Jean Paul Marat

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Henri Grévedon : Jean Paul Marat (posthumous lithograph, 1824)

Jean Paul Marat (born May 24, 1743 in Boudry , Principality of Neuchâtel, today Canton Neuchâtel , Switzerland ; † July 13, 1793 in Paris ) was a French doctor, scientist and author of scientific and political writings. During the French Revolution he published and wrote the Ami du Peuple , a demagogic newspaper, in which he called for the execution of incumbent ministers and, later, of the king and his family. He was a member of the National Convention on the side of the Montagnards and president of the Jacobin Club for a period .

With his agitations he was a mouthpiece for the sans-culottes . He was blamed for the September massacres; however, one could not prove to have actually initiated it. His murder made him “a martyr of the revolution” and his remains were kept in the Panthéon for a few months .


Childhood and its early years

Marat was born on May 24th, 1743 as the second of eight children in Boudry in the Principality of Neuchâtel, which was associated with the Swiss Confederation as a place of affairs and was ruled by the Prussian royal family of the Hohenzollern at that time . His father was registered as "Jean Mara" when his son was registered, and he is also called "Jean-Baptiste Mara" in the bibliographies. In 1753 the family moved to Yverdon, where the father worked as a draftsman in a cloth factory. In 1755 they moved on to Neuchâtel, where their father now worked as a foreign language teacher. Here he added the final "t" to his name. The French-sounding surname “Marat” was now also adopted by the son Jean Paul. In literature, the father is named Giovanni Mara, Juan Salvador Mara or Jean Marat, depending on the language. He was born in Cagliari , Sardinia ; his mother, Louise Cabrol, came from the city republic of Geneva, which is also affiliated with the Swiss Confederation .

Marat suffered from disfigurement due to a skin disease ( scrofula , associated with severe itching). When he was sixteen he left Switzerland and emigrated alone to Bordeaux near the French Atlantic coast, where he studied medicine. To secure his livelihood, he worked for the distinguished shipowner Jean-Paul Nairac. In 1762 he moved to Paris, where he stayed for three years and attended lectures in medicine, physics and philosophy at the university. He has made a name for himself as a doctor because of his success in curing gonorrhea .

Then he moved to England . For ten years he practiced as a doctor in London , Newcastle and Dublin . In England he became a Freemason ; on July 15, 1774, he was issued a Grand Lodge Certificate, signed by James Heseltine, Grand Secretary. He later became a member of the La Bien Aimee Lodge in Amsterdam . Around 1762 Jean Paul Marat wrote his first book Lettres Polonaises (“Polish Letters”), but it was never published. The novel Les Aventures du jeune Comte Potowski - un Roman de Cœur ("The adventures of the young Count Potowski - a novel of the heart"), completed in London in 1771 , also remained unpublished during his lifetime. The novel also contains thoughts on criminal law, which Marat later took up again in his Plan de législation criminelle ("Plan of a criminal law").

Marat suffered not only from his skin disease, which tormented him so much that he often only found peace and quiet to write in the bathtub (which is why his murderess found him there in 1793), but also from his appearance. He was only five feet tall; this made his head seem “too massive” for the rest of the body, and “one of his eyes was higher than the other”. The associated restrictions in social interaction helped shape his character.

Scientist and physicist

Marat's first published work appeared in 1772 as An Essay on the human soul ("An Inquiry into the Human Soul"). It was republished in 1773 as part of his treatise A philosophical essay on man ("A Philosophical Study of Man"). A year later, Marat published one of his most famous works in England: Chains of slavery ("Chains of slavery "). On June 30, 1775, Marat received a medical degree from the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

In June 1777 he returned to France and became a doctor in the bodyguard of the Count of Artois , the youngest brother of Louis XVI.

There he carried out some experiments with fire, light and electricity. He wrote books about electricity, fire, light and optics, and with his hot-headed style drew such violent counter-criticism that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe felt compelled to protect him. In 1779 he published a book about his new findings in the field of physics. Further books on physics, theories of politics , law and physiology followed in the following years. In 1783 Marat ended his medical career and devoted himself fully to the natural sciences .

Political activity

Simultaneously with his scientific studies, he dealt with politics and law and took part in a competition organized by the Société économique de Berne in 1777 to reform criminal law with a plan for criminal legislation published in 1780 . The first edition was presumably confiscated by the censorship authority, the other editions were ignored.

In addition to scientific and political writings, Jean-Paul Marat wrote the adventure and romance novel Aventures du jeune Comte Potowski , un "Roman de Cœur" (1771), which was only published posthumously in 1848. In July 1788, Marat felt terminally ill and therefore wrote his will. He asked a friend, the watchmaker Abraham Louis Breguet , to give him psychological support at his deathbed and to send all of his manuscripts to an academy of science. Allegedly, Abraham told him about the revolutionary events at his deathbed. This is said to have made such a big impression on him, according to the myth, that his health improved and from then on he supported the revolution with all his might and all means. From today's psychosomatic point of view, this chronically skin-sick doctor survived a stupor-like dissociative status, i.e. an attempt to kill, which was characterized by a feeling of powerlessness without loss of consciousness. The biographical crisis developed at a historically important point in time, precisely one year before the French Revolution, when he - radicalized by friends - decided to take over the opinion leadership among the Jacobins. The feeling of powerlessness turned into an extreme striving for power. He published an Offrande à la Patrie ("offering to the people"), in which he addressed the Third Estate in order to strengthen its position against "our enemies" (the other two estates) with a new constitution. The writing was ignored, an addition was confiscated.

In July or August 1789 he tried unsuccessfully with a first newspaper, the Moniteur patriote ("Patriotic Anzeiger"). He had more success with the newspaper Publiciste Parisien ("Pariser Blatt") published from September 12, 1789 , which he renamed from the 6th issue to Ami du Peuple ("Friend of the People"). This newspaper was a highly regarded newspaper in France, sometimes appearing twice a day, and considered itself the voice of the revolutionary people. Marat attacked with sharp words all moderate representatives ( Feuillants , later the Girondins ) in the National Assembly .

He described all real or alleged opponents of the revolution as traitors and enemies of the people, published their names in his newspaper and thus delivered them to the vengeance of the people. This led to the Châtelet court issuing an arrest warrant against him on October 6, 1789. Attempts were made to arrest him, which they succeeded on December 12, 1789; however, he was released after interrogation. When two more attempts were made to arrest him in January 1790 - sometimes with the deployment of hundreds of soldiers - he fled to England, but returned to France in May 1790. Now he advocated the beheading of 500 to 600 opponents. In September 1790 he claimed 10,000 victims, in January 1791 even 100,000. He was wanted by the authorities, but managed to keep publishing his newspaper - albeit with interruptions - and still hide in Paris. It was not until December 1791 that he "finally" took leave of his readers to leave for London, but was seen again in Paris in February 1792. After the fall of the monarchy in August 1792, Marat joined the Jacobins and, with great popular support, became an influential delegate to the National Convention and, for an electoral term, the President of the Jacobin Club.

Although he journalistically always stood up for the lawless masses, "he did not overestimate the intelligence of the people"; like the philosophes of the Enlightenment (such as Rousseau , whom he often quoted) he thought little of complete democracy. He even called for a temporary dictatorship and immediately recommended himself as a dictator.

His responsibility for the September massacre in 1792, in which an unleashed mob stormed the prisons and murdered over a thousand detained opponents of the revolution, has been put into perspective by individual historians. Marat himself was surprised by the events. In the Ami du Peuple , however, he had written on August 19th: “The smartest and best way is to… drag out the traitors… and put them down. What nonsense to try them! ” (Whereupon the Paris Commune appointed him press officer and gave him a seat on their security committee). Even if they did not personally take part, from today's perspective Marat and Églantine are complicit in the September murders because of their writings and Danton as the inactive Minister of Justice.

Charlotte Corday and the assassination attempt

After the Jacobin Mountain Party ousted the moderate Girondists , Charlotte Corday , a supporter of the Girondins, decided to murder Marat. She drove to Paris in a stagecoach, where she bought a kitchen knife with a 8-inch blade. She actually wanted to stab Marat in public on July 14th , the anniversary of the storm on the Bastille . But Marat was tied to the house because of seborrheic dermatitis . On the pretext that she wanted to denounce some Girondists from her hometown Caen , a stronghold of the counter-revolution, she went to Marat on July 13, 1793. However, Marat's partner Simone Évrard did not let her in. She drove back to her hotel, announced her visit in writing, and returned to Marat's apartment that same day without receiving a response.

Santiago Rebull : The Death of Marat , 1875

In the bathroom, after a short conversation, she stabbed him violently in the neck and chest (near the collarbone ), stabbing so hard that a large artery ruptured and Marat passed out immediately. His friend, the composer, guitar and harp virtuoso Guillaume Pierre Antoine Gatayes (1774-1846) is said to have found the lifeless and a rushing editor of the Ami du Peuple is said to have knocked Corday down, whereupon she was arrested. At no point did she resist. She was guillotined on July 17, 1793 . Her deed initially made Marat an even greater hero and martyr. Her execution gave his murderer the status of a martyr of the counterrevolution .

Jean Paul Marat was buried on July 16, 1793 under the trees of the cloister of the former Couvent des Cordeliers , exhumed at the end of September 1794 and buried in the Panthéon . From there, the coffin was transferred to the cemetery of the parish church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont in 1795 .

The assassination is the subject of the drama The Persecution and Murder of Jean Paul Marat, presented by the acting group of the Charenton Hospice under the guidance of Mr de Sade (first performed in 1964) by Peter Weiss .

Political Writings

In May 1774 a work was published anonymously in London with the title: The Chains of Slavery . It had previously been announced in London Magazine , Gentleman's Magazine , the Public Advertiser and Scot's Magazine . It was subsequently positively reviewed in Critical Review and London Magazine ; with a few lines in June also in the Monthly Review . In May 1774, Marat wrote to John Wilkes , then a symbolic figure of the opposition, to bring himself and his work into the daily politics of England. The author also dedicated his work to various “patriotic” societies. But only in an address letter to Camille Desmoulins dated May 4, 1791 did Marat identify himself as the author.

Marat first announced his wish to make his work, published in England, known to the French in the famous poster Marat, l'Ami du Peuple, à Louis-Philippe-Joseph d'Orléans, prince français on August 10, 1792. In mid-October 1792 he announced the French edition in a prospectus. The intention is to provide French readers with the theoretical foundations of his daily politics through the publication of his political writings. There are both continuities and breaks between the English and French editions of the work.

Marat's philosophical starting point is a political defeatism : Man is born free, but everywhere he is in fetters, he is oppressed by despots. Throwing off the fetters is possible, but requires extreme effort and distrust of the intrigues of the despots, for relapse into barbarism is always a real possibility; Freedom can only be achieved in the struggle against the historically dominant tendency towards bondage. This also applies to every phase of the French Revolution, which for Marat turns out to be more of a history of counter-revolution, for those who have gained power at a given point in time give freedom to the people only on outward appearances; in fact, however, they are trying to lull the people or to drive the party quarrels so far that they lose their desire for freedom and long for a despot.

The work of art by Jacques-Louis David

Four months after the murder of Marat, Jacques-Louis David presented his painting to the convent and had it hung on the front of the room. He also gave a speech in which he called on his followers to take revenge. The picture was reproduced as an engraving by resolution of the Convention. After the fall of the Jacobins , the regulation was passed that portraits of the revolutionary heroes could only be exhibited if more than 10 years had passed since their death. In the post-Napoleonic restoration period, David had to whitewash the painting with white lead to protect it from persecution. After the artist's death, the French government refused to purchase the painting in 1826, and the heirs' attempt to offer the painting to the French National Museum failed 11 years later. In 1893 the nephew of Jacques-Louis Davids bequeathed the picture to the Royal Museum there , presumably out of gratitude for his uncle's friendly welcome in Brussels .


Statue of Jean-Paul Marat in front of the Museum of the French Revolution at Vizille Castle .


  • Œuvres politiques 1798 - 1793 . Texts et guide de lecture prepared by Jacques De Cock and Charlotte Goëtz. Pole Nord, Brussels 1989.
  • L'ami du peuple. Sketches from Marat's journalistic life . Hoffmann & Campe, Hamburg 1846.
  • A Philosophical Essay on Man, being an attempt to investigate the principles and laws of reciprocal influences of the soul and body. 2 volumes, London 1773; French version: De l'homme ou les principes et les loix de l'influence de l'âme sur le corps et du corps sur l'âme. 3 volumes. Amsterdam 1775-1776; German translation by VCH, Acta Humaniora, Weinheim 1992.
  • Les Chaînes de l'Esclavage (1793). The Chains of Slavery (1774). Édition française confrontée au texte original anglais. Présentée by Charlotte Goëtz and Jacques De Cock. Pole Nord, Brussels 1995, ISBN 2-930040-11-4 . / Les chaînes de l'esclavage. Union Générale d'Ed., Paris 1988, ISBN 2-264-01268-4 .
  • The chains of slavery. Translation from French by Reinhard Seufert, Verlag Andreas Achenbach, Gießen / Lollar 1975.
  • Discoveries about light. German translation from 1783, digitized on
  • Selected Writings. Rütten & Loening, Berlin 1954.
  • I am the eye of the people. A portrait in speeches and writings. Edited by Aglaia I. Hartig. Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, Berlin 1987, ISBN 3-8031-2148-5 .


  • Alfred Bougeart: L'Ami du peuple . Librairie Internationale, Paris 1865
  • François Chèvremont: Jean-Paul Marat: esprit politique, accompagné de sa vie scientifique, politique et privée . chez l'auteur, Paris 1880.
  • Louis Gottschalk: A Study of Radicalism . New-York, London 1927.
  • Louis Gottschalk: The Life of Jean Paul Marat . Girard, Kansas 1923.
  • Charles Reber: Un homme cherche la liberté: Jean-Paul Marat . Editions a la Baconnière, Boudry-Neuchâtel 1950.
  • Jean Massin : " Marat " Club français du livre, Paris 1960, 302 pages (rééd. Alinéa, 1988, 308 pages).
  • Friedrich Lohmann: Jean Paul Marat and the criminal law in the French Revolution . Dissertation, Bonn 1963.
  • La Mort de Marat . (dir .: Jean-Claude Bonnet), Flammarion, Paris 1986.
  • Ernest Kriwanec: Jean-Paul Marat: strange among strangers . Karolinger, Vienna 1986, ISBN 3-85418-027-6 .
  • Jacques Guilhaumou: 1793. La mort de Marat . Complexe, Brussels 1989, ISBN 978-2870272763 .
  • Ian Germani: Jean-Paul Marat: hero and anti-hero of the French Revolution . Lewiston, Mellen 1992, ISBN 0-7734-9505-3 .
  • Olivier Coquard: Marat . Fayard, Paris 1993, ISBN 978-2213030661 .
  • Marat, homme de science? . Le Plessis-Robinson, Synthélabo, Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond, 1993, ISBN 978-2908602449 .
  • Jean-Paul-Marat: Œuvres Politiques 1789-1793 (10 volumes), textes et guide de lecture établis par Jacques De Cock et Charlotte Goëtz . Editions Pôle Nord, Brussels 1989–1995, ISBN 978-2930040004 .
  • Charlotte Goëtz: Marat en famille: la saga des Mara (t) . (2 volumes), Editions Pôle Nord, “Chantiers Marat 7-8”, Brussels 2001, ISBN 978-2930040172 .
  • Charlotte Goëtz: Plume de Marat - Plumes sur Marat , (pour une bibliographie générale), (2 volumes), Editions Pôle Nord, “Chantiers Marat 9-10”, Brussels 2006, ISBN 978-2930040196 .
  • Gottfried Biegelmeier, Dieter Kieback, Gerhard Kiefer, Karl-Heinz Krefter: VDE series 80 Protection in electrical systems - Volume 1: Dangers from electrical current , 2nd edition, VDE Verlag GmbH, Berlin and Offenbach 2003, ISBN 978-3- 8007-2603-5 , p. 13.
  • Karl F. Masuhr : Doctors, poets and rebels - psychosomatic aspects of their work. Würzburg 2018, ISBN 978-3-8260-6300-8 , pp. 118f.

Web links

Commons : Jean-Paul Marat  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hyppolyte Taine: The French Revolution . 1881. Volume II, p. 5
  2. ^ Louis Gottschalk: The Life of Jean Paul Marat . Girard, Kansas 1923. p. 96
  3. I am the eye of the people. A portrait in speeches and writings . Edited by Aglaia I. Hartig. Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, Berlin 1987. ISBN 3-8031-2148-5 . P. 29f
  4. Félix Bovet: “ Jean-Paul Marat .” In: “ Le Quérard, archives d'histoirelittéraire de biographie et de bibliographie française ”, Volume II, Paris 1856, page 463.
  5. so in Jean Massin, Marat, Paris 1960, p. 12.
  6. Biographical details of the father see Jean Massin, Marat, Paris 1960, p. 13
  7. a b c Alex Capus: Himmelsstürmer: Twelve Portraits. Knaus, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-8135-0314-2 , p. 28 ff.
  8. William R. Denslow, Harry S. Truman: 10,000 Famous Freemasons from K to Z . Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 1-4179-7579-2 .
  9. unpublished, received in English translation as Polish letters, translated from the original unpublished manuscript , 2 volumes, Boston 1904 ( online at He leaned on the then popular Lettres persanes (" Persian letters ") by Montesquieu, with the first mental sifting of terms such as "state of nature", "social contract" and the like. a.
  10. It was published posthumously as Aventures du jeune Comte Potowski. Un Roman de Cœur, publié pour la première fois, en son entier, d 'après le manuscript autographe et précédé d'un notice littéraire, par le bibliophile Jacob (= Paul Lacroix) , Paris 1848.
  11. (Lacroix edition, Volume 2, page 34f.)
  12. ^ Charles MacLaurin : Post Mortem - Essays, Historical and Medical . GH Doran, New York 1922, p. 200
  13. Will Durant : Cultural History of Mankind . Südwest, Munich 1978. Volume 17 The French Revolution , p. 34
  14. An Essay on the Human Soul , London 1772, in the following year part of A Philosophical Essay on Man, being an attempt to investigate the principles and laws of reciprocal influences of the soul and body , 2 volumes, London 1773, French version ( De l 'homme ou les principes et les loix de l'influence de l'âme sur le corps et du corps sur l'âme ) Amsterdam 1775 and 1776, German translation by VCH, Acta Humaniora, Weinheim 1992.
  15. The "Chains of slavery" (The chains of slavery) were published in London in 1774, in Paris in French ( Les chaînes de l'esclavage ) in 1792.
  16. The "academic title in medicine" awarded to him by St. Andrews University was the "doctor in medicine". PhD certificate from Augustin Cabanès, Marat inconnu , Paris 1891, page 64; he received it presumably without an examination on the advice of two distinguished doctors. This was a common practice at the University of St. Andrews at the time, see Gérard Walter, Marat, Paris 1933, page 43 and Louis R. Gottschalk, Jean-Paul Marat, A study in radicalism, London 1902.
  17. Découvertes sur le feu, l'électricité et la lumière , Paris 1779, also Recherches physiques sur l'électricité , Paris 1782, German translation Leipzig 1784.
  18. Recherches physiques sur le feu , Paris 1780, German translation Leipzig 1782.
  19. ^ Découvertes sur la lumière, London and Paris 1780 , German translation Leipzig 1784.
  20. Notions élementaires d'optique , Paris 1784, also 1787: Optique de Newton, traduction nouvelle (anonymous) , 2 volumes, Paris 1787.
  21. “A pattern of how a grimly evil will behaves in order to at least eliminate something that cannot be completely denied”, he wrote about the critics of Marat ( Goethe's works , second paragraph, 4th volume, Weimar 1894, p 225). It is possible that Goethe also expressed his own sensitivities: for example, with his theory of colors , which Newton declared war, he had to suffer all his life from temptations.
  22. The wording of the competition is reproduced in Gérard Walter, Marat, Paris 1933, on page 61.
  23. ^ Plan de législation en matière criminelle , Neuchâtel 1780; further editions 1782, 1790 and 1795. In 1955 a German translation was arranged and published: Plan of a Criminal Legislation, with a preface to the Russian edition by AA Herzenson, Berlin 1955.
  24. Individual references from Friedrich Lohmann, Jean Paul Marat and the criminal law in the French Revolution , Bonn 1963, page 93 ff.
  25. ^ Lettre au Président de l'Assemblée nationale , April 1790.
  26. Described by Marat himself in Ami du Peuple No. 71 of December 19, 1789.
  27. Louis R. Gottschalk, Jean Paul Marat, A study in radicalism, London 1927, p. 61.
  28. Ami du Peuple No. 223 of September 17, 1790.
  29. Ami du Peuple No. 356 of January 30, 1791.
  30. Will Durant : Cultural History of Mankind . Südwest, Munich 1978. Volume 17 The French Revolution , p. 35
  31. ^ Louis Gottschalk: The Life of Jean Paul Marat . Girard, Kansas 1923. p. 96
  32. For more detailed information and citations, see Friedrich Lohmann, Jean-Paul Marat and the criminal law in the French Revolution , Bonn 1963, page 134, footnote 11.
  33. ^ Hyppolyte Taine: The French Revolution . 1881. Volume II, p. 211
  34. ^ Louis Gottschalk: The Life of Jean Paul Marat . Girard, Kansas 1923. p. 120
  35. ^ Toni de-Dios, Lucy van Dorp, Philippe Charlier, Sofia Morfopoulou, Esther Lizano: Metagenomic analysis of a blood stain from the French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793) . In: bioRxiv . October 31, 2019, bioRxiv : 10.1101 / 825034v1 ( preprint full text), p. 825034 , doi : 10.1101 / 825034 .
  36. Józef Powroźniak: Guitar Lexicon. Transl. [From Leksykon gitary ] from d. Polish. by Bernd Haag. Employee at d. exp. u. revised German-language edition: A. Quadt […]. 1979; 4th edition. Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-7333-0029-7 , p. 81 f.
  37. ^ Matthias Henke and Michael Stegmann: Hector Berlioz - early manuscripts with guitar music. Guitar & Laute (1980), 6, pp. 46-52; P. 50 f.
  38. Des “Chains” aux Chaînes . In: Jean-Paul Marat: Les Chaînes de l'Esclavage (1793). The Chains of Slavery (1774). Édition française confrontée au texte original anglais. Présentée by Charlotte Goëtz and Jacques De Cock. Pole Nord Bruxelles 1995. ISBN 2-930040-11-4 . Pp. XXVII-XLII.
  39. Introduction. Jean-Paul Marat et l'Esprit du Politique . In: Jean-Paul Marat: Les Chaînes de l'Esclavage (1793). The Chains of Slavery (1774). Édition française confrontée au texte original anglais. Présentée by Charlotte Goëtz and Jacques De Cock. Pole Nord Bruxelles 1995. ISBN 2-930040-11-4 . S. XV-XXVI.
  40. Full text online at
  41. ^ Bonn jurisprudential treatises. Published by the Law and Political Science Faculty of the University of Bonn. Volume 59. Ludwig Röhrscheid Verlag.