Sylvain Maréchal, “The Desert Island” (1788)

In the opening pages of Sylvain Maréchal’s play, The Last Judgment of Kings, we find the following notice:

L’idée de cette pièce est prise dans l’Apologue suivant, faisant partie des Leçons du fils ainé d’un roi, ouvrage philosophique du même auteur, publié au commencement de 1789, et mis à l’index par la Police.

The idea for this play is taken from the following Apologue, part of the Lessons for the Eldest Son of a King, a philosophical work by the same author, published at the beginning of 1789, and put on the Index by the Police.

followed by the “lesson” as it appears in that work:

LEÇON XXVIII.

VISION.
L’ISLE DÉSERTE.

En ce tems-là: revenu de la cour, bien fatigué, un visionnaire se livra au sommeil, & rêva que tous les peuples de la terre, le jour des saturnales, se donnerent le mot pour se saisir de la personne de leurs rois, chacun de son côté. Ils convinrent en même-tems d’un rendez-vous général, pour rassembler cette poignée d’individus couronnés, & de les réléguer dans une petite isle inhabitée, mais habitable; le sol fertile n’attendoit que des bras & une légere culture. On établit un cordon de petites chaloupes armées pour inspecter l’isle, & empêcher ses nouveaux colons d’en sortir. L’embarras des nouveaux débarqués ne fut pas mince. Ils commencerent par se dépouiller de tous leurs ornemens royaux qui les embarrassoient; & il fallut que chacun, pour vivre, mit la main à la pâte. Plus de valets, plus de courtisans, plus de soldats. Il leur fallut tout faire par eux-mêmes. Cette cinquantaine de personnages ne vécut pas long-tems en paix; & le genre humain, spectateur tranquille, eut la satisfaction de se voir délivré de ses tyrans par leurs propres mains.

LESSON XXVIII.

VISION.
THE DESERT ISLAND.

In those days, returned from the court, very tired, a visionary gave himself up to sleep, & dreamed that all the peoples of the earth, on the day of the Saturnalia, gave each other the word to seize the persons of their kings, each on their side. They agreed at the same time on a general rendezvous, to gather this handful of crowned individuals, & to relegate them to a small, uninhabited, but habitable island, the fertile soil of which awaited only arms & a light cultivation. A cordon of small armed launches was established to watch over the island, and to prevent its new settlers from leaving it. The predicament of the new arrivals was not slight. They began by stripping themselves of all their royal ornaments, which embarrassed them; it was necessary that each one, to live, pitch in & do their part. No more valets, no more courtiers, no more soldiers. They had to do everything on their own. Those fifty characters did not live long in peace; & the human race, a quiet spectator, had the satisfaction of being delivered from its tyrants by their own hands.

But readers of Mother Nature on the Stand before the National Assembly will also recognize the scenario from that work:

Since Louis XVI has not been capable of that heroism (& indeed, it is too much to demand of a king), who prevented the different civilized nations of this globe from passing the word around on the day of Saturnalia, to seize the persons of their kings, to convene at the same time a general rendezvous to assemble that handful of crowned individuals, & relegate them to a small island, uninhabited, but habitable, & whose fertile soil only awaited arms & minor cultivation? They would establish a cordon of little armed launches to watch over the island of the dethroned kings, & prevent the inhabitants from escaping. The predicament of the nearly disembarked would doubtless not be slight; in order to live, each of them would be obliged to pitch in. No more servants, no more courtiers, and no more soldiers. They would all have to fend for themselves. Those half-hundred characters would perhaps not live long in peace, & the human race, a calm spectator, would have the satisfaction of seeing itself delivered from its tyrants by their own hands. It is only from that moment that the nations of the earth could date the era of their independence.

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.