Three Deaths and Enlightenment Thought: Hume, Johnson, Marat

By Stephen Miller | Go to book overview

4
The Death of Marat

MARAT’S DEATHBED PROJECT

On 13 July 1793, seventeen years after the death of Hume and eight-and-a-half years after the death of Johnson, Jean Paul Marat died—assassinated by Charlotte Corday while he was in his bath, where he sat for hours every day because of a debilitating skin disease. After being denied entry twice by Marat’s common-law wife, Corday was finally admitted because she promised to give Marat a list of thousands of traitors in Normandy. “Good,” replied Marat a minute before he was murdered, “in a few days I will have them all guillotined.”1 Marat did not have a deathbed project but his reason for admitting Corday can be called one: unmasking counterrevolutionaries. If Johnson decried what he called false alarms about the threats to liberty in Britain, Marat warned that the alarm was not sounding frequently enough about the danger liberty faced in revolutionary France. There were traitors everywhere, he said, who wanted to restore the ancien régime and prevent the transformation of France.

In Marat’s influential journal, Ami du peuple, which the revolutionary government frequently tried to suppress because of its inflammatory rhetoric, he always sounded the alarm. The only consistent position he held was the need for vigilance. “The first duty of all good citizens,” he said, “is to remain vigilant.”2 The French people were not vigilant enough, which is why they needed him to unmask those who “feared nothing so much as the luminous writings of patriotic writers.”3 In the early years of the Revolution, he called the members of the National Assembly traitors. In August 1790 he said that eight hundred of the National Assembly deputies should be executed. Because of his attacks, he was forced to go underground to avoid arrest, and

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Three Deaths and Enlightenment Thought: Hume, Johnson, Marat
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Acknowledgments 15
  • Abbreviations 17
  • 1 - The Cult of the Deathbed Scene 21
  • 2 - The Death of Hume 44
  • 3 - The Death of Johnson 86
  • 4 - The Death of Marat 123
  • 5 - The Varieties of Enlightenment Thought 162
  • Notes 179
  • Works Cited 203
  • Index 211
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