Ernest Belfort Bax

Jean-Paul Marat

Chapter X

During the last week or two of Marat’s life, the house was besieged by inquiries after his health. On the 12th of July the Jacobin Club sent a deputation. The President, in his report, says:

“We have been to see our brother Marat, he is very thankful for the interest you take in him. We found him in his bath, a table and inkstand and some journals surrounding him, occupying himself unceasingly with public affairs. It is not a serious illness from which he is suffering, but an indisposition, which has not yet seized the right side; there is much pent-up patriotism comprised in a very little body; ... he complains of forgetfulness on the part of the Convention, in neglecting to read certain measures of public safety he had addressed to it.” [1]

In replying to another deputation (that of the Cordeliers), he said:

“Ten years of life, more or less, does not occupy my thoughts; my one desire is that I may say with my last breath, I die contented – the country is saved.”

I quote from M. Bougeart a description of the domicile of the “People’s Friend,” in the Rue des Cordeliers, now Rue l’Ecole de Medicine, No.22.

“Situated on the first floor, it was composed, if we may judge of it from the procès verbal of five rooms; an ante-chamber, lighted by a window looking on to the left. On entering this ante-chamber, and placing one’s back to the door, three apartments presented themselves on the same plan. One to the right, lighted by a window looking on to the court; to the left a bed-chamber, having a view of the street through two casements of Bohemian glass; and between these two rooms a small apartment, serving as a bath-room. The fifth room was the salon, which was entered by a door from the ante-chamber on the left, and also looked out upon the street. Publication de M.C. Vatel. The personnel was composed of Marat, Simonne, Catherine Evrard, sister of Simonne, Jeannette Maréchal, cook, and Laurent Bas, who was connected with the journal,” &c.

On Saturday, the 13th of July, a vehicle stops at the door, and a young woman alights, who requests to see the “People’s Friend,” as she states she has important matters to disclose. Simonne replies that this is impossible, as the invalid is ordered not to see anyone. The young woman insists upon the importance of her visit; Simonne is inexorable. At last the visitor retires. In the evening, about seven o’clock, Marat receives a letter running thus:

“I come from Caen. Your love for your country ought to make you wish to know the plots which are there being projected. I await your reply.”

About half-an-hour afterwards the young woman again presents herself at the door of the ante-chamber. She is this time repulsed by the concierge of the house, who happened to be there, but Marat, hearing the altercation ensuing, calls out that the citoyenne is to be allowed to enter.

Marat is, as usual, in his bath, covered by a long rug, with a plank laid across it for him to write upon. He is at the very moment occupied with the number of his journal which appeared the next day, containing the article respecting Barrère, already quoted. Simonne leaves the room upon Charlotte Corday’s entering. The latter, finding herself alone with Marat, takes a seat by the side of the bath. He commences: “What is passing, then at Caen?” “Eighteen deputies in accord with the Department [2] are supreme there.” “What are their names?” The list of names having been taken down, Marat is stated to have added, “Ils ne tarderont pas à etre guillotinés (it will not be long before they are guillotined).” Such, at least, were the words the murderess at first reported him to have said; but later, after having had time to arrange her narrative, she changed this into “Je les ferais bientôt tous guillotinés à Paris (I will shortly have them all guillotined in Paris).” At that moment she rises, and drawing a long knife, deals him a terrific blow in the side. “A moi chère amie! À moi!” cries Marat, and falls back. Royalists, Constitutionalists, and Girondins could do no more – Marat was dead!

All are at once aroused. Simonne rushes towards them both, exclaiming, Ah, mon Dieu, il est assassiné. Confusedly she cries for succour; perceiving the assassin defending herself vigorously against the man Laurent Bas and the cook, she springs upon her and flings her to the ground. Returning to the corpse, she endeavours in vain to staunch the blood. The knife had penetrated under the clavicle of the right side, so deeply that the surgeon, some minutes afterwards, could make his first finger pass the whole of its length through the wounded lung. (Bougeart, vol.ii., p.265)

The assassin endeavoured to escape, and had already reached the ante-chamber, when Bas seized a chair and felled her to the ground. She again rose, but was held fast until effectually hemmed in by a crowd of patriots ready to tear her to pieces. The Comissary of Police arriving, Charlotte Corday was searched. Upon her was found the following letter, evidently intended for use in case her visit should have been again unsuccessful:

“I wrote to you this morning. Marat, have you received my letter? I could not believe you had, as they refused me entrance; I trust that to-morrow you will accord me an interview. I repeat that I come from Caen. I have secrets to reveal to you of the utmost importance to the safety of the Republic. Besides all this, I am persecuted for the cause of liberty. I am unhappy; this, of itself, is sufficient to give me a claim on your protection.

This last sentence might truly serve as an epitaph for the “People’s Friend.” In it is indicated his whole career. Volumes could not speak more for Marat than this one sentence, penned by his assassin.

The news rapidly spread over Paris; all the clubs were astir. Every Montaignard trembled for his life. “We shall all be assassinated,” were the words heard on every side. The interrogatory of Charlotte Corday took place on the spot, and it was four hours – just upon midnight – before she was placed in a coach, destined for the prison of the Abbaye. It was with difficulty that the exasperated crowd, both within and outside the house, were prevented from executing summary justice.

The following day the question was brought before the Convention.

“A great crime has been committed upon the person of a representative of the people,” said the President. “Marat has been assassinated in his own house.”

Various sections then presented themselves with addresses, demanding that his remains should be transported to the Pantheon. The delegates of the section Contrat Social announced themselves thus: “Where art thou, David? Thou hast transmitted to posterity the image of Lepelletier, dying for the country; there remains yet another picture for thee.” To which David answers, “And I will paint it.” Drouet advised moderation and patience, urging that a violent outbreak of some sort was all that the Girondins wanted as a pretext for exciting the Departments against Paris. Upon the proposition of Chabot, the Covention decided on the 15th to be present in a body at the funeral. The President, on one occasion during the debate, said: “Those who unceasingly talk of their morality, of their principles, of their attachment to the laws, have shown themselves capable of the most atrocious crime.” The tribunes shouted, “Yes, yes; we will avenge him!”

At the Jacobin’s Club, Laureant Bas, the printer, became for the nonce a hero; his least word was hung upon with the utmost avidity by all – such was the eagerness for details of the tragedy. Bentabole, one of the society, spoke the following eulogy:

“It is noble, undoubtedly, to hear citizens proposing to replace Marat, but this task is not so easy as many think. When we have found a man who, like Marat, has spent for four years whole nights meditating on the welfare of the people and the fall of tyrants, who has combated with equal audacity kings, priests, nobles, intriguers, villains, and conspirators; who has braved iron, fire, poison, prison, even the scaffold, such an one will be worthy to replace Marat, and ought, after him, assuredly to hold the first rank.”

Robespierre thought it was not the time then to give the people the spectacle of a public funeral; but that after the Republic had come off finally victorious, then would be the appropriate occasion for a public recognition of its benefactors and martyrs.

On the 16th, the brother of Lepelletier, with Camille Desmoulins, drew up an address to all Frenchmen on the murder of Marat. They were requested to do this by the Jacobins, who desired that a public recognition might be sent to the affiliated societies in the Departments. The sculptor Beauvallet was commissioned by the Council General to mould a bust of the popular martyr. Although. more than two days had elapsed since the murder, nothing had been decided as to the funeral. Crowds uncreasingly thronged the Rue des Cordeliers. Simonne, almost stupefied with grief, refused to leave the room where her loved one had breathed his last.

It was on Tuesday evening, the 16th, that the funeral took place. The coffin was laid upon a sort of bed, and borne by twelve men. Children dressed in white and carrying in their hands branches of cypress, surrounded the body. The entire Convention, led by the President, followed, next came the municipal authorities, then the clubs, while bringing up the rear followed an enormous crowd.

The Procession, on leaving the Rue des Cordeliers, passed over the Pont-Neuf, along the Quai de Ferraille, across the Pont-au-Change, and from thence to the Cordelier’s Club. The interment in the garden of the club was then proceeded with. The cortege chanted patriotic airs, while every five minutes a salvo of cannon was fired from the Pont-Neuf.

The grave was situated under the very trees where Marat had so often addressed his colleagues on the burning questions of the day. Martin, the sculptor, had devised a tomb of granite rocks, with an iron door in the centre. Engraved upon it was the epitaph, “Here lies Marat, the ‘People’s Friend,’ assassinated by the enemies of the people, July 13th, 1793.” After a discourse from the President of the Convention and certain other persons in authority, the crowd began to defile before the monument under the banners of the clubs, each section stopping a moment at the grave while its orator spoke a few words. One of these, Guirant by name, observed: “You, who have seen nothing in Marat but crimes; you who ceaselessly speak of him as a man of blood, produce the names of his victims.” He might well make this demand, for among the sixty-four persons who had been guillotined during the past twelve months, not one had been denounced or even referred to by Marat. (Vide Bougeart, tome ii, p.284, et seq.)

During the whole of the night crowds pressed around the tomb. Speeches by torchlight, embodying vows of devotion to liberty and the Republic, were made. The following day the removal of the heart of Marat to the building of the Cordeliers took place, a splendid porcelain vase being chosen as its receptacle. Twenty-four members of the Convention, and twelve of the Commune, took part in this second funeral ceremony.

A deputation announced that on Sunday, the 28th, an altar would be raised around the heart of Marat. Sundry speeches ensued, drawing parallels between the character of Marat and that of the founder of Christianity, but none of sufficient importance to merit reproduction. The urn containing the remains was suspended from the roof of the large hall of the Cordeliers. The President closed the ceremony with the words,

“Awake, Cordeliers! it is time. Let us hasten to avenge Marat: let us hasten to dry the tears of France. We have sworn that his enemies shall be proscribed; the oath is sacred – we have sworn it to the people.”


1. Journal des Debats des Jacobin, 16th July, 1793.

2. The Department was Girondin.

Last updated on 15.7.2006