Le discours radical en Grande-Bretagne (1768-1789): réformisme anglais ou sortilège à la française?

Tous les 4 novembre, la Revolution Society, une société patriotique de Londres, célèbre la ‘Glorieuse Révolution’ anglaise de 1688, porteuse de liberté religieuse et politique. En 1789, le pasteur Richard Price modifie cette célébration purement anglaise en incorporant à son sermon un éloge vibrant de la Révolution française, couronnement selon lui de la Révolution américaine de 1776 et annonciatrice de paix universelle. Ce sermon mémorable constitue la première prise de parole publique en faveur de la Révolution française en Angleterre et y provoque une immense controverse.

Regardons un instant la caricature de William Dent, brillante illustration du réquisitoire d’Edmund Burke contre le fameux dîner mais que Dent applique à une autre célébration, celle du 14 juillet 1791 à Londres. Quatre hommes dansent autour d’un chaudron, tels les sorcières de Macbeth. Leurs paroles, calquées sur le texte de Shakespeare, annoncent la subversion des institutions et des valeurs. Ils attendent avec impatience de niveler les conditions sociales, mais aussi de s’enrichir grâce au trafic des assignats:

‘Around! around in Chaotic Dance,
We step to tune of free-made France;
And when the Hurly-burly’s done,
And all Ranks confounded in One;
Oh! how we will Sing and Caper,
If Cash we can make with Paper.’

‘Revolution Anniversary or, Patriotic Incantations’, print by William Dent (1791). ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

La monarchie et les corps constitués sont distillés dans ‘l’esprit français’ (à la fois alcool et idéologie enivrante), la couronne renversée annonce la chute de la monarchie britannique. La caricature croque la fine fleur de l’opposition ‘radicale’. On reconnaît Joseph Priestley à son habit de pasteur ainsi que Charles James Fox, bedonnant et hirsute, tribun whig et éternel ennemi du premier ministre Pitt. Un autre pasteur, Joseph Towers, et le dramaturge Richard Brinsley Sheridan les accompagnent: pas des sans-culottes donc, mais un aristocrate, des bourgeois, des hommes de lettres. Priestley tient à la main le pamphlet de Tom Paine sur les droits de l’homme, tandis que les tableaux renvoient à des épisodes traumatiques de l’histoire anglaise, au ‘fanatisme’ et au ‘républicanisme’. Si la caricature renvoie au contexte de la Révolution française, elle est aussi une dissection visuelle du discours radical qui se répand depuis la fin des années 1760 et se fonde à la fois sur les droits de l’homme et sur l’histoire anglaise.

Les radicaux dénoncent l’influence exorbitante de la Couronne et de l’exécutif, le caractère oligarchique et non-représentatif des Communes, la corruption endémique. Ce réformisme parfois modéré explose sous le coup de la Révolution française, d’un nouveau ‘jacobinisme’ anglais et de la réaction conservatrice.

Dans mon livre Le Discours radical en Grande-Bretagne, 1768-1789, j’examine les points communs et les différences entre les divers tenants du ‘radicalisme’ pour montrer que l’unité de ce discours, réformateur et soi-disant loyal mais aux accents parfois révolutionnaires, tient au recours à la tradition historique anglaise combiné à l’appel aux droits de l’homme et à un universalisme des Lumières.

– Rémy Duthille

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Apocalypse then

The Contrast.

‘The Contrast, 1793…’ , engraving by Rowlandson, following Lord George Murphy (1793, pub. by S.W. Fores, London). Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF.

The concepts of ‘crisis’ and ‘apocalypse’ have reappeared rather abruptly on our secularized horizons, yet they have never been completely absent: merely, one could argue, in retreat from our prevailing belief in ‘progress’. From meditations on a ‘last man’ in Victorian England to Günther Anders’ writings on the nuclear threat in the 1950s, from eighteenth-century literature on ruins to ISIS today, these themes seem to be inextricably bound up with Modernity and our experience of it.

Crisis, extremes and apocalypse’ is a new research network at the University of Oxford that seeks to shed light on and engage with themes that are more timely than ever. Indeed, these themes have a long history and include events from the French Revolutionary period. After hosting a workshop on ‘Rousseau, Freedom and the French Revolution’ in March, in April the network welcomed Marisa Linton from the University of Kingston to discuss the French Revolution and the ‘politics’ and ‘language’ of virtue in a talk on ‘Robespierre and the politician’s terror’. The Revolutionary era’s diffusion of power and obsession with transparency led all political members to fashion themselves as men of virtue.

Marisa Linton.

Marisa Linton.

As Camille Desmoulins boasted on 14 December 1793 to the Jacobin Club: ‘I was always the first to denounce my own friends; from the moment that I realized that they were conducting themselves badly, I resisted the most dazzling offers and I stifled the voice of friendship that their great talents had inspired in me.’ (Original French: François Aulard, ed., La Société des Jacobins: recueil des documents pour l’histoire de club des Jacobins, 6 vols, Paris, 1889-1897, vol.5, p.559.)

This pursuit of a ‘Republic of virtue’ thus compelled all political members to give constant performances of virtue that threatened to spiral out of control and into violence at any moment: every action was scrutinized and could be interpreted as suspicious, leading to a pervasive fear.

The network will be hosting Marisa Linton once again in late autumn 2017, alongside Olivier Tonneau and Sophie Wahnich, for a workshop on Saint-Just. Visit the network’s homepage or our Facebook page for updates!

– Audrey Borowski

An overview of Marisa Linton’s spring talk

Robespierre cartoon.

‘Robespierre guillotinant le boureau après avoir fait guillot.r. tous les Français… : cy gyt toute la France’, engraving, [Hercy ?], (1794, s.n., Paris[?]). Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF.

Over 220 years since his death, Maximilien Robespierre continues to generate controversy over his role in the traumatic events of the French Revolutionary period known as the ‘Terror’ (1793-1794). Historians have repeatedly sought in Robespierre’s personality and motivation an explanation of the Terror. Marisa Linton argues that such interpretations can offer only a limited understanding: in order to comprehend both Robespierre and the Terror, we need to place his actions within the wider context of Revolutionary politics in the National Convention, paying close attention to the atmosphere in which politics were conducted. Most importantly, we need to take into account the extent to which political choices during the Terror were influenced by intense emotions on the part of the Conventionnels themselves – above all, the emotion of fear.

Marisa Linton uses ‘the politicians’ terror’, a term she first identified and used in her book Choosing terror: virtue, friendship and authenticity in the French Revolution (OUP, 2013), to throw new light both on Robespierre’s role in the Terror, and on the nature of the Terror itself. The politicians’ terror was the form of terror that Revolutionary leaders meted out to one another. The Revolutionary leaders were themselves ‘subject to terror’. This took two forms. Firstly, Revolutionary leaders were liable to arrest under the laws that enabled terror, as successive laws removed their parliamentary immunity and criminalised the ‘wrong’ political opinions. Secondly, they were subject to the emotion of terror. From the outset of the Revolution there was an expectation that Revolutionary politicians should be able to demonstrate authentic political morality (virtue). During the heightened atmosphere of 1793-1794, and against the backdrop of fears that France faced military defeat, any failure of Revolutionary politicians to demonstrate their political virtue could be seen as an indication that they were secret conspirators, motivated by financial and political corruption, and in league with the royalists and foreign powers to undermine the Revolution from within.

Marisa Linton then gave an extended account of the politicians’ terror, before going on to examine its role in one of the most iconic events of the Revolution – the arrest, trial and execution of Georges Danton and his group, the Dantonists, which took place just months before the fall of Robespierre himself. Listen to the full podcast of Marisa Linton’s talk, and look out for the workshop on Saint-Just.

 

Hunting in the shadows of the French Revolution

ose-2016-10-50pcResearching prints of the French Revolution can sometimes feel like ghost-hunting.

Unlike other forms of art, such as paintings, which are usually signed, the majority of etchings are authorless. Sometimes, sheer luck, or the right accumulation of clues, can lead you to an artist – a most satisfying conclusion.

This was the case with ‘Dupuis, peintre’, an artist commissioned twice by the Comité de Salut Public to create prints central to my book, Satire, prints and theatricality in the French Revolution. His identity evaded me for several years. I had several candidates for him, and my original thesis, the basis of my book, included this footnote:

Chûte en masse: ainsi l'étincelle electrique de la liberté, renversera tous les trônes des brigands couronnés (François Marie Isidore Queverdo).

‘Chûte en masse: ainsi l’étincelle electrique de la liberté, renversera tous les trônes des brigands couronnés’, by François Marie Isidore Queverdo (Stanford University Libraries).

‘The identity of Dupuis remains mysterious. He could be issued from an illustrious family of engravers, including Charles and Nicolas-Gabriel Dupuis. He could also be related to the painter Pierre Depuis. Yet again, he could be François-Nicolas Dupuis who exhibited at the Salon from 1795 to 1802. It is probably a coincidence that he is related by name to the scientist Charles François Dupuy, a deputy whose interests were more astronomical and sociological than artistic. The lack of a first name suggests that he was only known as Dupuis, which could be a nickname or a deformation of his original name. Without clear evidence on this matter, there is only speculation. Regardless, he is described as a painter, and that he was trained academically is apparent in the depiction of the Republican in the print “Chûte en Masse” with his anatomically precise legs, as if he’d been first sketched naked before clothes were added.’

trevien_fig1_new

‘Je suis comme le temps au gagne petit’, 1789-1792; etching and engraving on light blue paper, hand-coloured in watercolour and bodycolour; 260 × 185mm; Waddesdon Manor, Rothschild Collection (National Trust), bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957; accession number 4232.1.62.123. Photo: Imaging Services Bodleian Library © National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

I had however missed a crucial clue in the Comité de Salut Public documents: his physical address, ‘rue d’Orleans, porte St Martin’, which corresponds to the address of Pépin Dupuis, a genre painter who exhibited at the Salon of 1793.[1]

One ghost satisfyingly identified in time for the publication of my book.

There are also more literal ghosts to be found in prints of the French Revolution. In particular, a trend towards ‘hiding’ the profiles of the deceased in prints. A practice we, as twenty-first century viewers, have to train ourselves to look for, but which were quite the trend from the Terror onwards.

If you want to see one example of this, watch this video about Waddesdon Manor’s collection of French Revolutionary prints.

– Claire Trévien

[1] See the Comité de salut public: esprit public, arts, caricatures, costume national. 1793 an III, AF II 66 489 EXTRAIT 1 (ancien dossier 232), Fol.29 (24 June 1794); Description des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture et gravures, exposés au salon du Louvre (Paris : Imprimerie de la veuve Hérissant, 1793), p.87.

Patterns of trauma in post-revolutionary France

As this year’s recipient of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Travelling Award,[1] I was able to extend my stay in the French city of La Rochelle for three weeks of study in their departmental and municipal archives in March of 2015. My research concerned the emotional experience and aftermath of the Revolution there, and specifically the patterns of trauma and emotional reconstruction that took place in the city during the Directory era (1795-1799).

Located just south of the Vendée region, La Rochelle occupied a strategic place. Though initially receptive to the Revolution, especially its early reforms of religion and trade, republican feeling would cool amongst the inhabitants of this largely Protestant city as the Terror took a more radical turn. Serial incidents of physical violence, a profound change to the power relationship between citizens and municipal and national authorities, and material deprivation combined to exert a powerful trauma on the popular psyche. Despite this the city would continue to form a base from which much of the retribution against royalist rebels in staunchly Catholic Vendée was planned and executed, and came to represent a real frontier for the Revolution.

Donald M. Greer, the famous statistician of the notorious Reign of Terror that took place in 1793-1794 bemoaned as early as 1936 that ‘statistics do not, cannot, tell all. Their findings are dark and abstract; they enable us to study only one plane of life, the external and the rational; they give us no glimpse of psychology, no hint of the emotional density and amplitude of moving events’.[2]

Noyades dans la Loire, par ordre du fŽroce Carrier: les 6 et 7

Noyades dans la Loire, par ordre du féroce Carrier: les 6 et 7 décembre 1793, ou 5 et 6 frimaire an 2ème de la République. Duplessis-Bertaux, Pierre-Gabriel Berthault – 1802. BnF.

It is indeed difficult to believe that the extreme physical and ideological warfare waged all over France, which heralded a whole new era of political, social and economic organisation, did not leave a profound psychological mark. Yet whether trauma – and particularly the modern, medicalised concept of post-traumatic stress disorder – can be applied retrospectively by the historian is the subject of wide and well-documented debate.[3]

In my analysis of letters, judicial records and confiscated materials from the years 1795-1799 in La Rochelle, I was able to unearth a distinct narrative of revolutionary trauma, and grapple with the mixed and often contradictory patterns of personal and civic emotional reconstruction that took place in its wake.

One manifestation of the trauma experienced during that period was the peculiar ‘sickness of the Vendée’, a vague part-physical, part-psychological condition that was thought to result directly from the atrocities of war, which became endemic amongst soldiers during the Republican government’s brutal scorched-earth campaign in the region.

Also of particular interest was the bulging cache of confiscated anti-revolutionary documents which deftly manipulated common revolutionary memories to invoke or play on a sense of fear, anxiety or guilt in the reader.

Un sans-culotte instrument de crimes dansant au milieu des horre

‘Un sans-culotte instrument de crimes dansant au milieu des horreurs…’ / Artist unknown; between 1793 and 1795. BnF.

Finally, the curious case of Joseph Darbelet – a murderous local sans-culotte who, in the post-Revolutionary period, was put on trial, imprisoned and then released – provides a fascinating case study into the dysfunctional, swinging extremes of apathy and reactionary vigilantism that came to characterise the justice system during the Directory era in La Rochelle.

The research, both archival and secondary, that I undertook for my short thesis only skims the surface of a rich and quickly developing new field of historical enquiry. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to BSECS and the Besterman Centre for the Enlightenment for their support of my project.

– Emily Honey

[1] See the fourth entry in the ‘Postgraduate and early career scholars’ category.

[2] D. Greer, The Incidence of the Terror during the French Revolution (Cambridge, 1935).

[3] See for instance R. Steinberg, ‘Trauma before trauma: imagining the effects of the Terror in post-Revolutionary France’, in Studies in Voltaire and the eighteenth century 2013:5; D. Fassin & R. Rechtman, The Empire of trauma: an enquiry into the condition of victimhood (Princeton, 2009); P. Higonet, ‘Terror, trauma and the “young Marx” explanation of Jacobin politics’, in Past and Present 2006:191; D. Jenson, Trauma and its Representations: The Social Life of Mimesis in Post-revolutionary France (Baltimore, 2001).

Rehabilitating Marie-Antoinette’s favourite: the princesse de Lamballe

Open any book on the reign of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette or the French Revolution and the reader will invariably find one or two sentences recounting the grisly manner of the princesse de Lamballe’s death during the September massacres.

Print by Verité after a 1782 portrait by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) (print published after 1792). Credit: Gallica / BnF.

Print by Verité after a 1782 portrait by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) (print published after 1792). Credit: Gallica / BnF.

Marie-Thérèse Louise de Savoie-Carignan, the princesse de Lamballe (1749-1792), once a central figure of Marie-Antoinette’s court, is today largely forgotten, reduced to a fittingly sensational anecdote illustrating the bloodshed that ensued in Paris during the last turbulent years of the eighteenth century. The princess’s true character and activities have long been lost in the mawkish narratives peddled by the wave of nineteenth-century biographies that succeeded her death. This sentimental revival of interest in her person was closely interwoven with the propaganda that attended the royalist cult of Marie-Antoinette and has coloured all subsequent interpretations.

My research focuses on the portraiture and patronage of the princesse, and through an examination of the many portraits the princess sat for and her role as patron and collector, I hope to redress these longstanding lacunae and recover something of her former influence and contribution. An accomplished noble amateur, traveller, bibliophile, freemason, salonnière, patron and collector, not to mention the highest ranking courtier in the queen’s household, Lamballe presents an ideal case study, particularly as her widowed, childless, professional and independent status presents a rare alternative to the more orthodox paradigms within her milieu.

The princesse de Lamballe’s chaumière at Rambouillet. Photograph by Sarah Grant.

The princesse de Lamballe’s chaumière at Rambouillet. Photograph by Sarah Grant.

In determining the governing ideologies in the princess’s iconographical programme and by tracing the mechanics of her engagement with different groups of artists and craftsmen, I hope to identify a wider range of motives and cultural meaning than has previously been ascribed to female court portraiture and patronage of this period and to cast further light on the taste of her mistress, Marie-Antoinette.

Thanks to the Voltaire Foundation Travel Grant/BSECS Travelling Award I was able to travel to Paris to visit archives, libraries and critical sites pertaining to the princess. Among these were Rambouillet and the Parc Monceau. English gardens were perhaps the most expansive example of Lamballe’s patronage, and she was almost certainly influenced in this taste by the example of her brother-in-law, the duc de Chartres, with his English gardens at the château de Raincy and Monceau.

2_ParcMonceau_small

The colonnade at the Parc Monceau. Photograph by Sarah Grant.

In 1779-1780 Lamballe’s father-in-law, the duc de Penthièvre, commissioned a jardin anglais for her in the grounds at Rambouillet, his birthplace and favourite residence, at an easy distance from Paris where the princess frequently joined him when released from her duties in the city or at court. This new endeavour took its cue from, and overlapped with, the planning of her mistress and friend Marie-Antoinette’s jardin anglo-chinois in the grounds of the Petit Trianon created between 1777-1781.

– Sarah Grant

Eighteenth-century violence… redux

Representing violence in France, 1760-1820

Representing violence in France, 1760-1820 (Voltaire Foundation)

Talleyrand may have claimed that anyone born after 1789 would never know the ‘douceur de vivre’, but his peachy vision of the eighteenth century has long gone. Violence lurks everywhere in the period – how could it not in an age of vast inequalities?

The century ends, of course, with the bloodletting of Robespierre and Sade’s writing, but even from the first couple of decades the French recognised the thrill and lure of violence. Crébillon père aimed to renew tragedy through an emphasis on visceral savagery, and displayed a particular liking for the theme of infanticide. His son the novelist must have been bemused. In the book I have recently edited, Representing violence in France 1760-1820, contributors delve deep into a range of literary, historical and political sources to analyse the insidious and terrifying nature of violence.

Execution of Louis XVI (artist unknown; public domain image)

Execution of Louis XVI (artist unknown; public domain image)

Violence does not need to be this dazzling – indeed, it is at its most disturbing in its sudden irruption in a moment of calm. Look how Arlequin lunges out of the darkness towards Colombine in Watteau’s Voulez-vous triompher des belles?  No wonder she rapidly covers her bosom when faced not just by that strange mask and that delicate but insistent hand, but by a man who is sliced in two at the middle, as if his desire has sundered him.

Recent fiction has shown little interest for the refined delights of the eighteenth century. Instead, bones and corpses are exhumed, with the resultant miasma seemingly provoking violence and madness in Andrew Miller’s Pure (2011). And all manner of animal and human flesh is eaten in Jonathan Grimwood’s The Last Banquet (2013), which concludes just before the narrator knows what it feels like to be cat food…

–Thomas Wynn

Vive la Révolution – encore, et toujours?

Folie-titon_10Revolution is one of the great stories of modernity. Much of the last two centuries has been taken up with politics that revolves around revolution – whether it is good, or bad; whether, indeed, it is inevitable and structural, or only ever the fruit of conspiracy and meddling in the natural order of society. A generation ago, the question seemed resolved in the rather paradoxical revolutions against Revolution that ended the reign of Soviet communism – ‘velvet’ revolutions that (mostly) rejected violence in favour of simply performing the redundancy of the supposedly guiding organs of Party and State. But in the decades since, the revolutionary script has been returned to time and again: from Ukraine and Georgia to Lebanon, and even Iceland, politicians and media have placed the ‘revolution’ label on a wide range of upheavals.

In the past few years, revolution has of course taken on once more a harder, bloodier edge: the ‘Arab Spring’ has ranged from relatively peaceful regime-collapse in Tunisia, to violent but ultimately negotiated confrontation in Egypt, armed insurrection in Libya, and now full-blown civil war in Syria. While the latter conflicts have tragically crossed from the political into the military domain, Egypt has been noticeable for the extent to which the ‘script’ of revolution has replayed classic tropes of hope and disillusioncharge and counter-charge, and disquieting returns to the notion that revolutionary virtue should trump constitutional process.

What is most remarkable for historians viewing this is how closely it echoes the experience of the ‘original’ modern revolution of 1789. The mythic story of revolution is one of a volcanic eruption of discontent, erasing the old order, cleansing society and leaving the way clear for a fresh start. But the historical experience of revolution has often been of years of turbulence and trauma.

Andress-bookcoverIn our new volume, Experiencing the French Revolution, we explore some of the many dimensions of what it meant to live through such times – whether as a consummate political survivor like Jean-Lambert Tallien, or one of the committed Jacobin leaders whose idealism carried them to mutual extermination; whether as a common soldier caught in the gears of ‘revolutionised’ military justice, or a low-ranking official similarly entangled with the dreaded Revolutionary Tribunal. We examine how rhetorics, and realities, of civic sentiment and material generosity became fuel for allegations and extortions, and how ‘Terror’ ingrained itself in the psyche of a generation, with long-lasting, if sometimes unpredictable, effects. We also see how revolution remained a bearer of ideals that expanded beyond the boundaries of France, embracing traditions of liberty in other nations, and carrying the threat of overthrow to oligarchies even in the British Isles.

As 14 July comes round again, and as other nations wrestle to understand what it means to experience revolutionary change, the French Revolution, and the entirely unexpected consequences of its historic leap into the dark, will continue to resonate, perhaps long into the future.

– David Andress