In the midst of the French Revolution, at a time marked by turbulence and political upheavals, Maximilien Robespierre wrote a letter to his friend and unconditional fighting partner, Georges Jacques Danton.
"I love you more than ever and even to death," he told her, a year before sending him to the guillotine.
In the letter, dated in Paris on February 15, 1793, the revolutionary leader wanted to express his support after the death of his wife and his son.
But at the same time, he urged him not to abandon the revolutionary combat.
The writing, the only one of its kind, has been auctioned to a private collector for 218,750 euros.
A group of historians, writers and politicians are calling for it to be returned to the public domain.
Robespierre was not so Robespierre
The letter contains just a few lines, but it illustrates the friendship between two emblematic figures of the French Revolution, before their rivalry broke out.
Just a few weeks before, the monarch Louis XVI had been executed on the scaffold installed in the Place de la Revolución, the current Place de la Concorde.
France had entered the period of revolutionary terror, which sought to defend the fledgling nation from any external or internal enemy.
The entire country was immersed in great political and social transformations.
Robespierre's handwritten letter to Danton.
In his letter, Robespierre tells Danton: “I love you more than ever and to death.
At that moment I am yourself”.
At the beginning of 1793, his friend and ally is in Belgium, where he receives the news of the death of his wife, Gabrielle, while she gave birth to her fourth child, also deceased.
"Let's cry together our friends", continues the revolutionary, before adding the following fragment: "(...) let us soon make the effects of our deep pain felt on the tyrants who are the authors of our public and private misfortunes".
At that time, Danton and Robespierre, two lawyers, had been elected as deputies for Paris to the National Convention, the main institution of the First Republic.
They play a key role in the new political order.
Their friendship, however, will fracture and break soon after.
In April 1794, Danton was sent to the guillotine by his friend for opposing the policy of Terror that he himself helped establish.
Fighting brothers transform into enemies.
And the emblematic duo will inspire many subsequent authors, such as Victor Hugo or Alexandre Dumas in the 19th century.
Fragment of French history
"The letter can be interpreted as proof of the sensitivity of Robespierre, who was not at all a tyrant and a cold monster, as he has been portrayed," analyzes the historian Loris Chavanette, who wrote an article in the newspaper Le Figaro
about the sale of the letter.
"But at the same time, it is proof that the Terror pushed the bloodbath to the point of eliminating his own friends," he explains by phone.
Chavanette is the author of a book on the history of the two revolutionary leaders and others on the Revolution.
The Robespierre letter was awarded on March 12 at an auction house in Versailles, the city where the Revolution broke out, and currently belongs to a private collector.
In its description, the auction house recalls that it is the only one written by the revolutionary leader to Danton that has been preserved.
There is no other epistolary trace between the two men, except for another letter written by Danton in August 1792.
For Chavanette, the writing deserves to be exhibited in a museum or preserved in the National Archives.
In fact, the document was part of the collection of the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris until its closure in 2015. To try to get it back into the public domain, he launched a column in the newspaper Le Monde, signed by more than 20
“The preservation of Robespierre's only letter to Danton is a national cause,” they write.
And they emphasize that the letter has an "invaluable historical character" and contains a "fragment of the history of the birth of the Republic."
Among the signatories are the leader of Unsubdued France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, but also writers such as Erik Orsenna, a member of the French Academy, or David Lisnard, the current mayor of Cannes, from the opposition right-wing party.
In the column, they regret that the State has not exercised its preferential purchase right to acquire the manuscript.
There are precedents.
In 2011, the government managed to prevent some of Robespierre's writings from being auctioned off at Sotheby's, a sale that had sparked a wave of outrage and fears that the documents would leave the country.
EL PAÍS has requested a reaction from the Ministry of Culture, but has not received a response so far.
, the signatories recall that Robespierre, despite being considered a controversial figure by part of historiography, was one of the promoters of the abolition of privileges and of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789.
For Chavanette, the letter not only illustrates part of the legendary couple's history, but also invites reflection and questions: "Philosophically and spiritually speaking, is it fair to sacrifice a friend in the name of the general interest?"
The letter reflects a conflict between private emotions and general interest.
But its uniqueness resides above all in the fact that it can be interpreted both in defense and against what was nicknamed the "incorruptible", underline the signatories of the column.