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In this same year, 1772, occurred that important event-his marriage, which indirectly led to a most disastrous change in his circumstances. The lady to whom he was wedded was MarieEmilie de Covet, daughter of the Marquis de Marignan; but she does not appear to have brought any dowry, although her father was reputed to be possessed of great wealth. However, despite of this fact and the knowledge that his own very limited income was not at all likely to be increased by his father, he kept an extravagant establishment at Aix for some time after his marriage, with the result, of course, of increasing his pecuniary difficulties. He was soon obliged to break up his house at Aix, and he retired with his wife to the old château of Mirabeau. But his evil fortune pursued him even here. In improving the old estate, he got more deeply into the hands of his creditors, till the clamour of their demands at last reached the ears of his father in Paris. The Marquis, instead of approving of his son's attempt to improve the old estate, and trying to aid him out of his difficulties, with characteristic violence of temper applied for another lettre-de-cachet, whereupon he was confined to the town of Manosque. While in this obscure provincial town, under the depressing influence of poverty and sickness, a son, Victor, was born ; and here he composed his “Essay on Despotism." This was his second work; for, while in Corsica, he had written a history of that island, but it was a composition of little note. The “Essay on Despotism” was the first political work he wrote. The name pretty clearly indicates the nature of the work. It is a composition which is characterised by glowing eloquence, and contains many passages displaying that surpassing oratorical ability which a few years afterwards made him the foremost man in France. On the whole, however, the “Essay on Despotism” must be considered a rhapsodical and crude production. This is doubtless due to the fact that it was the first work of any importance which he had yet written. And again, the depressing and peculiar circumstances under which it was composed should not be overlooked when criticising the work. About this period his father, for what reason
none of his biographers state, had an interdict issued to compel him to keep within the boundaries of the town of Manosque. This circumstance was a trivial matter in itself, but in its consequence it had a most important influence on his career a brief time afterwards, by causing his removal to another prison, from which originated the series of events which brought him prominently into public life. Those events had their origin in this manner. While Mirabeau was con. fined by the interdict to the limits of Manosque, he happened one day to find some correspondence between his wife and a Chevalier de Gassand. He challenged de Gassand to a duel, but he apologised. The chevalier was engaged to a daughter of the Marquis de Tourette, and the marriage was broken off in consequence of the correspondence which had been discovered by Mirabeau. Now, as de Gassand had apologised for his part in an intrigue which had been nipped before it had passed further than correspondence, Mirabeau was sufficiently generous to call on the old Marquis de Tourette to try and bring about amicable relations again with de Gassand, and he succeeded in the mission. However, the Marquis lived a considerable distance from Manosque, and, while returning to that town, he encountered on the road the Baron Villeneuve Moans. This baron had a short time previously grossly and publicly insulted the Marquise de Cabris, a sister of Mirabeau's. When he saw the baron, he lost all control over himself, and, jumping off his horse, he attacked him furiously with his ridingwhip. The baron defended himself as best he could, and the combatants were separated. Of course, as this occurred on a public highway, it was commented on far and near, and it came to the ears of the government at Paris. As Mirabeau was clearly defying the authority of the interdict by leaving the limits of Manosque, and as the circumstances which impelled him to do so went for nothing at Paris, he was torn from his wife and child and conveyed to the dungeon of the castle of If, which stands on a barren rock in the Mediterranean. He was here treated with great severity by the governor of the prison, M. Dallégre, and, to render his position still more painful, his wife went to live at Aix, although, according to some biographers, she might have obtained permission to live with him at the castle of If.
Shortly after this he was removed to the castle of Joux. While in durance here, the coronation of Louis XVI. took place, and the governor of the prison of St. Joux allowed Count Mirabeau to join in the festivities at the adjacent town of Pontarlier. While mixing in the revels here he first met the Marquise de Monnier, a lady of handsome person and fascinating manners, at that time twenty-two years of age, who, four years before, in her eighteenth year, had been wedded to the Marquis de Monnier, a man who, on the nuptial day, had passed his seventy-first year. She was the daughter of a Count de Ruffey, and is known to those intimate with the biographies of Mirabeau as the lady who, under the name of “Sophie," played such an important part in shaping his strange career.
The governor of the prison of St. Joux at first treated Mirabeau with indulgent consideration, and allowed him to visit and receive visits from the de Monniers. The governor, M. St. Maur, was himself a devoted admirer of the Marquise, but as Mirabeau was remarkable for his extreme ugliness, he did not anticipate a rival in his prisoner.
There is nothing more contemptible in modern hero-worship than efforts to justify or gloss over the glaring offences which have publicly defied all moral law in the lives of great and distinguished men. But it cannot be overlooked, although it does not justify his conduct, that the circumstances which brought about his intrigue with the Marquise were of an exceptional nature. Mirabeau was naturally a man of strong passions, and being isolated even from the society of his wife, his friendship and admiration for the Marquise de Monnier rapidly ripened into a more tender intimacy, which was reciprocated. The governor of St. Joux, M. St. Maur, was exceedingly wrath when he discovered that in his captive he had a successful rival, and he thereupon proceeded to vent his rage by keeping his prisoner under close confinement, and completely isolating him from the society of the de Monniers. He also caused to be inflicted on him every petty annoyance that it was in his power to order through his attendants. He succeeded so well that Mirabeau felt his position unendurable, and he set about devising a plan of escape, and in this he was successful. His passion, however, for the Marquise de Monnier was only increased by separation, and he returned to Verrières in the hope of meeting her. However, he got little chance of seeing her, as he was arrested a short time after he entered Verrières. He was now removed from one prison to another, but at length some friend at Paris succeeded in influencing the Minister Malesherbes in his favour. The Minister sent him a hint to withdraw his parole, and a clear road was left open to him to escape to Geneva. He joyfully availed himself of the clemency of Malesherbes, and reached Geneva in a short time. His sojourn here, however, was brief, and, after various vicissitudes, he proceeded to Turin.
While staying in that city he received a letter from the Marquise expressing her attachment for him, and requesting an appointment at Verrières. There can be little doubt that Mirabeau's attachment for this lady had at least the one virtue of sincerity, for he immediately, at imminent risk to himself, returned to Verrières, and here the meeting so anxiously looked forward to, and for which both hazarded so much, took place.
As every hour of Mirabeau's sojourn in Verrières was pregnant with danger to him, he was resolved to proceed at once to Amsterdam, intending to live there by his pen as a littérateur. For the Marquise there was no return from the step she had taken. She had given herself up completely to her passion for Mirabeau, and, ignoring duty and reputation, she accompanied him to Amsterdam. However inexcusable the conduct of Mirabeau must be considered, there was, at least, some palliation for the rash step taken by the Marquise. While yet a girl of eighteen, of handsome person and fascinating manners, she had been married to a man who had already passed “the scriptural span,” and who, in fact, was old enough to be her grandfather.
For three months after his arrival, Mirabeau lived in the most straitened circumstances, as he was unable to obtain any literary work. However, after the lapse of that time, during which the Marquise de Monnier lived with him, he obtained some literary engagements. He wrote some pamphlets and translations, for which he obtained a remuneration sufficient to enable him to support himself and the Marquise in better circumstances than he had been able to do for the first three months of his sojourn in Amsterdam. His literary work included “Advice to the Hessians sold by their Prince to England,” which was an appeal for the Americans, at that time in arms against the Home Government; also a “ History of Travels ;” also the first volume of a “History of England." A few years afterwards, when he was the most illustrious man in France and the most remarkable figure in Europe, he said that the brief period during which he lived as an author in Amsterdam was the only time of unalloyed pleasure he had known through his unfortunate career. But the period was indeed a brief one, for it was less than a year.
It was known to the publishers in Amsterdam, that he was the author of the “Essay on Despotism," and so it came to the ears of Mirabeau's enemies in France that he was living in Amsterdam. The Marquis de Monnier, who was at this time nearly lapsing into dotage, wrote to the Marquise to return, and that he would forgive her.
As she did not comply with his request, the Marquis applied to the tribunal of Pontarlier to issue a decree, whereby he regained the settlements he had made on her and also the possession of her dowry for himself. The Marquis de Monnier, further influenced by the de Ruffeys, obtained a decree against Mirabeau for forty thousand livres, and also a decree something in the nature of a deathwarrant, which would lie in abeyance, or might be enforced, at the will of the King or his Minister. But, as he considered himself free from arrest in Amsterdam, and as he was hardly in possession of fifty livres, he laughed at their decrees. The Count de Ruffey used his influence at the French Court with such effect that an order was applied for by the representative of France at Rotterdam to the States for the arrest of Mirabeau, which was immediately granted. The Marquise was also arrested, and only prevented from taking poison by her lover on condition that, if she did not hear from him at a certain date, death should terminate her misery. The Marquise was transferred to a genteel house of correction at Paris, and Mirabeau was conveyed to the dungeons of Vincennes.
There are blemishes in the character of all great men, which fall like shadows over the lustre which otherwise enshrines their names, and Mirabeau was no exception to the roll of distinguished men whose name has come down to us lustrous by genius, though shadowed by faults. His profligacy, of course, forms the darkest stain on his name ; but, while confined in Vincennes, another trait was developed, which in its nature was altogether inconsistent with one of his stamp and character. This was his puerile impatience in imprisonment. For six months after his arrival in Vincennes, he continued to write ceaselessly to all his friends and relatives to use their influence for his liberation. But the influence of the de Ruffeys at Court was too powerful to be overcome by the efforts of his friends, and his father refused to do anything in his behalf, and so he ceased his appeals and turned his thoughts to authorship while in durance.
The position of a prisoner, even a State prisoner like Mirabeau, in the pre-Revolution days in France, was wretched to an extreme degree. The French prisons of the period, including of course the State prisons, were a disgrače to civilisation, and the dungeons of Vincennes were worse in every respect than even the cells of the Bastille. While confined here Mirabeau wrote a translation of “Tibullus," and a compilation from the “Decameron ” of Boccaccio, and also a translation of another work of a highly immoral nature. It was while imprisoned here that he also wrote his most notable and widely-read work, which was entitled "Lettres-de-Cachet and State Prisons.” It must be admitted that there were few better calculated to deal with this subject than its author. He had suffered deeply from the gross tyranny which this instrument of despotism was capable of exercising, and his wounded spirit found solace in the composition of a book which gave expression to the sufferings he was enduring. It was written in an ardent and impassioned