1902 Encyclopedia > Jean Lambert Tallien

Jean Lambert Tallien
French Revolutionary politician

JEAN LAMBERT TALLIEN (1769-1820), the chief leader of the party that overthrew Robespierre, was the son of the maître d'hôtel of the Marquis de Bercy, and was born in Paris in 1769. The marquis, perceiving the boy's ability, had him well educated, and got him a place as a lawyer's clerk. Being much excited by the first events of the Revolution, he gave up his desk to enter a printer's office, and by 1791 he was overseer of the printing department of the Moniteur. While thus employed he conceived the idea of the journal-affiche, and from January to May 1791 he placarded a large printed sheet on ail the walls of Paris twice a week under the title of the Ami des Citoyens. This enterprise of his, of which the expenses were defrayed by the Jacobin Club, made him well known to the revolutionary leaders; and he made himself still more conspicuous in organizing the great "Fête de la Liberté" on April 15, 1792, in honour of the released soldiers of Château-Vieux, with Collot d'Herbois. On July 8, 1792, he was the spokesman of a deputation of the section of the Place Royale which demanded from the legislative assembly the reinstatement of Pétion and Manuel, and he was one of the most active popular leaders in the attack upon the Tuileries on 10th August, on which day he was appointed secretary or clerk to the revolutionary commune of Paris. In this capacity he exhibited an almost feverish activity ; he perpetually appeared at the bar of the assembly on behalf of the commune ; he announced the massacres of September in the prisons in terms of praise and apology ; and he sent off the famous circular of 3d September to the provinces, recommending them to do likewise. At the close of the month he resigned his post on being elected, in spite of his youth, a deputy to the Convention by the department of Seine-et-Oise, and he commenced his legislative career by defending the conduct of the commune during the massacres. He took his seat upon the Mountain, and showed himself one of the most vigorous Jacobins, particularly in his defence of Marat ; he voted for the execution of the king, and was elected a member of the Committee of General Security on January 21, 1793. After a short mission in the western provinces he returned to Paris, and took an active part in the coups d'etat of 31st May and 2d June, which resulted in the overthrow of the Girondins. For the next few months he remained comparatively quiet, but on September 23, 1793, he was sent with Ysabeau on his famous mission to Bordeaux. This was the very month in which the Terror was organized under the superintendence of the Committees of Public Safety and General Security, and Bordeaux was one of the cities selected to feel its full weight. Tallien showed himself one of the most vigorous of the proconsuls sent over France to establish the Terror in the provinces ; though with but few adherents, he soon awed the great city into quiet, and kept the guillotine constantly employed. It was at this moment that the romance of Tallien's life commenced. Among his prisoners was Theresa, Comtesse de Fontenay, the daughter of the great Spanish banker Cabarrus, the most beautiful and fascinating woman of her time, and Tallien not only spared her life but fell deeply in love with her. She quickly abated the fierceness of his revolutionary ardour, and from the lives she saved by her entreaties she received the name of "Our Lady of Pity." This mildness, however, displeased the members of the committees ; Tallien was recalled to Paris ; and Madame de Fontenay was imprisoned there. Danton and his friends had but just fallen, and the members of the committees were half afraid to strike again at the moderates, so Tallien was spared for the time, and was even elected president of the Convention on March 24, 1794. But the Terror could not be maintained at the same pitch : Bobespierre began to see that he must strike at many of his own colleagues in the committees if he was to carry out his theories, and Tallien was one of the men condemned with them. They determined to strike first, and on the great day of Thermidor it was Tallien who, urged on by the danger in which his beloved lay, opened the attack upon Robespierre. The movement was successful; Robespierre and his friends were guillotined; and the young Tallien, as the leading Thermidorian, was elected to the Committee of Public Safety. Now came the great months of his career: he showed himself a vigorous Thermidorian; he was instrumental in suppressing the Revolutionary Tribunal and the Jacobin Club; he attacked Carrier and Lebon, the proconsuls of Nantes and Arras; and he fought bravely against the insurgents of Prairial. In all these mouths he was supported by his Theresa, whom he married on December 26, 1794, and who became the leader of the social life of Paris. His last political achievement was in July 1795, when he was present with Hoche at the destruction of the army of the emigres at Quiberon, and ordered the executions which followed. After the close of the Convention Tallien's political importance came to an end, for, though he sat in the Council of Five Hundred, the moderates attacked him as terrorist, and the extreme party as a renegade. Madame Tallien also got tired of him, and became the mistress of the rich banker Ouvrard. Bonaparte, however, who is said to have been introduced by him to Barras, took him to Egypt in his great expedition of June 1798, and after the capture of Cairo he edited the official journal there, the Decade Egyptienne. But Menou sent him away from Egypt, and on his passage he was captured by an English cruiser and taken to London, where he had a good reception among the Whigs and was well received by Fox. On returning to France in 1802 he got a divorce from his unfaithful spouse (who eventually married the Prince de Chimay), and was left for some time without employment. At last, through Fouche and Talleyrand, he got the appointment of consul at Alicante, and remained there until he lost the sight of one eye from yellow fever. On returning to Paris he lived on his half-pay until 1815, when he received the especial favour of not being exiled like the other regicides. His latter days were spent in the direst poverty; he had to sell his books to get bread. He died at Paris on November 16, 1820.

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