Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 23, 1972 · Page 96
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 96

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 23, 1972
Page 96
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Page 96 article text (OCR)

Charlotte Corday's Date with Death It was early morning in Paris, and dew still drenched the grass in the gardens of the Palais Royal. A pretty, auburn-haired woman of 25, wandering alone, had the maze of paths entirely to herself. Deep in turbulent thought, she might hardly have noticed if the park had been packed. It was 1793 and for Charlotte Corday, gentle and convent-raised, a desperate assignation with death lay just ahead. For her country's sake, she was about to rid the world of a tyrant. At 7:30 a.m. on July 13 she left the gardens, found an ironmonger's shop, and bought a pointed, wooden- handled kitchen knife in a green sheath. Charlotte, a provincial peasant girl, was 13 when the nuns of Caen took her in on her mother's death. As she grew, she read well and widely from the big calf- bound books in their library. When the Revolution plunged her country in chaos, Charlotte had strong ideas about the kind of liberation she though France ought to seek. She was for the Gironde, the revolutionary party which sought freedom with moderation, justice with security--and which was backed by men of culture and intelligence. She was bitterly against the Jacobins who, headed by Robespierre, Danton and ex- doctor Jean Paul Marat, pandered to the hysterical blood-thirst of the masses and now reigned supreme. For Charlotte, as for all her friends in Caen, the dwarfish, hideously pockmarked Marat was the epitome of evil. It was his vitriolic newspaper, "L'Ami du Peuple", which had largely sapped the strength of the Gironde and precipitated the dreadful Reign of Terror. She saw him as a symbol of death and everything opposed to liberty, the spider at the center of a web of wickedness in which France lay trapped and helpless. A monster who must be destroyed without delay. From the start, she saw this as her mission alone. She was determined to involve none of her relatives or friends in the grim adventure which, she knew, could end only in her own execution. Before she caught the Paris Coach from Caen, Charlotte left a letter for her father, to be handed to him after her departure. It said she was going to England- and it also said goodbye. On arrival in Paris, she found a quiet hotel for the night in the Rue des Vieux Augustins. When she asked the porter what news there was of Marat, she was told that he had been seriously He had a painful skin infection, the porter said, and was confined to his home where he sat all day in a medicated bath. This was bad news. Now she must somehow find a way of visiting Marat in his own house. 6m Dismissing the porter, Charlotte spent the rest of the day conscientiously carrying put a promised business mission for a friend. In the evening, in her bedroom, she wrote for the people of France--on creased, yellow paper which can still be seen--an explanation of the idealistic murder she was about to commit. "0 France!", she wrote, "Your happiness depends upon the proper execution of your laws; but I break none in killing Marat. "Condemned by the whole world, he stands outside the pale of the law. What just tribunal would condemn me?. . ." Leaving the ironmonger's shop, Charlotte returned to her hotel for breakfast. Then, as coolly as if she was embarking on a shopping expedition, she hailed a cab and told the driver to go to Marat's house. When she got there just before 11 a.m., she met another setback. It was quite impossible, she was told by a blowsy, peevish housekeeper, for Marat to see anyone that day. So, driving back to the hotel, Charlotte quickly scribbled a note and had it sent round at once to Marat's house. "I shall call upon you about one o'clock", it said. "Be kind enough to see me and grant me a moment's interview. I will put you in the way of rendering a great service to France". She returned to his front door wearing a fashionably low-cut dress of chalk-white lawn, and a dark straw hat trimmed with green ribbon. Muslin draped her throat. In its folds, where she had also pinned her address to the people of France, nestled the · knife. This time the housekeeper ungraciously let her in. Citizen Marat would see her. She was shown into a bare, steamy room. On one wall hung a map of France surmounted by a brace of pistols and the single scrawled word "Death". Proof sheets of "L'Ami du Peuple" littered the floor. In a round wooden bath, h a l f filled w i t h w a r m , medicated liquid, sat Marat. A napkin wrapped the lank hair on his huge head. He had a board across the bath as a writing desk and a filthy, ragged robe covered the upper part of his body. She felt his gimlet eyes on her. What news from Caen was so urgent he asked. She had to say something. She told him that a group of banned Gironde deputies were there, and plotting to march on Paris. He reached for a pen and demanded their names. In a few days, he told her coldly, he would have them all guillotined in Paris. This was Charlotte Corday's moment. Whisking the knife from her bosom, she raised it high and plunged it to the hilt in his right breast. "She plunged the knife into his right breast." CHARLESTON, W. VA. He shrieked for a moment, there was no sound in the room. Then Charlotte heard the first running footsteps, and the door burst open. In the confusion she was beaten with a chair, then hustled into another room for preliminary examination by the district police commissioner. Each time she was asked why she had done it, Her answer was the same: "I was determined to sacrifice my own life to save my country". She was searched stripped and examined hour after hour into the night. Her wrists were torn and bleeding from her bonds. Then she ran a savage public gauntlet to reach a closed carriage, which took her to the Prison de 1'Abbaye. Three days later, Charlotte Corday faced her two- day trial in the same white dress and a white Normandy cap. Time after time she interrupted the prosecution's case with the same words--she had killed Marat because of his many crimes. She had done it to restore peace. Her defence advocate was in an impossible position. Not only had a note from the jury ordered him to remain silent, but another from the judge had told him to declare Charlotte insane. He compromised as best he could. After 15 minutes, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty. Charlotte was sentenced to death. The end came quickly. Wearing the crimson robe of the condemned, she was taken by tumbril through a dense crowd and a terrific thunderstorm to the Place de la Revolution. And, as Charlotte Corday saw the tall silhouette of the guillotine and the grim waiting figure of Sanson the executioner, she smiled. Her work was done at last. Sunday Gazette-Mail

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