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Spread the Words

[Book cover]

I enjoyed reading Simon Schama's book, Citizens, but he used some pretty high-falutin' words. I kept a list and here they are. Some of the words are fairly common, but I only had a vague idea of what they meant. The others? Well, judge for yourself ...

(I read Citizens back in 1989, France's bicentennial. In going back through the book to find the sentences containing the unknown words - I had recorded page numbers on my list - I reread bits and pieces of the book. It really is an interesting book and Schama does bring the subject to life, as he was instructed to do by one of his mentors.

When I chose the title for this page, I didn't foresee people searching for information about George Will or William Buckley here. Don't you all have something better to do? So that you don't feel your visit was wasted, I will mention that Will managed to extract some conservative propaganda out of Citizens in a column a number of years ago. And please enjoy this little back-handed slap at George Will in Faux Paws #15 by R. David Cox:

"In fact, I think most of the media bend over backwards to at least reflect conservative views, else we'd never have heard of George Will. We would have heard of William Buckley, Jr., though. He can write."

Gotta love it! And, now, back to Simon Schama ...)

Jacques-Louis David would honor them with their own self-importance safely imprisoned in the calm, adamantine universe of symbols. (p. 749 in the hard-cover edition)

rigidly firm; unyielding.

Best of all [Mirabeau] had a secretary, paid for by the court, with the perfect name (for an amanuensis) M. Comps, who dutifully transcribed an immense number of his memoranda and speeches. (p. 534)

one employed to write from dictation or to copy a manuscript.

Those publishers like Panckoucke who would be prepared to settle for moderate opinion (in the relatively anodyne Mercure de France) might be domesticated through co-optation. (p. 233)

serving to assuage pain.

Worse still the "anthropophagi" (a favorite term in the year II for counter-revolutionaries) would exact a terrible revenge, seizing the peasants' property, enslaving or abducting their wives and daughters, cutting off the hands of anyone who had planted a liberty tree, ripping apart pregnant women. (p. 763)

one who feeds on human flesh; cannibal.

To the uncommitted deputies on the Plain it must have been all the more powerful because it echoed some of the standard views of the leading Jacobins without their partisan apoplectics. (p. 661)

highly excited; frenetic.

Behind the pallbearers, also of the National Guard, followed battalions of veterans and children (by now a standard feature of such occasions); representatives of the municipality of Paris and the departmental administration on which Mirabeau had served; virtually the entire Constituent Assembly; and even more surprisingly, en masse, the Jacobins, who, notwithstanding his apostasy, had decreed a week of mourning for their ex-president and resolved each year, on June 23, to read aloud Mirabeau's retort to the Marquis de Dreux-Brézé. (p. 547)

renunciation of a religious faith; abandonment of a previous loyalty.

As apostate aristocrats, [Talleyrand's friends] at any rate were not surprised when Talleyrand applied to the Church the principle of making war on one's own order. (p. 483)

one who commits apostasy.

[The country curates in the Estates-General] were certainly much closer to the People so freely apostrophized by the Third Estate than the lawyers, functionaries and professional men who made up that body. (p. 350)

to rhetorically address an absent person or a personified thing.

Germaine de Staël, for whom the occasion was supposed to be the apotheosis of Papa, became more and more downcast, her eyes, according to another close witness, visibly brimming with tears. (p. 347)

elevation to divine status; deification.

Citing Rousseau, whose sacred texts were now routinely plundered for apposite supporting statements by both factions, Girondin orators like Vergniaud claimed that the Convention had no right to usurp authority that rightly still belonged to the people whose "mandatories" they remained. (p. 660)

highly pertinent or appropriate; apt.

[The revolutionaries'] France would be Rome reborn, but purified by the benison of the feeling heart. (p. 861)

blessing; benediction.

[The nobility becoming colonized by "bourgeois" values] represented a fundamental caesura in the continuity of French history. (p. 117)

break; interruption.

In the course of his speech, interrupted many times by angry shouts of "calumny" from the Mountain, it became clear that what had really angered Vergniaud was the destruction of the Girondin news presses and the continuing attempt to gag opinion that dissented from the Jacobins or the popular societies. (p. 715)

a misrepresentation intended to damage another's reputation. Voltaire

Four white horses caparisoned only with the tricolor drew [Voltaire's funeral] chariot. (p. 564)

to provide with a rich, ornamental covering; adorn.

This kind of starkly enumerated clarity was perfect for the locksmith monarch, but something more complex was needed for the captious Notables, and assisted by Du Pont de Nemours, Calonne gave it to them. (p. 242)

calculated to confuse, entrap, or entangle in argument.

By the lights of the mentor of the revolution, Rousseau, to be young was to be innocent and unstained, so that the proper object of revolution should be to liberate the child of nature trapped in the carapace of maturity.

a protective, decorative, or disguising shell.

One does not have to subscribe to the "neo-liberal myth of the Gironde" to see through this appalling casuistry. (p. 725)

specious argument; rationalization.

Near midnight [Mirabeau's funeral] procession finally reached Sainte-Geneviève, where the heart of the orator was set on a catafalque beside the tomb of the philosopher. (p. 548)

an ornamental structure sometimes used in funerals for the lying in state of the body.

Along with these formal renunciations there were often marriage ceremonies for ex-priests (sometimes involuntary) and, especially in the Midi and the Rhone Valley, burlesque charivaris in which donkeys were dressed in a bishop's robes and miter and led through the streets. (p. 777)

a noisy mock serenade to a newly married couple

Hébert gives you the "language of the charnel house", as if the virtue and candor of his prose could be measured by the number of foutres and bougres in a single paragraph. (p. 811)

a building or chamber in which bodies or bones are deposited.

Chapter Nineteen, Chiliasm, April-July 1794 (p. 822)

belief in a coming ideal society, especially one created by a revolutionary action.

There was also an element of armed sanitation about [the September massacres], the logical consummation of Mercier's jeremiads against the cloacal filth of the metropolis. (p. 631)

characteristic of the common chamber into which the intestinal, urinary, and generative canals discharge.

Though he had not slept for four days, de Sèze was in brilliant form for his plaidoyer, reiterating the case that the position granted to the King precluded prosecution from what was, in effect, a coeval branch of the constitution. (p. 659)

of the same or equal age, antiquity, or duration; contemporary.

When, finally, [Marie-Antoinette] was arraigned before the revolutionary tribunal, the conflation of sexual and political crime was made explicit. (p. 226)

combination into a composite whole; blend or fusion.

At around five o'clock on July 14, 1790, [Lafayette] was the cynosure of all eyes. (p. 511)

center of attraction or attention.

The provincial assemblies which Brienne had preserved from Calonne's proposals and which were brought into existence during the course of 1787 and 1788 had been designed as an exercise in devolution (p. 259)

the surrender of powers to local authorities by a central government.

As if all this was not enough, [Jacques-Louis] David produced one of his most grandiose designs for the curtain of a composite production at the Opéra called The Inauguration of the French Republic, in which the usual woodenly didactic drama was enlivened with songs, speeches, poems, military marches and the occasional cannon designed to wake up those of the audience stunned into slumber by this relentless onslaught of republican virtue. (p. 830)

intended to convey instruction and information as well as pleasure and entertainment.

[The] presence [of Liberty's representation as a tree] was a response to another disquisition of Grégoire's, in which he sought to revive the liberty-tree cult of 1791-92 and even declared that the most appropriate species to celebrate the resurrection of primitive freedom was the oak, "the most beautiful of all the vegetables of Europe". (p. 835)

a formal inquiry into or discussion of a subject; discourse.

"The clubs and the pikes, deadening all free initiative, have accustomed people to dissimulation and baseness, and if the people are allowed to acquire these sorry habits they will have only the happiness of exchanging tyrants." (p. 681, quoted from Talleyrand)

hiding under a false appearance.

At the core of the château was a pavilion block where the King's control over business was formalized by apartments enfilading off one another so that access at each stage could be barred or yielded as ritual and decorum required. (p. 370)

an interconnected group of rooms arranged usually in a row with each room opening into the next.

In the same representation [Michel Lepeletier's] head, which was in reality memorably ugly, with a great hooked nose and exophthalmic eyes, was turned into a Roman bust of exemplary beauty. (p. 672)

abnormal protusion of the eyeball.

And it was in college that students were required to model speeches on Cicero's precise construction using, successively, exordium, narration, confirmation, refutation and peroration. (p. 170)

a beginning or introduction especially to a discourse or composition.

[Jean-Paul Marat] took every opportunity to abuse [the Girondins] from his eyrie seat high up on the Mountain. (p. 717)

an elevated often secluded dwelling, structure, or position.

[Preparing the procession route] was a daunting assignment but one to which the febrile character of revolutionary enthusiasm could be usefully harnessed. (p. 505)


In the interior [of Notre Dame] a gimcrack Greco-Roman structure had been erected beneath the Gothic vaulting. (p. 778)

a showy object of little use or value.

In France, until very recently, the literature on the September massacres was dominated either by counter-revolutionary martyrology or the massive volume by Pierre Caron, which self-consciously set out to purge the record of hagiographic myths. (p. 631)

idealizing or idolizing biography.

Who can blame the Thermidorians for depicting France as a hecatomb? (p. 851)

the sacrifice or slaughter of many victims.

At Saint-Bernard another seventy or so convicts waiting to be taken to the hulks were murdered; at La Salpêtrière over forty prostitutes were killed after being, in all likelihood, subjected to physical humiliation at the hands of their killers. (p. 635)

a ship used as a prison.

Immured in the medieval keep of the Temple (which had formerly belonged to his brother Artois), and deprived of newspapers, Louis was largely protected from the festering hatred of the city outside. (p. 653)

enclosed within walls; imprisoned.

Not everyone, though, was prepared to accept that the old regime had in fact perished from inanition. (p. 253)

the absence or loss of social, moral, or intellectual vitality or vigor.

[Bertaux the engraver's] commander Ronsin, on the other hand, got high marks for affecting at least the appearance of insouciance in the best aristocratic manner. (p. 825)

light-hearted unconcern; nonchalance.

But however jejune the experience [of mass demonstrations], there is no question that it was intensely felt by participants as a way of turning inner fears into outward elation, of covering the dismaying sense of recklessness stirred by revolutionary newness with a great cloak of solidarity. (p. 504)

devoid of significance or interest.

There [the guillotine] continued its busy operation, up and down, for three days, until local residents complained so angrily of the overflow of blood, the dangerously "mephitic odors" from bodies going off in the June heat, that it was trundled off again, ever eastwards, to the barrière du Trône, now of course called the place du trône renversé. (p. 836)

noxious, pestilential, or foul exhalation from the earth; foul smell.

Since the Austrians mistakenly congratulated themselves on having installed the Feuillants as a result of the Declaration of Pillnitz, another similarly minatory gesture was supposed to rescue the beleaguered government from the combined bellicosity of the Lafayette-Narbonne faction and the Brissotins. (p. 593)

having a menacing quality; threatening.

[Marie-Antoinette and Artois] both were fanatical partisans of the composer Gluck against his foe Piccini; and both, mirabile dictu, were staunch champions of Beaumarchais. (p. 214)

Latin for "wonderful to relate".

Girondins were behind the conspiracies that had led to military defeat; were the patrons of Dumouriez, who was busily out the patrie; had obdurately refused to contemplate any measures of intervention like a price maximum that might alleviate the suffering of the poor. (p. 713)

resistant to persuasion or softening influences; inflexible.

Prepared for death with her hair cut, [Marie-Antoinette] flinched on seeing the open cart, for she had been expecting, or at least hoping for, the same closed carriage that had carried Louis to the place de la Révolution, sparing her the obloquy of the crowd. (p. 799)

a strongly condemnatory utterance; abusive language.

To vary the routine [the prisoners] could walk together under the ogival vaults of the long, somber corridor known as the "rue de Paris", watch the scuttle of rats and exchange gossip about the latest admissions. (p. 794)

a pointed arch.

Since [the holy grail of republican purity] would, by definition, remain forever out of reach, its paladins would constantly see themselves confronted by impure soldiers of darkness and crime who stood between them and their prize and who had to be cut down if the Reign of Virtue was ever to be realized. (p. 807)

a leading champion of a cause.

The next day [Talleyrand] laid hands on the pallium of Autun, said to be made from the wool of blessed sheep that had grazed in the pastures of the first Christians of antiquity, and more to the point, on the twenty-two thousand livres of his episcopal income. (p. 351)

a white woolen band with pendants in front and back worn over the chasuble by a pope or archbishop as a symbol of full episcopal authority.

Reybaz had written an extraordinary panegyric to the intrepidity of the industrial entrepreneur, full of smoking mineshafts and heroic millions sunk into the greedy earth. (p. 542)

a eulogistic oration or writing; formal or elaborate praise.

Somehow Fabre himself had escaped scrutiny and actually succeeded in putting further distance between himself and the peculators by more denunciations of Chabot. (p. 810)


Raymond de Saint-Sauveur found the southwestern generality of the Roussillon, and especially its capital Perpignan, in a state of dilapidated penury when he arrived. (p. 187)

a cramping and oppressive lack of resources (as money); severe poverty.

Every so often, packages would arrive from Talleyrand tracking the route of his peregrinations: some from Maine; some from Pennsylvania; some from New York. (p. 865)

to travel or wander.

And it was in college that students were required to model speeches on Cicero's precise construction using, successively, exordium, narration, confirmation, refutation and peroration. (p. 170)

the concluding part of a discourse and especially an oration. Mirabeau

The perspicacity of [Mirabeau's] judgement was all the more impressive coming from someone who was the acknowledged master of revolutionary rhetoric, but someone who evidently was not also bewitched by his own hyperbole. (p. 537)

acute mental vision or discernment; keenness

But the apparently picayune matter of the Scheldt became a symbol of both sides' intransigence. (p. 688)

trivial; paltry.

[Voltaire's] sarcophagus was of imperial porphyry and was raised on three steps. (p. 564)

a rock consisting of feldspar crystals embedded in a compact dark red or purple groundmass. Danton

Given the Jacobin obsession with probity, and Robespierre's own addiction to spotless, indeed transparent politics, the unthreading of the plot threatened to backfire disastrously on Danton's campaign to end the Terror. (p. 810)

adherence to the highest principles and ideals.

That the statement was meant as prophylactic rather than aggressive was plainly indicated by Leopold's emphasis on the indispensability of the collective agreement of all powers before any action could be contemplated. (p. 590)

tending to prevent or ward off; preventive.

By mobilizing the audience [of Charles IX] as foot soldiers to help them fight their backstage battles, Talma and the Dugazons had broken the proscenium line that divided theater from politics. (p. 497)

the wall that separates the stage from the auditorium and provides the arch that frames it; foreground.

In no time, the whole of central and western Paris was turned into a great pullulating ant heap of organized work. (p. 505)

swarming, teeming.

From the countryside and from the artisans of the towns came a sharper tone, obediently repeating as a matter of form the pious clichés of Third Estate politics, but at heart concerned with quotidian matters of taxes, justice, the scourges (the word fléau may be the most commonly used term in all of the rural cahiers) of the militia and the game laws; in other words, with survival. (p. 309)

everyday; commonplace, ordinary.

For both [Voltaire and Rousseau], however, the sacerdotal mysteries and theological doctrines that set the institutionalized Church apart from citizens were dangerous frauds. (p. 484)

of or relating to priests or a priesthood; priestly.

While [Cordelier Morel's comparison of Marat to Jesus] was an extreme example, the sacralization of Marat became a powerful tool of revolutionary propaganda. (p. 745)

holy; sacred.

Was it just that French popular culture was already brutalized before the Revolution and responded to the spectacle of terrifying public punishments handed out by royal justice with its own forms of spontaneous sanguinary retribution? (p. 860)

bloodthirsty, murderous.

[Talleyrand] was still the Bishop of Autun but sartorially, at least, he had defrocked himself, allowing only the merest glimpse of an elegant pectoral cross beneath his coat to allude to his episcopal office. (p. 483)

of or relating to clothes.

And there were certain ritual gestures - the liberation of prisoners through royal clemency; the peculiar ceremony of touching the scrofulous to commemorate the thaumaturgical healing power of the royal hands - that could bear witness to [Louis XVI's] good intentions. (p. 52)

having a diseased, run-down appearance.

Virtually as soon as the term was coined, "old regime" was semantically freighted with associations of both traditionalism and senescence. (p. 184)

the state of being or becoming old. (Or the growth phase in a plant from full maturity to death.)

In [ Watteau de Lille's painting, Departure of the Volunteers], the place of the sinister recruiting sergeant in [Greuze's Wicked Son] is taken by the trusty shakoed grenadier silhouetted against the doorway. (p. 627)

a stiff military hat with a high crown and plume.

But if it was foolish to try to provide a simulacrum of English constitutional history in France, at least there should be some concerted attempt to go in that direction. (p. 95)

image, representation. (Or an insubstantial form or semblance of something; trace.)

On the evening of the fourteenth [Talleyrand] was finally able to peel off his sodden soutane. (p. 513)


Just as the "brigands" of 1789 were said to have been the cutthroat stooges of vengeful aristocrats, now another equally sinister threat was said to lurk in the prisons, where freshly arrived counter-revolutionaries - Swiss guards, refractory priests, royalist writers - could suborn common criminals into being their accomplices. (p. 629)

to induce secretly to do an unlawful thing. Necker

[Jacques Necker's] overwhelming personal ordinariness only excited the flattery of those who wanted to contrast him even further with the sybaritic financiers or the pretentious physiocrats. (p. 88)

voluptuary, sensualist. (From the notorious luxury of the ancient Sybarites.)

Caron's claim was that a careful sifting of contemporary sources would produce a more "objective" account of [the September massacres], one cleansed of tendentious moralizing. (p. 631)

marked by a tendency in favor of a particular point of view; biased.

[Talleyrand's packages to Lucy de La Tour du Pin] were all godsends: a fat, sweating, Stilton cheese to impress the neighbors; a spectacular lady's saddle and saddlecloth; a box of quinine when he heard through some roundabout route on the émigré gossip circuit that she was laid low again with tertian fever; and, most precious of all, timely information that her husband's American banker was about to go bankrupt. (p. 865)

the fever associated with vivax malaria, which is caused by a plasmodium (Plasmodium vivax) that induces paroxysms at 48-hour intervals.

And there were certain ritual gestures - the liberation of prisoners through royal clemency; the peculiar ceremony of touching the scrofulous to commemorate the thaumaturgical healing power of the royal hands - that could bear witness to [Louis XVI's] good intentions. (p. 52)

performing miracles.

There too [students] would have been introduced to the ornaments of the rhetoric: metaphor, trope, exclamation and interrogation - all of which were much on exhibition in revolutionary utterance. (p. 170)

the use of a word or expression in a figurative sense; figure of speech.

In retrospect [Jacques-Claude Beugnot] was also amazed that he had survived, when so many hundreds of others, arrested on the flimsiest of pretexts, had exited by tumbril for their appointment with the guillotine. (p. 793)

a vehicle carrying condemned persons to a place of execution.

One of its most enthusiastic Terrorists, Vadier, had commented that he meant to "gut that fat turbot Danton", to which Danton is said to have crisply responded ... (p. 814)

a large European flatfish. My upbringing prevents me from quoting Danton's response.

And it was perhaps Romanticism, with its addiction to the Absolute and the Ideal; its fondness for the vertiginous and the macabre; its concept of political energy as, above all, electrical; its obsession with the heart; its preference for passion over reason, for virtue over peace, that supplied a crucial ingredient in the mentality of the revolutionary elite: its association of liberty with wildness. (p. 861)

inclined to frequent and often pointless change; inconstant.

Hardly had [Chrétien-Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes] submitted his letter of resignation to Louis XVI, following Turgot's "disgrace", than he was off on a walking trip to southwest France to look at viticulture and the sandy pine woods of the Landes southwest of Bordeaux. (p. 97)

the cultivation or culture of grapes, especially for wine making.

The "alternate howling and thundering of his voice ... fatigued me excessively", [Fanny Burney] admitted, but it never occurred to her that Talleyrand was being mischievous in winkling the soldier out. (p. 683)

to displace, extract, or evict from a position. (From the process of extracting a periwinkle from its shell.)

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