- Pierre Beaumarchais
Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (24 January 1732 – 18 May [He died during the evening of 17-18 May [http://books.google.com.au/books?id=wVtBbjOxQY0C&pg=PA315&lpg=PA315&dq=beaumarchais+may+1799&source=web&ots=N2bOFcQr5L&sig=-AqFAEodPuzwWb94NJIByDZUQ7w&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=6&ct=result#PPA314,M1] ; the date 18 May is most frequently seen in sources.] 1799) was a watch-maker, inventor, musician, politician, fugitive, spy, publisher, arms-dealer, and revolutionary (both French and American). He was best known, however, for his theatrical works, especially the three Figaro plays.
Beaumarchais was born Pierre-Augustin Caron, the only boy among the six children of a watchmaker. The family was comfortable and Caron had a peaceful and happy childhood - in contrast to his adult life.
Caron left school at the age of 13 to apprentice under his father. A few years later, possibly between 1751 to 1753, he invented an escape mechanism for watches, that allowed them to be made substantially more accurate and compact than watches made up to this point. One of his greatest feats was a watch mounted on a ring, made for
Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of Louis XV. The invention was later recognised by the Académie des sciences, but only after a tussle with M. Lepaute, the royal watchmaker, who attempted to pass off the invention as his own."Beaumarchais: The three Figaro plays", translation and notes by David Edney, Doverhouse, 2000.]
Business, politics, arts, and entertainment
However, his watch-making days were short-lived, as other endeavors soon catapulted him to fame and fortune. In 1758-59, Caron was the harp tutor to King Louis XV's daughters. In 1759-60, Caron met
Joseph Pâris-Duverney, an older and wealthy entrepreneur who saw the young Caron as having much business ability. The two became very close friends and collaborated on many business ventures. in 1756-57, shortly after his first marriage, Caron started using the name "Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais", which he derived from "le Bois Marchais", the name of a piece of land inherited by his first wife.
Generously assisted by Pâris-Duverney, Beaumarchais purchased the office of "secretary-councillor to the King" in 1760-61, thereby becoming a French noble. In 1763, Beaumarchais purchased a second office, the office of Lieutenant General of Hunting. In 1764, Beaumarchais began a 10 month sojourn in Madrid, supposedly to help his sister, Lisette, who had been abandoned by her fiancé, Clavijo."Beaumarchais: Le Mariage de Figaro - comédie", with preface, biography, and annotations by Pol Gillard, Bordas, 1970.] In fact, he was mostly concerned with striking business deals for Pâris-Duverney. Although Beaumarchais returned to France with little profit, he had managed to acquire new experiences, musical ideas, and, most importantly, ideas for theatrical characters.
Court battles and the American Revolution
July 17, 1770, his long-time business partner Pâris-Duverneydied, thus beginning a decade of turmoil for Beaumarchais. A few months before his death, the two signed a statement which cancelled all debts Beaumarchais owed Pâris-Duverney (about 75,000 pounds), and granting Beaumarchais the modest sum of 15,000 pounds. Pâris-Duverney's sole heir, the Count de la Blache, jealous over the deceased's relationship with Beaumarchais, took Beaumarchais to court, claiming the signed statement was a forgery. Although the 1772 verdict favoured Beaumarchais, it was overturned on appeal in the following year by a judge, the magistrate Goezman, whose favour La Blache had managed to win over. At the same time, Beaumachais was also involved in a dispute with the Duke de Chaulnes over the Duke's mistress, which resulted in Beaumarchais's being thrown into jail from February to May, 1773. La Blache, taking advantage of Beaumarchais's inability to appear in court, persuaded Goezman to rule that Beaumarchais owed Pâris-Duverney's estate the 75,000 pounds allegedly forgiven, plus interest and court costs, effectively ruining Beaumarchais.
To garner public support, Beaumarchais published a four-part pamphlet entitled "Mémoires contre Goezman" which made Beaumarchais an instant celebrity - a champion for social justice and liberty. Goezman countered Beaumarchais's accusations by launching a law suit of his own. The verdict was equivocal. On February 26, 1774, both Beaumarchais and Mme. Goezman (who sympathised with Beaumarchais) were deprived of their civil rights, while Magistrate Goezman was removed from his post. At the same time, Goezman's verdict in the La Blache case was overturned. The Goezman case was so sensational that the judges left the courtroom through a back door to avoid the large, angry mob waiting in front of the court house.
Beaumarchais pledged his services to
Louis XVand Louis XVIin order to restore his civil rights. He travelled to London, Amsterdamand Viennaon various secret missions. His first mission was to travel to London to destroy a pamphlet, "Les mémoires secrets d'une femme publique", that supposedly libeled one of Louis XV's mistresses, Madame du Barry. Beaumarchais is most remembered for his essential support for the American Revolution. Louis XVI, who did not want to break openly with England, [Brian N. Morton "Beaumarchais and the American Revolution"] allowed Beaumarchais to found a commercial enterprise, Roderigue Hortalez and Co., supported by the French and Spanish crowns, whose real purpose was to supply the American rebels with weapons, munitions, clothes, and provisions. For these services, the French Parliament reinstated his civil rights in 1776.
The Voltaire revival
Voltaire's death in 1778, Beaumarchais set out to publish Voltaire's complete works, many of which were banned in France. He purchased the rights to most of Voltaire's many manuscripts from the publisher Charles-Joseph Panckouck in February 1779. To evade French censorship, he set up printing presses in KehlGermany. He also purchased from the widow of John Baskerville the complete foundry of the famous English type designer. Three paper mills were also purchased by Beaumarchais. Seventy volumes were published between 1783 to 1790. While the venture proved a financial failure, Beaumarchais was instrumental in preserving many of Voltaire's later works which otherwise might have been lost.
More court battles and the French Revolution
It was not long before Beaumarchais crossed paths again with the French legal system. In 1787, he became acquainted with Mme. Korman, whose husband had her imprisoned for adultery to expropriate her dowry. In fact, her husband had engineered the adultery to implicate both his wife and the lover. The matter went to court, with Beaumarchais siding with Mme. Korman, and M. Korman assisted by a celebrity lawyer,
Nicolas Bergasse. On April 2, 1790, M. Korman and Bergasse were found guilty of calumny (slander), but Beaumarchais's reputation was also tarnished.
French Revolutionbroke out. Beaumarchais was no longer the idol he had been a few years before. He was financially successful (mainly from supplying drinking water to Paris) and had acquired rank in the French nobility. In 1791, he took up a lavish residence across from the Bastille. He spent under a week in prison during August 1792, and was released only three days before a massacre took place in the prison where he had been detained.
Nevertheless, he pledged his services to the new Republic. He attempted to purchase 60,000 rifles for the Revolutionary army from Holland, but was unable to complete the deal. While he was out of the country, Beaumarchais was declared an "
émigré" (loyalists to the old regime) by his enemies. He spent two and a half years in exile, mostly in Germany, before his name was removed from the list of proscribed émigrés. He returned to Paris in 1796, where he lived out the remainder of his life in relative peace. He is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemeteryin Paris.
Beaumarchais married three times. His first wife was Madeleine-Catherine Franquet (née Aubertin), whom he married on November 22, 1756, but died under mysterious circumstances only 10 months afterwards. He later married Geneviève-Madeleine Lévêque (née Wattebled) in 1768. Again, the second Mme. de Beaumarchais died under mysterious circumstances two years later, though most scholars believed she actually suffered from
tuberculosis. Beaumarchais had a son, Augustin, in 1770, only eight months after his second marriage, but he also died in 1772. Beaumarchais lived with his lover, Marie-Thérèse de Willer-Mawlaz, for twelve years, and had a daughter, Eugénie, before she became Beaumarchais's third wife, in 1786.
In his first two marriages, Beaumarchais was accused - mainly by his enemies - of poisoning them in order to lay claim to their family inheritance. Beaumarchais, though having no shortage of love interests, was known to marry for financial gain. Both Franquet and Lévêque were previously married to wealthy families prior to their marriage to Beaumarchais. While there was insufficient evidence to support the accusations, and he was known to be very caring for his family and close friends, whether the poisonings took place is still subject of debate.
The Figaro plays
Beaumarchais's Figaro plays comprise "
Le Barbier de Séville", "Le Mariage de Figaro", and "La Mère coupable". Figaro and Count Almaviva, the two characters Beaumarchais most likely conceived in his travels in Spain, were (with Rosine, later the Countess Almaviva) the only ones present in all three plays. They are indicative of the change in social attitudes before, during, and after the French Revolution. The two began in a formal master-and-servant (albeit light hearted) relationship, in "Le Barbier"; the two became rivals over Suzanne in "Le Mariage", a personification of class struggle in pre-revolutionary France; and they finally join hands again to thwart the evil schemes of Bégearss, an attempt to call for reconciliation in "La Mère". Further, Beaumarchais also dubbed "La Mère" "The Other " Tartuffe", to pay homage to the great French playwright Molière, who wrote the original " Tartuffe".
Beaumarchais's characters of Figaro and Almaviva first appeared in his "
Le Sacristan", which he wrote around 1765 and dubbed "an interlude, imitating the Spanish style." His fame began, however, with his first dramatic play ("drame bourgeois"), "Eugénie", which premiered at the Comédie Françaisein 1767. This was followed in 1770 by another drama, " Les Deux amis".
To a lesser degree, the Figaro plays are semi-autobiographical. Don Guzman Brid'oison ("Le Mariage") and Bégearss ("La Mère") were caricatures of two of Beaumarchais's real-life adversaries, Goezman and Bergasse. The page Chérubin ("Le Mariage") resembled the youthful Beaumarchais, who did contemplate suicide when his love was to marry another. Suzanne, the heroine of "Le Mariage" and "La Mère", was modelled after Beaumarchais's third wife, Marie-Thérèse de Willer-Mawlaz. Meanwhile, some of the Count monologues reflect on the playwright's remorse of his numerous sexual exploits.
"Le Barbier" premiered in 1775. Its sequel "Le Mariage" was initially passed by the censor in 1781, but was soon banned from performance by Louis XVI after a private reading. The King was unhappy with the play's satire on the aristocracy. Over the next three years Beaumarchais gave many private readings of the play, as well as making revisions to try to pass the censor. The King lifted the ban in 1784. The play premiered that year and was enormously popular even with aristocratic audiences. Mozart's opera premiered just two years later. Beaumarchais's final play, "La mère" was premiered in 1792 in Paris. All three plays enjoyed great success, and they are still frequently performed today, in theatres and opera houses.
List of works
* 1760s - Various one-act comedies (parades) for private staging.
** "Les Député de la Halle et du Gros-Caillou"
** "Colin et Colette"
** "Les Bottes de sept lieues"
** "Jean Bête à la foire"
** "Œil pour œil"
* 1765(?) - "
Le Sacristan", interlude (precursor to " Le Barbier de Séville")
* 1767 - "
Eugénie", drama, primered at the Comédie Française.
* 1767 - "L'Essai sur le genre dramatique sérieux".
* 1770 - "
Les Deux amisou le Négociant de Lyon", drama, premiered at the Comédie Française
* 1773 - "
Le Barbier de Sévilleou la Précaution inutile", comedy, premiered in Jan. 3, 1775 at the Comédie Française
* 1774 - "Mémoires contre Goezman"
* 1775 - "La Lettre modérée sur la chute et la critique du «Barbier de Sérville»"
* 1778 - "La Folle journée ou Le Mariage de Figaro", comedy, premiered in Apr. 27, 1784 at the
* 1784 - "Préface du mariage de Figaro"
* 1787 - "Tarare", opera with music by
Antonio Salieri, premiered at the Opéra de Paris[http://www.library.unt.edu/music/virtual/Beaumarchais_Tarare/background.html (full-text)]
* 1792 - "La Mère coupable ou L'Autre Tartuffe", drama, premiered Jun. 26 at the
Théâtre du Marais
* 1799 - "Voltaire et Jésus-Christ", in two articles.
Listing of related works
* 1782 - "Il barbiere di Siviglia, ovvero La precauzione inutile", music by
Giovanni Paisiello, revised in 1787
* 1786 - "Le nozze di Figaro", opera based on the title play, libretto by
Lorenzo Da Ponteand music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
* 1796 - "Il barbiere di Siviglia", opera based on the title play, music by
* 1816 - "Il barbiere di Siviglia", opera based on the title play, libretto by
Cesare Sterbini, and music by Gioachino Rossini
* 1905 - "
Chérubin", opera based on the title role, music by Jules Massenet, libretto by Francis de Croissetand Henri Cain
* 1950 - "Beaumarchais", comedy written by
* 1966 - "La Mère coupable", opera based on the title play, music and libretto by
* 1991 - "
The Ghosts of Versailles", opera based loosely on "La Mère coupable", music by John Corigliano, libretto by William M. Hoffman
* 1991 - "
Den brottsliga modern", opera based on "La Mère coupable", music by Inger Wikström, libretto by Inger Wikström and Mikaael Hylin.
* 1996 - "
Beaumarchais l'insolent", film based on Sacha Guitry's play, directed by Édouard Molinaro
References and further reading
Jacques Barzun"From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life - 1500 to Present"
Lion Feuchtwanger, "Proud destiny", 1947, Viking - a novel based mainly on Beaumarchais and Benjamin Franklin, and their involvement in the American Revolution.
* [http://www.freewebs.com/beaumarchais "The Insolent"]
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