Of pamphlets and stories

One of the subtle joys of working with a collection of such magnitude is the unexpected treat at uncovering a hidden story.  Laying aside the pamphlets that are, explicitly, fiction or drama (such as a French adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, with, of all things, a happy ending), looking at several pamphlets in a row can provide glimpses into the cause-and-effect of the time period. Some of these stories are well known historical event concerning major players during the period: pamphlets concerning the trial and execution of Louis XVI, Robespierre, or any number of big name figures.  Other pamphlets tell famous stories about lesser figures, such as the adultery trial of Beaumarchais.

Occasionally, the story gleaned from a series of pamphlets is one concerning normal, everyday people. It makes this an interesting collection to peruse: even as the historical study of the French Revolution emphasizes the actions and reactions of ordinary people (Such as Schama’s Citizens: a chronicle of the French Revolution), the stories of specific individuals are frequently lost.   The vast number of primary source documents in this collection presents a fascinating look into these stories.

Frequently, multiple pamphlets by the same author allow one to track the impact of earlier pamphlets by examining the later ones. There are several examples in the collection of a member of the clergy speaking out against the dechristianization of France, followed by a pamphlet by the same individual complaining about the social or legal repercussions of their previous pamphlet. Frequently, the argument in the second pamphlet takes the form of “I should not be on trial for the contents of my previous pamphlet, because yes, I said that the current government was illegitimate and yes I stated that we should restore the monarchy and the influence of the Catholic Church, which is what we should do, but I totally didn’t mean it.”

Occasionally, we end up with a long series of pamphlets about an obscure figure. For me, this is one of the more exciting aspects of the project. A great example of this phenomenon is the series of pamphlets dealing with the trials of Jean-François Lieutaud.  Beginning with Case FRC 21370 and continuing for 25 pamphlets, ending with Case FRC 21396 (there are two unrelated interpolations by a M. Lieutard Case FRC 21375 and Case FRC 21390) Lieutaud explicates his legal woes and declaims his accusers. Lieutaud was the commanding officer of the Garde nationale de Marseille, who very quickly was denounced and imprisoned, ostensibly for abusing his position and possibly fomenting a counterrevolution. If Lieutaud’s pamphlets are to be believed, the charges against him were repeatedly dropped due to a lack of evidence, but despite this he remained imprisoned.  Compounding the issue is an apocryphal pamphlet claiming to be his confession, as well as, after Lieutaud’s final vindication, an ordinance passed by the city of Marseille explicitly forbidding colporteurs from announcing his acquittal (Case FRC 21391).

References to Lieutaud’s legal troubles are not limited to the pamphlets he authored. The picture painted by these other writers is significantly more negative (see Case FRC 22714). Given the massive quantity of pamphlets authored by Lieutaud, and the huge discrepancy between the content of Lieutaud’s pamphlets and those of his detractors, getting an accurate picture of the events would require some fairly interesting research. The discussions surrounding Lieutaud’s imprisonment were apparently widespread enough that even Mirabeau (or an author posing as Mirabeau) felt the need to comment on the matter (Case FRC 22585).

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