Tag Archives: French Revolution

Louis XVI on the cross

Here is one of the more arresting images I’ve come across in the French Revolution Collection (FRC): an engraving of Louis XVI being crucified between the clergy and the nobility.

Case FRC 27792

This messianic image accompanies the pamphlet La passion et la mort de Louis XVI, roi des juifs et des chretiens (Case FRC 27792 and Case FRC 22313).  The attribution to Jacques baron de Menou (1750-1810) on page 6 is fictitious, as is the place of publication: certainly not Jerusalem; most likely Paris.

Guy Thuillier recently published a brief discussion and a modern edition of the pamphlet, which is available through JSTOR (Guy Thuillier, “Un pamphlet de 1790 : La passion et la mort de Louis XVI, Roi des Juifs et des Chrétiens de Jean-François de Bourgoing,” La Revue administrative, 58e Année, No. 343 [January 2005], p. 18-24).  As Thuillier notes, the pamphlet is attributed to Bourgoing in Notice historique et généalogique sur la famille de Bourgoing by Georges de Soultrait (Lyon: Imprimerie de Louis Perrin, 1855) p. 34 [available via Gallica online].  Soultrait lays three other widely published writings  at the feet of Bourgoing: Domine salvum fac regem (1789), Pange lingua (1789), and Le cri de douleur, ou, la journee du 20 juin 1792.  All three of these — all of which are in FRC — are attributed by Martin & Walter to Jean-Gabriel Peltier.

Returning to the image, a very similar engraving — but colored and (assuming no inadvertent digital error) reversed — is held by the Musée Carnavalet in Paris, and available online via Bridgeman Art Library.

Louis XVI (1754-93) at his trial, crucified between the nobility and the clergy, c.1792 (coloured engraving), French School, (18th century) / Musée de la Ville de Paris, Musée Carnavalet, Paris, France / Archives Charmet / The Bridgeman Art Library

The magic lantern, la rareté merveilluse, fraai curieus!

Savoiardi colla Lanterna Magica, held by the British Museum (1890,0415.254)

If the language of cinema is universal, then one may say the same of the magic lantern show. The magic lantern, an early type of image projector, was a precursor to motion picture film projectors. Traveling magic lantern performers of the 18th and 19th centuries, also sometimes known as “Savoyards”, were a common sight in European cities. Often accompanied by an assistant who performed live music during the show, these performers projected hand-painted slides of popular tales in the darkened rooms of private homes using techniques borrowed from magic, pupeteering, and the theater.

One could also argue that political satire is universal. Both visual artists and pamphleteers of the 18th century co-opted the image of the magic lantern in acerbic works that satirized contemporary politics and culture. These often anonymous artists and authors acted, in a sense, as magic lantern projectionists and became the lens through which politics and society were examined and critiqued.

La Lanterne magique patriotique (Case FRC 17560)

Several pamphlets in the Newberry Library‘s French pamphlet collections are satires which build upon the theme and aesthetic of the magic lantern. One such example in the French Revolution Collection is La Lanterne magique patriotique, ou, Le Coup de grace de l’aristocratie by Antoine Dorfeuille (Case FRC 17560). Dorfeuille was a comedic actor, dramaturge, and revolutionary who was killed during counter-revolutionary violence in 1795 in the wake of the Reign of Terror. In this satire of the French aristocracy, Dorfeuille co-opts the language of the magic lantern showman to humorous effect.

Woodcut from La Lanterne magique patriotique (Case FRC 17560)

Included in this pamphlet is a crude woodcut of a magic lantern projecting an image of Lady Liberty. An English translation of the caption below the woodcut follows:

[Frenchmen, it's Lady Liberty!

"The print is very bad," the aristocracy will say;

"Yes, but the idea is good," Reason will say.]

Pasted in at p. 24 of this pamphlet is an expanded, alternate version of the text printed below it on Louis XVI and the aristocracy. This text pleads for the king to ignore the counsel of the coterie of aristocrats and diplomats, sometimes derisively called the comité autrichien (“Austrian Committee”), who surrounded him at court and harbored royalists sympathies that ran counter to many of the tenets of the French Revolution.

La Lanterne magique patriotique, p. 24 alternate text (Case FRC 17560)

[Do you see Louis XVI, who follows the cart on foot and seems to be pushing it along, all while the "Austrian Committee" throws rocks to impede his passage? Do you see the vertigo that overcomes him all of a sudden? ... Do you see the patriotism that awakens, that spurs ahead, that runs after him, that stops him, and that cries out to him, "Where are you going, monarch who has been led astray?" What better place is there than at the bosom of your people? ... Weak king, be brave; don't listen to bad counsel anymore, neither from  bad priests nor from your villainous wife: one little push and the machine will roll.]

The magic lantern also makes an appearance in the Pamfletten-Verzameling, a collection of mostly Dutch pamphlets at the Newberry that deal with the history of the Netherlands and this country’s relations with other European nations. Lanterne magique, of, Toverlantaern (F 46 .665 v. 26 no. 35) is a satirical Dutch periodical published in 20 issues in 1782 and 1783. It satirizes the politics of the day, including the strained relations between Great Britain and the Netherlands during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784), and makes many allusions to the newly formed United States, to which the Netherlands informally allied itself during the American Revolutionary War.

Lanterne magique, of, Toverlantaern (F 46 .655 v. 26 no. 35)

This periodical is written in the “Savoyard” language, or “Koeterwaals,” a comical gibberish mix of French and Dutch that was used by traveling magic lantern showmen from Wallonia. ( See media researcher Thomas Weynant’s Early Visual Media for translated excepts from the work of Dutch literary historian André Hanou on “Koeterwaals” and the relationship between satire, politics, and the magic lantern.)

It is not too late to experience an authentic magic lantern show. Magic lantern collector and performer Herman Bollaert has resurrected the art of the magic lantern show in Belgium, complete with “Koeterwaals,” in his live production, Magica Lanterna Galantee Show.

Judging a book by its cover

With support from the Florence Gould Foundation and the Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal Fund, the Newberry Library recently acquired a French pamphlet that is ostensibly a  duplicate copy of a pamphlet in the Library’s French Revolution Collection. But as Shawn’s previous post “‘Lecteur, prenez-garde’, or, Some duplicates do more than duplicate” indicates, a copy may have a rich history of usage specific only to that particular copy.

Procès-verbal de la Conféderation des François, a Paris (Case folio DC169.07 .P76 1790)

Issued in 1790, Procès-verbal de la Conféderation des François, a Paris (Case folio DC169.07 .P76 1790) contains proceedings, decrees, and letters dated July 10-24, 1790, regarding planned festivities for the Fête de la Féderation. This official festival was a series of celebrations throughout France in support of the new (but short-lived) constitutional monarchy. An official ceremony took place on July 14, 1790, the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, on the Champ de Mars (at the time just outside of Paris). During this ceremony,  King Louis XVI pledged his loyalty to the National Assembly and his commitment to upholding the Constitution (although not ratified until 1791) and the laws issued by this elected body.

Unlike the Newberry’s copy of these proceedings in its French Revolution Collection, which does not have a cover, the newly acquired copy of the Procès-verbal is bound in contemporary paper wrappers printed in the familiar red, white, and blue vertical stripes of the Tricolore, which was adopted as the national flag of France in 1790. The wrappers are printed using the technique known as papier peint, a printing technique of the period used for making wallpaper.

Cover of Procès-verbal de la Conféderation des François, a Paris (Case folio DC169.07 .P76 1790)

The name of the  intended recipient of this copy is handwritten on the paper label pasted to the front cover: A Monsieur, a Carbier, colonel de la garde nationale du district de Castres, departement du Tarn [To Mr. Carbier, colonel of the National Guard in the district of Castres, department of Tarn]. A cursory search for Colonel Carbier did not yield any additional information about this guardsman.

Materials bound in at the beginning of Procès-verbal de la Conféderation des François, a Paris (Case folio DC169.07 .P76 1790)

Pasted to the inside front cover is a notice to the members of the local National Guard units (akin to local militias) who participated in the festivities of the Fête de la Féderation. Also bound in at the beginning are a letter of transmittal signed by member of the Assemblée-Fédérative (responsible for the planning of the Fête) and a prospectus advertising the forthcoming Essai historique sur les gardes nationales, a history of the French National Guard by Pierre Vaqué, a colonel in the National Guard of Calonges and secretary of the Assemblée-Fédérative. This book appears never to have been published.

While the content of a primary source like this pamphlet is always important for scholarship, the provenance of source materials and the vestiges of how they were used at the time they were issued provide important contextual information and open new avenues of scholarly inquiry. The burn mark on the title page of this copy of the Procès-verbal further reveals that this pamphlet was indeed used and has its own stories to tell.

“Excusez l’état crasseux de ce mandement,” or, More ridicule from the margins

Last summer I wrote about a 1797 pamphlet covered in manuscript annotations taking the writer to task on issues of church and state.  Something similar from the dawn of the Revolution has just worked its way through the workflow.   Mandement de Monseigneur l’évêque de Périgueux, qui ordonne des prières publiques dans tout son diocese pendant la tenue des États généraux du royaume (Case folio FRC 26783) bears an apology on the cover:  “Excusez l’état crasseux de ce mandement.  Je le tiens d’un curé indecrassable”  (Excuse the execrable state of this mandement.  I think it’s written by an inexecrable prelate).

Case folio FRC 26783

The anonymous former reader/owner of the mandement has filled it with angry comments and rhetorical questions, numbered for your convenience.  Some of his concerns are spiritual, but just as often they are financial–after all, the Estates-General of 1789 were convened to address the realm’s dire financial problems.

Here are a few examples of the reader’s annotations.

"10. That's all well and good: but the deficit?" "11 But the deficit?" "12 So fathers are more pious than sons? Aeneas gives us an example of the contrary."

“15 A great vicar of Périgueux and secretary to the bishop died in 1777 with a fortune of more than 200000 that he earned trafficking in contraband tobacco”

Mixing and matching

Because our work is progressing so swiftly and efficiently on our French pamphlet collections, we have begun to catalog two additional collections at the Newberry, which up to this point had only been cataloged at the collection level.  The special strengths and backgrounds that our project team members bring to the table have allowed us both to maximize the efficiency of the project while maintaining an exceptional level of quality in our catalog records and to begin to process additional collections of scholarly importance that match their skill sets.

As both Jennifer D. and Shawn mentioned in previous posts below, they have begun to catalog the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC), a collection comprised mostly of Italian and French opera libretti from the 16th to the 20th centuries bequeathed to the Newberry in 1993 by noted musicologist Howard Mayer Brown.  As musicologists, they are the ideal candidates to catalog this collection, which complements the Newberry’s large music collections.  Just as with the French Revolution Collection (FRC) and the Saint-Sulpice Collection, Shawn and Jennifer submit their cataloging work for a peer review.  For BLC, however, they submit their work to each other rather than to other members of the project team.  Because of their music knowledge, they are very familiar with helpful bibliographies and other reference sources and are able to bounce ideas off each other.

Pamphlet from the Pamfletten-Verzameling (not yet cataloged)

Pamphlet from the Pamfletten-Verzameling (not yet cataloged)

The other collection that we recently added to our project is the Pamfletten-Verzameling, a collection of 1,600 primarily Dutch pamphlets published between 1574 and 1849 and bound into 45 volumes.  Most deal with the history of the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, and Scandinavia, and especially with the relations between the Netherlands and England in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The pamphlets published during the late 18th century in particular are an essential complement to the French Revolutionary pamphlets in FRC.  Many of these pamphlets–such as the example pictured here, whose title translates in English to Europe Before the Bar of Justice, or, The Triumph of France –were published in French or espoused many of the revolutionary political ideas of the French Revolution.  This collection highlights the interconnectedness of all of European politics through many turbulent centuries.

David is the primary cataloger for this collection.  His facility with languages and adeptness at cataloging “bound-with” volumes are valuable assets.  He honed his skills cataloging bound-withs–volumes in which two or more separately published items have been bound together–with his fine work on cataloging the Saint-Sulpice Collection and assisting with other cataloging projects.  David’s work on collections of cartographic and travel materials have exposed him to plenty of publications in Dutch and German.  In order to ease into the Dutch language, he is cataloging this collection starting with the most recent publications and working back to the earliest.  In this way, he can avoid dealing with difficult Gothic typefaces present on older pamphlets until he has grown more accustomed to the Dutch language.

Stay tuned for more project management insights, cataloging banter, and new discoveries from all of our pamphlet collections.

Coming back to the Fatherland

Case folio FRC 10344 no. 127

The various governments instituted during the French Revolutionary period were marked by their attempts to create a more equitable legal system, free of the systemic hierarchical injustices and constant abuses of power that typified feudalism.  Complicated historical issues were brought to the forefront, and attempts were made to rectify longstanding injustices. One of the reforms that has, in retrospect, been one of the most influential was the way the new government decided to rectify centuries of persecution of French Protestants.  Protestantism was legalized, Protestants were allowed to marry, and in a move that would have long-lasting repercussions and would not be ultimately repealed until after World War II, the descendants of Huguenots who had fled and/or been expelled from France were granted full citizenship and the restitution of their property.

This law and later laws modifying it (found in the Newberry Library FRC collection with call nos. Case FRC folio 10344 no. 127 and Case FRC folio 10346 no. 64) was the first internationally recognized right of return, a principle that now exists in many nations, but perhaps the most well-known is Israel’s controversial Law of Return.  Although commonly in modern times as a method of maintaining “ethnic purity” (for example, China’s right of return law provides tax breaks and other tangible benefits for individuals of Han Chinese ancestry who choose to immigrate) and enforcing an outdated conception of jus sanguinis, the right of return in the context of the French Revolution is more appropriately put into a totally different context – that of reparations for historical injustices. The ethnic nationalism argument fails in this context because the Constituent Assembly also penned the Constitution of 1791 which established birthright citizenship.*

The discussion surrounding the wisdom of implementing a right of return demonstrates some parallels with the controversies surrounding the modern day issue of reparations for slavery in the United States. The government was facing staggering debt and yet they decided to implement a policy that required them to restore the estates, titles, or the equivalent value thereof to new immigrants, many of whom had not lived in France for generations. This move was not without its detractors, and several years of debate followed arguing various interpretations as to how restitution would be made (See, for example, Case FRC 12393 and Case FRC 12382).

These laws set a historical precedent, attempting to draft legislation not because it would benefit those in positions of power, or even because it would benefit the country as a whole (at least not in an immediately recognizable way, although countering possible brain drain from fleeing royalists was a possible motivation for the law) but because it was the Right Thing To Do. Unfortunately for those readers interested in claiming their free French citizenship (Not to be confused with the Free French), while the law was confirmed to still be active in 1889, concerns over descendants of Huguenots who had emigrated to Germany seeking shelter from prosecution for war crimes led to the end of this policy in 1945.


* Birthright citizenship was abolished in the 1804 Code civil, a decision highly derided by Napoleon, who argued that French education was more important to establishing national identity than parentage. See Christian Bruch’s “La Citoyenneté et la nationalité dans l’histoire”, available here.

Party Like It’s 1794: Les fêtes décadaires.

With Bastille Day rapidly approaching (as in tomorrow, July 14th), I thought it appropriate to spotlight some of the pamphlets in our French Revolution Collection (FRC) whose content focuses on different French holidays and days of worship and celebration during the Revolution. Among the radical and tumultuous changes brought on by the Revolution, France underwent a series of dogmatic changes as well. One of these in particular, established by Maximilien Robespierre in 1794 and referred to as the culte de l’Être suprême (Cult of the Supreme Being),  was a sort of civil religion whose primary principles focused on the belief in the existence of a god and the immortality of the human soul (l’Être suprême et l’immortalité de l’âme). This Revolutionary religion gave birth to Les fêtes décadaires, which were republican holidays that were to be held every tenth day.

As a way to kick off this new state religion, Robespierre declared that the first of these national celebrations of the Supreme Being would take place on 20 Prairial Year II of the French Republican Calendar (8 June 1794) and would be called la fête de l’Être suprême. In addition to the celebration of the Supreme Being, other fêtes décadaires included celebrations of humanity, the French people, martyrs of liberty, frugality, justice, friendship, conjugal love, childhood, youth, old age, agriculture, industry, posterity, happiness, etc., etc. All of these republican holidays had a very detailed set of guidelines established that were to be followed on the day of celebration by all of the communes of the republic. Included in these guidelines were instructions on how to decorate, how to dress, how to comport oneself in public, what was to be spoken, sang or chanted, and much more. Although these practices were meant to be universally executed throughout the entire republic, it appears that some communes were a bit more zealous in their efforts than others, or so I am led to believe by one of the pamphlets I came across in a portfolio I was recently working on.

This pamphlet, entitled Maniere de célébrer les fêtes décadaires et décoration des temples, dans les communes de campagne (Case FRC 25679) by Charles Thiébaut, lays down the law, so to speak, for all those country folk that just weren’t doing things right. It is a very specific, very detail-oriented pamphlet that gives step by step instructions on how to decorate the temples (right down to what was to be written on each pillar), how each type of person was to behave (children, youths, men, women, members of the National Guard, the mayor, etc.), gesticulations to be made at given times, and what hymns were to be sang or chanted on each specific fête. The hymns are what make up the bulk of this particular 68-page pamphlet, and I have to say that these appear to me to be a pretty awesome find. Besides being very interesting pieces in and of themselves, the compilation of all of them into one document seems like it would be a researcher’s dream come true (and perhaps, if what the content of this pamphlet suggests held true back in the good old days of the Revolution, a pretty nifty thing for all of the people of the campagnes to have on hand so as not to muck things up).

This pamphlet provides a thorough examination of the social customs and practices of the time, and offers us a glimpse into the lives of le peuple français during this particular time in the Revolution. Now, I realize that all of this is super cool all by itself, but after reading through some of the hymns I really began to wonder what they would sound like while being chanted during these grand celebrations. Insert YouTube. Please enjoy the video that I have provided, along with the photographs of the Hymne a l’Etre-suprême (which give you the words of the hymn to follow along with), to experience the full effect. Sometimes putting voices to written word can be a very powerful thing. It is pretty cool to hear these words come alive and for a moment imagine what it might have been like to be a citizen participating in these elaborate celebrations of divinity and humanity.

More laws. More assignats.

Case folio FRC suppl. 86


The laws continue apace.  This portfolio from the French Revolution Collection (FRC), Case folio FRC suppl. 86, consists largely of national laws promulgated on the departmental level, that department being Seine Inférieure.  A good many of these works are variants of pieces we have already cataloged or, in a few cases, of others in this very portfolio.  Take for instance these two pamphlets, nos. 51 and 52.  These are local and national versions of Loi relative aux assignats de cinq livres nouvellement fabriqués & prêts à être mis en émission [Law concerning five livre assignats newly made and ready for distribution].

Case folio FRC suppl. 86 nos. 51 and 52, title pages


The one on the left was published in Rouen by Louis Oursel, one of two official printers of the department.  The one on the right is a product of the Imprimerie royale in Paris.  The distinction is more apparent when we open them up:

Case folio FRC suppl. 86 nos. 51 and 52, interiors


The Rouen version, on the top in this photo, has additional language from the directoire of the Seine Inférieure (“Nous ADMINSTRATEURS du département de la Seine Inférieure…”).

The subject matter in this portfolio of 92 laws is focused largely on  assignats (cf. image below) and a smattering of other issues (cf. list that follows).  Given the well-trodden territory of this subject matter, I’ve been surprised and gratified by how many original records have been necessary.

Laws concerning assignats (Case folio FRC suppl. 86 nos. 78, 81-83)



What follows is a cross-section of titles, nos. 51-71 of this portfolio, some of which are variants (differentiated by their place of publication).  If this incremental feast of minutiae doesn’t strike your fancy, skip to dessert.  The post ends with a pair of images: one of no. 71, the other of one of the small-denomination assignats that resulted from that law.  Bon appetit!

No. 51. Loi relative aux assignats de cinq livres nouvellement fabriqués & prêts à être mis en émission. (Rouen) [Law concerning 5 livre assignats newly made and ready for distribution.]

No. 52. Loi relative aux assignats de cinq livres nouvellement fabriqués & prêts à être mis en émission. (Paris)

No. 53. Loi relative à la fabrication des assignats de cinq livres. (Rouen) [Law concerning the fabrication of five-livre assignats.]

No. 54. Loi relative aux estampilles destinées pour l’annullement des assignats. (Rouen) [Law concerning the hand stamps made for cancelling assignats.]

No. 55. Loi relative aux secours accordés aux employés supprimés, compris dans le décret du 31 juillet dernier. [Law concerning the aid given to employees whose jobs were eliminated in the decree of last July 31st.]

No. 56. Loi relative à la fabrication des assignats de cinq livres. (Paris)

No. 57. Loi relative aux estampilles destinées pour l’annullement des assignats. (Paris)

No. 58. Loi relative aux erreurs qui se trouvent dans les décrets de vente de biens nationaux, & aux moyens de les rectifier. [Law concerning errors found in the paperwork for the sale of national property, and the means of rectifying them.]

No. 59. Loi relative à la formation de nouveaux coins pour la fabrique des assignats de cent sous. [Law concerning the development of new dies for the fabrication of 100-sous assignats.]

No. 60. Loi qui ordonne un supplément de quinze millions en petits assignats de cinq livres, pour le service journalier des caisses de la Trésorerie nationale & de l’extraordinaire. (Rouen) [Law ordering a supplement of 15 million in small assignats of five livres, for the daily use in the tills of the Trésorerie nationale and the Caisse de l’extraordinaire.]

No. 61. Loi relative à la fabrication du papier destiné pour les assignats de dix & vingt-cinq livres [Law concerning the production of paper to be used for assignats of ten and twenty-five livres.]

No. 62. Loi qui ordonne un supplément de quinze millions en petits assignats de cinq livres, pour le service journalier des caisses de la Trésorerie nationale & de l’extraordinaire. (Paris)

No. 63. Loi relative à la police de la navigation & des ports de commerce. [Law concerning the oversight of navigation and commercial ports.]

No. 64. Loi relative au remplacement des officiers de l’Armée, dont les places se trouvent vacantes. [Law concerning the replacement of army officers whose posts are vacant.]

No. 65. Loi relative aux assignats de cinq livres que la Trésorerie nationale est autorisée à fournir à la Caisse des échanges. [Law concerning the five-livre assignats that the Trésorerie nationale is authorized to furnish to the Caisse des échanges.]

No. 66. Loi relative à une nouvelle fabrication d’assignats. [Law concerning a new production of assignats.]

No. 67. Loi relative à l’échange des petits assignats. [Law concerning the exchange of small assignats.]

No. 68. Loi relative à la rectification de l’article II du décret du 17 décembre dernier, sur les assignats. [Law concerning the correction of article II of the decree of last December 17th, on assignats.]

No. 69. Loi relative aux assignats provenant de la création du 29 juillet dernier. [Law concerning the assignats that resulted from the creation of last July 29th.]

No. 70. Loi relative aux bibliotheques des maisons religieuses et autres établissemens supprimés. [Law concerning the libraries of religious houses and other abolished establishments.]

No. 71. Loi relative à la fabrication des assignats de dix, quinze, vingt-cinq & cinquante sous. [Law concerning the production of assignats of 10, 15, 25, and 50 sous.] (See photo.)

Case folio FRC suppl. 86 no. 71. Loi relative à la fabrication des assignats de dix, quinze, vingt-cinq & cinquante sous.

25-sous assignat, made by order of the law of 4 janvier 1792 (date of the decree of the Assemblee nationale)

 What could you buy with one of these bills?  A brief price list of certain commodities, along with the crippling rate of inflation between 1790 and 1795, can be found here.

Jean-Paul Marat “le vampire le plus remarquable de la République francaise”

Pamphlet BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 52 no. 10 is a satirical treatment of the life and politics of Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793)  entitled- Vie criminelle et politique de J.P. Marat, se disant l’Ami du peuple, adoré, porté en triomphe comme tel, et après sa mort, projeté saint par la jacobiniaille, ou, L’homme au 200,000 têtes, le vampire le plus remarquable de la République francaise .

Case BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 52 no. 10

Marat was a physician and scientist who became an important figure of the revolution as a politician and journalist and was elected to the National Convention in 1792.  He was a staunch defender of the sans-culottes and an advocate for violence against the “enemies of the people.” He is often credited for inciting the violent September massacres  during which a large number of the prisoners in Paris were murdered.  In his journal, l’Ami du peuple, Marat attacked both the supporters of the monarchy and conservative revolutionaries, the Girondins.  This tension between the radical and conservative revolutionary factions would become even more heated after Louis XVI was tried and executed and lead to the fall of the Girondins in May and June 1793.  On 13 July 1793 Marat was assassinated in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday, a Girondin sympathiser.

Marat’s assassination made him a martyr for the revolution.  His assassination became an important theme for artists of the revolution and political pamphlets celebrated his memory.  It wasn’t until after the fall of Robespierre and end of the Terror that public opinion about Marat began to change and many of his busts and sculptures were destroyed. 

Death of Marat by David

The author of Vie criminelle et politique de J.P. Marat seeks to show his readers the ‘truth’ about Marat, saying:  it is time to raise the veil which has covered this odious skeleton and establish the memory of this vampire thirsty for blood.  (Il est temps de lever le voile, qui jusqu’alors à couvert ce squelette odieux, et d’etablir la mmoire de ce vampire altr de sang.) The author calls out Marat for being the ‘provocateur of legal murders’ (“le provocateur des assassins juridiques“) .

The pamphlet provides a loose biography of Marat – telling of his days as a physician in Metz distributing his ‘pills and ointments,’ entry into the political arena, and assassination, while railing against his political policies and condemning him as a “secret friend of despotism…hypocrite partisan of tyranny.”

One particular paragraph that I particularly enjoyed falls towards the end of the pamphlet and speaks to those who uphold Marat as a sainted figure of the Republic:

“Jacobins adore Marat if you want; make a sainted shroud of his bloody shirt, relics of his bathtub, diadems of his old crown, a gospel of his journals or his monarchical constitution, you are free: the Indians adore the excrement of the grand lama, they are unsavory meals enough, everyone has his fancy, it is necessary to let each have, however absurd, what one must.  But no one will force me to adore the image of a dead man that I have believed to be an assassin or insane.”

(Jacobins adorez Marat, si vous voulez; faites un saint-suaire de sa chemise ensanglantée, des reliques de sa baignoire, des diadêmes de sa vieille couronne, une évangile de ses journeaux ou même de sa constitution monarchique, vous êtes libres: les indiens adorent bien les excremens du grand lama, ils en sont même des repas assez ragoûtans; chacun à sa fantaisie, il faut la laisser à chacun, quelle qu’absurde qu’elle soit. Mais on ne peut pas me forcer d’adorer l’image d’un mort que j’ai cru un assassin ou un insensé.)

The other aspect of this pamphlet that drew my attention was the frontispiece which depicts three eras of Marat’s life (les tois epoques de la vie de Jean Paul Marat projette saint par la jacobinierie). The first image is captioned with the text “Marat a Metz vendant des phioles en 1787. ” The second, “Marat sortant du tribunal porte en triomphe,” and the third “Son buste traine dans l’egout Mt. martre par la jeunesse repubne.” 


Frontispiece: "Les trois epoques de la vie de Jean Paul Marat"


Researching the late French Revolution

Last week Judith A. Miller, Associate Professor of History at Emory University and currently the Audrey Lumsden-Kouvel Fellow at the Newberry Library, presented a colloquium at the Newberry on her book project on the late French Revolution.  Judith examined events of the French Revolution after the Reign of Terror, drawing on numerous textual and visual sources, including printed speeches and paintings of the era, to highlight themes of stoicism and other philosophical currents permeating the rhetoric of this politically tumultuous time.

In addition to presenting her research, Judith also described her experiences as a researcher working with the Newberry’s collections, most notably the French Revolution Collection (FRC).  This collection contains many pamphlets that are not available or accessible elsewhere.  Judith described her excitement over discovering resources that she never knew existed and how these new discoveries necessarily affected her research.

Particularly gratifying for our project team was her gratitude for the accuracy and thorough subject analysis in our catalog records.  While digitization of printed texts dramatically improves access to these materials, supplying subject terms is still an essential step to facilitating access to research materials, whether or not digitization is possible.  As a cataloger, I often wonder whether the items I catalog are going to find their way into the hands of researchers or whether the catalog records I create will simply slip into the information ether.  I am so pleased that our team’s efforts have proved so fruitful for Judith and other researchers.  Judith and I have had several opportunities to collaborate during her fellowship: I have offered her assistance with strategies for searching the Newberry’s online catalog while she has provided suggestions for enhancing our catalog records.  Her fellowship could not have happened at a better time!

This cataloging project has underscored for us that efficiency and thoroughness in cataloging are not mutually exclusive.  Since early 2010, we have cataloged 20,373 pamphlets (17,553 in FRC alone) with full catalog records and thorough subject analysis thanks to a team of dedicated catalogers, many of whom had no prior library work experience.  Among these thousands of primary source documents are speeches, histories, satires, songs, commentaries, treatises, art, and ephemera ready to inspire and shape the work of many researchers to come.