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Charlotte Robespierre's Memoirs Part I

Here are the preface and first chapter of Charlotte Robespierre's memoirs translated into English. It's not a perfect translation, but it should (I hope) be coherent.

Charlotte Robespierre’s Memoirs on her Two Brothers


            I had thought that time, which destroys all, would have laid waste to the calumny which has denatured my good and unhappy brother Maximilien’s character. It has been thirty-three years[1] since my two brothers were assassinated; a generation has passed, and error, quite far from having been replaced by truth, has done nothing but grow and propagate in all places.

            I very much wanted to destroy as dire a detention on suspicion; but those who took an interest in my position advised me to say nothing, because my testimony would be rejected, and I would be accused of partiality. I followed their advice, and I believe that I was wrong. I did not know that letters against my elder brother had been attributed to me to give more force to the accusations against him.

            I am unaware whether my younger brother has been the object of calumny like Maximilien; I have heard nothing said; but I know that he was assassinated like him for having said: I share my brother’s virtues. This profession of faith was his death warrant....What therefore was the motive of these men who sent the most ardent democrats to their deaths?

            Not contented with this crime, they still pursued their victims beyond the grave. After having killed this good man, the incorruptible Maximilien, his executioners put such audacity into their attacks against him that they have made my poor brother pass for a villain, not only in his patrie, but yet in other nations. They have distilled their bitterness everywhere, in libels, in newspapers, in biographies, and to the point of novels. They have done so much that they have misled the opinion of the multitude and even that of intellectuals, who, if they had wanted to go through the trouble of uncovering the truth in relation to the absurd and odious lies with the memory of my brothers has been charged, would have infallibly been disabused on their account.

            The malicious take more pains to spread and propagate lies, than the good do to know the truth.

            However, I cannot believe that, among so many men, always ready to welcome error, there will not be found a few less prompt to judge others, who will have reflected on the absurdity of the accusations which persist against my brothers; accusations devoid of proof, and which repose but on the malice of their enemies. The truth displeases some, finds others indifferent; that is why it can remain hidden for centuries. Honor to souls exempt from prejudices, who devote themselves to its triumph.

            If men still exist who would have an interest in blackening my brothers, in denaturing their intentions, at least posterity, which alone has the right to fix the character of illustrious persons, will avenge their innocence, and reestablish facts from their true point of view. Let those who obstinately remain in error and who believe against all evidence that my brothers merit the reprobation which still weighs on them for many spirits, at least reflect that two men who practiced virtue all their lives would not become entirely malicious. A great poet had reason to say


                                Some crimes always precede great crimes;

                                Whoever can cross legitimate boundaries

                                Can eventually violate the most sacred of rights:

                                Like virtue, crime has its degrees;

                                And never has timid innocence been seen to

                                Pass suddenly to extreme license


            Oh my brother Maximilien! What could I not do, in rendering homage to your memory, to make conviction come into all honest and virtuous souls as into yours! From the moment of your birth you did not cease to practice justice, to make your mark by laudable and merit-worthy actions. All those who knew you know it, they can attest it, but none of them have dared to say it until now, such was the magnitude of fear your enemies knew how to inspire. Ah! If some human sentiment remains in the souls of those who have calumniated you, they must be torn with remorse!

            Oh my brothers! My dear and unhappy brothers! How you suffered to see such perfidy in men! How you would still suffer if you could know that the impostures of your enemies have had all the success they had hoped for. But you could not think it: your consciences made you believe that nothing could so burst your reputations. Happy security! Let the malicious not know of it; it is the only thing they have not been able to take from you; it’s also the soul consolation of a sister who reveres you and cries for you.


Chapter One


Maximilien Robespierre’s childhood.—His parents’ deaths.—He starts his studies at the college of Arras.—His amusements.—Pigeon Anecdote.—He departs for the college Louis-le-Grand, in Paris.—His brilliant studies.—He is cherished by his masters and fellow-students.—He is the defender of the oppressed.—He does his duty.—He is received as a lawyer in the Parlement of Paris.—Motives which determined his embracing this profession.


            Maximilien was the eldest of four children; he had a brother and two sisters. Our father was a lawyer in the counsel of Artois; he lived in Arras, where he had acquired great consideration by his probity and his virtues; he was honored and cherished by the whole town. We had the misfortune to lose our mother at the age when we had the greatest need of her care and tender solicitude; Maximilien was but seven years old; I was younger than he by twenty months; our younger brother had just turned two; I believe he was still nursing. As to our younger sister, she was about three or four years.

            As young as I was, I still remember my mother, and this memory, after more than sixty years, fills my eyes with delicious tears. Oh! Who would not keep the memory of this excellent mother! She loved us so! Neither could Maximilien recall her without emotion: every time that, in our private interviews, we spoke of her, I heard his voice alter, and I saw his eyes soften. She was no less of a good wife than a good mother. Her death was a lightning strike to the heart of our poor father. He was inconsolable. Nothing could divert him from his sorrow; he no longer pleaded, nor occupied himself with business; he was entirely consumed with chagrin. He was advised to travel for some time to distract himself; he followed this advice and left: but, alas! We never saw him again; the pitiless death took him as it had already taken our mother. I do not know what country he died in. He will have doubtless succumbed to a sorrow which became unsupportable.

            We were therefore orphans, without father or mother. One cannot get an idea impression our parents’ deaths had on Maximilien. He was totally changed. Before that point he had been, like all children of his age, flighty, unruly, rash; but since from this time he saw himself, in the quality of eldest, as the head of the family, he became poised, reasonable, laborious; he spoke to us with a sort of imposing gravity; if he joined in our games, it was to direct them. He loved us tenderly, and he had no cares our caresses he did not lavish on us.

            Alone and without support on Earth, se needed someone to come to our aid. My father’s two sisters took us in, my sister and I; our maternal grandparents charged themselves with the care of raising Maximilien and our younger brother Augustin. The first was placed in the college of Arras, and made in very little time, rapid progress which surprised his masters. His taste for studying and serious things rendered him very applied to his duties. He had shown from very early on a sweet and just character which made him cherished by everyone. He rarely shared the games and pleasures of his comrades; he liked to be alone to think at his ease, and passed entire hours reflecting. He had been given pigeons and sparrows which he took the greatest care of, and close to which he often came to pass the moments which he did not consecrate to his studies.

            I read in those ignoble biographies where my brother Maximilien was painted in the blackest colors, that his favorite childhood games consisted of making animals suffer, and that he was amused to cut off birds’ heads to become accustomed to one day cut off those of men. One must profess a very great contempt for the public, and believe them totally without good sense, to expect them to believe such absurd tales. What! My brother, while he was a student, which is to say fifteen or twenty years before Guillotin had invented the instrument of execution which bears his name, would have, according to the biographies I have just spoken of, constructed a little guillotine with which he would amuse himself to decapitate birds! In truth, it is to make injury to the readers of these Memoirs to undertake the refutation of such ridiculous stories. I leave their indignation to make these abominable imputations wither away.

            We were sent, my sister and I, to go join our two brothers every Sunday. These were days of happiness and joy for us. My brother Maximilien, who collected images and engravings, displayed his riches and was happy with the pleasure of seeing that we felt they should be contemplated. He also gave us the honors of his aviary, and placed his sparrows and pigeons, one after another, into our hands. We strongly desired that he should give us one of his favorite birds; we solicited this with entreaties; he refused for a long time, fearing that we would not take the best possible care of them. Yet one day, he ceded to our insistences, and gave us a handsome pigeon. My sister and I, we were enchanted. He made us promise to never let it lack for anything; we swore thus a thousand times, and kept our word for a few days, and moreover we would have kept our oath forever if the unhappy pigeon, forgotten by us in the garden, had not perished on a stormy night. At the news of this death, Maximilien’s tears flowed, he piled reproaches on us that we had only too well merited, and swore that he would no more confer any of his dear pigeons on us.

            It was sixty years ago that by a childish flightiness I was the cause of my elder brother’s chagrin and tears: and well! My heart bleeds for it still; it seems to me that I have not aged a day since the tragic end of the poor pigeon was so sensitive to Maximilien, such that I was affected by it myself.

            Three years passed in this way. I would report a lot of Maximilien Robespierre’s childhood traits; but those which are very interesting for me, and which I cannot recall without tenderness, will perhaps be less so for the public, who will probably read these Memoirs one day. If I didn’t want to pass this anecdote in silence, it is because it shows those who could revoke the natural goodness of my elder brother in doubt that never was a heart more compassionate than his.

            Maximilien’s progress, his taste for studying, his happy dispositions, incited the favor the abbot of Saint-Waast, who knew our aunts, and who similarly appreciated my brother. This clergyman had at his disposal several scholarships to the college Louis-le-Grand, in Paris; he gave one to Maximilien.

            We had to separate. Many tears flowed from all parts. Maximilien, who, despite his sensitivity, already had a certain firmness in his character, consoled us as best he could while crying with us. The idea of seeing us again on forthcoming vacations sweetened the bitterness of our separation a bit. Maximilien, before his departure, gave us, my sister and me, all the objects which had served as his amusements; but he did not want to give us his dear pigeons, fearing that they would meet the same fate as the one we had left to perish in the garden. He conferred them to a person from whom he did not fear the same negligence, and to whom he resolutely parted from them.

            Maximilien was eleven years old when he left for Paris. Our aunts sent him to a canon of the chapter of Notre-Dame, M. de la Roche, who was a relative of ours. Maximilien found in him a protector and mentor; M. de la Roche was attached to this child, in whom he saw rare qualities. Unhappily for my brother, he lost M. de la Roche after two years. I knew this was a very sensitive loss for him, though he supported it with a man’s resignation. He redoubled his ardor and application in his studies to divert him from his grief. I heard it said that he was well-liked by his masters and his comrades, and that he almost always won first prize. He stayed for seven or eight years at the college Louis-le-Grand; during this long lapse of time, he had no major quarrels with is fellow students, so balanced and sweet was his temperament; he made himself the protector of the small boys from the elder, pleaded in their favor, and even fought to defend them when his eloquence was unsuccessful.

            Every year, he returned to us for vacation. We saw him again with joyous transports. How quickly the days we passed together after a year’s absence went by! When the moment for his return to the college arrived, it seemed to us that he had only been with us for a few moments. It is while Maximilien studied in Paris that we had the misfortune to lose our young sister. It was therefore said that our childhood was cut short in tears, and that each of our first years was marked by the death of something cherished. This fatal destiny influenced Maximilien’s character more than is thought; it rendered him sad and melancholy.

            Once his classical studies were finished, he did his duty. Before quitting the college Louis-le-Grand, Maximilien went to see the commendatory abbot of Saint-Waast, and prayed him to give his scholarship to his younger brother. The commendatory abbot welcomed him with great goodwill, spoke to him of his brilliant studies in the most flattering terms, and told him that he eagerly seized the occasion to prove all his esteem in granting his request, adding that what confirmed him in this resolution, was that his brother would be worthy of him.

            I do not know on what occasion my brother encountered Jean-Jacques Rousseau; but what is certain, is that he had an interview with him. I would be entirely unaware of that circumstance in Maximilien’s life without a dedication he addressed to the manes of the philosopher of Geneva.

            Once Maximilien had fulfilled his duty, he was received as a lawyer in the Parlement of Paris. He had a very peculiar predilection for the lawyer’s profession; I often heard him say that there was not more sublime profession in the world, when it was exercised with disinterestedness and humanity. “To defend the oppressed against the oppressors,” he said, “to plead the cause of the weak against the strong who exploits and execrates him, is the duty of all hearts which egotism and corruption have not gangrened.” “It is so sweet to devote oneself to one’s fellow man,” he added, “that I cannot conceive how there are so many unfortunates who remain without support, without defenders. For me, my life’s work will be to succor those who suffer, and to pursue with my words vengeance for those who, without pity for humanity, make a pleasure and a joy of the sufferings of others. I will be more than happy if my weak efforts are crowned with success, and if, for the prize of my devotion and my sacrifices, my memory is not tarnished by the calumnies of the oppressors I will have fought.”

            Ill-fated Maximilien! You spoke but too truly; the enemies of the people have calumniated you all ways, and the success of their impostures has been such, that the same people for whom you devoted yourself, perhaps still do not recognize you.

[1] This part of Charlotte Robespierre’s Memoirs was written in 1827. L.

And since I have it lying around, have a picture of the author (from Buffenoir's Portraits de Robespierre):


( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 18th, 2006 08:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for translating and sharing this! It's certainly interesting to read accounts of 'Pierre's life from such a rightly-biased point of view.

Thanks again! ♥!
Jun. 19th, 2006 04:48 am (UTC)
Sure thing. It certainly makes a nice change from the usual Thermidorian propaganda.
Jun. 18th, 2006 10:15 pm (UTC)
Eee~ Thank you so, so much! <3

I'd heard about the birds, and wondered where that came from. Glad to finally know! It's quite cute (not about the one that died, though). Though I am slightly amused that Maxime's detractors would even think of coming up with that guillotine story. If you're going to slander someone utterly, at least do a halfway convincing job.
Jun. 19th, 2006 04:49 am (UTC)
*grins* You're welcome!

They said a lot of ridiculous things....I mean, who would think anyone would believe that he had green skin?
Jun. 19th, 2006 06:21 pm (UTC)
...GREEN SKIN? *Double take* How the...never mind. Just never mind. O.O
Jun. 20th, 2006 12:59 am (UTC)
Yes, you read that right: green skin. It started, I believe, with Mme de Staël's memoirs, in which she says that he had greenish veins. This, I suppose was taken to mean that he was entirely green. Or so Carlyle must have surmised by the time he wrote his "history" (the term is loosely understood) of the Revolution, in which Robespierre is referred to as the "sea-green Incorruptible."
Jun. 20th, 2006 01:00 am (UTC)
That was me.
Jun. 20th, 2006 02:55 am (UTC)
Ah, so that's what he meant by sea-green? Freakish. I think I ran across the phrase when I was reading a bit of it online, as it sounds familiar, but I'd assumed it was a reference to his eyes.
Jun. 20th, 2006 03:41 am (UTC)
You would think that, but no: they actually thought he was green. (Or at least had it put about.)
Jun. 23rd, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC)
OH WOW!! Thank you so much for posting this!!
Jun. 23rd, 2006 05:27 pm (UTC)
You're welcome!....I'm going to post the rest of it too, when I finish translating it.
Aug. 3rd, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
charlotte r's memoir
did you ever finish translating the rest of charlotte's memoir? I'd love to read it.
Aug. 3rd, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
Re: charlotte r's memoir
I did indeed. Just click on the tag "charlotte robespierre" and you'll find it.
Apr. 25th, 2011 12:13 pm (UTC)
About Maximilian’s date of birth

1758 ?

“Charlotte's Memoirs” does not show his age.

Books in 1797 said,
Maximilian Robespierre was born in 1759.
In 1794 Maximilian was 35 years old.
Apr. 25th, 2011 02:24 pm (UTC)
Ah, but we have his baptismal record - I've even seen the original in person. He was born 6 May 1758. Thus, he was indeed 35 in 1794, but only until May.
Apr. 27th, 2011 05:04 pm (UTC)
About "his baptismal record: 6 May 1758"
Where was it first published?
Apr. 27th, 2011 09:14 pm (UTC)
You know, I don't know if it's ever been published (at least not in the sense of having been quoted in full or fac-similed). If it has been, I don't know where off the top of my head, but I'll keep an eye out.
Apr. 28th, 2011 03:55 am (UTC)
Thank you

It seems that “Charlotte Robespierre et ses mémoires” mentioned “his baptismal record”.
Apr. 28th, 2011 09:43 am (UTC)
It's quite possible - though it would have to be in the notes of one of the editions, since it's not in the main text.
Oct. 24th, 2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
Can you please tell me the citation or the website...or just the actual memoir in French...because I need it as a primary document...without any translations or changes to the original... :) thank you in advance.
Oct. 26th, 2012 07:07 pm (UTC)
This is my own translation, which is neither professional nor published, so cite it at your own risk. As for the original, there are a number of editions, but the easiest to find are probably Laponneraye's original edition or else Hector Fleischmann's. I hope that answers your question.
Feb. 15th, 2017 08:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
hi, thank you so much for the translation. Thank you for a thousands time!!!! I tried to get CR's memories on amazon but I only found the French edition lol

So i'm wondering if I can have your permission to translate this English translation into Chinese? Just to share with other fans. I promised I will credit you properly and no commercial use (of course). Thank you again for the great translation!!
Feb. 18th, 2017 07:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you!
In case you didn't get my reply on tumblr:

Yes, it's fine with me if you use my translation in order to bring this text to Chinese readers, but I repeat that I would generally discourage translating translations, since distortions can easily be introduced into the text by such means. At the very least, you should let your readers know that it's not a translation from the original.

As for my translation, it's a bit old and less than perfect to begin with, but you're very welcome. There is, to my knowledge, no officially published English translation, so if you try to buy Charlotte Robespierre's mémoirs, you will inevitably find one of the original French editions.
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( 25 comments — Leave a comment )


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