What happened to Jean Paul Marat

Carl Brilmayer Society V.

One of the great and at the same time popular historians of France in the 19th century Jules Michelet (1798-1874) describes in his seven-volume history of the French Revolution, which appeared in the years 1847-1853, the encounter between the painter Johann Jakob, who was born in Gau-Algesheim Hauer (1751-1829) and the murderess of Jean Paul Marat, Charlotte Corday. We lead through an introduction and connecting passages to the text of the historian.

In the summer of 1793, which brought revolutionary France defeats in foreign policy, such as the reconquest of Mainz (July 23) by Prussian troops, internal uprisings (Vendée, Normandy, Bordeaux, Lyon) and a convention led by the more radical Mountain Party, decided Marie Charlotte Corday d'Armont (1768-1793), “a beautiful young person, Republican from an impoverished noble family who lived with her aunt in Caen” (Michelet, IV, 221), the President of the Jacobin Club Jean Paul Marat ( 1743-1793) to assassinate.

In his great work on the French Revolution, Jules Michelet describes Charlotte Corday as follows: “In the only picture that exists of her and that was made shortly before her death, one can feel the extraordinary gentleness. Nothing less fits the bloody memory her name evokes. She has the shape of a young Norman lady: a virginal figure, delicate and fresh as a blossoming apple tree. She appears much younger than her twenty-five years. She has ash-blonde, mildly shiny hair and wears a white cap and a white dress. "(IV, 222)

Marat, according to Michelet, “was drifting against his will, through the irresistible force of his situation, towards the cliff on which the revolutionary generations were shattered one after the other. He came to the fateful age of forbearance and moderation; he became human. Did he move away from his nature or did he return to her? He had had strange fits of humanity at all times. He was generous and sensitive at times. It is a question of its own whether he would have retained his popular character in his new role as a friend of moderation and an arbitrator. "(IV, 220)

By the time Charlotte left Caen for Paris, she had finished with her life: “She gave away her books, with the exception of a volume of Plutarch, which she took with her. In the yard she met the child of a worker who lived in the house; she gave him her drawing portfolio, gave him a kiss and let another tear fall on his cheek. Two tears! With that she had had enough of nature. Charlotte Corday believed she should not part with life until she saw her father again. She visited him in Argentan and received his blessing. From there she traveled to Paris in a public wagon.

She looked for and found a knife dealer in the Palais-Royal, this sunny garden with a cheerful crowd, under the eyes of the children, and bought a freshly sharpened knife with an ebony handle, which she hid in her breast cloth, for forty sous. Now she was in possession of her weapon; how would she use them? She wanted to give a great solemnity to the execution of the sentence she had passed on Marat. She wanted to throw Marat down on the Field of Mars, above all the people, in the face of the sky; at the celebration of July 14th, the anniversary of the fall of the kingship, she wanted to punish this king of anarchy. Since the festival was postponed, she changed her plan to punish Marat at the scene of his crime, at the place where he, destroying the reputation of the popular assembly, dictates the vote to the convention and some to life, others to death had intended.

But Marat was sick, he no longer went to the national assembly. So she had to go to his apartment, find him at the home hearth, and try to penetrate despite the vigilance of his troubled surroundings; she had to get in touch with him - an embarrassing thing - and deceive him. And that alone was difficult for her, causing her doubts and remorse. On the evening of July 13th, she left home at seven o'clock, took a car to the Place des Victoires, drove across the Pont Neuf and got up at the door of Marats, 20 rue des Cordeliers (today rue de l'Ecole-de-Médicine 18), from. It was a large, gloomy house next to the turreted corner house.

Charlotte Corday looked completely unsuspicious; she did not abuse her beauty, she had her splendid hair gathered under the hood of the women of the Calvados with a green ribbon. Contrary to the custom of the times, despite the heat of July, her bosom was severely covered with a silk cloth that was firmly knotted at the back of the waist. She wore a white dress, the bonnet ribbons fluttered around her cheeks. Besides, she was by no means pale, her cheeks were rosy, her voice was sure, without any sign of excitement.

Since Marat was sitting in the bath, covered with a dirty cloth, and had a board in front of him on which he was writing, only his head, shoulders, and right arm were free. His greasy hair, which was wrapped with a handkerchief or a towel, his yellow skin and thin limbs, his big frog mouth gave only a faint idea that this being was human. Charlotte had promised news from Normandy, he requested it, and asked especially the names of the MPs who had fled to Caen; she named them and he wrote them down accordingly. When it was over, he said: ‘It's good! They'll be on the guillotine in eight days. "

Charlotte, to whom these words gave strength and a right to strike, drew the knife from her bosom and drove it to the hilt in Marat's heart. ”(IV, 225-229)

Charlotte Corday is brought to the nearby Abbaye, interrogated by members of the security committee that night and, after a few days, transferred to the conciergerie. The trial before a jury takes only half an hour; her lawyer bravely stands up for her, the president of the court would have liked to save her. After the verdict, she left the room and descended the dark stairs to the dungeons below.

“During the trial she noticed a painter who tried to capture her features and looked at her with keen interest. She had turned to him. After the verdict was announced, she had him called and gave him the last few moments before the execution. The painter, Hauer, was vice-commander of the Cordeliers battalion. Perhaps to this title he owed the privilege of being left with her without a witness other than a gendarme. She chatted with him in complete calm about irrelevant things, but also about the event of the day and about the peace she felt within. She asked Hauer to make a small copy of the picture and send it to her family.

If I am to believe a precious document that is kept by the painter's family, they have had a hood made especially for their condemnation. This explains why she spent thirty-six francs in her brief imprisonment.

After an hour and a half, there was a soft knock on a small door that was behind her. They opened the door and the hangman entered. Charlotte turned to see the scissors and the red shirt he was wearing. She could not help feeling a little agitated and said angrily: “What! Already ?! ”But she immediately got hold of herself again and turned to Hauer with the words:‘ Sir, I don't know how to thank you for your kindness; I can only offer you this; keep it as a keepsake for me. ’At the same time, she grabbed the scissors and cut a lock of her long, ash-blonde hair that oozed from under the hood, and handed it to the painter. The gendarmes and the executioner were moved.

The moment she got into the cart, when the crowd, moved by two opposing passions, anger or admiration, saw the beautiful, lovely victim in his red cloak step out of the low errand of the conciergerie, nature seemed to be passionate of the people to marry, because a raging storm broke out over Paris. It lasted only a short time and seemed to be fleeing from her when she became visible on the Pont Neuf and drove slowly through the rue Saint-Honoré. The sun came out high and strong again; it was not yet seven in the evening on July 19th. The reflections of the red material enhanced the effect of her complexion and her eyes in a peculiar and quite fantastic way.

It is assured that Robespierre, Danton and Camille Desmoulins stood on their way and looked at them. A peaceful, but all the more terrible picture of the revolutionary goddess of vengeance confused their hearts and left them amazed.

The serious observers who followed her to the last moments, writers and doctors, were struck by a strange circumstance; Even the most steadfast of the condemned tried to keep themselves upright by suggestions of some kind, they sang patriotic songs or uttered wicked curses against their enemies. When the crowd shouted, she kept a perfect calm, a solemn and simple serenity; She arrived at the square full of peculiar majesty, and as if transfigured in the rays of the evening sun. A doctor, who never lost sight of her, said she looked pale when she saw the ax. But the color returned to her, and she climbed it with a steady pace. When the executioner tried to tear off her breast cloth, her modesty revolted, she cut short the process and hurriedly sought death.

As soon as the head fell, a carpenter, a follower of Marat, who was helping the executioner, grabbed him with a raw fist, showed him to the people and slapped him with shameless brutality. A shudder of disgust, a murmur ran through the crowd. You thought you saw your head blush. Perhaps it was a mere optical illusion: the confused crowd saw the red rays of the sun penetrating the trees of the Champs-Elysées.

The Paris Commune and the Court of Justice gave satisfaction to the general feeling and put the man in jail.

Despite the shouting of Marat's supporters, who were unusually small in number, the general impression of admiration and compassion was very strong. This can be judged by the boldness with which the ‘Chronique des Paris’, despite the great dependence of the press, dared to praise Charlotte Corday almost without reservation.

Many people were heartbroken and never recovered. We saw the excitement of the president, his effort to save her, the excitement of the lawyer, a shy young person who this time grew beyond himself. The painter's was no less great. He exhibited a portrait of Marat that year, perhaps as an excuse for painting Charlotte Corday. But his name can no longer be found in any exhibition. He seems to have not painted since every fateful work. "(IV, 232-236)

MICHELET, JULES, History of the French Revolution, ed. v. Jochen Köhler, 5 volumes, Eichborn-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1988, excerpt from: Historischen Lesebuch, 1999, 192-196.