Imaging the French Revolution Discussion
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4. Is there anything left to discover about the crowd in the French Revolution? Can we contribute to the issues raised by Rudé, Soboul, and Andrews over the last 30 years? Is the crowd a new topic for representation in late eighteenth-century France, and if so, why is that important?
question 4 Warren Roberts, 6-9-03, 9:54 AM
RE: question 4 Jack Censer, 6-12-03, 4:46 PM
    what can we learn about the crowd Lynn Hunt, 6-23-03, 11:04 PM
RE: what can we learn about the crowd Barbara Day-Hickman, 7-15-2003,
12:58 PM
RE: what can we learn about the crowd Jack Censer, 7-17-2003, 10:18 AM
Response to Jack Warren Roberts,
7-21-03, 8:03 AM
Responses to Barbara Warren Roberts,
7-19-03, 10:31 AM

RE: Response to Warren and Final Remarks Barbara Day-Hickman,
7-25-03, 1:14 PM

Response to Barbara Warren Roberts, 7-28-03, 10:33 AM

Subject: question 4
Posted By: Warren Roberts
Date Posted: 6-9-03, 9:54 AM

I limit my comments here to Rudé, since he is the historian who refers specifically to the events of 22 July 1789 that Prieur depicted in his illustrations, and which I discussed in my essay.

Rudé’s response to the killing of Foulon and Bertier was to say that historians have used “acts of vengeance” against these officials to discredit revolutionary crowds. In his socioeconomic analysis, revolutionary crowds were made up of artisans, shopkeepers, and petty tradesmen, law abiding people who were neither unemployed nor criminal but stable and bent upon preserving their traditional rights.

This was not how François-Noël Babeuf regarded the murder of Foulon and Bertier, which he witnessed personally. He did not try to explain away or downplay the violence; he tried to understand it in its own contemporary context:

“Our punishments of every kind, quartering, torture, the wheel, the stake, and the gibbet, and the multiplicity of executioners on all sides, have had such a bad effect on our morals! Our masters, instead of policing us, have made us barbarians, because they are barbarous themselves. They are reaping and will reap what they have sown.”1

Others who witnessed the killing of Foulon and Bertier responded much as Babeuf did. Restif de la Bretonne felt that these deeds were “worthy of cannibals.” The journalist Elysée Loustolot felt that the severed head of Foulon, with hay stuffed in its mouth, “announced to tyrants the terrible vengeance of a justly angered people.” He also said that the procession that led Bertier to the Hôtel de Ville was accompanied by fifes and drums that declared “the cruel joy of the people.”2

Prieur’s illustrations depicting the events of July 22 can be compared to the observations of Babeuf, Restif de la Bretonne, and Loustalot. All of these contemporary responses to the murder of Foulon and Bertier emphasized popular vengeance, and cruelty. This is a dimension of the journée of July 22 that doesn’t come through in Rudé’s analysis; it is one that comes through vividly in Prieur’s images. His images, it seems to me, add to our understanding of revolutionary crowds in action. As with contemporary textual sources, Prieur’s images are evidence that historians can use to reconstruct events that drove the revolution in directions that no one at the time could have predicted.

1 Roberts, Jean-Louis Prieur, 108.

2 Ibid

Extended Discussion
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