History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
Madame dines with the Terrorists Marat and Robespierre, models' their figures, and subsequently takes casts of their heads—She visits Charlotte Corday in prison—Death of Curtius--Madame marries—Napoleon sits for his model.
ONE of the most bloodthirsty of all the red Terrorists was Jean Paul Marat, who was slain in his bath by Charlotte Corday on the 13th of July, 1793.
Marat, as a young man, had lived in this country for some time, and was well known to Madame Tussaud through visit's he paid to the house of her uncle, Curtius, at 20 Boulevard du Temple.
Immediately after his assassination she was called upon to take a cast of Marat's head. "They came for me," she relates, "to go to Marat's house at once, and to take with me what appliances I needed to make an impression of his features. The cadaverous aspect of the fiend made me feel desperately ill, but they stood over me and forced me to perform the task." Marat's model is still to be seen in the Exhibition lying in the bath in which he was stabbed by the heroic young Norman girl.
Charlotte Corday had addressed a letter to Marat stating that she had news of importance to communicate, and when she called he readily admitted her. She amused him with an account of the Deputies at Caen, when he said. "They shall all go to the guillotine." "To the guillotine !" exclaimed she, and as he took up a pencil to write the names of his intended victims Charlotte plunged a knife into his heart.
Madame Tussaud afterwards visited Charlotte Cor-day in the Conciergerie Prison, and described her as tall, well-mannered, and possessed of many graces of character and appearance. The brave young woman, who paid for her avenging act with her life, wrote in a letter to her father that she had done what was right. After the heroine's death Madame Tussaud obtained a record of Charlotte Corday's beautiful face.
The actual model, now in our Exhibition, of Marat dying in his bath, was exhibited during the Revolution at the Museum of Curtius in Paris, and attracted crowds, who were loud in their lamentations, for at that time Marat was a national idol.
Robespierre visited the Museum, and took the opportunity of haranguing the people at the door. In flamboyant language he said, "Enter, citizens, and see the image of our departed friend, snatched from us by the assassin's hand, guided by the demon of aristocracy. Marat was the father of the poor, the defender of the weak, and the consoler of the wretched. As his heart poured forth the sweet emotions of sympathy for the oppressed, so did the vigour of his mind emit its thunder against the oppressor." Then, descending to bathos, the cunning demagogue exclaimed, "What did he get for it all'? Five francs were found in his house !''
Surprise has sometimes been expressed by visitors that the bath in which Marat was stabbed to death should be so small and of such a curious shape.
Marat was murdered in a "slipper" bath, which was more like a "halt boot" than a slipper, so that the water would come up to the shoulders of the bather without flowing over. This kind of bath was greatly in vogue at the time of the French Revolution. Its object was to save water, which in those days was not freely supplied. When the bather was in the bath a small quantity of water would fill it.
Maximilien Robespierre had sent numerous people to their death during the Reign of Terror. His own turn came at last, when he too met his death from the sharp tongue of La Guillotine. The revulsion of feeling that had set in against Robespierre was very bitter. He was shot at point-blank range by a man named Meda in the Salle d'Egalité, a room in the Hôtel de Ville, but was only wounded, and he went to the guillotine on the 28th of July, 1794, with his broken jaw swathed in a white linen cloth.
An hour after the head of Robespierre rolled from the lunette Madame Tussaud, reluctantly obeying a demand that an impression should be taken of the severed head, set about the shuddering task. The cast therefrom is now shown in one of our Exhibition rooms containing relics of the Revolution. Her feelings may be imagined as she sat with the head of the callous Terrorist confronting her.
Although Madame Tussaud took an impression of the features of Robespierre directly after his execution, she had taken a portrait of him long before his fall. He expressed a wish that his figure should be introduced standing near that of Marat, as also those of Collot d'Herbois and Rosignol. He proposed that they should send their own clothes in which the figures might be dressed, to afford additional accuracy. The likenesses were taken and apparelled as desired.
In those days Madame Tussaud often sat next Robespierre at dinner. She describes him as always extremely polite and attentive, never omitting those little acts of courtesy which are expected from a gentleman when sitting at table with a lady, anticipating her wishes, and taking care that she should never have to ask for anything. In this particular, says Madame Tussaud, he differed from Marat, who was so selfishly eager to supply his own wants that he never troubled himself with the needs of others.
Robespierre's conversation was generally animated, sensible, and agreeable, but his enunciation was not good. There was nothing particularly remarkable in his conduct, manners, or appearance when in society. If noticed at all, it could only be as a pleasant, gentle-manly man of moderate abilities. This was a strong admission for a lady who was always a Royalist at heart and had been long detained in Paris against her will.
Her association with the Court of Louis inevitably brought Madame Tussaud under suspicion of the so-called Committee of Public Safety, and for a time she was imprisoned with Madame de Beauharnais, who was later to become the Empress Josephine, whom Napoleon divorced to marry Marie Louise. The scene is changed, and we see Marie Grosholtz—Curtius having died about that time—wedded in 1795 to François Tussaud, by whose name she was henceforth to be known to posterity.
Madame Tussaud, it would appear, made the acquaintance and gained the favour of Napoleon himself.
A Parisian publication, La Belle Assemblée, gives a circumstantial account of Madame Tussaud being sent for to take the likeness of Napoleon—when he was First Consul—at the Tuileries as early as six o'clock in the morning. It would appear that Madame went at the invitation of Napoleon's first wife, Josephine, who was desirous of having a permanent record of her husband's features. The young modeller was ushered into a room at the palace where the great soldier waited for her. La Belle Assemblée states that Josephine greeted Madame Tussaud with kindness, and conversed much and most affably. Napoleon said little, spoke in sharp sentences, and rather abruptly.
He would have shown her special consideration had she chosen to remain in France; but it is not to be wondered at that Madame Tussaud cared no longer to remain amid the sorrowful recollections of the Revolution, and that she seized the opportunity, on the signing of the Peace of Amiens, to leave France for ever. It was to England she turned for refuge and the prosecution of her life's work. Madame boldly transported across the Channel to England her uncle's two Paris Exhibitions, which, as already related, had been made into one. Here she decided to settle, and here her descendants have lived ever since.