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CONDORCET


des probabilités et son application aux jeux de hazard, à la loterie, et aux jugements des hommes, &c. In 1786 he married Sophie de Grouchy, a sister of Marshal Grouchy, said to have been one of the most beautiful women of her time. Her salon at the Hôtel des Monnaies, where Condorcet lived in his capacity as inspector-general of the mint, was one of the most famous of the time. In 1786 Condorcet published his Vie de Turgot, and in 1787 his Vie de Voltaire. Both works were widely and eagerly read, and are perhaps, from a merely literary point of view, the best of Condorcet’s writings.

The political tempest which had been long gathering over France now began to break and to carry everything before it. Condorcet was, of course, at once hurried along by it into the midst of the conflicts and confusion of the Revolution. He greeted with enthusiasm the advent of democracy, and laboured hard to secure and hasten its triumph. He was indefatigable in writing pamphlets, suggesting reforms, and planning constitutions. He was not a member of the States-General of 1789, but he had expressed his ideas in the electoral assembly of the noblesse of Mantes. The first political functions which he exercised were those of a member of the municipality of Paris (1790). He was next chosen by the Parisians to represent them in the Legislative Assembly, and then appointed by that body one of its secretaries. In this capacity he drew up most of its addresses, but seldom spoke, his pen being more effective than his tongue. He was the chief author of the address to the European powers when they threatened France with war. He was keenly interested in education, and, as a member of the committee of public instruction, presented to the Assembly (April 21 and 22, 1792) a bold and comprehensive scheme for the organization of a system of state education which, though more urgent questions compelled its postponement, became the basis of that adopted by the Convention, and thus laid the foundations on which the modern system of national education in France is built up. After the attempted flight of the king, in June 1791, Condorcet was one of the first to declare in favour of a republic, and it was he who drew up the memorandum which led the Assembly, on the 4th of September 1792, to decree the suspension of the king and the summoning of the National Convention. He had, meanwhile, resigned his offices and left the Hôtel des Monnaies; his declaration in favour of republicanism had alienated him from his former friends of the constitutional party, and he did not join the Jacobin Club, which had not yet declared against the monarchy. Though attached to no powerful political group, however, his reputation gave him great influence. At the elections for the Convention he was chosen for five departments, and took his seat for that of Aisne. He now became the most influential member of the committee on the constitution, and as “reporter” he drafted and presented to the Convention (February 15, 1793) a constitution, which was, however, after stormy debates, rejected in favour of that presented by Hérault de Séchelles. The work of constitution-making had been interrupted by the trial of Louis XVI. Condorcet objected to the assumption of judicial functions by the Convention, objected also on principle to the infliction of the death penalty; but he voted the king guilty of conspiring against liberty and worthy of any penalty short of death, and against the appeal to the people advocated by the Girondists. In the atmosphere of universal suspicion that inspired the Terror his independent attitude could not, however, be maintained with impunity. His severe and public criticism of the constitution adopted by the Convention, his denunciation of the arrest of the Girondists, and his opposition to the violent conduct of the Mountain, led to his being accused of conspiring against the Republic. He was condemned and declared to be hors la loi. Friends, sought for him an asylum in the house of Madame Vernet, widow of the sculptor and a near connexion of the painters of the same name. Without even asking his name, this heroic woman, as soon as she was assured that he was an honest man, said, “Let him come, and lose not a moment, for while we talk he may be seized.” When the execution of the Girondists showed him that his presence exposed his protectress to a terrible danger, he resolved to seek a refuge elsewhere. “I am outlawed,” he said, “and if I am discovered you will meet the same sad end as myself. I must not stay.” Madame Vernet’s reply deserves to be immortal, and should be given in her own words: “La Convention, Monsieur, a le droit de mettre hors la loi: elle n’a pas le pouvoir de mettre hors de l’humanité; vous resterez.” From that time she had his movements strictly watched lest he should attempt to quit her house. It was partly to turn his mind from the idea of attempting this, by occupying it otherwise, that his wife and some of his friends, with the co-operation of Madame Vernet, prevailed on him to engage in the composition of the work by which he is best known—the Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain. In his retirement Condorcet wrote also his justification, and several small works, such as the Moyen d’apprendre à compter sûrement et avec facilitê, which he intended for the schools of the republic. Several of these works were published at the time, thanks to his friends; the rest appeared after his death. Among the latter was the admirable Avis d’un proscrit à sa fille. While in hiding he also continued to take an active interest in public affairs. Thus, he wrote several important memoranda on the conduct of the war against the Coalition, which were laid before the Committee of Public Safety anonymously by a member of the Mountain named Marcoz, who lived in the same house as Condorcet without thinking it his duty to denounce him. In the same way he forwarded to Arbogast, president of the committee for public instruction, the solutions of several problems in higher mathematics.

Certain circumstances having led him to believe that the house of Madame Vernet, 21 rue Servandoni, was suspected and watched by his enemies, Condorcet, by a fatally successful artifice, at last baffled the vigilance of his generous friend and escaped. Disappointed in finding even a night’s shelter at the château of one whom he had befriended, he had to hide for three days and nights in the thickets and stone-quarries of Clamart. Oh the evening of the 7th of April 1794—not, as Carlyle says, on a “bleared May morning,”—with garments torn, with wounded leg, with famished looks, he entered a tavern in the village named, and called for an omelette. “How many eggs in your omelette?” “A dozen.” “What is your trade?” “A carpenter.” “Carpenters have not hands like these, and do not ask for a dozen eggs in an omelette.” When his papers were demanded he had none to show; when his person was searched a Horace was found on him. The villagers seized him, bound him, haled him forthwith on bleeding feet towards Bourg-la-Reine; he fainted by the way, was set on a horse offered in pity by a passing peasant, and, at the journey’s end, was cast into a cold damp cell. Next morning he was found dead on the floor. Whether he had died from suffering and exhaustion, from apoplexy or from poison, is an undetermined question.

Condorcet was undoubtedly a most sincere, generous and noble-minded man. He was eager in the pursuit of truth, ardent in his love of human good, and ever ready to undertake labour or encounter danger on behalf of the philanthropic plans which his fertile mind contrived and his benevolent heart inspired. It was thus that he worked for the suppression of slavery, for the rehabilitation of the chevalier de La Barre, and in defence of Lally-Tollendal. He lived at a time when calumny was rife, and various slanders were circulated regarding him, but fortunately the slightest examination proves them to have been inexcusable fabrications. That while openly opposing royalty he was secretly soliciting the office of tutor to the Dauphin; that he was accessory to the murder of the duc de la Rochefoucauld; or that he sanctioned the burning of the literary treasures of the learned congregations, are stories which can be shown to be utterly untrue.

His philosophical fame is chiefly associated with the Esquisse . . . des’progrès mentioned above. With the vision of the guillotine before him, with confusion and violence around him, he comforted himself by trying to demonstrate that the evils of life had arisen from a conspiracy of priests and rulers against their fellows, and from the bad laws and institutions which they had succeeded in creating, but that the human race would finally conquer its