Ernest Belfort Bax

Jean-Paul Marat
The People’s Friend

Chapter IX
Marat’s Assassination

Assassination of Marat

AFTER the revolution of the 2nd of June, which brought about the extinction of the Gironde as a political power, several of the Girondin deputies, among them Barbaroux, Buzot, and Pétion, had taken refuge in the town of Caen in Normandy. Normandy was of Girondin sympathies, and Caen became the centre of Girondin conspiracy. A Committee was sitting at the Hotel de Ville at Caen, enrolling citizens willing to serve in the army which it was endeavouring to raise against Paris and the Mountain, now the dominant party of the Convention. A young woman who was living at Caen, and fully imbued with the Girondin sentiments there prevalent, came in frequent contact with the refugee deputies recently arrived, especially Barbaroux, owing to whose conversation her hatred of the Mountain took a deeper hue. Among the men of the Mountain and of Paris there was no one who came in for a larger share of bitter invective on the part of the refugees than the “People’s Friend”, Jean-Paul Marat. Her thoughts brooded night and day over all that she heard as to the wickedness of the Mountain and its incarnation, Marat.

Marianne Charlotte de Corday d’Armont was born in 1768 at St. Saturnin, in the department of the Orne, of a family of the petite noblesse, claiming descent from the great dramatist Corneille. On Charlotte attaining her teens she was placed for educational purposes in a convent at Caen, but in the early period of the Revolution took up her abode with an old aunt, living in one of the ancient patrician houses of the town. Here, besides doing a little housework, she appears to have spent the most of her time in reading the current literature of the period – the Aventures de Faublas, the Voyage d’Anacharsis, the Nouvelle Héloïse, etc. In addition, translations of Plutarch’s Lives and one or two other well-known classics, then in everybody’s hands, formed her daily intellectual food. She also read the Revolutionary papers circulating in the district, which were almost entirely of Constitutionalist or Girondin tendency, and accordingly she became a strong partisan of the Revolution in this sense. Phrases about the Republic and Liberty, derived from these organs, and from her perusal of Plutarch’s Lives, formed her emotional and intellectual stock-in-trade. It was alleged that, a lover of hers, a certain Colonel Belsunce, having been killed in a Jacobin disturbance, she had already, before the arrival of the Paris refugees, conceived a deadly, hatred of Jacobinism, especially of him whom she regarded as its personification - the “People’s Friend”. To this statement, however, little credence can be attached in the absence of corroborative evidence. Another lover has been given her in Bourgon Lougrais, Procureur Syndic of the department of Calvados. Yet again Barbaroux himself has been suggested as having inspired her passion. Here also we have to do with inadequately supported conjectures. Whatever her love-affairs may have been, if she had any, it seems clear that at the period which we write she had been for some time past absorbed by one dominant passion, the notion of immortalising herself, like her classical heroes, by murdering the man who was so prominently identified with the hated Jacobin principles. No sooner had the deputies arrived at Caen than Charlotte Corday sought to make their acquaintance. Whether her blood-thirsty design had already taken possession of her before interviews with them, or whether it first took form in consequence of suggestions emanating from them, it is impossible to say. Her excuse for visiting them at the hotel where they were lodging was to interest them in the case of a friend of hers, the Lady Superior of a local convent, whose pension had been suppressed at: the time of the general suppression of ecclesiastical pensions. She saw Barbaroux, who, although expressing his doubts as to the result, consented to write to a colleague in the Convention, Duperret, who was still remaining in Paris, and ask him to interest himself in the matter. To this letter there was no reply, for the very good reason that it did not reach its destination, having been impounded on its way. She then spoke of going herself to Paris to interview the Minister of the Interior directly on the subject. This was her excuse for the preparations she now made for her journey to the capital. Carrying with her a letter of introduction she obtained from Barbaroux to his friend Duperret, she set out on the 9th of July. The only thing that betrayed her purpose was a ;remark made on taking leave of Pétion, who, as a “lady’s man,” termed her politely the beautiful aristocrat who was going to see the Republicans.” To this she replied, with an affectation of sternness, “You judge me to-day without knowing me, Citizen Pétion; the day will come when you will know who I am.” On the morning of her departure she addressed a farewell letter to her father, excusing herself for leaving without his permission, and alleging her intention of going to England, on the ground that it was no longer possible to live in France in tranquillity. The letter concluded, “Adieu, my dear papa; embrace my sister for me, and do not forget me.” At two o'clock in the afternoon of the 9th of July, she started on her journey, and to judge by a subsequent statement of hers, her travelling companions were partisans of the Mountain, who now and then enlightened the monotony of the rumbling coach by discussing public events from the Jacobin standpoint. The journey to Paris occupied two days. Arrived in the capital, she took up her quarters in a small hotel in the Rue de Vieux Oldestein. The same day she went to see the deputy Laure Duperret, who, however, was not at home, being in his place in the Convention. She returned in the course of the evening, and asked him to accompany her the following day to the Minister of the Interior. On her departure Duperret remarked to one of his daughters that the woman appeared to have some intrigue on, for he had noticed something singular in- her appearance and manner. Next morning early he went with her to the Ministry of the Interior, but they were not received, and making an appointment for later on in the day,: they parted. Meanwhile, owing possibly to the letter from Barbaroux which had been intercepted, Duperret found on his return home that a police perquisition had been made at his house, his papers placed under seal, and himself declared under supervision. This, of course, upset the plan. Duperret went to Charlotte’s hotel and informed her that his company to the Minister of the Interior could only do her and her cause more harm than good. On inquiring whether: she proposed returning at once to Normandy she replied that she did not know, but that he need not trouble to come and see her again. Just as he was leaving, she exhorted him not to appear again in the Convention but to proceed at once to join his colleagues at Caen. He replied, however, that his post was in Paris, and that he could not abandon it. “You are committing a folly,” said she; “once more, go! take my advice and fly before to-morrow evening!” They then parted.

The assassin seems first of all to have had the idea of committing her crime in the Convention itself, doubtless with the view to theatrical effect, with herself as the heroine of the melodrama; but on being informed by an attendant at her hotel that Marat was then ill, and no longer present in the Convention, she decided to obtain an interview with him at his house. The evening she occupied in drawing up a manifesto, “To the French friends of the laws and of peace,” justifying the crime she was about to commit. This document terminated with the words, “My friends and relations, be not uneasy, no one knows of my projects.”

Next morning, the 13th of July, she rose early, strolling through the Palais Royal, after having bought a journal. She stopped an instant before a cutler’s shop, and entering, asked to see some strong knives. She was shown one with an ebony handle in a leather case, which she bought for forty sous. Returning to her hotel, she remained in her room till half-past eleven, when she again went out. Hailing a hackney coach on the Place des Victoires, she drove to No. 30 Rue de Cordeliers, subsequently rechristened Rue de l'École de Médecine.

On the door of Marat’s domicile being opened to her, she asks to see the “People’s Friend,” but is informed by the porteress that Marat is ill and can at present receive no one. On returning to her hotel, she indites the following letter: – “Citizen, I come from Caen; your love for your country makes me suppose you will like to know the unhappy events in that part of the Republic. I shall present myself at your house about seven o'clock; have the goodness to receive me and to accord me a moment’s interview. I shall put you in a position to render a great service to the country.” This letter she then sends by messenger to the Rue des Cordeliers.

Marat, as we know, was now confined to his room with lung trouble and nervous excitement, verging at times on brain fever, in addition to his chronic inflammatory skin disease. He sought a temporary relief from his distressing condition by wearing a large handkerchief soaked in vinegar round his throbbing temples and by the continuous use of hot sitz-baths The Publiciste, although appearing with tolerable regularity all this time, was, as already said; mostly composed of letters, his own original work on it being limited to, at most, one or two pages. Numerous deputations were sent to inquire as to his state. To the Cordeliers, why sent to beg him to rest for a while from all public work, and devote his time entirely to the recovery of his health, he replied, “Ten years, more or less, as regards the duration of my life do not concern me in the least, my only desire is to be able to say with my last breath, ‘I die content, the country is saved!’” The previous day, the 12th of July, the Jacobin Club had sent a similar deputation. In the report made before the Assembly of the Club, they say: “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 with an inkstand and some journals by his side, occupying himself ceaselessly with public affairs .... Much patriotism is compressed and bound up in a very little body. The violent struggle of this patriotism, which exhales at every pore, is killing him. He complains of forgetfulness on the part of the Convention in neglecting to read several measures of public safety he has addressed to it.”

Marat’s flat was rented in the name of Simonne Evrard. It was situated on the first floor, and was composed, according to the procès verbal, of five rooms. The first was an anteroom lighted by a window on the left-hand side. On entering this anteroom, and turning towards 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 bedroom, having a view of the streets through two casements of Bohemian glass; and between these two rooms a small apartment, serving as a bathroom. The fifth room was the salon, which was entered by a door from the anteroom on the left, and, also looked out upon the street. The personnel of the domicile on the 13th of July was composed of Marat, Simonne Evrard, Catherine Evrard her sister, Jeannette Maréchal, the cook, and Laurent Bas, a compositor connected with the journal. The concierge of the house was a Mme. Pain.

The fateful day of the 13th of July 1793 found Marat somewhat better than he had been for some days previously. He had been able without undue exhaustion to prepare the number of the Publiciste for the next day, containing the article on the composition of the Committee of Public Safety, with its appreciation of the character of the Committee’s reporter and spokesman, Barrère quoted in our last chapter. He had, in addition, found strength to attend to some correspondence,: Amongst the letters just received was one from his old friend Philippe-Rose Roume, of Marat’s scientific days, to whom reference has already: been made in an earlier chapter of this work, and who was now at the Conciergerie, awaiting has trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal, on certain charges connected with his conduct as National Commissioner in San Domingo. Roume begs Marat’s help, protesting his innocence. There were also letters from Garat, Minister of the Interior and Gohier, Minister of Justice, with reference to certain poor clients of Marat’s, in whom he was endeavouring to interest them About half-past seven in the evening, Charlotte Corday arrived for the second time before Marat’s door. She again demanded admittance, and was again refused. On her insisting, a dispute arose between Corday and the women of Marat’s household. The noise reaching Marat’s bathroom, he called Simonne in to him, and inquired what it was all about. On hearing that it was the young woman from Caen, whose letter he had received in the course of the day, he told Simonne to admit her. Marat, covered by a large rug, was lying back in his bath, over which a board had been laid to serve as a writing-desk. Corday entered, and on Simonne’s leaving the bathroom, she took a seat at Marat’s side. “What is happening then at Caen.” inquires Marat. “Eighteen deputies in sympathy with the department are supreme there,” answers Corday. Marat asks for their names. On these being given, most of them those of well-known Girondins, including Buzot, Barbaroux, Louvet, Pétion, Guadet, etc., to which were added those of four administrators of the department, Marat raises himself and writes them down one by one as his informant is speaking. After he had finished writing out the list, he remarks, “It will not be long before they are guillotined” (Ils ne tarderont pas à être guillotinés). Such were the words the assassin first reported him to have uttered; but later, after having had time to arrange her narrative, she changed this, for obvious reasons, into the phrase, “I will shortly have them all guillotined in Paris” (Je les ferais bientôt tout guillotiner à Paris), which, as Mr. Morse Stephens has pointed out, was absurd, seeing that Marat had no power to have any one guillotined.

At that moment the woman, rising, draws the knife she had bought in the early morning from her corset, where she had concealed it, and deals the sick man with all her force a blow in the side. Falling back, her helpless victim (as alleged) utters one cry for Simonne, A moi! chère amie! A moi!” and breathes his last on the spot. Royalists, Constitutionalists, and Girondins could do no more, – Marat, the “People’s Friend,” was dead! As we know, he had long foreseen the possibility of thus meeting his end. Unable either to suppress or to corrupt him, his enemies assassinated him.

On hearing the cry, Simonne rushed wildly into the room, shrieking, “O my God! he is assassinated.” She was followed by the rest of the household. The attempt of the murderess to escape was frustrated by Laurent Bas and Jeannette Maréchal. Springing up from the dead man’s side at the sound of the struggle, Simonne flung herself upon Corday and threw her to the ground. Rising, she was again endeavouring to escape, when Laurent Bas, seizing a chair, felled her with it. Yet again she rose; but escape was now impossible, as the way was barred by an excited crowd, attracted by the sounds emanating from the well-known domicile of the “People’s Friend.” Among those present was a surgeon-dentist, Michon Delafondée, who lived and worked in the same house. He at once bandaged up the wound, and had Marat carried from the bath and laid upon his bed. He felt the pulse, it had ceased to beat; proceeding to examine the wound, he found that it had deeply penetrated the right lung – so deeply that he could pass the whole of his fore-finger along its course. He was followed in his examination by the chief surgeon of the Hôtel Dieu, who also certified as to death having taken place. The Commissary of Police of the Section at length arrived, followed by the Commandant with a file of men with officers of the departmental police and the Mayor, and proceeded at once to the arrest and interrogation of the assassin. She cynically avowed the crime, alleging that she regarded Marat as the principal author of the country’s disasters, and had sacrificed his life to save the country. On her pockets being searched, a watch made at Caen, her passport, and a considerable sum of money were found upon her. Before long, Legendre, Chabot, and two other deputies arrived, together with two higher police officials, sent in the name of the Committee of General Security. Chabot, an ex-ecclesiastic, was a member of the Mountain, who, in company with his colleague Bazire, subsequently became involved in the jobbery and falsification in connection with the Compagnie des Indes. Thinking he detected the corner of a paper projecting from Corday’s bodice, Chabot instantly thrust his hand forward to seize it. The woman, pretending to fear for her modesty, started away from him, at the same time thrusting her shoulders violently back. The movement was sufficient to break the facings of her corset, the result being to completely expose her bosom, a folded piece of paper falling out at the same time. Doubling herself up immediately, she begged that her hands might be released from the cords which bound them behind her back, that she might arrange the disorder in her toilet. Her hands being untied, she turned to the wall and reattached the broken corset-string, after which, showing her wrists bleeding from the ligature, she asked to be allowed to turn down her cuffs and to put on her gloves before being again bound. On being asked by the Commissary if she were a virgin, she, as a matter of course, replied in the affirmative. The interrogatories and other formal proceedings having occupied much time, it was not till near midnight that she was confronted with the corpse of Marat. Her callousness was for a moment shaken. “Yes! yes!” she cried, “it is I who have killed him.” After some discussion between the representatives of the different authorities present, each of whom demanded her, she was removed to the Abbaye; difficulty, however, was experienced in rescuing her from being lynched by the indignant crowd which filled the Rue des Cordeliers and the neighbouring streets, who would have torn her to pieces. She swooned in the coach in the course of the journey.

What was the paper that fell out of Charlotte Corday’s corset in Marat’s domicile? It was a letter intended for use should she again find it impossible to gain access to the “People’s Friend.” Here it is: “I wrote to you this morning, Marat, have you received my letter? I could not believe you had, as they refused me admittance; 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 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.” His whole career is indicated therein. Volumes could not speak more for Marat than this one sentence, penned by his assassin. Oh, exponents of a class public opinion, satellites of privileged power and wealth, whose tap of indignation and gassy horror is always turned on to the full whenever a representative of privileged class-interest is smitten down – you, who can slaver a slain monarch or statesman with undeserved adulation, who can fulminate against the author of his death at the top of your voices, when will you find your cant no longer profitable? What has been your attitude towards the “People’s Friend” and the dastardly wretch who murdered him – her sick and helpless victim? As one might only expect, your sympathy has changed sides. Your “horror” at assassination has suddenly evaporated. For the man who suffered a four years’ martyrdom for his convictions and for the cause of the disinherited, and who finally sealed his testimony, with his blood, you have had no words but those of coarse vituperation, and the foulest calumnies that malice can devise; while his assassin assumes under your pens the aspect of an angelic being. Here you do not talk at large of “the sacredness of human life,” as when a Carnot sinks beneath the dagger of a crazy fanatic, or a Canovas falls before the pistol of an illicit avenger of innocent blood. It is quite right that Marat, the eternal enemy of the crimes of place and power, the man whose only arm and only authority lay in his pen and the truths it expressed, should be murdered. It is a shocking thing, an event calculated to awakes in all respectable persons “a thrill of horror,” when a real live statesman or public functionary, who, armed with all his authority, has perhaps used it to destroy a nation, or to oppress the helpless, meets with a similar doom. To every unprejudiced reader of history the deed of Charlotte Corday must appear as the most dastardly cruel, and wanton political assassination in the world’s archives. Save for his membership of the old Committee of Supervision of the Commune, the previous year, and his actual function as Convention deputy, Marat had never been invested with authority, or held any official post whatever. He was never even on a single one of the numerous committees into which the Convention divided itself. His sole force lay in his integrity and the obvious sincerity of his principles, and in his lucid and forcible literary expression. Until within two months of his assassination, he had stood almost alone against the world of political parties, his own included. For it was only within the last few weeks that his true worth had been recognised, even by his friends, the Jacobins and the Mountain. The crime of Charlotte Corday, look at it how we may, is destitute of any excuse whatever; its real object was to gratify the vanity of a criminally-disposed woman. The reading of the Plutarch had proved too much for an ill-balanced mind; just as in the present day the reading of reports of murder cases in the daily press may sometimes have the effect on similar minds of causing them either to commit murder or to give themselves up to the police under the impression they have done so.

The news of the murder spread like wildfire through Paris. Groups formed in the streets to discuss the event. The next day it was the sole topic of conversation. The popular party was struck with consternation, perceiving in it the first act of a Girondin conspiracy to immolate the “patriots” of the Mountain. At the Jacobin Club, Laurent Bas became quite a hero, his least word was hung upon with avidity. Here Bentabole, ascending the speaker’s tribune, this time not to criticise Marat but to express the common sentiment, observed: “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.” Speaking to the proposal to give Marat the honours of a public funeral on a great scale Robespierre, always the mean, the petty, jealous of better men than himself, tried to damp the enthusiasm of his colleagues, under the specious pretext that the Republic had not yet come off victorious over its foes, without and within, that only after it had finally triumphed would it be the time for the public recognition on a great scale of its benefactors and martyrs. Camille Desmoulins and the brother of Lepelietier St. Fargeau were commissioned to draw up an address on the assassination of Marat, to be sent by the Jacobin Club of Paris to all the affiliated societies of the departments.

Long before the Séance began, the public galleries of the Tuileries theatre where the Convention sat were thronged. On the President, Jean Bon St. André, taking his seat, all eyes were fixed upon him. He rose and announced in solemn tones: “Citizens, a great crime has been; committed on the person of a representative of the people, – Marat has been assassinated in his own house.” The announcement was greeted in the assembly by an oppressive silence. Sections then presented themselves at the bar, demanding the honours of the Panthéon, reserved for great men, for the “People’s Friend.” The Section of the Panthéon declared it a debt the Convention ought to pay at once. The deputation of the Section Contrat Social exclaimed through their orator, “Where art thou, David? thou hast transmitted to posterity the image of Lepelletier dying for his country, there remains for thee yet a picture to paint!” Numerous speeches followed in the strain of elegy on the dead man. At the Commune, Hébert pronounced a funeral oration before the Council General, demanding of the Convention the honours of the Apotheosis for the illustrious dead. It was then decided that the sculptor Bonvalet should be instructed to make a bust of the deceased, to be placed on the table of the council-room. The body of Marat had been meanwhile transferred from his house to the Great Hall of the Cordeliers’ Club, where it reposed in state on a triumphal bed. All day the place was filled, not only the nave but also the side chapel, for the building had been formerly a church. Prints, rings, medallions, busts now began to be the order of the day.

Marat’s body had been embalmed before the lying in state – an operation attended with some difficulty owing to the fact that decomposition had set in very early. Two days after the assassination, on the 15th of July, the Convention unanimously decided, on the proposition of Chabot, that it would assist in a body at the obsequies of Marat. Bentabole moved that the nation should make itself responsible for the debts of Marat. This suggestion, however, proved quite superfluous, as Marat left nothing owing. But though he had left nothing owing, neither had he saved anything, for, on the inventory of his effects being taken, the only money found in his rooms – and he had none elsewhere – amounted to twenty-five sous (about a shilling) in the depreciated as assignats then current. The goodness of poor Marat’s heart had never been appealed to in vain by distressed or needy “patriots”. The Cordeliers’ Club requested the Commune for the possession of the heart of the “People’s Friend,” to be preserved in the old church, now become its meeting hall. This was granted. It was decided that, on the following 10th of August, every citizen should wear a band of crape on his arm in memory of the murdered “People’s Friend,” at the fête to be held to commemorate the anniversary of the taking of the Tuileries. The Section Fils Français, which comprised the Cordeliers’ Club and Marat’s residence, demanded that the body should be sent the round of the departments, so that even after his death the “People’s Friend” might continue to animate the hearts of the people with the love of liberty. This, however, for obvious reasons, was found impossible. The Sections vied with each other for the honour of receiving the body of the “People’s Friend” in the ground within their boundaries. It was finally decided that the inhumation should take place under a clump of trees in the garden of the Cordeliers’ Club, where Marat had often addressed its members on the burning questions of the day.

The funeral took place about five o'clock on the afternoon of Tuesday the 16th of July. No expense was spared to make the magnificence of the ceremony worthy of the occasion. The painter David was the marshal of the obsequies. The coffin was laid upon a gorgeous bed, which was again placed on a splendid hearse raised at a considerable height above the crowd, and approached by steps. It was supported by a dozen men and surrounded by groups of children dressed in white and bearing branches of cypress in their hands. Then came the Convention, then the representatives of the National Authority, then the Commune, then the “patriotic” clubs, while bringing up the rear followed a concourse which from its magnitude might have been readily taken for the whole population of Paris. The funeral cortege, starting from Marat’s house, which, as we know, was quite near the place of interment – the garden of the Cordeliers’ Club – made a long detour. On leaving the Rue des Cordeliers it passed along the Rue de Thionville (Dauphine), across the Pont Neuf, along the Quay de la Ferraille, across the Pont-au-Changes, returning by the Théâtre Français (Odeon), and then betaking itself to the Cordeliers. The cortege chanted patriotic airs, while every five minutes a salvo of artillery was fired from the Pont Neuf.

In a report of the scene in No.48 of the Journal de la Montagne, we read: “The mortal remains of Marat have been carried in pomp to the courtyard of the Cordeliers. This pomp had in it nothing but what was simple and patriotic.” The people, assembled under the banners of the, Sections, followed peaceably ... The procession lasted from six o’clock in the evening until midnight. It was formed of the citizens of all Sections, the members of the Convention, those of the Commune and those of the departments, of the electors and the popular societies. Arrived in the garden of the Cordeliers, the body of Marat was laid down under the trees, the leaves of which lightly stirred and multiplied a soft and tender light. The people surrounded the coffin silence. The President of the Convention first of all made an eloquent discourse, in which he announced that the time would soon arrive when Marat would be avenged; but that then reproach of the enemies of the country and the people must not be justified by hasty and inconsiderate acts. He added that liberty would not perish, and that the death of Marat could not but consolidate it. Discourses from the principle authorities followed, and then the people began to defile in the order of their Sections before the grave. The monument had been executed by Martin the sculptor, and imitated a mass of granite rocks, emblematic of the unshakeable firmness of Marat’s devotion to the cause of the Revolution. Below was a vault closed by an iron grating, containing the coffin, with two urns, one enclosing the intestines and the other the lungs of the victim. A file of the journal was also, by request, laid in the tomb. Above was inscribed on the stone the simple epitaph: “Here reposes Marat, the People’s Friend, assassinated by the People’s enemies, the 13th of July I793.” Young trees were planted round the grave. As each Section defiled before the tomb, its orator spoke a few words in eulogy of the martyr of the Revolution. 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 (Bougeart, vol.ii, pp.284 sqq.). Whatever may be said as to Marat’s connection with the summary executions which took place during the first week in September 1792, nothing is more certain as a matter of fact than that he was neither directly nor indirectly responsible for a single one of the executions by the guillotine which occurred between that time and the date of his death. This is noteworthy, not on the ground that any special stigma is necessarily attached to Marat even if this had not been the case; for up to this time the proceedings of the Revolutionary Tribunal had been orderly, careful, and not inhumane, according to the ideas of the period, and there is no reasonable doubt that the vast majority of the sixty-four persons above-mentioned who were condemned were fairly-convicted conspirators in favour of reaction in one or other of its forms against the established order of things. Marat therefore might very well have had a hand in bringing some of these individuals to their doom, but as it happens he had no hand in it, and this from the conventional point of view ought surely to be regarded as denoting a kind of supererogatory virtue on his part.

Two days later, the 18th of July, the heart of Marat was transferred from the tomb to the Cordeliers’ Club. There a kind of second funeral ceremony took place, at which twenty-four members of the Convention and twelve of the Commune assisted. An order had been given to search Paris for an artist who could make a chef-d'oeuvre worthy to receive so precious a treasure. The search does not appear, however, to have been successful, and the decision lighted upon a splendid vase of agate, which, together with its covering, was cut out of one piece and enriched with the most costly precious stones. This had been one of the great crown treasures of the kings of France. It was now to enclose the heart of the most implacable enemy of kings. On this occasion also a detour was made by the procession, this time through the gardens of the Luxembourg, where tents had been raised, under which were made speeches at intervals. The vase was then carried into the nave of the church where the Cordeliers held their meetings. It was proposed to raise an altar to the heart of Marat. Here various members of the Society delivered funeral orations. “How is it,” exclaimed one, “that it takes Nature some thousands of years to produce men of the stamp of Jesus and Marat!” The next speaker developed the same idea, saying, “Like Jesus, Marat ardently loved the people, and only the people; like Jesus, Marat detested nobles, priests, and rogues,” etc. This description of elegy was, however, cut short by the Sansculotte orator, Brochet, who indignantly declared that “Marat was not made to be compared to Jesus: the latter had given birth to superstition and had defended kings, while Marat had the courage to crush them. A truce,” he cried out, “to this talk of Jesus Christ; such remarks are idiocies!” The urn containing the remains was then suspended from the roof of the Cordeliers’ place of assembly. 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!

But to return to Charlotte Corday. As we have seen, she had been taken from Marat’s house to the prison of the Abbaye. Here she occupied the cell or small room which had previously seen Mme. Roland and Brissot as prisoners, and she was watched by two gendarmes. She had scarcely arrived before the vanity which was the real motive of her crime showed itself, for at once asking for paper and ink, she wrote a letter to the Committee of General Security, begging that her portrait might be painted, This was not accorded her, but the painter Häuer, who was present at the trial, in his capacity of National Guard, made a sketch of her before the tribune, which he subsequently worked up into the well-known portrait. The same day she began a long letter to Barbaroux, which consisted for the most part of self-exculpation and glorification, and which remained unfinished. It is dated from the “Prison of the Abbaye, from the late chamber of Brissot, the second day of the preparation of peace,” and begins with an account of her journey to Paris. After stating that she travelled with Montagnards, “whose conversation was as stupid as their persons were disagreeable,” she goes on to say, “one of our fellow-travellers . . took me for the daughter of one of his friends, and crediting me with a fortune I do not possess, after bestowing on me a name that I'd never heard of finished by offering me his fortune and his hand.” The fellow-traveller, it appears, took the protestations of the woman as a piece of play-acting, and chaffed her accordingly. “In the night,” she continues, “he sang plaintive songs, suitable for producing sleep. I left him finally in Paris, refusing to give him my address, or that of my father, from whom he wanted to ask my hand; he took his leave of me in a very bad humour.”

On the morning of the 16th, the prisoner was removed to the Conciergerie, where she was interrogated by the President of the Revolutionary Tribunal, Montané. She avowed having come to Paris for the express purpose of killing Marat, whom she accused of being a monster who was devouring the whole French people. She obstinately declared, in reply to all the President’s questions, that the crime was alike conceived and executed by herself alone, and that no other person whatever so much as knew of her intention. The interrogation ended, she occupied herself with finishing the letter she had begun the previous day at the Abbaye to Barbaroux. Here she says she wished to present her portrait to the department of the Calvados, but that her letter to the Committee asking for a portrait-painter had remained unanswered. She also informs Barbaroux that she had taken Gustave Doulcet, the deputy for Caen, as her counsel. The letter is dated at its close, “Tuesday the 16th, eight o'clock in the evening,” and is addressed to “Citizen Barbaroux, at the Hotel de l'Intendant Rue de Carmes, Caen,” and is signed simply “Corday.” She also wrote a farewell letter to her father, begging his forgiveness for having disposed of herself without his consent, and boasting of having delivered France from a tyrant.

The next day, Wednesday the 17th of July, at eight o'clock in the morning, Charlotte Corday was brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal. Montané, the President, had three assistant judges who sat with him; Fouquier-Tinville was the Public Prosecutor; her chosen advocate Doulcet being absent, owing, it is said, to the letter she wrote to him not having been delivered till it was too late, the President nominated two other counsel for the defence. The act of accusation having been read, the assassin once more avowed her crime, adding that she alone conceived it, as she alone had executed it. “I wished to immolate him on the summit of the Mountain, and if I could possibly have accomplished my purpose in this manner, I should have preferred it to any other, as I should have been sure to have become the instant victim of the fury of the people, which was just what I wanted, for as I was believed to have been in London, my name would have remained unknown.” To this it might have been pointed out that, as it was, there had been plenty of chance for the assassin to have met her death by popular fury, of which nevertheless at the time she did not seem particularly anxious to avail herself. “Since how long have you formed this project?” asked the President. “Since the affair of the 31st of May, the day of the arrest of the deputies of the people,” replied the prisoner. “I have killed one man to save a hundred thousand.” “How could you regard Marat as a monster,” the prisoner is asked, “who only allowed you admittance by an act of humanity – because you had written that you were persecuted?” The prisoner was obliged to admit Marat’s humanity in this feebly to take refuge in the assertion respect, and that he was otherwise a monster. There seems, however, to be a little confusion here, for, as we have seen, the letter referred to was never presented. On Fouquier-Tinville remarking upon the skill with which the mortal blow had been dealt, and adding, “You must have been very practised at this crime,” the prisoner pretended to be shocked, exclaiming, “Oh, the wretch! he takes me for an assassin.” The letter to Barbaroux was then read, containing the absurd falsification of the last words of Marat, to the effect that in a few days he would have the deputies guillotined in Paris. Marat, as we know, held no official position whatever at this time, beyond that of the simple deputy, and had no power to order any one to be guillotined, either at Paris or anywhere else. The statement, moreover, does not agree with her own account immediately after the occurrence: On turning her head to one side the prisoner perceived, to her intense delight, that one of the audience (Häuer) was engaged in taking her portrait. The pose of the antique heroine, we need scarcely say, was now assumed with more ardour than ever by the woman who, according to her own account, was so anxious to be torn in pieces that not even her name might go down to posterity. After the knife had been put in evidence, and recognised as the instrument of the crime by the prisoner, the Public Prosecutor rose to claim a conviction. He was followed by the senior counsel for the defence, Chaveau-Legarde, who, in a report he has left of the trial, confesses to an embarrassment. He had been instructed by the President to confine his defence to the question of insanity; the prisoner, however, made signs to him that she did not wish to be defended at all. After some seconds of silence, he spoke as follows: – The accused avows with sang-froid the horrible outrage that she has committed; she avows the most frightful deeds; in a word, she avows all and does not seek to justify herself. This, citizen jurors, is all the defence she has. This imperturbable calm and this entire abnegation of self, which indicate no remorse, not even, so to say, in the presence of death itself – this calm and this supreme abnegation combined are not natural, they cannot be explained otherwise than by the assumption that an exaltation of political fanaticism has placed the poniard in her hand. And it is for you, citizen jurors, to judge what weight you ought to give this moral consideration in the balance of justice. As for myself, I leave it entirely to your judgment.”

The jury at once brought in a unanimous verdict of guilty, the capital sentence was passed, coupled with confiscation of goods. Turning to her counsel, the prisoner thanked him, and begged him to take over as a legacy from her the obligation to pay the debts she had incurred in prison. This was accepted, and the debt, amounting to some 36 livres (francs) was settled by Chaveau-Legarde. Charlotte Corday was conveyed back to the Conciergerie immediately after the trial was over. There her vanity was solaced in her last hours by the permission accorded the young painter, Häuer, to have access to her for the purpose of finishing her portrait. The prisoner also found time to indite a note to Doulcet, the counsel first selected by her, accusing him of cowardice in not appearing to defend her, owing, as she supposed, to his fear of compromising himself. Cutting off two locks of her hair, she gave one to Häuer and the other to the concierge of the prison.

It was customary to conduct the condemned with the least possible delay to the guillotine. Corday owed her unusually long respite after the sentence had been passed to the fact that the Public Prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, on the termination of the trial, had engaged in a dispute with the President on a slight modification that had been made by the latter in the terms of indictment, in consequence of which the necessary signature to the form handing the prisoner over to the executioner Sanson had been forgotten.

It was not till late in the afternoon that the murderess, clad in the well-known red shirt, emerged from the door of the Conciergerie to enter the tumbril waiting to convey her to the Place de la Révolution. At that moment a violent thunderstorm burst over Paris. The crowds were so dense that the vehicle could only proceed at a slow pace. This was not disagreeable to Corday, as it enabled her once more to strike an attitude in the presence of the hostile multitude through which she passed. Arrived at the Place de la Revolution, after a journey occupying more than two hours, Sanson uncovered the guillotine, at which his prisoner turned pale. At length the preparations having been completed, Charlotte Corday ascended the scaffold. Retaining her melodramatic cravings to the last, she bowed to the people, and was about to attempt to speak when she was seized by Sanson and his assistant, and the shawl covering her shoulders was removed, at which it is said her face became crimson. She was then laid on the block, the knife fell, and a moment later her head dropped into the basket. Sanson’s assistant, a man named Legros, taking the head from the basket, according to a common custom of the time, held it up by the hair, to show it to the assembled crowd. He then, it is said, gave it a box on the ear, at which the cheeks again blushed. This blush, although apparently well attested by contemporary evidence, most readers will be inclined to relegate to the realm of myth.

The inflated sentimentality lavished on Corday has two causes. Foremost comes the fact that her victim was the unresting opponent of power and privilege, in other words, of the governing party of his day. The second cause is the “feminist cultus” according to which every female criminal is by virtue of her sex an object of tender regard and admiration. If, as Professor Lombroso, who has examined it, alleges, the skull of Corday exhibits all the characteristics of the prostitute-criminal type, it may well be that had there been no Marat, the woman’s blood-thirst and love of notoriety would have found an outlet later on in the poisoning of some hapless lover or husband. Be this as it may, the sentimentality spoken of began almost before she had mounted the scaffold. Among the crowd who followed the tumbril containing the assassin of the “People’s Friend” was a young man, Adam Lux by name, a native of the town of Mainz, recently annexed to the French Republic. The countenance and melodramatic pose of the assassin seemed to have driven this foolish young man crazy. He maundered about her being greater than Brutus, and declared that it would be a beautiful thing to die with her. These sentimental ravings were instrumental in bringing the poor young fellow in very deed later on to the guillotine This species of lunacy seems to have been in the Lux family. A sister of his, as a result of the perusal of his works, then at the height of their popularity, fell in love with the once famous, though now half-forgotten German writer, Jean-Paul-Friedrich Richter. She persecuted the unfortunate man of letters, whom she had never seen, with love-messages, couched in the high-flying style of the period, and the response naturally not being to her wishes, drowned herself in the Rhine. After the execution, the body of Charlotte Corday was subjected to medical examination, and subsequently thrown, without ceremony, into a pit dug in the Madeleine. A cross was erected in 1804 to mark the spot, and in 1815 the remains were removed to the cemetery of Mont Parnasse.

The cultus of Marat now took proportions of an unprecedented character. Every good citizen throughout France was expected to wear some memento of the “People’s Friend”. Rings, scarf-pins, medallions were manufactured by the hundred thousand and sold as fast as they were made. His bust was prominent at every public meeting-place, his portrait hung in every citizen’s room, however poor. Statuettes graced every Revolutionary cheminée. Medallions busts and statuettes took every conceivable form, Sections, streets, and public places were named after Marat. The Rue des Cordeliers was renamed Rue de Marat shortly after the funeral; Montmartre was also called Mont Marat. The Rue and Faubourg Montmartre received a like designation. It was proposed to rename 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 words of this great man.” It is said that the future Napoleonic king of Naples, Joachim Murat, sought permission to change the second letter of his name into conformity with that of the deified martyr. 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 were placed the bust, the lamp, the writing-desk, and the bath of Marat. Before long innumerable civic crowns covered the place. The tragedy now on everybody’s lips became a favourite theme of theatrical representation. For weeks the death of Marat was exhibited on the stage of all the principal theatres of Paris, and the example was soon followed in the departments. The Death of Marat; Marat in the Cellars of the Cordeliers, or the Day of the 10th of August; The Apotheosis of Marat and Lepelletier; Marat in Olympus; Arrival of Marat in the Elysian Fields; The true Friend of the People, or the Victim of Federation – such are a few of the titles of the numerous pièces d’occasion of which Marat and his fate formed the subject. Hymns to the memory of the “People’s Martyr” were composed by hundreds and hawked about the streets. The fêtes and pageants in his memory continued throughout the whole of Revolutionary France for weeks and even months to come. Never before in the history of the world can we find a parallel to this deification of the murdered revolutionist Jean-Paul Marat throughout the late summer and autumn of 1793. Everything that was connected with him acquired the character of a sacred and priceless relic. Thus, on the 19th of August, a Marat Festival of Women was held in Paris, on the Place du Carrousel, where the obelisk before spoken of was subsequently erected, in which various objects connected with the assassination were exposed to public veneration. Foremost came the bath in which Marat had died. This was followed by a huge tray on which was set out the table, the chair, the writing-desk with its pens and papers. This was followed again by a large bust of the dead patriot. The Convention and the popular societies as representing France, the Commune in the name of Paris, once more assisted at this fête. On the 19th of November the Convention passed a decree, according to Marat the honours of the Panthéon. At the same time two pictures of David were exhibited in the hall of the Convention. A credit of 24,000 livres (francs) was passed to defray the cost of the engraving of the latter’s work and its distribution in the departments. These decrees, however, remained for the time dead letters. It was not till after Thermidor and the fall of Robespierre that Leonard Bourdon, in the name of the Committee of Public Instruction, which had been charged with the details of giving effect to the decree, carried a resolution that the ashes of Marat should be Panthéonised on the last of the Sansculottides, one of the fête-days of the new Republican Calendar. On the 21st of December 1794, the ceremony was solemnised with great pomp. An usher of the Convention stationed before the great entrance door of the ci-devant church of St. Geneviève, now the Panthéon, proclaimed in a loud voice the decree conferring on Jean-Paul Marat the palm of immortality. The urn containing the remains was then carried into the building by the great entrance door, the same time that the “impure” corpse of Mirabeau, which had been formerly accorded the same honour, was ignominiously thrust out at a side door. The ceremony was accompanied by patriotic hymns and a cantata by Méhul. The President of the Convention having pronounced an elegy, the fête closed with a general chorus to the glory of martyrs and the friends of Liberty, the words by Joseph Chénier and the music by Cherubini being both composed expressly for this occasion. But this was the last public act of homage to the memory of the great revolutionist. The Thermidorians and others wishing to oppose another great revolutionary reputation to that of the fallen and guillotined Robespierre, whose memory, being more recent, they dreaded most, Marat for the time being served their purpose. But the tide of reaction swept steadily onward, carrying into obliquy in its course, one after the other, all the, men, things, and events of the great revolutionary years. Less than six months later, the Convention passed a decree that no citizen should be accorded the honours of the Panthéon until ten years after his death. The following day David’s painting of the death-scene, together with the bust of Marat, were removed from the Convention’s place of assembly. This was they first overt sign that the reaction had reached Marat, although attempts had already been made, in print to destroy his reputation. But once started, the reactionary wave broke all bounds: In the theatres and public places the busts of Marat were thrown down and broken in pieces. The latest decrees of the Convention were taken as cancelling the existing Panthéonisations, and accordingly the remains were removed, those of Marat being interred in, a neighbouring burial-ground. All honourable: memory of Marat in public or private was henceforward sought to be obliterated in the minds of the French people. And from this time began the legend, only exploded in out own day, of Marat the inhuman monster.


Last updated on 14.10.2005