Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvrai

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Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvrai (June 12, 1760 - August 25, 1797), was a French writer and politician.

He was born in Paris, the son of a stationer. He became a bookseller's clerk, and first attracted attention with the novel, Les Amours du chevalier de Faublas (Paris, 1787-1789). The heroine, Lodoiska, was modelled on the wife of a jeweller in the Palais Royal, with whom he had an affair. She divorced her husband in 1792 and married Louvet in 1793. His second novel, Emilie de Varmont, was intended to prove the utility and necessity of divorce and of the marriage of priests, questions raised by the French Revolution. Indeed all his works were directed to the ends of the Revolution. He attempted to have one of his unpublished plays, L'Anoblié conspirateur, performed at the Théâtre Français, and records navely that one of its managers, d'Orfeuil, listened to the reading of the first three acts impatiently, exclaiming at last: "I should need cannon in order to put that piece on the stage." A sort of farce at the expense of the army of the emigrés, La Grande Revue des armes noire et blanche, had, however, better success: it ran for twenty-five nights.

Louvet was, however, first brought into notice as a politician by his Paris justifié, in reply to a truly incendiary pamphlet in which Mounier, after the removal of the king to Paris in October 1789, had. attacked the capital, at that time blameless, and argued that the court should be established elsewhere. This led to Louvet's election to the Jacobin Club, for which, as he writes bitterly in his Memoirs, the qualifications were then a genuine civisme and some talent. A self-styled philosophe of the true revolutionary type, he now threw himself ardently into the campaign against despotism and reaction, i.e. against the moderate constitutional royalty advocated by La Fayette, the Abbé Maury and other Machiavellians.

On December 25, 1791 he presented at the bar of the Assembly his Petition contre les princes, which had a prodigious success in the senate and the empire. Elected deputy to the Assembly for the department of Loiret, he made his first speech in January 1792. He attached himself to the Girondists, whose vague deism, sentimental humanitarianism and ardent republicanism he fully shared, and from March to November 1792 he published, at Roland's expense, a bi-weekly journal affiche, of which the title, La Sentinelle, proclaimed its mission to be to enlighten the people on all the plots at a time when, Austria having declared war, the court was visibly betraying our armies.

On August 10, he became editor of the Journal des débats, and in this capacity, as well as in the Assembly made himself conspicuous by his attacks on Robespierre, Marat and the other Montagnards, whom he declares he would have succeeded in bringing to justice in September but for the poor support he received from the Girondist leaders. It is more probable, however, that his ill-balanced invective contributed to their ruin and his own; for him Robespierre was a royalist, Marat the principal agent of England, the Montagnards Orleanists in masquerade. His courageous attitude at the trial of Louis XVI, when he supported the appeal to the people, only served still further to discredit the Girondists. He defended them, however, to the last with great courage, if with little discretion; and after the crisis of May 31, 1793 he shared the perils of the party who fled from Paris. His wife, Lodoiska, who had actively cooperated in his propaganda, was also in danger.

After the fall of Robespierre, he was recalled to the Convention, when he was instrumental in bringing Carrier and the others responsible for the Noyades of Nantes to justice. His influence was now considerable; he was elected a member of the Committee of the Constitution, president of the Assembly, and member of the Committee of Public Safety, against the overgrown power of which he had in earlier days protested. His hatred of the Mountain had not made him reactionary; he was soon regarded as one of the mainstays of the Jacobins, and La Sentinelle reappeared, under his auspices, preaching union among republicans. Under the Directory (1795) he was elected a member of the Council of Five Hundred, of which he was secretary, and also a member of the Institute.

Meanwhile he had returned to his old trade and set up a booksellers shop in the Palais Royal. But, in spite of the fact that he had once more denounced the Jacobins in La Sentinelle, his name had become identified with all that the combative spirits of the jeunesse dore most disliked; his shop was attacked by the young men with cries of A bas la Loupe, a bas la belle Ledoiska, a bas les gardes du corps de Louvet he and his wife were insulted in the streets and the theatres: A bas les Louvets et les Louvetants! and he was compelled to leave Paris. The Directory appointed him to the consulship at Palermo, but he died before taking up his post.

In 1795 Louvet published a portion of his Memoirs under the title of Quelques notices pour l'histoire et le récit de mes perils depuis le 31 mai 1793. They were mainly written in the various hiding-places in which Louvet rook refuge, and they give a vivid picture of the sufferings of the proscribed Girondists. They form an invaluable document for the study of the psychology of the Revolution; for in spite of their considerable literary art, they are artless in their revelation of the mental and moral state of their author, a characteristic type of the honest, sentimental, somewhat hysterical and wholly unbalanced minds nurtured on the abstractions of the philosophes. The first complete edition of the Mémoires de Louvet de Couvrai, edited, with preface, notes and tables, by FA Aulard, was published at Paris in 1889.



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