Ernest Belfort Bax

Jean-Paul Marat

Chapter XI

The oft-mooted question whether the fugitive Girondins were parties to the murder of the “People’s Friend,” will probably never be altogether satisfactorily answered. That they were not directly so is tolerably certain, but that they had not in the hearing of the assassin spoken of assassination as justifiable, or expressed a desire that he might be assassinated, in some general way, which suggested the crime to her, is by no means so certain. [1] She came from Caen, the seat of Girondism, and she had had communication with certain prominent Girondins there notably Barbaroux, one of the most ardent of them.

There has been much inflated sentimentality bestowed by historians on Charlotte Corday. All that the facts of the case tend to show is, that she was mainly actuated by a craze of vanity. She desired to play a rôle, and pose herself as a heroine before the public gaze. She had adopted Girondin principles; had heard much of the recent overthrow of the Gironde, and imprisonment of its deputies by the Mountain. The idea of assassinating one of those chiefs of the Mountain, whose names she had learnt to detest, suggested itself to her as a means of satisfying this vanity. The name of Marat was uppermost at the time, and perhaps, as she thought, from his prostrate condition he was easiest of access. Marat accordingly was selected as the victim. Her studiously theatrical conduct during her trial and at her execution tends to support this view. Those portrayals of her, as actuated by an exalted sense of patriotism, have no warrant in fact, and may be attributed, in part at least, to that unwholesome sympathy with female criminals, especially when possessed of personal attractions, the extreme form of which is to be seen in the Western States of America. This, intensified in the present instance by hatred of Marat, is quite sufficient to account for the verdict of historians.

The Rue des Cordeliers was re-named Rue Marat shortly after the funeral; Montmartre was also called Mont-Marat. The Rue and Faubourg Montmartre received a like designation. It was proposed to re-name Havre-de-Grace, Havre-de-Marat, such was the enthusiasm even in the Departments. Women christened their children Marat. “We will give them for a gospel,” said one, “the complete works of this great man.” Every patriot eagerly procured either a bust or a portrait of the deceased “People’s Friend.”

The painter, David, according to promise, executed a large cartoon representing the assassination. By the side of the tomb of Lazouski on the Carrousel, was erected an obelisk, under which was placed the bust, the lamp, the writing-desk, and the bath of Marat. Before long, innumerable civic crowns covered the place. Hymns to his memory by the hundred were composed. Numerous fetes and pageants in his honour were given by patriotic societies, accompanied with hymns to liberty, &c. The example of Paris was before long followed by the whole of Revolutionary France.

On search being made by the Commune, the day after the funeral, only twenty-five sous (en assignat) were found in Marat’s room, showing that he must have lived literally from hand to mouth. Unlike certain living pamphleteer politicians, he did not possess that happy faculty of combining the disinterested service of humanity with large commercial profits. For some time previous to his death, Marat had been troubled by his inability to pay certain outstanding debts. But these, it would seem, were ultimately all settled during his life-time, for although the Convention agreed to pay them out of the national funds, no creditor presented himself.

No sooner had the first burst of indignant enthusiasm following the assassination subsided, than the enemies of Marat began to pour forth their calumnies against his memory. No one troubled themselves to refute these calumnies, till on the 8th of August, the figure of his widow, attenuated through grief and privation, was to be seen at the bar of the Convention.

“Citizens,” said she, “you see before you the widow of Marat; I do not come here to ask you favours, such as cupidity would covet, or even such as would relieve indigence; Marat’s widow needs no more than a tomb. Before arriving at that happy termination to my existence, however, I come to ask that justice may be done in respect to the reports, recently circulated against the memory of at once the most intrepid, and the most outraged, defender of the people.”

The Convention remained silent, the President not even replying. It well knew it had allowed disgusting caricatures and obscene libels to be circulated with impunity. Six weeks after this, Albertine, Marat’s sister, who had now come to live with Simonne, in a pamphlet entitled Réponse de la Soeur de l’Ami du Peuple aux detracteurs de Marat, ably refuted the most seemingly plausible of these calumnies.

A certain Jacques Roux had the effrontery to continue the publication of the Publiciste, under the name of Publiciste de la Republique par l’Ombre de Marat, with the old epigram, and taking it up at the number at which it had left off. This lasted for more than a fortnight, and it was only stopped on Simonne’s denunciation; the Convention, although not over-careful of her husband’s memory, not caring to see his views travestied by a disguised Royalist. The presses of Marat were given over to the Jacobin’s Club. An abortive attempt to re-establish the Ami du Peuple was made by the Cordeliers. On the 20th of January, 1794, the latter society defiled into the Convention Hall bearing before them the urn containing the heart of Marat. They requested that the Assembly would decree the re-publication of the most important of his political writings, and their transmission and circulation in the Departments. The motive for this request was a double one – to spread Republican principles, and at the same time to place Simonne Marat out of the reach of poverty. The petition, however, was not acceded to by the Convention.

On the 12th of Brumaire, anno III. (2nd of November, 1794), an announcement was to be seen in the Journal of the Mountain of a re-publication of Marat’ works, and was followed shortly after by a prospectus of the complete political works, from the Chains of Slavery downwards, issued by Simonne.

On the 22nd of Brumaire, anno II. (24th of November, 1793), David proposed for Marat the honours of the Pantheon, already accorded to Mirabeau and Le Pelletier. The motion was carried, but, strange to say, was not put into effect before the 21st of September, 1794, nearly two months after the fall of Robespierre, when the reaction had already commenced. The Pantheonisation was, notwithstanding, performed with all due ceremony, the remains of Mirabeau being thrust out at a side door at the same time that those of Marat reached the principal entrance of the Pantheon. But the reaction did not long permit them to rest there. In February they were removed and interred in a neighbouring burial-ground, while at the same time the busts in the public buildings were destroyed, and the. names of the places called after Marat, changed, &c.

Simonne continued to live with Albertine till her death, on the 24th of February, 1824 from the consequences of a fall from a staircase.

On the 6th November, 1841, the following notice appeared in the Siecle:–

“The sister of the famous Marat has just died, at the age of eighty-three years, in a garret in the Rue de la Barillerie, in the midst of the most profound misery, having no one beside her on her death-bed but a grocer and a porteress, the only friends remaining to her. This lady, whose features strongly recalled those of her brother, lived for a long time on the proceeds of her industry in making hands for watches, a kind of work in which she is said to have excelled. She was well acquainted with the Latin language. Age having come with its infirmities, she had fallen into great distress. Four neighbours and friends accompanied her remains to the public burial-ground (fosse Commune).”

Sit terra levis.


1. Pétion, after the event, spoke of the assassination as justifiable.

Last updated on 15.7.2006