Paris afternoon with Mrs. A. upon some business for Mrs. Hay, who is at Beaugency. Mr. Graff au magazin de dentelles Rue des deux portes St. Sauveur. Beaumarchais the author of the too famous Comedy la folle journée ou le mariage de Figaro was taken up the other day, immediately after supper, and carried to St. Lazare where he is imprisoned. I ask’d of somebody what reasons were given for the measure. That is the beauty of the french government, said the gentleman; to lock up a Man without saying why nor wherefore. It is supposed that it was because Beaumarchais wrote a song upon a mandement1 of the Archbishop of Paris, which warned his People, not to go to see the Comedy, and not to buy the edition of Voltaire that Beaumarchais is printing, or because in a Letter which he printed some days since in the Journal de Paris, he boasted of having surmonté tigres et Lions pour faire jouer sa piece. By tigers and Lions he meant the king and his ministers who were very averse to Figaro’s being acted: but the Queen who favoures it extremely prevailed, and the success the piece had is wonderful. It has run through 74. representations, and unless this event occasions its being stopp’d, it will probably be played a number more times. However that may be, Beaumarchais is not in an agreeable situation now. It is not an easy thing to get out of those prisons.
............“facilis descensus Averni
Sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras.
Hoc opus, hic labor est.”2
His friends it is said, are not sorry that he is taken up; but are very much offended at his being put into St. Lazare, where none but low fellows are sent: had he been conducted to the Bastille, they would have been quite silent.3
1. A bishop’s letter or mandate.
2. “. . . easy is the descent to Avernus . . . but to recall thy steps and pass out to the upper air, this is the task, this the toil!” from Virgil’s Aeneid, Bk. VI, lines 126, 128–129 (Virgil, transl. H. Ruston Fairclough, 2 vols., N.Y., 1930, 1:514–515). Despite some errors in copying, JQA doubtless used the Brindley edition (p. 177), which he had purchased the day before.
3. JQA’s account of Beaumarchais’ outspoken attack is essentially correct. On reading Le mariage de Figaro, Louis XVI determined never to allow it to be played, but was forced by court pressure and by the persuasion of his wife, Marie Antoinette, to allow a private performance in Sept. 1783. This was followed a year later with a public production, which proved an instant success, especially effective in its assault upon the ancien régime and the censorship of the press. Beaumarchais’ replies to his critics at this time offended a prince of the blood, who asked Louis to arrest him. Finally, after public outrage, the French playwright was released from St. Lazare on 15 March (Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel description begins Pierre Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel du XlXe siècle ..., Paris, ; 15 vols, and supplements. description ends ; entry for 15 March, below). On 16 April JQA bought a copy of Beaumarchais’ play (n.p., 1785), which is now in the JQA pamphlet collection at MBAt.