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Charlotte Robespierre's Memoirs

Chapter Three, as (rather long ago) promised, is finally translated. 

Chapter 3

 

General idea of these Memoirs.—Robespierre in Paris.—He lodges in the rue Saintonge, with a friend.—He becomes friends with Pétion.—Interview between Robespierre and Pétion.—Their conversation on the events of 3 September.—Robespierre’s relations with M. and Madame Roland.—He meets the Duplays and becomes a pensioner in their house.—Charlotte Robespierre’s griefs against Madame Duplay.—Maximilien’s return to Arras.—Magnificent reception.—He returns to Paris.—He is elected member of the insurrectional Commune of 10 August, and later member of the National Convention, along with his younger brother.—Refutation of a note from Madame de Genlis.

 

            Those who will read the history with attention and without partiality will say that my brother Maximilien never deviated one sole instant from his principles; such as he showed himself to be at the beginning of his career was such as he showed himself until his last breath. When everyone changed around him, he alone remained unshakeable in his convictions. The Moniteur lends faith to this; all his discourses are within.

            I did not see him for the duration of the Constituent Assembly. I had remained at Arras were our younger brother exercised, like his older brother, the profession of lawyer. We wrote to each other often, and he gave me the most emphatic testimony of friendship in his letters. “You are what I love the most after the patrie,” he told me.

            Though my removal from him prevents me from knowing the details of his private life, nothing important happened to him that I did not know about. Or rather his private life was so regular, so simple; his habits were so uniform, that, from the moment he threw himself into politics, those of his actions outside the domain of history were of a mediocre importance. I will have therefore very few things to say of it.

            Maximilien Robespierre is outside the common line of famous men. If one wants to write memoirs on a Mirabeau, on a Barras, etc., one has thousands of intrigues to report, one would never finish with them, one would fill volumes upon volumes; it’s an inextricable maze. But in the life of a man like Robespierre everything is self-explanatory; everything unfolds simply and without effort. No intrigues, no complication of details. He is in his interior as he is on the benches of the Constituent and the Convention; it is a stage with neither curtain nor backstage, and where the actors dress and undress in presence of the spectators.

            Those therefore who wait for revelations on my part about my brother Maximilien’s acts will find themselves much mistaken in their expectation. What could I tell them? He thought out loud at the tribune of the two assemblies of which he was successively a member; and what he did not say at the tribune of the Constituent or of the Convention, he said at that of the Jacobins; what he did not say verbally, he wrote and published. It is thus that he had published a journal entitled The Defender of the Constitution in 1792, where he set down the fruits of his long meditations.

            When the Constituent Assembly had transferred from Versailles to Paris, after the events of 5 and 6 October, Maximilien and a young man from among his friends whom he liked a lot rented a very modest apartment in the rue Saintonge, in the Marais. This young man had occupations which obliged him to leave early in the morning and kept him out very late, so that he and my brother sometimes went several days without seeing each other. Their household was that of two boys who are almost never home, and who eat in restaurants. Maximilien attended the sessions of the Constituent and the society of the Jacobins, which was called then the society of the friends of the Constitution, assiduously. He enjoyed the pleasure of going to spectacles but rarely.

            But older brother united with several of his colleagues from the Assembly. He was closest with Pétion, whose popularity then equaled his. They were both leaders of the republican opposition which had formed in the Constituent, and fought for the cause of the people, like two generous imitators who looked to surpass each other in noble sentiments. Public opinion, which associated them in its esteem, called them to the two premier posts of Paris; Pétion was elected mayor, and Maximilien, public prosecutor. Following this, Pétion’s friendship for my brother cooled singularly. This high charge of mayor of Paris, these honors which surrounded him and which perhaps developed the germ of an ambition he had at first been unaware of, turned his head and made him abandon the line of conduct that he had followed since the beginning of the revolution. The rapports in which his functions as mayor placed him even with the court, spoiled him to the point that he misread his former friends.

            Some days after the events of 2 and 3 September, Pétion came to see my brother. Maximilien had disapproved of the prison massacres, and had would have wanted each prisoner to be sent before judges elected by the people. Pétion and Robespierre conversed on these latest events. I was present at their interview, and I heard my brother reproach Pétion for not having interposed his authority to stop the deplorable excesses of the 2nd and 3rd. Pétion seemed piqued by this reproach, and replied dryly enough: All I can tell you is that no human power could have stopped them. He rose some moments later, left, and did not return. Any kind of relations ceased, from this day, between him and my brother. They did not see each other again until the Convention, where Pétion sat with the Girondins and my brother on the Montagne.

            Maximilien counted among the number of the acquaintances he made during the Constituent, M. and Madame Roland. This last, before her husband’s entry into the ministry, played at patriotism, and even passed for an ardent republican. She received the most advanced men of the time in her home, and discoursed with them on all the questions that were on the order of the day. My brother went sometimes to these gatherings. She welcomed him with a rather particular provenance, because of his popularity, and affected a friendship for him which quite belied itself a year or two later. She retired with her husband to the department of Rhone-et-Loire in 1791. From this residence she wrote my brother a letter, which I still possess, wherein she addressed him elegies on his conduct within the legislative body, and displayed the purest patriotic sentiments. If the author of such a letter had been sincere, it would be necessary to proclaim her the most virtuous of citizens.[1]

            I report this letter textually so that the reader may judge by it the principles that Madame Roland professed in 1791, she whom, later, made common cause with the aristocrats, and numbered among my brother’s enemies. Here it is:

 

“Laplatrière, parish of Thézée, district of Villefranche, department of Rhone-et-Loire, 27 September, 1791

 

            “In the heart of this capital, foyer of so many passions, where your patriotism has just furnished a career as tiring as honorable, you will not receive without some interest, Monsieur, a letter addressed from amid the deserts, written by a free hand, and which addresses to you that sentiment of esteem and pleasure felt by good people in communicating.

            “Even had I only followed the course of the revolution and the march of the legislative body in the public papers, I would have distinguished the small number of courageous men, always faithful to principles, and among these men he whose energy has not ceased to oppose the greatest resistance to the pretensions, to the maneuvers of despotism and intrigue: I would have vowed the recognition of the friends of humanity for its generous defenders to these deputies. But these sentiments acquired a new force when the depth of the maneuvers and the horror of the corruption despotism employs to subjugate and degrade the species, conserve or augment the stupidity of peoples, mislead opinion, seduce the weak, frighten the vulgar and lead good citizens astray up close. History paints but with broad strokes the action and results of tyranny, and this dreadful tableau more than suffices to make one hate violently all arbitrary power; but I imagine nothing as hideous, as revolting as its efforts, its ruses, and its atrocity deployed in a hundred ways to maintain itself within our revolution. Whoever is born with a soul and has kept it healthy cannot have seen Paris in these latest times, without bemoaning the blindness of corrupted nations, and the abyss of evils from which it is so difficult to bring them out.

            “I made in that city a course of observations whose sad result resembles that almost always drawn from the study of men; it is that their greatest number is infinitely miserable, and that they are rendered thus by our social institutions; it is that we must work for the good of the species in the manner of the Divinity, for the charm of proceeding thus, the pleasure of being oneself, of fulfilling one’s destiny, and of enjoying one’s own esteem, but while awaiting neither recognition nor justice on the part of individuals; it is finally that the few elevated souls who would be capable of great things, dispersed on the surface of the earth and commanded by circumstances, can almost never act in concert.

            “I found on the road, as in Paris, the people misled by their ignorance or by the cares of their enemies, not knowing much of or judging badly the state of things: everywhere the masses are good; they have a just will, because their interest is that of all; but they are seduced or blind. Nowhere have I met people with whom I could speak openly and in a manner useful to our political situation; I held myself to leaving copies of your address in all the places I passed; they will have been found after my departure and will have furnished an excellent text for some people’s meditations.

            “The town where I have a house, and where I have stopped for several days, Villefranche, has not but the sort of patriots to think of rank, who love the revolution because it has destroyed those who were above them, but who know nothing of the theory of free government, and who do not suspect that sublime and delicious sentiment which makes us see but brothers in our fellows and which confounds universal goodwill with the ardent love of that liberty alone capable of assuring the happiness of the human race. As well, all these men bristle at the name of republic, and a king seems to them something quite essential to their existence.

            “I kissed my children with transport, I swore, in spilling sweet tears, to forget politics to study and sense no longer anything but nature, and I hurried to arrive in the country.

            “An extraordinary dryness had added all that it is possible to imagine to the aridity of a stony and inhospitable soil, to the rather sad aspect of an agricultural domain that the eye of the master can alone vivify and that had been abandoned for six months; the moment of the harvest demanded my presence, and augmented my solicitudes; but rustic travails bring with them peace and gaiety, and I would have tasted them unadulterated if I had not discovered that the calumnies invented in Lyon to bring my husband away from the legislature, had penetrated as far as my retreat, and that men who had never had place but to feel or devotion to the general well-being and to theirs in particular, attributed our absence to M. Roland’s supposed arrest as a counterrevolutionary; in the end I heard Les aristocrates à la lanterne sung behind me!

            “I do not fear the results of these absurd preventions which have not been able to win a majority; besides, our presence alone and the reprisal of this simple and beneficent life to which we are habituated, will sooner make them disappear to their last traces; but how easy it is to mislead the people and turn them against their own defenders!

            “As to Lyon, that city is devoted to the aristocracy; its elections are detestable; the deputies are naught but enemies of liberty, speculators, idiots or notorieties; there is not one talent there, not even mediocre; its department is composed almost exactly like its deputation to the legislature; the few patriots have been pushed into a district where they would not know how to do much good, nor prevent much evil.

            “If representative government must be judged by the little experience we have had of it already, we should not esteem ourselves very happy. The mass of the people is not grossly misled for long; but people buy the electors, then the administrators, and finally the representatives who sell the people. Could we appreciate from this the vices that prejudiced and the ambitious have had introduced into our constitution, feel always more that everything which removes from the most perfect equality, from the greatest liberty, tends necessarily to degrade the species, corrupt it, and remove it from happiness!

            “You have done much, Monsieur, to demonstrate and spread these principles; it is lovely, it is consoling to be able to render this witness in an age when so many other do not yet know what career is reserved for them; a great one remains for you to pursue so that all parties respond at the beginning, and you are in a theatre where your courage will not lack exercise.

            “From the heart of my retreat, I will learn with joy of the results of your successes; thus do I call your efforts for the triumph of justice, for the publication of the truths which interest public felicity is always a success for the good cause.

            “If I had considered but what I could tell you, I would have abstained from writing; but, without having anything to tell you, I had faith in the interest with which you would receive news of two beings whose soul is made to sense yours, and who would like to express an esteem for you that they accord to few people, an attachment that they have vowed but to those who place about all the glory of being just and the happiness of sensitivity. M. Roland has just joined me, tired, saddened by the inconsequence and frivolity of the Parisians; together we will follow our country travails, interspersed with a few indoor occupations, and seek in the practice of private virtues a sweetening of public misfortunes, if it is reserved for us to be witnesses of those which a perfidious court and ambitious villains can create.

            “Accept as we offer them, our sentiments and our best wishes.

 

            “Roland, née Phlipon.”

 

            People will be curious to know how my brother Maximilien met the Duplay family. The day when the red flag was deployed and martial law proclaimed on the Champs-de-Mars by Lafayette and Bailly, my brother, who had seen the fusillades ordered by the hero of two worlds, and who returned, heartbroken with all these scenes of horror, following the rue Saint-Honoré. A considerable crowd pressed about him; he had been recognized, and the people cried vive Robespierre! M. Duplay, cabinet-maker, left his house, came before my brother, and engaged him to come into his house to rest. Maximilien accepted his invitation. After an hour or two he wanted to return home, but he was kept for dinner, and not even that evening did they want to let him leave; he slept in M. Duplay’s house, and remained there several days. Madame Duplay and her daughters showed him the liveliest interest, surrounded him with a thousand delicate cares. He was extremely sensitive to all those sorts of things. My aunts and I had spoiled him by a crowd of those little attentions of which women alone are capable. All at once transported from the bosom of his family, where he was the object of the sweetest solicitudes, into his household on the rue Saintonge, where he was alone, let the change he had had to submit to be judged! The Duplay family’s provenances in his regard recalled to him those that we had had for him, and made him feel still more vividly the emptiness and solitude of the apartment he occupied in the Marais. M. Duplay proposed to him that he should come live with him, and be his host’s lodger. Maximilien, to whom this proposition was quite agreeable, and who besides had never known how to refuse in fear of disobliging, accepted and came to live among the Duplay family.

            I should tell the whole truth. I have nothing but praise for the demoiselles Duplay; but I would not say the same for their mother, who did me much wrong; she looked constantly to put me in bad standing with my older brother and to monopolize him. Maximilien’s character took very will to Madame Duplay’s views; he let himself be led as she wished, and this man so energetic at the head of the government had no other will in his interior than that which was suggested to him, as it were.

            When I arrived from Arras, in 1792, I came to live with the Duplay family, and I saw at once the ascendancy they exercised on him; an ascendancy which was founded neither on wit, since Maximilien certainly had more of it than Madame Duplay, nor on great services rendered, since the family among whom my brother lived had not for some time been in a position to render them. But, I repeat, this ascendancy took its source, on one side, from my brother’s debonair attitude, if I may express it thus, and on the other from Madame Duplay’s incessant and often importune caresses. 

            I resolved to take my brother out of her hands, and, to succeed at this, I looked to make him understand that, in his position, and occupying such a high rank in politics, he should have a home of his own. Maximilien recognized the fairness of my reasons, but long fought my proposition that he should separate from the Duplay family, fearing to distress them. In the end, I succeeded, not without effort, to make him take an apartment in the rue Saint-Florentin.

            Madame Duplay was very angry with me; I believe she remained bitter towards me her entire life. We had lived thus alone for some time, my brother and I, when Maximilien fell ill. His indisposition was in no way dangerous. He needed much mare, and certainly, I did not let him lack for it; I did not quit him for an instant, I watched over him constantly. When he was better, Madame Duplay came to see him; she had not been informed of his indisposition, and made a great fuss because she had not been warned of it. She said some very disobliging things to me; she told me that my brother had not had all necessary care, that he would have been better cared for with her family, that he would lack for nothing; and that is what pressed Maximilien to return to her house; my brother at first refused weakly; she redoubled her insistences, I should say, her obsessions. Robespierre, despite my protests, decided finally to follow her. “They love me so,” he said to me, “they have such regard, such goodwill toward me, that it would be ingratitude on my part to repulse them.”

            This fact alone gives an idea of my brother Maximilien. He cedes to Madame Duplay, he resolves himself to leave his home, to become again a lodger in a foreign house, whale he has his house, his household, because he does not want to pain a person for whom he has friendship. I do not want to recriminate against him; far from me the thought of addressing reproaches to his memory; but in the end should he not have considered that his preference for Madame Duplay distressed me as much at least as his refusal could have afflicted this lady? Between Madame Duplay and me should he have hesitated? Should he have sacrificed me to her? After the disobliging words she had said, after having reproached me for having let my brother lack care, he who knew so well the contrary, should he not have reflected that leaving me to deliver himself to Madame Duplay’s care was to corroborate what she had said? And yet my brother loved me tenderly; his friendship for me was a thousand times stronger than that which he could have felt for a stranger; how then to explain the contradiction? Here it is: Maximilien was all devotion, he did not belong to himself, his life was a continual sacrifice, with great heart he hurt himself to please others; he did not hesitate thus, he who regarded me as a part of himself, to sacrifice me, as he sacrificed himself, so as not to affect a family who, by their caresses and kindnesses without number, had taken from him all methods of resistance.

            I said before that I had much to complain about regarding Madame Duplay, and certainly, if I were to report everything she did to me I would fill a fat volume. When my brother, in fear of disobliging her, became once more a lodger in her house, I went to see him quite assiduously. One cannot have any idea of the disgraceful—I could use another term—manner in which she received me. I would have pardoned her dishonesties, her impertinences; but I what I will never pardon her is a word, a dreadful word, that she pronounced on my account. I often sent my brother, jams or fruit comfits, which he liked a lot, or other sweets; Madame Duplay always let her bad humor show every time she saw my domestic arrive. One day when I had charged her with bringing a few jars of jam to my brother, Madame Duplay said angrily to her: “Bring that back, I don’t want her to poison Robespierre.” My domestic returned in tears to tell me of Madame Duplay’s dreadful blasphemy. I remained stupefied and could not speak. Was it to be believed? In place of going to ask an explanation, in place of going to complain to my brother of the horrible words she had said, the fear of causing him pain, and of provoking a scene which could only be very disagreeable restrained me, and I swallowed in sadness my grief and indignation.

            Madame Duplay had three [four] daughters: one married the conventionnel Le Bas; another married, I believe, an ex-constituent; the third, Éléonore, who preferred to be called Cornélie, and who was the eldest, was, according to what people pleased themselves to say, on the point of marrying my brother Maximilien when 9 Thermidor came. There are in regard to Éléonore Duplay two opinions: one, that that she was the mistress of Robespierre the elder; the other that she was his fiancée. I believe that these opinions are equally false; but what is certain is that Madame Duplay would have strongly desired to have my brother Maximilien for a son-in-law, and that she forget neither caresses nor seductions to make him marry her daughter. Éléonore too was very ambitious to call herself the Citizeness Robespierre, and she put into effect all that could touch Maximilien’s heart.

            But, overwhelmed with work and affairs as he was, entirely absorbed by his functions as a member of the Committee of Public Safety, could my older brother occupy himself with love and marriage? Was there a place in his heart for such futilities, when his heart was entirely filled with love for the patrie, when all his sentiments, all his thoughts were concentrated in a sole sentiment, in a sole thought, the happiness of the people; when, without cease fighting against the revolution’s enemies, without cease assailed by his personal enemies, his life was a perpetual combat? No, my older brother should not have, could not have amused himself to be a Celadon with Éléonore Duplay, and, I should add, such a role would not enter into his character.

            Besides, I can attest it, he told me twenty times that he felt nothing for Éléonore; her family’s obsessions, their importunities were more suited to make feel disgust for her than to make him love her. The Duplays could say what they wanted, but there is the exact truth. One can judge if he was disposed to unite himself to Madame Duplay’s eldest daughter by something I heard him say to Augustin:

“You should marry Éléonore.”

“My faith, no,” replied my younger brother.

I have nothing but praise for Madame Duplay’s second [youngest] daughter, the one who married Lebas; she was not, like her mother and older sister, stirred up against me; many times she came to wipe away my tears, when Madame Duplay’s indignities made me cry. Her younger [elder] sister was good like her. Both of them would have made me forget their mother and Éléonore’s lack of courtesy, if it had not been that these things once engraved in such an indelible manner in one’s heart, are not thereafter effaced.

After the closure of the Constituent Assembly, and before my departure from Arras, Maximilien wrote to me to announce his coming arrival in his native city. He fixed the day with me and recommended that I keep it secret. My younger brother and I resolved to go to meet him. One of my friends, Madame Buissart, was with our party. We rented a carriage and set off. We followed the road to Paris until Bapaume, a town about five miles from Arras. There, we waited all day, but my brother did not arrive. That evening we sadly retraced our steps, promising ourselves we would return the next day. We were quite surprised to see a considerable crowd at the gates of Arras; already the rumor of Robespierre’s arrival had spread in the city, whether by some indiscretion of Madame Buissart’s, whether because our servant had understood the reason for our trip to Bapaume, and had divulged it. As soon as the people saw our carriage, they believed that Maximilien was within it, and started to make lively acclamations. They even wanted to un-harness the horses and pull the carriage.

The next day, we left early in the morning so as not to be seen; we entered an inn in Bapaume, before which passed all the coaches coming from Paris, and we placed ourselves as lookouts to discover that which contained the object of all our wishes. Finally, we held him in our arms, and we tasted the ineffable pleasure of seeing him again after an absence of two years.

We had thought that no one had remarked upon our presence in Bapaume, and we were quite surprised when we saw all the patriots of that city come to congratulate our brother Maximilien on the fights he had supported within the Constituent Assembly against the people’s enemies, on his democratic principles, and on the courage he had deployed in propagating them. They offered Robespierre a banquet after which we climbed into the carriage and set off again for Arras. A still greater crowd than had been there the night before awaited us. Maximilien descended from the coach so as not to have the chagrin of seeing the people pull it; for he said to us in particular that it was unworthy of a free people to attach themselves to a carriage to pull a man along. Such an act showed that the people had not yet made much progress, and that they were still in the clutches of ignorance and prejudice.

The patriots of Bapaume had accompanied Robespierre to Arras. They joined in the crowd, and served as his escort all the way to his house. A thousand bravos, a thousand applauses reached his ears; everywhere he was greeted with cries of Vive Robespierre! Vive the people’s defender! The streets he had to cross had been spontaneously lit. Such flattering demonstrations, which so many others would have avidly encouraged and created at need, my brother would have preferred to restrain; it was in this intention that he had prayed me, in announcing his arrival, not to speak of it to anyone. His enemies imputed this reception to him as a crime anyway; they reproached him with having let himself be feted: would he have done otherwise? And one sees penetrating in their reproaches the blind and jealous hate which devoured them.

Maximilien stayed very little time in Arras. He went to taste the sweetness of repose in the surrounding country, if one can call the state of intellectual travail where my brother continually found himself repose. Tranquil in appearance, his spirit meditated unceasingly; he reflected probably in the heart of his retreat upon the task he had yet but started, and which he had later to lead almost to its term. He drew from new inspirations in the purity of his conscience and his heart.

On his way back from the country, he went to visit with a former friend for whom he had had much affection and to whom he had rendered important services about seven leagues from Arras. He believed him unchanged in regard to him, and could not suppose that this ungrateful man had completely changed. My younger brother and I had guessed the falseness of this pretended friend; but we had never wanted to speak of it to Maximilien so as not to cause him pain. When he saw the icy welcome this man gave him, he could not return, and he left him with a saddened soul.

Robespierre returned to Paris, where his presence was more than ever necessary. The aristocrats redoubled their efforts to make the revolution wither, and to plunge France back into the Ancien Regime. Patriots needed to increase their forces tenfold to render the criminal pursuits of the aristocracy powerless.

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………[2]

 

            My two brothers were elected members of the National Convention by the people of Paris. Previously, Maximilien had been elected a member of the insurrectional commune which replaced the former commune on 10 August, by his section. He never presided over this insurrectional commune. Madame de Genlis was thus mistaken when she attributed to my brother that horrible words he supposedly addressed to a lady of the Château, in interrogating her, as president of the commune. I do not remember these words; but I remember quite well having read Madame de Genlis’ accusation against my brother, in a note placed at the end of one of her novels. If this lady author had not been blinded by her hate against Robespierre (and hate makes one unjust), she would not have been in such haste to attribute the words in question to him; she would have taken in more ample information on he who had proffered them, for it they were really spoken, and she would have known that it had been Billaud-Varenne; it was he who presided over the insurrectional commune.

            What! Would my brother have cruelly insulted those vanquished by 10 August, would he have addressed atrocious words to them, who quit his functions as public prosecutor, because in place of charging the accused he always took it upon himself to defend him?

            Either Madame de Genlis has taken Billaud-Varennes’ words or my brothers without knowing it, or she did so in full knowledge of the case: for this last hypothesis her practice is unworthy; it suffices in itself to ruin her reputation: in the first, it is less guilty; but it shows at least with what [little] precaution my unfortunate brother Maximilien is judged. One learns that dreadful words have been pronounced, and without informing oneself from whose mouth they came, one attributes them to my brother. Oh! How right Napoleon was when he said that Robespierre was the scapegoat of the revolution, and that all the iniquities of others have been thrown back upon him. Is this not one proof among a thousand? And if one wants to attentively examine my brother’s political life, such as his enemies have written it, would not one see, as in this circumstance, that he has been given responsibility for a great many odious facts completely foreign to him? To come and speak of the justice and equity of men, when I see an entire generation voluntarily add faith to all the calumnies which it has pleased my brother’s enemies to spread against him. O posterity! My sole recourse is to you, you will absolve my brother, you will assign him his true place in history; for you alone judge without passion.



[1] This unedited letter from Madame Roland was given to me with Charlotte Robespierre’s papers. L.

[2] Here there is a gap in the notes which Charlotte Robespierre left me. L.

Tags: books, robespierre charlotte, robespierre maximilien, translations
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