6 November 2013

François Bègue: Cimetière de Charonne #1

François Bègue's statue on his grave in the small cemetery in the 20th arrondissement is the place's most prominent feature. But who was he?
'Ycy repose
Bègue dit Magloire
Peintre en bâtiments.
Patriote, Poète,
Philosophe et secretataire
de Monsieur
De Robespierre
Well, François Bègue (1750–1837) was a house painter perhaps, but Robespierre's secretary? And if he was a poet the BNF doesn't seem to have any of his works. Café philosopher he may well have been, as he seems to have liked his drink and is said to have been buried with a bottle of wine. The self-mythologizing eccentric may well have been aided by alcoholic lubrication and attendant gross exaggeration – indeed plain invention. But he is said to have earned a great deal of money as a bonesetter, gave generously, and had the statue made from recycled materials.
Many people were present at his funeral, celebrating his life by song and drink. Certainly the man was a brilliant advertiser of himself, and even today he stands there with flowers someone has taken the trouble to put by his hand: Bègue is also said to have been a horticulturist and to have created the rose Magloire.

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