24 May 1743|
Boudry, Principality of Neuchâtel, Prussia (now part of Switzerland)
|Died||13 July 1793
|Cause of death||Assassination|
|Alma mater||University of St. Andrews, MD|
|Occupation||Journalist, politician, physician, scientist|
|Political party||Jacobin Club (1789–1790)
Cordeliers Club (1790–1793)
Jean-Paul Marat (French: [ʒɑ̃pɔl maʁa]; 24 May 1743 – 13 July 1793) was a political theorist and amateur scientist who became best known for his role as a radical journalist and politician during the French Revolution. His journalism became renowned for its fierce tone, uncompromising stance toward the new leaders and institutions of the revolution, and advocacy of basic human rights for the poorest members of society.
Marat was one of the most radical voices of the French Revolution. He became a vigorous defender of the sans-culottes, publishing his views in pamphlets, placards and newspapers, notably his L'Ami du peuple (Friend of the People), which helped make him their unofficial link with the radical, republican Jacobin group that came to power after June 1793.
Marat was assassinated by Charlotte Corday, a Girondist sympathizer, while taking a medicinal bath for his debilitating skin condition. In his death, Marat became an icon to the Jacobins as a revolutionary martyr, as portrayed in Jacques-Louis David's famous painting, The Death of Marat.
Life, education and political involvement
Jean-Paul Marat was born in Boudry in the Prussian Principality of Neuchâtel, now part of Switzerland, on 24 May 1743. He was the second of nine children born to Jean Mara (Giovanni Mara), a native of Cagliari, Sardinia, and Louise Cabrol, a French Huguenot from Castres. His father was a Mercedarian "commendator" and religious refugee who converted to Calvinism in Geneva. At the age of sixteen, Marat left home in search of new opportunities, aware of the limited opportunities for outsiders. His highly educated father had been turned down for several college (secondary) teaching posts. His first stop was with the wealthy Nairac family in Bordeaux. After two years there he moved on to Paris where he studied medicine without gaining any formal qualifications. Moving to London in 1765, for fear of being "drawn into dissipation", he set himself up informally as a doctor, befriended the Royal Academician artist Angelica Kauffman, and began to mix with Italian artists and architects in the coffee houses around Soho. Highly ambitious, but without patronage or qualifications, he set about inserting himself into the intellectual scene with works on philosophy ("A philosophical Essay on Man", published 1773) and political theory ("Chains of Slavery", published 1774). Voltaire's sharp critique of "De l'Homme" (an augmented translation, published 1775–76), partly in defence of his protégé Helvétius reinforced Marat's growing sense of a widening gulf between the philosophes, grouped around Voltaire on one hand, and their 'opponents', loosely grouped around Rousseau on the other.
Around 1770, Marat moved to Newcastle upon Tyne. His first political work, Chains of Slavery, inspired by the extra-parliamentary activities of the disenfranchised MP, and later Mayor, John Wilkes, was most probably compiled in the central library here. By Marat's own colourful account, he lived on black coffee for three months, during its composition, sleeping only two hours a night – and then slept soundly for thirteen days in a row. He gave it the subtitle, "A work in which the clandestine and villainous attempts of Princes to ruin Liberty are pointed out, and the dreadful scenes of Despotism disclosed". It earned him honorary membership of the patriotic societies of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Carlisle and Newcastle. The Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society Library possesses a copy, and Tyne and Wear Archives Service holds three presented to the various Newcastle guilds.
A published essay on curing a friend of gleets (gonorrhoea) probably helped to secure his medical referees for an MD from the University of St Andrews in June 1775. On his return to London, he published Enquiry into the Nature, Cause, and Cure of a Singular Disease of the Eyes.
In 1776, Marat moved to Paris following a brief stopover in Geneva to visit his family. Here his growing reputation as a highly effective doctor, along with the patronage of the Marquis de l'Aubespine, the husband of one of his patients, secured his appointment, in June 1777, as physician to the bodyguard of the comte d'Artois, Louis XVI's youngest brother who was to become king Charles X in 1824. The position paid 2,000 livres a year plus allowances.
Marat was soon in great demand as a court doctor among the aristocracy and he used his new-found wealth to set up a laboratory in the marquise de l'Aubespine's house. Soon he was publishing works on fire and heat, electricity and light. In his Mémoires, his later enemy Brissot admitted Marat's growing influence in Parisian scientific circles. When Marat presented his scientific researches to the Académie des Sciences, they were not approved for official publication. In particular, the Academicians were appalled by his temerity in disagreeing with (the hitherto uncriticised) Newton. Benjamin Franklin visited him on several occasions and Goethe described his rejection by the Academy as a glaring example of scientific despotism. In 1782, Marat published his "favourite work", a Plan de législation criminelle. It was a polemic for penal reform, inspired by Rousseau and Cesare Beccaria, which had been entered into a competition announced by the Berne economic society in February 1777 and backed by Frederick the Great and Voltaire. Marat's entry contained many radical ideas, including the argument that society should provide fundamental (natural) needs such as food and shelter if it expected all its citizens to follow its (civil) laws, that the king was no more than the "first magistrate" of his people, that there should a common death penalty regardless of class, and that each town should have a dedicated "avocat des pauvres" and set up independent criminal tribunals with twelve-man juries to ensure a fair trial.
In April 1786, he resigned his court appointment and devoted his energies full-time to scientific research. He published a well-received translation of Newton's Opticks (1787), which was still in print until recently, and later a collection of essays on his experimental findings, including a study on the effect of light on soap bubbles in his Mémoires académiques, ou nouvelles découvertes sur la lumière ("Academic memoirs, or new discoveries on light", 1788).
As a guest of the Nairac family in the leading slave port of Bordeaux, Marat may have witnessed aspects of the trade, since Monsieur Nairac was a leading slave-merchant, and later an ennobled member of the National Assembly. But the metaphorical use of slavery imagery from political discourses at the time, including Marat's own, derived from a well-trodden English republican tradition. In 1792, soon after the uprisings in the Caribbean island and sugar colony of Saint-Domingue (later Haiti after its revolution), Marat wrote that those in St. Domingue are "a separate people" from France. He cited the new constitution (of 1791), "The basis of all free government is that no people can be legally subject to another people..." (from "The Friend of the People" 1792. See the excerpt in Dubois & Garrigus, editors, "Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789–1804", pp. 111–112).
"Friend of the People"
On the eve of the French Revolution, Marat placed his career as a scientist and doctor behind him and took up his pen on behalf of the Third Estate. In 1788, when the Assembly of Notables advised the assembling of the Estates-General for the first time in 175 years, Marat devoted himself entirely to politics. In January 1789, he published his Offrande à la Patrie ("Offering to the Nation") which touched on some of the same points as the Abbé Sieyès' famous "Qu'est-ce que le Tiers État?" ("What is the Third Estate?"). This was followed by a "Supplément de l'Offrande" in March, followed in July by "La Constitution, ou Projet de déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen", intended to influence the drafting of France's new constitution, then being debated in the National Assembly.
On 12 September 1789, Marat began his own newspaper, entitled Publiciste parisien, before changing its name four days later to L'Ami du peuple ("The People's friend"). From this position, he often attacked the most influential and powerful groups in Paris, including the Commune, the Constituent Assembly, the ministers, and the Châtelet, (the ancien regime legislative body). In January 1790, he moved to the radical Cordeliers section, then under the leadership of the lawyer Danton, was nearly arrested for his aggressive attacks against Jacques Necker, Louis XVI's popular Finance Minister, and was forced to flee to London. In May, he returned to Paris to continue publication of L'Ami du peuple and briefly ran a second newspaper in June 1790 called "Le Junius français" named after the notorious English polemicist Junius. Marat faced the problem of counterfeiters distributing falsified versions of L'Ami du peuple, which led him to call for police intervention, which resulted in the suppression of the fraudulent issues, leaving Marat the continuing sole author of L'Ami de peuple.
During this period, Marat made regular attacks on the more conservative revolutionary leaders. In a pamphlet from 26 July 1790, entitled "C'en est fait de nous" ("We're done for!"), he warned against counter-revolutionaries, advising, "five or six hundred heads cut off would have assured your repose, freedom and happiness."
Between 1790 and 1792, Marat was often forced into hiding, sometimes in the Paris sewers, where he almost certainly aggravated his debilitating chronic skin disease (possibly dermatitis herpetiformis). In January 1792, he married the 26-year-old Simonne Evrard in a common-law ceremony on his return from exile in London, having previously expressed his love for her. She was the sister-in-law of his typographer, Jean-Antoine Corne, and had lent him money and sheltered him on several occasions.
Marat only emerged publicly on the 10 August Insurrection, when the Tuileries Palace was invaded and the royal family forced to shelter within the Legislative Assembly. The spark for this uprising was Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg's provocative proclamation, which called for the crushing of the Revolution and helped to inflame popular outrage in Paris.
The National Convention
Marat was elected to the National Convention in September 1792 as one of 26 Paris deputies although he belonged to no party. When France was declared a Republic on 22 September, Marat renamed his L'Ami du peuple as Le Journal de la République française ("Journal of the French Republic"). His stance during the trial of the deposed king Louis XVI was unique. He declared it unfair to accuse Louis of anything before his acceptance of the French Constitution of 1791, and, although implacably he said believing that the monarch's death would be good for the people, defended Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, the King's counsel, as a "sage et respectable vieillard" ("wise and respected old man").
On 21 January 1793, Louis XVI was guillotined, which caused political turmoil. From January to May, Marat fought bitterly with the Girondins, whom he believed to be covert enemies of republicanism. Marat’s hatred of the Girondins became increasingly heated which led him to call for the use of violent tactics against them. The Girondins fought back and demanded that Marat be tried before the Revolutionary Tribunal. After attempting to avoid arrest for several days Marat was finally imprisoned. On 24 April, he was brought before the Tribunal on the charges that he had printed in his paper statements calling for widespread murder as well as the suspension of the Convention. Marat decisively defended his actions, stating that he had no evil intentions directed against the Convention. Marat was acquitted of all charges to the riotous celebrations of his supporters.
The fall of the Girondins on 2 June, helped by the actions of François Hanriot, the new leader of the National Guard, was one of Marat's last achievements. Forced to retire from the Convention as a result of his worsening skin disease, he continued to work from home, where he soaked in a medicinal bath. Now that the Montagnards no longer needed his support in the struggle against the Girondins, Robespierre and other leading Montagnards began to separate themselves from him, while the Convention largely ignored his letters.
Marat was in his bathtub on 13 July, when a young woman from Caen, Charlotte Corday, appeared at his flat, claiming to have vital information on the activities of the escaped Girondins who had fled to Normandy. Despite his wife Simonne's protests, Marat asked for her to enter and gave her an audience by his bath, over which a board had been laid to serve as a writing desk. Their interview lasted around fifteen minutes. He asked her what was happening in Caen and she explained, reciting a list of the offending deputies. After he had finished writing out the list, Corday claimed that he told her, "Their heads will fall within a fortnight", a statement she later changed at her trial to, "Soon I shall have them all guillotined in Paris". This was unlikely since Marat did not have the power to have anyone guillotined. At that moment, Corday rose from her chair, drawing out from her corset a five-inch kitchen knife, which she had bought earlier that day, and brought it down hard into Marat’s chest, where it pierced just under his right clavicle, opening the carotid artery, close to the heart. The massive bleeding was fatal within seconds. Slumping backwards, Marat cried out his last words to Simonne, "Aidez-moi, ma chère amie!" ("Help me, my dear friend!") and died.
Corday was a Girondin sympathiser who came from an impoverished royalist family – her brothers were émigrés who had left to join the exiled royal princes. From her own account, and those of witnesses, it is clear that she had been inspired by Girondin speeches to a hatred of the Montagnards and their excesses, symbolised most powerfully in the character of Marat. The Book of Days claims the motive was to "avenge the death of her friend Barboroux". Marat's assassination contributed to the mounting suspicion which fed the Terror during which thousands of the Jacobins' adversaries – both royalists and Girondins – were executed on supposed charges of treason. Charlotte Corday was guillotined on 17 July 1793 for the murder. During her four-day trial, she had testified that she had carried out the assassination alone, saying "I killed one man to save 100,000".
Memory in the Revolution
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Marat's assassination led to his apotheosis. The painter Jacques-Louis David, a member of one of the two "Great Committees" (the Committee of General Security), was asked to organise a grand funeral. David took up the task of immortalising Marat in the painting The Death of Marat, beautifying the skin that was discoloured and scabbed from his chronic skin disease in an attempt to create antique virtue. David, as a result of this work, has since been criticized as glorifying the Jacobin's death. The entire National Convention attended Marat's funeral and he was buried under a weeping willow, in the garden of the former Club des Cordeliers (former Couvent des Cordeliers). After Marat’s death, he was viewed by many as a martyr for the revolution, and was immortalized in various ways in order to preserve the values he stood for. His heart was embalmed separately and placed in an urn in an altar erected to his memory at the Cordeliers in order to inspire speeches that were similar in style to Marat’s eloquent journalistic skills. On his tomb, the inscription on a plaque read: "Unité, Indivisibilité de la République, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ou la mort". His remains were transferred to the Panthéon on 25 November 1793 and his near messianic role in the Revolution was confirmed with the elegy: Like Jesus, Marat loved ardently the people, and only them. Like Jesus, Marat hated kings, nobles, priests, rogues and, like Jesus, he never stopped fighting against these plagues of the people. The eulogy was given by the Marquis de Sade, delegate of the Section Piques and an ally of Marat's faction in the National Convention (there is evidence to suggest that shortly before his death Marat had fallen out with de Sade and was arranging for him to be arrested). By this stage de Sade was becoming appalled with the excesses of the Reign of Terror and was later removed from office and imprisoned for "moderatism" on the fifth of December.
On 19 November, the port city of Le Havre-de-Grâce changed its name to Le Havre-de-Marat and then Le Havre-Marat. When the Jacobins started their dechristianisation campaign to set up the Cult of Reason of Hébert and Chaumette and Cult of the Supreme Being of Robespierre, Marat was made a quasi-saint, and his bust often replaced crucifixes in the former churches of Paris.
By early 1795, Marat's memory had become tarnished. On 13 January 1795, Le Havre-Marat became simply Le Havre, the name it bears today. In February, his coffin was removed from the Panthéon and his busts and sculptures were destroyed. His final resting place is the cemetery of the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont.
His memory lived on in the Soviet Union. Marat became a common name and the Russian battleship Petropavlovsk (Russian: Петропавловск) was renamed Marat in 1921. A street in the centre of Sevastopol was named after Marat (Russian: Улица Марата) on 3 January 1921, shortly after the Bolsheviks took over the city.
Described during his time as a man "short in stature, deformed in person, and hideous in face," Marat has long been noted for physical irregularities. The nature of Marat's debilitating skin disease, in particular, has been an object of ongoing medical interest. Dr. Josef E. Jelinek noted that his skin disease was intensely itchy, blistering, began in the perianal region, and was associated with weight loss leading to emaciation. He was sick with it for the three years prior to his assassination, and spent most of this time in his bathtub. There were various minerals and medicines that were present in his bath while he soaked to help ease the pain caused by his debilitating skin disease. The bandana that is seen wrapped around his head was soaked in vinegar to reduce the severity of his discomfort. Jelinek's diagnosis is dermatitis herpetiformis.
After Marat's death, his wife may have sold his bathtub to her journalist neighbour, as it was included in an inventory of his possessions. The royalist de Saint-Hilaire bought the tub, taking it to Sarzeau, Morbihan in Brittany. His daughter, Capriole de Saint-Hilaire inherited it when he died in 1805 and she passed it on to the Sarzeau curé when she died in 1862. A journalist for Le Figaro tracked down the tub in 1885. The curé then discovered that selling the tub could earn money for the parish, yet the Musée Carnavalet turned it down due to its lack of provenance as well as the high price. The curé approached Madame Tussaud's waxworks, who agreed to purchase Marat's bathtub for 100,000 francs, but the curé's acceptance was lost in the mail. After rejecting other offers, including one from Phineas Barnum, the curé sold the tub for 5,000 francs to the Musée Grévin, where it remains today. The tub was in the shape of an old-fashioned high-buttoned shoe and had a copper lining.
Besides the works mentioned above, Marat also wrote:
- Recherches physiques sur l'électricité, &c. (1782)
- Recherches sur l'électricité médicale (1783)
- Notions élémentaires d'optique (1784)
- Lettres de l'observateur Bon Sens à M. de M sur la fatale catastrophe des infortunés Pilatre de Rozier et Ronzain, les aéronautes et l'aérostation (1785)
- Observations de M. l'amateur Avec à M. l'abbé Sans . . . &c., (1785)
- Éloge de Montesquieu (1785) (provincial Academy competition entry first published 1883 by M. de Bresetz)
- Les Charlatans modernes, ou lettres sur le charlatanisme académique (L'Ami du Peuple, 1791)
- Les Aventures du comte Potowski (unpublished manuscript first published in 1847 by Paul Lacroix)
- Lettres polonaises (unpublished manuscript first printed in English in 1905; recently translated into French but authenticity disputed)
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (February 2013)|
- Isaac Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology - Second Revised Edition, 1982, p.334.
- Belfort Bax 2008, p.5.
- de Cock, J. & Goetz, C., Œuvres de Jean-Paul Marat, 10 volumes, Éditions Pôle Nord, Brussels, 1995.
- Les Chaines de l’Esclavage, 1793 (ed. Goetz et de Cock) p4167 (6). Numbers in brackets refer to the original version.
- "Lit & Phil Home – Independent Library Newcastle". Litandphil.org.uk. Retrieved 9 January 2010.
- Gregory Fremont-Barnes (2007). Encyclopedia of the age of political revolutions and new ideologies, 1760–1815: vol 1. Greenwood. pp. 1:450.
- Jelinek, J.E. (1979). "Jean-Paul Marat: The differential diagnosis of his skin disease". American Journal of Dermatopathology 1 (3): 251–2. doi:10.1097/00000372-197900130-00010. PMID 396805.
- Belfort Bax 2008, p. 191.
- Andress, 2005, p. 189.
- Andress, 2005, p. 191.
- (Russian) Streets of Sevastopol – Marat Street
- Adolphus, John. Biographical Anecdotes of the Founders of the French Republic. London: R. Phillips, 1799. p 232.
- Stanley Loomis, Paris in the Terror; J.B. Lippincott Company, 1964), 42.
- Ransom, Teresa, Madame Tussaud: A Life and a Time, (2003) pp. 252–253.
- Stanley Loomis, Paris in the Terror(J.B. Lippincott Company, 1964), 42.
- Andress, David (2005). The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France, New York: SFG Books.
- Belfort Bax, Ernest (1901). Jean-Paul Marat; The People's Friend, A Biographical Sketch. Vogt Press; Read Books (2008). ISBN 978-1-4437-2362-6.
- Conner, Clifford D. Jean Paul Marat: scientist and revolutionary (1999)
- Furet, Francois, and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989) pp 244–51
- Gottschalk, Louis Reichenthal. Jean Paul Marat: a study in radicalism (University of Chicago Press, 1927)
- Schama, Simon. Citizens: A chronicle of the French Revolution (1989)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Marat, Jean-Paul". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Conner, Clifford D. Jean-Paul Marat: Tribune of the French Revolution (2012) excerpt and text search
- Conner, Clifford D. Jean Paul Marat: Scientist and Revolutionary (2nd ed. 2012) online review from H-FRANCE 2013; excerpt and text search
- Fishman, W. J. "Jean-Paul Marat", History Today (1971) 21#5 pp 329–337; his life before 1789
- Furet, François and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989), pp. 244–51
- Gottschalk, Louis R. Jean Paul Marat – Study In Radicalism (1927)
- Palmer, R.R. Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution (1941) excerpt and text search
- 1989–1995: Jean-Paul Marat, Œuvres Politiques (ten volumes 1789–1793 – Text: 6.600 p. – Guide: 2.200 p.)
- 2001: Marat en famille – La saga des Mara(t) (2 volumes) – New approach of Marat's family.
- 2006: Plume de Marat – Plumes sur Marat (2 volumes) : Bibliography (3.000 references of books and articles of and on Marat)
- The Correspondance de Marat has been edited with notes by C. Vellay (2006)
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