Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 December 2003
Even during his lifetime, the French revolutionary Girondin leader Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville's reputation was tarnished by allegations that, before 1789, he was a swindler, police spy, and political pornographer. These charges resurfaced in 1968 in a celebrated article by Robert Darnton, which found miscellaneous, fragmentary evidence to support them, above all in the papers of the pre-revolutionary police chief, Lenoir. Although Darnton's view has been challenged by several historians, no critic has supplied any substantive new evidence, and hence the Brissot debate remains mired in assertions and counter-assertions. This article finally offers such evidence, drawing both on Darnton's main source, the Lenoir papers, and on sources unavailable to him in 1968, notably records of Brissot's Licée de Londres and his embastillement, now on deposit in the Archives Nationales. While acquiting Brissot on all counts, it finds that Darnton's suspicions were not entirely unfounded. Brissot did have compromising links to both police and political pornographers. Nevertherless, allegations that he spied and wrote scandalous pamphlets appear malicious, despite Brissot's arrest on the latter charge in 1784. The article also attempts to explain Brissot's motivations and the lasting implications of his arrest and persecution in shaping Brissot and the French Revolution.