Brissot De Warville, James Peter

, a very active agent in the French revolution, and a victim to the tyranny he had created, was the son of the master of an eating-house, and boru in 1754 at Chartres in the Orleanuois. After receiving a good education, he was intended for the bar, but having served a clerkship for five years, he relinquished the further prosecution of the law, in order to study literature and the sciences; and an accidental acquaintance with some Englishmen, and the perusal of some English books, seem to have confirmed this determination. About this time he changed the appellation of “de Otiarville” to that of Warville, agreeable to the English pronunciation. Having by relinquishing the law incurred his father’s displeasure, he was indebted to the bounty of some friends, who enabled him to prosecute his studies at Paris for two years; after which he became editor of the “Courier de PEurope,” a paper printed at Boulogne; but this being discontinued on account of some articles inimical to government, he returned to Paris, and in imitation of Voltaire, Diderot, and D’Alembert, who, as he imagined, had destroyed religious tyranny, began to | attempt the destruction of political tyranny, which he fancied was reserved for his irresistible pen. To develope the whole of his plan, however, was not his aim at first: and he began, therefore, with attacking such abuses as might have been removed without any injury to an established constitution, but which, as they could not be wholly denied, he endeavoured to trace from the very nature of monarchy. With this view he published some works on criminal jurisprudence, as, in 1780, his “Theory of Criminal laws,” 2 vols. 8vo, and two papers arising out of the subject, which gained the prize in 1782, at the academy of Chalons-surMarne. He also began a work which was afterwards completed in 10 vols. 8vo, <c A philosophical library of the criminal law,“and a volume concerning” Truth“and” Thoughts on the means of attaining Truth in all the branches of human knowledge," which he intended merely as an introduction to a work on a more enlarged and comprehensive plan. To all these he annexed ideas of singular importance and utility, although his notions are crude, and his knowledge superficial.

Brissot, at the period of his residence at Boulogne, had been introduced to mademoiselle Dupont, who was employed under mad. de Genlis as reader to the daughter of the duke of Orleans, and whose mother kept a lodginghouse in that place: and having married this lady, he found it necessary to exert his literary talents for gaining a subsistence. But as France did not afford that liberty, which he wished to indulge, he formed a design of printing, in Swisserland or Germany, a series of works in a kind of periodical publication, under the title of “An universal Correspondence on points interesting to the welfare of Man and of Society,” which he proposed to smuggle into France. With this view, he visited Geneva and Neuchatel, in order to establish correspondences; and he also made a journey to London, which was to be the central point of the establishment, and the fixed residence of the writers. His intentions, however, were divulged by the treachery of some of his confidential associates; and the scheme totally failed. During his abode in London, he concerted the plan of a periodical work or journal, on the literature, arts, and politics of England, which, being published in London, was allowed to be reprinted at Paris, and first appeared in 1784. The avowed object of this publication, as he himself declares, was “the universal | emancipation of men.” In London, he was arrested for debt; but, being liberated by the generosity of a friend, he returned to Paris, where he was committed to the Bastille in July 1784, on the charge of being concerned in a very obnoxious publication. But by the interest of the duke of Orleans, he was released, on condition of never residing in England, and discontinuing his political correspondence. In 1785, he published two letters to the emperor Joseph II. “Concerning the Right of Emigration, and the Right of the People to revolt,” which he applied particularly to the case of the Waiachsans: and in the following year appeared his “Philosophical Letters on the History of England,” in 2 vols. and “A critical Examination of the Travels of the marq is de Chatelleux in North America.” With a view of promoting a close, political, and commercial union between France and the United States, he wrote in 1787, with the assistance of Claviere, a tract, entitled “De la France et des Etats Unis, &c.” “On France and the United States or on the Importance of the American Revolution to the kingdom of France, and the reciprocal advantages which will accrue from a commercial Intercourse between the two nations.” Of this work, an English translation was published, both in England and America. At this time he was in the service of the duke of Orleans, as secretary to his chancery, with a handsome salary, and apartments in the palais royal; and, without doubt, employed in aiding that monster in his schemes of ambition. In this situation, he wro:e a pamphlet against the administration of the archbishop of Sens, entitled “No Bankruptcy, &c.” which occasioned the issuing of a lettre de cachet against him. But to avoid its effect, he went to Holland, England, and the Low Countries; and at Mechlin, he edited a newspaper, called “Le Courier Beigique.” For the purpose of promoting the views of a society at Paris, denominated “Les Amis des Noirs,” and established for the purpose of abolishing negro slavery, he embarked for America in 1788; and, during his residence in that country, he sought for a convenient situation, in which a colony of Frenchmen might be organized into a republic, according to his ideas of political liberty. But his return was hastened in 1789 by the intelligence he received of the progress of the French revolution. After his arrival, he published his “Travels in America;” (Nouveau Voyage dans les Etats Unis, &. Paris, 1791, 3 vols. | 8vo), and as he found the attention of the public directed to the approaching assembly of the states-general, he wrote his “Plan of Conduct for the Deputies of the People.” At this time, he had withdrawn from the partisans of the duke of Orleans; and he took an active part in the plans that were then projected for the organization of the people, with a view to their union and energy in accomplishing the revolution. To the lodgings of Brissot, as a person who was held in estimation at this period, the keys of the Bastille, when it was taken, were conveyed; he also became president of the Jacobin club; and he distinguished himself in various ways as a zealous promoter of those revolutionary principles, which afterwards gave occasion to a great jiumber of atrocious excesses. After the king’s flight to Varennes, Brissot openly supported the republican cause; but, as some form of monarchy was still the object of the national wish, he was obliged to restrain his impetuosity. The popularity acquired by his writings and conduct was such, as to induce the Parisians to return him as one of their members in the “Legislative national assembly,” which succeeded the “Constituent assembly,” in October 1791, of which assembly he was appointed secretary; and he became afterwards a member of the committee of public instruction. Although inferior to many others in talents and knowledge, his activity raised him to the rank of head or chief, in the party denominated “Girondists” or “La Gironde,” the name of the department to which several of its members belonged, and also from his own name “Brissotins.” In his career of ambition, he does not seem to have been influenced by pecuniary cc nsiderations; power, more than wealth, being the object of his aim; for, at this time, he and his family lodged in an apartment up four pair of stairs, and subsisted on his stipend as deputy, and the inconsiderable gains accruing from a newspaper. As a determined enemy to monarchy, he was unremitting in his efforts to engage the nation in a war, with the avowed purpose of involving the king and his ministers in difficulties which would terminate in their ruin, and this part of his political conduct must ever be lamented and execrated by the friends of freedom and of mankind. In the impeachment of M. Delessart, the minister for foreign affairs, Brissot took a principal lead; and alleged against him several articles of accusation, in consequence of which, he was apprehended, tried by the high | national court at Orleans, and condemned to die, without being h’rst heard in his own defence, so that he became the first victim to that desperate faction, which afterwards deluged France with blood. His colleagues were so complex ly terrified by this event, that they requested leave to resign, and the ministry was at once completely dissolved. Their successors, appointed by the king, under the direction and inriuence of Brissot, were Dumourier, Roland, and Ciaviere. This appointment was followed bya declaration of war, decreed by the national assembly, against the king of Hungary and Bohemia; and Brissot, during the existence of this administration, which terminated soon, was considered as the most powerful person in France. About this time, Brissot began to entertain secret jealousy and suspicion of La Fayette, and concurred with other members of the assembly, in signing an accusation against him, which, however, he was not able to substantiate. He and his republican party were likewise industrious in their endeavours to throw an odium on the court, by alleging, that a private correspondence was carried on between the king and queen and the emperor; and they even averred, that an “Austrian Committee,” and a conspiracy in favour of the enemies of the country, existed among the friends of the court. The charge seemed to be unsupported by sufficient evidence; the king publicly contradicted these accusations as calumnies; nevertheless, they made no small impression on the minds of the public. To the writings and conduct of Brissot, the horrid massacres at the Tuiileries, on the 10th of August, 1792, have been principally ascribed; and it is a poor excuse that he is said to have preserved the lives of several of the Swiss guards on that fatal day. He was employed to draw up the declaration to the neutral powers concerning the suspension of the king’s authority; but he is said to have regarded with horror the sanguinary spirit that was now predominant among the leaders of the jacobins. Whilst, indeed, he was ascending to the pinnacle of power, he seems to have been the ardent advocate of insurrection and the revolutionary power: but as he found himself raised to that station, he began to inculcate “order and the constitution,” the usual cant of all demagogues who think they have attained their object. In the shocking massacre of the prisoners at Paris in September, he had probably no other concern, than the inwhich his irritating speeches and writings had | created on the minds of the more active agents. When the “National convention,” the idea of which is said to have been suggested by him, assumed the direction of the state, and assembled on the 20th of September, i792, he was returned as member for the department of Eure and Loire, his native country. In this assembly, he openly avowed himself an advocate for a republican government, in opposition both to the Jacobins and Orleanists; and was expelled the Jacobin club. On this occasion, he wrote a vindication of his public conduct, under the title of “An Address to all the Republicans.” He is said to have been so far shocked by the prospect of the fatal issue of the king’s trial, as to have attempted the preservation of his life, by deferring his execution till the constitution should be perfected; a proposition of which the absurdity and cruelty are nearly equal. The war with England, which soon followed the death of Louis, is ascribed to his ardour find credulity; for he was led to imagine, that the consequence of it would be a civil war in this country; and it is said, that this, as well as the war with Holland, was decreed in the national convention, Feb. 1, 1793, at his motion. This charge, however, he retorts on his accusers, and says, that the anarchists, by voting the death of the king, were themselves the authors of the war,

Brissot’s influence now gradually declined; and his party was at length overpowered by a more violent and sanguinary faction, denominated the “Mountain,” so called from its members usually sitting in the convention, on the upper seats of the hall, at the head of which was Robespierre, of execrable memory. The treachery and desertion of Dumourier likewise contributed to hasten the downfal of this party. To their imbecility or perfidy, the public calamities that threatened the country, were generally ascribed; and, after the establishment of the “Revolutionary tribunal,” for the purpose of trying crimes committed agains: the state, in March 1793, a petition was presented in the following month by the communes of the 48 sections of Paris, requiring that the chiefs of the Girondists, or Brissotins, denounced in it, should be impeached, and expelled the convention. In May and June decrees of arrest were issued against them; and against Brissot among the rest, who attempted to make his escape into Swisseriand, but was stopped and imprisoned; and in the following October, be and 21 of his associates were brought before the | revolutionary tribunal. Brissot, who was elevated in the midst of them, maintained a firm and tranquil mind; but, though their accusers could support their charges by little more than mere surmises, the whole party was immediately condemned to the scaffold; and next morning were led to execution. There Brissot, after seeing the blood of 16 associates stream from the scaffold, submitted to the stroke with the ut.nost composure. In the relations of private life, Ins character stands without reproach; but these afford no counterpoise to his public conduct* and although his sentence was unjust as coming from men as guilty as himself, it was the natural consequence of a tyranny to the establishment of which he had contributed more largely than most of his countrymen. 1


Life, 1794, 8vo. Biographic moderne. Rees’s Cyclopædia.