Little Bits of History

He Should Have Stuck With Writing

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 12, 2014
Jean-Sylvain Bailly (1736-93) 1789 (oil on canvas) by Mosnier, Jean Laurent (1743/4-1808) oil on canvas Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet

Jean-Sylvain Bailly by Mosnier, Jean Laurent 

November 12, 1793:  Jean Sylvain Bailly dies. He was born in Paris, France in 1736. His father was an artist and supervisor of the Louvre. His grandfather had also been an artist and the younger Bailly was intended to follow the family traditions. As a student, he became interested in the sciences, particularly astronomy. Nicolas de Lacaille was a particular influence over Bailly. The young man was able to calculate the next appearance of Halley’s Comet and correctly reduced Lacaille’s observations of 515 stars. Bailly also participated in the construction of an observatory at the Louvre and was elected to the 31st French Academy of Sciences in 1763 for all the above mentioned efforts.

He went on to publish several papers concerning the sciences and astronomy. He also wrote histories of past and present notable personages including King Charles V, Moliere, and Gottfried Leibniz. Bailly was admitted to the Académie française in 1784 and to the Académie des Inscriptions in 1785. After that time, he devoted his efforts to writing about the history of science with several books published in the years that followed. Because of his achievements in this field, there is a lunar crater named in his honor. Unfortunately, the politics of the time interrupted his studies and he was forced to abandon his writing and participated instead in the French Revolution.

Bailly was elected deputy from Paris to the Estates-General and was then elected as the president of the National Assembly on June 17, 1789. He played a pivotal role in the Tennis Court Oath. It was there that 576 of the 577 members of the Third Estate were locked out a meeting of the Estates-General and were forced to meet at a local tennis court. They pledged “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established”. After the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 Bailly became the first mayor of Paris and remained in that role until November 16, 1791.

Bailly along with the Marquis de Lafayette are considered to be indisputable heroes of the French Revolution. Bailly was attacked in his role as mayor for being too conservative. One of his positions was to promote the power of the mayor while limiting the power of the General Assembly of the Commune. He helped pass a law even in the face of threats which made Jews French citizens with all attendant rights and privileges. After leaving the post of mayor, he retired to Nantes and began to write again. He left Nantes and was recognized. He was supposed to testify against Marie Antoinette and refused to do so. He was brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal in Paris during the Reign of Terror. He was tried and found guilty and on this day, he was sent in the freezing rain, to the guillotine. He died at the age of 57.

Heckler from the crowd at his execution: Do you tremble, Bailly?
Jean Sylvain Bailly: Yes, but it is only the cold.

He met his death with patient dignity; having, indeed, disastrously shared the enthusiasms of his age, but taken no share in its crimes. – Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911

Jean Sylvain Bailly was born in the Louvre and died less than a mile away, under the guillotine. – Dan Edelstein

Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void; and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts. – Maximilien de Robespierre

Also on this day: Thar She Blows – In 1970, a rotting beached whale was removed from an Oregon beach, sorta.
Daring Young Man – In 1859, the first trapeze performance took place.
Terrorist Attack – In 1997, Ramzi Yousef was found guilty of the WTC bombing of 1993.
Found – In 1912, Robert Scott’s frozen body was found.


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