Joseph Forster.

Some French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon online

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Online LibraryJoseph ForsterSome French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon → online text (page 9 of 19)
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fortunate than you, sir, without seeing my ambassador,
without speaking to any one here, I will take my dying
sister in my arms, place her in my carriage, and return to
France with her. If, on the contrary, fortune favours


you, all is finished for me. I will make my will before
meeting you. You will have every advantage over us ;
you may even laugh at our expense. Order them to
bring you breakfast." '

We need hardly say that before such, wit,
courage, and resources, Clavico threw up his arms.
He begged Beaumarchais on his knees not to ruin
him. His surrender to the brother was as cowardly
as the outrage inflicted on the sister. Beaumarchais
at last felt pity for the poor wretch, and eventually
gave him hope of pardon. He knew very well that
his poor sister really loved the good-looking, clever
scoundrel. The reconciliation was celebrated, the
banns were republished, when the miserable wretch
took flight again. Beaumarchais was warned by a
friendly officer to leave Spain at once. ' You have
not a moment to lose. Go at once, or to-morrow morn-
ing you will be arrested in your bed. The order is
given ; I have come to warn you. Clavico is a
monster; he has prejudiced every one against you.
Fly, fly at once, or, confined in a dungeon, you will
have neither protection nor defence.'

Beaumarchais' reply was : ' I fly ? I save my-
self ? I will perish rather ! Do not try to per-
suade me, my friends ; provide a carriage for me
with six mules by four o'clock to-morrow morning,
and I will go to Aranjuez.'

' I then shut myself up. I was nearly mad ; my
heart was in a vice ; nothing could calm my agi-
tation. I threw myself into a chair, where I re-


mained two hours, incapable of forming an idea or
a resolution.'

In a state of the wildest excitement he performed
the twelve hours' journey to Aranjuez. He rushed
into the presence of the French ambassador, who
told him that Clavico and his powerful friends had
acted with such consummate art that he could do
nothing for him except retard his arrest for a few
hours. Beaumarchais left the ambassador more
desperate than ever. He then rushed to a personal
friend of the king, who listened to his story with
interest and sympathy. This gentleman introduced
Beaumarchais to the cabinet of the king, to whom
he read the history of the whole affair. The king
instantly ordered the disgrace and dismissal of
Clavico from all his posts. Then the wretched
Clavico wrote to Beaumarchais for pity and as-
sistance. And our fiery, good-hearted friend was
fool enough to plead for the villain; but, thanks
to the better sense of those who knew the facts of
the case, he pleaded in vain.

Why are we all so in love with men like Beau-
marc^hais ?

I think because of the interest they take in
humanity. Careful, prudent, painstaking, exem-
plary persons may be very laudable, very respect-
able; but although they may gain our approval,
they never gain our love; while our erratic,
sparkling, loving, quarrelling, disreputable Beau-
marchais, Fielding, Mirabeau, Sheridan, Moliere,
Burns, live in our hearts, and their very names


make our eyes sparkle with delight. When it is
;i question of doing a generous action, they don't
*top to count the cost. They are not always think-
ing of the opinion of Mrs. Grundy. The one thing
needful with them is not a big balance at the
banker's : they would not see a man they call friend
go to ruin for 50/. when they could easily spare
300/. In short, our dear scapegraces, with all
their faults and shortcomings, can love some
things and some persons even more than them-
selves. And we foolish people who love them are
not such egregious idiots as some very respectable
and cold-blooded people suppose.



THE family name of this deeply interesting family
was Kiquetti. They originally came from Florence
to Marseilles, where John de Riquetti settled, en-
gaged in commerce, and amassed great wealth. An
unlucky bishop having, about the year 1562, in a
public document, referred to John de Biquetti as a
' trader of Marseilles,' as though despising his occu-
pation, John replied : ' With regard to the title of
" trader of Marseilles," which would be derogatory
to no one, since our kings have even invited nobles
to become participators in the commerce of this city,
I am, or was, a dealer in merchandise, in the same
manner that you are a dealer in holy water.'

I think that John de Biquetti was a worthy
ancestor of Mirabeau : he had a sharp, brilliant wit,
backed up by shrewd common sense, and knew when
and how to use it.

The following story will show that on the female
side there was no lack of courage ; and that the
leonine energy which distinguished the family came
from both sides.

Anne of Ponteves de Bon, the wife of a Riquetti,


was outrageously insulted by the Chevalier de
Griaque, a well-known bully. ' Scoundrel/ she ex-
claimed, placing the muzzle of a pistol to his head,
* I would blow out your brains, but that I have
children who will avenge me more worthily.' Accord-
ingly her son Francis, then under seventeen years of
age, hastened home from Malta, and instantly chal-
lenged and killed the ruffian.

Bruno de Kiquetti, another spark of this fiery
house, was the companion of Louis XIV. in his
youth. He would never flatter the young King by
being intentionally inferior to him in athletic sports.
His temper, like that of the rest of the house, was
that of a madman ; nor did he even try to restrain
it. A great number of anecdotes show him to have
been a man of the most brilliant qualities.

But we have so much to say about Mirabeau
himself that we must lose no time over his ancestors.
His father was a voluminous, not a luminous writer ;
a man of the most pedantic and obstinate character,
who quarrelled with his wife and formed an improper
attachment abroad. He was, at first, very proud of
the boy ; but his love turned to hate when he dis-
covered that his son had a genius and will of his
own, and that he could not be wound up and set just
as he pleased, like an eight-day clock.

Gabriel Honore Mirabeau, our Mirabeau, was the
fifth son of the Marquis, and was born on the
9th March, 1749, at Bignon. The size of the child's
head was so great that his birth nearly cost his
mother's life. One foot was twisted, and his tongue


was tied, but, as we know, he got it untied to good
purpose ; his strength and size were extraordinary,
and he had two teeth in his jaw when born : in fact
he had a very strong jaw. He smote the Philistines
indeed, but never with the jaw-bone of an ass. His
father, writing about him to his brother, said : * I
have nothing to say about my enormous son, only
that he beats his nurse, who does not fail to return
it, and they try which shall strike hardest.' Again :
'The hale and robust farrier's wife of whom you
speak, is the same that nursed my son. She is a
woman of mark, who has well brought up two lots of
children. She kept a forge, though a widow ; for,
having had two husbands, and finding that they did
not last, she refused a third.'

By the above quotations you see that Mirabeau's
father was no fool ; a fool never has a sense of
humour : that is why fools always hate witty men ;
they expect to be laughed at by them.

When three years old, Gabriel had the confluent
smallpox. A hasty application of some injudicious
prescription upon the tumefied face, caused the boy's
countenance to be deeply furrowed .and scarred. The
Marquis wrote some time after to his brother, the
Bailli: 'Your nephew is as ugly as the nephew of
Satan.' As all the other children were remarkably
beautiful, this accident may have been the cause of
a secret aversion in the parent; it certainly had a
great effect on others.

His private tutor, Poisson, an intelligent and
meritorious man, took every pains to develop his


146 MIRAl'.EAU.

mind, which showed early signs of great power.
From his fourth year Gabriel was curious, inquisi-
tive, and fond of reading. He possessed himself of
all the printed matter that came in his way. His
uncle, then the Chevalier Mirabeau, and Governor of
Guadeloup, displayed from the first great interest in
him ; inquired about him in his constant corres-
pondence with the Marquis, and afterwards used a
great influence in the formation of the young man's
character. He seems to have regarded him as the
true representative of the family. In Paris, during
1754, the father wrote to the uncle : ' Your nephew
is fat and strong. He is not forgotten, and his
education is excellent ; for that is the only thing to
prevent the smoke of the heart from drifting in a
wrong direction. All Paris talks of his precocity ;
nevertheless, as he is your child as well as mine, I
must tell you that his acquirements are not very
extensive at present. He has little vice, except
mechanical inequality, if it was permitted to break
forth. He has not much sensitiveness, and is as
porous as a bed of sand ; but he is only five years
old.' And again: 'May he ' (Poisson) ' make him an
honest man and a courageous citizen. This is all
that is necessary. "With these qualifications he will
make that race of pigmies tremble before him, who
play the great men at Court. I repeat, with sin-
cerity, the prayer which Joab made on behalf of
Eliakim, " May God hear my prayer ! "

At the age of seven he was confirmed by a car-
dinal. It was at the grand supper which succeeded


the ceremony that he made the singular distinction
related by himself. ' They explained to me that
God could not make contradictions : for instance, a
stick that had but one end. I inquired, whether a
miracle was not a stick which had but one end. My
grandmother never forgave me/

The boy became soon after this almost ungovern-
able, and was subjected to perpetual chastisement.
His precocity of mind, and also of body, was a cause
of almost perpetual anxiety and trouble. His father,
who really doated on him* at this age, humorously
describes him thus : ' This child, though turbulent,
is mild and easily controlled, but of a temper tend-
ing to indolence. As he does not ill resemble Punch
in figure, being all belly and posterior, he appears to
me very well qualified for the manoeuvres of the
tortoise he presents his shell and allows one to

Traits of generosity and honour were more
original with him ; though for these a great deal
must be attributed to instruction. The age was
sentimental, the tradition of nobleness was in the
family and belonged to him of right.

His father's aversion to him began to appear
about his twelfth year, and strengthened with his
growth. The Marquis writes thus : ' He has
an elevated mind under the frock of a babe.'
This shows a strange instinct of pride. 'Noble,
nevertheless, he is an embryo of a bloated bully,
who will eat every man alive before he is twelve
years old.'


The whole of the extraordinary anecdotes re-
lated of this unpaternal jealousy, show it to have
originated in a fear of the parent lest the son should
prove of too powerful a nature for himself to con-
trol; a fear sufficient, and more than sufficient,
to have caused the long animosity and separation
which ensued. The old eagle feared the young
one's beak, and would fain drive it from the nest.
Yet there seems to have been no malice nor ferocity
in the boy, only a natural disrespect for authority ;
the more painful, as it was united with a mature
generosity and a precocious disposition to animal vices.

Finding it impossible to govern his son at home,
the Marquis sent him to a military school at Paris,
where he was subjected to severe discipline under
the care of a wise master, who subdued his temper,
and so excited the boy's ambition that he began to
learn with great rapidity, and soon excelled all boys
of his age. His prodigious memory became stored
with an immense variety of knowledge. He mas-
tered Greek, Latin, and nearly every living lan-
guage, with marvellous quickness.

It is a very remarkable fact that Mirabeau,
Goethe, and Burns, were all born within a few
months of each other. Three born leaders of men ;
two of whom were badly received by their contem-
poraries : so badly that they retired from the scene
at an early age. Goethe lived the life of a demi-
god ; both the others wrecked themselves against the
vis inertia of stupidity, against which, as Schiller
says, ' the very gods fight to fail.'


But our concern is with the big-headed, pock-
marked, fighting, loving mass of contradictions
Mirabeau. Let us listen to his Draco of a father,
who thus again sketches the portrait of his son :
' A type, profoundly inconceivable, of baseness, sheer
dull grossness, and the quality of your dirty
caterpillar, that will never learn to fly. ... An
intelligence, a memory, a capacity, that strike,
that astonish, that frighten you. A nothing
bedizened with crotchets. He may fling dust in
the eyes of silly women, but will never be the
fourth part of a man, if by good luck he be any-
body.' This is the opinion of a pedantic father of
a son of genius. If he could have been drilled like
a mere brainless, heartless noodle, his martinet of a
father would have been satisfied with him. Nothing
irritates pedantic souls so much as the bright dazzling
light of genius.

At fifteen his father could stand the boy no
longer, and sent him to school at Paris, where he
made wonderful progress, not only in languages,
music, and mathematics, but proved his power of
winning all hearts by his fascinating manner.

To look at his face and to listen to his eloquent
tongue was to love him. He had that passionate
love of his fellow-man which shone in Burns,
Garibaldi, and Gambetta, and which wins all hearts
capable of loving. Love, like charity, covereth a
multitude of sins. The pious, canting members of
the community 'may talk of their faults that is all
they can understand of great men ; but we see into


their glowing hearts, almost bursting with love for
their suffering brothers and sisters, not to mention
their dear little ones ; and we feel that all the love
we can give them is an inadequate return for the
love they have showered on us. I would rather be
condemned with such sinners than saved with the
cold-blooded, canting saints who denounce them!

As the school in Paris was not sufficiently severe
to the young scapegrace, his loving father decided
that he should enter the army. So the boy's pock-
marked, shaggy, big head, with its flaming eyes, was
covered with a dragoon's helmet. He was then
eighteen. His regiment was stationed at Saintes.
The people soon learnt to like Mirabeau. His
colonel was a sour martinet : pipeclay had disagreed
with him. There was a bailiff in the town who had
a pretty daughter. She preferred the seamy, beam-
ing face of our hero to the colonel's. Then we can
fancy Mirabeau's love-making : it must have been
like Burns's. He had the tongue of the old serpent.
If men could not resist him, we cannot expect
women to do so. The colonel tried to be satirical at
Mirabeau's expense. He retorted in a way that
pulverised the poor colonel. One night our young
friend went to the gambling-house, and lost four louis.
Then he is denounced to his father as a reckless
gambler and seducer.

' What is to be done,' screams the fond father,
' with this devil's cub ? ' He resorts to a lettre de
cachet, and our fiery, passionate, big-headed friend is
sent to prison, without the Archer's daughter. His


prison was on the Isle of Rhe, whose stone walls
were beaten by the Atlantic.

Mirabeau wins the heart of his jailer, who pleads
for his pardon. Fighting at that time was going on
in Corsica. After a lot of pleading, his father
consented to the boy going there: he might get
knocked on the head. He is made sub-lieutenant of
foot in the legion of Lorraine. But before leaving
the Isle of Rhe, he fought his first duel. In Corsica
our friend worked like a giant ; studied, fought,
loved gaining, as usual, golden opinions from all
manner of men and women. In May, 1770,
Mirabeau returned to Toulon, with a lot of
manuscript in his pocket ; his head full of military
and other learning, like a library turned topsy-turvy.
Soon after this he visited his uncle, the brave Bailli
Mirabeau, who was enchanted with him, finds under
features terribly seamed and altered from what they
were, bodily and mentally, all that is loyal and
strong nay, an expression of something refined ;
declares him, after several days' incessant talk, to be
the best fellow on earth, if well dealt with, who will
shape into statesman, generalissimo, pope what they
pleased to desire. Another less polished verdict was
as follows : ' He is devilishly sharp ; but with the
wit of three thousand devils, and, by Jove, brave as
a lion ! '

Mirabeau proceeds to Paris, and wins still more
golden opinions ; but, of course, gets into mischief.
His bewildered father asks this memorable question :
' In the name of all the gods, what prodigy is this


that I have hatched ! ' He was a swallower of for-
mulas ; and France had enough to choke the biggest
throat one can imagine. To crown our hero's mis-
fortunes, he got married. A most unfortunate
marriage. But what a demon to keep in order, even
for a good and wise woman ! But poor Mirabeau' s
wife was neither good nor wise. He tried to make a
home for her, but was already deeply in debt. His
father-in-law helps him, but his stern father sends
him a lettre de cachet instead of money. Then our
fiery hero gets into hotter water still. A gentleman
writes some satirical verses about his sister. Mira-
beau meets him by chance, and, dreadful to relate,
horsewhips him in the road. Another and stronger
lettre de cachet is sent, with catchpoles to execute it.
Mirabeau is lodged in the Chateau d'If. Girt with
the blue Mediterranean, behind iron bars, without
pen, paper, or friends, except the Cerberus of the
place, who is ordered to be very strict with him,
there he shall devour his own lion-heart in soli-
tude. At last, even Cerberus relents, and gives our
friend pens, paper, sympathy, and counsel. He
is even visited by his sea-dog of a brother, who
was called the younger Mirabeau, and also the
barrel Mirabeau, because of his enormous girth,
and the quantity of drink he could conceal about
his person. Just try to fancy the genial joy of that

The wife, the brother, the sisters of Mirabeau, all
plead for his pardon ; but the inexorable father
refuses them all ; at last, he is sent to the Chateau


de Joux, in the Jura mountains, on an allowance of
fifty pounds a year. His wife ceases to plead for
him ; next forgets him : they never met again.

Near the Chateau de Joux was Pontarlier,
whither the prisoner is allowed to wander on parole.
Here our hero visited the Monnier household. Pre-
sident Monnier was seventy-five, his wife a little
over twenty. Her family had told her to choose
between her husband and a convent. She submitted
to the husband. Fancy our eloquent, fiery Mira-
beau visiting and lighting up with a wild and vivid
light this melancholy home. He was ugly, but he
had the fascination of genius. All the latent poetry
and passion of the poor, blighted girl woke up.
Mirabeau felt the danger of the situation, and wrote
to his wife to come to him. She replied icily to his
passionate appeals, that she thought he must be mad
to write as he did.

He returned to the Monnier family : the charm
became stronger and sweeter ; the welcome warmer
and warmer. But Mirabeau's jailor had made ad-
vances to Madame Monnier. He is filled with rage
at Mirabeau's success ; orders him not to leave the
castle ; and writes to the husband. The consequence
is an explosion and domestic chaos. To bring this
painful subject to an end, Mirabeau and Sophie fled
to Holland, where they lived on what he could earn
by his pen. Their life was very hard and very
shifty, but I think it was the nearest approach
to happiness that our stormy-hearted friend ever


This lasted for eight months, Mirabeau working
like a demon with his pen ; Sophie sewing, scrub-
bing, in fact, doing the roughest work for the man
she loved. At last they were tracked : Mirabeau
was condemned and sent to prison for forty-two
months ; Sophie was placed in a convent. They
were allowed to correspond. The letters are the
most powerful and pathetic love-letters ever written.
They met once more, only to quarrel. Poor Sophie,
at last, committed suicide. Still, she tasted the bitter
and sweet of life. She had lived and passionately
loved. The severe treatment Mirabeau received
during this long imprisonment nearly killed him.

In 1784 he visited England, where he became
infatuated with our constitution.

Now, a few words on the personal bearing and
manner of Mirabeau. He was a delightful com-
panion, and could overcome the strongest personal
prejudices by the generous and animated character
of his intercourse. He rejected the mere conven-
tional forms of good breeding ; called people by
their names without ceremonial addition ; and made
it his first care to remove all obstacles to a familiar
intercourse ; using for that end an agreeable asperity,
a pleasant crudity of expression, more apparent than
real, for under the disguise of roughness, sometimes
even of rudeness, was to be found all the reality of
politeness and flattery. After the stiff and cere-
monious conversations of conventional good breed-
ing, there was a fascinating novelty in his, never
rendered insipid by forms in common use. In fact,


he had the terrible power of familiarity. Mirabeau
could adopt any style of conduct and conversation,
and though not moral himself, he had a very de-
cided taste for the society of moral people.

He inspired confidence by candidly confessing
the wildness and vices of his youth, and by pro-
mising to devote the rest of his life to the cause of
humanity and liberty, without allowing any personal
advantage to lure him from his purpose. He had
always preserved in the midst of his excesses a
personal grandeur and dignity, which distinguished
him from the wretched crowd of worn-out rakes,
who, like walking shadows, haunted the streets of
Paris. No man was more jealous of the esteem of
those whom he himself esteemed ; and no man was
more sensitive and responded more readily when
appeals were made to his honour or principle. But
there was nothing uniform or permanent in his
moral character. His mind moved by fits and
starts, and was greatly governed by his passions.
When excited by pride or jealousy he was a

He was elected by Provence to the States-General.
When Mirabeau's name was read at the opening
of the Assembly it was received with jeers and
hootings. It was even proposed that his election
should be cancelled. He tried to speak two or three
times, but a general murmur reduced him to silence.
But one day, being called on to defend a friend, he
carried the Assembly away in a torrent of generous
eloquence, overcame all prejudices, and at once


gained general popularity. His dejection had been
great ; but now his elation was extreme. From that
time forth he ruled the feelings of the nation. Like
Burke, he loved the monarchy, in which he made a
great mistake, while he understood, and therefore
loved, the people. The secret of his power and
eloquence was that he dared to trust the inspirations
of a generous soul. What he dared to think he
dared with eloquent tongue to speak. He thought
nothing of rhetoric : he was convinced and thought
only of convincing. The laboured speeches of others
contrasted with his were like paper flowers compared
with fra errant wild flowers wet with the dew of the


Here is a short extract from one of Mirabeau's
speeches :

' Too often bayonets are the only remedy applied to
the convulsions produced by oppression and want. But
bayonets establish only the peace of terror the silence
of despotism the quiet of death. The people are not
a furious herd which must be kept in chains ! Always
quiet and moderate when free, they are only violent and
rebellious under governments which systematically debase
them in order to have a pretext for despising them.
When we consider what must result to the happiness of
25,000,000 men from a legal constitution, instead of
ministerial caprices from the consent of all the wills

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Online LibraryJoseph ForsterSome French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon → online text (page 9 of 19)