Monday, August 10th, 2015
I get up at a decent hour, though of course not too early: I discovered early on when I began to travel in earnest that proper rest is essential for clear thinking, map-reading capabilities, and the good humor necessary for enjoying the day.
Since there’s such a huge number of sites to visit on my itinerary, I’ve decided to visit them in an order determined not by subject nor in any kind of chronological order, but by proximity to one another, so I can better cover them all.
I make my way from my temporary digs on Boulevard Voltaire up toward Republique, then make a soft left and head for 22 rue Meslée (now called the rue Meslay). Mary Wollstonecraft lived here at her friend Aline Filliettaz’s house from December 1792 through June of 1793, shortly after arriving in Paris. Wollstonecraft was full of hope for the Revolution and longed to be a part of it, and thought that the humanitarian and egalitarian Enlightenment principles she espoused were more likely to take hold there before they would in her home country of England, as they had (to an extent) in America. By the time she arrived in Paris, she was a self-made woman, a governess and schoolmarm who had become the bestselling author of two progressive and highly influential books, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, 1790 (a scathing rebuttal to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France) and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792.
In fact, her Rights of Men was published the year before Paine’s Rights of Man, which was also a response to Burke, but Paine’s became the most famous by far. However, Wollstonecraft held her own with Rights of Woman, as it’s now widely considered the founding work of modern feminism. Wollstonecraft was lonely and blue when she first lived at this house, since her hosts were away and the servants behaved haughtily and uncooperatively towards her, but she soon cheered up when she began to get out more and hang out with her expatriate friends and their Parisian social circle. (More on that soon.)
The Fillattaz house is on a little side street in the Marais district, near the medieval Temple where the royal family was held during the French Revolution, before the King was guillotined in December of 1793 and Marie Antoinette was sent to the Concierge. Wollstonecraft wrote in her account of this period in her life that she saw the King being taken from the Temple prison to his trial at the Hôtel de Ville, where the Convention Nationale was held, from her window at this house. See update to the search for the Filliataz house
By the way, it’s important to make this point at the beginning: as is the case with all private residences and some other sites I visit during this tour, unless I can find a clear indicator of the history of the building (in accounts I have access to, on plaques, on cornerstones, etc), it’s very possible that I may not have found the exact location, especially if it’s not a public building with a clearly documented history. Many of my sources list an address without specifying whether it’s the modern address or the historical one and numbers change over time, and some streets are re-routed or disappear entirely, as do many of the original buildings, and records are not always consistently kept or may have been lost in the intervening years. Since my subjects were all here well over two centuries ago, it’s likely that at least a few of these locations are approximate, rather than the exact sites, despite my best efforts to discover them. This is especially true of Mary Wollstonecraft since she’s the only one of my subjects who never held public office or had any government appointments.
For example, poking around for historical details of the rue Meslay, I found that George Sands was born on that same street, and the address was 15 in her time, 46 now. I didn’t find any info as to whether Wollstonecraft’s 22 address is the new one, old one, or just that same address in different sources, but since she described seeing the King’s carriage pass by her window on the way to trial, it may be that the Filliettaz house was further up the street, in a taller building or at a higher elevation, so that she could see as far over as Boulevard Saint-Martin, the next street over and the route he would taken. But another source describes the house as having six stories, and the house now at 22 matches this description.
If I have time, I might swing back over there for further explorations since the place I’m staying now and the place I’ll be staying when I return to Paris (I’ll be joining my husband Bryan tomorrow for a quick family visit to Berlin, then to Saint Quentin en Yvellines where he’ll commence the Paris-Brest-Paris cycling event) are not too far away.
Next, I head for 63 rue Faubourg St-Denis, at rue des Petits Ecuries, where Thomas Paine moved in 1793 to share the ground floor of a ‘mansion farmhouse’ with six friends. Paine wrote in glowing terms of the lifestyle there, and they had farm animals and grew fruits and vegetables, as that area was still pretty rural, and they would romp in the garden to take their minds off the tumult and violence in Paris. He was living here when he, with a committee of nine others, drafted a new constitution for France, though this one was unsuccessful: the Girondin faction which Paine worked with were moderates, while the radical Jacobins were gaining power and, over time, took over the Revolution entirely, instituting the Reign of Terror. (See update on the search for the rue Faubourg Saint-Denis house).
It’s unlikely that any part of the building that stands here now is original, either in whole or in part, given Paine’s description of it, and the current address may not the same as the historical one [this turns out to be the case]. The only fruits and vegetables to be obtained here now are from the colorful produce shops that line this now urban, rough-around-the-edges but vibrant and colorful part of the city. I think this neighborhood is wonderful, and it reminds me in many ways of the Mission district of San Francisco before it became mostly taken over by hipsters and tech people.
Next, I head down to rue de Richelieu in search of the place where Thomas Paine moved in with James Monroe’s family in November 1794. Monroe had finally secured Paine’s release from his eight-month imprisonment at the Luxembourg (I’ll return to this subject after I’ve visited that palace-turned-prison-turned-Senate house). Paine lived with the Monroes for about 2 years, not all of them here, since they moved more than once. At the time of his release, they lived at 101 rue de Richelieu, which begins at Bd. Montmarte where it meets Bd. Poissonere, in the 2nd Arrondissement.
At 101, I find a classy place, fit for an honored foreign dignitary, with a lovely courtyard with a lovely arched entryway, updated with a modern reflecting pool. Again, I’ll return to this street soon for further explorations, which will be easier next time since I’m now getting very familiar with this corner of Paris, and as I find more source material with which to confirm whether the numbers have changed. (See update to the search for the Monroe house on rue de Richelieu.)
When Paine was released from prison, he was broken down in health and spirits: he had nearly died from typhus, and he had an open ulcer on his side that wouldn’t heal. He had also felt that his American friends in high places had deserted him, not doing what they could to rescue him from his predicament. He was especially upset with Gouverneur Morris, the ambassador (then ‘Minister Plenipotentiary’) to France at the time, and with president George Washington. Morris was the primary author of the preamble to the United States Constitution as well as many of its other sections and he was an able statesman, but the French government lacked confidence in him; he was recalled after they repeatedly requested he be replaced by another. From their writings, it appears that Paine and Morris alternately liked, respected, and loathed one another. Morris often writes very sarcastically about Paine, and though I’m quite the Paine fan-girl, I find some of his remarks very funny and witty, though others are just plain bitchy and catty.
While Paine did offer valuable assistance to Monroe (Morris’ replacement) in his role as the new American ambassador, Paine was at this time also, as an aftereffect of his imprisonment and disillusionment with the French Revolution, given to depression, anger, and paranoia, and as a result of all of these, binge drinking. He was to acquire a reputation as an alcoholic, but since these accusations came almost entirely from his political enemies during and after his lifetime, this characterization is suspect. His friends and colleagues describe him as a social drinker, wont to make merry in the evenings and engage in enthusiastic discussions about politics, science, and philosophical topics as long as anyone was willing.
I next head north to rue Taitbout and turn left on rue de la Victoire, and go to the grand house at 60 rue de la Victoire, which was 6 rue Chantereine in Paine’s time, in the 9th Arrondissement.
It was likely in this house that Paine attended a party thrown by Julie and Francois-Joseph Talma in October 1792. The house was owned by Mrs. Talma, formerly Louise-Julie Carreau, and she held a famous salon here. Her husband was a well-known actor and passionate Revolutionary, friends with Jacques-Louis David (who, I was surprised to discover was among those who voted in favor of executing the King) and Napoleon Bonaparte, who moved into this house in 1796 with his new wife Josephine). Like Paine and Wollstonecraft, the Talmas were Girondinist in their sympathies, yet there was a ruckus between Paine and other attendees of the party, many of whom had begun to turn on this once-beloved muse and author of two revolutions.
The history of the French Revolution is, among other things, a prime example of how people, even as they see themselves pursuing the same lofty goals and are members of the same political party, just can’t seem to avoid petty infighting. This sort of thing undermines so many important projects, and as we see all too often, petty disagreements can devolve to self-righteousness and even blind radicalism over time. French culture, in that era especially, placed a high value on ‘sensibility’, valuing the free expressions of both raw and cultivated emotions. As we have also seen in the French Revolution, unbridled passion was very often allowed to trump reason. To Paine’s dismay, he watched the beloved Enlightenment campaign for rational democratic government, that he served so enthusiastically and so well, turn into a bloody campaign of vengeance and terror.
It was very near this place that Thomas Jefferson moved for awhile, eight years earlier in October 1784, on the cul-de-sac (impasse) Taitbout off rue La Fayette near rue St Georges. He signed a long-term lease at Hotel Landron, also called Hotel Taitbout, but only ended up living here for about one year. I explore this area very thoroughly, peeking into every courtyard, driveway, and byway I can find, but a hotel by this name is nowhere to be found so far as I can see. (By the way, ‘hotel’ wasn’t used in the same sense as we use it today: It could refer to a grand house or a large public building.) This area is very near where I’ll be staying next week, so I’ll return if I find more leads, and I’m looking ever more forward to doing so, it’s such a beautiful neighborhood.
Jefferson was an avid patron of the arts, and attended the theatre often while living in Paris to see plays and musical performances. He often went to the Theatre des Italiens, very near his Taitbout place on Boulevard des Italiens. There is no theatre today with that name, but I find Opera Comique in just about the right place. Could this be the same building? The building appears to be of the right vintage. I look into it, and sure enough, it is! It’s in the process of getting a facelift and a good cleaning, but the side entrance is in good repair and attractive with its lovely cast iron lacy canopy.
I still have many sites I’ll be visiting throughout the course of the day, so I’ll take a break here.
Sources and inspiration:
Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.
Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.
Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.http://www.harpercollins.com/9780060957742/vindication
Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.
Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.
Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000
Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974.’
‘French Revolution.’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia., Jul. 17 2015.
Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.