How a Mother Survives

Madame Ducroquet wrote to her son in the spring of 1794 about the continuing shortage of food. She expressed her worries upon reading that someone with the same name had been arrested; in fact, it was her son, who went to the guillotine only a few weeks later.


Damiens, this fourth of Ventôse, Year Two of the Republic

My son:

I write you to let you know that tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, I will send off a small package of old things for your children. I wanted to have something better; for the moment, I have nothing else. The postage will be paid. As for me, I am not yet doing very well. Good food is unavailable. There is nothing to be had. I was waiting patiently for the first of Ventôse, hoping it would have brought back a little plenty, but nothing. To get four eggs you have to get in a line with six hundred people to wait your turn, and for everything, generally. They say nothing about soap either, except that there will not be any more. All that is taking a long time to come. You have to stay filthy for lack of it.

Our prevot cousins send best regards. He asks you as soon as you have received [it, a procuration mentioned below] at M. de Verdun's, to send [it] to him. You shouldn't wait to receive [one] for Sagnier and Quiotte. They aren't in need. With them, the death of their mother separates them, but as for those who remain at home, very much in need, there are still three. As I told them, there is a delay concerning the arrest of Verdun. I told them we were in need, as they are; that as soon as you receive [it] at Citizen Verdun's, you would sent it to us.

She brought me a little cake. I send you a piece. It will be a bit hard, but you can heat it up. About a certificate, August answered. He told me he knew all about it, but that these favors are only for those who can prove they have nothing and that their children provide for their subsistence. Nonetheless, he said that if they were willing to give us one, he would send it to us; but your father says he will not show his face in town because he will be disgraced.

You will find several books that I am sending back to you. In one you will find a ten-livre bill. Three livres of this comes from Sophia [for] your pomade and the money for your bottle. The rest is for your children. This book will be tied up with string. Look out for it. Let me know, I beg you, when you have received it at Citoyenne Roucoult's address, and don't delay, because I'll be uneasy.

I saw in the paper that someone named Ducroquet was arrested. I'll admit to you that that obsesses me, although I know full well, and I am quite sure, that you are a good patriot. This name, Ducroquet, caught my eye, but I was told that it was a deputy in the assembly. Let me have some news from you. That would give me pleasure, as I think you know. I send you my love, and I am,

Your mother, Harlay Ducroquet

Undoubtedly you received the letter and the procuration from Sagnier. Today, Monday, I will put the package in the carriage. It is possible that it will leave tomorrow.

Source: From Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1795, edited and translated by Darline Gay Levy, Harriet Branson Applewhite, and Mary Durham Johnson. Copyright 1979 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press, 252.