Danton, A Study

Appendix II.



It may be of interest to those who desire to study with some particularity the personal history of Danton to know where are to be found in modern Paris the places with which we have found him personally connected in this book.


His first offices were in the Rue des Mauvaises Paroles. This street has disappeared in the improvements which included the prolongation of the Rue de Rivoli. This office in the Rue des Mauvaises Paroles occupied almost exactly the same spot, which can be recognised to-day in the following manner. As you go along the northern side of the Rue de Rivoli going east, you come to a point 500 yards or so from the Louvre, from whence you begin to see the Tour St. Jacques just peering round the southern side of the street. The shops which are then upon your left hand and the pavement upon which you stand correspond to the position of the old mansard house in which Danton served his apprenticeship. It was here that he had his first offices; it was from this that he bought the business of Monsieur M. de Paisy in the Rue de la Tissanderie.


Concerning the position of these offices in the Rue de la Tissanderie, which he moved into, I have been able to learn nothing. There is a curious little record in the police archives of Paris—Danton complaining that he could not work on account of the noise that a saddle-maker made in the exercise of his trade in the same house. In this little document, which is quoted by Monsieur Claretie in his “Life of Camille Desmoulins.” the house is mentioned as being “just opposite the Rue des Deux Fortes”; but as an inference to be drawn from the same record is that he left immediately after for some other lodging in the same street, this does not help us much.


I have said in the text that Danton lived, during the six years which were those of his active political life, in a house of the Passage du Commerce. I have also mentioned in the text the fact that Dr. Robinet mentions a short residence in the Rue des Fossé’s Saint Germains. I have given, moreover, in the same passage my reasons for following M. Aulard in rejecting this first address. It seems proved that, after he left the Rue de la Tissanderie, he moved with his wife to the corner house of the Passage du Commerce. This was his home during the whole of the Revolution, and it is worth while to describe its position and character with some care.


In the first place, it has disappeared; the construction of the Boulevard St. Germains destroyed all that end of the Cour du Commerce. If you are going along the Boulevard St. Germains from the west towards the University, you pass on the right the statue of Danton. It is erected on an open triangle of ground, formed by the junction of the Boulevard and of the Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine. The apex of this triangle, not twenty yards from the statue, marks the site of the old house in which Danton and Desmoulins lived, and in which they were arrested before their trial.


The old quarter was a network of narrow streets, and where the Boulevard St. Germain now stands, an intricate block of houses, with courtyards and passages, not unlike the similar intricate masses which you will find in the City of London, formed the northern side of the Rue des Cordeliers (that is to say, the modern Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine). A narrow alley, known as the Cour de Commerce, joined this Rue des Cordeliers by a still narrower passage. Danton’s house was the corner house, as is proved by the mention in the inventory that some rooms looked upon this passage and some upon the Rue des Cordeliers.


Of course he did not occupy the whole of it but, in the Parisian custom, which had already obtained for more than a century, he took a flat, and two rooms (used as a lumber and as a servant’s bedroom) were added from the entresole below. This flat was just such an apartment as a similar bourgeois householder would have in Paris to-day: a dining-room, two bedrooms, a study, a little library, a drawing-room, a kitchen, and offices, built round the staircase and courtyard or well of the house.


I have been unable to find any mention of the rental which was paid, but a guess at something like £150 a year in that quarter at that time for such a flat would, I think, not be extravagant The corresponding flat above, Desmoulins took after his romantic marriage in December 1790, but he did not begin to occupy the house until the early part of 1791. It waa here that his little Horace was born; it was here that his wife and Danton’s passed the terrible night of the 10th of August, and it was here, in the great bedroom overlooking the Rue des Cordeliers, that Danton’s wife died in February 1793,


As to the furniture of the little apartment, it may be described as follows:—The drawing-room was not very large, but there had been spent upon it the most considerable sum in the furnishing of the house. It figures for very nearly a third in the valuation, which may be read in Appendix VII, The white furniture, which was the mark of the eighteenth century, was its principal note; it is also worth observing that the household was sufficiently cramped for room to use the cupboards in the drawing-room as wardrobes. The principal bedroom was well furnished, but, as you will find to be the case in such houses in Paris, the study, the dining-room, and the spare room to the side of the study were very bare. It is also remarkable that the lumber-room held nothing but two trunks and an old double bedstead. It was the household of a man who made every effort to maintain his position before his wife's friends, but who was not wealthy, and who had evidently arranged the scale of his expenditure considerably below the probable receipts which an office such as his would have brought in. I should much doubt whether as much as £500 a year would go out on such an establishment, though he was certainly receiving £1000. We know the reason of this; he had to pay off by every means in his power the debt which he had incurred in buying the practice. While he lived in this house, and until the office was suppressed in 1790, he continued to keep his business rooms in the Rue de la Tissanderie. It may be worthy of mention that he kept two servants, and that his apartment was on the first, whilst that of Desmoulins was on the second floor of the house.


As to the Cordeliers, on which the preceding note is written, the hall in which their meetings were first held still exists (at we have said in the text) under the title of Musée Dupuytren,


The Church of the Cordeliers, into which they afterwards moved, has disappeared, but the last locale of the club (when the Municipality had turned them out of the church in 1791) still remains, and is to be discovered at No. 105 Rue Thionville. Danton’s father-in-law had been master of a café on the Quai de l’Ecole. This house still remains. If I am not mistaken, it was altered slightly during the restorations of the Second Empire. It is the house which now stands at the south-western corner of the Place de l’Ecole, and which faces the quai on one side and the square on the other. The street and quay outside M. Charpentier’s café was, however, somewhat oblique to the modern street, and ran less east than west, more south-east than north-west, than it does to-day.


The quay has been raised and the old fountain in the Place de l’Ecole destroyed. Otherwise the quarter is much the same. The café became famous later for its draught players, a reputation that still continues.