Farewell Letters of the Guillotined
ONE of the most revolting yet least known features of the Reign of Terror in Paris was the suppression of many hundreds of letters addressed by or to prisoners. The detention of Marie Antoinette’s touching letter to her sister-inlaw, Princess Elisabeth, which was not recovered and published till twenty years afterward, was no isolated act of barbarity. Fouquier-Tinville, the public prosecutor at the Revolutionary tribunal, dealt in the same way with a multitude of epistles written at the Conciergerie and other prisons. Some of these contained requests for the supply of necessaries or comforts, others for the dispatch of testimonies which might perhaps have saved their writers from the scaffold. No matter; they were ruthlessly flung among his files of papers, which now till two hundred cardboard boxes at the National Archives in Paris. By far the most pathetic of these intercepted documents are letters addressed by condemned prisoners to their families or friends. Written on sheets or scraps of paper of every variety of form and quality, the ink now faded, they cannot be handled without emotion. They have never before been published, and possibly descendants now living may learn for the first time from this article what were the last lines penned by their unfortunate ancestors. Victor Hugo in his Dernier Jour d’un Condamné drew on his powerful imagination, but here we have the genuine outpourings of the heart on the approach of death. We can realize the Terror more vividly when we read, still more when we handle, these tragical farewells. Resignation, as will be seen, is the dominant note ; but not all of the victims possessed equal fortitude at the thought of leaving wives and children, perhaps in penury, and one writer tells us that his letter was watered with tears. Forgiveness of enemies is also frequently expressed; only in one instance is there a breath of malediction. Some of the victims enjoyed religious consolations ; others felt merely a possibility of a future state with the renewal of family ties. We can fancy the prisoners employing their few remaining moments in these assurances of affection ; sympathizing fellow captives, perhaps, standing round who knew not how soon their own turn might come. Death would have had an additional sting had they known that these harrowing farewells, cynically scanned by the brutal Fouquier, would be tossed aside, to lie neglected for a century.
I retain the second person singular, wherever used; for the French still employ it in addressing near relations or intimate friends as well as in invoking the Deity. This distinction we have unhappily lost; for by the beginning of the sixteenth century thou had become contumelious. “ I thou thee, thou traitor,” said Coke to the unfortunate Raleigh, and George Fox could not succeed in restoring it. The French Jacobins were equally unsuccessful in attempting to make tutoiement universal, though among Paris cabmen it still lingers.
It is difficult to give the exact equivalent of terms of endearment. Literally translated, some would seem more effusive than they really are (for words by wear often lose much of their original force), while others would appear cold. Mon cher ami, ma chère amie, for instance, mean much more than 舠my dear friend.” It is a common form of address between husband and wife, and I have usually rendered it by “ dearest.” If, nevertheless, some expressions are too gushing for Anglo-Saxon tastes, we must make allowance for national temperament, and for the high pitch to which emotions had been worked up by the Revolution.
I give the letters in chronological order, not merely because any other arrangement would be arbitrary, but because it is necessary to bear in mind the successive stages of the Terror. The victims were at first entirely or mostly Royalists; for the Revolution began by devouring its enemies, but it ended, as Vergniaud foreboded, by devouring, like Saturn, its own children. The later sufferers were Republicans, as stanch Republicans as their persecutors, and were slaughtered for a simple nuance or through private spite. They were executed as federalists ; ultimately, indeed, there were also Hébertists, butchered because they were too violent, but none of them seem to have written farewell letters. In politics, therefore, the letters show what musicians term a crescendo, while in religion they exhibit just the reverse, — the decline or eclipse of faith, yet no actual materialism. Subject to exceptions, moreover, the social status of the victims steadily lowers. We have, it is true, an aristocrat like Victor de Broglie, but among the later victims we find small tradesmen, wineshop-keepers, and men in still humbler positions, which would account for their rude penmanship and orthography.
But the letters may now speak for themselves.
Louis Alexandre Beaulieu, aged thirty-six, was a tradesman, who had been commissioned by Mauny, a retired dragoon officer, to procure gold and silver, — an illegal transaction, concealed in his letter under the terms red and white wine, which meant yellow and white coins. Both Beaulieu and Mauny were executed May 10, 1793.
TO CITIZEN BEAULIEU FREVAL, RUE TIBOTONI, NO. 27.
Adieu, my friend. Thy consolation should be found in reason and philoso phy. [Here he repeats some of the expressions in Ids second letter.] Remove from your mind this sad event, and remember only our days of intimacy. I might have been taken from you by illness or accident, and in time of war one is too happy in escaping. I might have had the misfortune of succumbing. Look at the event in this light. Adieu. I embrace thee thousands of times. Console all my friends. Speak to them of my friendship.
Your brother and friend,
L. A. BEAULIEU.
Inclosed are a letter and a watch key, which thou wilt deliver to the same destination.
TO CITOYENNE BECAGNY, RUE LIBERTÉ, 27, TO WHOM 1 BEIJ YOU TO HAND THE WATCH KEY.
My dear and kind friend, I embrace you for the last time. Accept all my gratitude for the trouble and vexations which I have caused you, and forgive them. I fear lest your interests should suffer from the 2000 f. which you lately sent me, and for which you have no receipt. I wish this to serve for one. I owe you also several sums on current account which may amount to 400 f. or 500 f. I acknowledge the debt. Kindly express my thanks to MM. Collot, Julianne, and Alexandre. I have not time to say more, as I did not begin to write till eight in the morning. I embrace you thousands of times, and am always to the last moment your ever sincere friend, L. A. BEAULIEU.
Be consoled, my very good lady and dear friend,— he consoled, I entreat you. I have a calmness and firmness of mind which are a great help to me at this moment. The greatest chagrin which I feel is the causing you chagrin. It is this which makes me beg you, as the last favor, to console yourself. Take care of yourself. You owe this to those of whom you are the mainstay. Share my adieux with the good and dear Adelaide. I might have been taken from you by illness or accident. Farewell. I embrace you from the bottom of my heart. I expected to have plenty of time to write to you. Adieu once more.
L. A. BEAULIEU.
Once more adieu. I love you ever with all my heart.
Françoise Desilles, aged twenty-four, wife of Desclos de la Fauchais, a naval officer who had emigrated, was one of twelve Bretons executed on June 18, 1793, for the conspiracy headed by the Marquis de la Rouerie. An insurrection in favor of monarchy had been concerted, but was revealed by a pretended sympathizer.
18th June, 1793.
My lot is cast, dearest. Do not be grieved, but view the event with as much tranquillity as I do. It is not without regret that I quit an existence which promised me happy days. I have one favor to ask. You know what is the fate of my unfortunate children. Be a mother to them, dearest; let them find in you an affectionate and beloved mother. I am convinced of the zeal with which you will be their mother. Adieu, dear. I will not further prolong the time that I am spending in conversing with you. I have to approach the Supreme Being, at whose feet I cast myself. The resignation given me by the sweet persuasion that He will forgive me gives me joy. Speak of me to my children, but repel all bitterness. My trials are coming to an end, but yours will last. Adieu, dear. Cherish my memory, but do not lament my fate.
DESILLES DE LA FAUCHAIS.
I beg you, dear, to arrange with my sisters the education of my children. They have no resource but you three, and it is to you three that I confide them to serve them as mother.
Jean Baptiste Georges Fontevieux, a native of Zweibrücken, a retired officer, aged thirty-four, was another of the Breton conspirators, living at St. Brieuc. He employed his last moments in writing to his wife, father, mother, sister, his notary, a friend, and the second letter that follows, addressed to three fellow prisoners at the Abbaye. He also wrote to the Convention for a respite, that he might adduce evidence to exculpate him ; for the alleged conspiracy, he said, was imaginary. All these letters are written in a plain, firm hand. Could he have known that they would not be forwarded, death would have had an additional bitterness.
TO CITOYENNE CAMBRY, RUE DE LA RÉVOLUTION, NO. 28, NEAR THE CI-DEVANT PLACE LOUIS XV., PARIS.
I approach, my friend, the terrible moment when I am to appear before the Supreme Being. I behold its coming without alarm. I may say with Essex,
Ce n’est pas l’échafaud.” 1
Thou knowest the purity of the sentiments which have always animated me. Without lacking modesty, I may say I have done all the good in my power. I have done ill to none. I regret my friends. I was attached to earth only by their affection, and I do not feel misfortune except on their account. I thank thee for the testimonies of friendship and consolation which thou hast furnished me, and the touching attentions which thou hast lavished on me during my captivity. I would fain testify my warm and affectionate gratitude. We shall be reunited sooner or later. The scythe of Time visits all heads, it levels all. I pity my judges. I forgive them with all my heart. I beg thee to console thyself. I conjure thee in the name of the warmest affection to preserve thy life. If ever thou chancest to think of me, remember that, as I die innocent, I am bound to be happy. I have not shed a tear for myself, but I have wept over the painful situation of my friends. It is they who are to be pitied, not I. Adieu, kind and affectionate friend; I embrace thee with all my heart. If thou shouldst see my uncle, cheer him up ; help him to bear the misfortunes attaching to human existence. Tell him that I loved him, love him still, and shall love him beyond the tomb.
18th June, 1793.
I have been this morning, dear companions in misfortune, condemned to death by the Revolutionary tribunal. The interest which you have shown me and your desire to learn the judgment from my own lips induce me to inform you of it. Alas, you were far from thinking it would be this. May you fare better. Adieu, my friends. I am, and soon shall be, perfectly tranquil.
Nicolas Bernard Grout de la Motte, aged fifty, naval officer, was another of the Breton conspirators.
TO CITIZEN FOUQUIER-TINVILLE.
18th June, 1793.
Citizen, I beg you to allow my ring and a case with portraits of my late wife and of my daughter to be restored to two young children whom I leave here. It is a small favor which I ask you, and it will be a portion of my property which could not be of any use to the nation.2 These young children are at St. Malo.
. . . Will you allow my linen to be given to the citizen gendarme ?
GROUT DE LA MOTTE.
Three quarto pages are so closely filled by the following letter as to leave no room for the signature, but the address shows the writer to have been Georges Julien Jean Vincent, aged fortyeight, broker and interpreter at St. Malo, also one of the Breton conspirators.
TO CITOYENNE BINEL VINCENT, RUE DE TOULOUSE, ST. MALO.
18th June, 1793.
There are decrees of Divine Providence, my beloved, kind, and affectionate friend, which, however terrible to bear, we ought to accept and submit to without a murmur. Thou knowest better than I, and I have no need to remind thee, all that religion commands thee, and all the consolations which it can give thee. Alas, what a terrible blow I am about to inflict on thy tender and generous heart, and how my poor and beloved children are about to be grieved! But, my dearest, collect all your strength. Pray do not be cast down by misfortune. My innocence and honor should help you to bear your misfortune. God had joined us together. I possessed an affectionate and virtuous wife who was my comfort. Perhaps, alas, I was too proud of the happiness which I possessed, and God’s will deprives me of it. Worthy and affectionate wife, if I ever vexed thee I beg thee to forgive me. I shall die worthy of thy love, and if after this unfortunate life we can still preserve some recollection of persons who have been dear to us in this world, I shall carry beyond the tomb the deep affection which I have devoted to thee as well as to my dear children. Oh, affectionate and beloved wife, if ever I have been dear to thee, I conjure thee by all our affection to continue living ; our beloved children have so much need of thee. Embrace them very affectionately for me. Tell them all the affection which I have always had for them. Tell them that if my death unhappily deprives them not only of the most affectionate father, but of the little property which they might claim, I die innocent and leave them honor, the most precious property ; and not only that, but they can hold their heads erect in such a fashion as to make their father’s death a glory as an innocent victim of the law. Beware, my dearest, lest sorrow for my death should render them ungrateful toward their country. It is not the country that is the cause of the misfortunes which overwhelm us. Men are liable to error, and at a moment when passions blind us innocence is often mistaken for guilt. As good and faithful Christians, we must know how to bear the blows which befall us and adore the divine hand which overwhelms us. Oh, my dear children, console your worthy and affectionate mother, and by your assiduity in obeying her counsels, as well as in fulfilling the duties of your religion, be the consolation of her agony. I embrace thee, my dear good Republican friends. I pray God for you, and thou, dear and affectionate wife, receive my last kisses and adieux. Remember me only to beseech God to pardon my sins and have pity on ray soul. I cannot say more. Words fail me at this sad and cruel moment, in which, however, I do not regret life except for the pain which my death is about to inflict on thy heart. But, my dearest, do not give way to grief. Respect the decrees of Divine Providence. We were not fated to remain forever on this poor earth, and we certainly knew when we married that death would part us. God has fixed the moment and manner. Let us therefore submit without a murmur to His will. Adieu, dear and worthy spouse. Adieu, loving and beloved children. Receive my affectionate kisses, and heaven grant that you may be more fortunate than your unfortunate father, who dies innocent and without self-reproach.
There is no signature to the following letter, but the writer was probably Michel Julien Picot-Lemoelan, still another of the Breton conspirators.
TO CITIZEN VENDEL, MAISON DE LA TRINITÉ, FOUGÈRES.
18 June .
I shall be near the Eternal, my friend, when you receive this letter. I hope the forgiveness of my enemies will procure that of my faults, my crimes, toward Him ; for the frequent forgetfulness of His benefits is doubtless one which could not be too dearly expiated, and the sacrifice of some years is not a great thing for him who knows how to estimate life at its true value. The sentence of death could not trouble me, for all the tribulations that I have experienced since my arrest have sufficiently disgusted me with life. . . . Adieu, my poor friend. Do not forget me. I die with confidence, and almost with joy. At what a grand banquet I shall be present this evening ! My beloved, I shall await you. Your virtues call you thither. I had no cause for self-reproach toward men. I have never had any sentiments but those of humanity. I sincerely desire the happiness of those who conduct me to the tomb, but toward God, my friend, I was not so guiltless. I loved Him, but I served Him ill. I trust He will forgive me. Let not my friends weep over my happiness. We shall soon meet again. Convey my respects to them. Adieu, my unfortunate friend. I have taken every possible precaution to forward you the remainder of the assignats which you lent me.
Antoine Joseph Gorsas, aged forty, as deputy and journalist, took a prominent part in the Revolution. He was among the forty-one Girondin deputies, prosecuted in 1793, and attempted a Girondin rising at Caen and Bordeaux. Imprudently returning to Paris, he was discovered, arrested, and, being an outlaw, executed on simple proof of identity. There is nothing to show that Fouquier carried out these last wishes.
TO CITIZEN FOUQUIER-TINVILLE.
7 October .
Before dying, I desire that my creditors whose bills are unsettled should not be losers. I declare that I owe [three debts mentioned]. I recommend this note to the citizen public accuser. I beg him in the name of justice to pay these sums.3 My hope that he will be good enough to do it will be a feeling of gratitude which I shall take away with me. My unfortunate family is prosecuted. If I had committed crimes, let me alone bear the responsibility. My family is not guilty. Will not my death satisfy public justice ? I end by affirming that never have I betrayed my country, and that my last wishes are for its happiness and for its enjoyment of rest and happiness after so many long agitations.
A. J. GORSAS.
P. S. I may have other debts of which I am ignorant. I acknowledge them also.
Olympe de Gouges, born at Montauban in 1748, is believed to have been the daughter of the Marquis Franc de Pompignan, a versifier. Her mother, Olympe or Olinde Mousset, was the wife of Pierre Gouze, a butcher. After a marriage with a man named Aubry, which soon ended in a separation,Olympe went up to Paris, and, though never able to spell or to write a decent hand, published several plays. She threw herself with ardor into the Revolution, was a strenuous advocate of woman’s rights, and offered to defend Louis XVI. in order to prove, not his innocence, but his imbecility. Her tirades at last led to her arrest, and after seven months’ imprisonment she was tried, and guillotined on the 3d of November, 1793. Her son, to whom she addressed this ill-written and ill-spelled letter, on being dismissed from the army, wrote to the Convention to repudiate all sympathy with his mother’s opinions. The only excuse for his act is that he cannot have known of her having written this letter to him, nor of a letter to the Convention entreating news of him.
TO CITIZEN DE GOUGE, GENERAL OFFICER IN THE ARMY OF THE RHINE.
I die, my dear son, a victim of my idolatry of justice and of the people. Its enemies, under the specious mask of republicanism, have conducted me without remorse to the scaffold. After seven months of captivity I was transferred to a maison de santé,4 where I was as free as in my own house. I might have escaped. My enemies and executioners are aware of this, but, convinced that all the ill will concerted to ruin me could not succeed in reproaching me with a single act contrary to the Revolution, I myself asked for trial. Could I believe that unmuzzled tigers would themselves be judges, against the law, against that popular assembly which will soon reproach them with my death ? The indictment was delivered to me three days before my trial. The law entitled me to counsel. All the persons of my acquaintance have been intercepted. I was as it were in solitary confinement, not being even able to speak to the concierge. The law also entitled me to select my jurors. The list of them was announced to me at midnight, and next morning at seven o’clock I was taken to the tribunal, ill and weak, and without having the art of speaking in public. Resembling Jean Jacques [Rousseau] in his virtues, I felt all my insufficiency. I asked for the counsel whom I had chosen. I was told he was not present or had refused to undertake my cause. Failing him, I asked for another. I was told I was quite able to defend myself. Without doubt I have enough force to defend my innocence, which is self-evident to all spectators. It was impossible to dispute all the services and benefits which I have rendered to the people. Twenty times I made my executioners turn pale, not knowing how to answer me. At everysentence which showed my innocence and their bad faith . . . They pronounced my doom for fear of exposure of the iniquity of which the world has not had sufficient examples. Adieu, my son, I shall be no more when thou receivest this letter. ... I die, my son, my dear son, I die innocent. All the laws have been violated against the most virtuous woman of her age. [She then tells him where to find the pawn ticket for her jewels.]
Marie Madeleine Coutelet, aged thirtytwo, was forewoman at the flax-spinning factory established in the Jacobin Monastery in July, 1790, to give employment to women and girls. Her sister, who occupied the room above her, having been denounced as corresponding with émigrés, the commissaries sent with a search warrant went by mistake to Madeleine’s room. She informed them of their blunder, but invited them to search her apartment. They found a letter addressed to her aunt at Rheims, but never posted, expressing sympathy for the Queen. Her explanation was that though really a 舠 patriot ” she wrote the letter in joke, to mystify a friend to whom alone she showed it. She was condemned 14 brumaire. Her sister, Marie Louise Neuvéglise, shared the same fate 4 floréal.
I discharge my last duty. You know that the law has judged me. They have found crime in innocence, and it is thus that they sentence me to die. I hope that you will be consoled. It is the last favor which I ask. I die with the purity of soul of those who die with joy. Adieu. Receive my last embrace. It is that of the most affectionate daughter and most attached sister. I regard this day as the finest that I have been granted by the Supreme Being. Live and think of me. Rejoice at the bliss which awaits me. I embrace my friends (amies), and am grateful to those who gave testimony for me. Adieu for the last time. May your children be happy. It is my last wish. COUTELET.
Gabriel Nicolas François Boisguyon, aged thirty-five, adjutant-general, admitted having gone to the Girondin gathering at Caen, but denied having offered to join the Girondin forces. He was tried and executed along with Girey-Dupré, who on his way to the scaffold sung his own verses, afterward styled the Chant des Girondins, the refrain of which was,
C’est le sort le plus beau, le plus digne d’envie.”
TO CITIZEN FRÉMONT, DRUGGIST, CHÂTEAUDUN.
CONCIERGERIE, 2 frimaire, year 2.
Citizen, I was yesterday at four in the afternoon condemned to death, and in two hours I shall be no more. I beg you to inform ray mother, taking all the precautions necessary for rendering the news less overwhelming. Send some one to her gently to apprise her, so that she may not receive the information by letter, and may not have under her eyes a monument [sic] reminding her of my last moments. Assure her of all my affection, and of my hope that she may find in her virtues the consolation which she will need. [Some business directions follow.]
Gabriel Wormestelle, aged forty-three, the writer of this ill-spelled but firmly written letter, was a member of the Gironde popular commission, which tried to resist the measures enforced on the Convention by the Paris mob. Having been consequently outlawed, he was executed without trial, on simple proof of identity.
TO CITOYENNE WORMESTELLE, RUE DU TEMPLE, NO. 1, BORDEAUX.
12 frimaire (2 November), 1793.
These are the last lines which my hand will trace. In a few hours I shall be no more. I am condemned to death. Well, wife whom I have always loved, I die full of affection for thee. I do not bid thee forget me. I know thy belle âme, thy affectionate heart. No, thou wilt never forget me. But live for our poor children. Remind them of me. Let me serve as their example. Let them be better than I. Rear them in the practice of virtue. My property is confiscated. It is so small that it will be no great loss for them. Bring them up to like work. Transfer to them all the affection which thou hadst for me. Adieu, — a thousand times adieu. Dry thy tears, and think only of our children.
Antoine Pierre Léon Dufrene, aged thirty-two, doctor, had recently arrived from St. Domingo. He wrote to his friends there that in exchanging that island, with its negro risings, for Paris, he had gone from Scylla to Charybdis, and in one letter he said. “ It is impossible to say or write anything without risk of the guillotine.” Again he said, “ There would be many things to tell you of the present state of France, but I shall not venture on anything, and you will guess the reason. However nice the guillotine when you accommodate yourself to it, and whatever the courage thus far shown by the heroes of this Revolutionary invention, I have no mind to try it.” But the unfortunate man had committed himself by these intercepted letters. The letter to Le Fourdray is the only farewell utterance resembling a malediction which I have met with.
Receive, oh adorable spouse, the last wishes of thy poor husband. He was not so good as thou art. . . . Write to me once more, that I may carry to the tomb a line from thy chaste hand. I end. My tears water my letter. Calm thine. Send me 15 f. I have handed 60 f. to Jaline, which he will doubtless deliver to thee. Thank him for me, as well as all my friends. ... I shall be at the Conciergerie till ten or eleven tomorrow morning. Adieu, adieu, adieu, and forever adieu for eternity.
TO CITIZEN LE FOURDRAY, COMMISSARY OF MARINE, CHERBOURG.
Receive, wretch, my eternal adieu. I do not know whether thou didst it purposely. Although I know that thou art a scoundrel, I cannot bring myself to think thee so malicious. All that I can say to thee is that the letters which I had confided to thee have conducted me to the scaffold. If it was through malice, thy turn will soon come. Adieu.
13 frimaire, 1793.
Guillaume Léonard, omitted in M. Wallon’s Histoire du Tribunal Révolutionnaire, was a wineshop-keeper at Paris, condemned for uttering forged assignats.
TO CITOYENNE LÉONARD, WINESELLER, PARIS.
My dearest, I bid thee farewell with tears in my eyes. I am condemned to die to-morrow, and I die innocently, without having ever committed any crime. I forgive thee all that there has been of contention with thy parents, and I hope with confidence that thou wilt do the same. Write immediately to my parents, and inform them that I die for our country in the company of wretches, yet without having been criminal. I have not in all my life committed any crime. I embrace thee with tears in my eyes, and shall be thy husband to my last hour. Thou knowest that I owe 5 f. to Citizen Maudit, who lent it me on the day of my arrest. Do not be ashamed to announce my death to my parents. I have known how to live, and I shall know how to die. Adieu, dearest, and for the last time I write to thee, and am
PARIS, 19 frimaire, year 2 of the French Republic, and Vive la République !
Charles Antoine Pinard, tailor, was executed as a fraudulent army contractor.
TO CITOYENNE PRÉVOST, RUE DE L’ORATOIRE, 141.
19 frimaire, year 2.
My dearest, when thou receivest this letter thy bon ami will be no more. I should have preferred death in fighting for the defense of the country, but this has not been allowed me. I undergo my fate, and I carry to the tomb the tranquillity of a conscience without reproach. Be ever faithful, my dearest, to what thou hast promised me. Spare thyself for thy own sake, and for the infant whom thou bearest in thy bosom. Girl or boy, bring it up in the principles of the Republic. Be always prudent and virtuous, the same as thou hast ever been. Farewell: thy image is before my heart; let mine be before thine. Never forget thy friend. Spare thyself, and tell thy son or daughter that its father died like a true Republican. Embrace my parents. I love them ever.
Antoine Demachy, grocer, and commissary of one of the Paris sections, was condemned 26 frimaire, year 2, for complicity with fraudulent army contractors.
TO CITIZEN DEMACHY, GROCER, RUE ST. JACQUES, PARIS.
Brother, I write you this at the moment when I am about to end my days. I hope that my example may serve you as a guide in this Revolution. [Here he mentions two debts.] I embrace you, and wish you all possible happiness.
The following letter was written by the notorious roué, the Due de Lauzun, whose posthumous memoirs, although disavowed by his family, were genuine. He assisted in the war of American independence, but though an old courtier accepted the Republic, and served in the army in Vendée. He disliked, however, the Jacobin officers placed under him,and quarreled with Rossignol. He was deprived of his command July 11, 1793, and put on trial 9 ventôse, with ten witnesses against and four for him. The case not being concluded on the 9th, the court sat again on the 10th, though décadi was usually a dies non. On leaving for the scaffold he said to his fellow prisoners. “ I am starting on the long journey.” He pressed a glass of wine on the executioner, saying, “ You must need nerve in your business.”
TO CITIZEN GONTAUT.
I am condemned. I shall die to-morrow in the sentiments of religion, of which my dear papa has set me the example, and which are worthy of him. My long agony derived much consolation from the certainty that my dear papa will not give way to grief of any kind. . . . I have two Englishwomen who have been with me twenty years, and who have been detained as prisoners since the decree on foreigners.5 I was their only resource. I commend them to the succour and extreme kindness of my dear papa, whom I love. I respect and embrace him for the last time with all my heart.
Jean Baptiste Louis Courtonnel, aged thirty-six, innkeeper, was convicted of supplying inferior hay as an army contractor. He explained that a few bundles might inadvertently have been of poor quality.
TO CITOYENNE COURTONNEL, AUBERGISTE, BEAUMONT LE ROGER, EURE.
CONCIERGERIE, 7 pluviôse.
Receive, my dearest, my last adieux. I am about to die, full of affection for thee and our dear children. My enemies have succeeded in getting me convicted. Thou knowest my innocence. Adieu forever. I am full of regret at quitting thee, but I shall bear my fate with calmness up to the last moment. Embrace my children for me, and remind them of their father. Let them cherish his memory, without being unreasonably affected by his death. . . .
I recommend thee to do exactly all that I mentioned in my previous letter for thy good, and in order to extricate thyself from the enmity of those who have caused my death.
J. B. COURTONNEL.
Jean Baptiste Emanuel Rouettiers, aged forty-five, had been a groom in waiting to Louis XVI.
I approach the fatal end, my dear wife and children. I embrace you affectionately with all my heart, which still beats and will beat to the last breath for you. Ever love one another, all three. Be happy for one another, and do not forget thy husband and father.
12 pluviôse, 11.30.
Jeanne Rouettiers de la Chauvinerie, wife of the Marquis de Charras, aged forty-one, was condemned for corresponding with émigré relatives.
TO CITIZEN CHARRAS AND HIS THREE CHILDREN, ASNIÈRES.
Adieu, my dear husband ; my poor children, adieu. Receive the last embraces of your affectionate wife and mother. All that I will add is that my heart in everything is yours. I approach the fatal moment. Never forget me. I ask my poor children that my last words be ever preserved by them. Adieu. I send you my last breath. I recommend you all to her who loves you, your aunt and sister. Adieu.
Guillaume Martin, a doctor, aged sixty-five, was one of seventeen inhabitants of Coulommiers condemned 15 pluvióse for 舠 a conspiracy to make Seine-et-Marne a second Vendée.” The description of death as a long journey, used also by the Duc de Biron, was probably a reminiscence of Rabelais’ reputed deathbed remark, “ Grease my boots for a long journey.”
TO CITOYENNE DUFRENE, COULOMMIERS.
Adieu, my dearest. I am very sorry for the pain which I have caused thee. It must he hoped that this will last only for a time. I wish you every kind of happiness, as also my friend Dufrene, who will prove to you that he loved me by loving and respecting you, and conforming to your will. I am soon going to start on a long journey. My last breath but one will be for Dufrene and for you, and my last will be for my God, who, I hope, in his mercy will receive me, and in whom I put my trust. Adieu, all my friends and neighbors.
Pray daily for me and for your father, if God allows me the grace of rejoining him in eternity.
Alexandre Pierre Cauchois, aged twenty-eight, architect, was condemned 22 ventôse for saying that one tyrant, meaning a king, was better than five hundred, meaning the Convention. He was, however, a Republican. On ascending the scaffold he exclaimed, “ Sons of the fatherland, you will avenge my death ! ” But the spectators waved their hats and cried, “ Vive la République ! ”
TO CITOYENNE CAUCHOIS.
All is over. For having honestly loved liberty and having been unable to keep silence in the presence of the wicked. I am sacrificed. A putrid fever would have done the same. If any consciousness is retained after death, my feeling will be for you and for my country. In spite of their injustice toward me, I persist in thinking that men are stupid rather than wicked. T should have liked to lose my life in the cause of liberty, but I fear my death will merely cement the public slavery. I leave you more unfortunate than myself, and my only regret is to add to your misfortunes. Adieu.
Pierre Jean Sourdille - Laval, aged thirty, barrister, was a prominent Girondin at Laval. The italics are mine.
TO CITOYENNE SOURDILLE LAVATELLE, LAVAL, MAYENNE.
Adieu, kind and affectionate wife, and adieu forever. It is two o’clock, and I hope at three to be on my way to the place de la Révolution.6 You see, my dearest, that by four o’clock I shall be happier, or at least not so unhappy as thou. Thou art the only person who made me cling to life. I defended myself with courage and firmness. I shall show this up to the last moment, and I shall have, I hope, the death of an honest man. ... I have swallowed thy ring. It was hound never to quit me. Adieu, my dearest. I send thee a thousand kisses.
Martin Blanchet, aged forty-three, kept a wineshop. When a captain in the National Guard, —in August, 1792, — it is alleged that he refused to join in the attack upon the Tuileries. His letter is ill written and ill spelled. It will be noticed that he addresses his wife as 舠widow.”
A LA CITOYENNE VEUVE, BLANCHET, MARCHANDE DE VINS, FAUBOURG POISSONNIÈRE, 18, PARIS.
Adieu, my wife, my children, forever and ever beloved. I beg thee, wife, tell my children often that I loved them. Adieu, wife and children. I am about to draw the curtain of life. All you, my friends, comfort my wife and children. This is what I ask of you. Adieu, 舒, adieu,舒[he names two friends], and all who sympathize with ray misfortunes. Embrace my little children. I end my days to-day.
Judged criminally, 23 ventôse, 1794. I embrace my wife and children.
[On the outside page.] Adieu, Tripotin, my friend. Wife, adieu, and children, — adieu for life. Preserve the papers of my trial for my children. Adieu forever.
François Nicolas Du Biez, alias Dignancourt, a clerk to the Paris municipality, was condemned for uttering forged assignats.
My dear love and faithful wife, I take advantage of this moment when my courage does not abandon me, to repeat to thee my last farewell. Receive it with equal courage and affection. Embrace frequently thy dear child, who is also mine. Bring him up in true republican principles. It is the wish of the people, it is the wish of the sovereign [that is, people]. Remind him frequently that he had a father who dearly loved him, and tell him how much I loved him. Thou knowest it, dearest. Tell him that his unfortunate father had no cause for self-reproach, and that he dies with the tranquillity inspired by innocence. The scaffold does not dishonor, but only the crime. Tell my friend the captain that I die with all the esteem for him which he has inspired in me. Embrace thy mother for me, and tell her not to forget me. It is nine o’clock. I have perhaps still two hours to live. I shall employ them in thinking of thee. Adieu, dearest; adieu, my child ; adieu to thy mother, whom I much esteem. Take courage, and do not give way to grief. I am thy dear and faithful spouse, the unfortunate
4 germinal, nine o’clock in the morning, year 2 of the French Republic, one and indivisible,
Claire Madeleine Lambertye de Villemain, aged forty-one, wife of a former secretary to the king, corresponded with her émigré brothers, and concealed the plate of the Polignac family, her kinsmen, to save it from confiscation. She denied having sent money to her brothers, and having known that some plate belonging to the Due d’Artois (the future Charles X.) was with that of the Polignacs. Condemned, 7 germinal.
TO CITOYENHE LAMBERTYE.
Weep not for your daughter, dear mamma. She dies worthy of you. She has loved you to her last breath. Live and take care of yourself and pray for me. Adieu. My last breaths are for you.
LAMBERTYE DE VILLEMAIN.
Jean Valery Harel, aged thirty, of Alençon, a cotton manufacturer, was accused of sending money to an émigré.
CONCIERGERIE, 9 germinal.
To MY WIFE :
Behold, my dearest, my last moments. I have been condemned to death by the Revolutionary tribunal. I am innocent of what I am accused of, but no matter, it is settled, and at least I die well, rest assured. Be consoled. This is the only happiness I can hope for during the brief moments remaining to me. My sister-in-law Houdouard, to whom this letter is addressed, will hand you my portrait, taken here. It is not very good, because I had to start for trial just when the painter was taking it. This testimony of my remembrance will be a sure guarantee to you of that affection which I have ever cherished for thee, and which will not end, but which I shall gladly carry away with me.
HAREL LE JEUNE.
There are also a few lines to his sister, and to his sister-in-law and her husband, begging them to break the news to his wife and to be kind to her.
Jean Claude Géant, aged forty-one, was a member of the administration of the Moselle, which, apprehensive of diplomatic difficulties with the prince of Nassau-Saarbrück, suspended the confiscation of an abbey belonging to him. For this act of disobedience he and ten colleagues were executed.
Human nature is nothing. Man appears for an instant, and his soul flies away to the bosom of his Creator. I go there to prepare thy place. Live for our dear children. I join my ancestors and thine.
Thy unfortunate husband,
Delphin Legardeur, aged fifty-two, cloth manufacturer at Sedan, was one of twenty-five municipal councilors and notables executed for resistance to the Jacobins.
I offer thee, my dear son, my last adieux. I commend thy mother to thee. Although the youngest, I hope that thou wilt set a good example to thy brothers, and that you will all continue to do your best to defend the Republic.
15 prairial, year 2.
Charles Louis Victor de Broglie, aged thirty-seven, son of Marshal de Broglie, had been an army officer. He was a member and one of the presidents of the National Assembly. Hesitating to recognize the fall of the monarchy, he was deprived of his military command, but eventually accepted the Republic, and returning to Paris joined the National Guard, till reinstated in the army. His being the son of an émigré was really his sole offense. This touching letter, written on a scrap of coarse paper, was addressed to his wife, then a prisoner at Vesoul. I had the satisfaction of acquainting the Due de Broglie, the statesman and Academician, with the existence and whereabouts of this, his grandfather’s last letter. One of the children spoken of married Madame de Staël’s daughter.
CONITEROERIK, 7 messidor.
I have been since yesterday at the Conciergerie, my dear Sophie. I am about to mount to the Revolutionary tribunal with the purity of conscience and calmness which inspire the courageous man. Whatever the result, it will be prompt. Bear it with firmness. Take care of thyself for our children, whom I load, like thee, with kisses, tears, and regrets. Never forget thy poor husband,
Jean Jacques Joseph Mousnier, aged thirty-eight, a lawyer, was one of thirtyeight prisoners condemned for the pretended plot at the Luxembourg. His anxiety for his guillotine toilet is characteristic.
TO CITIZEN ROYER, PAINTER, RUE HELVETIUS, 57.
CONCIERGERIE, 20 messidor.
Republic, one and indivisible.
I am anxious, comrade, to thank thee for the kindness which thou hast lavished on me during my fatal detention, for I have only twenty-four hours left. To all appearances, I shall be guillotined to-morrow, though the most innocent man in the world. Send me a shirt, pocket handkerchief, and a pair of stockings. The rest of my wardrobe will be an installment of what will be due to thee when the nation, my heir, relieves thee of the charge of my effects. Claim thine own at the Luxembourg. Adieu. My last compliments to thy wife and neighbors. Adieu forever.
Send me also the shabby coat which I lately sent thee with my overcoat.
There will be fifty sous for the commissionnaire who brings me the receipt.
The guillotining went on for three weeks more, and the suppression of letters continued to the end, but I have not met with any later farewell utterance.
J. G. Alger.
- From a drama by Thomas Corneille. The proper reading is, 舠 Le crime fait la honte, et non pas l’échafaud.”↩
- All the property of guillotined persons was confiscated.↩
- Of course out of the money left by the writer.↩
- A private hospital.↩
- On the seizure of Toulon, all the English in France were arrested as hostages.↩
- Where the g’uillotion then stood ; now the place de la Concorde.↩