A Passage in the Life of Beaumarchais
by George Hogarth
M. de Beaumarchais, the celebrated French dramatist,
was one of the most remarkable men of his time, though his fame now rests
in a great measure on his two comedies, Le Barbier de Seville, and
Le Mariage de Figaro; and even these titles are now-a-days much
more generally associated with the names of Rossini and Mozart,
than with that of Beaumarchais. Few comedies, however, have been
more popular on the French stage than these delightful productions.
The character of Susanna was the chef d'œre of the fascinating
Mademoiselle Contat; and has preserved its attractions, almost down
to the present time, in the hands of her evergreen successor, the
inimitable Mars. The Count and Countess Almaviva, Susanna,
Figaro, and Cherubino, have now become the property of Italian
singers; and, in this musical age, even the French public have been
content to give up the wit, satire, point, and playfulness of the original
comedies, for those meagre outlines which have been made the
vehicles for the most charming dramatic music in the world. Not
that Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Le Nozze di Figaro are not lively
and amusing, considered as operas; but the vis comica of Beaumarchais
has almost entirely evaporated in the process of transmutation.
None of the other dramatic works of Beaumarchais are
comparable to these. Some of them bear marks of immature genius; and his
last play, La Mère Coupable, the conclusion of the history of the
Almaviva family, was written after a long interval, and when advanced
age, and a life of cares and troubles, appear to have extinguished
the author's gaiety, and changed the tone of his feelings.
The play is written with power, but it is gloomy, and even tragical;
succeeding its lively and brilliant precursors as a sunset of clouds
and darkness closes a bright and smiling day. It painfully disturbs
the agreeable associations produced by the names of its characters;
and, for the sake of these associations, every one who reads it must
wish to forget it.
But it is not so much to the writings of Beaumarchais, as
to himself, that we wish at present to direct the attention of our readers.
His life was anything but that of a man of letters. He possessed
extraordinary talents for affairs; and, during his whole life, was deeply
engaged in important pursuits both of a private and public nature.
Extensive commercial enterprises, lawsuits of singular complication,
and missions of great moment as a political agent, withdrew him
from the walks of literature, and probably prevented him (as one of
his biographers has remarked) from enriching the French stage with
twenty dramatic masterpieces, instead of two or three. In this
respect he resembled our Sheridan, as well as in the character of his
genius; for we know of no plays that are more akin to each other,
in many remarkable features, than The School for Scandal
and Le Mariage de Figaro.
It is a remarkable circumstance in the history of Beaumarchais,
that a considerable portion of his literary fame was derived from a
species of composition from which anything of the kind could hardly
have been expected,—the pleadings, or law-papers, in the various
causes in which he was involved. The proceedings in the French
parliaments, or high courts of justice, were totally different from
those with which we are acquainted in England; though they were
similar to those which were practised in the Scottish court of session,
(a tribunal formed on the French model,) before that court came in
for its share in the general progress of reform. There were no juries;
the proceedings were conducted under the direction of a single
judge, whose business it was to prepare the cause for decision, and
then to make a report upon it to the whole court, by whom the judgment
was given. A favourable view of the case from the reporting
judge was, of course, an object of much importance; and the most
urgent solicitations by the litigants and their friends—nay, even
bribes—were often employed to obtain it. A charge against
Beaumarchais,—a groundless one, however,—of having attempted to
bribe the wife of one of these judges, exposed him to a long and violent
persecution. Among his enemies were men of rank and power; the
grossest calumnies against him were circulated in the highest quarters,
and countenanced by the court in which he was a litigant; the
bar became afraid to support him, and he could no longer find an
advocate. In these forlorn circumstances the energy of his character
did not abandon him, and he resolved to become his own advocate.
The pleadings in the French courts of those days were all
written. The cause was debated in mémoires, or memorials, in which the
pleas of the parties were stated without any of our technical formality.
Law, logic, eloquence, pathos, and sarcasm, were all employed, in
whatever way the pleader thought most advantageous. The paper
was printed and distributed, not only among the judges, but among
the friends and connexions of the parties; and when the case excited
much interest, the distribution was often so extensive as almost to
amount to publication. Beaumarchais, deserted by his former advocates,
began to compose his own memorials, to which he found means
to obtain the mere signature of some member of the bar. In this
manner he fought a long and desperate battle, in which, after some
severe reverses, (one of which was the burning of a series of his
memorials by the common hangman, pursuant to a sentence of the
court,) he at length achieved a complete and signal victory over all
his enemies, whom he not only defeated on the immediate subjects of
dispute, but overwhelmed with universal ridicule and contempt.
In the mean time these mémoires produced an
extraordinary sensation throughout France. When a new one appeared, it flew
from hand to hand like lightning. The causes in which Beaumarchais was
involved were so interesting in themselves, and connected with such
strange occurrences, that, had they belonged to the period of the
Causes Célèbres, they would have made a remarkable figure in that
famous collection. Their interest was increased a thousand-fold by
the memorials of Beaumarchais. "The genius," says a French writer,
"with which they are marked, the originality of the style, the dramatic
form of the narrative, mingled with fine bursts of eloquence,
keep the attention always awake; while the logical clearness of the
reasoning, and the art of accompanying every statement of facts with
striking and conclusive evidence, lay hold of the mind, and interest
and instruct, without fatiguing the reader. But their most remarkable
feature is the noble firmness of mind which they display; the
serenity of a lofty spirit which the most terrible and unforeseen
reverses were unable to subdue or intimidate; the stamp, in short,
of a great character which is impressed upon them." These writings
of Beaumarchais are spoken of in terms of admiration by the most
eminent literati of that day, especially by Voltaire, in many parts of
his correspondence; they attracted the notice of the government,
and procured for their author several political missions, the results of
which had no small influence on the public affairs of the time.
We have given this sketch of the character of Beaumarchais
by way of introduction to an account of a remarkable incident of his life,
taken from one of those extraordinary productions. Among other
calumnies, he had been charged, at one time with a series of atrocities
committed in Spain ten years before; and, among other things, with
having endeavoured to bully a Spanish gentleman into a marriage with
his sister, whom that gentleman had kept as a mistress; and it was
added that he had been expelled from Spain in disgrace. In one of
his mémoires he answers these accusations, by giving a narrative of
his residence in Spain during the period in question. It is a leaf of
"the romance of real life," and the interest of the story is heightened
by the conviction of its entire truth; for every fact is confirmed by
evidence, and the smallest incorrectness, as the writer knew, would
be laid hold of by his enemies. Goethe, it is not immaterial to add,
has made it the subject of his tragedy of Clavijo, the characters
of which consist of Beaumarchais himself, and the other persons
introduced into his narrative; though the great German dramatist has
taken some poetical liberties with the story, especially in its
The following narrative is a condensation of the original,
which contains minute details and pieces of evidence, of great importance to
M. de Beaumarchais' object at the time,—a conclusive vindication of
his character, but not at all conducive to the interest of the story.
"For some years I had enjoyed the happiness of living
in the bosom of my family; and our domestic union consoled me for all I
suffered through the malice of my enemies. I had five sisters. Two
of them had been committed by my father, at a very early age, to the
care of one of his correspondents in Spain, so that I had only that
faint but pleasant remembrance of them which is associated with our
days of childhood. This remembrance, however, was kept alive by
"In February 1764, my father received from his eldest
daughter a letter of very painful import. 'My sister,' she wrote, 'has
been grossly abused by a powerful and dangerous man. Twice, when on
the point of marrying her, he has broken his word, and withdrawn
without condescending to assign any reason for his conduct; and my
poor sister's wounded feelings have thrown her into a state of depression
from which we have faint hopes of her recovery. For these six
days she has not spoken a word. Under this unmerited stigma, we
are living in the deepest retirement. I weep night and day, and
endeavour to offer the unhappy girl comfort which I cannot find myself.'
"My father put his daughter's letter into my hands, 'Try,
my son,' he said, 'what you can do for these poor girls. They are your
sisters as well as the others.'
"'Alas, my dear father,' I said, 'what can I do for
them? What assistance shall I ask? Who knows but they may have brought this
disgrace upon themselves by some fault of their own?'
"My father showed me some letters from our ambassador to
my elder sister, in which he spoke of both of them in terms of the highest
esteem. I read these letters. They gave me courage; and my father's
phrase, 'They are your sisters as well as the others,' had sunk
into my heart. 'Console yourself,' I said to him, 'I am going to
adopt a course that may surprise you; but it appears to me the
surest and the most prudent. My eldest sister mentions several
respectable persons in Paris who can give testimony to the good
conduct and virtue of her sister. I will see them; and if their testimony
is as honourable as that of our ambassador, I shall instantly set
out for Madrid, and either punish the traitor who has outraged them,
or bring them back with me to share my humble fortune.'
"My inquiries were completely satisfactory. I immediately returned
to Versailles, and informed my august patronesses,
that business, no less painful than urgent, demanded my immediate presence
at Madrid. I showed them my sister's letter, and received
their permission to depart, in terms of the kindest encouragement.
My preparations were soon made, as I dreaded that I might not
arrive in time to save my poor sister's life. I obtained the strongest
letters of recommendation to our ambassador at Madrid; and my
ancient friend, M. Duvernay, gave me a credit on himself to the
amount of two hundred thousand francs, to enable me to transact a
piece of commercial business, and at the same time to increase my
personal consideration. I was accompanied by one of my friends, a
merchant, who had some business in Spain; but who went also partly
on my account.
"We travelled day and night, and arrived in Madrid on the
18th of May 1764. I had been expected for some days, and found my sisters
in the midst of their friends. As soon as the feelings, caused by a
meeting between a brother and his sisters, so long separated, and
seeing each other once more under such circumstances, had subsided,
I earnestly conjured them to give me an exact account of all that
had happened, in order that I might be able to serve them effectually.
The story was long and minute. When I had heard it to an end,
I embraced my young sister:
"'Now that know all, my dear girl,' I said, 'keep your
mind at ease. I am delighted to see that you no longer love this man, and
my part is all the easier on that account. All that I want now, is to
know where I can find him.'
"Our friends began eagerly to advise me to go, first of all,
to Aranjuez, and wait upon the French ambassador, in order to obtain his
protection against a man whose official situation gave him so much
influence with people in power. But I had made up my mind to
follow a different course; and, without giving any intimation of my
intention, I merely begged that my arrival might be kept a secret till
my return from Aranjuez.
"I immediately changed my travelling dress, and found my
way to the residence of Don Joseph Clavijo, keeper of the archives of the
crown. He was from home, but I went in search of him; and it was
in the drawing-room of a lady whom he had gone to visit that I told
him, that, having just arrived from France, and being intrusted with
some commissions for him, I was anxious to have an interview with
him as soon as possible. He asked me to breakfast the following
morning; and I accepted the invitation for myself and the French
merchant who was along with me.
"Next morning, I was with him at half-past eight o'clock.
I found him in a splendid house, which, he said, belonged to Don Antonio
Portugues, the highly-respected head of one of the government offices,
and so much his friend, that in his absence he used the house as if it
were his own.
"'I am commissioned, sir,' I began, 'by a society of men
of letters, to establish, in the different towns which I visit, a literary
correspondence with the most distinguished men of the place; and I am
sure that I cannot serve my friends more effectually than by opening
a correspondence between them and the distinguished author of the
papers published under the title of the 'Pensador'.
"He seemed delighted with the proposal. That I might the
better know my man, I allowed him to expatiate on the advantages which
different countries might derive from this kind of literary intercourse.
His manner became quite affectionate; he talked like on oracle; and
was all smiles and self-satisfaction. At last he bethought himself of
asking what business of my own had brought me to Spain, politely
expressing his wish to be of service to me.
"'I accept,' I said, 'your kind offers with much gratitude,
and assure you, sir, that I shall explain my business very openly.'
"With the view of throwing him into a state of perplexity in
which I intended him to remain till it should be cleared up by the
conclusion of what I had to say, I again introduced my friend to him,
telling him that the gentleman was not unacquainted with the matter,
and that his presence would do no harm. At this exordium, Clavijo
turned his eyes on my friend with an air of curiosity. I began:
"'A French merchant, who had a numerous family and a
narrow fortune, had several correspondents in Spain. One of the richest
of them, happening to be at Paris nine or ten years ago, proposed to
adopt two of his daughters. He would take them, he said, to Madrid;
he was an old bachelor; they should be to him as children,
and be the comfort of his old age; and after his death they should
succeed to his mercantile establishment. The two eldest daughters
were committed to his care. Two years afterwards he died, leaving
the Frenchwomen without any other advantage than the burden of
carrying on an embarrassed commercial house. Their good conduct,
however, and amiable qualities, gained them many friends, who
exerted themselves to increase their credit and improve
"I observed Clavijo become very attentive.
"'About this time, a young man, a native of the Canaries,
got an introduction to their house.'
"Clavijo's gaiety of countenance vanished.
"'Anxious to make himself known, this young gentleman
conceived the idea of giving Madrid a pleasure of a novel description in
Spain, by establishing a periodical paper in the style of the English
Spectator. He received encouragement and assistance, and nobody
doubted that his undertaking would be fully successful. It was then
that, animated by the hope of reputation and fortune, he made a proposal
of marriage to the younger of the French ladies. The elder
told him, that he should first endeavour to succeed in the world; and
that as soon as some regular employment, or other means of honourable
subsistence, should give him a right to think of her sister, her
consent, if he gained her sister's affections, should not be wanting.'
"He became restless and agitated. Without seeming to
notice his manner, I went on.
"'The younger sister, touched by her admirer's merit,
refused several advantageous proposals; and, preferring to wait till he who
had loved her, for four years, should realise the hopes which he and
his friends entertained, encouraged him to publish the first number
of his journal under the imposing title of the Pensador.'
"Clavijo looked as if he were going to faint.
"'The work,' I continued with the utmost coldness, 'had
a prodigious success. The king, delighted with so charming a production,
gave the author public marks of favour; and he was promised
the first honourable employment that should be vacant. He then
removed, by an open prosecution of his suit, every other person who
had sought my sister's hand. The marriage was delayed only till
the promised post should be obtained. At six months' end the post
made its appearance, but the man vanished.'
"Here my listener heaved an involuntary sigh, and, perceiving
what he had done, reddened with confusion. I went on without interruption.
"'The matter had gone too far to be allowed to drop in
this manner. A suitable house had been taken; the bans had been published.
The common friends of the parties were indignant at such an
outrage; the ambassador of France interfered; and when this man
saw that the French ladies had protectors whose influence might be
greater than his own, and might even destroy his opening prospects,
he returned to throw himself at the feet of his offended mistress.
He got her friends to intercede for him; and as the anger of a forsaken
woman has generally love at the bottom, a reconciliation soon
took place. The marriage preparations were resumed; the bans
were re-published; the ceremony was to take place in three days.
The reconciliation had made as much noise as the rupture. The
lover set out for St. Ildefonso to ask the minister's consent to his
marriage; entreating his friends to preserve for him till his return the
now precarious affection of his mistress, and to arrange everything for
the immediate performance of the ceremony.'
"In the horrible state into which he was thrown by this
recital, but yet uncertain whether I might not be telling a story in which I
had no personal interest, Clavijo from time to time fixed his eyes on
my friend, whose sangfroid was no less puzzling than mine. I now
looked him steadily in the face, and went on in a sterner tone.
"'Two days afterwards he returned indeed from court; but,
instead of leading his victim to the altar, he sent word to the poor girl
that he had once more changed his mind, and would not marry her.
Her indignant friends hastened to his house. The villain no longer kept
any measures with them, but defied them to hurt him, telling them
that if the Frenchwomen were disposed to give him any trouble, they
had better take care of themselves. On hearing this intelligence, the
young woman fell into convulsions so violent, that her life was long
despaired of. In the midst of their desolation, the elder wrote to
France an account of the public affront that they had received.
They had a brother, who, deeply moved by the story, flew to Madrid,
determined to investigate the affair to the bottom. I am that
brother. It is I who have left everything—my country, my family,
my duties—to avenge in Spain the cause of an innocent and unhappy
sister. It is I who come, armed with justice and resolution, to
unmask and punish a villain; and it is you who are that villain.'
"It is easier to imagine than describe the appearance
of this man by the time I had concluded my speech. His mouth opened
from time to time, and inarticulate sounds died away on his tongue.
His countenance, at first so radiant with complacency and satisfaction,
gradually darkened; his eyes became dim, his features lengthened,
his complexion pale and haggard.
"He tried to stammer out some phrases by way of justification.
'Do not interrupt me, sir,' I said; 'you have nothing to say to me,
and much to hear from me. In the first place, have the goodness to
declare before this gentleman, who has accompanied me from France
on account of this very business, whether, owing to any want of faith,
levity, weakness, ill-temper, or any other fault, my sister has deserved
the double outrage she has received from you.'
"'No, sir; I acknowledge Donna Maria, your sister, to be
a young lady full of charms, accomplishments, and virtues.'
"'Has she ever, since you have known her, given you
any ground of complaint?'
"'Well, then, monster that you are! why have you had the
barbarity to bring a poor girl to death's door, merely because her heart
gave you the preference over half a dozen other persons more respectable
and better than you?'
"'Ah, sir, I have been advised, instigated: if you knew——'
"I interrupted him: 'That is quite sufficient,' I said. Then,
turning to my friend, 'You have heard my sister's justification; pray
go, and make it known. What I have further to say to this gentleman
requires no witness.'
"My friend left the room. Clavijo rose,
but I made him resume his seat.
"'It does not suit my views, any more than yours, that you
should marry my sister; and you are probably aware that I am not come
here to play the brother's part in a comedy, who desires to bring
about his sister's happiness, as it is called. You have thought fit to
insult a respectable young woman, because you thought her friendless
in a strange land; your conduct has been base and dishonourable.
You will please, therefore, to begin by acknowledging, under your
hand, at perfect freedom, with all your doors open and all your domestics
in the room, (who will not understand us, as we shall speak
French,) that you have causelessly deceived, betrayed, insulted
my sister. With this declaration in my hand I shall hasten to
Aranjuez, where our ambassador is; I shall show him the paper, and
then have it printed; to-morrow it shall be abundantly circulated
through the court and the city. I have some credit here—I have
time and money; all shall be employed to deprive you of your place,
and to pursue you without respite, and in every possible way, till my
sister herself shall entreat me to forbear.'
"'I shall make no such declaration,' said Clavijo, almost
inarticulate from agitation.
"'I dare say not, for I don't think, were I in your place,
that I should do so myself. But you must consider the other alternative.
From this moment I remain at your elbow. I will not leave you a
moment. Wherever you go, I will go, till you shall have no other way
of getting rid of so troublesome a neighbour but by going with me behind
the Palace of Buen Retiro. If I am the survivor, sir, without
even seeing the ambassador, or speaking to a single soul here, I shall
take my dying sister in my arms, put her in my carriage, and return
with her to France. If the luck is yours, all is ended with me.
You will then be at liberty to enjoy your triumph, and laugh at your
dupes as much as you please. Will you have the goodness to order
"I rose, and rang the bell; a servant brought in breakfast.
I took my cup of chocolate, while Clavijo, in deep thought, walked about
the room. At length he seemed all at once to form a resolution.
"'M. de Beaumarchais,' he said, 'hear me. Nothing on earth
can justify my conduct towards your sister; ambition has been my
ruin; but if I had imagined that Donna Maria had a brother like you,
far from looking upon her as a stranger without friends or connexions,
I should have anticipated the greatest advantages from our union.
You have inspired me with the greatest esteem; and I throw myself
on your generosity, beseeching you to assist me in redressing, as far
as I am able, the injuries I have done your sister. Restore her to
me, sir; and I shall esteem myself too happy in receiving, from your
hands, my wife and forgiveness of my offences.'
"'It is too late,' I replied; 'my sister no longer loves you.
Write a declaration,—that is all I require of you; and be satisfied
that, as an open enemy, I will avenge my sister's wrongs till her own
resentment is appeased.'
"He made many difficulties; objecting to the style in which
I demanded his declaration; to its being all in his hand-writing; and to
my insisting that the domestics should be in the room while he was
writing it. But the alternative was pressing, and he had probably
some lurking hope of regaining the affections of the woman who
had loved him so long. His pride, therefore, gave way; and he submitted
to write the declaration, which I dictated to him, walking
about the room. It contained an ample testimony to the blameless
character of my sister, and an acknowledgment of his causeless
treachery towards her.
"When he had written and signed the paper, I put it in my
pocket, and took my leave, repeating what I had said, as to the use
I meant to make of it. He besought me, at least, to tell my sister
of the marks of sincere repentance he had exhibited; and I promised
to do so.
"My friend's return before me, to my sister's, had produced
great alarm in the little circle that were waiting for us. I found the
females in tears, and the men very uneasy. But when they heard my
account of my interview, and saw the declaration, the general anxiety
was turned into joy and congratulation. Every one was of a different
opinion: some insisted on ruining Clavijo; others were inclined
to forgive him; and others, again, were for leaving everything
to my prudence. My sister entreated that she might never hear of
him more. I resolved to go to Aranjuez and lay the whole affair before
the Marquis D'Ossun, our ambassador.
"Before setting out, I wrote to Clavijo, telling him that my
sister would not hear a word in his favour, and that I was therefore determined
to adhere to my intention of doing all I could to avenge her
injuries. He begged to see me; and I went without hesitation to his
house. His language was full of the most bitter self-reproach; and,
after many earnest entreaties, he obtained my permission to visit my
elder sister, accompanied by a mutual friend, and my promise, in case
he should fail in obtaining forgiveness, not to publish his dishonour
till after my return from Aranjuez.
"The Marquis D'Ossun received me very kindly. I told him my
story, concluding with an account of my meeting with Clavijo, which
he could hardly credit, till I showed him the declaration. He asked
me what were my views—did I desire to make Clavijo marry my
sister?—'No, my lord, my object is to disgrace him publicly.' The
Marquis dissuaded me from proceeding to extremities. Clavijo, he
said, was a rising man, and evidently in the way of great advancement;
ambition had alienated him from my sister; but ambition, repentance,
or affection, seemed to be bringing him back; all things
considered, Clavijo seemed an advantageous match, and the wisest
thing I could do was to get the marriage celebrated immediately.
He hinted further, that, by following his advice, I should do him a
pleasure, for reasons which he could not explain.
"I returned to Madrid, much troubled by the result of
this conference. On arriving at my sister's, I found that Clavijo had been
there, accompanied by some mutual friends, in order to beseech my
sisters to forgive him. Maria, on his appearance, had fled to her own
room, and would not appear; and I was told he had conceived hopes
from this little ebullition of resentment. I concluded, for my part, that
he was well acquainted with woman, whose soft and tender nature,
however deeply she may have been injured, is always prone to pardon
the repentant lover whom she sees kneeling at her feet.
"After my return from Aranjuez, Clavijo found means to
see me every day. I was delighted with his talents and attainments, and,
above all, with the manly confidence he appeared to have in my mediation.
I was sincerely desirous to favour his suit; but the profound
respect which my poor sister had for my judgment rendered
me very circumspect in regard to her. It was her happiness, and not
her fortune, that I wished to secure; her heart, and not her hand,
that I wished to dispose of.
"On the 25th of May, Clavijo suddenly left the house of
M. Portugues, and retired to the house of an officer of his acquaintance,
in the quarters of the invalids. This hasty move appeared somewhat
singular, though it did not, at the moment, give me any uneasiness.
I went to see him: he explained his precipitate retreat by saying
that, as M. Portugues was very much opposed to his marriage, he
thought he could not give me a better proof of his sincerity than by
leaving the house of so powerful an enemy of my sister. This appeared
probable, and I felt obliged to him for so delicate a proceeding.
"Next day I received a letter from him, breathing the utmost
frankness, honour, and good feeling. He renewed his offer of marriage,
if my sister would only forgive his past conduct. He protested
the most devoted and unalterable love for her; and called
upon me to perform my promise of interceding for him. If it were
possible for him, he said, to leave Madrid without an express order
from the head of his department, he would instantly set out for
Aranjuez to obtain that minister's consent to the marriage: he therefore
begged that I would undertake that matter for him; and said
that my prompt compliance would be the most convincing proof of
my sincere good wishes.
"I read this letter to my sisters; Maria burst into tears.
I embraced her tenderly. 'Well, poor child, you love him after all; and
are mightily ashamed of it, no doubt! I see it all; but never mind—you
are a good excellent girl, notwithstanding; and since your resentment
is dying away, let it be extinguished altogether in the tears of
forgiveness. They are sweet and soothing after tears of grief and
anger. He is a sad fellow, this Clavijo, to be sure, like most men;
but, such as he is, I join our worthy ambassador in advising you to
forgive him. For his own sake, perhaps,' I added, laughing, 'I might
have been as well pleased had he fought me; for yours, I am much
better pleased that he has not.'
"I ran on in this way till my sister began to smile in
the midst of her tears. I took this as a silent consent, and hastened away in
search of her lover. I told him he was a hundred times happier than
he deserved; and he agreed that I was in the right. I brought him
to my sister's. The poor girl was overwhelmed, on all hands, by
entreating friends, till at last, with a blush and a sigh of mingled
pleasure and shame, she whispered a consent that we might dispose
of her as we pleased. Clavijo was in raptures. In his joy, he ran to
my writing-desk, and wrote a paper containing a brief but formal
mutual engagement, which he signed, and then kneeling, presented
it to my sister for her signature. The gentlemen present, joined their
entreaties to his, and thus a written consent was extorted from my
poor sister, who, no longer knowing where to hide her head, threw
herself weeping into my arms, whispering in my ear, that really I was
a hard-hearted man, and had no pity for her.
"We spent a very happy evening, as may well be imagined. At
eleven o'clock I set out for Aranjuez, for in that warm climate the
night is the pleasantest time for travelling. I communicated all that
had passed to the ambassador, who was much pleased, and praised
my conduct more than it deserved. I then waited on M. de Grimaldi,
the minister at the head of Clavijo's department. He received me
kindly, gave his consent to the marriage, and wished my sister every
happiness; but observed that Don Joseph Clavijo might have spared
me the journey, because a letter to the minister was the usual form,
and would have been quite sufficient.
"On my return to Madrid, I found a letter from Clavijo, written
in great apparent agitation, in which he told me, that copies of a
pretended declaration, said to be by him, had got into circulation, and
that it was in such terms that he could not show his face while impressions
subsisted so derogatory to his character and honour. He
therefore begged me to show the paper he had really signed, and give
copies of it. Subjoined to his letter was a copy of this pretended
declaration, which was conceived in the most false, exaggerated, and
abominable language, and was all in his own hand-writing. He
further said, that, in the mean time, and till the public should be
disabused, it would be better that we should not see each other for a few
days; for, if we did, it might be supposed that the pretended paper
was the real one, and that the other, now appearing for the first time,
was concocted afterwards.
"I was a little out of humour at the conclusion drawn by
Clavijo from this base fabrication. I reproached him gently for taking such
an unreasonable view of the matter; and, as I found him unwell, I
promised that as soon as he was able to go out, we should go everywhere
together, and that I should make it appear that I looked upon
him as a brother and an honourable man.
"We made all the arrangements for the marriage. In case he
might not be fully supplied with money, I offered him my purse; and
I presented him with some jewels and French laces, to enable him to
make my sister a wedding gift. He accepted the jewels and laces,
because, as he said, it would be difficult to find anything so handsome
at Madrid; but I could not prevail on him to receive the money I
"Next day, a Spanish valet robbed me of a large sum
of money and a number of valuable articles. I immediately waited on the
governor of Madrid to make my complaint, and was somewhat surprised
at the very cold reception I met with. I wrote to the French
ambassador on the subject, and thought no more of it.
"I continued my attentions to my sick friend, which were
received with every appearance of affectionate gratitude; but, on the 5th of
June, when I came as usual to see him, I found, to my utter
astonishment, that he had, once more, suddenly decamped.
"I got inquiries made after him at all the lodging-houses in
Madrid, and at last discovered his new abode. I expressed my surprise
in stronger language than on the previous occasion. He told
me that he had learned that his friend with whom he was staying,
had been blamed for sharing with another a lodging which was given
by the king for his own use only; and that he had been so much
hurt at this, that he thought it necessary to leave his friend's apartments
instantly, without regarding the embarrassment it might occasion,
the state of his health, the untimely hour, or any other consideration.
I could not but approve of his delicacy; but kindly
scolded him for not having come to reside at my sister's, whither I
offered to take him at once. He thanked me most affectionately, but
found some reason for excusing himself.
"Next day, under trifling pretexts, he refused my repeated
offers of an apartment at my sister's. My friends began to shake their
heads, and my sister looked anxious and unhappy. It was similar
evasions that had twice already preceded his total desertion. I felt
angry at these forebodings, which I insisted were groundless; but I
found that suspicion was creeping into my own mind. To get rid of it,
on the day fixed for signing the contract, (the seventh of June,) I
sent for the apostolic notary, whose function it is to superintend this
ceremony. But what was my surprise when this official told me that
he was going to make Señor Clavijo sign a declaration of a very
different nature; as he had, the day before, received a writ of
opposition to my sister's marriage, on the part of a young woman who
affirmed that she had a promise from Clavijo, given in 1755, nine
"I inquired who the woman was, and was told by the notary
that she was a waiting-woman. In a transport of rage, I ran to Clavijo,
loaded him with threats and reproaches. He besought me to moderate
my anger and suspend my opinion. He had long ago, he said,
made some such promise to Madame Portugues's waiting-woman,
who was a pretty girl; but he had never since heard of it, and believed
that the girl was now set on by some enemy of Donna Maria.
The affair, he assured me, was a trifle, and could be got rid of by the
aid of a few pistoles. He repeated his vows of eternal constancy to
Maria, and begged me to return at eight o'clock in the evening, when
he would go with me to an eminent advocate, who would easily put
him on the way of getting rid of this trifling obstacle.
"I left him, full of indecision and bitterness of heart.
I could make nothing of his conduct, or imagine any reasonable object he
could have in deceiving me. At eight o'clock I returned to his
lodgings with two of my friends; but we had hardly got out of the
carriage, when the landlady came to the door, and told me that Señor
Clavijo had removed from her house an hour before, and was gone
she knew not whither.
"Thunderstruck at this intelligence, and unable to believe
it, I went up to the room he had occupied. Every thing belonging to him
had been carried off. Perplexed and dismayed, I returned home, and
had no sooner arrived than a courier from Aranjuez brought me a
letter, which he had been ordered to deliver with the utmost speed.
It was from the French ambassador. He informed me that the
governor of Madrid had just been with him, to tell him that Señor
Clavijo had retired to a place of safety, in order to protect himself
from the violence he apprehended from me, as I had, a few days
before, compelled him, in his own house, and with a pistol at his
breast, to sign an engagement to marry my sister. The Marquis, at
the same time, expressed his belief of my innocence; but feared that
the affair might be turned to my disadvantage, and requested that I
would do nothing whatever until I had seen him.
"I was utterly confounded. This man, who for weeks had been
treating me like a brother,—who had been writing me letter upon
letter, full of affection,—who had earnestly besought me to give him
my sister, and had visited her again and again as her betrothed
husband,—this monster had been all the while secretly plotting my
"Suddenly an officer of the Walloon guards came into
the room. 'M. de Beaumarchais,' he said, 'you have not a moment to lose.
Save yourself, or to-morrow morning you will be arrested in your bed.
The order is given, and I am come to apprise you of it. Your adversary
is a monster. He has contrived to set almost everybody against
you, and has led you into snare after snare, till he has found means
to make himself your public accuser. Fly instantly, I beseech you.
Once immured in a dungeon, you will have neither protection nor defence.'
"'I fly!—I make my escape!—I will die sooner.
Say not a word more, my friends. Let me have a travelling carriage to-morrow
morning at four o'clock, and meanwhile leave me to prepare for my journey to Aranjuez.'
"I shut myself up in my room. My mind was utterly exhausted.
I threw myself into a chair, where I remained for two hours in a state
of total vacuity of thought. At length I roused myself. I reflected
on all the circumstances of the case, and on the abundant proofs of
my integrity. I sat down to my desk, and, with the rapidity of a
man in a high fever, I wrote an exact journal of my actions since my
arrival at Madrid: names, dates, conversations,—everything sprang,
as it were, into my memory, and fixed itself under my pen. I was
still writing at five in the morning, when I was told that my carriage
was ready. Some friends wanted to accompany me. 'I wish to be
alone,' I said. 'Twelve hours of solitude are not more than necessary
to calm the agitation of my frame.' I set out for Aranjuez.
"When I arrived, the ambassador was at the palace, and I
could not see him till eleven o'clock at night. He was glad, he said, I was
come; for he had been very uneasy about me. During the last fortnight
my adversary had gained all the avenues of the palace; and, had it
not been for him, I should have been already arrested, and probably
sent to a dungeon for life, on the African coast. He had done what
he could with M. Grimaldi, the minister, to whom he had earnestly
represented his conviction of my probity and honour; but all was
without effect. 'You must really go, M. de Beaumarchais,' he continued.
'You have not a moment to lose. I can do nothing in opposition
to the general impression against you, or against the positive
order that has been issued for your imprisonment; and I should be
sincerely grieved should any calamity happen to you in this country.
You must leave Spain instantly.'
"I did not shed tears while he was speaking, but large drops
of water fell at intervals from my eyes, gathered in them by the contraction
of my whole frame. I was stupified and speechless. The
ambassador was affected by my situation, and spoke to me in the
kindest and most soothing manner; but still persisted in saying that
I must yield to necessity, and escape from consequences which could
not otherwise be averted. I implored him to think of the ruin to
my own character in France if I fled from Spain under such
circumstances;—to consider the situation of my unhappy, innocent sister.
He said he would write to France, where his account of my conduct
would be credited; and that, as to my sister, he would not neglect
her. I could bear this conversation no longer; but, abruptly quitting
his presence, I rushed out of the house, and wandered all night in
the dark alleys of the park of Aranjuez, in a state of inexpressible
"In the morning, my courage rose; and, determined to obtain
justice or perish, I repaired to the levee of M. Grimaldi, the minister.
While I waited in his ante-chamber, I heard several voices pronounce
the name of M. Whal. That distinguished and venerable
statesman, who had retired from the ministry that, in the close of
life, he might have a brief interval of repose, was then residing in
M. Grimaldi's house. I heard this, and was suddenly inspired with
the idea of having recourse to him for protection. I requested permission
to see him, as a stranger who had something of importance
to communicate. I was admitted; and the sight of his mild and
noble countenance gave me courage. I told him that my only claim
to his favour was that I was a native of the country in which he himself
was born, persecuted almost to death by cruel and powerful
enemies; but this title, I trusted, was sufficient to obtain for me the
protection of a just and virtuous man.
"'You are a Frenchman,' he said, 'and that is always a strong
claim with me. But you tremble—you are pale and breathless; sit
down—compose yourself, and tell me the cause of such violent agitation.'
He ordered that no one should be admitted; and I, in an
unspeakable state of hope and fear, requested permission to read my
journal of occurrences since my arrival in Madrid. He complied,
and I began to read. As I went on, he from time to time begged me
to be calm, and to read more slowly that he might follow me the
better; assuring me that he took the greatest interest in my narrative.
As I proceeded, I laid before him in succession the letters and
other documents which were referred to. But when I came to the
criminal charge against me,—to the order for my imprisonment, which
had been only suspended for a little by M. Grimaldi at the request
of our ambassador,—to the urgent advices which I had received to
make my escape, but which I avowed my determination not to follow,—he
uttered an exclamation, rose, and took me kindly by the
"'Unquestionably the king will do you justice, M. de
Beaumarchais. The ambassador, in spite of his regard for you, is obliged to
act with the caution which befits his office; but I am under no such
restraint. It shall never be said that a respectable Frenchman, after
leaving his home, his friends, his business,—after having travelled a
thousand miles to succour an innocent and unfortunate sister, has
been driven from this country, carrying with him the impression that
no redress or justice is to be obtained in Spain. It was I who placed
this Clavijo in the king's service, and I feel myself responsible for his
infamous conduct. Good God! how unhappy it is for statesmen that
they cannot become sufficiently aware of the real character of the
persons they employ, and thus get themselves surrounded by specious
knaves, of whose shameful actions they often bear the blame. A
minister may be forgiven for being deceived in the choice of a worthless
subordinate; but when once he comes to a knowledge of his character,
there is no excuse for retaining him a moment. For my
part, I shall immediately set a good example to my successors.'
"So saying, he rang, ordered his carriage, and took me
with him to the palace. He sent for M. Grimaldi; and, while waiting for the
arrival of that minister, went into the king's closet, and told his majesty
the story, accusing himself of indiscretion in recommending
such a man to his majesty's favour. M. Grimaldi came; and I was
called into the royal presence. 'Read your memorial,' said M.
Whal,—'every feeling and honourable heart must be as much moved
by it as I was.' I obeyed. The king listened with attention and interest;
examined the proofs of my statements; and the result was an
order that Clavijo should be deprived of his employment, and dismissed
for ever from his majesty's service."
From subsequent parts of the narrative, it appears
that Clavijo exerted all his powers of cunning and intrigue in order to get himself
re-instated in his situation; not omitting further attempts to impose
upon M. de Beaumarchais, accompanied with abject entreaties and
hypocritical professions. All, however, was in vain; and this man,
who seems to have been an extraordinary compound of intellectual
ability and moral depravity, seems to have sunk into contempt and
insignificance. The young lady recovered the shock she had received;
and was afterwards happily married, and settled at Madrid.