Estelle La Chatte (estellacat) wrote in revolution_fr,
Estelle La Chatte

  • Mood:

Charlotte Robespierre's Memoirs

Believe it or not, I've finally managed to get the next chapter of Charlotte Robespierre's memoirs translated. I know it's been a rather long time since I promised to do so... Hopefully it won't take me as long to get the last chapter posted.

Chapter IV[1]


Charlotte Robespierre and her younger brother’s departure for Nice.—What happens to them in Lyon.—The dangers they run before arriving at their destination.—They are pursued by the Marseillais.—Arrival in Nice.—Horseback-riding.—Unworthy treatment of Charlotte Robespierre by Madame Ricord.—She is calumniated by her to her brother.—Ignoble trap set up by Madame Ricord to make her return to Paris.—Consequence of this betrayal.


                My younger brother and another representative, Ricord, received the Convention’s order to go to the Army of Italy, the general-quartering of which was then in Nice. It is known that the Convention had conceived the excellent idea of sending its members on mission to the armies, and it is in great part to this measure that France owed its admirable successes.

                I knew that Ricord was bringing his wife with him, and so the idea came to me to go with my brother. I prayed him to take me, and he acquiesced joyfully to my request. Nothing until that point had altered the lively friendship which reigned between us; never had a family been closer than my two brothers and I had been. How guilty are those who troubled this good harmony!

                It would be difficult for me to recall the exact time of our departure. I only remember that the Midi was quite exasperated with the Montagnards, and even that several departments had risen up at the voices of the Girondin deputies who had escaped the decree of 31 May. I believe that the royalists had even already surrendered Toulon to the English.

                Lyon was in rebellion. When we arrived there, calm reigned in appearance. Our coach was directed toward the Hôtel de Ville; my younger brother and Ricord went in. Madame Ricord and I remained in the coach, and soon we were surrounded by a growing crowd, who questioned us on what was said of the people of Lyon in Paris. We replied to cut short their questions that we didn’t know. Several men who spoke for the others, told us then in a wrathful tone: “We know that the Parisians say that we’re in counterrevolution; but they lied; see rather our cockades.” In effect, they had the national cockade; but this didn’t prove anything, for had we not seen the most pronounced counterrevolutionaries of the first revolution wear the tricolor cockade? And among those who have worn it since the revolution of July 1830, are there not those who are enemies of the revolution in their hearts?

                While Madame Ricord and I were thus questioned and our position, in regard to these men, almost furious, became more and more embarrassing, Robespierre the Younger and Ricord were having a very lively quarrel with the municipal officers; these last spoke to them in menacing terms, and seemed to want to make them responsible for the events that had overthrown the Girondins. The two representatives supported the dignity of their character, and expressed themselves with a firmness that imposed it to the Commune of Lyon. After leaving the Hôtel de Ville, my brother and Ricord climbed back into the coach, and deliberated for a moment to decide whether we would rest in Lyon, or whether it would not be more prudent to continue our journey, in fear that the inhabitants of Lyon would imprison both of them, as they had imprisoned two of their colleagues some time before. This last opinion seemed better to us, and we made haste to leave Lyon.

                But, since the news of the trip of the two Conventionnels could not fail to spread along the route we had to take to arrive in Nice, since we traveled short days, it was to be feared that the populations of Provence, the spirit of which was generally negative, would not be brought to some excess against Robespierre and Ricord. In consequence, we abandoned the main route and threw ourselves upon the back roads that would bring us to Manosque.

                We remained two days in that little city. What we apprehended has happened; they knew who we were and we were very badly regarded; I might even say that, seeing the spirit of exasperation about us, our stay in Manosque was not without danger. We had with us two soldiers who did us great service. When it was time to resume our journey, they went before us to scout out the country. We had already reached the banks of the Durauce, which we needed to cross, when our two scouts returned in a hurry to tell us that the Marseillais were in arms on the opposite bank, and that they had cannons.

                Marseille had openly raised the standard of revolt; it had sent detachments of rebels in every direction to rouse the surrounding departments. It was one of those detachments that we had encountered so unhappily in passing Durance. We retraced our steps and returned to Manosque in the intention of taking another route. But before leaving this city for a second time, the two Conventionnels ordered the cables of the ferry cut. The [local authorities] refused to obey; the attitude of the people there was threatening; my younger brother and Ricord renewed their injunction; and, whether the inhabitants were subjugated by the ascendancy of their words, or whether they had retained some respect for the national sovereignty of which they were the representatives, they set about obeying; but they cut only one cable. Robespierre and his colleague pretended not so see, and seemed to believe that the ferry was out of order, though they knew well that it could still afford passage to our enemies, which would take place.

                We left Manosque, preceded by our two scouts, and went towards Forcalquier. The mayor of Manosque, who was a patriot, caught up with our coach at the moment of our departure, and offered us an escort of fifty national guards. The two Conventionnels, who did not have great confidence in the character of the national guard of Manosque, thanked the mayor for his obliging offer, but did not accept the escort he wanted to give them.

                We arrived at Forcalquier without misfortune. The patriots of that city offered us their services, and stayed with us while we were prepared something for supper. We had the greatest need of a bit of food and of sleep especially. It was eleven o’clock in the evening, and since morning we had eaten nothing and tasted no repose. But we had hardly sat down to table when an express from the mayor of Manosque came to warn us that the Marseillais were in pursuit of us, and would catch up to us without delay if we did not escape their fury by taking flight promptly. The danger was pressing. To remain in Forcalquier was to come up against our inevitable demise; to follow the main road to Sisteron was to fall into peril nearly as great, for the Marseillais would not have neglected to continue their pursuit and we would undoubtedly been caught. We had therefore but one course to take: to reach the mountains between Forcalquier and the department of Vaucluse.

                We took horses, for our coach was from that point on useless to us, and accompanied by a dozen patriots serving as guides, we walked the whole night on horrible roads, scaling uneven cliffs where our horses had difficulty bearing us, and were constantly making false steps.

                After the cruelest fatigues, we reached a village mid-morning where the venerable pastor showed us hospitality with a frankness of manner and a charming cordiality. After having tasted a few hours of repose, we returned to our route, arriving towards evening in Sault, in the department of Vaucluse. A young doctor with whom we had traveled for part of our journey, introduced us to two ladies of his acquaintance, we welcomed us with the greatest benevolence, and overwhelmed us with the most delicate attentions for the three days that we stayed with them. My brother and Ricord bonded with the young doctor and learned from him that he had been elected to sit in the new Convention which was to sit in Bourges[2]. When he learned that this Assembly had been formed in a counterrevolutionary aim, and that the Girondins had asked its formation despairing of their cause, and because they had only this means alone of fighting the Montagnards, he declared that he would never sit in it, and engaged himself to show his friends their error relative to the party of the Montagne, an error he had shared himself.

                The young doctor, whose name I regretfully no longer remember, brought the two Conventionnels to the popular Society, where they were received with enthusiasm. They spoke, and their speeches were greeted with applause.

                We stayed three days in Sault, after which time we returned to Manosque. Twenty or thirty patriots accompanied us; the two soldiers, who had not left us, went ahead of us to the city, and announced that we were arriving followed by six thousand troops. That innocent lie was necessary to keep the counterrevolutionary effervescence of the inhabitants of Manosque under control.

                The two representatives went to the municipality to complain of the city’s conduct in their regard, and the amicable welcome it had given the Marseillais. The municipality, which, excepting the mayor, was as guilty as the rest of the inhabitants, made such excuses as it might, and promised to have those at fault punished: it would have had to start by punishing itself. Everyone was in consternation; they figured that the representatives were going to have the city razed.

                We learned that the Marseillais had reached Forcalquier a half-hour after our precipitated departure; that they had sought the representatives everywhere and that, finding only our coach, which we had not been able to bring and which was thus at the inn, they brought it back to Marseille in triumph. We sent for it. It was returned to us, but it was incapable of serving us; they had almost entirely dismantled and broken it looking for the compartment concealing the assignats we were claimed to be traveling with; our effects were in a pitiful state; but nothing had been taken.

                We had indeed yet to suffer some vicissitudes, but at the last our journey came to its end without any very grave accidents, and as I am in a hurry to arrive at all the tribulations of which I was the victim in Nice, I’ll pass in silence over the renewed obstacles we had to surmount in our trip from Manosque to that city.

                Public spirit in Nice was no better than in all of Provence. But there we had nothing to fear from the counterrevolutionaries; there was a division of French troops. The general in chief, Dumerbion, and his general staff protected us, Madame Ricord and I, when her husband and my brother went out, which happened often. During my stay in Nice I went to the theatre only three times. The first time we were respected; the second time, the box that we had reserved had been taken over; the third time they threw apples at us, which did not reach us. General Dumerbion saw this and sent his aides-de-camp to pray us to come to his box. Then they no longer dared to throw anything at us, but after a few minutes, we left the theatre, and never set foot in it again.

                Robespierre the Younger and Ricord had found that Army of Italy, which was soon to become illustrious by its great exploits, in a disastrous destitution. While they visited the different divisions and substituted everywhere order for disorder, abundance for famine, we kept occupied, Madame Ricord and I, in making shirts for the soldiers. In the evening, to relax, we walked in the country around Nice, sometimes on foot, sometimes on horseback. Our equestrian outings made people talk, and fed the viciousness of our enemies. It was written in Paris that we acted like princesses; several journals paid by the aristocracy propagated this absurd accusation, and Maximilien Robespierre wrote me to let me know. My younger brother spoke to me about it too, and I promised him to refuse myself the pleasure of riding from then on.

                Madame Ricord, who was the most frivolous and inconsiderate person in the world, made the same promise but with the resolution not to keep it. Here I must give an idea of her character. For long I had believed her to be only coquettish and flighty; but I saw at last, through my own experience, that she was malicious and sought every means to make my younger brother quarrel with me and send me back to Paris. My presence was unbearable to her; a passionate lover of pleasure, and often of pleasures not permitted to respectable women, she found me a strict and rigorous witness who was getting in her way. Indeed, a lady who interested herself in me, and who saw in Madame Ricord’s household that I was displaced in her society, and in that of a lady she spent her time with who was no better than her, told me once: You are too virtuous to remain her; your presence alone criticizes them. I did not at first understand the meaning of those words; later, and when I had been the victim of the blackest treason, I recalled them, and I admired the simplicity with which I had been unable to understand them.

                To return to the rides on horseback, which had been formally forbidden me by my two brothers: one day when Robespierre the Younger and Ricord were out, Madame Ricord proposed that we go on one such ride, and here is the occasion: we had been invited, she and I, to dine with some persons of her acquaintance. After dinner, and when the horses were ready as well as a coach for those who did not know how to ride, Madame Ricord said: Let’s go; the coach and the horses are ready; absolutely as if it had been agreed in advance that the ride would take place. I approached her and reminded her in a whisper of my brother’s prohibition; she did not listen to me and left me, laughing. I did not dare to explain myself more fully before the rest of those present; I resigned myself and got into the coach.

                For the whole length of the ride I was upset and had a heavy heart, so much was a affected to be disobeying my brother. Assuredly I took no part in the others’ pleasure, and I would have preferred a thousand times to not have left the house. One idea consoled me. If my brother, I said to myself, learns of this ride, as it is inevitable that he will, at least he will know that I was not the one who wanted it; he will know that I protested to Madame Ricord, and that she did not want to take account of them; he will know at last that she was the one who wanted this ride and that I could do nothing other than follow her; Madame Ricord will have to assume the responsibility.

                Two days later my brother returned. The day of his arrival he did not speak to me of the ride we had taken, and I believed that, knowing that I had been forced, so to speak, he did not hold it against me. But the next day I was quite surprised to hear him reproach me. I wanted to explain myself; he replied that I was the one who had wanted us to take that ride; so I called Madame Ricord to witness. What became of me and what was my surprise and my indignation when that woman, instead of declaring the truth, reinforced with an imperturbable effrontery that it was I, effectively, who had wanted the ride and had taken her along against her will? I was floored; I lacked the words to respond; those who were present could believe that I was guilty to see the assurance of Madame Ricord and my stupefaction. But should my brother have believed this odious lie? He knew me: he knew I was incapable of lying. Why then did he not want to believe me? When I was alone I wept much. That scene had made the most painful impression upon my heart. But I resolved to hide my distress, not to show it to anyone, especially not my brother. He no longer spoke to me of it, and it would have been possible to believe that nothing had happened, if he had not kept a certain coldness in regard to me that caused me to despair. There is the result of Madame Ricord’s lie. As for her, she had neither more cares nor less gaiety because of it; she still had her laughing and frolicking humor: one might truly have dad, to see her air of satisfaction, that she was happy with herself, and that she had done the world’s greatest act.

                It will rightly be supposed that after having been so cruelly played by Madame Ricord, I could no longer have for her either esteem or respect; that is, at least, if I had had any for her before the scene I have just described. In effect, how should one esteem a woman who knows so little of the rules of propriety and her duties as a wife to commit the gravest offenses against them? How should I have loved a person who continually compromised my younger brother with her advances, to which he believed it essential to his honor and duty not to respond? In truth, if modesty did not hold back my pen, I would say some things which would not be to Madame Ricord’s advantage. She was young and charming; but her coquetry was at least equivalent to her beauty. She wanted to shine and be adored at any price, and would do anything to get attention.

                Ricord loved his wife, and had unlimited confidence in her. Absorbed as he was by numerous occupations, he did not see her offenses, and could never have suspected them. Ricord had every public and private virtue; he could be equaled but not surpassed in patriotism; he was one of the most ardent and intrepid Montagnards. A faithful and trustworthy friend, a tender husband, he deserved a different wife, and never was a couple, in my opinion, less well matched. Probably he had always been unaware of his wife’s actions regarding me; she would set him against me, and, since he saw only by her eyes in these matters, he believed everything she said.

                My departure from Nice was approaching, though I did not suspect it. I did not know then, and I have only learned since, that Madame Ricord unceasingly abused me to my brother, inventing a thousand lies in order to make him lose his friendship for me. My brother’s coldness redoubled with each passing day and I knew not what to attribute it to. Doubtless I should have asked Augustin for an explanation concerning this change; but I saw him so busy, so overwhelmed with work, that I could not resolve myself to do so. We were both victims of the cruelest of hoaxes.

                Madame Ricord, who perhaps hoped that my brother would be less insensible to her advances in my absence, plotted my removal. She set a trap for me, and right away I fell into it, so little was the ability to resist that woman in my character. My brother having left Nice on a six-day trip, Madame Ricord proposed that we should spend that time in Grasse, with one of her friends. I accepted, without suspecting anything, and we left. We had hardly arrived in Grasse when a letter was brought to Madame Ricord which had been, it was said, addressed to Nice. Madame Ricord told me that this letter was from my brother and that he prayed me to return as promptly as possible to Paris.

                Judge of my shock! My brother, without coming to see me, without bidding me farewell, was sending me away like a reprobate. Nothing could have been more incredible, and yet I let myself fall into this crude trap. Listening for the moment only to my indignation, I reserved a place in a private coach departing for Paris, and I left the next morning.

                I have since much reflected, sadly, on this precipitated departure. I should have had the letter where my brother supposedly ordered me to leave shown to me; I should have returned to Nice, waited for him, and asked him whether it was true that he was banishing me, so to speak, from his presence. I would have gotten proof of the contrary from him directly; my eyes would have been opened upon the abyss that had been dug before me, and his eyes would have been opened about a woman whom he had believed until then—all her calumnies and all her lies.

                But, to my unhappiness, it was not so. I credulously believed what Madame Ricord told me, and still I do not dare think of all the conjectures that Robespierre could have drawn from my brusque departure. She would have told him that I wanted to leave without seeing him, because I did not care for him; what would she not have told him! She would have embittered him against me in every way. It was easy for me, upon his return to Paris, to judge the effect that the venomous words of the Madame Ricord had had on him. He no longer wanted to see me, and the events of the Thermidor took place before I could explain myself to him. Thus, to the grief of having lost my two brothers is added that of having had this misunderstanding with one of them, who took the idea that I had wronged him to the grave. Is it possible for one to be unhappier than I? Madame Ricord congratulated herself for what she did; she could not have known that she was preparing me an entire life filled with tears and regrets!

[1] An immense gap obviously exists between this chapter and the one preceding. I’ve searched in vain in the notes left me for something to fill it. L.

[2] The Girondin Guadet was the one who proposed to convoke a new Convention, formed from substitute deputies to the National Convention, to sit in Bourges. The fall of the Girondins prevented the execution of this disastrous measure. L.

Tags: books, robespierre charlotte, robespierre maximilien, translations

  • Max T-shirts…

    I got a couple of T-shirts printed, slightly too late for 14 July, but they'll do for Thermidor (when I'm moving back to my hometown in…

  • All the cool kids were doing it

    Apparently France has decided that it didn't have an awful enough "documentary" about the French Revolution to compete with the sterling examples set…

  • Review: City of Darkness, City of Light

    City of Darkness, City of Light Marge Piercy (Beware the spoilers!) Overall judgment: 3/5 I promised some times ago to write my thoughts on this…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic
    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.