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The Chains of Slavery. A work wherein the clandestine and villainous attempts of princes to ruin liberty are pointed out, and the dreadful scenes of despotism disclosed: To which is prefixed, an Address to the Electors of Great Britain in order to draw their timely attention to the choice of proper representatives in the next Parliament


Anonymous (Jean-Paul Marat)
John Almon
Thomas Becket
Thomas Payne
Richardson & Urquhart (William Richardson)

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Les Chaînes de l'Esclavage: Ouvrage destiné à développer les noirs attentats des princes contre les peuples, les ressords secrets, les ruses, les menées, les artifices, les coups d'état qu'ils employent pour détruire la liberté, et les scènes sanglantes qui accompagnent le despotisme translation has paratext

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A second, advertised, edition may have been published in Newcastle.

Its epigraph, 'Vitam impendere vero' ('To devote one's life to the truth') was borrowed from a long footnote by Rousseau in his 'Lettre à d'Alembert' (1758), who used it as a slogan of authenticity. Indeed, Marat owed much of his self-presentation, including his narrative of persecution, to Rousseau's example.

Marat published his only work of political theory anonymously against a lively political backdrop, being timed, as its subtitle indicates, to coincide with a general election. It was also intended to warn readers against the lurking dangers of creeping "despotism", by mobilizing a repertory of classical republican themes, including liberty, slavery, virtue and corruption, supported by a wide array of historical examples.

By his own account, written much later, it took three months to write, copying extracts from thirty large volumes of history, working twenty-­‐one-­‐hour days and relying on such an excessive consumption of caffeine, “qu'il faillit me coûter la vie, plus encore que l'excès du travail”. On its completion, he fell into a stupor, only recovering, after thirteen days, with the aid of music.

Like much of his self-­‐marketing from the revolutionary period, it sold the image of a man driven by hard work, consumed by his passions and boasting a keen sensibility. Its striking title could have drawn inspiration from several sources, ranging from the English translation of Télémaque (1699) –“My dear Mentor, I will wear the chains of slavery with thee” – to Helvétius’ 'De l’esprit' (1758), the focus of his previous work – “Quiconque, sous prétexte de maintenir l’autorité du Prince, veut la porter jusqu’au pouvoir arbitraire, est, à la fois… mauvais Citoyen, parce qu’il charge sa Patrie et sa posterité des chaînes de l’esclavage” – or even, the opening lines of 'Du Contrat Social' (1762) – “L’homme est né libre et partout il est dans les fers”. For Rousseau, as for Marat, the existing social contract traded true personal liberty for collective security, and legitimate political authority could only come from one agreed upon by all citizens for their mutual preservation.

For a good account of its genesis, see Rachel Hammersley, 'Jean-Paul Marat’s The Chains of Slavery in Britain and France, 1774–1833', in The Historical Journal vol.48, no.3 (2005); also Nigel Ritchie, 'The formation of a revolutionary journalist, Jean-Paul Marat' (PhD, QMUL, 2018), especially Ch.2.