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TitleSimon Schama Citizens a Chronicle of the French Revolution
TagsFrench Revolution Historian France Narrative Revolutions
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Total Pages466
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From one of the truly original scholars of our time, a landmark book: his magnificent and electrifyingly new history of the French Revolution.

At the heart of Simon Schama's account is the transforma-tion that permanently altered the history of Europe—of "subjjects" to "citizens." And
what fuels his argument is a strikingly fresh view of Louis X VI's France: hot-air balloons floating over Versailles...research chemists running tax
agencies...mathematicians lodged in the Louvre.. .a monarch skilled in nautical engineering, planning voyages of exploration in the Pacific... great

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cities glutted with speculative capital... formal divisions of rank and class melting before the invasive power of money... aristocratic entrepreneurs
presiding over coal mines and ironworks—these are not the usua\ images of an "o\d regime," resistant to all change, arthritically stumbling toward
revolution. On the contrary, Schama argues that the new order was born of an infatuation with modernity.

Although the book does not turn its back on the poverty and deprivation that accompanied France's transformations, Schama does not see these as
more extreme, or the burden of taxation heavier, than that of Britain or Prussia, both of which were spared revolution. So it is to the top, rather than
the bottom, of society that he draws our gaze. The crisis, as he shows us, came from a rift within the elite itself on how best to reinvig-orate the
state. It was a belief that a new political order would strengthen the country that united nobles, lawyers, priests and professional men, and imbued
them with a passionate faith that liberty and government were natural partners, that together they could make a new France—and (fatally)
persuaded them that popular violence could be tolerated, even managed, in the name of change.

The tragic unraveling of this euphoric vision of liberty and happiness into a scenario of hunger, anger, terror and death is compellingly told. As
Schama's story darkens, we watch his citizens become the prisoners, rather than the masters, of the bloodshed they have unleashed. Each successive
regime is destroyed by rivals who escalate the deadly spiral of rage and need. For while the leaders are often zealots of the new, those they lead are
mostly recruited from the ranks of the victims of change: artisans now forbidden to organize for better wages... peasants denied grazing land for
their livestock... soldiers brutalized by the "new discipline"... women who experience economic liberalism firsthand—as unaffordable bread prices.
We see how the collapse of any common purpose between the leaders and the led generates appalling convulsions of hysteria about conspiracies
and plots, then spontaneous street killings, butchery and massacre that make revolutionary France ungovernable. In the end, the State takes back
the violence it had relinquished to the people—but in so doing, it swallows up revolutionary liberty in a warrior state. Freedom surrenders to
Terror, patriotism to paranoia, eloquence to the guillotine. Schama calls his book "an argument in the form of a story,"

and the story is an epic narrative in which the conflicts of history express themselves in the personal experiences of the men and women he
chronicles. Some of them, such as Patriote Pal-loy, an entrepreneur in revolutionarv souvenirs, or the Bastille prisoner who befriended the rats
sharing his cell, are unfamiliar; others, more famous, such as Talleyrand and Lafavette. Mira-beau and Marat, Robespierre and the Marquis de
Sade. are re-imagined in all their rich contradictions. Drawing on the fullest resources of social and cultural history as well as politics, Schama
finds the thread of his story in images and artifacts, ceramics, calendars and almanacs, caricatures and paintings, songs and plays. His unique
approach, weaving in and out of private and public lives, brings us closer than we have ever been to the human reality of the French Revolution—
exhilarating and terrifying, seductive and macabre—to experience what William Wordsworth called "an hour of universal ferment" when "the soil
of common life was . . . too hot to tread upon."

simon schama was born in London, in 1945, and studied history at Cambridge University, where from 1966 to 1976 he was a Fellow of Christ's
College. From 1976 to 1980 he was Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Brasenose College, Oxford. In 1978 he was Frasmus Lecturer in the
Civilization of the Netherlands at Harvard, where he is now Professor of History and Senior Associate at the Center for European Studies. He is the
author of Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands 1780-1813 (1977); Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel (1979); and The
Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (1987). He lives with his wife and two children in Massachusetts.


Copyright © 1989 by Simon Schama

Maps copyright © 1989 by Jean Paul Tremblay

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York.

Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York.

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nobility since the Peace of Paris. The vanguard of the liberal nobility had long professed to want to exchange their titular status and feudal
"superstitions" for the new aristocratic dignity of "citizen." Now they had the opportunity to make good that claim. On the night of the fourth of
August they took it. Following Noailles and d'Aiguillon, like nervous acolytes made giggly with the thrill of initiation, successive ducs, marquis,
vicomtes, bishops and archbishops stripped themselves down to the happy nakedness of citizenship.

The Breton gentleman Le Guen de Kergall spoke of humiliating titles that "required men to be tied to the plow like draft animals" and that "forced
men to spend whole nights beating swamps to prevent bullfrogs from disturbing the slumber of voluptuous seigneurs." The Duc de Chate-let
(probably to the horror of many cures in the Assembly) proposed the abolition of tithes; the Bishop of Chartres and the Marquis de Saint-Fargeau
proposed the extinction of all exclusive rights of game and the authorization of peasants to kill any animals interfering with their crops or merely
for their own food. The Vicomte de Beauharnais spoke of the necessity for absolute equality of criminal sentencing and equal admission of all
citizens to both civil and military office, only to find himself bested by the Marquis de Blacon, who boasted that the Estates of Dauphine, that
notoriously vanguard body, had already instituted such a regime. The Marquis de Saint-Fargeau, Herault de Sechelles' colleague in the Parlement
of Paris, not only proposed the abolition of all noble exemption from taxes but that the decree be made retrospective to the beginning of 1789.

Then followed a bonfire of particularisms. The same provincial privileges and special constitutions that had been so stubbornly defended against
the reforms of the old regime as irreducible elements of the "French constitution" were now carelessly slung onto the heap of demolished
anachronisms. Representatives of the old pays d'etatsÑBurgundy, Artois, Languedoc, Dauphine, Alsace, Franche-Comte, Normandy and the
LimousinÑall came forward to sacrifice their privileges; they were followed by deputies of privileged cities like Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille and,
not least, Paris. Venality and heredity of officesÑother "liberties" for which Maupeou and Brienne had been condemned for threateningÑwere
likewise jettisoned, as was any kind of plurality of benefices for the clergy. Gone were Talleyrand's portfolio of income-producing abbacies; gone
were Lafayette's proprietary regiments. It was, said Ferrieres, who was himself lost in admiration, "a moment of patriotic drunkenness."

After this tidal wave of revolutionary altruism, it was not surprising that the Archbishop of Paris proposed a Te Deum to celebrate the event. Others
wanted a national feast to be held on the fourth of August each year and a special medal minted in commemoration. Through it all, Lally-
Tollendal, one of the earliest and most passionate paladins of liberty, sat with an accumulating sense of unease. He was becoming educated in the
callow-quality of romantic inebriation and passed an urgent note to his friend the Due de Liancourt, who was presiding. "They are not in their
right minds," he wrote, "adjourn the session." But Liancourt was neither courageous nor foolhardy enough to try. Instead, the sunrise shone
through the windows of the Salle des Menus Plaisirs as deputies wept, embraced, sang and surrendered themselves to the patriotic rhapsody. At
least, thought Lally-Tollendal, the monarchy should gain some credit from the discharge of all this brotherly love.

So, last of all, he rose, and with some effort confessed himself, also, to be "drunk with joy." Stretching the truth a good deal, he asked the deputies
to remember the king at whose invitation they had been convened, who had summoned them to the joyous reunion of minds and hearts. It was,
after all, in the midst of his nation that the good King Louis XII was declared "Father of his People" and it should now be in the midst of the
National Assembly that they should proclaim Louis XVI "Restorer of French Liberty."

The night of the fourth of August created a cult of self-dispossession, Giving something of one's own to the Nation became a demonstration of
patriotic probity. Those who did not have feudal titles or abbacies to give away could contribute to the hard-pressed coffers of the government
through other kinds of donation. On September 7, for example, a delegation


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115. Anonymous, the night of August 4, 1789

of painters' wives, led by Mme Moitte and including Mines David, Vestier, Vien, Vernet, Peyron and Fragonard, appeared before the Assembly to
offer them their jewels as a patriotic contribution. It seems likely that (like the painters themselves) they had begun to live in the realm of
neoclassical virtues, for the discarding of jewelry was highly reminiscent of the much-depicted story of Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, who,
when asked by a visiting patrician where her jewels were, proudly presented her children. Mme Moitte and the other women were careful to dress
themselves in white, hair simply coiffed as if they had stepped directly from a Roman history painting, and described the jewelry as baubles "they
would blush to wear when patriotism commanded them to sacrifice." After hearing the official recognition and vote of gratitude, the women were
given a torchlight procession to the Louvre with an honor guard from the students of the Academy of Painting, while a band played the familiar air
"Where Better Could One Be Than in the Bosom of One's Family?"

Women then led the campaign for patriotic contributions. The nuns of the Priory of Belle-Chasse at Versailles sent their silver; the Marquise the
Massolles her earrings; the Dame Pages three thousand livrcs from her manufacturing business. The nine-year-old Lucile Arthur sent a
gold chain,

her savings of two louis d'or and a letter imploring the Assembly to receive them, since to decline would cause her "too much grief and pain." Even
courtesans contributed something from their hearts of gold: Rabaut Saint-Etienne on September 22 read a letter from one of the "Magdalenes"
announcing to the Assembly, "Messieurs, I have a heart made for love and I have accumulated some things through loving; now I place in your
hands my homage to the patrie. May my example be imitated by my colleagues of all ranks."

While women undoubtedly set the tone, men too began to come forward and demonstrate their devotion to the common good. Camille Desmoulins'
newspaper, Les Revolutions de France et de Brabant, carefully itemized the contributions as a way of expressing provincial solidarity with the
patriotic cause. In Lyon a group of young people offered jewels and a poem dedicated to the "Fathers of the Patrie, august Senators"; eleven
servants of an English milord sent 120 livres; the customers of the Cafe Procope (where Desmoulins himself drank with Danton and the printer
Momoro) filled a tub with silver buckles from their shoes and made a chain of forty pairs that was then carried to the Assembly. Predictably an
epidemic of silver-buckle removal then broke out in Paris and all the major provincial towns. To be caught with any on one's shoes was tantamount
to self-incrimination.

The French Revolution, then, began with acts of giving as well as acts of taking. But its immediate future depended on what its first citizen, Louis
XVI, could bring himself to offer up for the patrie. At one point when the needs of the Treasury were particularly pressing, and when taxes still
required collection from his subjects, he sacrificed much of the royal table silver for the mint. Louis XIV had, after all, melted down the silver
furniture in the Hall of Mirrors when the war chest called for it. But more was being asked of this King. The sacrifice he was called on to make
was of his prerogatives rather than his ingots. And that seemed an altogether more painful dispossession.



The August decrees were the first serious test of Louis XVI's credibility as a patriot-king. As usual he was of two minds. In a letter to the

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defend the Girondins. Stripped and beaten senseless, she was rescued, some claimed by Marat. Whether or not the stories were true, Theroigne
recovered her consciousness but not her sanity. She was taken to a hospital for the poor and the deranged in the faubourg Saint-Marceau.
She would stay


locked up for the remainder of her life, another twenty three years, moved from one gloomy hospital to the next, ending up in La Salpetriere, more

a prison than an asylum, where she died in 1817.

Theroigne had been in prison before. In an imprudent journey back to her native Liege in 1791, she had been arrested by the Austrians and treated
as though she were a great and important spy. After interrogation in Belgium, she was transported to Kufstein Castle in the Tyrol (where, two
years later, the balloonist Blanchard was confined after crash-landing in the mountains, also on the assumption that he was a spy). After more
intensive interrogation, the Austrians could get nothing out of her and had to be satisfied with a diagnosis from the prison doctor that she was
suffering from "revolutionary fever."

After her skull had been staved in, that fever returned with all the force of an unstoppable delirium. She sat in a cell, her hair cropped, glaring at
the walls. Periodically the black silence that descended on her would be interrupted by a torrent of denunciation in half-intelligible revolutionary
phrases: ucomite de salut public, " "liberte, " "coquins. " In the fiercest paroxysms of her dementia she would rage against "moderates." In a period
of relative lucidity around 1808, someone who remembered the belle liegeoise of 1789 asked to see her and was immediately accused by Theroigne
of "betraying the cause of the people." He left not knowing how mad she really was.

To some, Theroigne became a source of amusement; to others, a quaint kind of living museum of half-forgotten and embarrassing slogans.
Periodically, well-meaning officials attempted to trace her family and wrote to the prefect of the department of the Ourthe for information. The
physician and specialist in the insane Esquirol, who was writing a treatise, Les Maladies Mentales, classified her as lypemanique or suffering from
a form of manic depression. The autopsy he performed after her death convinced him its cause lay in the irregular alignment of her colon.

By 1810 she had disappeared from the land of the living in all but biological fact. Clothes had become abhorrent to her, so she sat naked in her
cell, angrily refusing even the simplest wool dressing gown offered to protect her from the winter cold. On the rare occasions when she emerged
for air or to drink from the filthy puddles that formed in the courtyard, she consented, sometimes, to wear a light chemise but nothing more. Every
day she would throw cold water on the straw of her bed, sometimes breaking the ice in the yard to get at it, as if only glacial saturation could cool
the heat of her dementia. Periodically she was heard, still, to mutter imprecations against those who had betrayed the Revolution.

Oblivious of all visitors, concerned or callous, who saw her, Theroigne,


it seems, now lived entirely inside the Revolution and the Revolution inside her. Sympathy seems out oi place here, for in some sense the madness
of Theroigne de Mericourt was a logical destination for the compulsions of revolutionary Idealism. Discovering, at last, a person of almost sublime
transparency and presocial innocence, someone naked and purified with dousings of ice water, the Revolution could fill her up like a vessel. In her
little cell at La Salpetriere, there was at least somewhere where revolutionary memory could persist, quite undisturbed by the quotidian mess of the
human condition.

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214. Anonymous, engraving,

Theroigne de Mericourt at

La Salpetriere, circa 1810


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