The Memoirs of Isaac Mathieu Crommelin
The above unknown portrait by Maurice Quentin de la Tour (whose birthplace also was Saint Quentin) seems to capture the mischievious glance we would expect in his contemporary, Isaac Mathieu Crommelin.
(Transcribed from pages digitally photographed at the Saint Quentin Public Library, France by Maryse Trannois and (roughly) translated by Milfred Crommelin, Canada with the aid of computer-translating programs, May-June 2002).
12 - The Fraudulent Clerk
13 - The Plot Thickens
14 - M. Saulce, A Scurrilous Magistrate
15 - I Win My Court Case
16 - I Challenge Saulce To A Duel
17 - Crommelin Ointment
18 - An Ambush That Failed
19 - Days of Extortion and Greed
20 - Salt, Taxes, a Bridge, and Me
21 - My Benevolence Leads to Debt
22 - A New Job Offer in St. Germain
23 - The Bureaucracy During the Revolution
The Fraudulent Clerk
I lived very well in Guise without having to spend much money. And for the first time in my life I was able to send some money to one of my relatives. The company was good, society was pleasant and I lived only five leagues from my hometown. Also very nearby was the countryside where my wife spent summers with my brother and my family. If someone had offered me another location and a much more senior position, I would most certainly have refused.
One day a friend came by to ask me to have dinner with him provided that we could speak in confidence about an important matter which concerned me. "Mon cher Crommelin," he says, "You are being defrauded by your clerk." - "That cannot be." - "But it's true. Whereas he was riddled with debts, now he has none, and he dines sumptuously at the best tables in Guise. He also feeds two sergeants at his lodging house who give him almost nothing. He is a drunkard who drinks at his own table on first-rate wines and liqueurs costing fifteen or eighteen francs per bottle. If there is a good item at the market, his wife pays for it without even haggling over it." - "He has enough to live on: perhaps an inheritance and what I give him should be enough for all that." - "No, besides right now he is erecting a building at the end of his garden and had a new slate roof put on his house. Everybody is suspicious of him but you." - "My predecessor recommended him to me and spoke highly of him." - "He was deceived. This man is a cheat and all the more dangerous because he plays ignorant." - "But I do an accounting with him twice a week, and with the company every month. I am always current."
"Here are my books; they have just been audited by the comptroller. Never yet have I received a letter of reproach from either the auditor-general or the company." - "My friend, think about this for a long time. If you have not been defrauded then this man has found a treasure or he has resources which nobody knows about. He is the son of a poor roofer. His wife, full of pride, buys only what is the best in the market and pays cash. The compliments that she receives from the sergeants at their lodging house is a dear old maid who is at their beck and call. However, I have carried out my duty as a friend. It is for your own good now that you weigh what I have brought to your attention."
When I was alone, I examined closely my business accounts and found everything in good order. But as I slept a brilliant idea appeared. "I wonder if this man isn't fudging the figures by somehow incorporating last year's accounts into the new year? How can I verify this?"
I had in my district more than 140 tax collectors. I set up three divisions and sent to my collectors three intelligent men with instructions to relate to me the exact note of payments made for each tax account detailing receipt numbers, dates and amounts. One week sufficed to conduct this important operation. Armed with these figures I spent two nights comparing payments made on receipts with the recorded payments. Much to my surprise I found a difference of 18500 francs!
I maintained a most profound silence without stopping work. When I touched the papers of my clerk, I marked them with crayon to have them returned to me exactly as they were now.
The scoundrel got wind of my investigation and I noticed that he had enticed my former maidservant to his home. Furthermore he was working more diligently than usual; he had an anxious air about him; and he worked much harder than before. One day, having dined downtown, I came home unexpectedly and sat down. I then opened the door of an adjoining room
where I generally put the leftovers of my meal and I find my clerk and his wife in there. - "What are you doing here?" - "Sir, my wife wanted to see your Capuchin friar painting!" - "But she's seen it twenty times already. Why are you hiding in here?" - "We believed that you would be going out again right away." - Bad exuse, but curiosity is not a crime, so out they went. My mind raced as I mulled over a thousand different things which they could have been doing in there. I came to only one logical conclusion and without attempting to clear up the matter further I began throwing into the rubbish bin all the things in the house which one could eat or drink. I was absolutely certain that my death by poison was the focus of these scoundrels and that they wanted it to look like a suicide. My plan was to be increasingly vigilant with regard to my food and in this I was ably assisted by the wife of the cook who served me.
A situation arose which strengthened my suspicions. My former maidservant fell ill and the good sisters of the hospital looked after her. Her malady, however, was terminal and before dying she requested that I pay her a visit. I went to see her, knowing that her time was short. With a great deal of effort she was able to say to me, "I am a most unfortunate soul. You will never forgive me. I have... I have... I have..." Then the hiccup of death arose in her throat and she died. But I knew that the wine and liqueurs of my clerk had been a big temptation for her and that she had talked about a fortune which the clerk would soon be getting.
I had an attentive eye without being too obvious about it. One day I surprised my clerk when he was making a roller of receipts instead of putting them into their box. I did not enter the room, but a quarter of an hour later I gave him an errand which did not require a response. When he had gone out I locked myself in the office and began looking for the roller. I found it hidden in the heart of a drawer. This I removed, replacing it with a similar bundle. I wanted to collect some evidence, and then I happened to discover some cracks in the plaster which were stuffed with papers. These turned out to be receipts. When I examined the wall further I noticed mouseholes which also were stuffed with receipts.
I locked myself in and began working feverishly. Finally I found about 18,000 francs worth of receipts signed by the clerk and duly turned in by the tax collectors as per their respective accounts. Not one of these receipts had been recorded in my receipt book. I then decided to make a copy of this book so that there would be a duplicate in the event of an accident. My intention being to spend the night at the office, I dispatched two express messages, one to Vervins and the other one to Saint Quentin imploring my two blood relatives to come and have dinner with me for a business matter of the greatest importance which absolutely could not be postponed. I also requested them to leave their horses or carriage in the suburbs so they would not be visible. They arrived for this daytime audience and I knew that my clerk would be coming in shortly after he had dined.
When he came in I asked him to come upstairs and there he found in the room next to mine a table full of papers, and my two relatives. - "We have an accounting to be made. Here are all the books, and here are the sums of all our orders. Please see if the addition is correct. How much do our collectors still owe?" - "Let's see... approximately 24,000 francs." - "Yes, according to your receipt book, but here are 18,000 francs worth of receipts signed by you which are not recorded. Where is this money?" - He cannot answer. - "There must be some errors there." - "I agree there are. But why is it only these receipts which were not recorded - those which were found stuffed in cracks in the walls and in mouseholes?"
The rascal then cried and asked for his wife whom I sent someone to look for. One after the other, the two of them cast themselves on their knees before my relations begging for mercy. I remained calm because my relations could now see it was impossible to blame me for anything. "What restitution do you propose?" - "We shall return 4,000 francs in four payments and we will give up our house with the prayer that you will grant us the continued use of it." - "I accept." I sent for a notary to handle this case but I prepared the contract which they both signed. Having removed from them the key to my house I gave an order to my maidservant
never to allow them in again. I had to put up my own capital to make up the losses. My relation who had served as a witness also gave 7,000 francs assignats, which had lost fifteen percent but which were current, to my receipt. Then by living frugally I would see the day when I had made up the losses completely.
The Plot Thickens
I was home when the young son of my cook came running in breathless. "Come, come, sir, there is something that you must know about..." Following the little boy, I found the cook sitting on a well and he motioned to me with a sign to approach noiselessly. This well happened to be shared jointly with the bailly and there was a crack between the boards. The bailly (judge) had just had lunch with my clerk and both were equally drunk.
It would be fair to say that this bailly had as much vice as the emperor Adrien, and one could say that my clerk was his young Antinoüs. Quel Antinoüs! He was the most notorious man in Guise, but these gentlemen do not confront people directly. Here is the gist of their conversation:
"You were wrong, cabbage head, to give your signature, and your wife also made a big mistake by affixing hers." - "But the situation was desperate, and I was trapped!" - "The contract is good, but we shall make it bad. No duplicate was made of it and we will consider it to have been made under duress. That way we shall render it invalid. Did you steal the receipt book?" - "Yes, I took it the moment he wasn't around. I told his old maidservant, Marianne, that I had left my knife behind. She let me in and I took the book." - "Great! Then there will be no way of making any more comparisons, and the loss of the book will appear to be his own carelessness. This is a big thing in your favour. Now it will be necessary to fabricate a complaint and say that Crommelin and his two relatives had put pistols to your head in order to make you sign this contract. This charge will invalidate the testimony of both witnesses because they will then be regarded as accomplices. I will take care of the rest... Come, let's have another drink, cabbage head."
138 M. Saulce, A Scurrilous Magistrate
I would ask now, who was the more villainous: the thief or the Bailly of the duchy of Guise? I decided to solicit the advice of a Monsieur Saulce, a man of wisdom and the manager of the estate of the prince de Conde. Sometimes he was a man of the sword, and sometimes a man of justice (magistrate). With some Bailly experience, and one who knew the judges, he was what I needed because he was familiar with the system and had a reputation for steering judgments according to his will. He had also made a fortune. However, this chap, seeing his corrupt mentor, preferred to fall out with me rather than him. He took on a bad mood. - "You were wrong to listen in on that conversation." - "Yes, if I had hidden, but it was the Bailly's fault to have a well right next to his office where the sound propagates through." - "What were you going there?" - "I was going to have dinner. Besides, sir, I am not on the stand right now. But since you are the kingpin of justice, I demand that you have the receipt book returned which was stolen from me, otherwise I will press criminal charges. I enjoy a good reputation, and I have three necessary witnesses because the scene took place inside a house." - "The receipt book will be here within the hour, you can count on that." - "I do count on it, and I will hold you to your promise."
The next day Saulce asked me to see him at four o'clock and to bring my papers. I went to his office and found him alone. "Go see the Bailly and your clerk," he says to me. - "Why the Bailly?" - "It would be good that you go there. I know him to be forthright, fair and moderate." - "Alright I will see him if he acts like a judge, but if he starts to act like a legal counsel for the clerk, then without hesitation I will tell him so." - "Where is the receipt book with which to check the accounts?" asks the Bailly. - "You know very well where it is." - "Me?" - "Yes, you. The book is in the possession of the clerk who will show it to you if you ask him, but it is useless to him because I have here a
copy. Instead of verifying the receipts by the book, we shall verify the book by the receipts, and since it is my business, my writing carries more weight than that of my clerk". This line of reasoning was unexpected. Saulce indeed wanted to serve the Bailly as his cabbage head, but he also didn't want to compromise on the truth. - "In that case," he says, "let us see if the books agree". They hoped to find errors, but there were none and I held on to my copy while Saulce went through the original.
I then produced the missing receipts one by one with their numbers and date, none of which had been recorded. - "Let's see these receipts," says Saulce. "They have all been signed by you, and here is your own receipt book, so where is the money?" - "I gave it to monsieur," the clerk says. - "That can't be so. Since all the settled accounts are signed by your hand, why were these receipts in cracks and mouseholes?" My clerk lowered his head but then the Bailly said, "It appears some errors have been made." - I then asked monsieur the Bailly to tell me if he was acting as a judge or as a legal counsel. "Why do you submit observations when you are supposed to simply listen and weigh the evidence? It seems to me that you are very fond of cabbages!" - "Errors!" said Saulce quickly. "How many were there? Here are more than a hundred and I perceive five or six on the same date. The two problems are the same. If you do not have the funds, then fraud is clearly evident. But if you do have them, then you are simply inept." After a verdict so precise, I withdrew. My head was frazzled and my nerves were at the breaking point.
The next day three lawyers I knew came by to suggest a way of civilizing the affair. I approved it, thus restraining my outrage and preventing my clerk from being hanged. However, the conference which I had had with the two judges and the culprit did not prevent further nasty repercussions from coming my way.
140 I Win My Court Case
Then there was an injunction and polite refusals by all the people in the justice establishment to work on my behalf, thereby forcing me to be my own prosecutor and lawyer. My own lawyer very politely came to find me saying, "I have a bad excuse, I know, but I'm only beginning my career and it would be impossible for me to go up against the judge who appointed me. I warn you that nobody will work for you in spite of the respect that you enjoy. It is necessary to live... The Bailly of a vast duchy is a very influential man for the people in our profession, but otherwise you will be satisfied with me." - "Well, sir, then I shall do without anybody!"
I knew what it would be like to enter into a court case because I had read "Cochin". I had a road to travel and I would not deviate from it. My enemies were in seventh heaven when they learned that I would undertake my own defence because they believed that I would become enraged, or that I would make mistakes in protocol. Born laborious, however, and with my head full of my subject, three days and two nights were sufficient for me to scribble my first draft in preparing my case.
Amongst my friends I found a lawyer whom I loved, whom I like now and always will. He praised me for the calm tone which I had assumed, knowing my tendency to express myself vehemently. He added in the margin only two very short legal technicalities and says to me: "Plead self-assuredly and your victory will be assured. You speak with fire; your cause is a personal one, and your conviction will not be overlooked." The appointed day arrived and the sheriffs came to find me. Then I entered the courtroom between two cavaliers of St. Louis. The room was full.
My opposing lawyer spoke first, expressing himself well and with skill, but when he mentioned the 'violent crime' of my relatives, a murmur arose which bordered on pandemonium. I observed the lawyers. They all had raised shoulders and seemed indignant that a proven fact had even been questioned because of the injustice of two judges. I then took the stand and plead my case until my voice got a little hoarse.
Several small voices in the crowd then cried out, "Courage! It is well!" The article of facts I produced after my introductory remarks was devastating. I revealed every detail, and then the applause began. The judge had his mouth wide open with surprise. It wasn't the Bailly who was being systematically rejected, as he well knew, for he was but a poor devil, a slave of Saulce. Both saw me and heard me at a neighbouring public auditorium. They had hoped I would make a fool of myself by focussing on personalities, but I was wise, clear and methodical. Saulce and the Bailly noticed the general indignation:
Clearly they were afraid of an appeal to a higher tribunal where I would have expressed myself with less restraint. In any case I won my lawsuit according to my conclusions and was awarded expenses.
- about the nature of the lawsuit,
- about the fact that no lawyers were representing me, one of whom spoke something into the ear of the judge.
Triumph over a whole baillage in its own court was not a common victory for a man who, in his whole life had never experienced a lawsuit and to whom the art of writing in legal terms was completely foreign. Even public speaking was a new experience and everybody sensed it. Before returning home I was embraced by more than a hundred persons.
I Challenge Saulce To A Duel
Then new legal challenges arose involving all the lawyers of the city and the most persuasive women who tried to deprive me of my rights. Even the women to whom I wrote were brought in to build a case against me. I was angry but I curbed my desire for vengeance and in the end I was able to remove only twenty percent of my loss.
Who would have believed it? The cabbages of the Bailly covered for him while the indignant public was obliged to employ him. And so the baillage of a popular Prince of royal blood (Conde), was managed by those to whom he granted his confidence. Meanwhile the apostle of truth would have been taken for a cheat if he had carried even the slightest complaint to this motley crew.
One day I met Saulce face to face at a public spectacle and he looked at me. I glared at him and didn't lower my eyes. - "Do you have anything to say to me?" - "Yes." - "Where?" - "At the door." - "When?"
- "Right now." We went out and I led him to an out-of-the-way place near the wall or ramparts. A travelling merchant saw us coming and hid behind a tree to listen to us. - "You are at this moment, sir, a man of the sword. I have mine and you have yours, therefore I suggest that we go for the throat." - "I would do so willingly right now, but tomorrow is a day of hearings and I have some major business to report." - "Fine! Tomorrow is also the day for doing my warehouse accounting. Since each of us is thus engaged in business, we shall meet at three o'clock in the woods of..." - "Ha! My dear Crommelin. If you only knew the deep, deep respect which I have for you, you would cease wanting me to engage you in a duel." - "Yours, sir, are the comments of a coward. You are a cheat who knows how to hurt without having the wherewithal to repair the damage." - "What did I ever do against you?" - "Your actions were abominable. You took a stand in favour of vice. You wanted me to lose in favor of two villains whom you knew very well to be scoundrels because you too have eyes and ears. Besides, the wine is poured and you will drink it or I will spit in your face... Tomorrow at three o'clock. I shall have a sword and pistols. You also bring what you need."
I was in the wood at the appointed hour and I saw the merchant there who had overheard us, but Monsieur Saulce, who once again had become a magistrate, did not appear. I have never stopped hating that man. It was him, the Bailly, or my clerk, who then accused me of having raised a regiment. We shall see later how I got out of this messy affair...
I was known in and around Guise for magnificent cures which I had made with a certain ointment which had been in the family for more than a hundred and fifty years, given to them by a Hungarian doctor. Twice a year I made a rather large batch so as not to refuse anyone in the city or the country. Boils, abscesses and inflammation troubles of the breast were invariably cured.
A harvester who had cut his thumb eight or ten days before the harvest came to find me and I cured him in a week. A woman had a very serious ailment of the breast which had gone on for a long time, probably because of some blockage or injury. I felt the breast in several places and noticed there was an internal inflammation. I gave her some ointment and some leather. Two days later I see this woman coming to my house being assisted by two other persons. Dismay gripped me as she entered. - "Monsieur, I cannot go on any longer!" - "What is that?" - "Your ointment! I have come to die here." I make her sit down and have her inhale some volatile alkali. In an instant I see my floor covered with a white substance. The woman gets up and says, "I do not suffer any more!" In truth she was leaving behind her tracks of a fetid pus which poured out of her like a fountain. I sent someone to her home to get a change of clothes and left her in the care of both women. When I returned she was dressed and her breast had drained back to normal. The unfortunate soul returned home cured. "Continue the ointment," I told her. "It will remove all that must come out, and then it will close the wound after the drainage stops."
At the hospital a dirty country girl was about to undergo the amputation of a hand which had become gangrenous, swelling to a thickness of at least four thumbs. (In the country this disease is called "le fourcher", but I shall ignore its technical name). Scalpels, scrapers and saws, etc. were all in evidence when another sick patient shouted from his bed, "Have you seen Monsieur Crommelin?" Motivated by this ray of hope, the unfortunate girl sprang to the bottom of her bed, crossed the room, went out the door, traversed a street and a bridge, and reached the ramparts where I lived. She was like a partridge being pursued by a sparrow hawk. When I saw her I thought she was crazy and pushed her away. - "Sir, they want to cut off my hand. I beg you, please have compassion on me!" - "Where have you come from?" - "From the hospital. New hope gave me the strength to come here!" I examined the hand. - "It is in very bad condition, my dear child, but it
wouldn't hurt to try an experiment, I am sure. At least we might be able to stop the progress of the gangrene."
I liberally coated the inside leather of two gloves, putting four plasters in the spaces between the fingers (where the skin is soft), and I coated the whole hand with the rest. Then I asked my maidservant to give her an underskirt and I led her myself to a neighbour who, for some money, lent her his bed. Some hours later she felt terrible pains which seemed like a good sign. Feeling was beginning to return along with the circulation. Exhausted, she fell asleep. At about seven o'clock that night someone came looking for me. It was the unfortunate girl who wanted to see me. - "Ah! How I have suffered, my dear sir. I slept a little and I am getting relief, but during my sleep I wasn't able to hold on and therefore soiled my bed." - "Please see what you can do," I said to the woman in whose house we had put her. The hand had burst and two tumblers of pus had soaked into the bed causing her the discomfort. I had her get a change of clothes. Then I examined the hand. There were two exit wounds and the flesh was no longer pale. The wounds appeared to me to be a lively red. - "My child," I said to her, "you will keep your hand. In three days you will return to work and in few more you will be fully restored." My forecast came true and the poor girl made the expense of several masses to thank God and her benefactor, but the priest got all the credit.
It was at this time that the hospital came around to ask me for the recipe of my ointment. I gave it to them and it always served useful even for the wounds caused by sabres and swords so common in garrison towns. Then would you believe it? The surgeon who wanted to amputate the hand of the unfortunate girl spoke of instituting a lawsuit against me because I had practiced surgery! I laughed in his face.
It is certain that the doctors of Guise no longer went into the countryside
without a supply of my ointment, and I dare believe that since my absence its reputation has not diminished. The salve was even being called "Crommelin Ointment".
I believed that it would make a nice present to give the hospital at St Germain my recipe, but the doctors in the neighborhood of Paris do not like home remedies given by private individuals even though they were the best possible. I very much doubt that they even attempted to try the remedy. It is true that in the time of Louis XIV one was called crazy if he took an emetic because its efficacy had not yet been recognized. And so even vaccines still find opposition despite success in many cases.
An Ambush That Failed
It was in 1789 that the French Revolution began with the second Assembly of the Notables, the first one not having been productive. Enthusiasm was almost universal but I sensed, I dare say, what was going to become of it by the interpretation that the plebs gave to the words 'freedom' and 'equality', and by the arrogance which followed. A new Comptroller of the fermiers-general arrived about this time, named Beaufils, and Guise was his place of residence because of the boundaries. Responsible for a large family, and not finding a residence which was convenient for him, he rented the old chateau of Wiège in the village of Thierrache, situated one and a half leagues from the city. This chateau and this village belonged to a monsieur Count de Lamark.
Here is a rather unusual event which occurred to me in 1791...
Madam de Beaufils had on several occasions invited me to go and have dinner with her, so one Sunday morning I went there on foot. Not finding a cane, I decided to take my sword which would serve me as well as a walking stick. We went to church where the farmers had a somber expression. The verger passed by near us without appearing very friendly. Going out of the church, they
all gathered in the cemetery which had a ditch next to it. As I passed by I was stopped and asked to read a decree which had just arrived. "Good news!" I said to them. "Up to now you have been paying fourteen sols for salt and now this has been reduced to six sols." - "We want it for only one sol." - "This matter is something that neither you or I have any control over... My friends, be reasonable. This is for your own good. If you experience hail, scarcity, or a fire, the government will not come to your help if you disregard this note... - "Let's throw him in the ditch." Now the ditch was very wide and contained perhaps six feet of liquid and putrid muck. I had my sword under my arm and drew it out part way to make sure it wouldn't catch on my sleeve. - "Let's take away his sword." - "Here it is. Now let the most fearless one of you come and take it from me."
Then I withdrew with Beaufils at a very slow place while fifteen peasants followed behind. But when they sped up, I only had to turn around to make them scatter. A speaker of the troop (he was the son of the mayor) declared that I was a sorcerer. He claimed that I drew fire from the end of his nose; that the rope on my bell had bitten him; that I lit a firecracker in the heart of a bucket of water; that I could make ducks of cork run around in the water using a piece of iron; that I lit a match without using any fuel; that I threatened them with famine and hail; and, finally, that my pockets were full of matches so I could set fire to the village". Based on these allegations they concluded that it would be necessary to kill me either while I was passing through or on the way back.
I arrived at the home of Beaufils. - "I foresee, madam, that there will be some commotion. Therefore I should stay until tomorrow." - "No! We cannot offer you a bed, besides, living in the country there is nothing to fear. Better that you leave early because the days are short."
"Here is Captain Blain who will accompany you." We left a little too late, arriving at the wood when the sun had already set. Blain makes me aware that at a distance of 100 paces or more there are three men armed with guns. I stop. "Obviously they aren't robbers because they won't show themselves. And they aren't hunters, therefore they must be farmers who have bad intentions. If we turn back, I foresee some danger. But if we enter the wood these three men will hide and then we shall wait... Since there is only the one group of rascals to deal with we will surprise them. Pretend to have a pistol in your hand. I will walk toward them first with my sword." We crossed the road diagonally and then I saw three would-be killers fleeing. Undoubtedly these Thiérachien savages believed I really was a magician and that I had the devil in my pocket. This incident reminiscent of Don Quixote was told to madam Lemaire, my hostess, by Beaufils herself, who in the time of the terror came to St-Germain to invite me over for dinner.
Days of Extortion and Greed
Salt was fixed at six sols and no more imports were allowed. But the word 'freedom', for lack of its true meaning, was stronger than any laws. That's why the Savoyard to whom I gave twenty four sols to clean my room wanted to have twelve francs instead, and to obtain them he pulled a knife on me which I tore out of his hands. He then incited the people and my house was surrounded. I appeared before them and said: "Gentlemen and ladies... For five years this Savoyard has been working for me at the price of twenty four sols for one hour. Here are the twelve francs which he is demanding from me. If you find this to be just then I ask you to kindly give it to him." Four or five minutes later a rather large company brought me ten livres and sixteen sols and said to me that justice had been given to the Savoyard. I did not take the change to prove that it wasn't a question of money. Besides, if I had argued perhaps they would have plundered my cashbox... Such were the people in those days.
148 Salt, Taxes, a Bridge, and Me
I was advised that thirty carts of white salt were going to arrive at Guise. I was on guard and it was only me who stood on a bridge with instructions to prevent their passage. The carts arrived and I stopped the first one at the end of the bridge to collect the tax. Thirty carters threatened me with their batons and wanted to throw me off the bridge. I lashed out at them and by a quick movement was able to strike them all alternately. The rabble of the village then joined the throng. I remained in this position for a quarter of an hour which seemed like a very long time to me. Finally a captain came by with an order allowing them to pass and relieving me from my watch.
Walking with me, he whispered in my ear, "Do not sleep this evening at your house." I was the friend of a monsieur Ricard, the major in this place who lived in a chateau, a sort of citadel. In the evening he dressed me up like a soldier and I went out of the city with a patrol. But I was recognized by a sentinel, who, in passing squeezed my hand. I have never known who this friend was.
The night was very dark and cold, and it was not without a great deal of effort that I reached the countryside where my brother lived. Wolves are very common in this part of the country and I admit that I was afraid of them as much as I was of the people. Furthermore, it was necessary to cross several small bridges without railings that were difficult to find in the dark. I was fervently invited to return to my post, which I did, but that was not the end of my troubles.
My Benevolence Leads to Debt
The city of Guise and that of Vervins quarrelled over the seat of authority over the district. Thiérachiens are nasty and the hostility caused them to organize themselves into factions. Vervins raised a legion from fifteen to eighteen hundred men to come and plunder Guise. Regrettably, the captain-general of farms lived in Vervins and he sided with them in spite of his duty. More regrettably still he was perceived by Guisards to have made a crime against Beaufils, the comptroller-general, and both were suspected of having relations
with the enemies. If we had gone out of the city, certainly in the heat of the moment, we would have been fired upon.
The rumour was that we had a store of arms, so we were searched; had our cupboards opened and our chests of drawers examined. Nothing was found and the rumour eventually died. It is believed that the Savoyard whom I mentioned earlier was the instigator of all this commotion. One rotten apple can spoil the whole load.
I was anxious to pay fifteen brigades but didn't have the money which was owing to them for several months. Every employee was owed something. These people were being chased away from their lodgings, hounded, and being refused bread, flour and wood even though the weather was cold. For the sake of humanity I undertook a scheme at no small risk to my own well-being and fortune. I pledged to underwrite their debts until they recieved the monies that were owing to them, and I thus enabled them to return home. I had to issue assignats (I.O.U.'s or promises to pay), not having the currency to pay them. Then I had to exchange these for real money. I presented my initiative to the proper authorities and my cause was also pleaded by the farmers who worked with Minister Lessart, but he gave no assurance that on the books of discount, indeed as a general rule, I would be reimbursed for these expenses. He was approached by monsieur Tarbé who, appreciating my initiative, my procedure and my confidence, attached (as per the request of the farmers - generals) a sum which reimbursed me for a part of my losses.
Here is the letter which the company wrote me in this respect.
"The respect, Sir, that you duly earned by your actions, your courage, your humanity and your confidence in our justice, prompts us to report this to the Minister. We declare our utmost satisfaction with your claim for discount of assignats amounting to 3316 francs which we received from you, and as for
the losses you incurred, we shall endeavour to make these up with interest depending on our ability to secure reparations on your behalf. Your paper on the salt tax, its origin, the etymology of the word, and its ramifications was read with pleasure, etc.
Signed PUISSANT, ST.-AMANT, COUTUMIER."
I must say that the company considered all of its civil servants as its children, but the state bureaucracy is quite different! Doleful are those who serve it if they have a sensitive spirit. Of twenty who reach the senior ranks there are eighteen wild men for whom the word humanity is one of fury, namely "Confiscate!" If an unfortunate person asks for a little time to pay me and I respond with "Confiscate!", then the nation, the government, and the law are dishonoured. They become detestable things and a springboard for further cruelty.
The department of Aisne frustrated me a great deal. By refusing to honour the expenses I had incurred and other wages. I was now out of pocket some 4000-francs which I had to pay for in silver. This claim was found unrealistic by the commissioners of the treasury, but nonetheless it was a total loss to me because my reimbursement had been reduced to one- thirtieth and paid for in assignats (I.O.U.'s) which had not cost them an ecu. In other words, their assurance that 'we are going to pay you' was a mere mockery.
Besides, the department of Aisne still did not want to receive an enormous mass of bills in denominations of 10, 12, 15 and 20 sols which I had not been able to refuse in payment for the salt at the risk of being massacred in my warehouse by a wild mob of Thiérachiens who spoke only in terms of using clubs and lanterns to get what they wanted. I then went to Paris and on at least ten occasions met with Monsieur Clavière without obtaining any resolution. By chance I then happened to have dinner with one of his clerks and I told him about my financial difficulties. - "Tell me, sir, if the Minister of Finance likes poetry?" - "No, monsieur, he hates verses." - "Then I am greatly encouraged. Tomorrow I will present him
my petition in verse." - "But I tell you, sir, that he does not like them!" - "That's exactly why I shall use them. This form of making a request is a novelty and novelties succeed rather often."
The next day I went to meet with the Minister. To find myself alone with him I lingered so as to be the last one to see him. I then presented him my petition written on ornate stationery even though I had wanted to write it on a card. He takes my letter, smiles and assesses me with his eyes. Here is the petition:"Will I soon stop bothering you?
My money is gone and I hardly have any more resources.
With the best right, I exhaust here my claim
Your compassion, sir, cannot abandon me
Here, in this region where the expenses are extreme;
Oh, to be poor in Paris is a hideous fate;
Do me the satisfaction which is now fleeing before my eyes
And let me not waste myself here in futile hopes."
"This is the first time I've ever received this kind of petition." - "In that case I have succeeded." - "How's that? - "Because you finally deigned to listen to me. For six weeks I have strived for that satisfaction." - "You are a unique individual, sir. Follow me..." I followed him. - "What do you want from me?" - "A line, Sir." - "What is it?" - "Here it is: 'Finish immediately the affairs of Crommelin'. And deign to put my name into the head of your secretary."
He hesitated, looked at me, smiled, and then having reflected for a moment said, "Let's go!" Then, handing back my paper he added, "Go see Monsieur So-and-so."
He wasn't a bad bureaucrat after all. I went to the person specified and he seemed amazed. "Yes, I know about this matter. At once, Sir!" - "Only six lines need to be completed by the department which will authorize receipt of the papers which I received in payment for the salt which I sold..." - "You
are efficient, sir." - "You have been quite efficient yourself, sir, in disapproving my activity." - "When do you want it?" - "I don't want to hurry you, sir, but right now would be fine." The secretary gave a roar of laughter... "Return, sir, within two hours." Probably he wanted to talk with the Minister.
When I returned, the matter had been approved in a most satisfactory way. The next day I went to thank the Minister and offered him my services as he then worked with the farmers-general and he had quite enjoyed my way of seeking a resolution to a serious matter. I explained that I was the man who had made three murderers run away; I was also the new Horatius Coclés who had single-handedly defended a bridge, and who had robbed fifteen brigades from the fury of the people.
The nephew about whom I have already spoken, who was then in the body législatif, finished arranging everything favorably for me, but never had this service had crueler consequences. This is what we shall see in Part 4 of these memoirs.
A lot has been said about the sordid side of monsieur Clavière, but for getting things done he was a precious man. The biggest drawback which I knew about him was to have been bound with Brissot, Manuel, Pétion, Panis, etc., but how could he do otherwise? It is a fact that a Crommelin of Geneva was his enemy, and that having learned that I was his relative, his willingness to assist me was not a sham.
A New Job Offer in St. Germain
I was about to leave for Saint Quentin when this Minister wrote me saying: "I request you to come to my home on such a day, and at such an hour. You will dine with my family and I shall explain what I would like you to do." I went there in response to his request and while drinking coffee, he says to me, "I need an administrator in Versailles, and one in St. Germain. Choose which one you would like." - "Sir, I choose St. Germain." - "Bad choice! While Versailles can be expensive, St. Germain does not appear to me to offer big advantages. In Versailles you will find documents everywhere whereas
in St. Germain there is still no state control; it is an absolute chaos." - "Then you have strengthened my opinion, sir. I enjoy a challenge and frankly the responsibility of Versailles frightens me. But when I have inventoried fifteen or twenty millions, will I be able to have some control over things like skeleton keys, secret introductions, thefts? And who would back me up? Will not thieves be my informers? Consider, for example, your precursor Sambleçay. Wasn't he hung because Louise de Savoye, mother of François I. accused him of a theft which she herself had made? Besides, scoundrels are very prolific this year."
Then he shook my hand and said, "I appreciate your concerns. You are the man I am looking for. Come tomorrow at seven o'clock and have dinner with me. You will find your commission ready along with a note of what I require from you. You are firm, and I do not consider you unfair. These qualities are what one needs to perform the mission which I am about to give you. All the goods on the civil list are to be sold and you will have to look after the compensations. Besides, I am here to appreciate your work and to reward your efforts in a suitable way... Do you have any money?" - "A little." - I should have said 'no', but unfortunately I uttered the truth. - "Here are 2,000 francs for the first start-up costs. I know you will need an office and I foresee certain expenses which you will make. Please give me a receipt for this sum." The next day I called upon him for my instructions. My commission was given to me along with an outline of what was expected from me.
The Bureaucracy During the Revolution
Considering the bizarre course of events which had brought me here, I was truly amazed at the confidence I enjoyed in the mind of the Minister. But at the bottom of my soul, I was not pleased to be an actor in a government whose barbaric principles I hated. My brother, an honest man in the fullest sense of the word, but very spiritually singular, was a mayor in the countryside and the leader of a legion. Obliged to attend rallies (which he cheered up by his
joviality) he was often forced to be in the area. Not of like mind as the farmers who were all eager and cruel when their own personal interests were at stake, I did not want to be put at their mercy. Therefore if I was subjected to a denunciation, I feared that I might in some way also jeoparidize my family. I knew I would have a difficult job, but I decided that the functions of my office, far from wearing the stamp of the terror, would be handled justly. A benevolent state control appeared to me able to accomplish this purpose without which I would not have accepted this assignment.
I ignored the fact that by wedding obedience with equity, I would be passing under the yoke of a company of elitists, who, giving way to the ebb and flow of current opinions, would give their civil servants an order to sacrifice themselves in response to the greed or fury of the first hothead who raised his voice. Handed over finally, not only to the vilest tribunal which ever existed, but also to a Minister in charge of the public indignation.[It is certain that the chief bureaucrat was a product of the terror; that she gave way to the first one who had opposed her and then capitulated. Formerly a dressmaker in Versailles, she suffered unscrupulous members of the National Convention, commissioners, agents and receivers to steal the wages of her civil servants without setting the slightest barrier against this disorder.I remain persuaded that there was a spirit at the center of the
Meanwhile I, a manager, paid 8,000 francs for damages caused by a hail storm on the orders of my director. She made me lose 7,000 francs of this sum by paying me off only eighteen months later without regard for the depreciation of assignats and oblivious of the interest which I had paid to the lender, namely my brother. It was, however, demonstrated that the defect of vice in this department with regard to the expense account ledgers was the fault of the comptroller-general who had taken them. Meanwhile I could do nothing because I was in prison.
If the administrators hadn't sold out to Minister Ramel, would they have made such rigorous excuses for hijacking my revenues on wood from which coal was made for the provisioning of Paris, and this after I had suffered one year of captivity and anguish without having committed any other crime than that of sacrificing myself for her, by obeying her orders?
If the administrators of the state control had not been sold out, would they not have pleaded my cause when Ramel, having promised me justice, had the gall to reduce to 2,000 francs all the expenses I incurred in divesting the civil list of absolutely all its assets, not to mention the forty leagues I had to relocate, and the work of three months - night and day, etc.? If I had been paid at least this sum, I would have made the sacrifice without murmuring about my advances and my half-salary, but even these 2,000 francs were overdue and not paid. And while all this injustice was going on, the managers kept the most profound silence!
While having disdain for both the Minister and her operation, never did I pilfer anything. Besides, nothing was ever lost... I believe it necessary to make this deposition so as not to look like an irate ranter who is venting his resentment at the expense of the truth.]
ministry which still had respect for all that emanated from the government and which protected the civil servants in the execution of their orders; that advances used for essential things and proven utility were considered a sacred debt; that the promised salaries for an enormous work would not suffer the slightest difficulty; finally that between the managers and the farmer-generals whose justice I had experienced, there was a difference only in names.
Whereas I was rewarded by the farmer-generals for having performed a humane act without authorization, I was punished by the state control through the loss of all my possessions for having put my life at risk in obedience to its orders, and thus I languished one whole year in prison
without the slightest pity having been extended to me. I shall develop all these things in the fourth part of these memoirs which I am about to begin.
End of Part 3