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
All those who have written of the French Revolution have paused in
their chronicle of blood and flame to tell t
e 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
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
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:
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
"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
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
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
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.