French Revolutionary Periodicals
The first politicians
Half a century after the outbreak of the revolution of 1789, when the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville was searching for the causes of this epochal event, he concluded that the French writers of the middle of the 18th century had become the first politicians of their country – a fact which, as we know, would have deep repercussions for the history of France, and even the whole world. In fact, we can extend de Tocqueville's observation by stating that the political journalist, publicist and pamphletist were as essential to the French Revolution, as the philosophical writer was for the phenomenon of the Enlightenment. No other profession had such a profound influence on the development of the revolution. This is a fact of paramount importance, as the historical research of recent years has increasingly stressed.
For this reason, we have not only completed our previous edition of reproductions of sources of the French Revolution, but also enlarged it with a new series. Besides the Usteri pamphlet collection, which has recently been edited, the Zentralbibliothek in Zürich houses another very precious and rare collection periodicals from the time of the French Revolution. A selection of 31 of these titles is now accessible to the scientific public for the first time. Like the pamphlets, these journals formed part of the private library of Paul Usteri, a Swiss enthusiast of the revolution, who had also been an editor for a brief time after the Jacobin dictatorship.
The collection constitutes the most important journals from the revolutionary centre in Paris. It also contains a significant example of the liberal-conservative press from the periphery: the virtually complete collection of the
Strassburger Kurier (1793-1798).
Many of the 31 French periodicals are completely preserved. They cover the whole range of the political and ideological opinions held by the different groups and parties during the revolutionary decade. Apart from one exception, the
Mercure Britannique, which was edited in London by the exiled Swiss Mallet du Pan, all journals were edited in Paris. At the time of the Constituante and the Legislative, official, patriotic and liberal papers (the
Journal des Droits de l'Homme, and Louis-Marie Prudhomme's
Révolutions de Paris) dominated not only the Feuillants' press (
Le véritable Père-Duchêne by Lemaire), but ultimately the press of the radical Jacobin Club: for example, the
L'Ami des Citoyens by the later thermidorian Tallien, and the famous journal
Le Défenseur de la Constitution by Robespierre, including his
Lettres àses commettans. The decidedly anti-royalist papers like the
Orateur du Peuple by Freron, and the numerous
Courriers by Gorsas (who later became a Girondist), refer to early forms of radicalism in the political debate. After the fall of the monarchy, Republican papers dominate, like Labenette's
Journal de la Savonette républicaine, or
Le Républicain, along with some papers agitating for the radical Montagnards: for example, Marat's
Ami du Peuple, ou Le Publiciste parisien and Desmoulins'
Le Vieux Cordelier.
Reviving the spirit
After the fall of Robespierre, censorship became more relaxed and, by the end of 1794, the press was trying to regain its dynamic: by reviving the spirit of the beginning of the revolution (
Le Rédacteur by Thuau-Granville), by reviving revolutionary republicanism (
Le Bulletin politique by Antonelle), or by condemning the rule of the Jacobins (
Journal des Patriotes de 89 by Réal and Méhée de La Touche, and Dusaulchoy de Bergemont's
La Fusée volante).
The moderate press of the time of the Directory is very well documented, partly because of
L'Esprit public by Toulongeon, but also because of the fact that liberal-bourgeois publicists like Usteri himself no longer just collected revolutionary articles, but became actively involved in the discussion. Thanks to this new commitment, the collection now boasts almost complete copies of true rarities like the journal
L'Historien by Dupont de Nemours, the
Journal d'économie publique by Pierre-Louis Roederer, and substantial coverage of the neo-royalist papers (
L'Accusateur public by Richer de Sérizy and
Paris pendant l'année 1795[-1797] by Jean-Gabriel Peltier).
Prof. Erich Pelzer,
University of Freiburg, Germany
1. The editor and IDC Publishers have aimed to limit this microfiche edition to periodicals that are not otherwise available (in microform, or as reprints).
2. The periodicals cover the whole range of political and ideological positions of different factions throughout the revolutionary decade:
- patriotic and liberal papers;
- early radicalism, anti-royalist;
- radical Jacobin;
- (revolutionary) republican;
- liberal bourgeois;
3. The material has been collected by the 18th-century Swiss editor Paul Usteri. A liberal-bourgeois publicist, he became actively engaged in public debates. He has collected a large number of revolutionary pamphlets that have also been released on microfiche by IDC Publishers ["French Revolutionary Pamphlets"].