Ernest Belfort Bax

Jean-Paul Marat
The People’s Friend

Chapter VI
Marat as a Political Power
(Part 2)

Of Marat’s exceptional ability as a reader of character, in spite of some failures, there can be no two opinions. In July 1790 he had already thrown out a word of warning concerning the popular idol Mirabeau, whom he suspected, even at that time, of intrigues with the Court. He points out that all reactionary measures of the Constituent Assembly had been consecrated by the eloquence of Mirabeau, and this eloquence it was, said he, which blinded people who would not have done so otherwise into accepting them. Marat continued to keep an eye on the great orator, and became more and more convinced of his venality as time went on. “Two years ago,” writes Marat in No.290 of the Ami, “Riquetti (Mirabeau) was obliged to send his breeches to the pawn-shop (mont de piété) for six francs; to-day he swims in opulence, and has three mistresses whom he loads with gifts.” He proceeds in a subsequent number to reckon up the sums Mirabeau paid for various possessions, which he found to amount to 2,850,000 livres (francs). Two years later – on the discovery of the celebrated iron chest in the wainscotting of the Tuileries – convincing proofs were found of Mirabeau’s corruption. Bouillé states in his Mémoires (p.198) that the King had told him he could always count on Mirabeau to further his counter-revolutionary plots, that he had just paid him 600,000 livres, and had granted him an income of 50,000 a month, with limitless promises in proportion to the services rendered. This time, when at the height of his power, the fall and flight of his old enemy Lafayette was predicted by Marat. Similarly, at a later period, he prophesied the treachery and desertion of Dumouriez. We must not forget, too, the last article Marat wrote, – the proof of it was splashed with his blood, – which contained a precise forecast of the development of the public life of Barère, who at that time enjoyed the confidence of the most accredited “patriots.”

By the beginning of the year 1791, the political power of Marat had reached its height. Not content with attacking by legal methods, we find one battalion of Lafayette’s National Guards pledging themselves on oath to assassinate Marat; on the other hand, he had many secret friends in other quarters, even amongst the National Guards themselves and their officers. Thus, before the perquisition of the 14th of December, he received, in all, seventeen letters from such, warning him of the intended raid, and urging him to place himself in safety. “With such men,” exclaims Marat in one place, “we need not despair of the public safety.” Needless to say, however, among Lafayette’s guards they were a small minority. Marat having on one occasion sent a number of his paper to the battalion quartered in the section Bonne Nouvelle, it was ordered to be publicly burnt in the presence of the whole company in the courtyard of the barracks. The most frivolous pretexts were employed by men of the moderate party to discredit the object of their fear and hatred. Thus Marat was accused of not having formally taken the civic oath, to which he pertinently observed, that his civic oath was graven in letters of flame, in the files of the Ami du Peuple. In addition to this, he objected to an oath which pledged the juror to unconditional fidelity to the King, to laws good or bad, and to the Constitution in the form in which it had left the hands of the Constituent Assembly. He proceeds, on the other hand, to formulate various principles for which the Ami du Peuple has combated, and which he is prepared to swear to with all his heart. The editor of a Lafayettist print made an abortive attempt at a libel action against the “People’s Friend.” The Mayor Bailly, having on this occasion taken his seat as President of the Tribunal, had to be reminded that he was personally interested in the case before him, after which he retired, amid the applause of the assembled public. A grenadier who happened to be present, standing up on a bench, declared that he was the “soul of Marat,” and that before Marat should be attacked he would fall.

On the 3rd of April 1791, Mirabeau died. He had been regarded by all parties as the man of the situation, the “man of destiny” in fact, destined to carry France through the throes of the Revolution and establish the new constitution on an impregnable basis. His death was therefore universally viewed as a public calamity. The popular feeling on the subject is illustrated by the story of the guest at one of the Palais Royal restaurants, who, on remarking to the waiter that it was a fine day, received for answer, “Yes, monsieur, but M. Mirabeau is dead.” We have said that the death of the great orator was universally looked on as a public calamity. This is not strictly accurate, for there was one notable exception to the general voice of approbation and lamentation. The solitary discordant note was struck by the irrepressible “People’s Friend.” We have already seen the judgment he had formed of Mirabeau’s character and public life, and shall not therefore be surprised to find in the Ami for the 4th of April (No.419) an article headed Funeral Oration on Riquetti, called “Mirabeau”, couched in the following terms: “People, give thanks to the gods! Your most redoubtable enemy has fallen beneath the scythe of Fate. Riquetti is no more; he dies victim of his numerous treasons, victim of his too tardy scruples, victim of the barbarous foresight of his atrocious accomplices ... Adroit rogues, to be found in all circles, have sought to play upon your pity, and already duped with their false discourse, you regret this traitor as the most zealous of your defenders; they have represented his death as a public calamity, and you bewail him as a hero, who has sacrificed himself for you, and as the saviour of your country. Will you always be deaf to the voice of prudence; will you always sacrifice public affairs to your blindness? The life of Riquetti was stained by a thousand crimes; let a black veil henceforward cover the shameful fabric, since it can no longer injure you, and let the recital scandalise the living no more! But beware of prostituting your incense; keep your tears for your honest champions; remember that he was one of the born lacqueys of the despot; that he only found fault with the Court in order to gain your suffrages; that he was scarcely elected to the Estates-General to defend your interests before he sold your most sacred rights; that after the fall of the Bastille he showed himself the most ardent supporter of despotism; that he abused a hundred times his talents to put again into the monarch’s hands all the forces of authority; that it is to him you owe all the fatal decrees that have placed you again under the yoke and that have riveted your irons: the decrees concerning martial law, the suspensive veto, the independence of the delegates of the nation, the silver mark, the supreme executive power, the congratulations of the assassins of Metz, the monopoly of the currency by small assignats, the permission to emigrate accorded to the conspirators, etc.!”

The flight of the King and of the Royal family, which took place on the 21st of June 1791, Marat had foreseen as probable more than a month before. In his number of the 22nd of March he had explained the situation, pointing out that a hostile army of 24,000 men was encamped on the frontiers, and that the National Guards of many departments were inadequately supplied with arms and ammunition, and moreover were commanded by reactionary officers. All that prevented a move of overt hostility on the part of Austria and those in league with her was the fact that the King, for whose safety they feared, was in Paris. This hostage once safely across the frontier, the enemy would advance on Paris, where the Assembly and “traitorous Municipality” would humble themselves before the monarch; a portion of the National Guards would join the enemy of the people, while the people, without arms or money, would be offered the alternative of slavery or death. These remarks were made à propos of the proposal of the Court to transfer itself from the Tuileries to Saint Cloud, the idea being, of course, that the projected flight would be easier from there than from the centre of the metropolis. “It is all up with liberty, it is all up with the country,” concludes Marat, “if we suffer the Royal family to quit the Tuileries!”

The abortive result of the flight, and the circumstances attending the discovery and enforced return of the King, henceforth half a prisoner in his own capital, are too well known to need recital in the present work. The affair, it is hardly necessary to remind the reader, sealed the fate of the monarchy, already shaken to its foundations. It survived, it is true, rather more than twelve months from this time, but during those months it was plainly tottering to its fall. “Behold him,” writes Marat in his number of the 27th of June (Ami, 503), “brought once again within our walls, this crowned brigand, perjurer, traitor, and conspirator, without honour and without soul! In the very midst of the procession which led him prisoner, he seemed insensible to the infamy of being dragged in a chariot filled with the criminal accomplices of his misdeeds, to the infamy of being exposed to the eyes of a countless number of his fellow-citizens, formerly his slaves. Any other would have died of sorrow and shame, but he only understands animal sufferings. The whole time that he was in the hands of the soldiers of the country, he did not cease to entreat them to do him no harm, and he thought of nothing but of begging them for food, and above all for drink.”

The republican sentiment that had been growing for some time in the clubs and the popular assemblies now found definite expression in a loud demand for abdication. This culminated in the drawing up of a gigantic petition, which was laid on the “Altar of the Country”, a wooden erection established in the Champs de Mars the previous summer (1790), on the occasion of the great festival of the Constitution. Here all were invited by the popular societies to sign, on Sunday the 17th of July 1791. Crowds thronged the great open space from early morning onwards. Two supposed spies, found underneath the wooden erection, were hanged at the lamp-post. Finally, at about half-past seven in the evening, the crowd showing no signs of diminution, Mayor Bailly and the Municipal authorities appeared, bearing with them the red flag, at that time the symbol of martial law. So small, however, it is alleged, was this emblem as to be only visible to those immediately around. The municipals were followed by battalions of National Guards, the upshot of the whole being the order to fire, without, however, it is alleged, the three summonses to disperse prescribed by the law having been first made. The order was followed by a fusillade, in which some hundreds were declared to have fallen, killed or wounded. Such was the celebrated “Massacre of the Champs de Mars”, in the initiation of which Bailly and Lafayette were regarded as the leading spirits, and which constitutes one more of the leading landmarks in the course of the French Revolution. The event caused a panic in the ranks of the revolutionary party generally. Numbers of journalists dropped their pens and fled. Marat, almost alone, remained in the breach, and he as bold and as outspoken as ever. But, however brave he might be himself, Marat could not succeed in infusing his courage into printers and distributors, and three days after the events described the journal had to be suspended, failing the services of these indispensable adjuncts to journalistic enterprise. The panic in the ranks of the “patriotic” caused by the affair of the 17th was complete; between the a 21st of July and the 10th of August no number of the Ami appeared. We should not omit to mention here, as illustrating the devotion which the man whom Carlyle characterises as an “obscene spectrum” could call forth in the fair sex, that the only one of those engaged in the production of the Ami who did not desert was a young woman, who remained till she was arrested by the emissaries of Bailly.

On the panic subsiding somewhat, Marat found means to republish his paper, and on the 10th of August the hawkers were again to be heard crying the Ami du Peuple in the streets of Paris. Referring to the slaughter of the 17th of the previous month, Marat writes, “If heaven deigns to mix itself up in affairs here below, may these monsters soon become the objects of its avenging anger! May the people rise at once in all corners of the kingdom and immolate them to its just fury!” But though the Ami had reappeared, its publication was no longer so uninterrupted as it had been before the affair of the Champs de Mars. But there was no “climbing down” in the tone of the articles. “For myself,” says Marat, “the Prince will never be anything else but a tyrant, his ministers atrocious traitors, the lacqueys who concoct his decrees perfidious scoundrels, and well-nigh all the present public functionaries prostituted rascals.” Meanwhile the time for the dissolution of the “Constituent Assembly” and the election of its successor, the so-called “Legislative Assembly,” drew on apace. The Constituent Assembly, as the reader will remember, was simply the old assembly of the States-General amalgamated as one parliamentary body. The new Legislative Assembly was to be convoked under the somewhat complicated electoral laws the Constituent Assembly had passed. In a moment of self-abnegation the members of the Constituent had resolved not to allow themselves to be nominated for the Legislative, so the new parliament would consist of entirely fresh men. Marat hoped that it would prove better than its predecessor. For this reason he seems to have resolved to terminate his career as journalist on the dissolution of the parliamentary body whose measures had been the object of such scathing criticism from his pen. With the solitary exception of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which was an abstract statement of principle, he regarded all the work done by the Constituent as, when not overtly reactionary, tainted with reactionary tendencies. His number of the 8th of September (No.549) contains his journalistic farewell to the outgoing parliament. He here declares that he is tired of risking the galleys, or possibly the hangman’s rope, in defending the rights of the nation and telling the King home-truths, and that he proposes henceforward renouncing the foolish enterprise of sacrificing himself for the public good and taking steps for the rehabilitation of his shattered fortune, having been reduced to the greatest straits in the pursuit of this insensate object. He had even, he says, been robbed by citizens with whom he had sought an asylum. Marat had, in fact, resolved not merely to cease the publication of his journal, but to leave France altogether and return to England. The Ami of the 21st of September (No.556) contains “the last farewell of the ‘People’s Friend’ to the country.” He here recalls the persecutions he has undergone, during the last eighteen months, in pursuance of the people’s cause. “I should have been protected, caressed, feted, if I could but have resolved to keep silence. How much gold would have been showered upon me had I been content to dishonour my pen!” He has, he says, resisted these temptations and preserved a clear conscience. Knowing as we now do the amounts the Royalist party were prepared to spend at the time, in bribing the leaders of public opinion, no one can reasonably doubt that Marat speaks the truth when he intimates that he might have been a millionaire had he chosen to sell himself. Instead of riches, which he might have had, he is left, he says, with some debts, “with which I have been saddled by the faithless manipulators to whom I had at first confided the printing and the publication of my paper. I am about to abandon to these creditors the remains of the little that I have, and I fly without money, without help, without resources, to vegetate in the only corner of the earth where it will still be permitted me to breathe in peace, preceded by the clamour of calumny, slandered by the public rascals whom I have exposed, charged with the maledictions of all the enemies of the country, abhorred by the great and by those in authority, and branded in all the ministerial cabinets as a monster to stifle. Perhaps it will not be long before I am forgotten by the very people to whose safety I sacrificed myself, happy if the regrets of patriots should accompany me; but I take with me the witness of a good conscience that I shall be followed by the esteem of all true souls.” Marat seems at this time to have been alternating between hope and despair with regard to public affairs. He had hopes indeed from the fresh blood of the Assembly about to be elected, but he also, it seems, had doubts as to whether the French people were made for liberty. The above farewell of his may be read in connection with an article on this question a few weeks before. “We so perfectly resemble,” he says, “the Romans under the despots who so tyrannised over them after the fall of the Republic, that it is impossible to read Satires VI., VII., and VIII. of Juvenal, written under Domitian, and not recognise our gallant ladies, our men of letters, and our former nobles in the picture Juvenal gives us of those of Rome. But it is in Satire XVII. that the Parisians may best see themselves, in the portrait there offered of avarice, rapacity, fraud, rascality, perfidy, brigandage, and the crimes of all sorts which sullied Rome” (Ami, No.539). Marat then translates portions of Juvenal as illustrating the insolence of the military and the partiality of the Courts.

The number containing the farewell above quoted was intended to be the last written from Paris, since on the evening of the day on which it appeared Marat set out for England. He had evidently, however, made arrangements for a continuance of the publication for some days longer. The following number is dated from Clermont, the next from Breteuil, and the next from Amiens. By the 27th the “People’s Friend” found himself on his way back to Paris. Why he changed his resolution is not quite clear, but the circumstances are thus given, in No.560 of the Ami, by Marat himself. “The ‘People’s Friend,”‘ he says, “having entered the Hotel d’Angleterre at Amiens, hears a spy remark to a companion that he recognises him. No doubt there was an amnesty, but the ‘People’s Friend’ is always a good prize.” Marat feigns not to see anything, walks leisurely, and suddenly disappears behind a hedge. A shepherd passing, he requests to be conducted on the road to Paris by a circuitous route, as he had abandoned the intention of proceeding to London. The man offered him as a guide a patriot, an old French Guard; so Marat, having donned the habit of a peasant, proceeded with his companion. At Beauvais a cabriolet is obtained, and on the morrow Marat is once more established in Paris.

The 1st of October saw the opening of the second French parliament, called the Legislative Assembly; if the “Constituent” had been dominated, in the main, by the moderate Constitutionalists, the “Legislative” was largely influenced by the principles of the Girondin party, which formed a compact phalanx of its members. The Girondins, it is true, represented a more advanced phase of the political movement than the Constitutionalists. In principle at least they were Republican, while the Constitutionalists swore by the theory of a more or less limited monarchy. But, as has often enough been said before, the Girondins were pedants to the backbone. They believed in a Republic based on the respectability of the cultured bureaucrat of the period, on “virtue”, on classic models; and they seem to have been firmly convinced that the perfect way to its realisation lay through oratory and well-turned periods. Though perhaps less corrupt and less directly self-seeking in their aims, they had as little notion of the economic change implied in the Revolution or of its true historic significance as the Constitutionalists, into whose place they stepped.

The Girondins took their name from the department of the Gironde, their three chief orators, Vergniaud, Guadet, and Gensonne, hailing from Bordeaux. The nominal leader of the party, however, being Brissot, they were also called Brissotins. Brissot, in fact, at this time was the leader of the entire left in the Legislative Assembly, for the split, which in the Convention developed into the great antagonism between the “Gironde” and the “Montagne”, was not as yet unmistakably apparent, although its beginnings might have been readily noticed by a careful observer.

Marat, who was remaining in Paris in the hope of seeing better results from the new “Legislative” than those obtained from the old “Constituent” Assembly, was, as one might imagine, particularly disgusted when, on its third sitting, the new Parliament took a solemn oath to maintain intact the Constitution established by its predecessor – a constitution which was notoriously, in many points, out of harmony with the principles on which the Revolution was supposed to be founded. Martial law, the inviolability of legislators, arbitrary restrictions on press freedom, – these and other things of a similar nature might be considered as part of the Constitution which the new Assembly swore to preserve.

“Friends of the country,” exclaims Marat (Ami, No. 568), “this buffoonery is the tomb of dawning liberty, the new Conscript Fathers are worth no more than the old!” Nevertheless, Marat continued to struggle with the forces against him. Notwithstanding a Brissotin influence in the Legislature, notwithstanding even a ministry mainly composed of Brissotin elements, the new body – even if revolutionary phrases were more on the lips of its orators – Marat felt to be pursuing substantially the same course as the old one. But, however despondent might be the “People’s Friend” himself, however thankless he might feel the task to be in which he was engaged, never was there a time when his journal was more eagerly read, nor his influence greater with the public at large, than during these three last months of 1791. The Ami du Peuple now obviously stood out from all its contemporaries as the Parisian journal of widest circulation and greatest influence. Marat had become a political force, not only to be feared by those in authority, but to be reckoned with by all. Despair, however, of the situation, acting on a constitution already enfeebled by chronic disease and overwork, gained the upper hand before the year expired. On the 14th of December appears a second farewell to the readers of the redoubtable Ami. “Oh, my country!” cries Marat, “what frightful destiny the future reserves for thee! A fatal decree of pitiless fortune will always hold the veil of illusion and error pressed to thy forehead, to prevent thee from profiting by thy resources, and to deliver thee defenceless into the hands of thy cruel enemies! To-day there remains no means of preventing thy ruin, and thy faithful friend has no other duty to render thee than that of deploring thy sad destinies, and of shedding tears of blood over thy too prolonged disasters.” The next day, the 15th of December, Marat once more set out for London, determined this time that nothing should induce him to swerve from his purpose. Only a day or two before, Bourdon, one of the leading men of the section of the Louvre, had written to him exhorting him to spare himself while it was yet time, urging the uselessness of attempting to rouse the “stupid citizens of Paris” to action. “For two years,” says he, “they have not ceased to decry the ‘People’s Friend’ as an incendiary. They will soon see the torrents of blood which will flow because they had feared to shed a few drops as he had advised, in order by terror to restrain the enemies of liberty and thus assure the public welfare.”

Marat reached London almost without resources, hoping perhaps once more to gain a living by the practice of medicine through the influence of those of his old patients who were surviving. The accustomed cry of the Paris hawkers, “L’Ami du Peuple, L’Ami du Peuple de M. Marat”, was heard no more. But not many days were over before the numerous political societies of the French capital began to feel the loss of their friend and adviser. The first sign of life the Parisians had from Marat was on the 3rd of March 1792, when the following letter was received by the president of the Cordeliers’ Club:–

MR. PRESIDENT – I should to-day claim the engagement entered into by the friends of the rights of man, of propagating the principles of the “People’s Friend”, if I were in need of any other motive than their devotion of citizenship for making them concur with me to enlighten the people on their rights, to form a public spirit, to revive patriotism, and to make triumphant the cause of liberty. After fighting without relaxation for three consecutive years against reviving despotism, I have been forced to quit at last a career where I have found nothing but fatigue, difficulties, annoyances, misery, peril, sorrow, disgust, and in which I could do no more good to the People, but always less discouraged by the attempts of the enemies of the country than by the blindness and lukewarmness of her children. I have yet never abandoned their interests. I have only thought that it would be most usefully serving them to develop before their eyes the striking picture of the machinations of the cruel enemies sworn to their destruction, of the crafty policy of the Constituent Assembly, and of the vices of the Constitution - vices which are the curse of France and which will be an eternal source of anarchy and civil dissension till they are corrected. After all the schemes of the Government for suppressing my writings, travestying them, abusing their author, and representing him as sold to the enemies of the country, that which I propose to publish cannot produce all the good that is to be expected from it if the “patriots” of the departments have not the certitude that it issues from the pen of the true “People’s Friend. The society over which you preside, sir, knows my principles and has declared itself their propagator. I expect from its zeal in public affairs that it will undertake to convey the prospectus of my work to all the patriot societies of the kingdom, engaging them to give it the greatest publicity possible. For my part, I shall use every means to place it within reach of the poorest citizen, designed as it is to put the People on its guard against unfaithful leaders, to disclose the traps of the rascals bribed to enchain it, to cause it to know what laws must be reformed and what laws must be passed, in order to ensure liberty and public happiness. Such a work will become the school of patriots. I pray you, sir, to lay my request before the society and to make known its decision to the citizen who brings you this letter. Receive my patriotic salutations.

MARAT, the “People’s Friend”

This letter is dated “Paris, the 3rd of March 1792”. Whence we may conclude that Marat had already reached Paris by the first week in March. The news of the return of the “People’s Friend”, and of the prospects of his resuming his political activity, was, of course, greeted with enthusiasm by the popular societies. The Ecole du Citoyen, as Marat’s proposed work was to be entitled, was intended to form, as the prospectus stated, 2 vols. 8vo of about 400 pages each, and the subscription price was to be 6 livres 10 sols. (6f. 10c.) for Paris, and 7 livres 10 sols. (7f. 10c.) for the departments. With the issue of this prospectus appeared a formal invitation of the Patriotic Societies of the capital, asking the author to resume his pen, having, as they stated, felt, since the suspension of the journal entitled the Ami du Peuple, that the country had lost its most zealous defender. They suggest that steps should be taken to ensure the spread of the journal, so dreaded by the enemies of liberty throughout the provinces, at the lowest possible price. Subscriptions were to be sent to the secretaries of the provincial patriotic societies that were affiliated to the Jacobin Society of Paris.

Marat, when he secretly returned to France, had taken up his abode at No.270 Rue St. Honoré, in an apartment rented by the three sisters Evrard. While there, although, as we have seen, immediately on his arrival he had taken steps to secure the assistance of the patriotic societies for the publication of his proposed new work, as well as for the reappearance of the Ami du Peuple, weeks went by and neither the Ecole du Citoyen nor the Ami du Peuple saw the light. Meanwhile Marat, not wishing to embarrass his hostesses, sought refuge with his friend Jacques Roux. At last one of the sisters, named Simonne, resolved to devote her share of the family fortune to resuscitating the revolutionary organ. We may here mention that Marat, as would appear from the document given in the next chapter, was engaged to Simonne Evrard at the time of his departure for London. We merely mention Simonne here in passing, as we shall shortly return to the subject. With the money furnished by this devoted woman, the Ami du Peuple was now able to reappear. Up to this time, in spite of the good-will of the “patriots” of patriotic societies, want of means had made this impossible. On the 12th of April 1792, after a suspension of nearly four months, the wonted cry of the street-hawkers was again heard.

Within the last few months several things had happened. Lafayette had ceased to be the Commandant of the National Guard, an office which was now held in turn by the six generals of divisions. Bailly had been replaced as Mayor by Pétion since the 20th of November. Other changes had also taken place in the municipal administration. The leader of the emigrants, including the brothers of the King, had been declared accused. A foreign coalition, consisting of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, had been formed against France, and war loomed nearer every day. Bouillé was urging on the organisation and armament of the Royalist rebels, the emigrants. The Emperor Leopold IL, however, died on the 1st of March, and Gustave III of Sweden, who was intended to be placed at the head of the French Emigrants, was assassinated on the 29th of the month. Finally, a ministry of strong Girondin proclivities had been for some weeks in power. The Girondin Roland now held the portfolio of the Interior, De Grave that of War, while Dumouriez was at the Foreign Office, Gamier was Minister of Justice, and Clavière of Finance. At the head of the new series of the Ami du Peuple appeared a resolution of the Cordeliers’ Club, characterising the silence of Marat as a veritable public calamity, and beseeching him to take up his pen again at the earliest possible opportunity. Marat found that no less than four spurious Amis had been brought into existence during his absence, and great were the efforts made to assure the public of the authenticity of the present issue. About a week after the resumed publication, on the 20th of April, war was declared by the Cabinet, in reality against the European coalition, though nominally against Francis II, “King of Hungary and Bohemia”. This measure was popular with all parties. The Court had well-grounded hopes of its turning to the advantage of Royalism, by the success of the allies over officers many of whom were in its direct service, and hence only too anxious to be defeated, and over a badly-organised army. It would, moreover, carry off vast numbers of “fighting patriots,” who might prove dangerous at home. It also afforded an excuse for levying heavy taxes. The revolutionary parties, on the other hand, hoped to gain from the enthusiasm which the war would engender in the name of liberty, of the country, etc. The Girondins were, to a man, hotly in favour of the war. A portion only of the extreme Jacobins, including, however, the most able leaders, were opposed thereto. Danton and Robespierre strongly attacked the war-policy from the tribune of the Jacobins’ Club. Let us hear what Marat says on the subject. “The war, will it take place?” he asks, on the eve of the Cabinet’s decision. “Everybody is for it. We are assured that it is the opinion that has prevailed in the Cabinet, after the representations of Sieur Mottier (Gilbert Mottier, Marquis de Lafayette), who without doubt has given it as the only way of distracting the nation from internal matters by occupying it with foreign affairs; making it drown home troubles in the news of the gazettes, wasting the national wealth in military preparations, crushing the State under the burden of taxes, killing the patriots of the army of the line and of the citizen army, leading them to slaughter under the pretext of defending the frontiers of the empire.” Farther on he says, “If the war takes place, whatever may be the bravery of the defenders of liberty, one need not be an eagle to foresee that our armies will be overwhelmed in the first campaign. I imagine that the second will be less disastrous, and that the third may even be glorious, for it is impossible that we should not gain some instruction at our own cost.” History testifies to the truth of this prophecy. According to Marat, the Assembly ought to have apostrophised the King somewhat as follows: – “King of the French, it is in vain that you should conceal yourself in the follies of a tortuous policy in order to cover us with the disasters of war! You will not escape from the avenging arm of the people! We declare to you, in the name of the nation, that we will not treat with your colleagues, the princes of Europe, that we will not make any preparations for war! Compromise or not with them, you are the master! The care of recalling your rebellious brother and cousins concerns you, similarly that of turning aside your colleagues from all hostile enterprise. The frontiers of the State will remain open; but be assured that at the authentic news of the first body of enemies that crosses them, your culpable head will roll at your feet, and your entire race will be extinguished in its blood! “

Marat’s articles on the war are admitted even by his detractors to be statesmanlike and masterpieces of political journalism. The question of the war was the cause of the first open breach between the Girondins and what afterwards became the party of the Mountain – the more decided, more energetic revolutionists of the Paris sections and the Clubs. The Girondins, or the Brissotins, as they were still mostly called, now acquired, owing to their pose, the nickname of “statesmen,” an epithet Marat is especially fond of bestowing upon them. For the rest, the burden of Marat’s preaching in the Ami du Peuple, after the outbreak of the war, was, if possible, a sharpening of the eternal vigilance he had preached from the beginning. Against one man particularly all “patriots” were to be on their guard, and that man was Mottier Lafayette.

At last the moderate parties, among whom we may now reckon the Girondins, were urged by their fears to attempt the forcible suppression of the “People’s Friend”, as in the old Lafayette-Bailly days. On the 4th of May the matter came before the Convention, in the form of a motion by the Girondin Lasource to the effect that the author of a certain article criticising the generals and sundry deputies should be prosecuted before the supreme National Court. As a counterblast to the Ami du Peuple, the Royalist party was now running a paper entitled L’Ami du Roi. The Girondin orators endeavoured to discredit Marat by pretending they were both the work of the same hand, or at least run with the same funds, with the object of discrediting the Revolution in the Royalist interests. The result was that the Assembly authorised proceedings simultaneously against both papers. Marat now resolved once more to resume his subterranean life. “They have launched against me a decree of accusation,” he says (Ami, No. 650). “I am ready to appear against them before any equitable tribunal, but I will not deliver myself over to tyrants whose hired satellites have orders without doubt to kill me while arresting me, or to imprison me in a dungeon. Let the Conscript Fathers who are persecuting me indict me before an English tribunal, and I pledge myself, the report of their séance in my hand, to have them condemned to the ‘Petites-Maisons‘ as madmen, and I pledge myself, my writings in my hand, to have them convicted as odious oppressors. They are already covered with opprobrium, may they soon be the object of public execration!”

The pursuit of Marat was so hot that for a whole week it was impossible to publish the paper. The affair of the Ami du Peuple now divided with the war the attention of the Assembly. In order to discover Marat’s retreat, a decree was passed ordering every inhabitant of the capital to make a declaration of any person, French or foreigner, residing with him. But it was all to no effect. Marat’s person could not be seized. The utmost that was accomplished was to throw obstacles in the way of the production of the Ami, in consequence of which there were numerous gaps in the publication during the ensuing weeks. On the 12th of June, a deputy accused the Minister of Justice of not fulfilling his engagement to the Legislature, to take steps for the suppression of the obnoxious journal. He complained that it was still circulating as freely as ever. “I have four or five of the last numbers,” said he, “where Marat puts a price on the heads of generals, ministers, and members of the Assembly, whom he accuses of being in league with the Court to destroy the battalions of volunteer patriots.” But to suppress the Ami du Peuple entirely was easier to promise than to perform. Despair once more laid hold of the “People’s Friend” himself, and led once more to his announcing his intention of retiring from political life-an intention which, as on a former occasion, was not carried out.

The Girondins now began to attack other leaders of the extreme Jacobin party personally, Robespierre being especially the butt of their invectives. The Girondin Guadet went so far as to accuse Robespierre of having inspired an article in the Ami to the effect that the crisis through which France was passing urgently called for a Dictatorship. He intimated that the suggestion was a bid for supreme power for Robespierre. To this accusation Marat thought it necessary to give an explicit and detailed denial. “I owe,” says he, “a precise and categorical reply to citizens too little enlightened to see the absurdity of the statement. I declare, then, that my paper is not at Robespierre’s disposal, although it has often served to do him justice; and I protest that I have never received a single note from him; that I have never had any relation, direct or indirect, with him; that I have never seen him but once all my life; yet that on that single occasion our conversation sufficed to bring to light ideas and to disclose sentiments diametrically opposed to those Guadet and his clique attribute to me.” The first word that Robespierre addressed to him related, he said, to the “sanguinary demands” for the blood of the enemies of liberty; these, Robespierre said, he was persuaded were only spoken “in the air” and were not seriously meant. Marat indignantly repudiated this view of Robespierre’s, insisting that the value of his paper did not depend solely on methodical discussions on the political situation, but also on the fact that he allowed free vent to the feelings of his heart at the moment. He went on to insist that his indignation at the oppression of the legislators was equally real and its expression equally necessary. As to its being no mere rhetorical form, he assured Robespierre that, after the horrible affair of Nancy, he could have decimated the barbarous deputies who applauded it; that he would willingly have sent the infamous judges of the Châtelet to the stake; that again, after the massacre of the Champs de Mars, if he had but found two thousand men animated with the same sentiments as himself, he would have placed himself at their head, poniarded the General (Lafayette) in the midst of his brigand-battalions, burnt the despot in his palace, and strangled the traitorous representatives in their seats, as he had declared at the time.

“Robespierre listened to me with terror,” he says; “he grew pale and was silent for some time. This interview confirmed me in the opinion that I always had of him, that he unites the knowledge of a wise senator to the integrity of a thoroughly good man and the zeal of a true patriot; but that he is lacking as a statesman alike as regards clearness of vision and determination.” This is noteworthy as showing the extent to which Marat kept to himself. That he should have been for two years the great political force he was, and yet should have only once come into contact with that other growing force, the prominent leader of the Jacobin Club, the ex-member of the “Constituent”, whose “incorruptibility” and whose “virtue” were already in every “patriotic” mouth, is at first sight scarcely credible; yet so it was. Marat was emphatically the lone, lorn man of the Revolution, who, even if he had many admirers at a distance, had no intimate friends. Never seen at the fashionable salons, where other revolutionary leaders forgathered, associating with no one, he was understood by no one, and by most grievously misjudged.

From the 15th of June to the 7th of July the Ami du Peuple had to be suspended. In consequence of the complaint made in the Assembly, the Executive felt itself called upon to take vigorous action against the “People’s Friend” and his paper. At the same time the Royalist print, the Ami du Roi, in the decree against which a show of impartiality was at first made, was allowed to go its way unmolested. A partial renewal of the Ministry by the King did not change matters one way or the other; nor did the sham revolt of the 20th of June, got up under the auspices of the Girondin leaders, the primary object of which was to demand the reinstatement of the dismissed ministers of their party. Marat was carefully concealed all this time, and from the non-appearance of the Ami the authorities doubtless cherished the hope that, although they had failed to seize Marat in person, they had at least succeeded in extinguishing him as a political entity. Their security, however, was dispelled by the reappearance of the paper on the 7th of July, though only ten numbers in all appeared during the ensuing month.

The memorable 10th of August found Marat still in close concealment. But before the day was over, while the cannon was still thundering at the Tuileries, and while the Swiss Guards, deserted and forgotten by their Royal master, were, with the stupidity of mechanical fidelity, uselessly letting themselves be slaughtered in the hopeless attempt to hold the Palace against the armed populace of Paris, supported by the enthusiasm of the Southerners, men were seen placarding the walls of the city with an exhortation from the pen of the dauntless “People’s Friend”, from which we extract the salient passages.

It is headed The “People’s Friend” to French Patriots, and begins: – “My dear Compatriots, a man who made himself for a long time anathema for you escapes to-day from his subterranean retreat to endeavour to assure victory to your hand. Eager to prove to you that he is not unworthy of your confidence, permit him to recall to you that he is still under the sword of tyranny for having unveiled to you the frightful machinations of your cruel enemies.” The placard proceeds to show how all Marat’s vaticinations had come true, how completely justified was his forecast of the war and his criticisms on the way it was being conducted. “The glorious day of the 10th of August 1792 may be decisive of the triumph of liberty, if you do but know how to profit by your advantage. A great number of the despot’s satellites have eaten the dust, your implacable enemies are in consternation, but they will not be slow to return and reassert themselves in a more terrible form than before ... After having shed your blood to drag the country from the abyss, tremble lest you become the victims of their secret plots ... Dread the reaction, I repeat; your enemies will not spare you when their chance comes; therefore, no quarter! You are lost without recovery if you do not hasten to strike down the corrupt members of the Municipality of the Department, all the anti-patriot judges, and the most putrid deputies of the National Assembly!” The placard then goes on to deprecate any sentimental respect for the said National Assembly, maintaining it to be utterly corrupt and at the service of the enemies of the people. “No one,” says the author, “abhors the shedding of blood more than myself, but to prevent its being made to flow in streams, I urge you to sacrifice a few drops. To reconcile the duties of humanity with the cares of public safety, I propose to you, then, to decimate the counter-revolutionary members in the Municipality, among the judges, in the Department, and in the National Assembly; but above all things, hold the King, his wife, and son as hostages, and until his definite judgment shall be pronounced, let him be shown four times a day to the people! Moreover, since it depends upon him to rid us for ever of our enemies, declare to him that, if within fifteen days the Austrians and the Prussians are not removed twenty leagues from the frontier, never to return, his head shall roll at his feet.” Marat had seen from the first that the war was mainly a dodge to introduce the King’s friends, the allied powers, into France, with the object of crushing the Revolution and reinstating Louis as absolute monarch. Arrest of the ministers is advised and the holding of them in irons; also the execution of all the counter-revolutionary officers of the National Guard, with the disarming of certain battalions known to be reactionary. The convocation of a National Convention was, for the first time, demanded in this placard, which concludes, “Last of all, make the Assembly put a price on the heads of your cruel oppressors, the fugitive Capets, traitors and rebels! Tremble, tremble, lest you let a unique occasion escape that the tutelary genius of France has created for you, that you may depart out of the abyss and assure your liberty!” The placard is signed “Marat, the ‘People’s Friend’”, and is dated “Paris, this 10th of August 1792; the printing-office of Marat”.

The next day, the 11th of August, Marat once more, and now for the last time, emerged from his cellar-retreat into the light of day. His subsequent political career as an active adviser of the new insurrectionary Commune of Paris, and later on as deputy for Paris to the National Convention, will form the subject of a future chapter. With the great day of the 10th of August the first period of the French Revolution comes to an end. Men formerly in opposition are now masters, the Court as an institution finally disappears. A new governmental body, the revolutionary Commune of Paris, manned by new men, the most advanced politicians of the “sections”, animated by new principles, not merely takes the place of the old Municipality, but absorbs into itself many of the powers previously exercised by Legislative and Executive, becoming indeed, for the time being, the embodiment of the Revolution, the great dictatorial power before which all France bends.


Last updated on 21.6.2003