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History’s Little Jokes


Nos. 4-6-8 Cour de Commerce, Paris

During the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat was one of its most vicious and successful propagandists. His radical newspaper L’Ami du Peuple (Friend of the People), advocated terror against counterrevolutionaries. He once wrote, condemning the more conservative revolutionaries for their reluctance to engage in mass murder:

Five or six hundred heads would have guaranteed your freedom and happiness but a false humanity has restrained your arms and stopped your blows. If you don’t strike now, millions of your brothers will die, your enemies will triumph and your blood will flood the streets. They’ll slit your throats without mercy and disembowel your wives. And their bloody hands will rip out your children’s entrails to erase your love of liberty forever.

Later he wrote:

At the outbreak of the Revolution, wearied by the persecutions that I had experienced for so long a time at the hands of the Academy of Sciences, I eagerly embraced the occasion that presented itself of defeating my oppressors and attaining my proper position. I came to the Revolution with my ideas already formed, and I was so familiar with the principles of high politics that they had become commonplaces for me. Having had greater confidence in the mock patriots of the Constituent Assembly than they deserved, I was surprised at their pettiness, their lack of virtue. Believing that they needed light, I entered into correspondence with the most famous deputies, notably with Chapelier, Mirabeau, and Barnave. Their stubborn silence on all my letters soon proved to me that though they needed light, they cared little to be enlightened. I adopted the course of publishing my ideas by means of the press. I founded the Ami du Peuple. I began it with a severe but honest tone, that of a man who wishes to tell the truth without breaking the conventions of society. I maintained that tone for two whole months. Disappointed in finding that it did not produce the entire effect that I had expected, and indignant that the boldness of the unfaithful representatives of the people and of the lying public officials was steadily increasing, I felt that it was necessary to renounce moderation and to substitute satire and irony for simple censure. The bitterness of the satire increased with the number of mismanagements, the iniquity of their projects and the public misfortunes. Strongly convinced of the absolute perversity of the supporters of the old regime and the enemies of liberty, I felt that nothing could be obtained from them except by force. Revolted by their attempts, by their ever-recurrent plots, I realized that no end would be put to these except by exterminating the ones guilty of them. [Emphasis mine — RD] Outraged at seeing the representatives of the nation in league with its deadliest enemies and the laws serving only to tyrannize over the innocent whom they ought to have protected, I recalled to the sovereign people that since they had nothing more to expect from their representatives, it behooved them to mete out justice for themselves. This was done several times.

Today, you can see the building where Marat published his deadly left-wing newspaper, demanding death for all enemies of the revolution. The site is now occupied by a fancy olive oil shop (far right, above); next door, on the left, is a luxury chocolates shop. Ah, history…

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "History’s Little Jokes"

#1 Comment By Sam M On November 2, 2012 @ 11:56 am

I don’t know much French, but it would appear that the joke would be even more complete if the chocolate shop were called “manque” instead of “manche.”

#2 Comment By Tyro On November 2, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

Also ironic: Marat’s assassin, Charlotte Corday, justified what she had done by explaining, “I killed one man to save 100,000.”

#3 Comment By Roland de Chanson On November 2, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

Sam M, it’s [2]

Though I will admit that when I saw the sign, I thought they were selling bottled English Channel water. 🙂

#4 Comment By Roland de Chanson On November 2, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

A pleasant and safe trip home to all the Drehers. Thanks for the always interesting posts, Rod.

#5 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 3, 2012 @ 10:50 pm

When one IS surrounded by well-armed and well connected conspiracies, which are interwoven with one’s own population, it becomes difficult to keep a cool head and carefully sort out the wheat from the chaff. I’ve read A Tale of Two Cities and I don’t doubt that Dickens get the scenario largely right. The heir to the estate of the bloody tyrant was a true friend of the revolution, the woman charged with “plots” was innocent, and venal characters ALWAYS use such situations to settle old scores with false accusations.

But there were real dangers, as well as imagined threats. During our own war of independence, both patriots and tories indulged vicious retaliation against each other, often homicidal, but the population was thinner, more spread out, and the political situation more fluid on the one hand, but more removed from the royal power(s) of concern.