Paul-Louis Courier

Courrierist, lampooner, polemist
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prec Procès de Paul-Louis Courier Introduction to the Pétition pour les villageois … Suiv
« Pétition [à la chambre des députés] pour les villageois que l'on empêche de danser »
(Petition for villagers we prevent from dancing)

F or having written the Simple discours, Courier served two months in the Sainte-Pélagie prison that he left on December 9th of 1821. In the mind of the judges, this reprimand was going to moderate his attacks on the Restoration. It was a misappreciation of that « fellow Paul », ready to mock even the insignificant at the earliest opportunity. On the 10th of May, 1822, the election of the deputy of the Loches-Chinon district took place. Courier was the candidate of the opposition in spite of himself against the official candidate, the count Armand de Ruzé, d’Effiat1. Without campaigning, Courir got 133 votes. The legitimist newspaper, the Drapeau blanc (White flag) mocked him but Courier answered with his usual irony on May 23rd in the Courrier français in this fashion :
J’ai pour ami tous ceux qui ne mangent pas du budget, et qui comme moi, vivent de travail. Le nombre en est grand dans ce pays et augmente tous les jours. En un mot, s’il faut vous le dire, mes amis sont ici dans le peuple ; le peuple m’aime, et savez-vous, Monsieur, ce que vaut cette amitié ? il n’y en a point de plus glorieuse ; c’est de cela qu’on flatte les rois…

These words have not lost their topicality in our time when demagogues in France scramble to attempt to seduce voters.
Meanwhile, the opportunity to renew an attack on the government arises in the form of a young parish priest who... but to better understand the whole story, much like in the movies, let’s have a flashback.

Azay sur Cher: the church Azay sur Cher: the church

The priest Guerry, a good fellow accustomed to his flock who in turn respected him, had for ever let his parishioners from Azay-sur-Cher dance on Sundays and days of feast, as did his colleague from Veretz. By decision of the Tours Archbishop, he was transferred to Cormery. His substitute, the priest Bruneau, recently out of the seminary, had been for some months curate at Chinon and was determined to do battle with paganism and disrespect for religion. He was officially installed in his parish on Sunday, 21st of October, 1821. Relations between him and the community deteriorated quickly. One night, they sang beneath his window songs that not everyone should hear. He took offence and, as a reprisal, he requested that the Prefect forbid dancing on Sundays. The royal representative complied and the constabulary became omnipresent, at the risk of displeasing the whole village. We can imagine the ambiance of the parish.
Courier takes advantage of the situation and denounces the measure with a muted ferociousness that allows him to avoid legal proceedings, but not worries and persecution. Once, when he is not at home, the police goes through the Chavonnière with a fine-tooth comb, in the presence of Herminie, to seize all possible copies of the Pétition pour des villageois qu’on empêche de danser printed mid-July of 1822. Threatened with a worse penalty than the previous one imposed at the issue of the former trial (13 months of prison and a fine of 3000 francs!), Courier gets out of it well : on November 26th of 1822 the judges will not find any cause to prosecute him for this lampoon and he will be released.
This makes Courier bolder. He lights another bomb against religion, a bomb that will explode on the 6th of February, 1823 with his response to the 2nd anonymous letter.
There is strong evidence to show that Courier had decided to direct his most severe blows at the Church that granted itself the right to give advice on everything, that claimed to govern the daily life of the people who devoted the main part of their activities to labour, and who found pleasure in dancing at feasts and gatherings or meeting at taverns without meaning any harm.
In the first editions the full title of the lampoon was Pétition à la chambre des députés pour des villageois que l’on empêche de danser. (Petition to the Chamber of Deputies for villagers who are prevented from dancing). This wording should remind us of the Pétition aux deux chambres (Petition to the two Chambers) seeing that it is about the ordinary life of people « who don’t consume the budget of the country ». Indeed, unlike in the case of the former one, Courier had never given this petition to the Parliamentarians for a simple reason : at the time, he worried only about the reaction of public opinion to his antidynastic or antireligious scathings and he knew that the Chamber was firmly hostile to all bad thoughts.

[1]Armand de Ruzé count of Effiat was born on the 6th of September, 1780. At this time, he was the Mayor of Chinon, native city of Rabelais. He won the poll of May, 10th, 1822 with 222 votes on the 380 of the electoral college.  Note1


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