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MIRABEAU




MIRABEAU IN 1 789

(From a pastel by Boze belonging to M. Henry Mni-cel)



\_Frontispiece



FROM THE FRENCH OF

LOUIS BARTHOU

PRIME MINISTER OF FRANCE



ILLUSTRATED



NEW YORK
DODD MEAD & COMPANY









Printed in England

'/



CON'TENrs

CHAP. P*<^=

I THE FAMILY OF MIRABEAU 3

II EARLY YEARS 27
III FROM THE ChAtEAU d'iF TO THE CHATEAU DE

joux 48

IV MIRABEAU AND SOPHIE DE MONNIER 53

V MIRABEAU AT VINCENNES 7^

VI THE LAWSUITS AT PONTARLIER AND AT AIX 89

VII MADAME DE NEHRA I08

VIII MIRABEAU IN GERMANY I18

IX THE APPROACH OF THE REVOLUTION 1 26

X THE ELECTIONS IN PROVENCE 1 52

XI MIRABEAU AT THE STATES-GENERAL 161

XII FROM THE OPENING OF THE STATES-GENERAL

TO THE EVENTS OF OCTOBER 1 789 1 76

XIII FROM THE EVENTS OF OCTOBER 1 789 TO THE

TREATY WITH THE COURT 2o6

XIV RELATIONS WITH THE COURT 230
XV THE LAST THREE MONTHS 292

XVI MIRABEAU AS A STATESMAN 3°9

XVII MIRABEAU AS AN ORATOR 320
INDEX 339



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

To face page

MIRABEAU IN 1 789 Frontispiece

{Fro?n a pastel by Boze belonging to M. Henry Marcel)

THE CHATEAU AND VILLAGE OF MIRABEAU IN

PROVENCE 10 /

{From a photograph supplied by M. Maurice Barnes)

THE COMTESSE DE MIRABEAU 38 ^

(From a pastel belonging to M. de Montvalon)

MADAME DE NEHRA IIO /

{From a miniature belonging to M. Gabriel Lucas de Montigny)

THE MARQUIS DE MIRABEAU I46

{From a draivi->ig ifi the Paul Arbaud Collection at Aix)

FACSIMILE OF MIRABEAU'S HANDWRITING 222

{Draft of a letter to his father frojn the original in the collection
of M. Gabriel Lucas de Montigny)

MIRABEAU IN 1 79 1 284

{From a miniature by J. Lemoine belonging to M. F. Flameng)

DEATH MASK OF MIRABEAU 316

{Frotn a contemporary drawing in the Paul A rbaud Collection at
Aix)



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



To /ace page

MIRABEAU IN 1 789 Frontispiece

{From a pastel by Boze belonging to M. Hefny Marcel)

THE CHATEAU AND VILLAGE OF MIRABEAU IN

PROVENCE 10 ''

{From a photograph supplied by M. Maurice Barres)

THE COMTESSE DE MIRABEAU 38 ''

{From a pastel belonging to M. de Montvalon)

MADAME DE NEHRA IIO

{From a miniature belonging to M. Gabriel Lucas de Montigny)

THE MARQUIS DE MIRABEAU 146

{From a drawijtg in the Paul Arbaud Collection at Aix)

FACSIMILE OF MIRABEAU'S HANDWRITING 222

{Draft of a letter to his father from the original in the collection
of M. Gabriel Lucas de Montigny)

MIRABEAU IN 1 79 1 284

{From a miniature by J. Lemoine belonging to M. F. Flameng)

DEATH MASK OF MIRABEAU 316

{From a contemporary drawing in the Paul A rbaud Collection at
Aix)



ORIGINS



CHAPTER I

THE FAMILY OF MIRABEAU

His ancestors — Jean-Antoine — Count Alexander — The Bailli — The Atni
des Hommes, his life and writings — Family traits — The female line.

Renan has said that during the Revolution the terrible
gravity of events made ordinary men into men of genius
for three months or a year. True as this remark may be
in many cases, it is not applicable to Mirabeau. The
Revolution found splendid employment for the exceptional
gifts of the famous tribune ; but had there been no Revolu-
tion he would still have been recognized as a great man.
He came of a race of immemorial antiquity, whose qualities
and whose defects alike culminated in him. He cannot
be separated from his ancestry, and we cannot hope to
understand him without at least some summary know-
ledge of the sources from which he sprang.

His father, the Marquis Victor Riqueti de Mirabeau,
the author of the AtyiI des Hommes, from which he was
nicknamed, claimed connection with a Ghibelline family,
the Arrighetti, who were driven out of Florence in 1267
and 1268. Partial genealogists have more than once used
the ever ready resources of their profession to create a
foundation for this claim, but a strict examination of the
documents makes it more than doubtful, and in all prob-
ability the question will never be settled.

On the other hand there is authentic evidence that one
Pierre Riqueti was "created and elected" consul of
Seyne, now the capital of a canton in the arrondissement
of Digne, on January 26, 1346. This origin is less ancient

3



MIRABEAU

and less brilliant than that on which the Marquis de
Mirabeau used to pride himself, but if it lacks other merits
it has at least that of certainty.

The Riqueti family settled at Marseilles at the begin-
ning of the sixteenth century, and there engaged in the
coral trade and established a manufactory of scarlet cloth.
In 1562 Jean Riqueti was elected first consul of Marseilles.
"It was there," says the Marquis, this time with truth,
"that our family was really illustrious, for its distinction
was founded on public utility." It appears, indeed, that
Jean Riqueti acquired both a great reputation and a great
fortune. He married Marguerite de Glandeves, who be-
longed to the old Proven9al nobility, and in 1570 he
bought the lands and the castle of Mirabeau, situated on
the Durance. On September 27, 1620, his grandson,
Thomas, made an even more brilliant marriage with "the
lady Anne de Pont^ves, legitimate and natural daughter
of the late illustrious Seigneur Messire Pompee de
Ponteves, some time Seigneur de Buoulx, captain of fifty
men-at-arms." In 1660 he received the young Louis XV
at his house, and Letters Patent of the month of July
1685 raised the lands of Mirabeau to the dignity of a
Marquisate.

The son of Thomas, Honor6 III, soldier, scholar and
administrator, played an important part at Aix as first
procurator of the Marseilles district, which as delegate he
represented at Court. He died in 1687, and it was in his
son Jean-Antoine that the family of Riqueti de Mirabeau
produced its first characteristic type. Mirabeau describes
this Jean-Antoine, his grandfather, as "impressing every
one by his reputation, his services, his haughty and noble
bearing, his rapid eloquence, his proud humour, his
qualities, his virtues and even his defects."

Jean-Antoine was born on September 29, 1666, and
passed his childhood at the Chateau of Mirabeau, where
he was privately educated. He was tall, well built and

4



THE FAMILY OF MIRABEAU

handsome, generous and brave, and before he was eighteen
he was placed in the Corps of Musketeers, in which he
remained four years. His gallantry and his great love for
his profession led him constantly to the wars. In 1696
he had the command of an infantry regiment, which he
kept admirably in hand by his activity, firmness and even-
handed justice. He was more affable to the humble than
conciliatory with the great, and was a man of independent
character and ready repartee. Humorous and also terrible
sayings of his are quoted, which (as he was no courtier)
did not advance his fortunes. The Due de Vendome,
displeased with some exceedingly sharp answer which he
seems to have made to Louis XIV, said to him, "Hence-
forth I shall present you to the enemy, but never again
to the King."

Against the enemy at Chiari, at Luzzara, at Mantua he
was always first in the field, exposing his great frame to
every danger, and much less careful of his own life than
of those of his men. In 1705 at Cassano he disputed,
pistol in hand, with one of his friends the honour of
defending a bridge whose strategic importance was deci-
sive against the advance of Prince Eugene. A bullet
having broken his right arm he tried to use an axe with
his left, but a musket-ball cut the sinews of his neck and
also the jugular vein. He fell and was left for dead, his
body serving as a stepping-stone for the enemy. When
he spoke of Cassano in after years he used to say, "That
was the affair in which I was killed." He survived indeed,
but by no means unscathed, for he never recovered the
use of his right arm, and as the result of an operation,
the boldness of which astonished the people of those days,
he had to wear a silver collar to support his head.

His military career was thus interrupted when he was
forty. Inaction was burdensome, and he married. Neither
his character, which was impetuous and violent, nor his
infirmities seemed to indicate the choice of a young wife.

5



MIRABEAU

Yet it was a young, noble and beautiful lady that he
married. While taking the waters at Digne, where he was
nursing his wounds in 1706, he met Mile, de Castellane,
whose physical attractions no less than her goodness and
dignity made a deep impression on him. He tried, in a
strange fashion, to secure her hand without her parents'
knowledge. This odd proceeding, which was intended to
hasten matters, delayed the marriage, which did not take
place until two years later, when Mile, de Castellane was
twenty-three. She knew how to give way to the humours
of a husband whose character had been exacerbated by
suffering. "Ah, madame ! " she said one day to a friend
who had presumed to pity her, "if you only knew what a
happiness it is to be able to respect one's husband " ; and
she forgot neither the respect she owed to him nor that
which she owed to herself.

The regiment having been sold, Jean-Antoine retired to
his castle of Mirabeau, where, with his wife's assistance
and not without violence, he tried to put his estates in
order. His brother-in-law failed in the execution of an
order, and the system he established cost him a hundred
thousand crowns. This loss, which reduced the family
from embarrassment to poverty, was bravely borne. They
retired to Aix, and after a time entirely redeemed their
fortunes by order and economy. Jean-Antoine died on
May 27, 1737, in his seventy-first year, honoured and
regretted even by those who had suffered under his
masterful temper. His wife survived until 1769.

There were seven children of the marriage of Jean-
Antoine Riqueti and Frangoise de Castellane. Four of
these died before their father: three sons survived him.
Their education had been very severe. They had never
dared to "worship their father to his face," nor had they
ever any prolonged conversation with him. They were
so afraid of him that his letters, which he used to dictate
to his wife, made their hearts beat faster. "I never had

6



THE FAMILY OF MIRABEx-lU

the honour," wrote his eldest son, "of touching the flesh
of this venerable man, who was essentially a good father,
but whose dignity restrained the goodness which was
ever present but never visible." It may not be too much
to say that this was a particular case of a general scheme
of education. The severity which kept at a distance the
expressions of filial tenderness proceeded from Jean-
Antoine's exceptional temperament. His sons were not
so well armed against the vicissitudes of life.

All three had been made Knights of Malta while still
boys. The youngest, Alexandre-Louis, had the shortest,
but not the least romantic career. His "impetuous eccen-
tricities," as his brother called them, though characteristic
of the family, were not such as could be recalled with
pleasure. After serving under Vauvenargues he was pro-
moted to the rank of captain in the King's regiment, and
was present at the battles of Dettingen, Fontenoy, Lawfeld
and Raucoux, and at the sieges of Namur, Ypres and
Furnes. Like his father he was a gallant soldier. But
the " lively passions " which Vauvenargues had detected
in him hurried him into an intrigue with a certain Mile.
Navarre, mistress of Marshal Saxe (among others), and
in 1747, at the age of twenty-three, he married her. This
union scandalized his family, but did not last long. He
lost his wife in 1749, but was not reconciled with his rela-
tives, who could not forgive his having married beneath
him. ( In 1755, however, he gained the favour of the
Margravine of Bayreuth, sister of Frederick the Great,
who happened to be passing through Avignon, and who
made him her Grand Chamberlain and Privy Councillor.
First the King of Prussia and then the Margravine sent
him on missions to the Court of France. This unexpected
greatness conciliated his brothers, but nothing could
satisfy his mother short of a second marriage which would
enable her to forget the first. He accordingly took as his
second wife the Countess von Kunsberg, on whom the

7



MIRABEAU

Margravine conferred a dowry as a reward for his services.
This alHance repaired his credit, but brought him only a
few months of happiness, for he died in July 1761, less
than a year after the wedding. His wife, "the little
Countess," went to live with her mother-in-law, by whom
she was adored, and on whom she lavished a devoted
affection in the terrible trials which afflicted her old age.
The Countess died in 1772.

This uncle of Mirabeau played no part in the life of
the tribune, unless it were by example, and I have, there-
fore, passed rapidly over his career, though it is by no
means without interest. The other son of Jean-Antoine,
known as "the Bailli," concerns us much more directly.
He was the second in order of birth, and lived from 1717
to 1794. In his long career, which was honourable, and
even glorious, he did not perhaps obtain all the prizes
which his services deserved, but his only real misfortunes
were the misfortunes of his family, and of these he had
more than his share.

At thirteen years of age he entered the corps attached
to the King's Galleys, and had a precocious youth. At
fifteen, according to his own account, he had "already gone
the devil of a pace," and the phrase must be construed
in its fullest sense. It would have mattered little if he
had merely sown his wild oats, but he was fond of brandy,
and his excesses often landed him in prison. When he
was eighteen he cured himself of this horrible vice by a
deliberate effort of his powerful will, and thereafter hardly
a year of his life passed without a campaign. He was
twice wounded, and once made prisoner by the English,
and one by one he rose through all the ranks of the
service. In 1751 he was a post-captain and the author of
numerous memoirs. In 1752 he was made governor of
Guadeloupe, where almost every public department was
under his control. The gallant sailor was also a wise
administrator, and he tells us that he was "loved a little,

8



THE FAMILY OF MIRABEAU

esteemed a good deal, and feared even more." It is clear
that those who feared him most were the rogues, who were
numerous and rapacious, and who were powerless in
presence of his uncompromising honesty. Slavery was
repugnant to his humane sentiments, and ideas of this
kind, which were hostile to so many interests, some
of them illicit, made him anything but a favourite
with the bureaucracy, against which he maintained a
struggle entirely to the credit of his courage and his
integrity.

He returned to France for reasons of health in 1755,
and resumed active service in the following year, when he
was wounded at the siege of Mahon. His experience and
his services justified his ambition, and even his expecta-
tion, of becoming Minister of Marine. On two occasions,
in 1757 and 1758, the patronage of Madame de Pompadour
seemed on the point of realizing his hopes. But the heroic
admiral was a bad courtier; he had inherited from his
father a contempt not only for death, but also for intrigue,
and the Ministry of Marine escaped him. Other employ-
ment, however, was found for his exceptional qualities.
From 1758 till 1761, under Marshal de Belle-Isle, he
was Inspector-General of the Coast-guard of Saintonge,
Picardy, Normandy and Brittany. During the Seven
Years' War this post was no sinecure. The Minister of
War, who had appointed him, found him invaluable. At
St. Malo, at Saint Cast, at Havre he rendered the greatest
possible services against the English, for whom he had
no love, and whom "he was accustomed to regard as the
enemies of the human race." A letter from his elder
brother, dated December 16, 1760, in the following terms,
brought him back to Paris : "My dear brother, I am about
to be arrested; as it is by order of the King we have
nothing to say . . ."

This brother was two years his elder, and he was on
terms of the closest affection with him. The younger, as

9



MIRABEAU

became a man of spirit and high integrity, performed the
duties imposed by the laws of primogeniture with loyalty
and devotion. He regarded his brother as the head of the
family, to whom he "left the charge of his business affairs."
Even in matters concerning himself and his own career he
asked and took his advice. They were usually far from
each other, and they constantly exchanged long letters
(more than four thousand are extant), in which they dis-
cussed all manner of topics. There are few instances of
correspondence so varied in interest and so vivacious.
There is a whole world of ideas in the letters which the
brothers wrote to each other, and in order to understand
them we must go back a little, and study in the Marquis
de Mirabeau what would have been the strangest figure in
the Riqueti family, had not the Marquis himself had a son
whose glory, whose genius and whose vices surpass and
efface all that his " unbridled race " had produced before
him.



Victor de Riqueti, father of the Tribune, was born on
October 5, 17 15, in the small town of Pertuis in Provence,
where his mother had gone (as she went in the case of her
two subsequent children) for her confinement. At three
years of age he was made a Knight of Malta. It is not
clear whether he had his first schooling at Aix or at Mar-
seilles. But in any case, in accordance with the family
tradition, his education was not prolonged, for at the age
of fourteen he entered the army as an ensign. His father,
in a somewhat brusque leave-taking, advised him to be
good in order to be happy; but his life, in the course of
which he was neither the one nor the other, was not in
harmony with this prudent counsel. After two years with
his regiment he was sent to the "Academy " at Paris, where
he became "the head of a band of worthless young men."
He was regular in his work, but excesses, which he himself




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THE FAMILY OF MIRABEAU

describes as "amazing," undermined his health and ex-
hausted his resources. His father turned a deaf ear to all
financial appeals, and by the paternal order he joined
Duras's regiment at Besan^on, with the rank of captain.
He saw some active service, made some unsuccessful
appearances at Versailles, contracted some debts, was
wounded, wearied of a profession in which he was a failure,
and, in order to quit it with honour, sent in his papers on
March 7, 1743.

The labours of authorship suited him better than the
profession of arms. In 1737, and perhaps even earlier, he
had taken up political economy, and had written copiously.
It was about this time that he made the acquaintance of
Vauvenargues, an officer like himself and a distant relative.
Vauvenargues soon diagnosed his character. "You, my
dear Mirabeau," he wrote, "are of an ardent, melancholy
temper, prouder, more restless, more unstable than the sea,
with a sovereign insatiability for pleasure, knowledge and
glory." In this sentence there is a complete portrait, and
it may not be premature to say that the Marquis's son was
destined to resemble it very closely. It may be added that
the Marquis de Mirabeau had as just an idea of Vauven-
argues as the latter had of him ; so much so that in his
letters he actually reveals to his friend his true talent, and
promises him reputation in the "republic of letters," if he
will only display strength, accuracy and depth of thought.
He encourages and stimulates the moralist, and reproaches
him with affectionate insistence for allowing the gifts and
the genius lavished on him by nature to remain hidden.
As for himself, devoured, as he confesses he is, by the
ambition to make his name, to be "somebody," he seeks
in literature a consolation for the disappointments of his
military life. He writes verse and prose, he composes
portraits in the manner of La Bruyere ; he researches and
collaborates with Le Franc de Pompignan in the Voyage
de Languedoc et de Provence, written in 1740, and he

II



MIRABEAU

interests himself in agricultural questions because "a
philosopher ought to end there."

Meanwhile, while awaiting the hour of this philosophic
termination, the Marquis de Mirabeau turned his thoughts
to marriage. At the age of twenty-five he confessed that
"pleasure had become the executioner of his imagination,"
and that ^'immorality was for him a second nature." This
confidence, addressed to Vauvenargues, was, it is true,
accompanied by the hope that women would after a time
cease to occupy "the smallest corner " in his life. He may
have thought that in 1743 that time had come. At any
rate he was a man of agreeable presence, sufficient fortune,
and a high-sounding name ; he was twenty-eight years of
age and free from military service, and he made up his
mind to marry. The net revenue left to him by his father
may be estimated at 16,000 livres. In 1740 he had bought
the estate of Le Bignon in the Gatinais, ten leagues from
Sens, and two years later a "corpse of a house " in the Rue
Bergere at Paris.

Being thus provided with a town house and a country
seat, he looked for a wife, and found one in 1743 in the
Vassan family. M. de Vassan was the son of a president
of the Chambre des Comptes of Paris ; he came from the
Soissonais and had married the daughter of the Marquis
de Sauveboeuf, who, in addition to property in Perigord
and in Poitou, had brought him the barony of Pierre-
Bufifi^re, near Limoges. Of this marriage was born a
daughter, Marie-Genevieve. In 1743 she was seventeen
and already a widow, though her first marriage had been
a marriage only in name. The Marquis de Mirabeau did
not know this young lady, but he asked for and obtained
her hand. As it was not, therefore, her personal charms
which influenced him, one would naturally have supposed
that it must have been her money, were it not known that
the marriage contract gave Mile, de Vassan only 4000
livres of dowry, and also that her mother reserved to

12



THE FAMILY OF MIRABEAU

herself the free disposal of her immense fortune. The
Marquis was, it would seem, content with expectations.

The marriage took place at the Chateau d'Aigueperse,
near Limoges. Its financial advantages were doubtful,
and were not compensated by the attractions of the lady.
Mile, de Vassan was neither beautiful nor ugly. She did
not altogether lack humour, but she had no serious
interests. Her character was harsh, difficult and irritable.
She was, in fact, a futile, unstable and petulant person, who
discharged her household duties without either ability or
charm. In all she did she was shiftless and unsystematic,
and there was a certain slovenliness in her manners (not to
call it by a worse name) which was quite out of harmony with
her birth and station. With all this she was very exacting,
and her jealousy was so easily aroused that there were con-
stant tearful scenes, followed by "consolatory negotiations."

The Marquis's friends were amazed that he should have
married a woman whose absurdities could not fail to be an
obstacle to his career and a hindrance to his legitimate
ambitions. After his very first interview with her the
Bailli came to the conclusion that "the girl was not fit to
be seen anywhere." Her husband, however, continued to
put up with her. To his wife's turbulent affection he
opposed a kindof patient resignation which was rather good
nature than love. Ill-assorted as their union was, it was for
a time comparatively peaceful, and in eleven years eleven
children were born to them, of whom only five survived.

The Marquis divided his time between the management
of his estates and the study of political economy. In 1747
he wrote a, Political Testament, which was never printed.
Its central idea, surrounded as it is by many oddities,
seems to be the reconstruction of a kind of feudal aristo-
cracy, rejuvenated and fortified by the development of the
powers of local authorities and the magisterial privileges
of the nobility. In 1750 he published, but did not sign, a
Memoir on the utility of the Provincial States in relation

13



MIRABEAU

to the Royal Authority. The mere title of this piece
impHes a whole programme, the boldness of which led
d'Argenson to attribute the anonymous pamphlet to the
President de Montesquieu. I will only quote one passage



Online LibraryLouis BarthouMirabeau, from the French of Louis Barthou .. → online text (page 1 of 29)