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Georges-Jacques Danton (1759-1794)
According to a biographer, “Danton’s height was colossal, his make athletic, his features strongly marked, coarse, and displeasing; his voice shook the domes of the halls” The pen portrait is drawn after a painting by Mlle. Charpentier. Danton studied law and became a lawyer in Paris. Danton’s first appearance in the Revolution was as president of the Cordeliers club, whose name derived from the former convent of the Order of Cordeliers, where it met. One of many clubs important in the early phases of the Revolution, his gift of oratory coupled with commanding presence brought him attention. The Cordeliers was a centre for the “popular principle”, that France was to be a country of its people under popular sovereignty. It was here he came into contact with Marat, Camille Desmoulins. This group believed in popular sovereignty and the need for a radical action to dramatically change the face of the French society. Danton was a very good orator and this ability allowed him to become more and more famous within the people of Paris.
In June 1791, the King and Queen made a disastrous attempt in what is now known as the Varennes escape. They fled from the capital. They were forced to return to the Tuileries Palace and were held as prisoners. This precipitated the popular reaction to think on abolishing the monarchy altogether or for a constitutional monarchy. Lafayette of the American war of Independence fame belonged to the latter group but the massacre of the Champ de Mars (July 1791) resulting in an effort to put down the insurrection killed whatever chance this party had. Danton fearing counter-revolutionary backlash, fled to England for the rest of the summer. Back in Paris in November, he was elected “Procureur de la communes de Paris“.
The National Constituent Assembly completed its work in September 1791.On July 31st, 1791 he was elected administrator of the “departement” of Paris.
In April 1792, the Girondist government—still functioning as a constitutional monarchy—declared war against Austria. A country in turmoil from the immense civil and political changes of the past two years now faced war with an enemy on its eastern frontier. Parisian distrust for the court turned to open insurrection. On 10 August 1792, the popular forces marched on the Tuileries; the king and queen took refuge with the Legislative Assembly. Danton became minister of justice, which was a reflection of his growing status within the insurrectionary party. On September 2nd, 1792 France was close to an Austrian invasion and Danton asked for “De l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace” (“We need audacity, and yet more audacity, and always audacity!”).

By 1792 he was at the height of his powers. He was elected Deputy of Paris on September 5th, 1792. He resigned from his deputy role and joined the Convention, side by side with Marat, Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins. He was quickly opposed to Robespierre who he saw as a competitor within the group.
Danton voted for the execution of Louis XVI and participated in the creation of a revolutionary’s court in March 1793. He became president of this court. He entered the “Comite de Salut public” in April 1793. He voted for the exclusion of the Girondist group, which he considered a obstacle to the development of the Convention.
His downfall came in the ensuing conflict of ideology in the direction of the revolution should take. He was accused of being too soft by counter revolutionaries. The austere and inflexible Robespierre feared his rabble rousing skills. He was fired from the “Comite de Salut public” and Robespierre took his position. In August 1793, he supported the “sans culottes” and the Terror. In November, he lost power within the “Cordeliers” group. Danton did not seem to take heed and secure his safety while Robespierre and his cohorts were maneuvering his downfall. On March 30th, 1794 Danton was arrested with Desmoulins. He was accused by the revolutionaries court of being an enemy of the Republique. He was condemned and killed on April 5th, 1794. His last words were: “Do not forget to show my head to the people, it is well worth seeing”.


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Balzac’s second visit to Italy was taken under a severe cloud of financial strain. In the early months of 1837 he owed more than 53,000 francs owing to the failure of the Chronique de Paris. He was threatened with legal proceedings and he had to use aliases in order to duck the process servers. He was ill also. But a female admirer came to his rescue. Insead of going to Russia and spend two years there, he went instead to the south. Armed with several letters of introduction he reached Milan on 19 Feb. He visited La Scala and was lionized in the press. The change must have worked wonders with him but his visit to Venice didn’t augur well. Here he was not well received in the press on complaints that he didn’t seek out the local talents or praise the Venetian art life. However having discharged tasks undertaken on behalf of Guidoboni-Viscontis he returned home. Result of his brief sojourn was in two works Gambara and Massimilla Doni. In these two works he worked on a a familiar theme: any work of art risks being lost or misunderstood due to undisciplined fervor of the artist. His passion for art must be directed dispassionately as if the purpose is on the podium as the conductor. His right hand and left must fulfil their roles as one. In Gambara the composer fails because of his music is incomprehensible. For the work to be convincing Balzac had to know the musical terms and his ignorance of musical technicalities were corrected with the help of Jakob Strunz, a composer.
Massimilla Doni was written in 1837 but not published till 1839.The theme once again the same: excess of passion can kill a work of art . By the same token it can put a damper to male virility. The male lover ‘fails’ with his mistress but may prove potent with a prostitute for whom he cares nothing. Excess of imagination can exhaust a man’s strength so the opera singer who cannot put a distance will fail in performance.
This novella is Balzac’s best and most daring and works in two levels. Between the Prince and Massimila, Emiliano knows it will end in disaster if he seeks to possess her; Genovese the tenor cannot sing at his best if Clara is not on the stage.The duchess noted for chaste love is ready to outperform Clara in bed in order to save her lover. This rather ‘odious’ theme may have been unconsciously derived from Stendhal’s Armance.
Another crucial fact is in the power of music on an occupied nation. Italy at the time was under the iron heel of Austria and whose liberty has been made a short shrift of. The scions of noble houses were reduced to accept a ducat, a mere pittance for their loss in their landed goods. Symbolic value of Rossini’s Moses cannot be lost on the reader. The opera is dealt extensively in order to give a context for the national dilemma. It is mirrored in lovers state of mind as well. Just as characters in the Opera are star crossed and strike a parallel with the private dilemma of the Duchess and the Prince. How the core of the book is delineated and preserved through these multilayered narrative,- and given life in the way the author juxtaposes them! All these imbibed by Balzac who only needed a few hours among the then Venetian society!
(ack: Prometheus: The Life of Balzac-A. Maurois)

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When France sat with other Allies to hammer out a Treaty of peace she must not have fully understood what the war cost her.
134 billions gold francs worth of goods and property went up in smoke. One out of ten Frenchmen had been killed at the front and the youth on whom future of any nation depends on suffered it most. Three out of ten of them between 18 and 28 had been slaughtered for the folly of others. Intellectuals also suffered and 23 out of every 100 men belonging to the liberal professions had perished in the trenches. Of 4,266,000 men wounded, a million and a half were maimed permanently. With such a loss France was to pay dearly in the years to come. France overnight became gray and the birth-rate directly connected to the national trauma fell sharply. It is calculated that between 1915 and 1919 there were 1,400,000 fewer births than normal. There were 1,400,000fewer parents by then. Nearly a million and a half war dead, more than 2 million fewer births France found her population less at the end of than at the outset of war. Of course she gained nearly 2 million citizens with the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine. France had at the end 30 million against the population of Germany at 63 millions.
Only a massive immigration organized by the State could keep Industry, agriculture and mining going. Male workers from Italy and Poland were thus put to work. Between wars they accounted for 80% of the 2,700,000 increase in French population.After 1935 death rate exceeded the birthrate. Immigration had to be curtailed as a result of unemployment. The 1931 depression was to hit France. When the WWII came France had less than half as many men between 20 and 34 as the Germans-roughly four million to 9 million.(ack:The Collapse of the Third Republic-William L.Shirer-p.140/pub:pan)

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