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Charlotte Corday And Adam Lux







Perhaps some readers will consider this story inconsistent with those

that have preceded it. Yet, as it is little known to most readers and as

it is perhaps unique in the history of romantic love, I cannot forbear

relating it; for I believe that it is full of curious interest and

pathetic power.



All those who have written of the French Revolution have paused in

their chronicle of blood and flame to tell the episode of the peasant

Royalist, Charlotte Corday; but in telling it they have often omitted

the one part of the story that is personal and not political. The

tragic record of this French girl and her self-sacrifice has been told a

thousand times by writers in many languages; yet almost all of them have

neglected the brief romance which followed her daring deed and which was

consummated after her death upon the guillotine. It is worth our while

to speak first of Charlotte herself and of the man she slew, and then

to tell that other tale which ought always to be entwined with her great

deed of daring.



Charlotte Corday--Marie Anne Charlotte Corday d'Armand--was a native of

Normandy, and was descended, as her name implies, from noble ancestors.

Her forefathers, indeed, had been statesmen, civil rulers, and soldiers,

and among them was numbered the famous poet Corneille, whom the French

rank with Shakespeare. But a century or more of vicissitudes had reduced

her branch of the family almost to the position of peasants--a fact

which partly justifies the name that some give her when they call her

"the Jeanne d'Arc of the Revolution."



She did not, however, spend her girlish years amid the fields and woods

tending her sheep, as did the other Jeanne d'Arc; but she was placed

in charge of the sisters in a convent, and from them she received such

education as she had. She was a lonely child, and her thoughts turned

inward, brooding over many things.



After she had left the convent she was sent to live with an aunt. Here

she devoted herself to reading over and over the few books which

the house contained. These consisted largely of the deistic writers,

especially Voltaire, and to some extent they destroyed her convent

faith, though it is not likely that she understood them very fully.



More to her taste was a copy of Plutarch's Lives. These famous stories

fascinated her. They told her of battle and siege, of intrigue and

heroism, and of that romantic love of country which led men to throw

away their lives for the sake of a whole people. Brutus and Regulus were

her heroes. To die for the many seemed to her the most glorious end that

any one could seek. When she thought of it she thrilled with a sort

of ecstasy, and longed with all the passion of her nature that such a

glorious fate might be her own.



Charlotte had nearly come to womanhood at the time when the French

Revolution first broke out. Royalist though she had been in her

sympathies, she felt the justice of the people's cause. She had seen the

suffering of the peasantry, the brutality of the tax-gatherers, and all

the oppression of the old regime. But what she hoped for was a

democracy of order and equality and peace. Could the king reign as a

constitutional monarch rather than as a despot, this was all for which

she cared.



In Normandy, where she lived, were many of those moderate republicans

known as Girondists, who felt as she did and who hoped for the same

peaceful end to the great outbreak. On the other hand, in Paris, the

party of the Mountain, as it was called, ruled with a savage violence

that soon was to culminate in the Reign of Terror. Already the

guillotine ran red with noble blood. Already the king had bowed his head

to the fatal knife. Already the threat had gone forth that a mere breath

of suspicion or a pointed finger might be enough to lead men and women

to a gory death.



In her quiet home near Caen Charlotte Corday heard as from afar the

story of this dreadful saturnalia of assassination which was making

Paris a city of bloody mist. Men and women of the Girondist party came

to tell her of the hideous deeds that were perpetrated there. All these

horrors gradually wove themselves in the young girl's imagination around

the sinister and repulsive figure of Jean Paul Marat. She knew nothing

of his associates, Danton and Robespierre. It was in Marat alone that

she saw the monster who sent innocent thousands to their graves, and who

reveled like some arch-fiend in murder and gruesome death.



In his earlier years Marat had been a very different figure--an

accomplished physician, the friend of nobles, a man of science and

original thought, so that he was nearly elected to the Academy of

Sciences. His studies in electricity gained for him the admiration

of Benjamin Franklin and the praise of Goethe. But when he turned to

politics he left all this career behind him. He plunged into the very

mire of red republicanism, and even there he was for a time so much

hated that he sought refuge in London to save his life.



On his return he was hunted by his enemies, so that his only place

of refuge was in the sewers and drains of Paris. A woman, one Simonne

Evrard, helped him to escape his pursuers. In the sewers, however,

he contracted a dreadful skin-disease from which he never afterward

recovered, and which was extremely painful as well as shocking to

behold.



It is small wonder that the stories about Marat circulated through the

provinces made him seem more a devil than a man. His vindictiveness

against the Girondists brought all of this straight home to Charlotte

Corday and led her to dream of acting the part of Brutus, so that she

might free her country from this hideous tyrant.



In January, 1793, King Louis XVI. met his death upon the scaffold; and

the queen was thrust into a foul prison. This was a signal for activity

among the Girondists in Normandy, and especially at Caen, where

Charlotte was present at their meetings and heard their fervid oratory.

There was a plot to march on Paris, yet in some instinctive way she felt

that such a scheme must fail. It was then that she definitely formed

the plan of going herself, alone, to the French capital to seek out the

hideous Marat and to kill him with her own hands.



To this end she made application for a passport allowing her to

visit Paris. This passport still exists, and it gives us an official

description of the girl. It reads:



Allow citizen Marie Corday to pass. She is twenty-four years of age,

five feet and one inch in height, hair and eyebrows chestnut color, eyes

gray, forehead high, mouth medium size, chin dimpled, and an oval face.



Apart from this verbal description we have two portraits painted while

she was in prison. Both of them make the description of the passport

seem faint and pale. The real Charlotte had a wealth of chestnut hair

which fell about her face and neck in glorious abundance. Her great

gray eyes spoke eloquently of truth and courage. Her mouth was firm yet

winsome, and her form combined both strength and grace. Such is the girl

who, on reaching Paris, wrote to Marat in these words:



Citizen, I have just arrived from Caen. Your love for your native place

doubtless makes you wish to learn the events which have occurred in that

part of the republic. I shall call at your residence in about an hour.

Be so good as to receive me and give me a brief interview. I will put

you in such condition as to render great service to France.



This letter failed to gain her admission, and so did another which she

wrote soon after. The fact is that Marat was grievously ill. His disease

had reached a point where the pain could be assuaged only by hot water;

and he spent the greater part of his time wrapped in a blanket and lying

in a large tub.



A third time, however, the persistent girl called at his house and

insisted that she must see him, saying that she was herself in danger

from the enemies of the Republic. Through an open door Marat heard her

mellow voice and gave orders that she should be admitted.



As she entered she gazed for a moment upon the lank figure rolling in

the tub, the rat-like face, and the shifting eyes. Then she approached

him, concealing in the bosom of her dress a long carving-knife which she

had purchased for two francs. In answer to Marat's questioning look she

told him that there was much excitement at Caen and that the Girondists

were plotting there.



To this Marat answered, in his harsh voice:



"All these men you mention shall be guillotined in the next few days!"



As he spoke Charlotte flashed out the terrible knife and with all her

strength she plunged it into his left side, where it pierced a lung and

a portion of his heart.



Marat, with the blood gushing from his mouth, cried out:



"Help, darling!"



His cry was meant for one of the two women in the house. Both heard it,

for they were in the next room; and both of them rushed in and succeeded

in pinioning Charlotte Corday, who, indeed, made only a slight effort to

escape. Troops were summoned, she was taken to the Prison de l'Abbaye,

and soon after she was arraigned before the revolutionary tribunal.



Placed in the dock, she glanced about her with an air of pride, as

of one who gloried in the act which she had just performed. A written

charge was read. She was asked what she had to say. Lifting her head

with a look of infinite satisfaction, she answered in a ringing voice:



"Nothing--except that I succeeded!"



A lawyer was assigned for her defense. He pleaded for her earnestly,

declaring that she must he regarded as insane; but those clear, calm

eyes and that gentle face made her sanity a matter of little doubt.

She showed her quick wit in the answers which she gave to the rough

prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, who tried to make her confess that she

had accomplices.



"Who prompted you to do this deed?" roared Tinville.



"I needed no prompting. My own heart was sufficient."



"In what, then, had Marat wronged you?"



"He was a savage beast who was going to destroy the remains of France in

the fires of civil war."



"But whom did you expect to benefit?" insinuated the prosecutor.



"I have killed one man to save a hundred thousand."



"What? Did you imagine that you had murdered all the Marats?"



"No, but, this one being dead, the rest will perhaps take warning."



Thus her directness baffled all the efforts of the prosecution to trap

her into betraying any of her friends. The court, however, sentenced her

to death. She was then immured in the Conciergerie.



This dramatic court scene was the beginning of that strange, brief

romance to which one can scarcely find a parallel. At the time there

lived in Paris a young German named Adam Lux. The continual talk about

Charlotte Corday had filled him with curiosity regarding this young girl

who had been so daring and so patriotic. She was denounced on every hand

as a murderess with the face of a Medusa and the muscles of a Vulcan.

Street songs about her were dinned into the ears of Adam Lux.



As a student of human nature he was anxious to see this terrible

creature. He forced his way to the front of the crowded benches in the

court-room and took his stand behind a young artist who was finishing a

beautiful sketch. From that moment until the end of the trial the

eyes of Adam Lux were fastened on the prisoner. What a contrast to the

picture he had imagined!



A mass of regal chestnut hair crowned with the white cap of a Norman

peasant girl; gray eyes, very sad and serious, but looking serenely

forth from under long, dark lashes; lips slightly curved with an

expression of quiet humor; a face the color of the sun and wind, a

bust indicative of perfect health, the chin of a Caesar, and the whole

expression one of almost divine self-sacrifice. Such were the features

that the painter was swiftly putting upon his canvas; but behind them

Adam Lux discerned the soul for which he gladly sacrificed both his

liberty and his life.



He forgot his surroundings and seemed to see only that beautiful, pure

face and to hear only the exquisite cadences of the wonderful voice.

When Charlotte was led forth by a file of soldiers Adam staggered from

the scene and made his way as best he might to his lodgings. There he

lay prostrate, his whole soul filled with the love of her who had in an

instant won the adoration of his heart.



Once, and only once again, when the last scene opened on the tragedy,

did he behold the heroine of his dreams.



On the 17th of July Charlotte Corday was taken from her prison to the

gloomy guillotine. It was toward evening, and nature had given a setting

fit for such an end. Blue-black thunder-clouds rolled in huge masses

across the sky until their base appeared to rest on the very summit of

the guillotine. Distant thunder rolled and grumbled beyond the river.

Great drops of rain fell upon the soldiers' drums. Young, beautiful,

unconscious of any wrong, Charlotte Corday stood beneath the shadow of

the knife.



At the supreme moment a sudden ray from the setting sun broke through

the cloud-wrack and fell upon her slender figure until she glowed in the

eyes of the startled spectators like a statue cut in burnished bronze.

Thus illumined, as it were, by a light from heaven itself, she

bowed herself beneath the knife and paid the penalty of a noble, if

misdirected, impulse. As the blade fell her lips quivered with her last

and only plea:



"My duty is enough--the rest is nothing!"



Adam Lux rushed from the scene a man transformed. He bore graven upon

his heart neither the mob of tossing red caps nor the glare of the

sunset nor the blood-stained guillotine, but that last look from

those brilliant eyes. The sight almost deprived him of his reason. The

self-sacrifice of the only woman he had ever loved, even though she had

never so much as seen him, impelled him with a sort of fury to his own

destruction.



He wrote a bitter denunciation of the judges, of the officers, and

of all who had been followers of Marat. This document he printed,

and scattered copies of it through every quarter in Paris. The last

sentences are as follows:



The guillotine is no longer a disgrace. It has become a sacred altar,

from which every taint has been removed by the innocent blood shed

there on the 17th of July. Forgive me, my divine Charlotte, if I find

it impossible at the last moment to show the courage and the gentleness

that were yours! I glory because you are superior to me, for it is

right that she who is adored should be higher and more glorious than her

adorer!



This pamphlet, spread broadcast among the people, was soon reported to

the leaders of the rabble. Adam Lux was arrested for treason against

the Republic; but even these men had no desire to make a martyr of this

hot-headed youth. They would stop his mouth without taking his life.

Therefore he was tried and speedily found guilty, but an offer was

made him that he might have passports that would allow him to return to

Germany if only he would sign a retraction of his printed words.



Little did the judges understand the fiery heart of the man they had

to deal with. To die on the same scaffold as the woman whom he had

idealized was to him the crowning triumph of his romantic love. He gave

a prompt and insolent refusal to their offer. He swore that if released

he would denounce his darling's murderers with a still greater passion.



In anger the tribunal sentenced him to death. Only then he smiled and

thanked his judges courteously, and soon after went blithely to the

guillotine like a bridegroom to his marriage feast.



Adam Lux! Spirit courtship had been carried on silently all through that

terrible cross-examination of Charlotte Corday. His heart was betrothed

to hers in that single gleam of the setting sun when she bowed beneath

the knife. One may believe that these two souls were finally united

when the same knife fell sullenly upon his neck and when his life-blood

sprinkled the altar that was still stained with hers.





Next: Napoleon And Marie Walewska

Previous: George Iv And Mrs Fitzherbert



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