Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
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The Marriage of Figaro

Contemporary accounts of Beaumarchais

Extract from Gudin's journal describing Beaumarchais and his household during the 1770's:-

... Two days later he invited me to his house, presented me to his father, to the one sister who lived with him, and whom I had never met.

I saw him as simple in his domestic circle as he was brilliant in a salon. I was very soon certain that he was a good son, good brother, good master, and good father, because he had still a little son, a young child whose infantile words were often repeated to us, which charmed me all the more because it betrayed his paternal tenderness ...

We soon learned to esteem each other from a similar foundation of severe principles, hidden in his case under an exterior of lightness and gaiety by a vivid and constant love of the good, the beautiful, the honest, by an equal disdain for prejudice and for all opinions ill-founded. . . The taste for letters, for the theatre, for the arts, the same indulgence for the weaknesses of the human heart, strengthened our union . . .

He never criticized any work; on the contrary he always brought out the beauties which others had not noticed, extolled talent, repelled scandal: he defended all those whose merit he heard depreciated and never listened to slander. 'I am,' he used to say, 'an advocate of the absent.' I noticed that he never spoke evil of his enemies, even of those whom he knew to be most intent on ruining him. One day when I had learned some most damning facts in regard to the conduct of the man who had brought suit against him, I expressed my astonishment that I had not learned these facts from him, but rather from a relative of the man himself. 'Eh, my friend.' was his reply, 'should I lose the time which I pass with you in recalling the things which would only afflict your spirit and mine? I try to forget the folly of those about me, and to think only of what is good and useful; we have so much to say to each other that such topics should never find a place in our conversation.'

His character (writes Gudin de la Brenellerie) was an unusual combination of good qualities and the most contradictory faults: he had wit but no judgement, pride but no dignity; a vast but disordered memory; a great desire for knowledge, but an even greater taste for dissipation; prodigious bodily strength; a violence of deposition which clouded his always rather confused judgement: frequent accesses of fury in which he resembled a drunken savage, not to say a ferocious beast. Always swayed by the impression of the moment, regardless of consequences, he had more than once brought trouble on himself. Banished from the kingdom for five years on one occasion, he employed his time of exile in making a scientific expedition, visited the Pyramids, foregathered with the Bedouins of the desert, and brought back many objects of natural history, and an unfortunate ape which he beat savagely every day.

Extract from a letter written by Beaumarchais in prison in 1773:-

I am at the end of my courage ... My credit has gone, my business is in ruins: my family, of which I am the father and support, is in a state of desolation ... Is there no limit to the vengeance to be taken on me for this wretched business of Chaulnes? My imprisonment has cost me a good 100,000 francs . . . and while I am kept in this horrible prison I have no chance of retrieving my losses. I have strength to bear my own troubles, but none against the tears of my respected father, 75 years old. who is dying of grief at the state into which I have fallen; nor have I more against the sorrows of my sisters and my nieces, who are already haunted by the fear of want, arising out of the state into which my detention has thrown me and my affairs ... My situation is killing me ... the infected air of the prison is destroying my health.


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Last modified: 2012-03-15