2 Gazette Universelle

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Gazette Universelle, ou Papier-Nouvelle de tous les pays et de tous les jours (Gazette Universelle, or newspaper for all countries and for every day)

Sunday 7th February 1790

Published Hôtel de Mouy, rue Dauphine, Paris

Over the summer of 1789 thousands of printed journals and news sheets poured from the French presses as journalists and pamphleteers sought to take advantage of the public’s demand for news from Paris. This dramatic expansion of the press was not only the result of increased demand, but can be attributed to the recent loss of government control over the printing industry. Whereas under the ancien régime the French press had been vigorously licensed and subject to heavy censorship and control, the libertarian, anti-authoritarian atmosphere of ’89 now encouraged people to print politically-infused, often subversive material for public distribution. Although the authorities might target individuals accused of disseminating anti-governmental texts, broadly speaking they were powerless to stem the tide of such publications. For the first time the press was essentially free.

The emergence of a free press in France was a development of immense importance, for it was through the unimpeded distribution of printed political material of varying types that French citizens across the nation became enfranchised. In any number of printed sources then circulating, a reader could access, for example, transcriptions of the debates being conducted in the National Assembly and learn of the laws being passed there. However, although such journals had the potential to be a line of communication between governmental deputies and the people, it was feared that they might also obscure and pervert that relationship. Many papers had strong editorial voices and it was feared that readers might be vulnerable to manipulation. For example, readers risked imbibing Marat’s radical politics as they read the latest reports in his journal, L’Ami du Peuple.

The Gazette Universelle, a daily paper first published in December 1789, claimed to have no agenda – ‘we are, and we only want to be historians’, wrote its editor in the Gazette’s prospectus. [1] Yet this is not entirely born out by its tone of reporting or by its choice of subjects and Jeremy Popkin has characterised the Gazette as moderate in its orientation and appeal. [2]

This edition, dated 7th February 1790, contains three separate articles and a brief account of the morning’s debate in the National Assembly. The Gazette, which was especially notable for its extensive coverage of international events (an emphasis stressed by the paper’s subtitle), opens with a report detailing Poland’s hopes following its alliance with the mighty Prussia – namely that it will be in a better state to defend itself against its aggressors. The other two articles concern home-news. The first details the rapturous public response to Louis XVI’s statement in support of the Constitution, pronounced in the National Assembly that morning. The second concerns the trial of the Marquis de Favras, who stood accused of plotting to abduct the king with the intention of smuggling him over the border to safety. The short article details the cross-examination of two witnesses, Monsieur l’abbé d’Eymar, and Marquis de Mirabeau. [3]

The price of an annual subscription to the Gazette Universelle is listed at the bottom of the pamphlet as 36 livres, which represented a considerable sum in 1790. This put a subscription to the Gazette beyond the reach of all those with modest incomes. Yet its readership was not necessarily so restricted for it could also be found in cafés and patriotic clubs that held a subscription. Additionally, the habit of reading aloud from journals meant that every copy bought could serve dozens of individuals, not all of whom needed to be literate.

[1] Jeremy D. Popkin, Revolutionary News: The Press in France, 1789 – 1799, Durham and London, 1990, p. 121

[2] ibid., p.179.

[3] Interestingly, it was the number of such counter-revolutionary plots to ‘save’ the king that provided him with the impetus to pronounce his loyalty to the Constitution, for fear of being branded counter-revolutionary himself. Favras was found guilty of treason and hung on 19th February, twelve days after this edition of the Gazette Universelle was printed, see William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, Oxford, 1990.

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