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JEAN ANTOINE ROUCHER (1745-1794)

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Originally appearing in Volume V23, Page 768 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JEAN ANTOINE ROUCHER (1745-1794), French poet, the son of a tailor of Montpellier, was born on the 22nd of February 1745. By an epithalamium on Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette he gained the favour of Turgot, and obtained a salt-tax collectorship. His poem was entitled Les Mois; it appeared in 1779, was praised in MS., damned in print and restored to a just appreciation by the students of literature of the 19th century. It has the drawbacks of merely didactic-descriptive poetry on the great scale, but occasionally displays much grace and spirit. The malicious wit of Rivarol's mot on the ill-success of the poem, " C'est le plus beau naufrage du siecle," is not intelligible unless it is said that one of the most elaborate passages describes a shipwreck. Roucher was a disciple of. Voltaire, and therefore a friend of the Revolution, but he remained moderate in his opinions. He frequently presided over an anti-Jacobin club, and denounced the tyranny of the popular demagogues in supplements published with the Journal de Paris in 1792. He was arrested on the 4th of October 1793, and, accused of being the leader of a conspiracy among the prisoners at Saint Lazare, was sent to the guillotine on the same tumbril with his friend Andre Chenier on the 25th of July 1794. Roucher translated in 1790 Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. His letters from prison were edited by his son-in-law under the title of Consolations de ma captivite (1797), and his death was made the subject of a tragedy in 1834 by his brother Claude Roucher-Deratte, a voluminous writer. See A. Guillois, Pendant la terreur, la poete Roucher, 1745–1794 (189o), founded on the poet's papers by one of his descendants. ROU$, a dissipated debauchee. The word is French, and its original meaning was " broken on the wheel." Breaking on the wheel was a form of execution reserved in France, and some other countries, for crimes of peculiar atrocity. A roue, therefore, came by a natural process to be understood to mean a man morally worse than a pendard or gallows-bird, who only deserved hanging for common crimes. He was also a leader in wickedness, since the chief of a gang of brigands (for instance) would be broken on the wheel, while his obscure followers were merely hanged. Philip, duke of Orleans, who was regent of France from 1715 to 1723, gave the term the sense of impious and callous debauchee, which it has borne since his time, by habitually applying it to the very bad male company who amused his privacy and his leisure. The locus classicus for the origin of this use of the epithet is in the Memoirs of Saint-Simon (vol. xii. pp. 441–46, ed. Cheruel .and Regnier, Paris, 1873–86).
End of Article: JEAN ANTOINE ROUCHER (1745-1794)
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