Childhood & Early Life
Marat was born on May 24, 1743, in Boudry, modern-day Switzerland. He was the second child of Jean Mara, a converted Italian commendator, and Louise Cabrol, a French Huguenot. He had eight siblings.
While in his mid-teens, Marat left home to find opportunities. However, he knew that being an outsider, his chances were bleak.
After Marat's application to join Jean-Baptiste Chappe d'Auteroche's scientific expedition to Russia was turned down, he moved to Paris to study medicine, without gaining any formal qualification.
Marat practiced medicine in London in 1765 and mingled with an intellectual circle consisting of Italian artists and architects.
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Around 1770, Marat developed an interest in the philosophy of Enlightenment, which eventually influenced his political writings. He traveled across Holland, Scotland, and England, with an aim to study the British political system. He simultaneously worked on his medical writings, too.
Marat published 'A Philosophical Essay on Man' (1773). He then published his first political work, 'Chains of Slavery' (1774), a critical account of the royal dictatorship he witnessed, highly supporting the sovereignty of the people. He became an honorary member of the patriotic societies of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Carlisle, and Newcastle.
Marat's political writings were highly criticized by Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire and his followers.
A medical essay on curing gleets (gonorrhea) earned Marat a place at the 'University of St Andrews' in June 1775.
Marat returned to London and published 'Enquiry into the Nature, Cause, and Cure of a Singular Disease of the Eyes' in 1776. He also enjoyed a flourishing medical career in Paris.
The newly found reputation led to Marat's appointment as a physician to Charles Philippe, Louis XVI's youngest brother.
While serving the royalty, Marat published 'Mr Marat's Discoveries on Fire, Electricity, and Light' in 1779, based on his scientific research and the experiments conducted in his laboratory.
Marat's first major scientific work that detailed his experiments and conclusions was 'Research into the Physics of Fire' (1780). He approached the 'Academy of Sciences' for an evaluation of the work. A commission was appointed to do so, which reported in April 1779. The 'Academy' appreciated Marat's research and writing but did not confirm the authenticity of his findings.
Despite approving the content, the 'Academy' refused to endorse Marat's next published work, probably because of his lack of qualification and patronage. The 'Academy' also refused to validate his 'Découvertes sur la lumière.' This gave rise to a life-long animosity between the two.
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Around the time when Newton's theories on light and color were considered exhaustive, Marat challenged some of them in his second major work, 'Discoveries on Light.'
Marat did not approach the 'Academy' to review his third major work, 'Research on the Physics of Electricity,' which had the censor's approval.
In April 1783, Marat quit his royal position to focus on his scientific research and published short essays on the medical utility of electricity (1783) and optics (1784).
Benjamin Franklin highly supported Marat's works and described the ‘Academy's approach toward him as the result of the scientific dictatorship that was rampant back then.
Marat's "favorite work," 'Plan de législation criminelle,' published in 1782, took inspiration from Rousseau and Cesare Beccaria.
In the wake of the French Revolution, Marat began writing about the ‘Third Estate,’ especially during the ‘Estates-General’ conference.
From the end of 1788 to the middle of 1789, Marat wrote numerous essays to invoke constitutional reforms and political equality in France.
In September 1789, Marat started his newspaper, 'L'Ami du Peuple,' which debuted with a strong criticism of the ‘Second Estate’ and urged its removal from the ‘Assembly.’ The second edition focused on bourgeois bankers and financiers.
In 1789, Marat published a series of political writings, starting with 'Offering to the Nation' in January, followed by 'Supplément de l'Offrande' in March and 'La Constitution, ou Projet de déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen' in July. He thus stressed on the drafting of France's new constitution, rather than just debating on it in the ‘National Assembly.’
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Marat's aggressive literary works infuriated his targets, and by November 1789, he was hiding in the sewers of Paris while the ‘Commune’ and the “gendarmerie” were after him.
In January 1790, Marat had to take refuge in London after an arrest warrant was issued against him for writing against Louis XVI's popular finance minister, Jacques Necker.
Marat returned to Paris in May. In June, he briefly ran his second newspaper, 'Le Junius français.' His writings displayed more aggression than before. His newspaper targeted conservative revolutionary leaders, liberals, political moderates, the 'National Constituent Assembly,' the ‘Paris Commune,’ and the ‘National Guard.’
Marat's offensive and critical articles led to Jacobin radicalism and the Champ de Mars Massacre. Infuriated “gendarmes” vandalized his printing press.
Marat had to flee to England several times between 1791 and 1792. 'L'Ami du Peuple' was shut down for a while.
In January 1792, Marat had a common-law marriage to his beloved, Simonne Evrard, who was the sister-in-law of his typographer, Jean-Antoine Corne. Simmone often provided him financial support and shelter.
By the summer of 1792, Marat had the patronage of the republican ‘Cordeliers’ while his ideas propagated. His writings then attacked the monarchy, the ‘Girondins,’ foreign spies, and other suspected counter-revolutionaries.
Marat's newspaper triggered the August 1792 revolution. Thus, the 'Tuileries Palace' in Paris was invaded.
Marat accepted his involvement in the September Massacres. Despite not belonging to any party, he was one of the 26 Paris deputies to be elected to the 'National Convention.' His tumultuous relationship with the ‘Girondins’ continued within the ‘Convention,’ while he attacked them outside through his newspaper.
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Marat changed the name of 'L'Ami du people,' renaming it 'Le Journal de la République française,' after France became a ‘Republic’ on September 22, 1792.
Louis XVI's execution on January 21, 1793, caused a massive political turmoil. Marat, with his aggression at the peak, fought with the ‘Girondins,’ whom he considered staunch opponents of republicanism. Marat eventually began using violence toward the ‘Girondins.’ They later demanded his trial before the 'Revolutionary Tribunal.' His trial took place on April 24, 1793.
Marat was accused of printing inflammatory statements in his paper that called for widespread murder and the suspension of the ‘National Convention.’ However, he was later acquitted.
In June, as Marat had desired, the ‘Girondins’ were expelled from the ‘Convention,’ while he rose as one of the key figures, both in the ‘Convention’ and among the people of Paris.
While enjoying his achievement at the ‘Convention,’ Marat developed a skin disease that worsened. Eventually, he had to retire because of the severity of the disease. He, however, continued working from home, where he was mostly soaked in a medicinal bath.
Since the ‘Montagnards’ no longer needed Marat's support, they started ignoring him.
Charlotte Corday, a young ‘Girondin’ supporter from Caen, plotted to assassinate Marat. She traveled to Paris in the middle of 1793 and visited him on July 13 that year.
Marat was in his bathtub when, after a brief chat, Corday stabbed him to death.
Marat's death scene became the subject of a painting by Jacques-Louis David, who had also organized his funeral.
The ‘Jacobins’ hailed Marat as their icon and called him a revolutionary martyr.
Marat's assassination revamped violence against counter-revolutionaries, royalist agents, and the ‘Girondinists,’ while contributing to the Reign of Terror.
In 1921, the Russian battleship 'Petropavlovsk' and a street in Sevastopol were named after Marat.