Louis de Loménie.

Beaumarchais and his times. Sketches of French society in the eighteenth century from unpublished documents online

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tba:nslated by










TK'.'- 5^''' " -.-, -iS






My deae Feiend, Permit me to dedicate to you this
work, which has cost me more labor than any of my
others. Owing to the value of the documents which it
contains, it will, perhaps, not fall at once into oblivion.
If it should be its privilege to live for some short period,
it would be very gratifying to me to think that, at the
same time, it caused this public testimonial to live, of
the profound esteem and the heartfelt and grateful affec-
tion which your deputy at the College of France enter-
tains for you.



A few pages, containing details regarding the French
stage in the last century, criticisms upon the dramatic
works of M. de Beaumarchais, and other matters of no
interest to the American reading public, have been omit-
ted from this edition of M. de Lom^nie's work.



A Garret in the Rue du Pas-de-la-Mule. State of the Papers left by
Beaumarchais. Gudin, the Punctual Man. Beaumarchais' first
work of Art. Portrait of a Lady. Beaumarchais' previous Biog-
raphers Page 13


Birth of Beaumarchais. His Family. The Home of a small Bour-
geois in the Eighteenth Century. Julie Beaumarchais as the Dying
Swan 25


Beaumarchais' Childhood. His Education. ^Beaumarchais as " Che-
rubino." Beaumarchais turned out of doors. Beaumarchais as a
Watchmaker. His first Lawsuit 38


Beaumarchais' Appearance at Court. Court Titles. The Controller
of the Pantry. Beaumarchais' first Marriage. His Position with
"Mesdames de France." The inexpert Watchmaker. A Duel with-
out Seconds. A Debt of Honor. Beaumarchais' Literary Educa-
tion 57


Beaumarchais and Paris du Vemey. The Grand Rangership of
Rivers and Forests. Beaumarchais Lieutenant-general of Pre-
serves 75


Beaumarchais and Clavijo. Beaumarchais at Madrid. A Breach of
Promise of Marriage. M. de Grimaldi. Beaumarchais in the Com-
missariat. Beaumarchais' Seguedillas. Beaumarchais at the Card-
table. Beaumarchais and Voltaire. The Spanish Drama 88




Beaumarchais on his Return from Spain. An Episode in his Private

Life. His Love-affair with Pauline. Beaumarchais' Love-letters.

^ Eigaro, Pauline's Friend Page 106


Beaumarchais' first Dramas. Euge'nie, The Two Friends. His sec-
ond Marriage 128


Beaumarchais and his Lawsuits. The Count de la Blache. An
Ingenious Advocate. The Disputed Document. Death of Beau-
marchais' second "Wife. An Indiscretion. *'The Barber of Se-
ville." 135


Madame Menard. A Portrait by Grimm. A jealous Duke. The
Rivals. The Duke attacks Gudin. The Duke attacks Beaumar-
chais 147


Beaumarchais at For-l'Eveque. Beaumarchais in Seclusion. Madame
Menard's Intercession. Beaumarchais in his Prison. Beaumarchais
gives in. A Letter to a Child. Goezman and his Report. Beaumar-
chais in Despair 165


The Maupeou Parliament. Beaumarchais' Action against Goez-
man 174


The Memorials of Beaumarchais' Adversaries. Goezman suspended.
The " Confrontation." The " Great Bertrand." Marin the "Gaze-
tier de France" 184


Composition of the Memorials. Voltaire and the Memorials. The
Goezman Case abroad. An anonymous Letter. Councilor Gin.
Madame du Deffand to Horace Walpole. The Sentence 192


Beaumarchais' secret Missions. The "Journalist in Armor." Value
of Madame du Barry's Honor. Death of Louis XV. The young
King. More Libels. The confidential Agent 204



The Chevalier d'Eon. Mademoiselle d'Eon at St. Petersburg. M.
d'Eon at London. The ChevaUer and the Queen of England. The
Chevalier's little Account. The Chevalier and Beaumarchais. The
Chevalier and Gudin. The Chevalier and M. de Sartines...Page 223

Restitution of Civil Rights. The Barber of Seville. Final Victory
over the Count de laBlache 24:8


Beaumarchais and the War of Independence. France and England in
1775._Beaumarchais and Wilkes. Memorial to the King. The Op-
position in England. Beaumarchais to the King. Beaumarchais
supported by the Ministiy. The Ministry's first Grant 255


Arthur Lee. Chances of a War with England. Dr. Dubourg and
Beaumarchais' "Young Ladies." Roderigue Hortalez and Co.
Franklin and the American Deputation. Beaumarchais' Agent in
America 276


Relations of France with England. Recognition of American Inde-
pendence. War between England and France. The "Fier Roderi-
gue" in Action. Beaumarchais on the Treaty of 1763. Congress
and the Supplies 305


The American Commissioners. Bills at a long Date. Prolonged De-
lays. Beaumarchais' first Million. Ai-bitration proposed. Beau-
marchais in Distress. Repudiation persisted in. Ultimate Com-
promise 319


Voltaire's Works. The Margrave of Baden. Beaumarchais and Cath-
arine of Russia. Opposition to Beaumarchais' Speculation 344


Position of Beaumarchais before the Representation of" The Marriage
of Figaro." Opposition to the Performance. Beaumarchais exer-
cising the Censorship. Beaumarchais and the Prince of Nassau.
A Paladin of the Middle Ages in the eighteenth Century 350



" The Marriage of Figaro." First Representation. Geoffrey and the
Comedy. Distribution of the Parts. The Benevolent Maternal In-
stitution. The Tiger and the Flea. Beaumarchais in St. Lazare.
Quarrel with IMirabeau Pa^e 377


Another Lawsuit. Exercise of Marital Authority. A complaisant
Husband. Bergasse and his Memorials. Verdict for Beaumar-
chais 395


" Tarare." Beaumarchais' House and Garden. Napoleon and
Beaumarchais' Daughter. Mademoiselle Eugenie. La Mere Cou-
pable 406


Beaumarchais after the 10th August. His G0,000 Guns. His Lawsuit.
The Convention 421


Beaumarchais Agent for the Committee of Public Safety abroad, and
at the same time on the List of Emigrants. Difficulties of his Mis-
sion. Confiscation of his Property. Imprisonment of his Family.
Private Life at Paris during and after the Reign of Terror. Beau-
marchais at Hamburg 431



Beaumarchais after his Return to France. His life under the Directo-
ry. His death 441

Conclusion 456

Appendix 459



A Garret in the Rue du Pas-de-la-Mule. State of the Papers left by
Beaumarchais, Gudin, the Punctual Man. Beaumarchais' first
work of Art. Portrait of a Lady. Beaumarchais' previous Biog-

Acco^nPANiED by a grandson of Beaumarchais, I one day
entered a house in the Rue du Pas-de-la-Mule. We went up
stairs to a garret into which no one had penetrated for several
years, and on opening the door which was not done without
difficulty raised a cloud of dust which almost suffocated us.
I ran to the window for air ; but, like the door, the window
had so completely lost the habit of opening, that it resisted
all my effiDrts : the wood, swollen and rotten from dampness,
threatened to fall to pieces beneath my hand, when I took
the wise resolution of breaking two of the panes, and we were
at length able to breathe and cast our eyes freely around us.
The little room was covered with boxes and cases filled with
papers. Before me, in this uninhabited and silent cell be-
neath this thick layer of dust, I had all that remained of one
of the most lively wits one of the most noisy, agitated, and
varied existences which belonged to the last century. I had
before me all the papers left fifty-four years ago by the author
of the "Marriage of Figaro."

When the superb mansion built by Beaumarchais, on the
boulevard which bears his name, was sold and pulled down,
his papers were removed to a neighboring house, and shut up
in the room where I found them. The presence of a brush
and of a few gloves, intended to preserve the hands from dust,
showed that from time to time visits had become more rare,
death having taken away in succession the widow and daugh-


ter of Beaumarchais. His son-in-law and grandchildren, fear-
ing the documents might fall into negligent or hostile hands,
had resolved to let them lie in peace ; and thus valuable materi-
als for the history of the eighteenth century thus all the sou-
venirs of an extraordinary career had remained buried for more
than twenty years in a deserted cell, the aspect of which filled
me with a profound melancholy. In disturbing the rest of this
heap of papers, yellow with age, written or received in former
times in anger or in joy by a being who as Madame de Stael
said of ]\Iirabeau was so strongly animated, so fully in posses-
sion of life, it seemed as if I was performing an exhumation.
I fancied I saw one of those tombs in Pere la Chaise which,
although visited frequently in the first instance, become at last
covered with nettles, reminding us incessantly of the forgetful-
ness which follows us on the earth, from which we pass so

One portion, however, of the papers had been arranged with
care : it was that which related to the numerous and varied
transactions of Beaumarchais as pleader, merchant, shipowner,
contractor for government stores, and administrator.* The

* When Beaumarchais had become rich, and enjoyed the reputation
of being a man of universal attainments, he had every plan, every pro-
ject, in whatever brain it might have originated, addressed to him, in
hopes that his co-operation might be obtained. Some notion may be
formed of the number from the following list, which only embraces the
contents of a single portfolio.

State of the different Projects suhmitted to the Consideration of

M. de Beaumarchais.

Project of a loan for the Duke de Chartres, 1784. Copy of the patent
authorizing the Duke de Choiseul to borrow 400,000 francs, 1783. Proj-
ect of a universal system of criminal legislation. Observations on the
means of acquiring land in Scioto. Document for the associated pro-
prietors of the inclosure of the Quinze-Yingts. Notes on the civil ex-
istence of Protestants in France. Project of a loan equally beneficial
to the king and to the public. Prospectus of a mill to be established at
Harfleur. Project of a communication with India by the Isthmus of
Suez. Paper on the conversion of peat into coal, and on the advant-
ages of this discovery. Papers containing a plan for giving the king
twenty vessels of the line and twelve frigates, to sene as escort for
trading vessels to the colonies. Paper on the plantation of rhubarb.
Prospectus of a financial operation, and loan in the form of a state


other portion, which presented a biographical, literary, or his-
torical interest, was in comparative disorder ; it could be seen
that the classification had been left to the cashier Gudin, a
zealous man of business, who assigned the first rank to prac-
tical matters. Accordingly, after having disinterred from this
chaos the manuscripts of the three dramas and the opera of
Beaumarchais, we looked in vain for the manuscripts of the
"Barber of Seville" and "Marriage of Figaro," until, having
caused a locksmith to open a chest, the key of which had
been lost, we discovered the two manuscripts at the bottom,
beneath a mass of useless papers.* At the side were the
works of a watch, executed on a large scale in copper, and
bearing the following inscription: ^'' Caron films cetatis 21 an-
norum regidatorem invenit et fecit, 1753." It was the invention
with which Beaumarchais, the young watchmaker, made his
debut in life. The juxtaposition in the same box of these
objects, of such very different kinds, the masterpiece of the
watchmaker, and the two masterpieces of the dramatic author,
had something remarkable in it ; it seemed to be a reminis-
cence of the Eastern monarch, who placed in the same box his
shepherd's garment and his royal cloak. At the bottom of
this box were also some portraits of women. One of these
a very small miniature representing a beautiful woman of
from twenty to twenty-five years of age was wrapped up in

lottery. Project of an office of exchange and of a bank of accumula-
tion. Project of a bridge to the arsenal (this last project, now realized,
was one which much occupied the old age of Beaumarchais).

* These two manuscripts are copies, but full of corrections, addition*;,
and alterations, which are all in the handwriting of Beaumarchais.
They appear to have been used at the first representation of each of
the two pieces. The alterations are very numerous, above all in the
"Barber of Seville," the two last acts of which, the fourth and the fifth,
were cut down into one, between the first and second representations.
In the manuscript I find the two acts as they were originally planned
by the author. Various other sketches relating to these two above-
mentioned pieces the sketches of ''Eugenie," the " Two Friends," the
" Guilty Mother," and the "Memorials against Goezman" (many parts
of which have been rewritten, as many as three times, in Beaumar-
chais' own handwriting), allow us to put an end to the ridiculous ques-
tion, which has been again raised during our own period, namely,
whether Beaumarchais was really the author of his own works.


a piece of paper, bearing the following words in a delicate but
rather scratchy handwriting : " / return you my portrait "
graceful but fragile relics ; less graceful, however, than our-
selves, since they survive us ! What has become of this beau-
tiful person of ninety years since ? (I say ninety years, be-
cause I recognized the writing, which dates from 1764.) What
has become of this beautiful person, who, by way of sealing a
reconciliation no doubt, had written, " I return you my por-
trait." She has gone, as the poet Villon would say, " where
last year's snow has gone !"

Among the numerous documents which this cabinet con-
tained, many appeared to have been put in order by Beau-
marchais himself, with the intention of making use of them for
the memoirs of his life ; and it could be seen at the same time
that, after forming this project, he had abandoned it. Thus, in
a voluminous portfolio containing his correspondence with M.
de Sartines, and the details of his travels as secret agent of
Louis XV. and Louis XVL, the following lines in his own
handwriting are to be seen: '^Original documents remitted hy
M. de Sartines materials for the memoirs of my life ;" lower
down, in the same handwriting, are the words, '''useless noiv.^'

The explanation of this is, that Beaumarchais, in his old age,
during the first republic, leaving his daughter with his embar-
rassed affairs and his lawsuits against the existing government,
considered he might injure her, and even injure his own rep-
utation, if he called attention to his monarchical antecedents,
and, above all, to that part of his career during which he was
in the direct service of Louis XV., Louis XVI., and their

However this may have been, the examination of those pa-
pers makes us regret exceedingly that Beaumarchais did not
carry out his project of relating himself the singular phases of
an existence which was mixed up with all of the events of his
period. Of all the famous men of the eighteenth century, he
is probably the one about whom the greatest number of fabu-
lous statements have been circulated, while the real incidents
of his life have only been made known to the public by a fcAV
vague pages which he has inserted here and there in judicial
pleadings, in which the apologetic form and the discussions


which necessarily occur, put the reader on his guard, and sat-
isfy his curiosity in a very incomplete manner.

Every thing which has been written during the last fifty
years about the author of the " Marriage of Figaro" has been
taken from the same source, that is to say, borrowed from the
essay published by La Harpe in 1800, and which forms part
of his "Course of Literature."* The chapter devoted in this
work to Beaumarchais is sufficiently developed. La Harpe,
perceiving with reason that in Beamarchais the man is supe-
rior to the writer, gives a little more scope to the biographical
part of the subject than he is in the habit of doing with other
authors ; but whether, so soon after his death, Beaumarchais'
papers had not yet been arranged, or whether La Harpe did
not think it right to penetrate too far into an existence which
was bound up with those of a multitude of persons who were
alive when he was writing, it is certain that he has confined
himself to such general information as he might have gather-
ed from the widow of the defunct ; and that, in a biographic-
al point of view, his chapter is the merest sketch, in which
there is not a date, not a detail, put down with exactness, and
in which the principal parts are scarcely indicated, to say noth-
ing of some rather grave errors which have been religiously
reproduced by all subsequent biographers. It is not the less
incontestable that this chapter of La Harpe's " Course of Lit-
erature" has been of much benefit to the reputation of Beau-
marchais, which had been so vigorously attacked. Although
a severe, and occasionally too harsh a critic of the dramatic au-
thor, La Harpe renders to the qualities of the man, with whom
he was acquainted, a justice which can not be suspected of
partiality ; for the celebrated aristarch had at this time become
very hostile, not only to the writings, but also to the writers
of the eighteenth century ; and the unexpected exception which
he makes in favor of Beaumarchais, the praises which he lav-
ishes upon his disposition, the warmth with which, before any

* I must except an interesting article published recently by M. Sainte
Beuye. The brilliant author of the " Causeries du Lundi," knowing
that I had Beaumarchais' papers in my possession, did me the honor to
apply to me for information regarding him, and I commxmicated to him
a certain number of details of which he has made excellent use.


one else had done so, he refutes the mass of calumnies which
had been heaped upon the head of a man whose life was a con-
tinued struggle, have contributed not a little to prevent all
conscientious writers who came after him from estimatins; the
author of the " Marriage of Figaro" by the dialectics and some-
times atrocious imputations of his numerous adversaries.

The following is an extract from an unpublished letter of
La Harpe addressed to Madame de Beaumarchais six months
after the death of her husband, December 1, 1799, just when
the critic was engaged upon his essay. This letter proves
the spontaneity and sincerity of La Harpe's sympathy, which
astonished some persons when the eleventh volume of the
" Course of Literature" appeared.

"December 1.

" My own opinion," writes La Harpe, " of the excellent husband
whom you regret, had long since made me foresee what is now sug-
gested to you with regard to him by your very natural and praise-
worthy affection. I have always been indignant at the calumnies and
persecutions, equally odious and absurd, of which he has so often been
the object. You may be certain, madam, that on this point thorough
justice shall be done ; and this is, indeed, one of the reasons which
have led me to think of placing a notice of him in the chapter on the
* Comedy of this Century ;' but, although this chapter has long been
in the hands of the printer, the notice is not yet written. First of all,
it will be necessary, according to my method, to read again every
thing he has written ; and, as I spend so much time in writing, I have
not much left for reading. The article must be done very carefully,
moreover. I have others to finish previously, and I shall perhaps
have the pleasure of seeing you before I commence it : it will be the
better for it in every respect.

" You must be equally at rest, madam, as regards every thing which
concerns his talent. I have always had a high opinion of it, and I like
to render justice. I would doubtless rather have rendered it to him
during his lifetime, and I esteemed him sufficiently to have enabled
me, while I did so, to add a few words of disinterested criticism ; the
article would then only have found its place in the rapid glance at con-
temporary literature which will conclude my work. His literary
powers, however, belong to posterity ; and, although it is not at pres-
ent very far removed from him, I shall endeavor to give utterance to
its voice as if a considerable distance already existed between them.
My opinion will not be open to suspicion. I was more one of his ac-
quaintances than one of his friends, and I never received from him


any of those services which he rendered so willingly to men of let-
ters, and of which I am not ignorant.

" Believe me, &c., Delaharpe."*

The Essay of La Harpe is important, then, as an honest tes-
timony in favor of the good qualities of Beaumarchais ; but
as a biography it gives a very insufficient idea of the vicissi-
tudes of his existence, and of the relation which it bore to the
history of his time. An estimable writer, the brother of Gu-
din, the cashier of whom I lately spoke, Gudin de la Brenel-
lerie, who was during thirty years one of the most attached
and intimate friends of Beaumarchais, had been struck by the
omissions in this Essay of La Harpe's, and had resolved to
supply them.f With this view he had prepared a detailed no-

* "VYhile in other places we adopt for the name of La Harpe the or-
thography in most general use, we think we ought to mention that in a
great number of his letters which we possess he always signs his name

t As Paul Philippe Gudin de la Brenellerie will have to appear more
than once in this work, as Beaumarchais' J^c/ms Achates, he deserves to
be made the subject of a special notice. Sprung from a Genevese fam-
ily, he was bom in Paris in 1738. Like the author of the "Marriage
of Figaro," he was the son of a watchmaker. His intimacy with him
commenced in 1770, and continued without a cloud until the death of
Beaumarchais. Gudin surWved his friend thirteen years ; he died, cor-
respondent of the "Institute," February 26th, 1812. This writer, who
is frequently praised by Voltaire, had more fertility than talent: he
published a large number of works in prose and verse, and had several
tragedies acted or printed, one of which was burnt at Rome, in 1768, by
order of the Inquisition. All those productions are now equally for-
gotten. Few persons even have any idea that one of the lines most fre-
quently quoted about Henri TV., ^^ Seul roi de qui le pauvre ait garde la
memoire" (the only king whose memory the poor man has preserved), is
Gudin's. This line, which is to be found in a piece of poetry sent by
him to a meeting of the Academy in 1779, was selected by that body as
an appropriate inscription for the statue of Henry TV. (Vide " Grimm's
Correspondence, "May, 1799.) Write numerous volumes, then, in order
that out of all your works one fortunate line alone may remain which
every one knows, while no one knows who is its author ! In the ab-
sence of genius, Gudin had, at least, an excellent heart. It is true that
he partook of all the philosophical prejudices of the eighteenth century ;
he was also tinged with that licentiousness of wit which was then in
fashion ; but his life was an unpretending one, and much more regular
than one would imagine from reading some of his lighter poetry. His
intellect had, moreover, been principally directed to serious studies.


tice of his friend's life. This notice forms a manuscript of
419 pages, divided into four parts, and entitled, "The His-
tory of Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais ; Materials
for a literary, commercial, and political History of his Age."
It was to be placed at the beginning of the edition of the works
of Beaumarchais, published by the same Gudin in 1809 ;* but,

Online LibraryLouis de LoménieBeaumarchais and his times. Sketches of French society in the eighteenth century from unpublished documents → online text (page 1 of 47)