Paul-Louis Courier

épistolier, pamphlétaire, helléniste
photo1 photo2
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A fter serving two months in prison, Courier toughens his position against the regime. He attacks the Church with his Pétition pour des villageois… The public prosecutor of the Seine department decides to prosecute Courier for this lampoon, to seize it and to charge Courier with offence against the State’s religion, as well as public and religious morality. Also for having attempted to provoke the dissolution of the edict of the law of November 18th, 1814 regarding the celebration of feasts and Sundays; for having attacked the royal dignity and for having provoked the hate and the spite of the royal government ; for having committed a public insult against the priests of Azai and Condé1 and for having intended to disturb public order while exciting the hate and spite of citizens against the young priests’ class.
He gets out of it well with a simple admonition. Naturally, he won’t give in – it would be a misappreciation of his character – but takes precautions from now on: he decides to publish secretly. Unseen, uncaught! If it weren’t for the fact that his inimitable style doesn’t fool anybody. He is going to lay tooth and nail into the restored Monarchy and the Church. After receiving two courageous unsigned letters, he writes two texts one after the other: the Réponses aux anonymes (Answers to the anonymous letters).
In the first one, Courier, who is conscious of the hate that the eldest branch of the Bourbons feels for the youngest one (let’s remember that Louis XVI had been sentenced to death by a majority of one vote and that his cousin Philippe-Egalité voted for his death) turns the knife in the wound: Courier says all of the good that the King, his brother, future Charles X, and their close family, do not think about Louis-Philippe and his kin.

He doesn’t limit himself to this simple thrashing of the current dynasty, but he attacks the roots of the problem which according to him can be traced to the definitive return of the Bourbons. Determined to install social peace, and therefore anxious to tread a delicate path between the Ultras thirsting for revenge on one side, and the Liberals determined to defend the assets of the Revolution on the other, Louis XVIII had granted the Charter to his subjects.
The preamble of this document, promulgated on the 4th of May of 1814 before the Senate, defines its spirit. "Divine Providence, calling us back to our States after a long absence, has imposed on us great commitments. Peace was the first need of our subjects: we saw to it relentlessly; and this peace, so necessary to France as to the whole of Europe, is signed. A constitutional Charter was compelled by the present state of the Kingdom, we promised it and we publish it..." Based on divine right, the Charter asserts that the Catholic religion is the State religion and guarantees a number of public liberties among which the freedom of the press and the freedom of conscience. Courier explodes these two symbols. In the first letter, he claims that he has been deluded by the Charter, that it was only a political maneuver, that this pale imitation of an English constitutional government is a hoax and the freedom of opinion meaningless words. In the second letter published at the beginning of February of 1823, he again attacks the Church, renewing the arguments that the writers of the Enlightenment had against it. In order to do this, he picks up a dreadful case which was widely talked about: in the department of Isère, during the night of the 8th to the 9th of May, 1822, a twenty-seven-year-old priest from a village in the Isère had murdered one of his ladies parishioners after having intended to violate her. Courier left no stone unturned. Taking up Diderot’s struggle, and aware of the rupture upheld for at least half a century by the tradition of those members of the Church against the principle of the priests' celibacy, conscious that the Revolution had played a significant part in this question, Courier awakened people to this problem which, according to him, must have a strong echo in what we might appropriately call, albeit in an anachronous way, "the collective unconscious.”

[1] In reality, it is Fondettes near Lyunes.  Note1


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