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  • A Literary Low-Life Reassessed: Charles Théveneau de Morande in London, 1769–1791
  • Simon Burrows

As pornographer, scandalmonger, extortionist, and spy, Charles Théveneau de Morande (1741–1805), was one of the most notorious men of the eighteenth century. Subsequently, he has attracted historians’ attention as the epitome of the alienated French Grub Street hacks whose writings helped undermine the moral basis of the old regime. The reassessment that follows 1 examines three facets of his long career: the most potent and infamous of his libelles (lampoons), Le Gazetier cuirassé; his espionage activities; and his political journalism in the Courier de l’Europe newspaper during the early revolutionary period.

Born on 9 November 1741, the son of a lawyer, 2 Morande served briefly in the army during the Seven Years’ War before drifting to Paris, 3 where he lived by pimping, petty crime, and the purses of others between spells in the Bastille. 4 In 1769 or 1770 he fled to London, where in 1771 he published his most notorious work, Le Gazetier cuirassé. Further libelles followed, together with offers to sell his silence. Finally in 1774, after a failed kidnap attempt, 5 Morande received a pay-off and royal pension in return for suppressing a libelle against the king’s mistress Madame Du Barry, entitled Mémoires secrets d’une femme publique, and contracting not to libel her, the ministers, or the court in the future. 6 In 1781, Morande entered French service as a spy, 7 a role that he combined with the editorship of the Courier de l’Europe newspaper from 20 January 1784 to 14 May 1791. In May 1791, he returned to Paris to edit a newspaper that supported the constitutional monarchy. 8 He was arrested after the prison massacres of September 1792, but soon released without charge (AN, F 7 4774 51 dossier 3, Morande). Shortly afterward he retired quietly to his family estates in Burgundy, where he died on 6 July 1805 (Archives départementales de la Côte d’Or, 2E26/14).

Morande has been depicted either as an utterly unscrupulous and cynical opportunist or a stereotypical libelliste, an alienated scandalmongering hack whose nihilistic critique of the old regime helped undermine the moral foundations of French royal government and foreshadowed popular jacobinism. As such he becomes almost an antihero, a progenitor of revolution. Close study of Morande’s colorful life suggests that both pictures are oversimplified and misleading. I shall suggest that Morande’s transformation from libelliste to defender of the constitutional monarchy was a natural one, based on a consistent ideological framework, and that he was a reformist patriot rather than an alienated nihilistic hack.

Morande’s worthy nineteenth-century biographer, Paul Robiquet, depicts Morande as a cynical mercenary. 9 According to Robiquet, Morande libelled merely for money, spied for payment, and presumably (for it has never been proved) returned to France in 1791 at the Court’s bequest in return for hard cash. His influence on the origins of the revolution was purely opportunistic (the Gazetier cuirassé) and his role in the revolution merely that of an agent of the counter-revolutionary [End Page 76] Court. In eighteenth-century sources Morande is portrayed as not only corrupt but almost depraved, 10 especially in Girondin propaganda. Morande and Jacques-Pierre Brissot, the unofficial leader of the Girondins, were old enemies. Brissot had been imprisoned in the Bastille in 1784 after being framed by Morande, 11 and in 1791 Morande campaigned to thwart Brissot’s election to the Legislative Assembly in numerous vitriolic articles in the Argus patriote. Consequently the Girondins’ assassination of Morande’s credibility was ruthless. Pierre Manuel affirmed that Morande “was a thief even before he was old enough to be a libertine, and the first thing he seized upon in a brothel was a gold box” (2:265), while the anonymous erotic novel Julie philosophe (1791) asserts that Morande is “the biggest crook in these three kingdoms.” 12 Morande seduces Julie, the novel’s patriote heroine, then disappears after borrowing her last resources, leaving Julie, destitute and desperate, to prostitute body and principles by becoming mistress of Calonne, the exiled former finance minister (2:8–10, 23...

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