Viva la Revolution! Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson on the French Revolution
Happy Bastille Day everyone! Today it seems appropriate to take a break from our Celtic Festival preparations and quickly look at Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s interest in the French Revolution, which followed so closely on the heels of American independence.
In 1793 Elizabeth sent a bundle of her poems and writings to fellow writer Annis Stockton. She wrapped them in a copy of the General Advertiser which featured a story on the recent execution of Louis XVI, which most likely was a deliberate choice. According to her biography, The Most Learned Woman in America, by Anne Ousterhout, she initially sympathized with the French people, who objected to the arbitrary rule of their King, but was shocked and saddened by the bloody violence that ensued. She felt America owed Louis XVI their gratitude for France’s support during the American Revolution.
She wrote to her close friend and confidant, Benjamin Rush:
“Gracious Heaven is this the Regneration of a new Empire? It is its Degneration! Is this Reformation? It is Deformation. Is this generous Democrats? No they are Democrats such as filld the Pandemonium that Milton Admirably Describes, With Beelzebub and Moloch presiding for Such appear to Me Robespiere and Marat…Oh my Soul revolts at them! and their proceedings!”
And in another letter to the same:
“The Execution of the King and Queen of France was accompanied with a Series of unprecedented Barbarity [and she] melted into Tears at the anectdote of the Dauphin going to Solicit mercy for his Papa.”
So moved was she by the King’s execution that she wrote a poem, which appears in the Yale Commonplace Book (held by the Library Company of Philadelphia), calling for the end of the guillotine, entitled “Reply to the Democratic Song of the Guillotine” to be sung to the tune of “God Save the King.” Her notes call the guillotine “no maiden but a common prostitute, the scarlet whore.”