Charlotte Corday And Adam Lux
Perhaps some readers will consider this story inconsistent with
those that have preceded it. Yet, as it is little known to most
readers and as it is perhaps unique in the history of romantic
love, I cannot forbear relating it; for I believe that it is full
of curious interest and pathetic power.
All those who have written of the French Revolution have paused in
their chronicle of blood and flame to tell the episode of the
peasant Royalist, Charlotte Corday; but in telling it they have
often omitted the one part of the story that is personal and not
political. The tragic record of this French girl and her self-
sacrifice has been told a thousand times by writers in many
languages; yet almost all of them have neglected the brief romance
which followed her daring deed and which was consummated after her
death upon the guillotine. It is worth our while to speak first of
Charlotte herself and of the man she slew, and then to tell that
other tale which ought always to be entwined with her great deed
Charlotte Corday--Marie Anne Charlotte Corday d'Armand--was a
native of Normandy, and was descended, as her name implies, from
noble ancestors. Her forefathers, indeed, had been statesmen,
civil rulers, and soldiers, and among them was numbered the famous
poet Corneille, whom the French rank with Shakespeare. But a
century or more of vicissitudes had reduced her branch of the
family almost to the position of peasants--a fact which partly
justifies the name that some give her when they call her "the
Jeanne d'Arc of the Revolution."
She did not, however, spend her girlish years amid the fields and
woods tending her sheep, as did the other Jeanne d'Arc; but she
was placed in charge of the sisters in a convent, and from them
she received such education as she had. She was a lonely child,
and her thoughts turned inward, brooding over many things.
After she had left the convent she was sent to live with an aunt.
Here she devoted herself to reading over and over the few books
which the house contained. These consisted largely of the deistic
writers, especially Voltaire, and to some extent they destroyed
her convent faith, though it is not likely that she understood
them very fully.
More to her taste was a copy of Plutarch's Lives. These famous
stories fascinated her. They told her of battle and siege, of
intrigue and heroism, and of that romantic love of country which
led men to throw away their lives for the sake of a whole people.
Brutus and Regulus were her heroes. To die for the many seemed to
her the most glorious end that any one could seek. When she
thought of it she thrilled with a sort of ecstasy, and longed with
all the passion of her nature that such a glorious fate might be
Charlotte had nearly come to womanhood at the time when the French
Revolution first broke out. Royalist though she had been in her
sympathies, she felt the justice of the people's cause. She had
seen the suffering of the peasantry, the brutality of the tax-
gatherers, and all the oppression of the old regime. But what she
hoped for was a democracy of order and equality and peace. Could
the king reign as a constitutional monarch rather than as a
despot, this was all for which she cared.
In Normandy, where she lived, were many of those moderate
republicans known as Girondists, who felt as she did and who hoped
for the same peaceful end to the great outbreak. On the other
hand, in Paris, the party of the Mountain, as it was called, ruled
with a savage violence that soon was to culminate in the Reign of
Terror. Already the guillotine ran red with noble blood. Already
the king had bowed his head to the fatal knife. Already the threat
had gone forth that a mere breath of suspicion or a pointed finger
might be enough to lead men and women to a gory death.
In her quiet home near Caen Charlotte Corday heard as from afar
the story of this dreadful saturnalia of assassination which was
making Paris a city of bloody mist. Men and women of the Girondist
party came to tell her of the hideous deeds that were perpetrated
there. All these horrors gradually wove themselves in the young
girl's imagination around the sinister and repulsive figure of
Jean Paul Marat. She knew nothing of his associates, Danton and
Robespierre. It was in Marat alone that she saw the monster who
sent innocent thousands to their graves, and who reveled like some
arch-fiend in murder and gruesome death.
In his earlier years Marat had been a very different figure--an
accomplished physician, the friend of nobles, a man of science and
original thought, so that he was nearly elected to the Academy of
Sciences. His studies in electricity gained for him the admiration
of Benjamin Franklin and the praise of Goethe. But when he turned
to politics he left all this career behind him. He plunged into
the very mire of red republicanism, and even there he was for a
time so much hated that he sought refuge in London to save his
On his return he was hunted by his enemies, so that his only place
of refuge was in the sewers and drains of Paris. A woman, one
Simonne Evrard, helped him to escape his pursuers. In the sewers,
however, he contracted a dreadful skin-disease from which he never
afterward recovered, and which was extremely painful as well as
shocking to behold.
It is small wonder that the stories about Marat circulated through
the provinces made him seem more a devil than a man. His
vindictiveness against the Girondists brought all of this straight
home to Charlotte Corday and led her to dream of acting the part
of Brutus, so that she might free her country from this hideous
In January, 1793, King Louis XVI. met his death upon the scaffold;
and the queen was thrust into a foul prison. This was a signal for
activity among the Girondists in Normandy, and especially at Caen,
where Charlotte was present at their meetings and heard their
fervid oratory. There was a plot to march on Paris, yet in some
instinctive way she felt that such a scheme must fail. It was then
that she definitely formed the plan of going herself, alone, to
the French capital to seek out the hideous Marat and to kill him
with her own hands.
To this end she made application for a passport allowing her to
visit Paris. This passport still exists, and it gives us an
official description of the girl. It reads:
Allow citizen Marie Corday to pass. She is twenty-four years of
age, five feet and one inch in height, hair and eyebrows chestnut
color, eyes gray, forehead high, mouth medium size, chin dimpled,
and an oval face.
Apart from this verbal description we have two portraits painted
while she was in prison. Both of them make the description of the
passport seem faint and pale. The real Charlotte had a wealth of
chestnut hair which fell about her face and neck in glorious
abundance. Her great gray eyes spoke eloquently of truth and
courage. Her mouth was firm yet winsome, and her form combined
both strength and grace. Such is the girl who, on reaching Paris,
wrote to Marat in these words:
Citizen, I have just arrived from Caen. Your love for your native
place doubtless makes you wish to learn the events which have
occurred in that part of the republic. I shall call at your
residence in about an hour. Be so good as to receive me and give
me a brief interview. I will put you in such condition as to
render great service to France.
This letter failed to gain her admission, and so did another which
she wrote soon after. The fact is that Marat was grievously ill.
His disease had reached a point where the pain could be assuaged
only by hot water; and he spent the greater part of his time
wrapped in a blanket and lying in a large tub.
A third time, however, the persistent girl called at his house and
insisted that she must see him, saying that she was herself in
danger from the enemies of the Republic. Through an open door
Marat heard her mellow voice and gave orders that she should be
As she entered she gazed for a moment upon the lank figure rolling
in the tub, the rat-like face, and the shifting eyes. Then she
approached him, concealing in the bosom of her dress a long
carving-knife which she had purchased for two francs. In answer to
Marat's questioning look she told him that there was much
excitement at Caen and that the Girondists were plotting there.
To this Marat answered, in his harsh voice:
"All these men you mention shall be guillotined in the next few
As he spoke Charlotte flashed out the terrible knife and with all
her strength she plunged it into his left side, where it pierced a
lung and a portion of his heart.
Marat, with the blood gushing from his mouth, cried out:
His cry was meant for one of the two women in the house. Both
heard it, for they were in the next room; and both of them rushed
in and succeeded in pinioning Charlotte Corday, who, indeed, made
only a slight effort to escape. Troops were summoned, she was
taken to the Prison de l'Abbaye, and soon after she was arraigned
before the revolutionary tribunal.
Placed in the dock, she glanced about her with an air of pride, as
of one who gloried in the act which she had just performed. A
written charge was read. She was asked what she had to say.
Lifting her head with a look of infinite satisfaction, she
answered in a ringing voice:
"Nothing--except that I succeeded!"
A lawyer was assigned for her defense. He pleaded for her
earnestly, declaring that she must he regarded as insane; but
those clear, calm eyes and that gentle face made her sanity a
matter of little doubt. She showed her quick wit in the answers
which she gave to the rough prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, who
tried to make her confess that she had accomplices.
"Who prompted you to do this deed?" roared Tinville.
"I needed no prompting. My own heart was sufficient."
"In what, then, had Marat wronged you?"
"He was a savage beast who was going to destroy the remains of
France in the fires of civil war."
"But whom did you expect to benefit?" insinuated the prosecutor.
"I have killed one man to save a hundred thousand."
"What? Did you imagine that you had murdered all the Marats?"
"No, but, this one being dead, the rest will perhaps take
Thus her directness baffled all the efforts of the prosecution to
trap her into betraying any of her friends. The court, however,
sentenced her to death. She was then immured in the Conciergerie.
This dramatic court scene was the beginning of that strange, brief
romance to which one can scarcely find a parallel. At the time
there lived in Paris a young German named Adam Lux. The continual
talk about Charlotte Corday had filled him with curiosity
regarding this young girl who had been so daring and so patriotic.
She was denounced on every hand as a murderess with the face of a
Medusa and the muscles of a Vulcan. Street songs about her were
dinned into the ears of Adam Lux.
As a student of human nature he was anxious to see this terrible
creature. He forced his way to the front of the crowded benches in
the court-room and took his stand behind a young artist who was
finishing a beautiful sketch. From that moment until the end of
the trial the eyes of Adam Lux were fastened on the prisoner. What
a contrast to the picture he had imagined!
A mass of regal chestnut hair crowned with the white cap of a
Norman peasant girl; gray eyes, very sad and serious, but looking
serenely forth from under long, dark lashes; lips slightly curved
with an expression of quiet humor; a face the color of the sun and
wind, a bust indicative of perfect health, the chin of a Caesar,
and the whole expression one of almost divine self-sacrifice. Such
were the features that the painter was swiftly putting upon his
canvas; but behind them Adam Lux discerned the soul for which he
gladly sacrificed both his liberty and his life.
He forgot his surroundings and seemed to see only that beautiful,
pure face and to hear only the exquisite cadences of the wonderful
voice. When Charlotte was led forth by a file of soldiers Adam
staggered from the scene and made his way as best he might to his
lodgings. There he lay prostrate, his whole soul filled with the
love of her who had in an instant won the adoration of his heart.
Once, and only once again, when the last scene opened on the
tragedy, did he behold the heroine of his dreams.
On the 17th of July Charlotte Corday was taken from her prison to
the gloomy guillotine. It was toward evening, and nature had given
a setting fit for such an end. Blue-black thunder-clouds rolled in
huge masses across the sky until their base appeared to rest on
the very summit of the guillotine. Distant thunder rolled and
grumbled beyond the river. Great drops of rain fell upon the
soldiers' drums. Young, beautiful, unconscious of any wrong,
Charlotte Corday stood beneath the shadow of the knife.
At the supreme moment a sudden ray from the setting sun broke
through the cloud-wrack and fell upon her slender figure until she
glowed in the eyes of the startled spectators like a statue cut in
burnished bronze. Thus illumined, as it were, by a light from
heaven itself, she bowed herself beneath the knife and paid the
penalty of a noble, if misdirected, impulse. As the blade fell her
lips quivered with her last and only plea:
"My duty is enough--the rest is nothing!"
Adam Lux rushed from the scene a man transformed. He bore graven
upon his heart neither the mob of tossing red caps nor the glare
of the sunset nor the blood-stained guillotine, but that last look
from those brilliant eyes. The sight almost deprived him of his
reason. The self-sacrifice of the only woman he had ever loved,
even though she had never so much as seen him, impelled him with a
sort of fury to his own destruction.
He wrote a bitter denunciation of the judges, of the officers, and
of all who had been followers of Marat. This document he printed,
and scattered copies of it through every quarter in Paris. The
last sentences are as follows:
The guillotine is no longer a disgrace. It has become a sacred
altar, from which every taint has been removed by the innocent
blood shed there on the 17th of July. Forgive me, my divine
Charlotte, if I find it impossible at the last moment to show the
courage and the gentleness that were yours! I glory because you
are superior to me, for it is right that she who is adored should
be higher and more glorious than her adorer!
This pamphlet, spread broadcast among the people, was soon
reported to the leaders of the rabble. Adam Lux was arrested for
treason against the Republic; but even these men had no desire to
make a martyr of this hot-headed youth. They would stop his mouth
without taking his life. Therefore he was tried and speedily found
guilty, but an offer was made him that he might have passports
that would allow him to return to Germany if only he would sign a
retraction of his printed words.
Little did the judges understand the fiery heart of the man they
had to deal with. To die on the same scaffold as the woman whom he
had idealized was to him the crowning triumph of his romantic
love. He gave a prompt and insolent refusal to their offer. He
swore that if released he would denounce his darling's murderers
with a still greater passion.
In anger the tribunal sentenced him to death. Only then he smiled
and thanked his judges courteously, and soon after went blithely
to the guillotine like a bridegroom to his marriage feast.
Adam Lux! Spirit courtship had been carried on silently all
through that terrible cross-examination of Charlotte Corday. His
heart was betrothed to hers in that single gleam of the setting
sun when she bowed beneath the knife. One may believe that these
two souls were finally united when the same knife fell sullenly
upon his neck and when his life-blood sprinkled the altar that was
still stained with hers.