1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Roland, Jean Marie
ROLAND [Roland de la Platière], JEAN MARIE (1734-1793), French statesman, was born at Thizy on the 18th of February 1734. He received a good education, and early formed the studious habits which remained with him through life. Proposing to seek his fortune abroad, he went on foot to Nantes, but was there prostrated by an illness so severe that all thoughts of emigration were perforce abandoned. For some years he was employed as a clerk; thereafter he joined a relative who was inspector of manufactures at Amiens, and he himself speedily rose to the position of inspector. To these two employments may be ascribed those qualities of assiduity and accuracy, and that familiarity with the commerce of the country, which distinguished his public career. In 1781 he married Manon Jeanne Phlipon (1754-1793), and the name of Madame Roland is famous in history. She was the daughter of Gratien Phlipon, a Paris engraver, who was ambitious, speculative and nearly always poor. From her early years she showed great aptitude for study, an ardent and enthusiastic spirit, and unquestionable talent. She was to a considerable extent self-taught; and her love of reading made her acquainted first with Plutarch—a passion for which author she continued to cherish throughout her life—thereafter with Bossuet, Massillon, and authors of a like stamp, and finally with Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau. These studies marked stages of her development, and as her mind matured she abandoned the idea of a convent which for a year or two she had entertained, and added to the enthusiasm for a republic which she had imbibed from her earlier studies not a little of the cynicism and the daring which the later authors inspired. She almost equalled her husband in knowledge, and infinitely excelled him in talent and in tact. Through and with him she exercised a singularly powerful influence over the destinies of France from the outbreak of the Revolution till her death.
For four years after their marriage Roland lived at Amiens, he being still an inspector of manufactures; but his knowledge of commercial affairs enabled him to contribute articles to the Encyclopédie Nouvelle, in which, as in all his literary work, he was assisted by his wife. On their removal to Lyons the influence of both became wider and more powerful. Their fervent political aspirations could not be concealed, and from the beginning of the Revolution they threw in their lot with the party of advance. The Courrier de Lyon contained articles the success of which reached even to the capital and attracted the attention of the Parisian press. They were from the pen of Madame Roland and were signed by her husband. A correspondence sprang up with Brissot and other friends of the Revolution at headquarters. In Lyons their views were publicly known; Roland was elected a member of the municipality, and when the depression of trade in the south demanded representation in Paris he was deputed by the council of Lyons to ask the Constituent Assembly that the municipal debt of Lyons, which had been contracted for the benefit of the state, should be regarded as national debt. Accompanied by his wife, he appeared in the capital in February 1791. He remained there until September, frequenting the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, and entertaining deputies of the most advanced opinions, especially those who later became the leading Girondists. Madame Roland took an active part in the political discussions in these reunions.
In September 1791, Roland's mission being executed, they returned to Lyons. Meanwhile the inspectorships of manufactures had been abolished; he was thus free; and they could no longer remain absent from the centre of affairs. In December they again reached Paris. Roland became a member of the Jacobin Club. They had made many and influential friends in advance, and Madame Roland's salon soon became the rendezvous of Brissot, Pétion, Robespierre and other leaders of the popular movement, above all of Buzot, whom she loved with platonic enthusiasm. In person Madame Roland was attractive though not beautiful; her ideas were clear and far-reaching, her manner calm, and her power of observation extremely acute. It was almost inevitable that she should find herself in the centre of political aspirations and presiding over a company of the most talented men of progress. The rupture had not yet been made evident between the Girondist party and that section still more extreme, that of the Mountain. For a time the whole left united in forcing the resignation of the ministers. When the crisis came the Girondists were ready, and on the 23rd of March 1792 Roland found himself appointed minister of the interior. As a minister of the crown Roland exhibited a bourgeois brusqueness of manner and a remarkable combination of political prejudice with administrative ability. While his wife's influence could not increase the latter, it was successfully exerted to foment and embitter the former. He was ex officio excluded from the Legislative Assembly, and his declarations of policy were thus in writing that is, in the form in which she could most readily exert her power. A great occasion was invented. The decrees against the emigrants and the non-juring clergy still remained under the veto of the king. A letter was penned by Madame Roland and addressed by her husband to Louis. It remained unanswered. Thereupon, in full council and in the king's presence, Roland read his letter aloud. It contained many and terrible truths as to the royal refusal to sanction the decrees and as to the king's position in the state; but it was inconsistent with a minister's position, disrespectful if not insolent in tone. Roland's dismissal followed. Then he completed the plan: he read the letter to the Assembly; it was ordered to be printed, became the manifesto of disaffection, and was circulated everywhere. In the demand for the reinstatement of the dismissed ministers were found the means of humiliation, and the prelude to the dethronement, of the king.
After the insurrection of the 10th of August, Roland was recalled to power, one of his colleagues being Danton. But now he was dismayed by the progress of the Revolution. He was above all a provincial, and was soon in opposition to the party of the Mountain, which aimed at supremacy not only in Paris but in the government as well. His hostility to the insurrectional commune of Paris, which led him to propose transferring the government to Blois, and his attacks upon Robespierre and his friends rendered him very unpopular. His neglect to seal the iron chest discovered in the Tuileries, which contained the proofs of Louis XVI.'s relations with the enemies of France, led to the accusation that he had destroyed a part of these documents. Finally, in the trial of the king he demanded, with the Girondists, that the sentence should be pronounced by a vote of the whole people, and not simply by the Convention. He resigned office on the 23rd of January 1793, two days after the king's execution.
Although now extremely unpopular, the Rolands remained in Paris, suffering abuse and calumny, especially from Marat. Once Madame Roland appeared personally in the Assembly to repel the falsehoods of an accuser, and her ease and dignity evoked enthusiasm and compelled acquittal. But violence succeeded violence, and early on the morning of the 1st of June she was arrested and thrown into the prison of the Abbaye. Roland himself escaped secretly to shelter in Rouen. Released for an hour from the Abbaye, she was again arrested and thrown among the horrors of Sainte-Pélagie. Finally, she was transferred to the Conciergerie. In prison she won the affections of the guards, and was allowed the privilege of writing materials and the occasional visits of devoted friends. She there wrote her Appel à l'impartiale postérité, those memoirs which display a strange alternation between self-laudation and patriotism, between the trivial and the sublime. On the 8th of November 1793 she was conveyed to the guillotine. Before yielding her head to the block, she bowed before the clay statue of Liberty erected in the Place de la Révolution, uttering her famous apostrophe “O Liberty! what crimes are committed in thy name!” When Roland heard of his wife's condemnation, he wandered some miles from his refuge in Rouen; maddened by despair and grief, he wrote a few words expressive of his horror at those massacres which could only be inspired by the enemies of France, protesting that “from the moment when I learned that they had murdered my wife I would no longer remain in a world stained with enemies.” He affixed the paper to his breast, and unsheathing a sword-stick fell upon the weapon, which pierced his heart, on the 10th of November 1793.
Madame Roland's Mémoires, first printed in 1820, have been edited among others by P. Faugère (Paris, 1864), by C. A. Dauban (Paris, 1864), by T. Claretie (Paris, 1884), and by C. Perroud (Paris, 1905). Some of her Lettres inédites have been published by C. A. Dauban (Paris, 1867), and a critical edition of her Lettres by C. Perroud (Paris, 1900-2). See also C. A. Dauban, Étude sur Madame Roland et son temps (Paris, 1864); V. Lamy, Deux femmes célèbres, Madame Roland et Charlotte Corday (Paris, 1884); C. Bader, Madame Roland, d'après des lettres et des manuscrits inédits (Paris, 1892); A. J. Lambert, Le mariage de Madame Roland, trois années de correspondance amoureuse (Paris, 1896); Austin Dobson, Four Frenchwomen (London, 1890); and articles by C. Perroud in the review La Révolution française (1896-99).