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III - Real and Imaginary Meetings

White’s Hotel: A Junction of British Radical Culture in Early 1790s Paris

Rachel Rogers
p. 153-172

Abstract

Cet article explore la façon dont la culture radicale et la sociabilité britanniques se sont exprimées à un moment crucial de la révolution française. On peut être surpris par la ténacité d’une certaine partie de la communauté britannique qui est restée à Paris même après février 1793 quand la guerre franco-britannique éclata. Quelques-unes des manifestations spatiales de cette culture prorévolutionnaire sont examinées, et surtout celle de l’hôtel White, situé au cœur de l’action révolutionnaire. L’article démontre la complexité des intérêts britanniques, mélange d’esprit d’entreprise, d’idées politiques et d’initiatives privées. On ne verra pas de contradiction dans de telles convergences, pas plus que des manipulations purement pragmatiques dépendantes d’un contexte politique, mais plutôt le signe de la vivacité de la culture des Lumières, toujours propice à la circulation et à l’échange des idées.

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  • 1 Sampson Perry, An Historical Sketch of the French Revolution; Commencing with its Predisposing Caus (...)

1One of the British activists who took up residence in Paris in late 1792 wrote of the conjunction of old and new regimes he had witnessed in some of the makeshift prisons while incarcerated in 1793-94 under the measures taken against foreigners whose countries were at war with France. He wrote, “This is a lively, but shocking picture of the commencement and progress of a revolution, where the newly created authority meets the worn out and dying power with nearly equal force, as two contrary currents of water form a swell and throw up or swallow in turn whatever is found to float between them.”1 British supporters of the Revolution formed an official club in Paris at a critical junction, when not only the old and new orders in France were colliding to produce a new, republican outcome, but when Britain and France were on the brink of a war which would have an indelible human and diplomatic impact on both countries. Supporting the Revolution and living in revolutionary Paris from 1792 onwards was a radical gesture from British nationals whose government had cast even mildly enthusiastic onlookers as potential traitors. This paper addresses the expression of British radical culture and sociability in exile at this crucial phase of the French Revolution. It first explores the nature and surprising tenacity of the British radical community in Paris during this turbulent era, particularly after the outbreak of the Anglo-French war. It then goes on to consider some of the ways in which British expatriate radicalism manifested itself in space, with White’s Hotel as a crucial hub, situated as it was at the heart of revolutionary action. Finally, it seeks to examine the complexity of the interests of British radical activists, many of whom combined entrepreneurship, politics and private initiatives while resident in the French capital. Such convergences were not necessarily contradictory, and demonstrate the centrality of an Enlightenment culture which gave importance to exchange in a variety of different forms.

White’s Hotel and the British Club in Paris

2While early reactions to the Revolution of 1789 in Britain allowed for a range of opinions, by the time of the events of August and September 1792, there remained little scope for even the most temperate support. The popular invasion of the royal residence at the Tuileries in early August 1792, forcing the submission of the king to popular authority, his refuge in the National Assembly and eventual arrest shocked the British public. But what followed, namely the massacres in the prisons of Paris in early September 1792, the establishment of a republic later the same month and the decision to try and execute the king, put pay to whatever leeway remained for open backing of the Revolution in Britain. The republican turn, accompanied as it was by popular reprisals, was interpreted by British critics as the epitome of the arbitrary violence and anarchic mob rule that the Revolution had come to symbolise. No overt advocacy of changes based on a French model could be expressed without courting charges of sedition therefore and, by 1793-94, of high treason.

  • 2 Paul Gerbod, Voyages au pays des mangeurs de grenouilles: la France vue par les Britanniques du XVI (...)
  • 3 A notable example of later revisionism is the case of David Williams who, in his autobiographical a (...)

3It was in this context, however, that British radical expatriates decided to form an official pro-revolutionary club in Paris. The founding meeting of the British Club of Jacobins took place at White’s Hotel in the 2nd arrondissement on 18th November 1792. At the dinner held that night, the success of the French armies was toasted and a group of core members drafted a written address of congratulation to the National Convention, to be presented six days later. The club was founded therefore just over two months after the events of 2nd September 1792, which had sealed the more widespread British counter-reaction to the Revolution and which prompted many observers to return home. As Paul Gerbod has noted, “[British observers], rarely at the scene of the massacres, only heard echoes from the circulation of rumour among the public. For a large number of them, it was a breaking point. There was an increase in departures for Calais and Boulogne. Curiosity was replaced by apprehension and even fear.”2 Considering their decision to found a pro-revolutionary society at this turning point, the individuals who affiliated to the British Club were unquestionably on the radical fringe of the reform movement, whatever their later attempts to revise and rewrite their involvement.3

4An entry in the official newspaper of the revolutionary government, Le Moniteur Universel of 26th November 1792 announced:

  • 4 Le Moniteur Universel, Monday 26th November 1792.

De Paris—Les Anglais demeurant à Paris se sont assemblés, il y a quelques jours, à l’hôtel de Withes, passage des Petits-Pères, pour célébrer les victoires des armées de la république française et le triomphe de la liberté. Des étrangers de différentes contrées de l’Europe ont étés invités à cette fête, et ont pris part à la joie qui transportait l’assemblée. Ainsi s’étendent chaque jour les liens de la fraternité universelle à laquelle les Français ont invité tous les peuples, et qu’ils veulent établir au prix de leur sang.4 

5Further meetings took place throughout November and December. At a gathering on the 16th December 1792, an address was delivered from the president of the Section de la place des fédérés, proof perhaps that the British were not only mixing with leading figures of the Revolution but also with local representatives of the district sections, considered as the voice of the sans culottes and radical popular wing of the Revolution. These early gatherings in the last months of 1792 were followed by the official registration of the club with the Paris city authorities at the start of 1793:

  • 5 Le Moniteur Universel, Monday 7th January 1793

Des étrangers, pour la plupart Anglais, Ecossais et Irlandais, résidant à Paris, se sont présentés au secrétariat de la municipalité, et ont déclaré, suivant la loi, qu’ils se réuniront tous les dimanches et jeudis, sous le nom de Société des Amis des Droits de l’Homme, à l’hôtel anglais de White, no. 7, passage des Petits-Pères.5

  • 6 Captain Monro to Lord Grenville, Paris, 13th December 1792, TNA FO 27/41.

6The society presented an address to the Jacobin Club on 12th January 1793 and intended to present a second one to the National Convention the day after only a week or so before Louis XVI’s execution.6

  • 7 Captain Monro to Lord Grenville, Paris, 17th December 1792, TNA FO 27/40 Part 2.
  • 8 Captain Monro to Lord Grenville, Paris, 13th January 1793, TNA FO 27/41.
  • 9 Captain Monro to Lord Grenville, Paris, 31st December 1792, TNA FO 27/40 Part 2.

7The British Club, or Society of the Friends of the Rights of Man, was at its height therefore in the closing months of 1792 and early 1793. Yet Captain George Monro, who documented the activities of British radicals in Paris in late 1792 and early 1793, emphasized the insignificance of the club: “The party of Conspirators have now formed themselves into a Society, the principles of which I have the honor of inclosing, they have however as yet met with but few subscribers, many of them that signed the late address heartily refuse it.”7 By early 1793, many British Club members were withdrawing from the society, concerned about the outbreak of war and their potential proscription from Britain. John Frost was one of the earliest club members to leave Paris, arriving back in Britain in February 1793, only to be apprehended on charges of sedition.8 Monro also suggested that the French National Convention was beginning to consider the grouping insignificant and their addresses wearisome: “I have every reason to believe the Convention are tired of such nonsense sensing the insignificancy of the people that present them. Should I however see anything worth mentioning in the proceedings of such a [wretched] society I shall lose no time in giving you my oppinions [sic] of them.”9 For Monro therefore, the energy of the British Club had dissipated by the time of the entry into war, leading to the rapid dissolution of the society.

  • 10 The address is held at the Archives des Affaires Étrangères at La Courneuve Paris. I am grateful to (...)

8 Yet in March 1793, many members were still recognised by the ruling French administration as among the most loyal residents of Paris and they received some degree of protection from the authorities, despite the fact that their government was at war with France. Some acted as trial witnesses during the course of April and May 1793 and even as late as September 1793, after the introduction of the Law of Suspects, the “residents of Paris” continued to petition the authorities for special consideration in “an address presented to the National Convention, by the English, Irish, and Scottish residents of Paris and its environs.”10 In the address, they reiterated their support for the Revolution and expressed understanding of the need to defeat its enemies, yet they also argued the case for “justice” and “hospitality” in the light of the severe laws applicable to foreigners that had been introduced. They reminded the Convention that, as foreigners, they had come to Paris to seek “asylum” as “friends of universal liberty” and requested that their plight be reconsidered. The presentation of such an address suggests that the associational culture that had been fuelled by gatherings at White’s Hotel had not entirely dissolved by later 1793, despite the reports to the contrary by British secret agents.

9The club numbered between eighty and a hundred members, with fifty active adherents and around fifteen driving figures with a rotating presidency and egalitarian chain of command. Key members included the radical printer John Hurford Stone, newspaper editor Sampson Perry, poet and playwright Robert Merry, lawyer John Frost as well as the Scottish pamphleteer John Oswald, former MP Sir Robert Smith and Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Thomas Paine, who had achieved fame during the American Revolution through the publication of his pamphlet Common Sense, was also loosely linked to the club, though not its principal convenor, as were a host of other radical men and women, including Helen Maria Williams, George Edwards and Mary Wollstonecraft. A number of those who gathered at White’s Hotel had been indicted for sedition in Britain and had sought exile in Paris. What seems clear from the activities of the club in late 1792 but also through the more turbulent months of 1793 and early 1794, is that British radical culture had a vibrant core centred on meetings at White’s Hotel but also manifesting itself later in other forms. The network forged in the wake of the creation of the republic would fuel parallel business or literary ventures and also provided a source of solidarity for the many radicals who would be detained in Paris jails during the Terror. It was equally a microcosm of a particular brand of Enlightenment sociability which had roots in the reforming culture that radicals had helped to forge prior to their exile in Paris.

White’s Hotel: a busy junction of sociability and Enlightenment culture

10The hotel where the British Club met was named after its English owner, Christopher White, a wine merchant and hotelier. White was forced to close down his Paris venture with the incarceration and departure of foreigners during the course of 1793. Yet during the last months of 1792 and early 1793, expatriates met there, conferred on the latest events in Paris and elsewhere, were served dinner once a week and used the hotel as their principal address, signing off private correspondence and political pamphlets from there. Even after the closure of the hotel, friendships and ties nourished there would last well into the later months of 1793. Many of the reformers who formed the British Club hailed from a dissenting and radical background. Several had been members of the Society for Constitutional Information, one of the reform societies which eventually became a target of repression under William Pitt’s government in 1794. Some had also taken part, either as committee members or subscribers, in the Literary Fund, a philanthropic initiative aimed at helping struggling artists and their families. The British Club provided expatriates with the opportunity to extend the networks already created in Britain and perpetuate a radical culture in exile.

  • 11 Arthur Young, Arthur Young’s Travels in France during the years 1787, 1788, 1789, ed. Miss Betham-E (...)
  • 12 Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View 76.
  • 13 “Ce n'étaient plus ces premiers temps du Palais Royal, où ses cafés furent les églises de la Révolu (...)

11The British presence in Paris gave rise to intersecting networks of sociability, sometimes in public spaces where leisure, dining or conversation were the principal pursuits, sometimes in more restricted spheres, such as private premises, salons, lodgings or even within the prison network. Many evenings were spent at White’s Hotel, in the heart of the second arrondissement, an area of flux and interchange. The hotel was just off the Places des Victoires and a few minutes’ walk from the Palais Royal, the residence of the Duc d’Orléans and hub of café and literary culture in Paris. Residents of White’s Hotel would have been in constant contact with the bustle and animation of the gardens where Camille Desmoulins had exhorted crowds to insurgency after the expulsion of Necker from Louis XVI’s counsel, just before the taking of the Bastille, and where commerce was pursued amid political addresses, prostitution and gambling in an environment free of literary censorship. Arthur Young expressed his surprise at the French authorities allowing public, unconstrained oration in open spaces: “I am all amazement at the ministry permitting such nests and hotbeds of sedition and revolt, which disseminate amongst the people, every hour, principles that by and by must be opposed with vigour, and therefore it seems little short of madness to allow the propagation at present.”11 The Palais, formerly a seat of the monarchy until Louis XIV gave it to the house of Orléans, had been reinvested under the Revolution. Its grounds became known as the “jardins de la Révolution” after 1791 and its name changed to Palais Egalité in 1792. In An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution (1794), Mary Wollstonecraft gave a rather different portrait of the atmosphere around the Palais to that of Young. For Wollstonecraft, it was “the centre of information; and the whole city flocking thither, to talk or to listen, returned home warmed with the love of freedom, and determined to oppose, and the risk of life, the power that should still labour to enslave them.”12 This hub of literary and political life was a microcosm of the spirit of liberty which had gripped the French nation. Yet by 1793, the gardens were generally associated with secrecy, plotting and assassination. Jules Michelet summed up this vision of the 1793 Palais as a place of “life, death, quick pleasures, rude, violent, fatal pleasure.”13 There can be little doubt that the view of British residents, frequent visitors or guests at White’s Hotel, just round the corner from the Palais, would have been forged to a certain extent through their experience of the encounters witnessed in the arcades and gardens in the area.

  • 14 See AN F7/4775/23.
  • 15 Moore, The Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald 73-74.
  • 16 See Perry, An Historical Sketch I: 9-10.
  • 17 Ian Newman is currently finishing his doctoral thesis entitled Tavern Talk: Literature, Politics, C (...)
  • 18 I am grateful in particular to Ian Newman for his views on tavern culture in London. I would also l (...)

12Dinners at White’s would often be the occasion for socialising and the broadening of networks, a typical feature of club life. An informant for the French authorities, Citizen Arthur, who denounced the radical printer John Hurford Stone as a British spy on 8th March 1794, suggested that a man named Milne provided dinner at the hotel almost every week for British guests in what he describes as a sort of English tavern.14 Edward Fitzgerald, writing from the hotel on 30th October 1792, described his own sociable routine: “I lodge with my friend Paine, – we breakfast, dine, and sup together.”15 Sampson Perry recounted how he “breakfasted with Paine about this time, at the Philadelphia Hotel.” Perry was seeking Paine’s advice on how to establish oneself in America without any means of subsistence.16 Paine also ate with members of the American radical circle at White’s Hotel on the evening of his arrest. In Britain, during the late eighteenth century, tavern culture developed alongside inn and alehouse culture with different codes and clientele. Ian Newman has shown how the different sites of conviviality were governed by specific rules and behaviour.17 Rather than being the equivalent of a hôtel particulier, White’s Hotel may have been a sort of English tavern implanted in the centre of Paris, displaying some of the conventions of tavern culture, which included the housing of radical associations with a clear public agenda. The London SCI and the loyalist Reeves Association both held their official meetings at the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the Strand in London. Taverns tended to host associational gathering but could also provide venues for more frivolous social occasions and private lodgings.18

  • 19 This recollection is included in Stone’s letter written from Verdun on 16th October 1792 while he w (...)
  • 20 Moore, The Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald 73-74.
  • 21 George Monro, 6th December 1792, TNA TS 11/959.

13Sociable gatherings would also take place outside the walls of White’s Hotel. John Hurford Stone went to the theatre “when we saw the representation of Brutus, just after the tenth of August.”19 Stone also went on at least one occasion to the opera, an activity disliked by his later companion, Helen Maria Williams. Accompanied by Lord Edward Fitzgerald in November 1792 after the latter’s recent arrival in Paris, Stone went to see a performance of Lodoïska, a heroic comedy by Luigi Cherubini. Fitzgerald described his activities in Paris a letter to his mother: “I pass my time very pleasantly, read, walk, and go quietly to the play.”20 He would also breakfast and dine with fellow radicals at White’s Hotel although, according to Captain Monro, his principal interests were less lofty and he “passes most of his time with women.”21 Helen Maria Williams could not understand why her fellow countrymen preferred to visit the opera rather than attend lectures at the Lycée on subjects such as philosophy, the arts, science, history and poetry:

  • 22 H. M. Williams, Letters from France: Containing Many New Anecdotes Relative to the French Revolutio (...)

I am surprised to meet there with so few of my countrymen. Such of them as come to Paris in order to acquire the French language, would find at the Lycée not only the advantages of instruction, but of conversation; since the gentlemen form a sort of club every evening, when the journals of the day are read, and its politics discussed.22

  • 23 H. M. Williams, Letters from France II: 129-30.
  • 24 H. M. Williams, Letters from France II: 130.

14The Lycée was initially founded by the Comte d’Artois in 1785 in order to allow celebrated professors to give lectures on different topics. Although abandoned during the early Revolution, the lectures had been revived and allowed both men and women to have access to instruction. Williams admired how “learning seems stripped of its thorns, and decorated with flowers,” and was a place where “the gay and social Parisians cultivate science and the belles letters, amidst the pleasures and attractions of society.”23 Such enjoyment through education contrasted with the English tradition where learning had to be in “sober meditation, and serious solitude.”24 Williams suggested that such an initiative would make a welcome change in London from fashionable but vapid conversation and endless card assemblies.

  • 25 Rickman, The Life of Thomas Paine 129.
  • 26 Rickman, The Life of Thomas Paine 130.
  • 27 Thomas Paine to Doctor James O’Fallon, 17th February 1793, Foner ed., The Complete Writings of Thom (...)

15Thomas Paine, after a brief spell at White’s, moved to a hotel near rue Richelieu and finally to 63 rue du faubourg Saint-Denis in 1793, where he occupied shared apartments with British Club members William Choppin and William Johnson. In his lodgings at the Hôtel Richelieu, Paine had been “so plagued and interrupted by numerous visitors, and sometimes by adventurers, that in order to have some time to himself he appropriated two mornings in a week for his levee days.”25 Thomas Rickman described how Thomas Paine withdrew from the hub of sociability at White’s as conditions for foreigners became more stringent during 1793. With “a good garden well laid out” in rue du faubourg Saint-Denis, he would rise at seven in the morning and breakfast with William Johnson, William Choppin and “two or three other Englishmen” before spending some time in the grounds.26 He also received a number of friends, a “chosen few”, with whom he “unbent himself.” These callers included leading French revolutionaries as well as some English and American acquaintances. In a letter to the Irish revolutionary, James O’Fallon, written from “Passy, near Paris”, Paine describes being “at my little retreat, a few miles from Paris, where I expect some American friends to dinner.”27 Rickman paints a rather improbably idyllic portrait of Paine in his final days of liberty before he was arrested and incarcerated in the Luxembourg:

  • 28 Rickman, The Life of Thomas Paine 135-36.

The little happy circle who lived with him here will ever remember these days with delight: with these select friends he would talk of his boyish days, play at chess, whist, piquet, or cribbage, and enliven the moments by many interesting anecdotes: with these he would play at marbles, scotch hops, battledores, &c. on the broad and fine gravel walk at the upper end of the garden, and then retire to his boudoir, where he was up to his knees in letters and papers of various descriptions. Here he remained till dinner time; and unless he visited Brissot’s family, or some particular friend in the evening, which was his frequent custom, he joined again the society of his favourites and fellow-boarders, with whom his conversation was often witty and cheerful, always acute and improving, but never frivolous.28

16Rickman, writing after Paine’s death and aware of the profound effect produced on his former friend by the conditions of imprisonment under the Terror, depicted a scene of quiet and restrained sociability, free of the diversions of Paris and the clamour of the crowds, where revolutionaries and British expatriates would gather to hear Paine’s playful anecdotes and “witty” but undemonstrative conversation. Yet if we turn to other accounts, it would seem that British Club sociability was not simply restricted to card games and anodyne discussion, but could display some of the vigour and irreverent contention that came to characterise the Revolution at its most radical. Dispute and contention were not uncommon among British expatriates and some discussions could come to blows, conducted as they were against a backdrop of increasing tension and the threat of death.

17Those radicals who congregated at White’s nurtured friendships and loyalties that would be called upon in the less cosmopolitan climate of 1793 to 1794. Christopher White struggled to obtain the liberty of his business partner Nicholas Joyce's children after Joyce's death in prison and Thomas Paine wrote letters on behalf of members of the British Club, Sir Robert Smith and Robert Rayment, after their release in an attempt to convince the Thermidorian government to let them remain in Paris. John Hurford Stone helped out compatriots financially and Robert Merry tried to secure the passage out of France of fellow British residents before his own departure in May 1793. Several delivered money packages or lent each other sums as revenues dwindled with imprisonment and as many suffered under the terms of property confiscation applied to foreigners. There was a strong philanthropic and cooperative undercurrent to their activities, perhaps forged or reinforced by their experience of common hardship or imprisonment. As well as providing an opportunity to engage in the key political debates of the French Revolution therefore, the British Club was also a way of perpetuating a particular brand of associational culture, located spatially in different sites around Paris, and linked to a British radical heritage forged during the later eighteenth century. The encounters also prompted club members to engage in speculative business ventures and collective entrepreneurial projects which also deviated from a purely political agenda.

The convergence of politics, entrepreneurship and espionage at White’s Hotel

  • 29 Buel, Joel Barlow: American Citizen 139.
  • 30 George Monro, 6th December 1792, TNA TS 11/959.
  • 31 Alger, “The British Colony in Paris, 1792-1793.” Alden also suggests that Sayre set up a factory at (...)
  • 32 See Alger, Paris in 1789-1794 352.
  • 33 Letter from October 28th 1792, quoted in Alden, Stephen Sayre 173. Sayre also tried to persuade Sta (...)
  • 34 Buel, Joel Barlow: American Citizen 164.
  • 35 Alden, Stephen Sayre 161.

18Despite the importance of the British Club’s public agenda, political endeavours were often pursued in parallel with commercial, literary and private pursuits. The club’s active members conjugated different interests, sometimes to the disapproval of fellow members. Richard Buel has suggested that Joel Barlow “seems to have been more preoccupied with exploring economic opportunities than observing the revolutionary drama playing out in Paris.”29 Stephen Sayre, an American member of the Club, renowned republican and signatory of the British address to the Convention, ran a snuff and tobacco shop from White’s Hotel, combining political activism with lucrative commercial practice.30 Sayre probably established his business in May 1792, using White’s as an outlet.31 He advertised his activity in the Journal de Paris on 25th May 1792, emphasizing the excellent quality of the tobacco on offer.32 Sayre wrote to Lord Stanhope in October 1792 informing him, “I have a part of White’s Hotel, his first floor is as yet unoccupied.”33 Buel argues that Sayre and Gilbert Imlay “used the clichés of revolutionary republicanism to promote their own interests,” portraying their behaviour as the cynical exploitation of economic opportunities under a veneer of activism.34 Yet most British Club members hailed from the urban bourgeoisie and could envisage conjugating commercial enterprise and republicanism without any perceived ideological contradiction. Sayre’s biographer emphasizes the complex nature of the American’s engagement with France, arguing that “his troubles in English society and his failure to secure recognition and employment from the republic across the Atlantic enhanced the fascination that the continuing French Revolution exerted on him, but he was also seeking economic opportunity.”35 Expatriates in Paris often conformed to this loose model of the entrepreneur-activist whose hopes of private personal advancement had been frustrated elsewhere, leading them to embrace a public reform agenda for ideological reasons but also because it allowed them to pursue economic gain.

  • 36 John Goldworth Alger, “The British Colony in Paris, 1792-1793.” See also Citizen Arthur’s declarati (...)
  • 37 Nicholas Joyce was probably a signatory to the British Club address of 24th November 1792. Although (...)
  • 38 Christopher White’s career in France is outlined in some detail in the submissions he made to the C (...)

19British Club member, James Gamble, who also put his name to the residents’ address to the National Convention, set up a paper manufactory in Paris, and may have assumed co-ownership of White’s Hotel after the landlord, Christopher White, who had called on Gamble to be his guarantor, got into financial difficulties in 1793.36 White himself was first and foremost a businessman, setting up a hotel and brasserie in Le Havre in 1786 with his wife and two children after receiving inviting offers from several tradesmen and negotiators to establish himself in the northern French port town. He transferred his livelihood to Paris in 1790, renting a house for ten thousand francs per year and furnishing it at great expense. White exploited the Revolution’s attractiveness to foreigners to populate his hotel. He encouraged members of the British Club to hold their twice-weekly meetings on his premises and did not object to Paine, Fitzgerald and others making the hotel their temporary residence. Nevertheless, White also had a number of less enthusiastic observers of the Revolution on his guest register. Foreign-Office spy, Captain Monro and his successor Mr Somers, also stayed at the hotel during their missions on behalf of the British government. Despite White’s concessions to the radical core of British expatriates, his primary interests remained in entrepreneurship therefore. After the flight of most foreigners from Paris in mid to late 1793, which precipitated the collapse of his hotel enterprise, he set up in business with another compatriot and British Club member, Nicholas Joyce, renting the Carmelites convent and establishing a cotton factory.37 The factory was about to be opened when the Convention declared the wholesale arrest of British citizens in October 1793. White’s arrest and imprisonment seem to have ended his commercial aspirations in France, though little is yet known of his fate after the Luxembourg.38

  • 39 Howell, A Complete Collection of State Trials 25: 1218.
  • 40 Yorke, France in 1802. See chapter entitled “Thomas Paine, Jack Barlow. The Abbé Costi. Dr. Sudaeur (...)
  • 41 Howell, A Complete Collection of State Trials 25: 1301. Letter dated 24th October 1792.

20John Hurford Stone, as well as acting as president of the British Club, also pursued a relatively successful printing venture in Paris while engaging in different speculative activities. He was also involved in cotton manufacturing and became “tolerably rich” through his business pursuits.39 Hurford Stone and Joel Barlow exploited openings in the real estate field following the flight of French émigrés to British shores. Barlow purchased his Paris house at a price far below its value, after it had been confiscated by the revolutionary authorities.40 Hurford Stone mentioned his own intention to purchase an abandoned property at low cost in a district close to his latest manufacturing interest: “I have some thought, of buying one of those Emigrants’ houses on the side of the city, where our business will be carried on, as there is no doubt of these houses being sold very cheap, and as national property, not to be paid for under 12 years.”41 Stone, though closely involved in the political initiatives of the British Club, aimed at exploiting the economic opportunities presented by the Revolution in a series of experimental business plans.

  • 42 The material held on Robert Rayment in the National Archives in Paris is extensive. See AN F7/4774/ (...)

21Robert Rayment, one of the least well-documented of the British radicals in Paris, described his profession as a merchant and agriculturalist to his captors during his incarceration from late 1793. Rayment went to France to present an economic proposal relating to the fabrication of copper currency to the revolutionaries and publicise his ideas on agrarian improvement. While he was in France he was recruited as a representative of a French banking establishment, the Caisse d’Escompte, to gather information about the organisation and running of the Bank of England. Yet Rayment also seems to have combined economic endeavour with political activism, being one of the principal figures behind a plan to provide relief for the widows and orphans of those who died at the Tuileries on 10th August 1792 and signing the British Club petition of support to the National Convention in November 1792. Rayment, along with Thomas Marshall, another signatory of the British Club address, devised a plan to increase the value of assignats and to lower the price of foodstuffs in an attempt to relieve the financial distress of the less well-off among the French population. Copies of the plan were filtered down to the departments of France.42

  • 43 Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View 46.
  • 44 To Gilbert Imlay, 29th December 1793, Wollstonecraft, Collected Letters 235.
  • 45 To Gilbert Imlay, 29th December 1793, Wollstonecraft, Collected Letters 235.
  • 46 To Gilbert Imlay, 1st January 1794, Wollstonecraft, Collected Letters 238.
  • 47 To Gilbert Imlay, 23rd September 1794, Wollstonecraft, Collected Letters 264.
  • 48 Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View 116.

22Rayment was not unique among his British Club associates to be active in searching for practical ways of alleviating the distress of the poor or vocal in calling for the end of the oppression of the destitute by the rich. Mary Wollstonecraft bewailed the persistence of poverty as a barrier to the moral improvement of French society, asking, “How, in fact, can we expect to see men live together like brothers, when we only see master and servant in society? For till men learn mutually to assist without governing each other, little can be done by political associations towards perfecting the condition of mankind.”43 If British Club members were interested in commerce and speculation, not all believed that economic activity should be unlimited. For Wollstonecraft, commercial activity was a way of securing the general improvement of society and should not be conducted to perpetuate economic inequality between the wealthy and the poor. One of the perennial themes in Mary Wollstonecraft’s letters to Gilbert Imlay was her disapproval of his penchant for commerce. After Imlay’s extended stay in Le Havre she wrote to him with that expectation that he would “make a power of money to indemnify me for your absence.”44 Wollstonecraft repeatedly reproached Imlay for his attachment to speculation. On 29th December 1793 she wrote, “Be not too anxious to get money! – for nothing worth having is to be purchased.”45 Three days later she reiterated her view on his business ventures stating, “I hate commerce.”46 As her frustration with their protracted separation continued, Wollstonecraft began to accuse Imlay of having been “embruted by trade and the vulgar enjoyments of life.”47 Although her frustration was evidently motivated by the spectre of her estrangement from Imlay, the tension that emerges between the coveting of present time and immaterial joys and the pursuit of commercial gain also had a philosophical slant. As Wollstonecraft noted in An Historical and Moral View, the German model of moral and cultural advancement was laudable not only because it was pursued with “simplicity of manners, and honesty of heart,” two virtues crucial to her vision of moral improvement, but the situation of the country “prevents that inundation of riches by commercial sources, that destroys the morals of a nation before it’s [sic] reason arrives at maturity.”48 Commerce was not a curse in itself, but it was unhelpful in the early stages of cultivating a polished society. She criticised “the destructive influence of commerce” on men whose state of moral infancy led them to partake in an “aristocracy of wealth” and “exchange savageness for tame servility.” It was the slavishness that commerce engendered in degenerate European man, and the way it displaced honest husbandry, which she objected to rather than commerce as an ideal form of rational human exchange.

  • 49 Roger Chartier, Les origins culturelles de la Révolution française 28-29. My translation.

23What stands out from these cases is that from the outset radical sympathy was combined with economic activity. Adherence to the goals of the Revolution was not seen as incompatible with financial speculation or industrial and manufacturing innovation. On the contrary, there was much to justify their fusion. Speculation, experimentation and the embracing of novelty were key features of revolutionary thinking, distinguishing adherents of the Revolution from more sceptical observers. As Roger Chartier has shown, the “certainty of inauguration” and the “illusion of a new departure” were essential aspects of the Revolution’s cultural heritage.49 The latitude accorded to foreign patriots would change radically once the more open cosmopolitanism of the first three years of the Revolution began to disintegrate and when experimentation began to be associated with deviance and counter-revolution rather than commercial innovation.

  • 50 James Epstein, “Spatial Practices / Democratic Vistas” in Social History 24:3 (Oct 1999) 301, 310.

24As historian James Epstein has noted, “in large part the history of popular radicalism can … be written as a contest to gain access to and appropriate sites of assembly and expression.” He goes on, “meanings, constructions of subjective identities, the very possibilities for representation cannot be understood outside historically specific practices and imaginings attached to spaces.”50 British expatriate radicals formed what was an itinerant, fleeting and eclectic community at White’s Hotel in Paris, where politics was never entirely divorced from private interests and where the associational practices of an emerging British urban manufacturing and industrial class were in evidence. The club provided a source of support and exchange and allowed for animated political and ideological altercations. These confrontations, though perceived by spy George Munro as revealing the Club’s inherent fragility, the violent pathologies of its members and its openness to international “riff-raff”, show that the British Club conformed to some of the associational rules governing Enlightenment networks of improvement in a broad sense. Clubs were seen by their members, many of whom derived from the emerging middling classes – participants in what Jürgen Habermas has called the bourgeois public sphere – as places where minds and ideas could meet. Although encouraging free expression, clubs were restricted in membership however, and operated with strict conditions governing codes of behaviour and membership.

25The British Club was a meeting ground – of international reformers from an emerging class, of political ideas, of philanthropy, commerce and activism. Historical attempts to define the club have given rise to a confrontation of opinions. For Home and Foreign Office spies, it was a hotbed of sedition, populated by conspirators bent on undermining the “happy” British constitution, while for nostalgic commentators in the 19th century it was a hub of revolutionary idealism. The secrecy, silence and suspicion which surrounded the club have only intensified the ambiguity. The club was more than likely all of these and, despite its short-lived existence, provides insights into the way in which the Revolution was mediated between Britain and France by figures who did not, in the main, feature on the official diplomatic radar. It also brings to light the associational culture of British radicalism, in exile in Paris, which conformed to, but also contested and reshaped, the codes of other British reforming networks in the late eighteenth century.

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Bibliography

Manuscript Sources

Foreign Office Papers, The National Archive
TNA FO 27/41.
TNA FO 27/40 Part 2.

Treasury Solicitors Papers, The National Archive
TNA TS 11/959.

Archives Nationales, Police Générale
AN F7/4775/23
AN F7/4775/52
AN F7/4774/88

Printed Sources

Alden, John R, Stephen Sayre: American Revolutionary Adventurer, Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.

Alger, John G., “The British Colony in Paris, 1792-1793,” The English Historical Review, (13.52), 1898, 672-694.

—, Paris in 1789-94: Farewell Letters of Victims of the Guillotine, London: Allen, 1902.

Buel, Richard, Joel Barlow: American Citizen in a Revolutionary World, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.

Chartier, Roger, Les Origines culturelles de la Révolution française, Paris: Seuil, 1990.

Epstein, James, “Spatial Practices / Democratic Vistas,” Social History 24:3, October 1999.

Gerbod, Paul, Voyages au pays des mangeurs de grenouilles: la France vue par les Britanniques du XVIIIème siècle à nos jours, Paris: A. Michel, 1991.

Howell, Thomas B, Thomas J. Howell, William Cobbett, and David Jardine, A Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason and Other Crimes and Misdemeanors from the Earliest Period to the Year 1783, London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1816-1828.

Michelet, Jules, Les Femmes de la Révolution, Paris: Chamerot, 1863.

Moore, Thomas, The Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Paris: Baudry’s European Library, 1935.

Paine, Thomas, and Philip S. Foner, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, New York: Citadel, 1945.

Perry, Sampson, An Historical Sketch of the French Revolution; Commencing with its Predisposing Causes, and Carried on to the Acceptation of the Constitution, in 1795, vol. II, London: Symonds, 1796.

Réimpression de l'Ancien Moniteur: seule histoire authentique et inaltérée de la Révolution française depuis la réunion des États-Généraux jusqu'au Consulat (mai 1789-novembre 1799), Paris: Plon, 1858.

Rickman, Thomas C, and Thomas Paine, The Life of Thomas Paine: Author of Common Sense, Rights of Man, Age of Reason, Letter to the Addresses, &c. &c., London: Rickman, 1819.

Williams, David, Incidents in My Own Life Which Have Been Thought of Some Importance, France, Peter ed., Brighton: University of Sussex Library, 1980.

Williams, Helen Maria, Letters from France: containing A Great Variety of Interesting and Original Information concerning the most important events that have lately been occurring in that country, and particularly respecting the campaign of 1792, vol. III, London: G. G. and J. Robinson, 1793.

—, Letters from France: Containing Many New Anecdotes Relative to the French Revolution, and the Present State of French Manners, vol. II, 3rd edition; London: G.G. and J. Robinson, 1796.

Wollstonecraft, Mary, and Janet M. Todd, The Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft, New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

, Janet M. Todd and Marilyn Butler, The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft: An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution. Letters to Joseph Johnson. Letters Written in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, London: Pickering, 1989.

Yorke, Henry R, and J A. C. Sykes, France in 1802: Described in a Series of Contemporary Letters, London: Heinemann, 1906.

Young, Arthur, Arthur Young’s Travels in France during the years 1787, 1788, 1789, Miss Betham-Edwards ed., London: George Bell and Sons, 1906.

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Notes

1 Sampson Perry, An Historical Sketch of the French Revolution; Commencing with its Predisposing Causes, and Carried on to the Acceptation of the Constitution, in 1795, vol. II, London: Symonds, 1796, 391-92.

2 Paul Gerbod, Voyages au pays des mangeurs de grenouilles: la France vue par les Britanniques du XVIIIème siècle à nos jours, Paris: A. Michel, 1991, 47. My translation.

3 A notable example of later revisionism is the case of David Williams who, in his autobiographical account Incidents in My Own Life Which Have Been Thought of Some Importance, ed. Peter France (Brighton: U of Sussex Library, 1980) gave a different slant on his involvement in the French Revolution to that which can be perceived through his actions and writings of the time. He would later criticise the decision to dismantle the constitutional monarchy, yet in December 1792 he agreed to travel to France for the purpose of giving his thoughts on a republican constitution for his friend Jean-Pierre Brissot. Williams was never a member of the British Club however, and would not have counted himself among the ultra-radical contingent resident in Paris.

4 Le Moniteur Universel, Monday 26th November 1792.

5 Le Moniteur Universel, Monday 7th January 1793

6 Captain Monro to Lord Grenville, Paris, 13th December 1792, TNA FO 27/41.

7 Captain Monro to Lord Grenville, Paris, 17th December 1792, TNA FO 27/40 Part 2.

8 Captain Monro to Lord Grenville, Paris, 13th January 1793, TNA FO 27/41.

9 Captain Monro to Lord Grenville, Paris, 31st December 1792, TNA FO 27/40 Part 2.

10 The address is held at the Archives des Affaires Étrangères at La Courneuve Paris. I am grateful to Mary-Ann Constantine for drawing my attention to this document and sharing its contents. Archives Diplomatiques, Affaires Étrangères, Correspondance Anglaise, vol. 588, folio 1.

11 Arthur Young, Arthur Young’s Travels in France during the years 1787, 1788, 1789, ed. Miss Betham-Edwards, London: George Bell and Sons, 1906, 153-54.

12 Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View 76.

13 “Ce n'étaient plus ces premiers temps du Palais Royal, où ses cafés furent les églises de la Révolution naissante, où Camille, au café de Foy, prêcha la croisade. Ce n'était plus cet âge d'innocence révolutionnaire où le bon Fauchet professait au Cirque la doctrine des Amis, et l'association philanthropique du Cercle de la Vérité. Les cafés, les restaurateurs, étaient très-fréquentés, mais sombres. Telles de ces boutiques fameuses allaient devenir funèbres. Le restaurateur Février vit tuer chez lui Saint-Fargeau. Tout près, au café Corraza, fut tramée la mort de la Gironde. La vie, la mort, le plaisir rapide, grossier, violent, le plaisir exterminateur, voilà le Palais Royal de 93.” Jules Michelet, LesFfemmes de la Révolution, Paris: Chamerot, 1863, 245. My translation.

14 See AN F7/4775/23.

15 Moore, The Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald 73-74.

16 See Perry, An Historical Sketch I: 9-10.

17 Ian Newman is currently finishing his doctoral thesis entitled Tavern Talk: Literature, Politics, Conviviality at the University of California, Los Angeles.

18 I am grateful in particular to Ian Newman for his views on tavern culture in London. I would also like to thank Nigel Leask, John Barrell, Mary-Ann Constantine, Oskar Cox Jensen and Rémy Duthille for their contributions to this discussion in the wings of the Locating Revolution: Place, Voice, Community 1780-1820 conference organised in Aberystwyth by the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, 9-12 July 2012.

19 This recollection is included in Stone’s letter written from Verdun on 16th October 1792 while he was travelling with the revolutionary armies and following the progress of hostilities with the Prussian and Austrian forces. The letter was included in Helen Maria Williams’ third volume of letters, under the title of Letters from France: containing A Great Variety of Interesting and Original Information concerning the most important events that have lately been occurring in that country, and particularly respecting the campaign of 1792, vol. III, London: G. G. and J. Robinson, 1793, 147.

20 Moore, The Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald 73-74.

21 George Monro, 6th December 1792, TNA TS 11/959.

22 H. M. Williams, Letters from France: Containing Many New Anecdotes Relative to the French Revolution, and the Present State of French Manners, vol. II, 3rd edition; London: G.G. and J. Robinson, 1796, 133. Hereafter referred to as Letters from France II.

23 H. M. Williams, Letters from France II: 129-30.

24 H. M. Williams, Letters from France II: 130.

25 Rickman, The Life of Thomas Paine 129.

26 Rickman, The Life of Thomas Paine 130.

27 Thomas Paine to Doctor James O’Fallon, 17th February 1793, Foner ed., The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine 2: 1330.

28 Rickman, The Life of Thomas Paine 135-36.

29 Buel, Joel Barlow: American Citizen 139.

30 George Monro, 6th December 1792, TNA TS 11/959.

31 Alger, “The British Colony in Paris, 1792-1793.” Alden also suggests that Sayre set up a factory at 7 passage des Petits Pères. As this is the address of White's Hotel it is perhaps more likely that he ran his distribution activity from the hotel, but perhaps carried out the manufacturing elsewhere. There is also the possibility that other activities were carried out at the same address.

32 See Alger, Paris in 1789-1794 352.

33 Letter from October 28th 1792, quoted in Alden, Stephen Sayre 173. Sayre also tried to persuade Stanhope to visit Paris to see for himself events taking place in the capital: “You will be well received here by all the leading characters, you will return with accurate information, may meet Parliament with advantage and confidence, and render service to the world.”

34 Buel, Joel Barlow: American Citizen 164.

35 Alden, Stephen Sayre 161.

36 John Goldworth Alger, “The British Colony in Paris, 1792-1793.” See also Citizen Arthur’s declaration, AN F7/4775/23: “Gamble, anglais imprimeur en taille, douze rue des piques, au coin du boulevard est copropriétaire de la maison With ... il n’a pris intérêt dans cette maison que depuis que With, dont il était la caution, a fait la Banqueroute.”

37 Nicholas Joyce was probably a signatory to the British Club address of 24th November 1792. Although David Erdman reads the first name on the address as “Rich” for Richard, the first four letters given could equally be “Nich” for Nicholas. This would make sense, considering that Nicholas Joyce was White’s business partner and that I have found no records under the name of Richard Joyce.

38 Christopher White’s career in France is outlined in some detail in the submissions he made to the Comité de Sûreté Générale while imprisoned in the Luxembourg prison. See AN F7/4775/52 70-81. White’s depositions are made largely in support of an application for the freedom of Nicholas Joyce’s orphaned children, one of whom, the eldest, was held in detention with the White family. Joyce had died in the Benedictine prison on 25th February 1794.

39 Howell, A Complete Collection of State Trials 25: 1218.

40 Yorke, France in 1802. See chapter entitled “Thomas Paine, Jack Barlow. The Abbé Costi. Dr. Sudaeur.”

41 Howell, A Complete Collection of State Trials 25: 1301. Letter dated 24th October 1792.

42 The material held on Robert Rayment in the National Archives in Paris is extensive. See AN F7/4774/88. Rayment distinguished himself by successive petitions for his release, supported by testimonies from members of his section who seemed to consider him a loyal citizen and adherent of the Revolution. The Thomas Marshall mentioned in the British Club data does not seem to be the same Marshall who was a close friend of William Godwin and who translated the works of Volney.

43 Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View 46.

44 To Gilbert Imlay, 29th December 1793, Wollstonecraft, Collected Letters 235.

45 To Gilbert Imlay, 29th December 1793, Wollstonecraft, Collected Letters 235.

46 To Gilbert Imlay, 1st January 1794, Wollstonecraft, Collected Letters 238.

47 To Gilbert Imlay, 23rd September 1794, Wollstonecraft, Collected Letters 264.

48 Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View 116.

49 Roger Chartier, Les origins culturelles de la Révolution française 28-29. My translation.

50 James Epstein, “Spatial Practices / Democratic Vistas” in Social History 24:3 (Oct 1999) 301, 310.

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References

Bibliographical reference

Rachel Rogers, « White’s Hotel: A Junction of British Radical Culture in Early 1790s Paris », Caliban, 33 | 2013, 153-172.

Electronic reference

Rachel Rogers, « White’s Hotel: A Junction of British Radical Culture in Early 1790s Paris », Caliban [Online], 33 | 2013, Online since 09 December 2013, connection on 16 April 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/caliban/139 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/caliban.139

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About the author

Rachel Rogers

Université de Toulouse II-Le-Mirail, CAS (EA801).

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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