Fabre d'Eglantine

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Philippe-François-Nazaire Fabre (1750-1794): French playwright and Revolutionaire

Philippe-François-Nazaire Fabre was born on 28 July 1750 in Carcassonne, a city in the Southwest of France. His family was from the low middle class and his father was a linen draper. In 1757, the family moved to Limoux, a neighboring city to Carcassonne. Young Fabre studied in Toulouse where he learned Greek and Latin languages and literatures, music, painting, drawing and engraving and in 1771, was hired as a teacher. That same year, he competed in the Academy of Floral Sports, a literary society founded by the Troubadours in the XIVth Century. He composed a poem in the honor of the Virgin Mary. His success is still a subject of a controversy, he won the lys d’argent (silver lily) but did not win the top prize, the eglantine d’argent (silver briar rose). However, judging his name much too common (Fabre being the equivalent of Smith in English) he chose to add “d’Eglantine” to his last name and that is the name that history and posterity retained.

Fabre d’Eglantine decided to join a company of strolling actors and for the next fifteen years he acted on stage across France and part of Europe. In December 1776, while in the Austrian Netherlands (roughly present-day Belgium and Luxembourg), he seduced a young member of the troop, a fifteen-year-old girl, Catherine Deresmond, and convinced her to elope with him. Deresmond being the daughter of the troop directors, her mother accused Fabre of rape and seduction. Fabre avoided jail and execution thanks to his fellow actors who addressed a petition letter to the Governor. The latter changed the punishment into banishment.

Fabre started to write on his own, he composed three poems in honor of the famed French scientist, Buffon, George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de. In 1778, he married Marie-Nicole Godin, granddaughter of Lesage, Alain-René, famous early XVIIIth Century French writer. In 1779, he wrote the libretto for a comic opera, Laure et Petrarque, which contained a very well-known song, Il pleut, il pleut bergère still taught in preschool and kindergarten and still used as a popular lullaby. He also started his own theater company but must give it up for lack of success. He wrote poems in honor of several great aristocrats such as Gustavus III of Sweden. In 1781, because of financial trouble he left his infant with a nurse. Finally, in 1787, he settled in Paris with his wife and for the next years produced several works, all in verse, comedies, tragedies, comic operas and farces. Most were played on stage with a limited degree of success, some were quickly rejected because of their strong satirical twists of society and politics.

In 1789, he left his wife for another woman, Caroline Remy, who will give him three children, the first two dying at a very early age. In 1790, at 40 years of age, he composed and produced his most successful and famous play, Le Philinte de Molière, which was intended to be a continuation of Molière’s play, Le Misanthrope. His success motivated him to create more plays, among the more notable L’Apothécaire, Isabelle de Salisbury, L’ Intrigue Epistolaire and Le Convalescent, the last one being staged in 1799, five years after his death. Fabre d ’Eglantine’s literary talent has not been recognized because of the strong political and moralist overtones included in his writings. Being a Montagnard (more extreme revolutionaries opposed to the Girondins, more moderate ones led by Brissot and Vergniaud) and a Dantonist, his plays tended to be political propaganda. He espoused the revolution ideals with great fervor, he joined the Cordeliers club and soon became the president of it. There, he met Marat, Jean-Paul and the great revolutionary orator, Danton, Georges and was going to become one of his closest allies.

Early in the revolution, he was still a royalist but Louis XVI’s flight to Varennes, the king's failed attempt to join the royalist troops, changed the tone of the revolution and gave it a republican impetus. Therefore, Fabre’s inclination changed and in September 1792, he took part in the attacks on the Tuileries but paradoxically was also accused to have offered his help to the court. 1792 and 1793 are the two years that saw Fabre reached the height of his political career, he was elected Convention Deputy, was chosen by Danton to be his secretary (along with Desmoulins, Camille), participated in attempt of reconciliation with the Girondins, and was member of the war committee and the powerful committee of public safety. However, qualms of corruption crept up and will be used in 1794 during his trial. He was suspected of selling 10,000 pairs of defective army boots with a large benefit which fell apart after twelve hours of use.

Fabre was criticized for regarding the revolution in the same way he viewed his plays and was said to observe the Assembly through his pair of lorgnette like a spectator at the theater which had a knack for irritating Robespierre, Maximilien François Marie Isidore de. As a member of the Convention, he followed Danton’s politics. He voted for the king’s death and after Dumouriez’s defection to the Austrians in 1793, he turned against the Girondins and led a campaign against them as the chief editor of La Gazette de France nationale. His main reproach to the Girondins was that he believed they used the common people to generate turmoil when needed but discarded them when making political decisions.

In October 1793, the Convention wanted to get rid of the Gregorian calendar to adopt a calendar starting the year on September 22 -the day of the monarchy’s abolishment- renaming the days and months on republican and agricultural principles. Because of his literary reputation, Fabre was the main member of the committee in charge of the task comprising Marie-Joseph Chénier (brother of the revolution poet, André Chénier) and the famous painter, David, Jacques Louis. Fabre was credited with the new names’ creativity. He considered the Gregorian calendar a tool used by the church to keep the people in a life of superstition contaminated with bigotry, deceit and falseness. Every month lasted thirty days. Starting September 22nd, Vendémiaire (Vintage month) was the first month, October 22nd came Brumaire (Misty), November 22nd came Frimaire (Frosty), December 22nd came Nivose (Snowy), January 22nd came Pluviose (Rainy), February 22nd came Ventose (Windy), March 22nd came Germinal (Buddy), April 22nd came Floréal (Flowery), May 22nd came Prairial (Meadowy), June 22nd came Messidor (Harvesty), July 22nd came Thermidor (Sunny) and August 22nd came Fructidor (Fruty). The five missing days to complete the year were devoted to different holidays at the end of the year, the first devoted to Virtue, the second to Intelligence, the third to Labor, the fourth to Opinion and the fifth one to Rewards. On a leap year, the extra day would be devoted to celebrate liberty, equality and fraternity to strengthen national unity.

Earlier in the same year, in the month of August, he got implicated with the French East India Company which was going to be one the main causes of his demise. In October, he accused two deputies, François Chabaud and Hérault de Seychelles for their association to a foreign conspiracy led by Pitt to ruin French economy. Then Fabre along with Delaunay, another Convention member, falsified a decree of liquidation of the India Company. The fraud consisted in liquidating first the company which shares would drop tremendously then at a later point to pass a new decree favorable to the company. Shares would come back up and could be sold with a huge profit. Delaunay and Fabre d’Eglantine falsified signatures to let believe the government had already approved the liquidation. However, when Chabaud, Delaunay and several other Convention members were detained, Fabre, Danton and Hebert, Jacques (the last two also suspected) were not arrested. Fabre made the mistake to try too hard to divert attention from him and overexaggerate the role and responsibility of a foreign conspiracy and accused the India Company to disregard government laws, to have foreign agents in every branch of the government and to promote dishonest concepts of equality and liberty.

Unfortunately, his efforts had the opposite effect and instead of distancing himself from his connection, it shed more light on his fraudulent activities. In January 1794, Amar, a Convention deputy, denounced Fabre’s misdeeds who was arrested on the 18th . When Danton, Georges attempted to save his friend he only managed to cast more doubt upon his own involvement. In March, Robespierre and Saint-Just seized the opportunity to get rid of their more dangerous rivals in their own party, the Montagne, and transform a financial scandal into a political scheme. A few days before, they had eliminated Hebert, Jacques and his followers, the Enragés (the Enraged, the Ultra-Revolutionary Montagnards), they could now strike a fatal blow to Danton’s faction, the Indulgents (the more moderate Montagnards) who had pointed out the excess committed during the Terror. On 16 March 1794, Amar presented a second report and consequently Fabre d’Eglantine was brought to the revolutionary tribunal. While in prison, he wrote a Précis apologétique, in which he tried to exonerate himself of all charges regarding the India Company. The trial started on March 30. He was guillotined on 5 April along with Danton and other Dantonists. Robespierre and Saint-Just had given clear indications to Fouquier-Tinville, the public prosecutor, about the issue of the verdict. The falsified decree was not even shown at the trial. Fabre d’Eglantine, like Desmoulins, Camille was one of Danton’s close supporters and that by itself was enough to send him to the scaffold.

Guy Toubiana

The Citadel