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

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Élisabeth Le Bas's Memoirs (Part III)

This will be the third and last part of the translation of Élisabeth's memoirs. It treats Thermidor, as well as some random miscellanies. Given that, it's probably unnecessary to warn you that it may be depressing, but I'll do so anyway, just in case. It's not all depressing though, and it is worth reading. If anyone is interested, I also have the original French version of this section and the last one here at my journal.

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Catastrophe of 9 Thermidor.


                In the Marbeuf garden, perhaps four or five days before 9 Thermidor, Philippe said to me: “If it were not a crime, I would blow your brains out and kill myself; at least we would die together… But no! there is that poor child!”

.               .               .               .               .               .               .               .               .               .               .               .              

                On the Champ-de-Mars, when Babeuf, Bourdon and others said that Robespierre would perish by their hands, my husband said to me: “The patrie is lost!”

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                When they arrived to place the seals on our house, they took all our personal correspondence, our family papers, and nothing was ever returned to us. They never spoke, in the report of that despicable Courtois, of correspondence they found in my poor husband’s papers concerning the theft and pillaging carried out in Belgium by that miserable Danton, Bourdon de l’Oise, and Léonard Bourbon [Bourdon] and others. It was never spoken of; they made everything that could have demonstrated their crimes disappear.

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                Immediately after my husband’s arrest, they came to place the seals on our house. The guard cost us five francs a day. Le Bas was led brought by agents of the Committee of General Security to assist in this operation, and was then driven to la Force.

                A few hours later my husband had a commissary come tell me to send him a folding bed, a mattress, and a blanket. I went to la Force, accompanied by my sister-in-law Henriette, with those objects, in a fiacre. Upon arriving I saw a large crowd of exasperated people at the prison gates. I learned then that the people came to deliver the prisoners.

                I immediately abandoned the coach to run to my husband; all three of us walked in the direction of the Hôtel de Ville; on the way he exhorted me to return home, made me a thousand recommendations on the subject of our son, prayed me not to make him hate his father’s assassins: “Nourish him with your milk,” he said; “inspire him with the love of his patrie; tell him that his father died for it; adieu, my Élisabeth, adieu!” Then I had to separate from him. His last words [to me] were: “Live for our dear son; inspire him with noble sentiments, you are worthy of them. Adieu, adieu!” And I never saw him again…[1]

                I returned home with his beloved sister. Judge of my cruel anguish, of my despair! Returning, we came across three deputies on horseback, on the quay, who seemed to be in a state of horrible exasperation: they were Barrère [sic], Bourdon; I did not recognize the third; they proclaimed that my unhappy husband and his ill-fated friends were outlawed. I did not know what was meant by outlawed; but the atrocious countenances of those three men horrified me and I saw well enough that my husband and his friends were lost.

                I returned home distraught, almost crazy. Judge of what I felt when our dear child reached for me with his little arms; it had been only five weeks since I had had my lying in; my strength and my reason abandoned me; I could no longer support myself upright; from the 9th to the 11th I remained on the floor; I had neither strength nor consciousness; I did not go to bed. Great God! And one does not die of sorrow.

                I was drawn from my ruined state by the arrival of police agents or agents of the Committee of General Security. I was lead to the prison of Talarue, where I was quite ill, without air, without a window, with my son and my sister; [the cell] could barely hold two folding beds, two chairs, and a tiny table. Judge of my awful position! I could see out only by a skylight, and quite a small one; we could barely breathe. I had been a mother for five weeks; I was nursing my son; I was less than twenty-one years old; I had been divested of almost everything; after the death of my unhappy husband I had my sister, who could procure nothing for me, since she herself lacked everything, in my charge. Our position was so dreadful that my sister-in-law had to return to her family. It sufficed that, young and pretty, and having lost her mentor, she could not solicit my liberty; those curs, like Ricord and others, pursued her, seeking every means of seducing her, even promising her my liberty. Though she was young, she saw well that those monsters were seeking ways to corrupt her and dishonor her family. She preferred to leave, guessing rightly that they would do nothing either for me or for my brother-in-law François Le Bas, adjutant-major (both our families had been arrested).

                On the morning of the 10th, a woman dressed in black and covered with a large veil asked to speak to me; she wanted to speak to me alone, she said, on behalf of my husband, who had charged her to come see me; she insisted energetically; but my sister-in-law and a few people close to me did not want that woman to see me alone. Those poor friends believed they saw in her an envoy from my husband’s enemies, sent to assassinate me and my son, in order to get rid of a woman who adored her husband and a son, to whom his mother would doubtless one day inspire the sacred duty of defending the memory of his unhappy father.

                Friends did all they could to obtain my liberty; they could do nothing. I was ill; I asked to be placed in a more healthful and aerated cell; my request was refused.

                Judge of what I had to suffer! Obliged to wash my son’s linens, I descended at ten o’clock with a little lantern. There was a watering trough in the courtyard; I descended when all the prisoners had retired. I had to obtain permission to wash my child’s diapers from the jailer; then I returned to my granary (for I was above the stables; there were nauseating odors). As I needed to dry them, I placed them between my mattress and that of my good sister, who had sacrificed herself to come share my fatigues and my pains… oh! I will not in a lifetime forget you! For without you I would have succumbed; but, with your courage, you revived my strength and made me see that I had a great task to fulfill, that I had a son, that I needed to live for him.

                One night, the jailer came to wake me and told me descend, that there were two citizens who wished to speak with me. Judge of my joy! I believed that they had come to bring me my liberty. Alas! It was not so! Those curs sent agents to make me propositions: they told me that, if I wanted to abandon the infamous name of my husband, there was a deputy who would marry me, that my son would be recognized as a Child of the Patrie, that he would have a happy fate, and that I would be freed right away. What an awakening for me! Think what I could say to those curs! “Go tell those monsters that the Widow Le Bas will abandon that sacred name only upon the scaffold.” They replied that I was wrong and I would remain long in prison: “Go! Your threats don’t scare me; I no longer fear death.”

                Would you believe that they returned to the charge two days later, to torment me and show me my signed [bill of] liberty; they told me that if I consented, my pains would be at an end, and that if I persisted, I would see what it was to resist. I was so young! They believed they had power over me. But they saw to the contrary that I had courage. Good did not abandon me; I made them see the strength of virtue.

                They saw that they would not succeed; then, some days after their visit, they came to tell me that they were going to change my prison. There were six of us, me, my sister, and four others; they made us ride in an uncovered tumbrel. (No, good dear sister Éléonore, I will not forget your devotion to me and your poor little nephew in a lifetime; my recognition will be eternal!)

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                Upon leaving prison, I found myself still without resources. A friend of my poor Philippe came to see me and told me that I needed to claim what was due to my husband.

                Though denuded of everything, very near to poverty, I did not want to claim anything from those wretches. I wanted to make no request. But that good friend, seeing that he could obtain nothing form me, did so in my place, some days later and without telling me; I was quite surprised to see a letter arrive at my address, stamped by the Committee of Inspectors (?): I was told to go on a given day to the Welfare Committee for the affair concerning me. Judge of my despair! I who had asked for nothing! I went, heart full of rage, to the Committee of Inspectors; there I found my husband’s former office boy; he well recognized me: he had often come to our house to bring papers to my Philippe. I asked him for paper and ink; he refused my request; he saw well that that I wanted to do something imprudent. He prayed me not to write; those wretches, he said, would have me put back in prison; he begged me to do nothing.

                Seeing that he did not want to give me what I asked, I took a men and a piece of paper that I found on the desk. There, with a pin and the pen, I made a large jab [in my flesh] and I wrote with my blood to President Rovert that if someone had claimed what was due to my husband, I would not ask assistance from his assassins; I signed: “Widow Le Bas.”

                I had hardly had this note handed in when I say that wretched Rovert come out of the shadows and cry: “I order that woman arrested.”

                “Well then! I scoff at you!”

                “Let her be led to prison.”

                Those poor people, seeing a widow with a young child of barely ten months, did not know what to do. At the moment when they decided to arrest me, my husband’s friend, of whom I spoke above, entered and recognized me.

                “What! It’s you!” he said.

                He went before the Committee and explained my note. My defender told them: “I’m the one who caused this; the Widow Le Bas did not want to ask anything; I addressed this request without her knowledge.” The other was furious and wanted nothing of it. My friend told me to retire; he was going to arrange everything, and he would go see me.

                I retired at last, but death in my soul, and I heard no more talk of anything, neither of what was due to my husband, nor of the assistance that those monsters wanted to make me accept to dishonor me. But, if I was young, I knew how to be proud of the name I bore.

                The same friend came to see me and express all his regrets at what he had done to me, saying that he had done it for good reasons, not thinking that I would be offered assistance, but only what was due to me: “If you want to prove to me,” he said, “that you are no longer angry with me, accept my purse.” I thanked him profusely and I replied that, if I was in need, I would address myself to no other than him. He seemed happy at this response, and saw that I was indeed proud, and that I had character, and that I wanted to be dependent on no one but myself.




                Saint-Just stayed in the Rue Gaillon, close to Saint-Roch, in a furnished hotel; it was from there that we departed for the army.


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                To speak of General Burnouf: he conducted himself quite badly with me after the death of my Philippe. That man owed him his life. He and General Jourdan found themselves compromised in an affair which was a matter of nothing less than life and death. Le Bas, Saint-Just, Robespierre, and other patriotic deputies saw well that it was a betrayal, that they were innocent; but above all they needed to be hidden from their denouncers.

                Le Bas hid Burnouf for forty-eight hours, and Saint-Just hid General Burnouf with one of his friends.

                These good friends passed two days in the General Committee defending them and demonstrating their innocence. It was proved that some sought already to attack the true friends of the patrie, and it was recognized later that it was the same traitors who conspired underhandedly against the friends of the Republic: it was Tallien, Fouché, Rovert, Bourdon de l’Oise, Collot d’Herbois, Varennes [Billaud-Varenne]……


*              *              *


                My husband had a dog named Schillichem, of a German breed; he only returned three days after the death of his master; he was panting, his tongue hanging out; that poor beast had passed that time on his master’s tomb.


*              *              *


Note on a Work Treating the Revolution

(Death of the Conventionnel Le Bas.[2])


                There are great faults in this work. Why use the word “cadaver”? His body was borne by two gendarmes, I believe, to Saint-Paul; my son has his certificate of burial. He was not cast into the common grave with his friends.

                He knew how to die for the patrie; he could only have died with the martyrs of liberty! He left me a mother and a widow at twenty-one and a half years. I bless heaven for having taken him from me that day; he is the dearer to me for it.

                They dragged me from prison to prison with my young son of six weeks; there is no suffering they did not make me endure. The monsters believed they could intimidate me; I made them see that they would not succeed; the more they did to me, the more I made them see that I was happy to suffer; I love liberty; the blood the runs in my veins, at seventy years old, is the blood of a republican. I have never repudiated the name, so dear to my heart, that it is my glory to bear.


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                Yes, I was quite unhappy upon leaving the prison where I had stayed eight months….. I found myself alone, without resources, with my young child; my entire family in irons….. You are mistaken about my father: he was not condemned to death, as you say; he was acquitted by the Revolutionary Tribunal. My poor mother was strangled by atrocious monsters. My father and mother were incarcerated at Plessis, Rue Saint-Jacques.       

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                Yes, I preferred to go take in wash on a boat rather than ask assistance of our poor friends’ assassins. I feared neither death nor persecution. I was not the one who repudiated my name; it pains me to say it, but Mlle Robespierre was the one who took her mother’s name, Charlotte Carreau [Carrault]. I pray you to rectify all these errors; one must tell the truth when one is writing history.

                If you had been informed of my residence, I would have been eager to tell you the truth. The good that you say of our martyrs is not too charged: they were the true friends of liberty; they lived only for the people, for their patrie; but some monsters, in one day, destroyed everything; in one day they assassinated liberty. Yes, monsieur, a republican like you would have been happy to know those men, so virtuous on all accounts; they all died poor.


*              *              *


                Robespierre had a dreadful impression of the vote of the Duc d’Orléans: “What,” he said, “when he could have recused himself so easily!” That man, who was profoundly immoral and so desirous of becoming king, had dispensed the greater part of his fortune to succeed in this aim: Mirabeau, Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Collot d’Herbois, Billaud-Varennes [sic], and many others as contemptible as they, gained from his corrupting prodigality.


(In the margin, in pencil, it reads:)

                When Camille Desmoulins married, the Duc d’Orléans furnished him an apartment in the Rue de l’Odéon.


*              *              *


Details on our Residence and on our Interior:


                A large porte cochère. Two boutiques, one on each side, occupied the one by a jeweler and the other by a restaurateur. In front, only one floor, occupied by Robespierre’s sister and younger brother. The entrance to this apartment opened to the left, on a large staircase; in the courtyard, two hangars, one for the works, another for the wood; to the right of the courtyard, a little garden of twenty feet square; in the middle, something like a bed of lowers, where each of the children had his little corner.

                Upon entering, a dining room, behind that a kitchen with a view of the garden of the nuns of the Conception, from whom my father rented. It was in that convent that my sisters and I had our first communion.

                To the right of the dining room, a salon lit by a window giving onto the little garden; to the left of the salon, a little office, with a view of the cabin of the gardener of the convent of the Conception. In the dining room, a little wooden staircase leading to the apartments; to the right was my mother’s bedchamber, lit by two windows; to the right of that room, and attached to it, was a little powder room, which one crossed to enter Maximilien’s modest chamber.

                It had only one window, a chimney; its furnishings were the world’s simplest: a walnut bed; bed curtains in blue damask with white flowers, which furnishing came from one of my mother’s dresses; a very modest desk; some straw-bottomed chairs; there was also a storage rack serving as a bookshelf. This room was lit by a window overlooking the hangars, so that Robespierre was constantly exposed to the sound of working, but without being troubled by it.

                Past Robespierre’s chamber, but a degree lower, were two little rooms, lit from the same side as that room, occupied the one by Simon Duplay, my cousin, who lost a leg on the battlefield of Valmy, the other by my brother Maurice, a young schoolboy of fourteen years. The second little chamber gave onto Mlle Robespierre’s grand staircase, and thus rejoined the rest of the house.


*              *              *


                Robespierre sent Le Bas on mission with Saint-Just because he knew Le Bas to be calm and just, however ardent, and capable of moderating Saint-Just, whose vehement and passionate character would have at times been harmful to the interests of the Patrie.


*              *              *


                Robespierre believed in the Supreme Being and in the immortality of the soul. How many times he scolded me when I did not seem to believe with the same fervor as he! He said to me: “You are greatly mistaken! You will be unhappy not to believe; you are still quite young, Élisabeth! Consider that it is the only consolation on earth!”


*              *              *


Duplay Family.


                We were five children: four daughters, Éléonore, Sophie, Victoire, Élisabeth; one brother named Maurice: he was the youngest of the family. My eldest sister was promised to Robespierre; my sister Sophie married M. Auzat, lawyer in Issoire, in Auvergne, under the Constituent; my sister Victoire never married. I married Philippe Le Bas.

[1] Le Bas committed suicide some hours later. (V. p. 292).

[2] This note was written, by Mme Le Bas, some years before her death; it seems to be an outline for a response to the continuous allegations at the end of Tome IV of the Histoire des Girondins.

Tags: books, le bas philippe, le bas élisabeth, robespierre maximilien, saint-just louis antoine, the duplay family, translations

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