The New International Encyclopædia/Mirabeau, Gabriel Honoré Riqueti, Count de

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The New International Encyclopædia
Mirabeau, Gabriel Honoré Riqueti, Count de

Edition of 1905.  See also Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

MIRABEAU, mḗ'rȧ'bṓ', Gabriel Honoré Riqueti, Count de (1749-91). A French writer, orator, and statesman. He was the second son of Victor Riqueti, Marquis de Mirabeau, a celebrated economist, and was born at Bignon, near Nemours, March 9, 1749. After several years under a tutor, the young Mirabeau was placed (1767) in a fashionable military school in Paris, where he became proficient in languages and in the accomplishments of good society. In 1767 he joined the Berry cavalry regiment and the next year he received a second lieutenant's commission, but his freaks of conduct and his love affairs, one of which brought him into rivalry with his colonel, caused his imprisonment in the citadel of the island of Ré, from which he was released, at his father's instigation, in March, 1769. The condition of his release was that he should join the expedition to Corsica, and as a member of the legion of Lorraine. He served with credit in the subjugation of that island. In 1771 he was commissioned captain of dragoons, and in 1772 he was married at Aix to Marie Emilie de Covet, only daughter of the Marquis de Marignane. Of this union one son, Victor, was born in 1773, but he died in 1778. Debts, quarrels with his father and wife, and an altercation with the Marquis de Villeneuve-Monans, led to his imprisonment by lettre de cachet in the Castle of If in 1774, whence he was transferred to the Castle of Joux, near Pontarlier, the next year. Being at freedom to visit Pontarlier, he made the acquaintance of the Marquis de Monnier, an old man of seventy, and his twenty-two-year-old wife, Marie Thérèse Richard de Ruffey. Forgetful of his obligations to the Marquis, Mirabeau fell violently in love with the young Marquise; trouble ensued, and Mirabeau finally escaped to Switzerland, where he was joined by Sophie, as he called his mistress, and in October, 1776, they settled in Amsterdam, where Mirabeau gained a livelihood as a hack writer. In the meantime, the French courts passed sentence upon the runaway lovers, who were arrested in May, 1777, and brought to Paris, where Sophie was kept under close surveillance, while Mirabenu was imprisoned at Vincennes. For three years and a half he was kept in close confinement, but through his guard, a brother Freemason, he was able to carry on his famous correspondence with Sophie. These letters mark the culmination of Mirabeau's wild and vicious career. As a prisoner he devoted himself to the translation of numerous classics, and to the production of various original works, some of which were later published. After his release in December, 1780, he forsook Sophie, who, after another love affair, committed suicide in 1789. Then he returned to Pontarlier, secured the revocation of the death sentence, which had been passed on him for the seduction of Sophie, and later went to Aix, where, after a trial in which he ably conducted his own suit, he was legally separated from his wife in 1783.

Because of his suits at Pontarlier, he found it advisable to leave France for a few months, which he spent at Neuchâtel, where he met the Genevese Liberals Clavière and Duroveray, and where he published his Des lettres de cachet et des prisons d'état, the best known of his earlier writings. From September, 1783, to August, 1784, he was in Paris, where he seems to have begun his life-long intimacy with Henriette van Haren, a young woman of nineteen, known as Madame de Nehra, whose influence over Mirabeau was exerted entirely for his good. In August, 1784, he withdrew to London to allow another storm to blow over. In England he met his old schoolfellow, Sir Gilbert Elliot (later first Earl of Minto), Mr. (later Sir) Samuel Romilly, Lord Lansdowne, and other well-known men. He there wrote the Considérations sur l'ordre de Cincinnatus, which caused a sensation in the United States. After nine months in England, the intercessions of Madame de Nehra enabled him to return to Paris, where he entered into intimate relations with the Genevese exiles and other Liberals, like Brissot, and wrote numerous pamphlets on financial questions, published during 1785. These were followed (1787-1789) by his attacks on stock-jobbing and his criticisms on Necker's administration of the finances. In the meantime, he had twice visited Prussia, once on a secret mission for the Government. On his first visit (December, 1785, to May, 1786) he was received by Frederick the Great, whose death occurred during his second visit at Berlin (July, 1786, to January, 1787). In 1787 he failed in an attempt to secure the position of Secretary to the Assembly of Notables, and his attacks on Necker drove him to take refuge in Prussia. Returning from this third visit to Berlin, he published in 1788 his most famous work, De la monarchie prussienne sous Frédéric le Grand (8 vols. and atlas, London, 1788). In October, 1788, Mirabeau once more was reconciled with his father, and in January, 1789, he arrived at Aix to participate in the elections to the States-General. In April, having been ejected by his own order, the nobility, he was elected by the Third Estate both of Aix and of Marseilles to the States-General, and he chose to represent the former city. He was in Paris in time to publish on May 2, 1789, the first number of his newspaper, which, after some changes of title, finally look the name of Courrier de Provence, and a few days later to be present at the opening of the States-General at Versailles. He never had a following upon whom he could depend in the States-General, where his success was always a result of his ability to take advantage of temporary enthusiasm or excitement — an ability which gave him a reputation for boldness, for knowing his own mind, for oratorical powers, and for many of the arts of the demagogue. The true greatness of Mirabeau was not revealed until the publication of his works, and especially his correspondence with La Marck, many years after his death. From the first Mirabeau saw that the royal and ministerial scheme of financial reform would be insufficient to cure the existing evils, but he likewise saw that reforms could be successfully carried out only by a strong Government. From the opening of the States-General until his death two years later, Mirabeau was undeniably the most important figure in public life in France, and the story of his life is that of the Revolution. He took part in the debates concerning the status of the members of the Third Estate, and his bold attitude as their spokesman at the royal session of June 23d marked him as the champion of the Third Estate in the struggle which ended in the reorganization of the States-General as the National Assembly. He protested vigorously against the attempt to overawe the Assembly by the mobilization of troops around Paris, but his father's death on July 13th prevented his participation in the stirring events of the following day when the Bastille was stormed and destroyed by the populace of Paris. The protracted debates on the rights of the individual, and the reckless haste in the destruction of the old order by the Assembly on August 4th, called forth his protests. Still he recognized the importance of the proposed Declaration of the Rights of Man, and took an active part in framing it. Mirabeau, however, saw that neither theoretical nor destructive, but constructive statesmanship was the need of the hour. One by one he brought forward his favorite constitutional measures and defended them with all his powers of logic, eloquence, and persuasion, only to see them voted down. After the failure of his proposition to choose the royal Ministers from the members of the National Assembly, on November 7, 1789, Mirabeau strove earnestly to put his great abilities at the service of the King, whom he had attempted to advise as early as October 15th. He tried to work with Lafayette and Necker, but everywhere he was viewed with suspicion, his advice was never followed, and his assistance was rejected entirely or accepted with ill grace. Finally in May, 1790, he abandoned his attempts to coöperate with Necker and Lafayette, and, through La Marck, entered into regular relations with the King and Queen, for whom he wrote his famous series of notes of advice. This change was marked in the Assembly by his speech in favor of the royal prerogative, especially in questions of peace and war, which directed suspicion toward him, and caused a temporary outburst of popular indignation against him. He was largely responsible for Necker's resignation in September, 1790, and for the appointment of Clavière in his place. In July he had been placed on the Diplomatic Committee of the Assembly, and, in coöperation with his old friend Montmorin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, had dealt with the perplexing questions of foreign relations, such as the annexation of Avignon and the maintenance of the Family Compact with Spain. He insisted that no other country should interfere in the internal affairs of France; that other countries must keep their agreements with France; and that France must respect her agreements with other countries. On November 30, 1790, he was elected president of the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, popularly known as the Jacobin Club, and on January 29, 1791, he received the coveted honor of election as president of the National Assembly. His last note to the Court, through La Marck, was sent on February 3d. His last appearance in the Assembly was on March 27th. On April 2, 1791, he died in the Rue de la Chaussée d'Antin in Paris. He was buried in the Church of Sainte-Geneviève (the Pantheon), but three years later his remains were removed to make room for those of Marat.

The greatness of Mirabeau has been generally recognized, but in estimating the details of his life and policy there has been the widest divergence of opinion. French republicans have condemned him unsparingly for his monarchical sympathies, but most of all because in return for his services the Court paid his debts and supplied him with funds. In his defense it must be said that Mirabeau regarded himself as de facto prime minister, charged with the duty of saving France, a task to which he felt he alone was equal. The keynote of his advice to the Court was that the King should transfer the Court and the Assembly from Paris to Fontainebleau, or Compiègne, or some other small town of Central France, where the influence of the mob of Paris would cease to control the Assembly, and the King and the Assembly would be free to give France a strong monarchical constitution. Mirabeau had great power over men, and made those who came under his fascination willing to merge their personalities in his and allow him to take all the credit for their labors. The Souvenirs of Etienne Dumont, one of his collaborators, first showed fully Mirabeau's methods of work, and the way in which he made regular use of the services of Dumont, Reybaz, Pellene, and even better known persons like Clavière and the Abbé Lamourette. In Mirabeau everything was on a colossal scale; in personal appearance and moral character he was almost a monster; in intellect and powers of endurance he was a titan. In his personality all that was noblest and best of the French Revolution seemed combined with the greatest of its characteristic evils. The philosophers of history have mourned Mirabeau's death, because they believed that had he lived he would have saved France from the excesses of the Reign of Terror. It would be safe to say that he was the only one who might have rendered France that service, but it is to be doubted whether even the man whose character can best be summed up in the word excess could have saved his nation from the evil of excess. Alike terrible in their greatness, Mirabeau and Napoleon were the greatest men of the French Revolution.

Bibliography. Mirabeau, Œuvres (9 vols., Paris, 1825-27), is the most complete collection of his writings, but lacks the Monarchie prussienne. Mémoires de Mirabeau écrits par lui-même, par son père, son oncle, et son fils adoptif (9 vols., Paris, 1834-35), is still the most important authority, in spite of many defects. Willert, Mirabeau (London, 1898), is the only recent life in English, but may be supplemented by Morse Stephens, The French Revolution; Carlyle, The French Revolution; and Von Holst, The French Revolution Tested by Mirabeau's Career (Chicago, 1894). For Mirabeau's relations with the Court, consult Correspondance entre le Comte de Mirabeau et le Comte de La Marck pendant les années 1789, 1790, et 1791 (Paris, 1851). For Mirabeau as an orator, see Aulard, L'éloquence parlementaire pendant la Révolution française (ib., 1882); for his methods of work, Dumont, Souvenirs; and Reybaz, Un collaborateur de Mirabeau (ib., 1874); for his election to the States-General, Guibal, Mirabeau et la Provence (ib., 1887-91); for his career in the Assembly, Reynald, Mirabeau et la Constituante (ib., 1872). The best lives are Stern, Das Leben Mirabeaus (Berlin, 1889); Mézières, Vie de Mirabeau; and Loménie, Les Mirabeaux (5 vols., Paris, 1889-91).