Portrait of Thomas Paine by Laurent Dabos
In a letter of Lafayette to Washington (“Paris, 12 Jan., 1790”) he writes: “Common Sense is writing for you a brochure where you will see a part of my adventures.” It thus appears that the narrative embodied in the reply to Burke (“Rights of Man,” Part I.), dedicated to Washington, was begun with Lafayette’s collaboration fourteen months before its publication (March 13, 1791).
In another letter of Lafayette to Washington (March 17, 1790) he writes:
“To Mr. Paine, who leaves for London, I entrust the care of sending you my news…. Permit me, my dear General, to offer you a picture representing the Bastille as it was some days after I gave the order for its demolition. I also pay you the homage of sending you the principal Key of that fortress of despotism. It is a tribute I owe as a son to my adoptive father, as aide-de-camp to my General, as a missionary of liberty to his Patriarch.”
The Key was entrusted to Paine, and by him to J. Rut-ledge, Jr., who sailed from London in May. I have found in the manuscript despatches of Louis Otto, Chargi d’ Affaires, several amusing paragraphs, addressed to his govern-ment at Paris, about this Key.
“August 4, 1790. In attending yesterday the public audience of the President, I was surprised by a question from the Chief Magistrate, ‘whether I would like to see the Key of the Bastille?’ One of his secretaries showed me at the same moment a large Key, which had been sent to the President by desire of the Marquis de la Fayette. I dissembled my surprise in observing to the President that ‘the time had not yet come in America to do ironwork equal to that before him.’ The Americans present looked at the key with indifference, and as if wondering why it had been sent But the serene face of the President showed that he regarded it as an homage from the French nation.” “December 13, 1790. The Key of the Bastille, regularly shown at the President’s audiences, is now also on exhibition in Mrs. Washington’s salon, where it satisfies the curiosity of the Philadelphians. I am persuaded, Monseigneur, that it is only their vanity that finds pleasure in the exhibition of this trophy, but Frenchmen here are not the less piqued, and many will not enter the President’s house on this account.”
In sending the key Paine, who saw farther than these distant Frenchmen, wrote to Washington: “That the principles of America opened the Bastille is not to be doubted, and therefore the Key comes to the right place.”
Early in May, 1791 (the exact date is not given), Lafayette writes Washington: “I send you the rather indifferent translation of Mr. Paine as a kind of preservative and to keep me near you.” This was a hasty translation of “Rights of Man,” Part I., by F. Soules, presently superseded by that of Lanthenas.
The first convert of Paine to pure republicanism in France was Achille Duchbtelet, son of the Duke, and grandson of the authoress, — the friend of Voltaire. It was he and Paine who, after the flight of Louis XVI., placarded Paris with the Proclamation of a Republic, given as the first chapter of this volume. An account of this incident is here quoted from Etienne Dumont’s “Recollections of Mirabeau”:
“The celebrated Paine was at this time in Paris, and intimate in Condorcet’s family. Thinking that he had effected the American Revolution, he fancied himself called upon to bring about one in France. Duchbtelet called on me, and after a little preface placed in my hand an English manuscript — a Proclamation to the French People. It was nothing less than an anti-royalist Manifesto, and summoned the nation to seize the opportunity and establish a Republic. Paine was its author. Duchbtelet had adopted and was resolved to sign, placard the walls of Paris with it, and take the consequences. He had come to request me to translate and develop it. I began discussing the strange proposal, and pointed out the danger of raising a republican standard without concurrence of the National Assembly, and nothing being as yet known of the king’s intentions, resources, alliances, and possibilities of support by the army, and in the provinces. I asked if he had consulted any of the most influential leaders, — Sieves, Lafayette, etc. He had not: he and Paine had acted alone. An American and an impulsive nobleman had put themselves forward to change the whole governmental system of France. Resisting his entreaties, I refused to translate the Proclamation. Next day the republican Proclamation appeared on the walls in every part of Paris, and was denounced to the Assembly. The idea of a Republic had previously presented itself to no one: this first intimation filled with consternation the Right and the moderates of the Left. Malouet, Cazales, and others proposed prosecution of the author, but Chapelier, and a numerous party, fearing to add fuel to the fire instead of extinguishing it, prevented this. But some of the seed sown by the audacious hand of Paine were now budding in leading minds.”
A Republican Club was formed in July, consisting of five members, the others who joined themselves to Paine and Duchbtelet being Condorcet, and probably Lanthenas (translator of Paine’s works), and Nicolas de Bonneville. They advanced so far as to print “Le Ripublicain,” of which, however, only one number ever appeared. From it is taken the second piece in this volume.
Early in the year 1792 Paine lodged in the house and book-shop of Thomas “Clio” Rickman, now as then 7 Upper Marylebone Street. Among his friends was the mystical artist and poet, William Blake. Paine had become to him a transcendental type; he is one of the Seven who appear in Blake’s “Prophecy” concerning America (1793):
“The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent
Sullen fires across the Atlantic glow to America’s shore;
Piercing the souls of warlike men, who rise in silent night: —
Washington, Franklin, Paine, and Warren, Gates, Hancock, and Greene,
Meet on the coast glowing with blood from Albion’s fiery Prince.”
The Seven are wrapt in the flames of their enthusiasm. Albion’s Prince sends to America his thirteen Angels, who, however, there become Governors of the thirteen States. It is difficult to discover from Blake’s mystical visions how much political radicalism was in him, but he certainly saved Paine from the scaffold by forewarning him (September 13, 1792) that an order had been issued for his arrest. Without repeating the story told in Gilchrist’s “Life of Blake,” and in my “Life of Paine,” I may add here my belief that Paine also appears in one of Blake’s pictures. The picture is in the National Gallery (London), and called “The spiritual form of Pitt guiding Behemoth.” The monster jaws of Behemoth are full of struggling men, some of whom stretch imploring hands to another spiritual form, who reaches down from a crescent moon in the sky, as if to rescue them. This face and form appear to me certainly meant for Paine.