Ernest Belfort Bax

Jean-Paul Marat

Chapter III

The first direct consequence of Marat’s writings was the so-called “Bread Insurrection,” or insurrection of women, October 6th, 1789, so vividly described by Mr. Carlyle, when the populace went en masse to Versailles, and which ended in the return of the royal family to Paris, and their temporary reconciliation with the people. [1]

From the first the scarcity of bread was the daily theme of the “People’s Friend,” but it took a whole month effectually to rouse popular energy, to take steps for ameliorating this state of things. Although public discontent was allayed, and the people and the “powers” reconciled for a time, the latter were by no means disposed to extend this reconciliation to their leader. On the 8th of October, 1789, occurred the first seriously attempted prosecution of which Marat was the object. It was really occasioned by his comments on the events of October the 6th, and his severe handling of the popular idol, Neckar, but the pretext was a false accusation, apologised for the next day, made against one of the Secretaries of the Commune. The indictment was launched by the Court of the Chätelet. Its result was to compel Marat to seek refuge in a place of safety at Versailles; but from this he was very nearly being betrayed into the hands of the authorities by the perfidy of his host, when he was offered a real asylum in the house of his friend Leconitre.

After remaining here some days, to allow the storm to pass over, he ventured to return to Paris, choosing an obscure street of Montmartre as the place of his domicile, from whence, on the 5th of November, the publication of the Ami, interrupted during his concealment, was resumed. On the 26th of this month, as we have before mentioned, he established a press of his own in the Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie.

It was not long before he was discovered in his retreat, and one morning early, before he had risen from bed, he was aroused by hearing himself inquired for, and on opening the door, found a party of officials, come to arrest him. On arriving at the Bureau des Récherches, the triad of members necessary to form a tribunal not being complete, Marat took a seat near the fire to await their coming. He says,

“These gentlemen had awakened me rather early, and as I had not breakfasted, I accepted a cup of chocolate, and commenced conversation.

“Ready to interrogate me, they inquired (what they knew as well as I did) why I had left Paris, where I had been, how long I had remained in each place, &c.

“My interrogatory ended; M. de Lafayette arrives. The gentlemen of the committee present me to him.

“‘Who are those of my etat major who have given you offence?’ he asked.

“‘I will let you know in a future number of the Ami,’ I replied.”

From the Comité des Récherches Marat was taken to the Commission of Police. On being reproached for his incessant denunciations, he rejoined,

“Gentlemen, these are the disagreeables we have to put up with in the passage from slavery to liberty. Do you really believe that a Revolution such as this could accomplish itself without some misfortunes, without the shedding of some drops of blood? I entertain no hostile design against you, but had I to choose between my duty to the Commission of Police and my duty to liberty, my choice would be already made.” No.71.

Marat’s outspoken candour had a powerful effect on the commission, which at once set him at liberty, even offering a coach to convey him home. One of the members, in the ardour of his enthusiasm, embraced him, exclaiming, “Go, my friend! go, write and unmask the villains.” The difference between the old and the new régime was beginning, although slowly, to make itself felt. Profiting by his favourable acquittal at the hands of the Commission, the “People’s Friend” went next day to demand of Marie Bailly the restitution of the confiscated presses, allowing a quarter of an hour for delay. They were restored within the given time, and the following day the Ami appeared as usual.

But the “Châtelet” was not to be beaten so easily as the municipality. On the 21st of January, 1790, the mandate of October 8th was renewed, and vigorous were the measures taker to prevent its miscarrying this time. “The hero of two worlds,” Lafayette, was authorised to call in the aid of three battalions of National Guards. At an early hour of the morning of the 22nd, while it was still dark, the troops penetrated, Lafayette at their head, into the apartments of the house where the Ami was printed, seized everything they could lay their hands on, and at 11 o’clock, after leaving a detachment on guard, the main body returned home, consoling themselves at finding no Marat, by carrying lighted candles at the end of their bayonets and shouting, Marat â la lanterne.

The intended victim, in his account of this days proceedings, says:

“I was sleeping in a room in a neighbouring street, when a young man attached to my office came with tears in his eyes to inform me that my house was surrounded by several battalions; my landlord and his wife also entered my chamber with an air of consternation; they could not speak, but could only tremble.

“‘Peace,’ I cried, ‘it is nothing; leave me alone.’ I am never more sang froid than in the midst of imminent danger. Not wishing to go out en déshabille, for fear of exciting attention, I carefully made my toilette; throwing an overcoat over me, and covering my head with a round hat, I put on a smiling air and took my departure; I gained the Gros-Caillon by passing along side of the guard sent to arrest me. On the way I sought to distract my companion, and managed to preserve a good humour till about 5 o’clock in the evening, at which hour I awaited the proof of the sheet containing an account of the famous equipage. No one appearing, I had a presentiment of my impending misfortune, and the rest of the day was passed in sadness. They had got wind of the route I had taken. In the evening the house was invested with spies. I recognised them from behind a jalousie. It was suggested to me to escape by the roof on the approach of night, nevertheless I passed them in open daylight, giving my arm to a young person who accompanied me, and walking leisurely. As soon as it grew dark I repaired to the Grand Basin du Luxembourg. Two friends were waiting there, to conduct me to the house of a lady in the neighbourhood. Finding no one at home, we took a vehicle and went to seek an asylum at the bottom of the Marais.

“Arrived at the Rue de la Perle, my new host, I find, has company. I observe a stranger. After a quarter-of-an-hour’s conversation, I enquire of my host, in a low tone, if he knows this individual? ‘As yourself – all right.’ I continue the conversation some time longer, and after having partaken of supper, retire to rest. In the middle of the night an escouade of cavalry makes halt under my window, but on opening the shutters and looking out, I observe that not one of them has put foot to the ground; so I quietly resume my bed till the next morning.”

The consequence of all this was to demonstrate the necessity of at once leaving Paris and France – and indeed Marat lost no time in putting this plan into execution. In a few days he was in London.

It may be desirable to corroborate the apparently exaggerated statement given by Marat as to the number of troops sent to arrest him by that of a Royalist writer. Monjoie, in his Historie de la Conjuration de Phillipe d’Orleans, says:–

“Lafayette marched against Marat an army of six thousand men, and posted them at the opening of every street; abutting on the house were two pieces of artillery. This was so extraordinary, that had I not been a witness of it myself, I should never have believed it. Conceive indeed this ‘hero of two worlds’ deploying forces so formidable against a man whose only arm was his pen.”

While in London Marat wrote the pamphlet entitled the Appel à la Nation.

It was most likely shortly after his return to Paris (May 18th, 1790), absolutely destitute of means even to establish a press, that the noble and devoted Simonne Evrard resolved to share with him her fortune and her life. Simonne was born at Tournes St. Andres in 1764. She was therefore twenty-six years of age, and Marat forty-six at this time. In spite of the repudiation of relations, in spite of threats of abandonment, she remained his constant companion till death, and the heroic defender of his memory afterwards. It was by means of her small fortune that Marat was enabled again to establish his own printing office, and continue the publication of his Ami independently of printing teams, who might fail him at any moment. [2] Just as with the “People’s Friend” himself, historians, whenever they have mentioned Simonne Evrard, have always made it an occasion of vilifying her, although they can bring no solitary fact in proof of their assertions. The entire fabric of calumny rests upon an incoherent and self-contradictory narrative of Madame Roland, in which she endeavours to defame alike Simonne and Marat. It is a noteworthy circumstance, that historians, in their excessive zeal to vilify the subject of our narrative, have, by their mutual inconsistencies, betrayed themselves. One very “reliable” historian thus sums him up as viciously ascetic – a veritable modern Diogenes. Another very “trustworthy” authority as an incarnation of lasciviousness, keeping voluptuously furnished apartments in which to receive courtezans, &c. According to one writer he is a raving demagogue, “sticking at nothing;” according to another, a timid and cautious self-seeker. These writers have surely spoilt their role by overacting it. Had they been a little more moderate in their statements, they might at least have been reconciled as it is their assertions simply negative one another. All calumniators should bear in mind Talleyrand’s advice: “If you want to damage a man, say what is probable as well as what is true.”

Of the fidelity and unselfish chatacter of Simonne Evrard, the following declaration made by the surviving members of Marat’s family after his death, will, I think, be strong evidence, since they could have had nothing to gain by courting her friendship. It runs as follows – “Penetrated with admiration and esteem for our dear and worthy sister, we declare that it is to her the family of her husband owe the preservation of the last year of his life.” After referring to the perils she had borne with Marat, and her devotion to him, it continues,

“We declare that it is with satisfaction we fulfil the wish of our brother in recognizing the citizeness Evrard for our sister: that we repudiate those members of the family who do not share our feelings of esteem and recognition. Given at Paris, 22nd of August, in the year II. of the French Republic. – MARIE ANNE MARAT (femme OLIVIER), ALBERTINE MARAT, PIERRE MARAT.”


1. Respecting this event, Marat wrote: “The King, the Queen, and the Dauphin arrived in the capital about 7 o’clock in the evening. It is a joyful occasion for the good Parisians to possess their king. His presence will soon change the face of things; the poor people will no longer die of famine. But the good future will vanish like a dream if we do not retain the royal family in our midst till the Constitution has been confirmed. The people’s friend ‘will participate the joy of his co-citizens,’ but he will not abandon himself to sleep.”

2. About this time Marat commenced a second journal, named the Junius Français, after the English Letters of Junius, but the two papers proved more than he could manage, so the Junius stopped at the thirteenth number.

Last updated on 15.7.2006