1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hérault de Séchelles, Marie Jean

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

HÉRAULT DE SÉCHELLES, MARIE JEAN (1759–1794), French politician, was born at Paris on the 20th of September 1759, of a noble family connected with those of Contades and Polignac. He made his début as a lawyer at the Châtelet, and delivered some very successful speeches; later he was avocat général to the parlement of Paris. His legal occupations did not prevent him from devoting himself also to literature, and after 1789 he published an account of a visit he had made to the comte de Buffon at Montbard. Hérault’s account is marked by a delicate irony, and it has with some justice been called a masterpiece of interviewing, before the day of journalists. Hérault, who was an ardent champion of the Revolution, took part in the taking of the Bastille, and on the 8th of December 1789 was appointed judge of the court of the first arrondissement in the department of Paris. From the end of January to April 1791 Hérault was absent on a mission in Alsace, where he had been sent to restore order. On his return he was appointed commissaire du roi in the court of cassation. He was elected as a deputy for Paris to the Legislative Assembly, where he gravitated more and more towards the extreme left; he was a member of several committees, and, when a member of the diplomatic committee, presented a famous report demanding that the nation should be declared to be in danger (11th June 1793). After the revolution of the 10th of August 1792 (see French Revolution), he co-operated with Danton, one of the organizers of this rising, and on the 2nd of September was appointed president of the Legislative Assembly. He was a deputy to the National Convention for the department of Seine-et-Oise, and was sent on a mission to organize the new department of Mont Blanc. He was thus absent during the trial of Louis XVI., but he made it known that he approved of the condemnation of the king, and would probably have voted for the death penalty. On his return to Paris, Hérault was several times president of the Convention, notably on the 2nd of June 1793, the occasion of the attack on the Girondins, and on the 10th of August 1793, on which the passing of the new constitution was celebrated. On this occasion Hérault, as president of the Convention, had to make several speeches. It was he, moreover, who, on the rejection of the projected constitution drawn up by Condorcet, was entrusted with the task of preparing a fresh one; this work he performed within a few days, and his plan, which, however, differed very little from that of Condorcet, became the Constitution of 1793, which was passed, but never applied. As a member of the Committee of Public Safety, it was with diplomacy that Hérault was chiefly concerned, and from October to December 1793 he was employed on a diplomatic and military mission in Alsace. But this mission helped to make him an object of suspicion to the other members of the Committee of Public Safety, and especially to Robespierre, who as a deist and a fanatical follower of the ideas of Rousseau, hated Hérault, the follower of the naturalism of Diderot. He was accused of treason, and after being tried before the revolutionary tribunal, was condemned at the same time as Danton, and executed on the 16th Germinal in the year II. (5th April 1794). He was handsome, elegant and a lover of pleasure, and was one of the most individual figures of the Revolution.

See the Voyage à Montbard, published by A. Aulard (Paris, 1890); A. Aulard, Les Orateurs de la Législative et de la Convention, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1906); J. Claretie, Camille Desmoulins ... étude sur les Dantonistes (Paris, 1875); Dr Robinet, Le Procès des Dantonistes (Paris, 1879); “Hérault de Séchelles, sa première mission en Alsace” in the review La Révolution Française, tome 22; E. Daudet, Le Roman d’un conventionnel. Hérault de Séchelles et les dames de Bellegarde (1904). His Œuvres littéraires were edited (Paris, 1907) by E. Dard.  (R. A.*)