time goezman court famous parliament caron
BEAUMARCHAIS. PIERRE AUGUSTIN CARON, better known by his acquired title DE BEAUMARCHAIS, the most distinguished French comic dramatist next to Moliere, a,ndaman of much importance during the pre-Revolutionary period, was born at Paris in 1732. His father, who was a watchmaker, brought him up to the same trade. He was an unusually precocious and lively boy, shrewd, sagacious, and, like his sisters, passionately fond of music, and imbued with a strong desire for rising in tho world. At the age of twenty-one lie invented a new escapement for watches, which was pirated by a rival maker. Young Caron at once published his grievance in the newspapers, and had the matter referred to the Academy of Sciences, who decided in his favour. This affair brought him into notice at court ; he was appointed, or at least chose to dub himself, watchmaker to the king, who had called him in to examine Mme. de Pompadour's watch. His handsome figure and cool assurance soon began to make their way at court, where he so earnestly desired to obtain a footing. Nor was it long before his wish was accomplished. The wife of an old court official, conceiving a violent passion for young Caron, persuaded her husband to make over his office to his rival, and on her husband's death, a few months later, married the handsome watchmaker. Caron at the same time assumed the title De Beaumarchais ; and four years later, by purchasing the office of secretary to the king, obtained a title of nobility.
While employed at court his musical talents brought him under the notice of the king's sisters, who engaged him to teach them the harp. In this way he obtained access to the best society of the court, and by a fortunate accident was enabled to make use of the princesses' friendship to confer a slight favour on the great banker Paris-Duverney. Duverney testified his gratitude in a most substantial manner ; he bestowed shares in several of his speculations upon Beaumarchais, and the latter, whose business talents were of a high order, soon realized a handsome fortune. In 1764 he took a journey to Spain, partly with commercial objects in view, but principally on account of the Clavijo affair, which was afterwards made famous by the Goezman memoirs, and by Goethe's drama. [Four years later he made his first essay on the stage with the sentimental drama Eugenie, which was followed after an interval of two years by Les Deux Amis. Neither had more than moderate success, and it was clear that, though the author might be unaware of it, his strength did not lie in the grave and sentimental. Meantime the clouds of the first great storm in Beaumarchais's life were gathering round him. He was very generally disliked as an upstart, and there were many ready to seize the first opportunity of hurling him from the position he had attained. Duverney, his great benefactor, died in 1770 ; but some time before his death a duplicate settlement of the affairs between him and Beaumarchais had been drawn up, in which the former acknowledged himself debtor to the latter for 16,000 francs. Duverney's heir, Count la Blache, a bitter enemy of Beaumarchais, denied the validity of this document, though without directly stigmatizing it as a forgery. The matter was put te trial. Beaumarchais gained his cause, but his adversary at once carried the ease before the parliament, and in the early part of 1773 that body was preparing to give its decision on the report of one of its members, M. Goezman. Beaumarchais was well-nigh in despair ; ruin stared him in the face ; lie was looked upon not only with dislike but with suspicion and contempt. Worst of all, he was unable to obtain an interview with Goezman, in whose hands his fate rested. At last, just before the day on which the report was to be given in, he was informed privately that, by presenting 200 louis to Mme. Goezman and 15 to her secretary, the desired interview might take place ; if the result should prove unfavourable the money would be refunded. The money was sent and the interview obtained ; but the decision was adverse, and 200 louis were returned, the 15 going as business expenses to the secretary. Beaumarchais, who had learned that there was no secretary save Mine. Goezman herself, insisted on restitution of the 15 louis, and the lady, in her passion, denied all knowledge of the affair. Her husband, who seems not to have been cognisant of the transaction at first, and who, doubtless, thought the defeated litigant would be easily put clown, at once brought an accusation against him in parliament for an attempt to corrupt a judge. The battle was fought chiefly through the 316moires, or reports published by the adverse parties, and in it Beaumarchais's success was most complete. All his best qualities were drawn forth by the struggle ; his wit, energy, and cheerfulness seemed to be doubled ; and for vivacity of style, fine satire, and broad humour, his famous Mentoires have never been surpassed. Even Voltaire was constrained to envy them. Nor was the effect of the struggle apparent only in Beaumarchais himself. He was attacking the parliament through one of its members, and the parliament was the universally detested body formed by the chancellor Maupeou. The Mbnoires were, therefore, hailed with general delight ; and the author, from being perhaps the most unpopular man in France, became at once the idol of the people. The decision in the case, however, so far as law went, was against him. The parliament condemned him an bldme, - i.e., to civic degradation ; but he obtained restitution of his rights within two years, and finally triumphed over his adversary La Blache.
During the next few years his employment was of a somewhat singular nature. He was engaged by the king in secret service, principally to destroy certain scurrilous pamphlets concerning Mme. du Barry, the publication of which had been threatened. His visits to England, on these missions, in which he was very successful, led him to take a deep interest in the impending struggle between the colonies and the mother country. His sympathies were entirely with the Americans ; and by his unwearied exertions he succeeded in inducing the French Government to give ample, though private, assistance in money and arms to the insurgent colonists. He himself, partly on his own account, partly as an agent, carried on an enormous traffic with America. During the same period he had laid the foundations of a more enduring fame by his two famous comedies, the best of their class since those of Moliere. The earlier, Le Barbier de Seville, after a short prohibition, was put on the stage in 1775. The first representation was a complete failure. Beamnarehais had overloaded the last scene with allusions to the facts of his own case and the whole action of the piece was laboured and heavy. But with undaunted energy lie set to work, cut down and remodelled the piece in time for the second representation, when it achieved a complete success. The intrigues which were necessary in order to obtain a licence for the second and more famous comedy Le Maniage de Figaro are highly amusing, and throw much light on the unsettled state of public sentiment at the time. The play was completed in 1781, but the opposition of Louis XVI., who saw its dangerous tendencies, was not overcome till 1784. The comedy had an unprecedented success. The principal character in both plays, the world-famous Figaro, is a completely original conception ; and for mingled wit, shrewdness, gaiety, and philosophic reflection, may not unjustly be ranked alongside of the great Tartuffe. To English readers the Figaro plays are generally known through the adaptations of them in the grand operas of Mozart and Rossini ; but in France they long retained popularity as acting pieces. Beaumarchais's later productions, the bombastic opera Tarare, and the drama The Guilty Mother, which was very popular, are hardly worthy of his genius.
By his writings Beaumarchais contributed greatly, though quite unconsciously, to hurry on the events that led to the Revolution. At heart he hardly seems to have been a republican, and the new state of affairs did not benefit him. His popularity had been somewhat lessened by the affairs Bergasse and Mirabeau, and his great wealth and splendid mansion exposed him to the enmity of the envious. A speculation into which he entered, to supply the Convention with muskets from Holland, proved a ruinous failure. He was charged with treason to the Republic, and was obliged for some time to take refuge in Holland and England. His memoirs entitled, fifes Six Epogues, detailing his sufferings under the Republic, are not unworthy of the Goezman period. His courage and happy disposition never deserted him ; he was gay and hopeful up to the time of his death, which took place suddenly in May 1799.
Lon-16111e, Beaumarchais et son Temps, 1856; Eng. trans. of the same by 11. S. Edwards, 4 vols., 185el. Beaumarchais's works have been published by Gudin, 7 vols., 1809; and by Fume, 6 vols., 1827.