Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais

Article

January 23, 2022

Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, born Pierre-Augustin Caron on January 24, 1732 in Paris where he died on May 18, 1799, was a French writer, playwright, musician and businessman. Editor of Voltaire, he is also at the origin of the first law in favor of copyright and the founder of the Society of Authors. Also a spy and arms dealer on behalf of the king, he is a man of action and combat who never seems disarmed in the face of an enemy or adversity. His existence is entirely marked by the imprint of the theater and if he is mainly known for his dramatic work, in particular the trilogy of Figaro, his life is strangely mixed with his works. A major figure of the Age of Enlightenment, he is considered one of the heralds of the French Revolution and of the freedom of opinion thus summed up in his most famous play, The Marriage of Figaro: “Without the freedom to blame, there is no flattering praise, it is only small men who dread small writings. »

The ascent

Origin and family

Pierre-Augustin Caron, born January 24, 1732, is the only son of André-Charles Caron, a native of Meaux and his wife Louise Pichon. Ten children will be born of this union of which only six were to live. The father, from a family of Huguenot watchmakers, had himself become master watchmaker after having recanted Protestantism on March 7, 1721 in the church of the New Catholics, converting in fact to Catholicism; he is a recognized craftsman, art lover and creator of the first skeleton watch. The family is rather well off although the father is in debt and the tensions are real in the couple.

Training and watchmaking

Pierre-Augustin, after studying at a school in Alfort from 1742 to 1745, began an apprenticeship in his father's workshop at the age of 13. He gave a hard time to his father, who chased him away from the family home for a while, but ended up becoming a competent craftsman, since he invented, in 1753, a new escapement mechanism, called "pole" or " double comma” (little used today because of friction problems); this will be the occasion of a first controversy: the watchmaker to the King Jean-André Lepaute claims the invention and Beaumarchais must appeal to the Academy of Sciences so that he is recognized as the owner of the invention. He becomes a supplier to the royal family.

First marriage

However, it was not long before he abandoned watchmaking; Jean-Antoine Lépine who replaced him in the paternal workshop, was to marry his sister Fanchon and become the partner in 1756, then the successor of André-Charles Caron. Beaumarchais married on November 27, 1756 with Madeleine-Catherine Aubertin, widow of Pierre-Augustin Franquet, lord of Bosc Marchais (known as Beaumarchais). He is 24 years old. His wife is much older but has a considerable fortune. He called himself "de Beaumarchais" in 1757, named after the fiefdom of Bosc Marchais, which belonged to his wife and gave the illusion of nobility. Madeleine-Catherine died suddenly the following year at age 35. Immediately, the young widower sees himself in an uncomfortable position and finds himself confronted with the first of the long series of trials and scandals that will mark his existence.

Entrance to the Court of Louis XV

Despite the troubles of his private life, he begins to be known. He became friends with the court financier, Joseph Pâris Duverney, who encouraged his entry into the world of finance and business. He then embarked on commercial speculation and displayed such genius in this genre that in a few years he acquired a great fortune and bought a position as king's secretary, which conferred him nobility. In 1759, a signal favour, he was appointed harp teacher to Mesdames, les quatre fills.

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