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First edition

Olympe de GOUGES (sous le pseudonyme de) POLYME Réponse à la justification de Maximilien Robespierre adressée à Jérome Pétion par Olympe de Gouges [suivi de] Pronostic sur Maximilien Robespierre par un animal amphibie. Portraict exact de cet animal.

Olympe de GOUGES (sous le pseudonyme de) POLYME

Réponse à la justification de Maximilien Robespierre adressée à Jérome Pétion par Olympe de Gouges [suivi de] Pronostic sur Maximilien Robespierre par un animal amphibie. Portraict exact de cet animal.

s.n. [Le Jay], s.d. [Paris] s.d. [1792], 12x19cm, broché.


Réponse à la justification de Maximilien Robespierre adressée à Jérome Pétion par Olympe de Gouges [suivi de] Pronostic sur Maximilien Robespierre par un animal amphibie. Portraict exact de cet animal. [Response to Maximilien Robespierre's Justification [with] Prognostic of Maximilien Robespierre, by an Amphibious Animal. A Precise Portrait of this Animal]
 
[Le Jay] | [Paris 1792] | 12 x 19 cm | in original wrappers
 

First edition of an extraordinarily rare pamphlet addressed by Olympe de Gouges to Robespierre, predicting all the downward spirals of the Revolution one year before the Reign of Terror. She will be one of the many victims and the first female condemned for her writing.
This brochure published in November 1792 is composed of two texts.
 
The Pronostic was originally a poster signed with a transparent anagram: Polyme. Olympe de Gouges placed it on walls in Paris and the Assemblée on the morning of 5 November 1792, just before Robespierre gave his defence speech. A week earlier, the Girondins, through Jean-Baptiste Louvet as intermediary, accused Robespierre of being at the origin of the insurrection of 10 August 1792 and the September massacres which followed. Suspecting him of wanting to take the place of the deposed king (“I accuse you of having obviously been fuelled by supreme power”), Louvet asked for a commission of inquiry against Robespierre and a decree of accusation against Marat. These clumsy and little supported accusations will not have the expected effect. Despite Gouges' posters, Maximilien's response earned him a triumph that will help to perfect his notoriety and his influence on the Assemblée nationale. The following day, Olympe de Gouges, therefore, publishes this Response to Maximilien Robespierre's Justification and adds the Pronostic to it, of which she claims maternity: “It is I, I, Maximilien who is the author of your prognostic; I, I say, Olympe de Gouges, more man than woman".
 
Olympe de Gouges' texts were only published in a very small number of copies (after a letter in April 1792 to her publisher, the widow Duchêne, she planned a print of 50 copies for her works). Moreover, her political pamphlets and works were to a large extent destroyed after her execution, by order of the public prosecutor of the Revolutionary Tribunal. We have only identified four copies of this brochure in international institutions: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, The Bancroft Library Berkeley, The Schwarzman Rare Books Collection in the New York Public Library.
 
The few prints having survived the destruction were assembled in made-up volumes in the 19th century. Today, they are the author's main bibliographic source. But contrary to what the very few bibliographies say, no collective edition of her works had been produced before the 20th century. This bibliographic error originated in a 16-page brochure published in 1793 by Le Jay entitled: Œuvres de la citoyenne de Gouges, en deux volumes, formant le recueil de ses ouvrages dramatiques et politiques. As Olivier Blanc writes: “At the end of 1792, ODG had planned to dedicate the next edition of her varied political writings to Philippe Capet, but she changed her mind after the vote on 21 January. Only the title page was preserved for the publication of a sixteen-page brochure, dated 1793, in which she distances herself from the ex-Duke of Orleans."
 
However, from this auctorial intention, Olivier Blanc deduces the existence of a complete edition of Political works, of which he thinks to locate only two copies in the Nantes and Lyon libraries. These two institutions (the only French libraries with the Bibliothèque nationale de France to have several of Olympe's writings), however, had no collective edition. They do have, on the other hand, the little brochure Œuvres en deux volumes printed by Le Jay. The possibility of a complete edition of the author's contemporary political works formulated by Blanc is based on records of the parliamentary archives. Shortly before being arrested, Olympe indeed offered the Assemblée nationale all her works: “9 June 1793: Address of the citizen Olyme de Gouges, known for some posters and her play Dumouriez in Brussels, through which she pays tribute to the Convention for all her works in favour of the French Revolution. “If the Assemblée of representatives is still pure, she says, it will see in my political life what my feelings are, and if the blood-thirsty tigers require victims, let them come, I offer myself to be the first..."” (The convention, because of the few unsuitable expressions contained in this letter, moves to the order of the day.)) t. LXVI, p. 204).
 
This address does not make reference, as Olivier Blanc concluded, to a publication, but rather to a set of brochures printed successively by the pamphleteer and probably bound together by her.
 
We note the reserve with which this precious gift is accepted. This indifference will tragically echo in this other note of 1st August: “Letter from the citizen Olympe de Gouges, detained at the Abbaye, who writes to the Convention to be questioned by the committee who had her arrested. (The Convention returns the request to the Sûreté générale committee.)”
 
The only old editions of de Gouges' pamphlets are the original posters and brochures.
 
Yet, there are differences between the prints that the rarity of the copies, it seems, has not allowed bibliographers to distinguish. Thus, our copy has several notable variations with that of the Lyon library. Olympe de Gouges' signature is printed at the end of the first paragraph (addressed to Pétion) of the Réponse, instead of being at the end of the text.
More importantly, the end of the Pronostic is enriched with eleven additional lines printed at the foot of the page. However, we note the same misprints and the same spelling errors on the two copies of the same composition. Only the pages where the signatures have been moved have been recomposed. It does not seem possible to establish with certainty a chronology between the two prints, which are, of course, from one continuous print run. The long note, addressed directly to her enemies, which concludes our copy, was it deleted as a precaution during printing, or on the contrary, added out of bravado by Olympe? It testifies, indeed, to a courage and a power of unique character: “The cowardly assassins suggest that a feigned stupor took hold of my senses and that I could never be found at home. They had planned, therefore, to cut my throat. Indeed! I will rob them of this pleasure for as long as it is within my power not because, like those cowards, I fear death but because, in my turn, I want the pleasure of seeing them come to an end of their crimes. Meanwhile let them understand that I do not take flight; that I do not run away from their daggers. All I wish is to put the finishing touches to my Drama, deposit the manuscript into the bosom of the national Convention, and die blamelessly like Bayard, without fear.”
 
This eminently expressive and prophetic note highlights the singularity of these ephemeral brochures, vital organs of the Revolution in progress and historic witnesses of one of the most important societal and political upheavals of the western world.
 
Likewise, the reverse chronological order of the two texts – the Pronostic composed on the 5th and the Réponse on the 6th – meets the needs of the revolutionary uproar: topicality takes precedence over causality. On 6 November 1792, the Pronostic, written the day before, is already ancient history. Its presence in the brochure, above all, allows a recontextualisation of the Réponse in which Olympe announces that she is the true author of the poster signed Polyme.
 
Yet this diptych pamphleteer, actor and witness of ongoing events, is part of a wider ambition than the audacious castigation of future crimes by Robespierre and his Comité de Salut Public (Public Safety Committee). It also allows Olympe to assert her place as a woman in the debates and history in the making.
The Réponse and the Pronostic, are indeed not simple accusations, however virulent they may be, against Robespierre (“each hair on your head carries a crime”) and “the miserable Marat” who “shakes his pestilential papers, the firebrands of the furies”), they are an affirmation of the legitimate speech of a woman in a Revolution of men (“I am useful to my country, you know it”).
 
The Pronostic, although signed with a pseudonym, is above all a self-portrait, as the title announces: Prognostic of Maximilien Robespierre, by an Amphibious Animal. A Precise Portrait of this Animal.
It is indeed a presentation of this woman “without equal” that opens the printed diatribe on blood red paper, posted in Paris and in the corridors of the Assemblée. A few hours before Robespierre's intervention, which she knows will be decisive for the rest of the Revolution, Olympe chooses to start with an apparent digression:
"I am an animal without equal; I am neither man nor woman. I have all the courage of one and sometimes the weaknesses of the other. I am filled with love for my neighbour and bear a grudge only against myself". This incipit, which seems not very feminist, is, in reality, a powerful demand. By declaring her femininity from the first line (since no man would present himself like this), de Gouges takes the risk of discrediting her speech. “The animal without equal” that presents itself is indeed a woman in flesh, but she also wants to be a man in rights. And the “weaknesses” of the woman that she bears, are altruism and the rejection of ego, as opposed to the destructive violence that Robespierre will soon orchestrate.
 
In this essential speech, which she took the trouble to publish as a brochure despite her poster failure, Olympe de Gouges affirms the need for the Revolution to consider the voice of women, as a necessary balance for the “courage” of men. Although the assumed violence of the “strongly worded expressions against Maximilien Robespierre”, guaranteed him the virile consideration of his peers, Olympe defends above all a humanist and virtuous revolution. Thus, she mixes in these two texts a call to the collective suicide of Robespierre and herself “I suggest you take a bath in the Seine with me […] we will attach cannon balls of sixteen or twenty-four to our feet; then, together, we will rush headlong into the flow”) and a relentless defence of the physical integrity of her adversaries: “Robespierre, Marat, have covered themselves with opprobrium but their lives are sacred and, if they are truly guilty, it is only the Law that can decide their fate. The national convention must lead by example and stifle its own resentment as a sign of republican impartiality. In a word, it must punish all those who would incite the murder of these senseless agitators”.
Perfectly mastered and constant, contrary to the accusations of her despisers – contemporary and posthumous – Olympe de Gouges' philosophy, like her intellectual honesty, is entirely revealed in this double discourse which addresses all the major themes of her thoughts.
 
She mentions slavery:
“People of Paris [...] appreciate, therefore, that the title [of Republican] is enough to render you virtuous in a way that slaves never can be”
 
The Republic:
“...no more hope, wretched people, if you once sully the Republic! [...]The French Republic owes you its existence; defend your creation and be very wary of yielding, for one moment, to the instigations of criminals.”
 
The monarchy:
“If I appeared to vote for monarchy it was because I believed it to be the form of government best suited to the French spirit. But can you bring yourself to deny that my principles are the less pure for that?”
“I will tell you more, to carry you to the heights of a great people, he who reigned from father to son, may merit death: but subsequent to his arrest it may appeal to your dignity to offer him clemency.”
 
Robespierre:
“You may have served the Revolution, I would not deny it, but your excessive behaviour has wiped out, in all hearts, any gratitude.” [...] Although your speeches are full of sophisms it cannot be denied that you possess a perfect understanding of revolutions and of the lives and habits of great conquerors; but for pity's sake, never compare yourself with the wise of any parts. [...] O Maximilien! Maximilien! You proclaim peace to all but you declare war on the human race”
 
Women:
“[you say that] You do not understand the despotism of opinion unless it be the absolute authority of truth. But, this authority is not personal to one man, it belongs to all who defend the principles of universal reason. You will at least agree with me that women are not excluded from it.”
 
And her commitment:
“I know that you disapprove of certain strongly worded expressions targeting Maximilien Robespierre; it is one of those urges that I have never been able to contain when I believe the common good to be in danger. Yet, in the midst of such fiery ideas you will find the reverse; a charitable soul who would serve as a shield to the conspirators if the assassins' swords were turned against them. That is fundamental to my character, as everyone knows.”
 
Accused of being fickle and impetuous, in reality, she follows only one course of conduct, inherited from the Enlightenment: that of an inclusive revolution. This inclusion concerns not only women, but also all people in their diversity, from slaves to the king himself. This attention to the rights of all is incompatible with the violence, apart from that of personal and voluntary sacrifice, that she offers at every moment: “I, I will admit, am a miser when it comes to the blood of my fellow citizens; but if it were to take only the shedding of my blood to save them then I would know how to spill it.”
 
During Anne Verjus' interview on France Culture radio on 24 August 2021, Avoir raison avec... Olympe de Gouges, she refutes the term “exclusion” to describe the status of women during the Revolution, because it implies a break with a previous state. Thus, the Réponse and the Pronostic do not call for the recognition of women's rights, but they are acts of a birth of these fundamental rights.
 
With this brochure, the author of la Déclaration universelle des Droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne, imposes here de facto adoption, not by the goodwill of an assembly of men, but by the Cartesian evidence of a woman's revolutionary thought, ergo of her political existence. Moreover, she established an exhaustive equality, without consideration of gender, birth, fortune or skin colour. “Neither man, nor woman”, Olympe is all men and all women. She wants to incarnate the universality of the Revolution, as she declares in her Pronostic“In my discourse can be found all the virtues of equality; my physiognomy has all the traits of liberty; and my name has something of the celestial about it.” This audacious self-portrait also prefigures the one that Delacroix will choose for his Liberté guidant le peuple, or that which the Republic will assign her under the name of Marianne.
Olympe de Gouges, assassinated by the Revolutionaries, discredited by the historians of the Revolution, forgotten from the textbooks, was, however, the exact image that the Revolution will want to retain for itself.

Drowned under phallocrate power, Olympe de Gouges declares herself an “amphibious animal”. Gagged, she writes, kept away, she displays herself, ignored, she publishes... Her very condemnation will echo the affirmation of her inalienable right: “woman is entitled to mount the scaffold; she must be equally entitled to mount the rostrum”.
 

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