Pierre-Auguste Caron (Beaumarchais) – his final thoughts on life

Last updated on April 19, 2022

This short post is an addendum to the story we wrote about the Parisian “horloger” André-Charles Caron, published in two articles by the NAWCC Bulletin, which are available to read on this site. The post deals with his son Pierre-Auguste, who briefly followed in his father’s profession before launching into a remarkable life, known as “Beaumarchais”, which was also summarized in the NAWCC articles.

Louis de Loménie’s wrote a 2 volume work on Beaumarchais and his time (Beaumarchais et son temps, Paris, 1855 first edition), in large part based on the family archives of documents he was given access to, which he recalls vividly at the start of the first chapter of volume 1.

Guided by the grandson of Beaumarchais, I entered one day into a house on Pas-de-la-mule Street, and we climbed up to an attic where no one had entered for many years. In opening the door, with difficulty, a cloud of dust lifted and suffocated us. I ran to the window to get some air, which was stuck … so I decided to break a couple of window panes. We could finally breathe and look around us. The little room was filled with boxes and cases filled with papers. In front of me, in this quiet uninhabited cell, under a thick coat of dust, was all that was left from one of the liveliest spirits, one of the most rambunctious, agitated and strange lives of the previous century; I had in front of me all the papers left, fifty-four years ago, by the author of the Marriage of Figaro.

When the superb house built by Beaumarchais on the boulevard that bears his name was sold and demolished [after the Revolution, and a few years after Beaumarchais’s death in 1799], the papers of the deceased were transported to a neighboring house, and locked into the room where I found them.

Among countless documents that he used to great advantage in his book, Loménie describes finding in a locked box, opened by a locksmith, the two manuscripts of Beaumarchais’ famous plays The Barber of Seville and The Mariage of Figaro, “under a mass of useless papers. Beside this was the movement of a watch or clock executed in copper in an over-size model, with the following inscription ‘Caron filius 21 annorum regulatorem invenit et fecit 1753’. This was the first invention by which the young watchmaker Beaumarchais started in life.”

In the NAWCC article, young Caron’s invention of the double-virgule escapement is described, and this model found in the locked box was clearly of that mechanical design. It was obviously very precious to Beaumarchais, who kept it locked along with his two famous plays. One can only wonder where this precious horological object is located now, in a museum or private collection, or simply discarded at some point and lost forever.

At the end of his life, Beaumarchais wrote some private documents, some of which were published for the first time by Loménie at the end of the second volume of his book. The text which follows, in which the elder Caron (Beaumarchais) looks back with some regret on some highlights of his life, is interesting, and was felt important to be reproduced here, to complement the Caron articles referenced above. (The text below is from the English edition of 1857, translated by Henry S. Edwards.)

– With gayety, and even bonhommie, I have had enemies without number, and have nevertheless never crossed, or even taken the path of another person . By dint of reasoning with myself I have discovered the cause of so much hostility ; in fact, it is natural enough.
– From the period of my thoughtless youth I have played every instrument, but I belonged to no body of musicians ; the professors of the art detested me. I have invented some good machines ; but I did not belong to the body of engineers, and they spoke ill of me.
– I composed verses, songs ; but who would recognize me as a poet ? I was the son of a watchmaker.
– Not caring about the game of loto, I wrote some pieces for the stage ; but people said, “ What is he interfering with ? he is not an author, for he has immense speculations, and enterprises without number.’
– Unable to meet with any one who would undertake my defense, I printed long Memorials in order to gain actions which had been brought against me, and which may be called atrocious ; but people said , “You see very well that these are not like those our advocates produce ; will such a man be allowed to prove without us that he is in the right ?? Inde irae .

– I have treated with ministers on the subject of great points of reform of which our finances were in need ; but people said, “ What is he interfering in ? this man is not a financier.’
– Struggling against all the powers, I have raised the art of printing in France by my superb editions of Voltaire — the enterprise having been regarded as beyond the capabilities of one individual; but I
was not a printer, and they said the devil about me. I had constructed, at the same time, the first
establishments of three or four paper factories without being a manufacturer ; I had the manufacturers and dealers for my adversaries.
– I have traded in the four quarters of the globe; but I was not a regular merchant. I had forty ships at sea at one time; but I was not a shipowner, and I was calumniated in all our sea – ports.
– A ship of war of fifty -two guns belonging to me had the honor of fighting in line with those of his majesty at the taking of Grenada. Notwithstanding the pride of the navy, they gave the cross to the captain of my vessel, and military rewards to my other officers, and what I, who was looked upon as
an intruder, gained , was the loss of my flotilla which this vessel was convoying.
– And nevertheless, of all Frenchmen, whoever they may be, I am the one who has done the most for the liberty of America , the begetter of our own ; for I was the only person who dared to form the plan and commence its execution, in spite of England, Spain, and even France ; but I did not belong to the class of negotiators, and I was a stranger in the bureaus of the ministers . Inde irae .
– Weary of seeing our uniform habitations, and our gardens with out poetry, I built a house which is spoken of; but I did not belong to the arts. Inde iræ .
– What was I, then ? I was nothing but myself, and myself I have remained, free in the midst of
fetters, calm in the greatest of dangers, making head against all storms, directing speculations with one hand and war with the other ; as lazy as an ass, and always working ; the object of a thousand calumnies, but happy in my home, having never belonged to any coterie, either literary, or political, or mystical ; having never paid court to any one, and yet repelled by all.

As highlighted in the text, he listed having invented some good machines (i.e. horological inventions, such as his double-virgule escapement), but being the son of a watchmaker prevented him from obtaining due honours in some aspects of his life.

In closing his book, Loménie concludes with these words:

…mais ce qui nous paraît certain, c’est que pour donner toute la mesure de ses brillantes facultés, pour arriver à tout, pour figurer dans l’histoire de son pays avec autant de puissance et d’éclat qu’il y a figuré avec agitation et avec bruit, il n’a manqué à Beaumarchais que de venir au monde cinquante ou soixante ans plus tard.

Translation: …what appears certain to us is that in order to give full measure to all his brilliant faculties, to arrive at everything, to figure in the history of his country with as much power and glow as he had with agitation and noise, Beaumarchais only needed to have been born fifty or sixty years later.

Loménie likely meant that Caron de Beaumarchais would not have been hampered, had he been born after the Revolution, by the class system in France at the time of his upward career path, which caused him to be frequently looked down upon because of his humble origins as the son of a watchmaker. Also, that he wouldn’t have suffered what he had to endure during the Revolution, as a man of some wealth residing in a fine house he had built across from the Bastille, in Paris, and having had long-standing relations with the King and his entourage, in various capacities. The final years of his life, and that of his sister, his wife and his daughter, were very difficult during the terror of the Revolution, as Beaumarchais himself was helplessly stuck in exile for a couple of years, while his loved ones were imprisoned and suffered in Paris.

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