Ernest Belfort Bax

Jean-Paul Marat
The People’s Friend

Chapter X
Marat’s Family

Marat after his death

WE have already seen that the sum of twenty-five sous in paper was all the money Marat left behind him. Unlike some modern publicists, the “People’s Friend” never succeeded in combining disinterested labour for humanity with large commercial profits. On the death of her husband, therefore, the question of her means of subsistence became a serious one with Simonne Evrard. Certain outstanding debts, the inability to pay which had given Marat some uneasiness before his death, would appear to have been all settled in his lifetime. For, although the Convention decided to pay them, no creditor seems to have presented himself. Notwithstanding the almost delirious enthusiasm for Marat’s memory which was witnessed the first few weeks after his death, the reactionist party lost no time in beginning their work of detraction. A certain Jacques Roux, a former friend of Marat’s, had the effrontery to continue the publication of the Publiciste under the name of Publiciste de la République, par l’Ombre de Marat, under the old epigram, and taking it up at the number at which it had left off. Another person, Leclerc, a week after the assassination, started an Ami du Peuple, which he kept up for nearly a month. On the 8th of August, Simonne Evrard appeared at the bar of a the Convention to protest against these outrages. Her face and figure now bore the marks of grief, aggravated by material want. She was no longer recognisable as the bright and intelligent young woman who, two years before, had sacrificed her fortune to the cause of the Revolution as represented by the man she loved. “Citizens,” said she, “you see before you the widow of Marat. I do not come here to ask your favours, such as cupidity would covet, or even such as would relieve indigence, – Marat’s widow needs no more than a tomb. Before arriving at that happy termination to my existence, however, I come to ask that justice may be done in respect to the reports recently circulated against the memory of at once the most intrepid and the most outraged defender of the people.” She proceeded to denounce the intrigues of the reactionaries, who had spared no money to travesty his views and blacken his character. She complained that, even amongst the numerous engravings representing the assassination, their hand was manifest. In some of these the murderess was depicted with an angelic physiognomy, while that of her victim was disfigured by the most horrible convulsions. Worse still was the treacherous device of interlarding with speciously patriotic sentiments, and an apparent zeal for Revolutionary principles, wild and extravagant proposals, in the name of Marat, with the object of destroying his reputation, by representing him as a fool and a madman. “I denounce to you, in particular,” she said, “two men, Jacques Roux and one named Leclerc, who pretend to continue the patriotic papers of Marat, and make his shade speak in order to outrage his memory and deceive the people. Therein, after having enunciated Revolutionary commonplaces, the people are told to proscribe every kind of government. They advise, in the name of Marat, to stain the day of the 10th of August with blood, because his sensitive soul sometimes gave vent to just anathemas against public blood-suckers and against the oppressors of the people ... It is very remarkable that these two men are the same who were denounced by Marat a few days before his death to the Cordeliers’ Club, as hired by our enemies to trouble the public tranquillity, and who, in the same sitting, were solemnly expelled from the midst of this popular society.” She again sought to drive home the fact on the Convention that these persons were leaving no stone unturned to perpetuate, to give new life to, the old Girondist calumny, that Marat was a partisan of anarchy and a blood-thirsty demagogue. She concluded “If you leave these men unpunished, I denounce them here to the French people – to the universe. The memory of the martyrs of Liberty is the patrimony of the people: that of Marat is they, only possession left me; I consecrate to his defence the last days of a sorrowful life. Legislators, avenge the country, honesty, misfortune, and virtue, by striking the most cowardly of all their enemies” (Moniteur of the 10th of August, 1793). The Convention remained silent, the President not even replying, as was the custom in cases of this kind. At length Robespierre rose to move that the petition be sent to the Committee of General Security, which was agreed to. It was, of course, never, heard of more. Meanwhile Simonne Evrard had written to Marat’s sister, Albertine Marat, who was then residing at Geneva, begging her, to come and live with her in Paris. She consented, and Simonne and Albertine now set up their common ménage, which lasted uninterruptedly to the death of the former in 1824. Till their deaths Marat remained the god of both women; their one aim was the rehabilitation of the truth concerning him. Scarcely had Albertine arrived in Paris before she set about writing a defence of her dearly-loved brother. It was published about six weeks after Simonne’s appearance at the bar of the Convention, and bore the title, Reply of the Sister of the “People’s Friend” to the Detractors of Marat. It is only a small octavo pamphlet, but is full of affectionate regard. “Marat died poor,” concludes Albertine, “and his friends have no reason to blush for it; had he wished, he could have been rich, no one can venture to dispute this; but he felt only too well that the love of riches ill accorded with the love of the people, and he preferred the latter.”

Simonne now began to seriously think of the republication of the complete works of Marat, and on the 12th of Brumaire anno III. (2nd of November 1794) an announcement to this effect appeared in the Journal de la Montagne, which was followed shortly after by a prospectus issued by Simonne, comprising all the political works of Marat, from the Chains of Slavery downwards. Marat’s own presses, it should be said, were given over to the Jacobin Club after his death. A project for the republication of the most important of his political writings under the auspices of the Jacobins, in two volumes, had been seriously taken up again by Marat during the last year of his life; and a prospectus of the undertaking, which appears in the Bibliotheque Nationale, bound up with a file of the Journal de la Republique, was issued early in 1793. It, however, came to nothing. Wishing at the same time to make a propaganda, and to assist materially Simonne Evrard, the Cordeliers presented themselves, on the 20th of January 1794, at the bar of the Convention with an address, the purport of which was to republish Marat’s political works at the national expense. The petitioners were honourably received, but the petition was referred to the Committee of Public Instruction, in the archives of which it remained buried. The project of Simonne, above spoken of, which was announced ten months later, also met with no adequate response, and so came to nothing. As to another work promised at the same time, bearing the title conceived by him in London in 1791, the Ecole du Citoyen, and intended to be a résumé of the principles on which the Ami du People was based, whether it was in the form of a selection of articles or portions of articles from that journal, or whether expounded afresh expressly for the work by Marat himself, it is difficult to say, for the manuscript was subsequently lost.

The two women, Albertine Marat and Simonne Evrard, continued, as stated, to live together in Paris; first of all in the Rue St. Jacque, No.674, and afterwards, as their means became still more limited, in a single small room, 33 Rue de la Barillerie, opposite the Palace of Justice. Their mainstay, and indeed only certain means of support, was an interest of 570 francs a year, derived from the wreck of Simonne’s fortune. This was supplemented by the slender resources derived from their own handiwork. For the rest, they both lived in obscurity, seeking help from no one, and their one ideal and object of interest lay in the past. Simonne Evrard died on the 24th of February 1824, in consequence of a fall down a staircase. Albertine Marat survived her by nearly eighteen years. On the 6th of November 1847, the following notice appeared in the Siècle newspaper:- “The sister of the famous Marat has just died, at the age of eighty-three years, in a garret in the Rue de la Barillerie, in the midst of most profound misery, having no one beside her on her death-bed but a grocer, her sole heir, and a porteress, the only friends remaining to her. This lady, whose features strongly recalled those of her brother, lived for a long time on the proceeds of her industry in making hands for watches, a kind of work in which she is said to have excelled. She was well acquainted with the Latin language. Age having come with its infirmities, she had fallen into great distress. Four neighbours and friends accompanied her remains to the public burial-ground (fosse commune).” Sit terra levis. Villaume, the author of a careful and excellent history of the French Revolution, visited Albertine in her old age, and it was to this young law-student, for such he was at the time, that Marat’s sister handed over a collection of the political works of her brother, arranged in twelve volumes by himself. Annotated as it was by the hand of the “People’s Friend”, it naturally formed an invaluable material for the future historian of the Revolution. After the death of Villaume it passed into the Solar Library, and subsequently, on the dispersal of the latter, into the hands of Prince Napoleon. In a sale of the Madaillac Library in January 1885, it appeared among the lots, in what way is doubtful, and was purchased, it is said, by an American collector for 2450 francs (nearly £100).

The physician Raspail was shown by Albertine Marat the original Solar microscope and other physical apparatus of Marat, as well as a batch of his medical papers and a complete file of the Ami du Peuple, containing the manuscript marginal notes of its author. These mementoes she promised to leave to him, but owing to untoward circumstances he appears never to have become the actual possessor of them.

The only present representatives of the Marat family are descended from the youngest, brother of the “People’s Friend”, Jean-Pierre Marat, born in 1767. His eldest son bore the name Jean-Paul-Darthé Marat, Jean-Paul, of course, after his famous uncle, and Darthé after the colleague of Baboeuf in the celebrated conspiracy of 1796. He died in 1845, leaving a son, also named Jean-Paul; the latter by a curious coincidence, as Dr. Cabanes remarks, (Marat inconnu, p.274), had a long career as a functionary in a side of the administration of his native town specially concerned with the maintenance of order and the conservation of property, being Director of the Public Registers at Geneva. According to Dr. Cabanes, in 1889 the Geneva librarian, M. Theophile Dufou interviewed M. Mara, at his request. He found him almost blind, so much so as to be unable to read or write. He refused to reply to several questions put to him concerning his great-uncle, respecting whose life he professed to know little. He stated that his great-aunt Albertine had left to his father Marat’s medical diploma, his ring, and his hair, besides an autograph manuscript. Of M. Jean-Paul Mara’s brothers, one died childless in 1878, while the other, Lucien-Charles-Etza Mara, born at Geneva in 1837, was at the time of the interview (1889) residing at Saint-Nazaire, the father of two daughters and four sons. Of the latter, one, Jean-Paul, was employed as a bank-clerk in Paris, where also one of his sisters who was married was living. The elder M. Jean-Paul Mara of Geneva has only two daughters. The brother of Marat, who took the name of M. de Boudry on entering the Empress Katherine’s service in Russia, left two daughters, it is stated, who were married to Frenchmen living in Russia, but of their descendants we have no information. So much as to the recent history of the Marat family.


Last updated on 29.2.2004