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 Pierre Beaumarchais 
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Post Pierre Beaumarchais

Pierre Beaumarchais ( 1732 – 1799) was a watchmaker, inventor, musician, diplomat, fugitive, spy, publisher, arms dealer, and revolutionary (both French and American). He was best known, however, for his theatrical works, especially the three Figaro plays.


Beaumarchais was born Pierre-Augustin Caron, the only boy among the six children of a watchmaker. The family was comfortable and Caron had a peaceful and happy childhood, in contrast to much of his adult life.
Pierre left school at the age of 13 to apprentice under his father. In July of 1753, at the age of 21, he invented an escape mechanism for watches that allowed them to be made substantially more accurate and compact.
One of his greatest feats was a watch mounted on a ring, made for Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV.

In 1758-59, Pierre became the harp tutor to King Louis XV's daughters.
In 1759-60, Pierre met Joseph Pâris-Duverney, an older and wealthy entrepreneur. The two became very close friends and collaborated on many business ventures.

Assisted by Pâris-Duverney, Beaumarchais acquired the title of secretary-councillor to the King in 1760-61, thereby gaining access to French nobility.
This was followed by the purchase of a second title, the office of lieutenant general of hunting in 1763.
The following year, Beaumarchais began a 10-month sojourn in Madrid, supposedly to help his sister, Lisette, who had been abandoned by her fiancé, Clavijo.In the mean time, he was mostly concerned with striking business deals for Pâris-Duverney.
Although Beaumarchais returned to France with little profit, he had managed to acquire new experience, musical ideas, and ideas for theatrical characters.

The death of Pâris-Duverney in July 17, 1770 triggered a decade of turmoil for Beaumarchais.
A few months before his death, the two signed a statement which cancelled all debts Beaumarchais owed Pâris-Duverney (about 75,000 pounds), and granting Beaumarchais the modest sum of 15,000 pounds.

To restore his civil rights after a damageing court case, Beaumarchais pledged his services to Louis XV and Louis XVI.
He travelled to London, Amsterdam and Vienna on various secret missions.
His first mission was to travel to London to destroy a pamphlet...... "Les mémoires secrets d'une femme publique"...... that the Louis XV consider a libel of one of his mistresses, Madame du Barry.
Beaumarchais was also remembered for his essential support for the American Revolution.
Louis XVI, who did not want to break openly with England,allowed Beaumarchais to found a commercial enterprise, Roderigue Hortalez and Co., supported by the French and Spanish crowns, who supplied the American rebels with weapons, munitions, clothes, and provisions, which would never be paid for.
Beaumarchais would deal with Silas Deane, an acting member of the Second Continental Congress's Committee of Secret Correspondence.
For these services, the French Parliament reinstated his civil rights in 1776.

The Voltaire revival

Shortly after the death of Voltaire in 1778, Beaumarchais set out to publish Voltaire's complete works, many of which were banned in France. He purchased the rights to most of Voltaire's many manuscripts from the publisher Charles-Joseph Panckouck in February 1779.
To evade French censorship, he set up printing presses in Kehl, Germany. He also purchased from the widow of John Baskerville the complete foundry of the famous English type designer.
Three paper mills were also purchased by Beaumarchais. Seventy volumes were published between 1783 to 1790. While the venture proved a financial failure, Beaumarchais was instrumental in preserving many of Voltaire's later works which otherwise might have been lost.

Meanwhile, the French Revolution broke out. Beaumarchais was no longer the idol he had been a few years before. He was financially successful, mainly from supplying drinking water to Paris, and had acquired ranks in the French nobility.
In 1791, he took up a lavish residence across from where the Bastille once stood. He spent under a week in prison during August 1792, and was released only three days before a massacre took place in the prison where he had been detained.

Nevertheless, he pledged his services to the new Republic. He attempted to purchase 60,000 rifles for the French Revolutionary army from Holland, but was unable to complete the deal.
While he was out of the country, Beaumarchais was declared an émigré (loyalists to the old regime) by his enemies.
He spent two and a half years in exile, mostly in Germany, before his name was removed from the list of proscribed émigrés. He returned to Paris in 1796, where he lived out the remainder of his life in relative peace. He is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Beaumarchais married three times.

In his first two marriages, Beaumarchais was accused by his enemies of poisoning them in order to lay claim to their family inheritance. Beaumarchais, though having no shortage of lovers throughout his life, was known to be caring for both his family and close friends.
However, Beaumarchais also had a reputation of marrying for financial gain, and both Franquet and Lévêque were previously married to wealthy families prior to Beaumarchais. While there was insufficient evidence to support the accusations, whether or not the poisonings took place is still subject of debate.

The Figaro plays

Beaumarchais's Figaro plays comprise "Le Barbier de Séville", "Le Mariage de Figaro", and "La Mère coupable". Figaro and Count Almaviva, the two characters Beaumarchais most likely conceived in his travels in Spain, were (with Rosine, later the Countess Almaviva) the only ones present in all three plays.
They are indicative of the change in social attitudes before, during, and after the French Revolution. Figaro and Almaviva first appeared in "Le Sacristain", which he wrote around 1765 and dubbed
...... "an interlude, imitating the Spanish style."
His fame began, however, with his first dramatic play (drame bourgeois)," Eugénie", which premiered at the Comédie Française in 1767.
This was followed in 1770 by another drama," Les Deux amis".

To a lesser degree, the Figaro plays are semi-autobiographical.
"Le Barbier" premiered in 1775. Its sequel "Le Mariage" was initially passed by the censor in 1781, but was soon banned from performance by Louis XVI after a private reading.
Queen Marie-Antoinette lamented the ban, as did various influential members of her entourage. Nonetheless, the King was unhappy with the play's satire on the aristocracy and over-ruled the Queen's entreaties to allow its performance.

Over the next three years Beaumarchais gave many private readings of the play, as well as making revisions to try to pass the censor. The King finally relented and lifted the ban in 1784.
The play premiered that year and was enormously popular even with aristocratic audiences.
Mozart's opera premiered just two years later. Beaumarchais's final play, "La mère" was premiered in 1792 in Paris.
To pay homage to the great French playwright Molière, who wrote the original title play, Beaumarchais also dubbed La Mère "The Other Tartuffe".
All three Figaro plays enjoyed great success, and they are still frequently performed today in theatres and opera houses.

Interesting that the writer.. Rousseau.. was also the son of a watchmaker.... his controversial writings are also said to have presaged ( or even inspired ) the Revolution

Sun Sep 27, 2009 11:41 pm
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Joined: Mon Oct 20, 2008 5:32 am
Posts: 294
Post Re: Pierre Beaumarchais
silverstar wrote:
[Pierre left school at the age of 13 to apprentice under his father. In July of 1753, at the age of 21, he invented an escape mechanism for watches that allowed them to be made substantially more accurate and compact.

In fact, there is far more to the story, since a more established watchmaker, attached to the Court, claimed credit for the invention and Caron quite bravely - some would say it was foolhardy - attacked the older man publicly, won his case and began his climb at that point (the other man was apparently disgraced, as well he might have been.)

Beaumarchais may not just have supported the American cause; some credit him with pushing the King overall to get involved.

He was, not unexpectedly, a bit of a hustler and made the mistake of trying to hustle the quite humorless Marie-Therese, with the result that things got dicey for him for a while.

I believe he also started the first writer's union in France, beginning the payment of royalties (instead of dependence on a patron).

Like a number of the figures of this period, quite fascinating on a number of levels.

Jim Chevallier
North Hollywood, CA

Fri Oct 02, 2009 6:58 pm

Joined: Wed Sep 03, 2008 2:19 pm
Posts: 129
Post Re: Pierre Beaumarchais
The famous Rousseau was the son of a watchmaker

Sun Oct 24, 2010 12:23 am
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