His friendship with Cabanis still resonated in Fauriel's life long after both Cabanis and Sophie's deaths. Cabanis’s widow, who was also Sophie’s sister, Charlotte, in her correspondence with Fauriel refers to a person they both loved and lost, for whom they felt ‘a huge, and unshakeable tenderness, which must be very deep and sweet until your last day’. She meant her husband, not her sister.And when she claims his time and affection, it is as the ‘companion of the man you loved so’, and not as the sister of his life partner.
The posthumous publication of the Letter on First Causes, which happened towards the end of Charlotte Cabanis’s life, was a cause for much concern for both Fauriel and Charlotte. Charlotte had allowed the Letterto be published, but she had had no control over the process, and only read the introduction once it was in print. She found it full of mistakes and bad interpretations, and reflected that the author of the introduction was more interested in promoting his own dualism than making Cabanis’s view clear. The last few letters exchanged between Fauriel and Charlotte Cabanis concern the publication of a bibliographical notice on Cabanis, a project that Daunou had offered to take on before he died. There is much discussion as to whom might be a good person to edit Cabanis’ s paper, and once the choice is made, about how much control his widow might be able to exercise over the process. At no point during the correspondence is Sophie mentioned, even though she died 14 years after Cabanis, and had thus been part of Fauriel’s life much longer. The biographical notice, based on a text drafted by Cabanis himself, was written by Peisse, and published alongside an edition of the Rapports du Physique et du Moral and the Lettre sur les Causes Premieres by Destutt de Tracy in 1844.
That same year, perhaps even before the book was out, Claude Fauriel and Charlotte Cabanis died, both in their seventies.
Born in le Havre, Marie Masson le Golft discovered marine biology through a friend of her father’s Jacques-Francois Dicquemare. After his death, she continued to work on his project on Molluscs and then on her own work which earned her a place in the Academy of Arras. Masson le Golft was elected as an honorary member alongside Louise Keralio, in February 1787. Robespierre gave their admission speech, citing the absence of women in Academies as a scandal for this enlightened century.
Masson Le Golft was a practicing catholic, and did not join in the Revolutionary efforts. Instead she kept a low profile in Rouen, teaching geometry and drawing.
So I imagine that this time of year, 230 years ago, as the Estate Generals were meeting, she was busy, like me, grading papers.
In the 18thcentury, a total of 6 548 195 Africans children and adults embarked on vessels to be sold as slaves, and a total of 5 654 009 disembarked on the other side.
1 141 059 were destined to be sold to French planters (960 603 made it that far), 2 570 366 for England (and 2 169 659 made it alive) 2 235 417 for Brazil and Portugal (with 1011 417 arriving alive) and 189 342 to the United States. 
(Note that the United States only existed for the last 21 years of the 18thcentury, so most of the slaves brought to the Americas were in that century were ‘owned’ by Europeans).
Numbers obtained from the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database
and ‘World Population Growth’ by Max Roser and Estaban Ortiz-Ospina, 2017.
Current estimates of slavery in the 21stcentury range from 21 to 40 millions, with the majority of cases being forced to engage in sex labor. These numbers, however, are subject to controversy. The often quoted 27 million was a speculative number arrived at in the 1990s by Kevin Bales. The NGO responsible for the higher figure is Walk Free, who produces an annual Global Slavery Index This number, however, is indicative of ‘modern slavery’ which includes a number of different categories such as bonded labour, forced marriage, child labour, and sex trafficking. These ways of treating human beings, while highly objectionable, do not, however, always constitute slavery. And even if were tempted to redefine slavery, or ‘modern slavery’ to include all of these categories no matter what the circumstances, the numbers would still be unrepresentative when compared to 18thcentury numbers, as forced marriage, child labour, sex trafficking and prison labour were mostly deemed acceptable. (Thanks to Laura Brace for alerting me to the controversy about modern slavery data).
Another way of looking at this is through proportions. There are now 7.5 billion people in the world but less than a billion (0.8) in the 18th century. This means that at worst, the percentage of slaves in this century is just under 1% of the population (which is a huge amount) and at best less than 0.3% (which is still a huge amount). Given the fact that we are comparing ourselves to a century where child labour and forced marriage were very common, it makes more sense to take the lower figure (which may be more accurate).
According to the reliable numbers we get from the Transatlantic Slave Trade database, in the 18thcentury, the slave population amounted to 0.8% of the population. But this percentage only takes into account the number of slaves transported in the 18thcentury, and not the number of slaves in a country at any one time. For a more accurate comparison, we would need to know how many were enslaved, taking into account not only survival rates from the transportation but also children born in slavery. So the proportion of slaves to free people was a little higher in the 18thcentury than it is now.
In her ‘Unofficial Defence’ of Louis XVI, Olympe de Gouges concludes her argument with the following:
Louis Capet’s greatest crime, it must be conceded, was to be born a king at a time when philosophy was silently laying the foundations of the republic.
What did Olympe mean when she said that philosophers had laid the foundations of the republic? Though we often hear that Rousseau and Voltaire were great influences for the French Revolution, it often feels as if we’re reading them back into history while they probably weren’t all that significant. Why would a mostly uneducated people – those who took the Bastille, or marched to Versailles – know or care anything about the philosophers of the Enlightenment?
But if it is a myth that Rousseau and Voltaire had laid the foundations for the Revolution, it is not a recent one. In 1817, two years after the restoration of the Bourbon family on the French throne, the church issued a pastoral letter, to be read at mass throughout the country and posted on church doors.
This document denounced two new editions of the works of Voltaire and Rousseau and went on to argue at length that the works of these philosophers were mostly responsible for the Revolution:
Their writings have perverted public character and morals […] it is to the principles of incredulity, immorality and rebellion they present so seductively that France owes the first attempts of those who provoked its revolution, the prestige of so-called rights of the people, which led so many crowned heads to the scaffold, and threatened all nations with a universal upheaval, civil wars, an armed confusion, which, abandoned to its fluctuations will have been for humanity nothing short of a first hell, which would have continued, and grown more terrible each day, until the end of days.
(Mandement de messieurs les vicaires généraux du chapitre métropolitain de Paris, 9 Fevrier 1817. (20))
We might be tempted to dismiss this pastoral as an isolated eccentricity but it did not go unnoticed by the French people.
In March 1817 The popular satirical song writer P.J. de Beranger composed a song with the title of the edict: ‘Mandement des vicaires generaux de Paris to be sung to the tune of another song: Allez voir a St Cloud’. The song was reported and printed in L'Esprit des journaux franc̜ais et étrangers, Volume 468 April 1817 alongside a review of a volume of Voltaire’s complete works. (p266).
The song, which was still being printed 50 years later is composed of 20 verses of 8 lines each, with the refrain (in the 6thand 8thline): 'C’est la faute de Voltaire, C’est la faute de Rousseau' (It’s Voltaire’s fault, it’s Rousseau’s fault).
The song remained popular, and when Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables four decades later, he gave a version of the song to his young hero, the street boy Gavroche.
Here’s a version of the song with the lyrics translated into English.
But the best version of this song was sung in 1980 by 12 year old Fabrice Ploquin, who played Gavroche in the original musical Les Miserables, by Claude-Michel Schönberg. (The lyrics were unfortunately lost in translation when the musical became a Broadway success)
On 12 Pluviose, An VI, or 31 January 1798, Sophie de Grouchy wrote a letter asking for her name and that of her deceased husband to be struck off a register of the French people who had emigrated during the Revolution.
Being on that list meant that all of one’s property could be confiscated. At that time Sophie was struggling to make ends meet for herself and her extended family.
Their names had been added to that list after Condorcet’s disappearance, following his being proclaimed an outlaw. Because Condorcet was in hiding, and because his death went unreported for several months, it was assumed that he’d left the country.
On the other hand, Sophie had officially divorced him, and she was a registered occupant of a house in Auteuil, where she been nearly arrested on more than one occasion.
In the letter, Sophie stated that she could provide ample evidence for the fact that neither she nor Condorcet had left the country. She submitted 13 pieces, including certificates of her residence in Auteuil, a passport for her to travel to Villette to visit her father, and a report on the death of Condorcet.
Sophie’s letter was then forwarded to the Minister of the Police so that he could make a very prompt report.
The report was indeed prompt – the decision is dated two days later - but it was not succinct: and the same dossier containing Sophie’s letter, also has several lengthy documents detailing the request that hers and Condorcet’s name be taken off the list. The decision states that there is no need to call forward witnesses (she had provided a long list, with Cabanis listed first) and that the presence of Grouchy and Condorcet’s names on the list was clearly a consequence of the persecution Condorcet had been subjected to during the Terror.
It must have helped that the Directoire was in power at the time of her request, the government in which her friends, the ideologues, played an important role. It’s also likely that this was how she eventually found out that the reason she could not reclaim her or Condorcet’s property was that they were listed as immigrants, and therefore, in debt to the government.
Sophie’s bout of poverty is what led her, according to her daughter, to publish her translation of Adam Smith, the translation to which she appended her letters. So without this particular injustice, we may never have known the Letters on Sympathy.
As I'm still catching up with a mound of 'stuff', this week I'm sharing another one in my series of portraits of women philosophers at work, paired with fictional extracts from their diaries. This week it's Olympe de Gouges, proofreading her Rights of Women (which she did and which is evidence against the 'mauvaises langues' that she could read and write perfectly well) with a fictional extract from a diary from the spring 1792.
Standing at the printer again, and again, as I read my proofs, I think of more to add. The printer grumbles, but really he doesn’t mind. He’ll just charge me more, and I’ll be poorer and my text will be full of mistakes, because these words will be set and printed along with the proofs.
I am incensed against the driver who brought me here. He wants to charge me three times what the normal cost is. Just because I am a woman, well-dressed and coming from Auteuil, he thinks he can lord it over me, and threaten me with the lantern if I protest. But I know my rights - I too am a citizen and he’ll answer to the authorities. I’ll see to it even if I have to waste the entire day.
As I scribble furiously, the printer’s son is looking at me, from the corner of his eye. No doubt he’s heard the rumor that I can’t write. Why else would I have a secretary after all? Well, any idiot who checks my handwriting against the neat letters that Jean produces will know: I write messily. And it’s true, I never did learn to write well. The sisters at the school were much more interested in teaching us to embroider, or just keeping us out of trouble. But how dare they assume I can’t write! It’s not even as though I’m only writer who uses a secretary - Condorcet does. His handwriting is not so messy as mine, perhaps, but try copying his tiny dry script, with lines crossed out in thick ink and illegible scribbles in the margins! Except that they know he can write, that he was educated by the best. How could an Academician not know how to write!
I pause and I stare hard at the boy. He looks down and scuffles off to the back of the shop. My reputation maybe that of an illiterate, but a scary illiterate!
Because I'm very jet=lagged from my trip to the APA in Vancouver, this week instead of a post I will share part of a less philosophical project - a series of portraits of women philosophers at work, paired with fictional extracts from their diaries. So here is Sophie de Grouchy, depicted writing her Letters on Sympathy and with a fictional extract from a diary from January 1794.
Silk stays, linen shifts, neck ruffles. It’s all in order. Cardot clearly has a way with women’s underwear. He has a way with the customers too - charming, and not intimidating, so that they feel they can ask him for their intimate needs, or that of their mistresses in some cases still - not all class privilege is gone! I must remember to pick up a new shift for my old nanny before I go. And shirt sleeves for my sister, Charlotte. None of us want stays - one good thing about the revolution is that we have loosened our underwear! Also, I could not possibly walk all the way from Auteuil dressed like a lady. I will take off my peasant dress, now I’m here, and put on my work clothes which are waiting for me upstairs, in the studio. I have three commissions to catch up on. Two that pay, and one for free, a portrait of a young girl who is at the Conciergerie, for her mother. I could not bear to charge her for it. I am late though, and I wouldn’t be if it were not for those men who came to arrest me and Cardot last week. I spent days painting their portraits, just so they would leave us alone. Not that they had any grounds to arrest us. I am no longer married to Condorcet, and Cardot is working for me, not for my husband, nor for his brother, my husband’s secretary.
I do enjoy the painting - when it’s not for a brute of a police man. I miss the writing. Of course, I help my husband (I still call him that - the divorce is on paper only). Everyday I see him, which is most days except when I think I might be followed, or at the weekend, I spend an hour or so reading what he has written, and discussing it with him. I dare not take it with me - I don’t want it discovered in a search and destroyed. But I know I will have to look after it, eventually, and keep it safe until it can be published and until Condorcet can come out of hiding.
I say we work together - and we do - but of lated I feel most of my efforts are directed to helping him feel better. He is not looking after himself, and his spirits are depressed. His landlady, his saintly landlady, is helping of course. And most of the time, he dares not refuse the food she offers him. But there is only so much she can do. Only so much I can do too. I keep telling him that soon it will be over, and that he'll come back home to me and our daughter, but it seems he does not have the patience to wait any more.
The Code Napoleon, first modern civil code which spelt out the laws regarding marriage, and inheritance in its first part and, although it has been revised several times since its publication in 1804, is still very influential in French civil life.
One of the principal aims of the new code was to free the family from the shackles of the church and prejudice. Marriage is described as a contract whereby men and women acquire certain rights and duties pertaining to each other and their children. It is possible to see this project as in part defending women’s positions, by making it a public, rather than a private matter. In particular the reforms of the divorce law, while making it harder for a marriage to be dissolved by mutual agreement, also made it nearly impossible for a man to divorce his wife once she was no longer young.
But the code is nonetheless very asymmetrical – husbands owe wives protection, but wives owe husbands obedience (article 214) and a wife is obliged to live where her husband decides (215) and cannot plead in her own name unless she has her husband’s permission (216). A woman, but not a man, must wait ten months to remarry after the dissolution of a first marriage (228). While both husband and wife can ask for divorce on grounds of adultery, a woman can only ask for it in case where her husband had moved his mistress into the common home (230). In cases of divorce, the father is given the management of the children (287) except in special circumstances decided by the court. And although many articles refer to both paternal and maternal authority over minor children, there is a whole section dedicated to Paternal Power.
One of the main writers of the Code, and the one responsible for the section of family law (I Of Persons) was Jean Etienne Marie Portalis (1746-1807). Portalis, a lawyer from the South East of France, was chosen by Napoleon to help carry out the project begun by Cambaceres under the Directoire of codifying civil law. Portalis was very concerned that the mew Revolutionary laws should not overturn the laws of nature and morality, and this was particularly clear in his treatment of the family part of the civil code. In his Preambule he talks of marriage as a ‘natural order’ that had been in the past sanctified by religion and needed to be recognized by the law. Part of this natural order was the need for one party in the ‘marriage contract’ to be in charge, and that had to be the husband, who was naturally superior to his wife and naturally destined, through his experience and wisdom to have authority over their children.
In discussions of the code at the Council of State, Portalis worried about any addition to the marriage law that would have the effect of placing ‘the wife above the husband, or put the power over children into the wife’s hands instead of the husband.’ He concluded that ‘any stipulation against the authority of a husband on the person of his wife or children must be forbidden’, that public right must be confined by public order and morality, and that the main object of family law was to confirm the husband’s rightful place as the head of the conjugal society.
After Condorcet's death, Sophie kept up her salon, first in Auteuil, in the house next to Madame Helvetius, and later in Meulan, close to the castle of Villette where she had grown up.
The house she bought had been built in 1642 by Anne of Austria for the religious order of the Annonciades. It was several storeys high and set in the countryside, between the town and the castle of Villette. The nuns who’d occupied it had been evicted 5 years previously and the house had already exchanged hands a few times. Sophie called it the ‘Maisonnette’ or little house, despite its generous size. One of the rooms was a large salon where she could host her philosophical circle, and there were several bedrooms upstairs for guests. (for more on the purchase and the set up of the house, see Madeleine Arnold-Tetard's excellent blog.)
Sophie’s salon was a place where she could discuss her ongoing work with close friends such as Cabanis, it was a meeting place for the Ideologues, and it also played a role in facilitating other’s literary careers. Karl Benedikt Hase, a Byzantine expert who came to play an important role in the literary world of 19thCentury Paris, was first introduced to this world by a chance meeting with Sophie de Grouchy. Having walked on foot to Paris from Weimar, and arriving a poor student, he was recommended to various people for his knowledge of Ancient Greek, and brought to Meulan by Sophie’s lover, Fauriel:
I already talked about Madame Concordet in one of my letters. I got to know her by chance; she wanted to learn German and a certain Fauriel, private secretary to the police minister, with whom I sometimes spend the evenings, sent me to her. It was the 28th Frimaire; look up the date and underline it, it is one of the most important in the life of your friend. I’ll admit it – the clear mind of this wonderful woman, her joy in the all-pervasive progress of humanity to a marvellous goal, her knowledge of the great moments of the revolution, in which she herself played a not insignificant role (on the day before the 10th August, when Concordet, her husband, played host to 400 Marseillese, she was the queen of the party), perhaps also her friendly attitude towards me – for my significant progress in French pronunciation, which has astonished everyone, was thanks to my reading French tragedies aloud to her – could not fail to have an effect on me.
In the Ancient Regime, a French marriage could only be annulled through a special dispensation from the pope. In 1792, divorce became legal. It was possible to divorce in two ways. First, a couple could decide they simply no longer wanted to be married. In this case, they simply had to wait six months after submitting a demand for divorce, and the divorce would be accepted after that period. One spouse could also ask for divorce for cause of cruelty, desertion, infidelity. Until the Napoleonic period, divorce was quite easy to obtain. Napoleon made it harder, and by 1816 it was no longer legal.
The first divorce laws were drafted after 10 August 1792, when the republic was proclaimed. This was in spite of the Constitutional committee having decided that the Constitution of 1791 would remain, only with amendments pertaining to the King’s role (which would be deleted). But divorce was very much on everybody’s minds, and had been since 1789 when the freeing of France from despotism was likened to the freeing of a woman from marriage to a tyrannical husband. One defender of the Revolution wrote that France, ‘a nation for so long oppressed by despotism and its laws, all of a sudden becoming mistress of its own destiny, aspires for liberty…” (Comte D’Antraigue, quoted in Suzanne DesanThe Family on Trial in Revolutionary France. Berkeley: University of California Press. 2004, 15). So from the beginning the French saw strong connections between the state and the family, the public and the private. As soon as the revolution started, the public debate on marriage laws, which had already existed but been contained by the laws and the all powerful clergy, amplified. Women’s clubs throughout France discussed divorce, and the Cercle Social in Paris, and its women only offshoot, Le Club des Amis de la Verité, led by Etta Palm d’Aelders, spearheading the discussion.
In 1792, the divorce law was pronounced. Between January 1793 and June 1795, the assembly received large quantities of petitions – two thirds of which were written by women (sometimes badly written, depending on their social class and level of education) for divorces. 6000 divorces were pronounced during the course of these two and a half years. Women who petitioned typically expressed their wishes in terms of oppression and tyranny, and all those who petitioned were determined, one way of another to free themselves from the marriage chains. Republican freedom truly took its place in the family.
This is where I live blog about my new book project, an intellectual biography of three French Revolutionary women philosophers.