Ernest Belfort Bax

Jean-Paul Marat
The People’s Friend

Chapter VII
Marat as Lover and Husband

OF Marat’s relations to women we know comparatively little, and much of the little that is recorded is fragmentary and uncertain. His old friend of pre-revolutionary days, Brissot, has naturally as little good to say of Marat, as Marat has of him. Before the 10th of August the “People’s Friend” had devoted a whole number to an attack on Brissot, whom he accused, among other things, of being in the pay of the Royalists. In return Brissot devotes two or three chapters of the memoirs he wrote while in prison to his relations with his old friend, whom he does his best to depreciate by depicting him as a vain charlatan; but he includes a few facts and anecdotes that we may presume to have some basis in fact. Amongst others Brissot relates that Marat had spoken to him of his relations with the “celebrated Kaufmann”, whose talent for music he praised as much as that for painting, and respecting whom “he related several interesting anecdotes to me that I have preserved.” This evidently refers to the eminent female painter Angelica Kaufmann, who was partly of Swiss origin, and who resided in Golden Square apparently at the time that Marat was in Church Street. What Marat’s relations were with the lady in question it is difficult to determine, though the suggestion is that they were more than that of mere acquaintanceship. Brissot also relates a liaison of Marat in his medical days with a certain Marquise de L. (de l’Aubépine), “a woman,” says Brissot, “whose delicacy of spirit rendered her very attractive. Separated from her husband,” Brissot continues, “who, covered with debts and dishonoured by infamous frauds, had defiled the conjugal bed in bringing to it an infectious disease, she had placed herself under the care of Marat, and he, not confining himself to his medical role, was anxious to succeed to the husband. Such a union astonished me for a long time. The lady was sweet, amiable, good, and there was nothing so harsh, so violent, so savage in domestic life as Marat” (Memoires de Brissot, ed. Lescure, p.177). To the above, an early editor of Brissot’s memoirs, M. de Montiol, has a note referring to a certain venerable old man named M. Ponce. M. Ponce, he relates, had known Marat seven or eight years before the Revolution, having met him at the house of the Marquise de l’Aubépine (the Marquise de L. of Brissot). Madame de l’Aubépine was given up by her medical attendant, who declared that she could not live twenty-four hours. It was then suggested, as a last resource, to call in Dr. Marat, he being at that time at the height of his medical reputation. On Marat’s arrival he expressed his willingness to undertake the case, and his conviction that under his care the patient would recover. He made a condition, however, that all should leave the room, and that till all danger was passed he should have the exclusive care of the invalid. The Marquise recovered, and we may presume that this circumstance was the origin of the liaison spoken of by Brissot. Marat was short, thick-set, with a face which, though scarcely handsome in the ordinary sense of the word, combined intellectual power with moral determination – one of those figures, in short, which in many women so often inspire strong passion, at times to the surprise of their male acquaintances. The Marquise de l’Aubépine seems to have died before 1789, but the relationship with Marat probably continued till the end.

We have referred incidentally in the last chapter to Marat’s union with Simonne Evrard, a young woman – one of a family of three sisters, whose parents were dead – by means of whose share of the family fortune he was enabled to restart his paper after his return from England in the spring of 1792. Marat probably made her acquaintance in 1790, or possibly before. It is not unlikely, indeed, that it was through her assistance that he was enabled to purchase fresh presses of his own in 1790, after his return from his first exile, in consequence of the raid of the 22nd of January, when the presses he had originally bought were confiscated or destroyed. The words Imprimerie de Marat, which appeared as before on subsequent numbers of the journal, were doubtless used to shield the private printers, to whom he now again had to resort. What was the precise relation between Simonne and Marat at this time is, however, not quite clear. Whether there was any engagement between them, or whether they were already living together, cannot be determined with certainty. The first direct evidence on the subject is a document given in the report on the official inventory of Marat’s effects taken after his death, to be found in the French National archives, and published by M. Chevremont in his work on Marat (vol.ii, p.21 and Appendix vi.). It is as follows: “The good qualities of Mlle. Simonne Evrard having captivated my heart, the homage of which she has received, I leave her, in pledge of my faith, during the journey that I am forced to make to London, the sacred promise to give her my hand immediately after my return, if all my tenderness has not already sufficed to guarantee my fidelity to her. May the breach of this pledge cover me with infamy. Given at Paris, this 1st of January - 1792 – J.P. Marat, ‘Ami du Peuple.’” This document is signed by several well-known citizens, among them Guffroi, d’Herbois, and Hébert, of subsequent Revolutionary fame. There is one point, however, to note. As will be seen, it is dated “Paris, 1st January 1792”. Now we know that at this time Marat was in London, so we must conclude that, for some unexplained reason, though doubtless written just before Marat’s departure for London in the middle of December, it was post-dated for the following New Year’s day. But that Marat was never legally married to Simonne is as good as certain. “Marat,” it is stated in the Journal de la Montagne (No.53), “who did not believe that a vain ceremonial constituted the condition of marriage, and wishing nevertheless not to alarm the modesty of the Citoyenne Evrard, called her one fine day to the casement of his chamber, and putting his hand in that of his beloved, they both fell on their knees before the Supreme Being. ‘It is in the vast temple of Nature,’ said he, ‘ that I take for witness of the eternal fidelity I swear thee the Creator who hears us.’” Bougeart (vol.ii, p.349), we think with justice, discredits the story of this ceremony, as according neither with the character of Marat nor with that of Simonne. Nevertheless, the promise as above given remains in evidence, and Bougeart is probably right in surmising that a legal bond would have been resolutely refused by Simonne herself, and hence that the document was drawn up without the latter’s knowledge, and was intended to shield her in case of Marat’s death. Certain it is that, whether consecrated by the seal of officialism or not, if permanence and closeness of affection, coupled with fidelity, constitute marriage, Marat’s relation to Simonne Evrard was that of as true a marriage as ever existed. That Marat’s family regarded it as such is shown by a declaration made on the 22nd August 1793, the 2nd year of the Republic, and signed by two of Marat’s sisters, Marianne, whose married name was Olivia, and Albertine Marat, and by his brother Jean-Pierre Marat. “Penetrated with admiration and gratitude for our dear and worthy sister,” they say, “we declare that it is to her that the family of her husband owe his preservation during the last years of his life, and that without her he would have succumbed to neglect and misery. Since Marat’s family were ignorant at that time of the state to which this unfortunate victim had been reduced, we declare further that we are not merely grateful to her for having devoted her fortune and her care to his preservation – for having heroically shared his perils, for having shielded him for a long time by her vigilance from the traps that the aristocrats spread for him, no less than from the opprobrium with which they sought to cover him – but still more, for having given back this indefatigable citizen to his worthy functions, for having preserved him as long as in her power lay for that People of which he was always the friend. We declare, then, that it is with satisfaction that we fulfil the wishes of our brother in acknowledging the Citoyenne Evrard as our sister; and that we shall hold as infamous those of our family, should such be found, who do not participate in the sentiments of esteem and gratitude we feel towards her; and further, if, contrary to our expectation, such exist, we ask that their name should be made known, as we do not wish to participate in their infamy.” The Convention, to its credit it may be said, also recognised Simonne Evrard as Marat’s widow.

Calumny has naturally not been idle, either as regards the noble-minded woman who for months carefully tended the “People’s Friend” through the last stages of a distressing illness, or as to the private life of Marat himself. The malicious lies of that odious, but classical example of the female prig, Mme. Roland, the darling heroine of the conventional historian of the French Revolution, are almost too absurd to be worth noticing. The representation of Marat as a hideous ogre, conducting ladies by the hand into costly furnished apartments, with blue and white damask sofas, elegant draperies, superb porcelain vases, is too absurdly in contradiction with well-known facts to have been worth the making. Mme. Roland knew, however, that the exercise of ingenuity was not necessary for the defamation of Marat, since all the dishonest press lacqueys of privilege and power would always be against him, and hence no story calumniating him could be too preposterous to be greedily adopted by these gentlemen and retailed for the benefit of the ignorant. Mme. Roland, be it observed, took care to wait till long after Marat’s death before putting forward the slanders, professing to deal with events, which, had they really happened, she must have known months before, and which, had she known, she would assuredly have been the first to publish at the time when the battle between “Mountain” and “Gironde” was at its height. Other stories of Marat’s gallantries are equally devoid of any vestige of proof or probability. Everything points to the fact that, during his Revolutionary period at least, that is, since his acquaintance with Simonne Evrard, Marat had no intimate relations with any other woman.

Simonne was born on the 6th of February 1764, and was therefore about twenty-six years of age when she made Marat’s acquaintance, and began first of all to give him shelter. She is described as of a figure a little above the middle height, with brown hair and eyes, with a forehead of ordinary size, but rather a large mouth, chin well formed and rounded, aquiline nose and oval face. The following appreciations of her, whom, whatever her legal position may have been, we may justly call Marat’s wife, by her contemporaries, made on the occasion of the unveiling of the bust of Marat after his death, are interesting as showing the estimation in which Simonne was held by Marat’s political friends. A certain Jacobin, by name Alexandre Rousselin, observed in a speech, “It was in a cellar that gratitude gave birth to that virtuous love to which Marat was faithful. This generous loved one, in saving him, declared herself a lover of her country, and was worthy indeed to be his inseparable companion. It is into the secret of so sweet an intimacy that it is necessary to penetrate in order to be convinced that Marat’s lofty and noble nature was accessible to all the charm of honest affection. Such a noble nature could only cherish noble passions; nothing impure or abject ever soiled that chaste enthusiasm. In giving himself as her reward, he has consecrated for our veneration the tender object of his noblest sentiments.” This may be rhetorical and even high-flying in its style, like most other oratory of the period; but it none the less shows the esteem in which the faithful companion of the “People’s Friend” was regarded by contemporaries. On another occasion a patriot observed in his speech, “I should call, citizens, your vengeance down on the whole sex of women, if, besides your memory of the crime of one other (Charlotte Corday), you could not recall a Republican woman who saved Marat from the persecution of despots during three years, who consecrated to him her life, her fortune, her existence, and who by her virtues was indeed worthy to become his cherished companion.” Yet again a typical man of the people, one of the Paris artillerymen, observed in a speech on a similar occasion: “Obliged to fly, did not the ‘People’s Friend’ then find a friend amongst the people? A generous and affectionate woman welcomed and saved him. An enthusiast of liberty, this woman had conceived a high idea of the virtues of Marat. A noble passion succeeded to sentiments of esteem, and engaged her heart in love for a man whose misfortune still further endeared him.” Another Club orator adjures Simonne Evrard in the following words:– “Dear and worthy wife of the virtuous ‘People’s Friend,’ cease to weep; he lives no more for thee, but we live for him, and our last grandchild, seeing in thee the worthy half of Marat, will become the support of her who knew how to preserve him so long.” Unfortunately the conviction here expressed did not prove true, for poor Simonne died in poverty some thirty years later. These contemporary expressions of opinion anent Marat’s wife are collated by Bougeart. (vol.ii, pp.242, 243) Of the domestic relations of Marat with his wife we know little, but the casual glimpse that we get would seem to clearly prove that, in spite of Marat’s irritability, caused by disease and worry, supervening on a naturally vehement temper, a perfect harmony prevailed.

We have already referred to the stupid calumnies on the subject of Marat’s private life, utterly devoid as they are of the thinnest plausibility; but while on the subject of his relations with women, we may as well give an example of a libel spread during his lifetime, hence one which happily he himself had the opportunity of blowing to atoms. Just before the election of the National Convention in September 1792, Marat drew up a list from among the candidates of certain men whom, rightly or wrongly, he deemed suspect. Among them was a certain Deflais, who, on finding himself thus gibbeted, straightway drew up a document directed against Marat, which he placed before the electoral body. It alleges against Marat, among other things, that, after being sheltered and hospitably entertained during two years by a poor citizen, Maquet by name, he, Marat, having sent his host out of the house on a feigned mission, eloped with the latter’s wife, carrying off the furniture. Marat’s action was prompt in the matter, a placard being immediately issued, headed “Marat, the People’s Friend’, to the electors, his fellow-citizens.” The placard contains the accusation in extenso. It then goes on to prove that Maquet never had a wife; that he did, however, have a housekeeper, whose domestic service, according to Marat, he had exploited for several years, without salary, acknowledgment, or even thanks. On the contrary, as was alleged, he terrorised the woman, frequently beating her. Marat affirms that he more than once witnessed scenes of this description while lodging in the house as a paying boarder (not as a guest). Several articles of furniture, alleges Marat, admittedly belonged to this woman and had been brought into the house by her. On one occasion Maquet was away on his own business in Picardy for three weeks, without writing or sending any message home. The woman being in distress and not knowing what to do, applied to Marat for advice. He gave her the best counsel in his power as how to obtain possession of her pieces of furniture and outstanding wages. All this happened just when Marat was about to depart for London. The woman, who was about thirty years of age, fearing to be left alone, asked Marat to find her a place as a nursery-governess. Maquet returning from his journey, discovering that she had made a confidant of the “People’s Friend”, and fearing lest she might go away with him, locked her up in a room, and did his best to betray Marat himself into the hands of Lafayette’s spies. The “People’s Friend”, who by this time had left the house of Maquet, hearing of what had happened, publicly advised her in his paper to escape by the casement of the room where she was confined, and to complain to a magistrate of the treatment she had received. Maquet, in alarm, at once gave the woman a written authorisation to take away her furniture and leave, which she did. Marat further advised her to call in the Commissary of her section and demand her wages, but this she did not do, and consequently lost the money. He refers to back numbers of the Ami du Peuple for confirmation of the above statement, with the necessary documentary proofs. This complete exculpation naturally resulted in the utter discomfiture of M. Deflais, who thus appeared in the light either of a very credulous dupe of Maquet or of a wilful slanderer.

To sum up the relations of Marat with the other sex: setting aside the malignant fabrications of slander-mongers, clumsily concocted lies without a shred of foundation or even plausibility, we have given in the present chapter all the known facts and the statements which suggest themselves as having any probability to support them. These amount to the account of Brissot in his memoirs anent the painter Angelica Kaufmann; and his story, corroborated with fuller detail by his editor M. de Montrol, regarding the Marquise de l’Aubépine. Brissot, although an enemy of his former friend Marat, whom he throughout endeavours to paint with the colours of an envious conceited charlatan, nevertheless generally seems to have some basis of fact for his statements, however distorted they may be, and therefore merits more respect than Mme. Roland, Barbaroux, or Henriquez, whose silly concoctions, designed to calumniate a dead man, are an insult to historical intelligence. That Marat received shelter, among other hospitable roofs, in the house of Mdlle. Fleury, an actress of the Comédie française, at an early period of his Revolutionary career, in 1789, while he was being persecuted by Lafayette, is undoubtedly true, but there is no evidence of any other than a “patriotic” relation in this friendship and hospitality. Apart, then, from the two cases given, which refer to the pre-revolutionary period of Marat’s life, we may fairly assume that the only woman with whom Marat had relations of a serious or enduring character was his unwedded wife Simonne Evrard, subsequently recognised by friends, relations, and even the Convention itself as his widow. It is as certain as negative evidence can make it, that during nearly the whole of his Revolutionary period, i.e. from the end of 1789 to the middle of 1793, when he was assassinated, Simonne Evrard, who had given up her fortune, herself, her all, for the “People’s Friend” and the cause he championed, was the only close female companion he had. This is the woman, of good education and even of means, whom the lying Carlyle, after exhausting all his literary powers to pander to class-hatred by heaping opprobrium upon the “People’s Friend” himself, meanly seeks to render contemptible by styling a “washerwoman”!


Last updated on 14.10.2005