"What characterizes man?" This question, at which Courier would have laughed if it had been asked to him, seems straight out of a philosophy test on the Baccalaureate.
Because he made a mockery of treatises or long theoretical demonstrations (often soporific and characterized by interminable discussions), the wine grower of the Chavonnière would have reaped a thousand jokes from it. For him, everything should be short and direct. To be heard, you have to talk about subjects that are of concern to people in that moment, using vivid and quick language so as not to dishearten them. We'll come back to this subject.
Reflecting Courier’s usual frankness, the Livret de Paul-Louis gives an unequivocal answer to the question: “the most beautiful action of which man is capable: to resist authority.” It's absolutely not about professing some nihilistic belief, but a systematic and spontaneous mistrust of any kind of power. It's probably for this reason that some people have thought that Courier belonged to the great family of anarchists. But Courier is not Bakounine (although, given his distrust of the State...) and even less Kropotkine or Ravachol. He shows no adherence to violent action: the mind is the right and will always prevail over the various manifestations of force. In this 21st century, where disenchantment permeates the world the way light bathes everything that moves on earth, this belief may seem naive. What does it matter? It resolutely places Courier on the side of men against systems, all systems, of which the 20th century showed there were capable.
The system he fights in the Livret is the one of an iniquitous political regime which has a sole obsession: reviving the Ancien Regime, a society composed of the privileged caste, idlers, sycophants, and courtiers on one side, and of the throng of labourers on the other, people who sweat to earn their daily bread and feed those who never sweat. In the booklet, Courier displays a new facet of his talent. Here we have a rupture with former pamphlets for efficiency's sake: he must catch the reader off guard, cut him to the quick, ensure his adherence; the lampoonist now becomes a propagandist:
The people hate the Bourbons because they fooled them, because they consume billions and serve foreign countries...
Ferdinand VII, King of Spain
An infinite gap separates the condemned Simple discours from the Livret de Paul-Louis, more virulent and inimitably radical, as is shown by the former acknowledgement that, it seems, prophesises the imminent fall of the eldest branch of the Bourbons. Its form is also obviously different. These are short texts, hasty yet damning portraits, more needle pricks than serious wounds, allusive and caustic scenes, various denunciations, and unequivocal mockeries, as for example the extravagance consisting in asking a two-year-old princess if it is judicious or not to wage war in Spain. And as this little royal person also needs advice, she will ask her doll! An insolence that might have once again led the author to Sainte-Pélagie prison.
This is really what concerns France and the French people of the time, before any other problem: going to war against Liberal Spain and bringing it back within a Europe purged of revolutionary ideas, after having itself been cleansed of the usurper. This topical question determines all others.
In a few words, what’s it all about? After Napoleon's fall and his exile to Elba Island, Ferdinand VII, Louis XIV’s descendant, is given back his rights. We could have said "is restored" – but his obscurantism awakens the minds won by liberal ideas: on the 1st of January, 1820, a pronunciamento is declared in Cadix against absolutism. Ferdinand must compromise, the way his cousin Louis XIV formally had. But will he not suffer the same fate, and will the Monarchy not endure fatal blows? Can Europe tolerate this without reacting? The master architect who will manage to bring to bear against England’s position, is Chateaubriand. Appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs on December 29th, 1822, he hastens to go to Verona, where all the representatives of the main European countries are in talks, and that his predecessor Mathieu de Montmorency has just left. In Verona, Chateaubriand will exercise considerable persuasion to win the adherence of an intervention in Spain and also put pressure on Prime Minister Villèle, hostile to the intervention. He will prevail over England and will obtain from the Allies that France be commissioned to restore order beyond the Pyrenees.
François René de Chateaubriand
On April, 7th, a few days after the publication of the Livret de Paul-Louis, the French Army, 100 000 strong and led by the Duke of Angoulême, enters Spain... The fierce men who had fought Napoleon will now again rise up against the foreign invaders. But this time, the liberals are crushed and Ferdinand allows his men to succumb to such awful butchery that the Duke of Angoulême, an authentic catholic, is disgusted and abruptly leaves this Spain that his cousin has tarnished and tortured. A little more than a century later, the solemn voice of Bernanos will rise against his camp to denounce similar horrors perpetrated in Spain.
Naturally, Courier will not subject this sole lamentable (and future) expedition to public scorn; he will strike many other times against this power that any man worthy of the name must resist for fear of losing his humanity. He doesn't forget the Church, already attacked by him in the 2nd letter to the anonymous and in the Petition for the villagers, and he knows he is taking a very big risk:
“This morning, walking in the Palais Royal, Mr ...ll...rd passes and tells me : Take care, Paul-Louis, the sanctimonious hypocrites will you have executed – What precaution do you think I can I take, I answered him, they have had kings killed...”
When one knows that the man who pronounced these words will be murdered two years later, it opens the door to thousands of post-mortem assumptions.
Originally, the Proclamation was not part of this new kind of lampoon. It was a clandestine political tract of which the police got wind and that inspired the following report of the Paris chief of police for the Minister of the Interior:
“I was informed that the central Committee had ordered the printing of a great number of copies of:
1°) A Proclamation for the Army which aims to prove that its interest was to abandon the King's cause and defend the one of Spain’s Revolution, and to incite it to rebellion or desertion...
… I expect to be informed of the moment of publication and to discover, at least in part, the workshops where these lampoons are printed, but I believe I have to communicate the notice to Your Excellency so that You be able, in case my investigations do not succeed as I'm expecting, to dictate to the local authorities the measures You will consider appropriate to seize the mailings and stop the distribution of these writings...”
It's only after Courier's death, at the time of the publication of the first edition of his works, that the Proclamation will be incorporated to the Livret.