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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 his adult life.
Caron left school at the age of 13 to apprentice under his father. A few years later, possibly between 1751 to 1753, he invented an escape mechanism for watches, that allowed them to be made substantially more accurate and compact than watches made up to this point. One of his greatest feats was a watch mounted on a ring, made for Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of Louis XV. The invention was later recognised by the Académie des sciences, but only after a tussle with M. Lepaute, the royal watchmaker, who attempted to pass off the invention as his own [3].
However, his watch-making days were short-lived, as other endeavors soon catapulted him to fame and fortune. In 1758-59, Caron was the harp tutor to King Louis XV's daughters. In 1759-60, Caron met Joseph Pâris-Duverney, an older and wealthy entrepreneur who saw the young Caron as having much business ability. The two became very close friends and collaborated on many business ventures. in 1756-57, shortly after his first marriage, Caron started using the name "Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais", which he derived from "le Bois Marchais", the name of a piece of land inherited by his first wife [3].
Generously assisted by Pâris-Duverney, Beaumarchais purchased the office of secretary-councillor to the King in 1760-61, thereby becoming a French noble. In 1763, Beaumarchais purchased a second office, the office of Lieutenant General of Hunting. In 1764, Beaumarchais began a 10 month sojourn in Madrid, supposedly to help his sister, Lisette, who had been abandoned by her fiancé, Clavijo [2]. In fact, 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 experiences, musical ideas, and, most importantly, ideas for theatrical characters.
On July 17, 1770, his long-time business partner Pâris-Duverney died, thus beginning 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 [3]. Pâris-Duverney's sole heir, the Count de la Blache, jealous over the deceased's relationship with Beaumarchais, took Beaumarchais to court, claiming the signed statement was a forgery. Although the 1772 verdict favoured Beaumarchais, it was overturned on appeal in the following year by a judge, the magistrate Goezman, whose favour La Blache had managed to win over. At the same time, Beaumachais was also involved in a dispute with the Duke de Chaulnes over the Duke's mistress, which resulted in Beaumarchais's being thrown into jail from February to May, 1773. La Blache, taking advantage of Beaumarchais's inability to appear in court, persuaded Goezman to rule that Beaumarchais owed Pâris-Duverney's estate the 75,000 pounds allegedly forgiven, plus interest and court costs, effectively ruining Beaumarchais.
To garner public support, Beaumarchais published a four-part pamphlet entitled Mémoires contre Goezman which made Beaumarchais an instant celebrity -- a champion for social justice and liberty. Goezman countered Beaumarchais's accusations by launching a law suit of his own. The verdict was equivocal. On February 26, 1774, both Beaumarchais and Mme. Goezman (who sympathised with Beaumarchais) were deprived of their civil rights, while Magistrate Goezman was removed from his post. At the same time, Goezman's verdict in the La Blache case was overturned. The Goezman case was so sensational that the judges left the courtroom through a back door to avoid the large, angry mob waiting in front of the court house [3].
Beaumarchais pledged his services to Louis XV and Louis XVI in order to restore his civil rights. 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 supposedly libeled one of Louis XV's mistresses, Madame du Barry. Beaumarchais is most remembered for his essential support for the American Revolution. Louis XVI, who did not want to break openly with England [1], allowed Beaumarchais to found a commercial enterprise, Roderigue Hortalez and Co. [3], supported by the French and Spanish crowns, whose real purpose was to supply the American rebels with weapons, munitions, clothes, and provisions. For these services, the French Parliament reinstated his civil rights in 1776.
Shortly after Voltaire's death 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.
It was not long before Beaumarchais crossed paths again with the French legal system. In 1787, he became acquainted with Mme. Korman, whose husband had her imprisoned for adultery to expropriate her dowry. In fact, her husband had engineered the adultery to implicate both his wife and the lover. The matter went to court, with Beaumarchais siding with Mme. Korman, and M. Korman assisted by a celebrity lawyer, Nicolas Bergasse. On April 2, 1790, M. Korman and Bergasse were found guilty of calumny (slander), but Beaumarchais's reputation was also tarnished.
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 rank in the French nobility. In 1791, he took up a lavish residence across from the Bastille. 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 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 Pčre Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

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Additional Photos by dominic Portmann (portmanndominic) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 541 W: 5 N: 382] (2400)
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