revolution" and by Beljambe who added a patriotic bonnet. The Moniteur for 16 Nivôse III (5th January 1795) , records that Beljambe's engraving was presented to the Convention.

The recent acquisitions records for the pictures do not clarity the provenance a great deal.  According to Tom Gott of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne:  "Both paintings were probably commissioned by 'Georges' , the beneficiary of Cange's generosity, since they were sold in 1989 by descendants of his godson, whom it has not been possible to identify with any greater clarity".  The group painting was sold by the Colnaghi Gallery in New York  which exhibited it shortly before its purchase by the Dallas Museum in 1989.  Guide to the exhibition "Napoleon:  Revolution to Empire".  National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2nd June-7th October 2012, p.66 Google Books

Whilst the portrait preserves an authentic sense of the man himself,  the second painting tends to subordinate Cange as an individual to a wider political message: 

According to Amy Freund, the Dallas canvas is "a Greuzian scene of gratitude", which reveals the eagerness of portrait commissioners to insert themselves into the Revolutionary narrative.  Details like the tricolor cockades and liberty bonnet define the context.  The image of "the good sans-culotte" is asserted as a counter to the aberrations of the Terror;  the gratitude of the bourgeois family provides a model of universal fraternity. 

The historian of Revolutionary fashion, Aileen Ribeira, sees the unity of the two men as more apparent than real.  Although they both wear a cockade,  the fashionable greatcoat and smart beaver hat of "Georges" contrasts with the outmoded Revolutionary costume of Cange.  In an era where  political allegiance was expressed through dress, "men like Cange were past history".

Amy Freund, “The ‘Citoyenne’ Tallien: women, politics, and portraiture during the French Revolution.” The Art Bulletin 2011, vol. 93(3), p. 325–344. On JSTOR

Aileen Ribeiro, "The Mirror of history: the art of dress in late eighteenth-century France" in French Art of the Eighteenth Century, ed. Heather MacDonald (2016), p.151  French Art of the Eighteenth Century - Google Books.

The literary and theatrical representations of Cange, though sympathetic, give the same sense of a hero who is absent from his own story.  His position recalls the sentimentalised  heroes and heroines of the last years of Ancien Régime rather than the working class heroes of popular Revolution. 

Cange is presented to the Convention

     "The virtuous Joseph Cange" by Beljambes
The first mention of Cange's story occurs in the official record of the Convention.  On 16th October 1794,  a deputation from the Lycée des Arts ("Lycée de la Commune de Paris"), a patriotic society which aimed to advance knowledge and education, presented Cange in person to the assembly and  read out a poem relating his act of generosity by the playwright Michel-Jean Sedaine. 

It was also noted that Cange,himself the father of a family, had recently taken on the three orphaned children of his sister-in-law, whose husband had been a soldier of the Republic. 

 Cange was invited up to receive "fraternal accolade"; the Bulletin of the Convention recorded the president's words, "We applaud Cange's generosity. We admire the virtue that characterises him".  His case was also referred to the Comité des secours which awarded him a small pension. 

Archives parlementaires, Séance du 25 Vendémiaire.

In the theatre

Cange's story was above all a phenomenon of the newly re-opened theatres of Paris.  The new sentimental drama of the era often featured moralising episodes of this sort from the recent past, "les faits historiques", a genre which reached its height of popularity in 1794. There were at least eight  different productions on Cange in last months of 1794. The theatres of the Cité-Variétés, the Opéra-Comique and the Amis de la Patrie et de l'Égalité all exploited the subject.  The first play, Cange, ou Le commissionnaire de Lazare by Marin Gamas, opened to great acclaim at the Théâtre de la République on 30th October, followed a day  later by the production of Pierre Villiers and Armand Gouffé at the Théâtre de la Cité.   Duval, who was one of Gouffé's collaborators,  reports that they had been together  in the café Cuisinier when the latter chanced upon the verses of Sedaine. Four days later the play was written and in rehearsal; by the first days of the next décade it was on stage. The actor Tiercelot took the part of Cange, which he played with his trademark Auvergnat accent.  Both playscripts were printed and sold. These first two plays were prose works but others included songs and music: the most ambitious, which appeared at  the Opéra-Comique, was Les détenus ou Cange, commissionnaire de Lazare by Benoît-Joseph Marsollier, with music by  Nicolas Dalayrec.  Simon Chenard appeared as Revéche, concierge of the Saint-Lazare prison. 

Despite some elements of comedy, the plays all had strong political objective, to defend the virtuous  Republic and repudiate Robespierre and the Jacobins.  See for example, the closing speeches of Les détenus by Marsollier:

Georges Men like us that in the least fortunate classes, one generally finds belief in humanity, kindness and respectable virtues...As if Nature wishes to console humanity for the appearance of malevolent beings who... hide behind a mask of of patriotism, the corrupt heart of a hypocrite and tyrant." (Les détenus, p.48)

And  Chenard sings, "Justice and benevolence/ Make more friends than Terror" (p.50) 

For a selection of patriotic speeches from the various plays, see  Ernest Lunel, Le Theatre et la revolution (1910), p.244-246.  Le theatre et la revolution - Google Books


Georges:  "My virtuous friend, I owe you my life";    Cange: "I only had a hundred livres; I wish I possessed more". 
Contemporary print by Labrousse.

The performances were frequently made more emotive by the presence of Cange himself in the audience. It is recorded that after the first performance at the Théâtre de la République, he and his wife were invited on stage, and showered with applause by the audience, which had been moved to tears;  the same thing happened at the Cité-Variétés;  at the Opéra-Comique, Chenard saluted them in their theatre box (See Tissier, Les spectacles à Paris pendant la Révolution (1992) p.76,  note 17; p.141, note 47).  There was a strong element of calculation in this -  Duval notes, with some plausibility, that the naive hero  allowed himself to be manipulated by unscrupulous theatre directors seeking only to boost their receipts. 

Despite the adulation of the theatregoers,  the Republic did not treat Cange with any great generosity.  He and his family continued to live in poverty.  He was found menial employment as an office messenger in the Commission of Public Instruction, a post which brought little money and possibly undermined his health.  To their credit, well-meaning commentators soon complained that the theatres owed him a rightful share of the profits. The abbé Grégoire and the young writer Louis-François Jauffre befriended him, as did Félix Nogaret, who wrote poem in his honour.    As reported by Laufret, we hear the authentic voice of Cange for the first time; a simple man,  proud of  his virtue and independence, he stubbornly refused to countenance the need for reward. 

Cange died shortly before 11 Nivôse Year IV (1st January 1796) leaving a widow, and six children; the family was completely forgotten by officialdom.  Boissy d'Anglas reprinted his poem "De  la bienfaisance" for the widow's benefit as late as 1825.  Cange's  son served in the Napoleonic army and, after 1815, ran a modest café in Vincennes.  



Michel-Jean Sedaine. 
Le Commissionnaire de Saint-Lazare Imprimé aux frais du lycée, au profit du C. Cange

Félix Nogaret, Le commissionnaire , trait historique en vers, 21 Frimaire Year III  (December 1794)
Reprinted in Contes en vers (1797), p.64 Google Books 

Boissy d'Anglas Le Commissionnaire de Saint-Lazare:  fragment d'un poeme sur la bienfaisanceréimprimé et vendu au profit de Ve Cange (1825)

PLAYS [As listed in Tissier , Les spectacles à Paris pendant la Révolution]

1. Gamas, Cange, ou Le commissionnaire de Lazare : fait historique en un acte et en prose.  Paris, chez la citoyenne Toubon, an III.  Shown for the first time at the Théatre de la République, 9 Brumaire III (30th October 1794).  THÉÂTRE DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE  6 performances in 1794. (Tissier No.214)

2. Pierre Villiers and Armand Gouffé, Cange ou le commissaire bienfaisant, chez Plassan, an III   First performed at the Théatre de la  Cité-Variété, 10 Brumaire III. [31st October 1794] 43 performances  Tissier 884 and 969

3. Gabiot, Le commissaire de saint-Lazare, trait. hist; 7th November 1794 (17 Brumaire)[See Journal des théâtres, 16 November 1794, where it is called Cange, ou les vertus du peuple]  AMBIGU-COMIQUE.  22 performances.  (Tissier No. 1354)

4.1798: Cange, ou l'exemple des vertus républicaines, pant. Leblanc. 23 Brumaire III  [13th November 1794]  25 performances at the Théatre du Lycée des Arts.[Tissier, no. 1798]

5.  Tondu-Blondin, Cange ou le commissaire de Lazare  Théâtre de la Gaîté  17th November. 43 performances.

6. Les détenus ou Cange, commissionnaire de Lazare by Benoît-Joseph Marsollier, with music by  Nicolas Dalayrec. , Les détenus ou Cange, commissionnaire de Lazare, Paris, Maradan, an III, p. 60. In verse. Performed at the OPÉRA-COMIQUE on 28 brumaire III [18th November 1794] 34 performances. (Tissier No.394)

7. Le commissaire de Saint-Lazare, ou la journée du 10 thermidor, fait his. 29 Brumaire III [19th November 1794] (Tissier No.2151)
LAZZARI-THÉATRE DES VARIÉTÉS-AMUSANTES -7 performances; by two unknowns.

8. Bellement and Jardin, Cange, ou le Commissaire de Lazare , fait historique, en un acte , en prose , mêlée de musique , donnée à ce théâtre, le premier frimaire de l'an troisième de la République» Théâtre  des Amis de la Patrie 21st November 1794. 12 performances. 

9.  Le Commissionnaire  Théâtre de l'Égalité, 22nd November 1794 By the Julie Candeille. 

Modern works
"Joseph Cange" on Wikipedia. fr

 André Tissier , Les spectacles à Paris pendant la Révolution (1992)


Yesterday at the Théâtre  de la République, took place  the first showing of Cange, a historical tableau set  in the maison d'arrêt  at Saint-Lazare. The public showed, by repeated applause, how much it is the enemy of cruelty and oppression, and the sincere friend of right conduct and virtue...
Cange and his wife were present at the show;  the public asked for them, they appeared on stage, to renewed cries of "Long live virtue!  Long live the Republic!"
Police report of 31st October 1794. 

Theâtre de la Cité-Variétés
Cange, ou le Commissionaire de Saint-Lazare

This touching drama (by Villier and Armand Gouffé) provoked lively applause.

Cange is a worthy inhabitant of the mountains of the former Auverne.  He arrives at home of a detainee's wife, to fetch the prisoner's dinner.  The unfortunate woman, together with her two children, has fallen into extreme poverty.  A rogue, who is in love with the woman, offers to free her husband in return for her favours; she resists with the pride of an honest soul; the rogue threatens to throw her and her family in chains. This is the only dramatic conflict in the play...and it is not necessary.  Virtue, delineated with enough force, has no need for a villain to oppose it...
However, this work is well dramatised and well written...Citizen Tiercelin creates a convincing character in the role of Cange and Citizeness Germain gives a good performance in the demanding role of the prisoner's wife.  The virtuous Cange was present at the opening show; the public asked him to appear on stage, where they applauded with the enthusiasm which depictions of virtue and goodness always excite.
Esprit des Journaux, October 1794, p.297

Théâtre de l'Opéra Comique
Les détenus, ou Cange commissionnaire de St Lazare

This play [by Marsollier] has nothing but the basic story in common with the other versions of the  Cange story which have already appeared in several theatres in Paris. The author transports the viewer into the interior courtyard of the prison of St.Lazare, where the detainees are passing the time with games, egged on by Daudin, a stupid young oaf with a good heart.  George has received no news from his wife or children;  this virtuous father is reduced to destitution; he appeals to the messenger Cange, nicknamed Bon-Enfant, the favourite of the gaoler Revéche.  Cange promises to search out George's wife;  this unfortunate woman then arrives with her two children: Cange brings them into the courtyard, where they can see George through a little high window.  Finally, he makes his plan to separate into two halves the sum of a hundred francs, the fruit of his savings, which he has left with Revéche.  He contrives to regain possession of money, giving half to the woman; and the other half to the unfortunate prisoner.  The Citizeness uses her fifty francs to obtain from a business man, the documents which prove her husband's innocence; the evidence is placed before the Representatives of the people, and George regains his liberty.  The deed of the good Cange is revealed;  he leaves his post as messenger and goes to work with George.  All the detainees congratulate them on their departure.

This work cannot be summarised; you must see it to appreciate its full interest. 
Esprit des Journaux, November 1794, p.229

 Cange, the hero of the story, fell into the trap created for him and had the weakness to allow himself to be exploited by these greedy speculators.  It was Saint-Elme, the director of the Cité, and one of the worst charlatans among the directors of the epoch, who first had the felicitous idea. He went to find Cange in his home, at 46 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, and, offering him a box at the theatre, requested the honour of his presence  at the performance next day.  Cange, a simple and naive man, accepted the invitation.  The next day the poster for the Théatre de la  Cité announced that Cange himself would be present with his family for the twentieth showing of  "Cange, ou Le commissionnaire de Lazare".  The crowd was huge and the receipts showed that Saint-Elme had calculated well. The oak garlands which decorated one of the boxes announced to the public that it was reserved for Cange; and he duly arrived with his family shortly after the curtain went up.  Universal cheers greeted him, and he stood up several times, put his hand on his heart and modestly saluted the public. This was fine once;  but other directors wanted their share of the increased receipts...  They all made Cange the same proposition in turn and he had the weakness to agree; with the result that he appeared successively in eight or ten theatres where "Cange ou Le commissaire de Lazare" played.  This no doubt took nothing away from the merit of his good deed; but if he had not offered himself so frequently and willingly to public applause, it would perhaps have been better appreciated; modesty accords well with virtue!   
Duval, Souvenirs thermidoriens  p.8-9.

Account of a conversation with Cange
Yesterday morning, leaving a café where I had been reading an article in your journal on Cange, I ran into this generous citizen.  He was on his way to the Commission of Public Instruction, where he has a job as a garçon de bureau. 
-Have you read the Journal de Paris today?, he asked me.
- Yes, I have just read it; there is an article about you.
- Someone came to talk to me; but I am not happy with what they have said about me.
- The article affirmed a great truth: that it is generally more convenient to admire a good deed than to reward the doer.
 - Did they not say that I was dying of hunger?
 - They did. 
- Well it is not correct.  I have a big family and I do not earn enough to live well; but I would need to have neither arms, legs, nor honour for my family and I to die of hunger. 
- They observed with justification that you have the rights to a part of the considerable profits the theatres have made from your good deed.  
- They owe me nothing.  If I did a good deed it was through humanity;  if the theatres give me some reward, it is because they in their turn wish to do a good deed; they promised it to me.  But that is not sufficient to give me the right to demand it.
 - But the nation is indebted to you....
- The nation owes me nothing at all. 
- But  caring souls wish you to be rewarded. 
 - Good actions aren't done for payment.   Besides, what I did was simple; and what astonishes me, is that it has been given so much importance.
- So the article in the Journal de Paris has upset you?
-Yes,  very much and I would like people to know my opinion about it.
- Nothing could be simpler, respected Cange;  I will write down our conversation, address it to the Journal de Paris, and virtuous souls will not read it without esteeming and admiring you still more. 
Louis-François Louis-François Jauffret L'Esprit des journaux, françois et étrangers, June 1795

Obituary notice
I hope I might be permitted to draw attention once more to a man whose life has been one long act of benevolence.  Joseph Cange, known as "le Commissionnaire" has just died. His deed of humanity will be remembered for a long time. It was celebrated last year in more than one play; and no doubt he merited the applause he received on stage.

Some people have criticised Cange for appearing too often before the public at the end of performances.  They believed it showed a reprehensible ostentation.  I reply to them that the the good commissioner was not capable of that false modesty which in reality  seeks only to attract more attention.  He presented himself, as one would present a child; because he was persuaded that the public wished to see him.   If he had more amour propre he would have been more calculatingly modest....

Some people attributed his good deed to a momentary impulse; it seemed an easy way to acquire glory, with two 50-livre notes.  I reply that, long before he was known to the public, Cange practised virtue; and lived only to do good.  On the death of his sister, whose husband was in the army, he provided a refuge for his three little nephews - an act of humanity all the more admirable because he already had three children of his own.  Today, these nephews  are still being cared for by his widow.

The naive graces of his humanity offered me inexpressible charm.

Since Cange was not educated enough to be anything more than a  garçon de bureau,  he was given this post, which he filled conscientiously. I understand that he suffered a sort of ennui, because he found it too sedentary;  his complexion changed; he became yellow and bloated;  We learned that he died, almost sudden, three days after having taken to his bed.
Félix Nogaret, Le commissionnaire , trait historique en vers. Reprinted in Contes en vers (1797), p.64 Google Books 

The generous deed of Cange is one of those that give the greatest pleasure to recount, because it occasions no regret, and the character that gave rise to it showed  only the the purest of sentiments... Cange could not have expected any other reward than the happiness which virtue brings to those who practise it.  He neglected nothing to ensure that his deed went unremarked.  And if it was, what recompense could he have expected?  The couple were not in a position to pay him back.  The husband was on the point of dying on the scafford;  the wife in a state of cruel poverty, without any resource.  Almost daily Cange saw those whom he had helped take the memory of his benevolence to the grave...He was generous enough to release from the burden of gratitude those who might have been humiliated to have received  help from a man of such an interior class.

The Convention, informed of this fact, in a time where virtue was not without influence in it, charged one of its committees to investigate and make a report.  After they investigated, they awarded this virtuous citizen a monetary reward and an honorable mention.  A theatre hurried to produce a play on the subject;  M Sedaine produced a play in verse, and public opinion honoured the Commissioner of Saint-Lazare with its approval and esteem. During this time he gave further proof of his virtuous generosity;  his brother had just died in the army, leaving three small children.  He adopted them as his own, although he already had four children himself.  He died shortly afterwards, leaving to the family no other legacy than love of work, and the virtue that makes it bear fruit. His wife, who became infirm, having acted as a doorkeeper in the same house for twenty years, asked for admission to one of the hospicies run by public charity in the capital; but she has not yet obtained this.One of his sons, dismissed in 1815 from the army, where he reached the rank of lieutenant...was obliged, in order to  survive, to establish a café in Vincenne; he lives happily as do all those who have memories of virtue. However,  the government ought  not to abandon him, nor his mother, now in her seventies.
Boissy d'Anglas Le Commissionnaire de Saint-Lazare (1825) NOTE.
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