A Year: Day to Day Men: 13th of July, Solar Year 2018


July 13, 1793 marks the murder of French political theorist, scientist, and radical journalist, Jean-Paul Marat.

The first of Jean-Paul Marat’s large-scale publications detailing his experiments was “Research into the Physics of Fire”. It described 166 experiments conducted to show that fire was not, as widely held, a material element but an “igneous fluid”. The Academy of Sciences appraised his work and endorsed Marat’s methods but did not agree with its conclusions. This marked the beginning of worsening relations between Marat and many of the Academy’s members.

Jean-Paul Marat’s second biggest work was “Discoveries on Light”, focusing on an error in Newton’s light theory. Marat showed through experiments that white light was broken down into colors by diffraction, and not by refraction as Newton proposed. Once again Marat asked the Academy of Sciences to review his work. From June 1779 to January of 1780, Marat performed experiments in the presence of the Academy’s commissioners showing his conclusions. Their repost was only three paragraphs stating that while there were a lot of experiments, the commission did not believe that Marat proved his theory. Goethe described Marat’s rejection by the Academy as a glaring example of scientific despotism.

On the eve of the French Revolution , Jean=Paul Marat left his career as a doctor and scientist and took up his pen on behalf of the Third Estate, devoting himself entirely to politics. On September 12, 1789, Marat began his own newspaper, “The People’s Friend”, attacking influential groups in Paris, the Constituent Assembly, and Louis XVI’s Finance Minister, Jacques Necker. Between 1790 and 1792, Marat was often forced into hiding, sometimes in the Paris sewers. He only emerged publicly on the August 10 Insurrection, when the Palace was invaded and the royal family was forced to shelter in the Legislative Assembly.

Forced to retire from the French Convention as a result of a worsening skin disease, Marat continued to work at home, where he soaked in a medicinal bath. Marat was in his bathtub on July 13, 1793, when a young woman, named Charlotte Corday, appeared at his flat claiming to have vital information for Marat. Their interview lasted about fifteen minutes, with him writing details on an improvised desk of a board across the tub. After he finished his writing, Corday rose from her chair, drawing out a five inch knife, driving it hard into Marat.s chest. It opened the carotid artery, close to his heart; the massive bleeding was fatal within seconds. Charlotte Corday was guillotined on July 17, 1793 for the murder.

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