Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Have a fruit tart, Robespierre

Today is the 251rst birthday of one Maximilien Robespierre, to whom history, or just embittered British historians who want to find a scapegoat for the excesses of the French Revolution has given an incredibly bad rap.

In the opinion of the amateur Historian, there were times when M. Robespierre was just as funny as your average political figure. When he was still a young lawyer in Artois, Robespierre wrote a letter about, surprisingly, fruit tarts.

He is decidedly in favor of them. He writes, "Since Saturday evening I have been eating tarts non-stop. Fate has decreed that my bed should be placed within the chamber that forms the patisserie and so I was very tempted to eat all night long. Luckily I reflected that I should master these passions and finally managed to fall asleep amidst all these seductive items." Considering that Robespierre is, for some mysterious reason, refered to as the "Sea-Green Incorruptable" (possibly because he wore green-tinted glasses and because, no matter what else you can say about the man, he was incorruptable), it seems very fitting that even in the silliest of letters, he praises virtue and attempts to lead the way in his own example. A historian who follows Edmund Burke and his "OMG THE FRENCH REVOLUTION IS AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER FLEE FOR THE HILLS BEFORE WE HAVE A DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC!!111!!!!" interpretation of the Revolution might point at the last sentance as eerie foreshadowing that M. Robespierre would never be able to live in a world of total virtue because the temptation always existed, there was some flaw in Robespierre's character that would make him succumb to the allure of a fruit tart, etc.

To this, the Amateur Historian would like to point out that she would then think such an interpretation to be incredibly stupid, as Robespierre was being patently silly and using hyperbole to entertain. Earlier in the letter, Robespierre, in a fit of enthusiasm, leans out of a carriage and tips his hats at some farm-hands because he is "filled... with a noble emulation", who think he's crazy, and is mildly satirical about his tour of a courtroom (Robespierre writes, "I kissed with transport the seat in which, long ago, the buttocks of the great T__ had rested").

As I have said before with the Right Honorable Mr. Pitt, history is a strange and often biased field.

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