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The Production, Distribution and Readership of a Conservative Journal of the Early French Revolution: The Ami du Roi of the Abbe Royou.

In response to the current interest in eighteenth-century political culture, historians are looking more and more to the periodical press as a source for answers to some of the major questions about continuity and change in the French Revolution. The studies that have now appeared on the prerevolutionary press and on both the radical and right-wing press of the revolutionary era make comparisons possible. The early years of the Revolution alone have been the subject of two recent works on the right-wing press: Jean-Pierre Bertaud's Les Amis du Roi. Journaux et journalistes royalistes en France de 1789 a 1792 (Paris, 1984) and William James Murray's The Right-Wing Press in the French Revolution: 1789-1792 (The Royal Historical Society, 1986). Relying on the work of these predecessors, Harvey Chisick haswritten a short book that focuses narrowly on production, distribution and, most importantly, readership of one of the leading right-wing journals of the constitutional monarchy, L'Ami du Roi. What distinguishes his book from the other more comprehensive accounts of the right-wing press, is that it is a case study of the business affairs of a single journal and it provides a detailed geographical and sociological profile of the subscribers. The author concludes by stressing some similarities between this revolutionary journal and the periodicals of the ancien regime.

There was more than one journal entitled L'Ami du roi. The one studied here was a daily that appeared between September 1790 and May of 1792, edited by the Abbe Royou. Royou was a former teacher, writer and journalist whose career brought him from his native Brittany to Paris at least two decades before the Revolution. Under the expert management of Madame Freron, the paper was not only a success but profitable as well, with press runs of three thousand to six thousand copies selling both in Paris and the provinces.

From an analysis of the journal's account books, the author makes two specific contributions to the study of the press. First, he provides rare data on the business of publishing political pamphlets, a sideline of the journal. In the spring and summer of 1791, for example, the Ami was responsible for publishing around 100,000 copies of papal briefs condemning the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. The range of pamphlets examined here is very small with the focus on those concerning the Constitution of the Clergy. However, the evidence presented suggests that pamphlets were printed in very high numbers and also that the business could be very profitable. This is something I think many historians of printing have suspected but hitherto been unable to show.

Secondly, information on more than five thousand subscribers puts Chisick in the enviable position of being able to provide a detailed portrait of many of the readers of the Ami. Some of his more general conclusions include the following. The body of subscribers seems to have been composed of approximately 20 per cent noble, 20 per cent clergy and 60 per cent (mainly elite) commoner, a conclusion that confirms, but also qualifies, earlier historians' claims about the aristocratic and clerical character of the buyers. Geographically the journal sold better in those areas of France that were to the right of the political spectrum and where opposition to the Revolution was strong. Most subscribers were residents of towns and a significant number were women, especially in Paris.

The book concludes by tentatively suggesting some ways in which the Enlightenment fed into the Counter-Revolution. Analyses of subscriptions to journals in the ancien regime and the Encyclopedie have shown that the subscribers were of the same elite background as those who subscribed to the counter-revolutionary journal, the Ami. It is further argued that many adherents of Enlightenment views lost their enthusiasm for the Revolution after 1789 and many right-wing journalists were more moderate than is sometimes suggested. Although sufficient evidence is as yet unavailable, Chisick thinks that some of the booksellers who distributed the radical enlightenment literature in the ancien regime were the same as those that distributed the counter-revolutionary journals. Enlightenment and counter-revolutionary journals then, had the same kinds of readers, may have had the same booksellers, and shared an aversion to popular sovereignty, violence, and anarchy. These connections are worth thinking about but, as it stands, Chisick's argument about the links between the Enlightenment and Counter-Revolution is unsubstantiated. Were the readers of the Ami the former readers of the Encyclopedie and other Enlightenment works? Saying that readers shared the same social background is not the same as saying they were the same people. Another approach would be to ask if the Ami adhered to the major principles of the Enlightenment. This would require a discussion of ideology, something that, regrettably, Chisick is reluctant to undertake. As a result it remains problematic whether Royou's views fit Chisick's definition of the Enlightenment as "secular, progressive and humanitarian" (p. 221). We know from the more general studies of Bertaud and Murray that Royou held many views that do not seem to fit the definition. For example he was opposed to religious tolerance, argued against the abolition of both slavery and the slave trade and also, praised Louis XIV'S arguably barbarous criminal code. Nevertheless, Bertaud (more so than Murray) suggests that Royou was a reformer. A chapter that seriously assessed Royou's views would have strengthened this book and perhaps supported the author's argument about the evolution in the thinking of enlightened elites.

The case for continuity in the social makeup of prerevolutionary and early counter-revolutionary journal readership is, however, solidly made, and whatever the shortcomings of the final argument they should not unduly distract us from the attention to detail and methodology that will make this work of interest to students of the social composition of reading publics.
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Author:McLeod, Jane
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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