Robespierre (Albert Mathiez): Youth


He was born at Arras in [1758] in a modest family. His father was a penniless lawyer, his mother [was the] daughter of a brewer. He knew the people closely,  and his misfortune brought him even closer to it.

At the age of 6, he lost his mother, at the age of 8 he lost his father who, desperate, left the country, without anyone seeing him again. [Being] the elder [brother] of two sisters and of a brother, he was orphaned and head of the family at an age where one still plays with marbles. Thence came undoubtedly the serious [aspect] of his character and the profound sentiment of duty which was his dominant trait. Gifted with a very lively sensitivity, with a natural height of softness, the suffering of others caused him pain. He loved animals. He cried when his sister Charlotte, by negligence,  let his favourite pigeon die. While his brother and his sisters were taken in by his grandfather, the brewer Carraut, and by his aunts, he, thanks to a scholarship of the abbey of St-Waast, studied excellently at the collège Louis-le-Grand, in Paris, and he attracted the amity of his comrades and the esteem of his masters. [After he] finished his studies, he left the collège with the most flattering certificate, which went with a gratification of 600 livres, the highest that has ever been granted to his classmates. The collège was so content with him that it continued his scholarship with his brother Augustin.

It was around this time that Robespierre had a conversation with J.-J. Rousseau, at Ermenonville, which left an ineffaceable mark on his spirit. « I have seen you, in your last days, he wrote afterwards, when speaking of the immortal author of the Social Contract, and this memory is the source of proud delight for me, I have gazed upon your august features, I have seen there the mark of the dark sorrows to which the injustices of men have condemned you. Thenceforth I have understood all the pains of a noble life which devotes itself to the cult of truth. They have not scared me. The consciousness of having wanted the good of his fellow beings is the reward of the virtuous man; next comes the gratitude of the peoples that surround his memory with the honours which his contemporaries have denied him. How I wish to purchase these goods at the price of a laborious life, even at the price of a premature death! » The whole man is already in this cry of the adolescent.. He devoted himself to the ideal [that was] outlined by Jean-Jacques and he already predicts that he will die in the fight.

[Being a] lawyer at the bar of Arras, he was soon surrounded with a reputation for talent and integrity. He refused to plead bas cases. He put on trial, on occasion, in his pleas, the abuses of the ancien régime, the lettres de cachet, for example. One of his pleas, which he delivered in order to defend against malevolence and routine a man of progress who had installed a lightning conductor on his house, had a great resounding and was mentioned with praise even in the Parisian press. The Academy of Arras hastened to open their doors to him since 1783. He was 25 years old. In his acceptance speech, he strongly stood up against the prejudice which made rebound on the relatives of a criminal the infamy [that is] attached to his ordeal. This speech, revised and completed, was crowned soon after by the Academy of Metz. He then wrote an entire dissertation in order to protest against the odious legislation which deprived bastards of the inheritance to their parents. He even wrote the eulogy of the president Dupaty, the good judge of this time, who had become famous by denouncing multiple judiciary errors, and he strongly attacked the criminal jurisprudence, « which seems, he said, to have been made for a barbarous people ». He finally praised Dupaty « for having fixed his gaze chiefly on this unfortunate class of citizens which is counted for nothing in society, while it provides to it its pains and its sweats, which opulence regards with disdain, which pride calls the dregs of the people »

In short, he kept the oath which he gave to himself after his meetuing with Jean-Jacques. He fought in the forefront the iniquities of society, he prepared the spirits for forthcoming Revolution and he wanted to wanted to make it turn, not to the advantage of the bourgeoisie, but of the people.

While he was absorbed by his apostolate, he had nothing of the ascetic [that is] rigid and lost in the dream which one likes to imagine. He was young and he knew the delights of youth. There was in Arras a society of good beings and of joyous drinkers who assembled from time to time in order to empty under a bed of roses some cups of rosé wine while reciting light verses. Robespierre was among these Rosati. With them, he teased the romantic and bacchanalian muse. Fools and dimwits have claimed that he had towards women a kind of instinctive repulsion. What an error! He searched, on the contrary, the society of the fair sex, and it was among women that he counted until the end his most fervent admirers. To one of them he gave this pretty madrigal:

Believe me, young and beautiful Ophélie,

Whatever the world says and despite your mirror,

Content with being beautiful and with knowing nothing thereof,

Always preserve your modesty;

Of the power of your charms

Always remain wary.

You will be loved all the more,

If you fear not being so.

The poetry of his youth, which has been preserved, all form a small volume. His successes with the ladies were so well-known that one of his colleagues of the Rosati, M. de Fosseux, who will be mayor at Arras under the Revolution, remembered them thereby one day: « Robespierre only opens the mouth in order to make heard the accents of eloquence. With what pleasure one listens to him! One cannot help but believe [that he was] created to sit among the Rosati, when one sees him meddling among the pastourelles of the canton and animating their dances by his presence. It is the god of eloquence who familiarizes among the morals and who, in the costume of a shepherd, still lets one perceive the rays of divinity. » This is what one of the most important men of Artois thought of Robespierre, of his talent and of his character, on the eve of the Revolution.

Fortunately, Robespierre was none of these men who forget their duty at the bottom of a cup of champagne or at the feet of pastourelles! When the crisis of ‘89 unfolded, which he expected, he was ready. He threw himself into the battle with a fine resolution. He multiplied the bold and convincing pamphlets against the privileged, such as his Appeal to the Artois nation which had two editions in the beginning of the electoral campaign, such as his Advice to the inhabitants of the countryside where he said to the peasants: « You, nurturers of the patrie, you, upon whose arms, ultimately, all the taxes weigh, think about shaking the oppression which overwhelms you! » While all writers of the Third Estate put their pen in the service of the bourgeoisie, he, always faithful to the thought of Jean-Jacques, went straight to the Fourth Estate, to those who produce and who struggle. It is a significant fact that at the same time as he tried to galvanise the peasants, he wrote the cahier des doléances of the cobblers of Arras. This notebook is completely written by him. When the elections opened, at the assembly of the Third Estate of Arras, he vivaciously reacted to an alderman of the city — that was exactly his friend Dubois de Fosseux — who had teased the cobbler Lantillette : « What! the alderman had said, Lantillette thus may also be mayor ? » For Robespierre, the cobbler Lantillette, delegated by his guild, was equal in dignity to the most exclusive bourgeois and he was superior to him in utility. No one but Robespierre was aware of the eminent dignity of the workers, and, at this time, this was a great novelty. A few days later, the privileged orders of Artois having informed the assembled Third Estate that they gave up their pecuniary privileges, as the lieutenant general of the bailliage, who presided, had proposed to send a deputation to the nobles and priests in order to thank them for their voluntary sacrifice, Robespierre rose and set aside the motion by saying that one does owe thanks to persons who had done [nothing] but to renounce the abuses by giving back to the people what belongs to it. Small wonder therefore that the enthusiastic peasants and the artisans of Artois, delighted to have found a defender [that is] completely [devoted] to them, have chosen him, despite his young age, he was hardly 31 years old, for representing them at the Estates General? 

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We young Americans need to DO something about this shit we get so up in arms over! We need to vote! Regardless of ones opinions in voting there’s probably 75% of congress that’s doing fuck all to help the people yet they KEEP GETTING REELECTED! We need to start pushing for people like Elizabeth Warren who fights for the common American people! We need to change this this country for a better future for not only ourselves but the younger generations! This current form of American government is dead and useless to we who are inheriting it! We need to fix this!

Rant over. Lets start changing things!

Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor who self-immolated causing the fall of his government, and other governments in the region to collapse or tremble-at-their-foundation, has not yet been avenged. The Tunisian revolution was sidetracked by western interests and lack of democratic institutions, but the youth of the country have not been fooled.

In June, I spoke with Tunisian university students representing a range in levels of student activism and an equal number of Islamists and leftists.

The general consensus indicates that sentiments of discontent and polarization are not new and have been festering due to frustration with the transitional process. It seems that recent events have only given momentum to a previous trend and this preexisting mechanism of control has outlived dictatorship and is holding youth activists back from embracing a pluralistic Tunisia.

Tunisia’s Feuding Youth, Foreign Policy Magazine