An ambitious activist by nature, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, born Pierre-Augustin Caron, led a far more eventful life than is customary for a man of letters. The ups and downs of his often agitated existence, however, were seldom directly related to the literary life, resulting rather from his determined pursuit of wealth, preferment, and pleasure, from his involvement in legal wrangles, and, most honorably, from Beaumarchais’s disinterested struggles against injustice.
The son of a watchmaker, Beaumarchais was apprenticed at an early age to his father’s craft and mastered it so thoroughly that, when only twenty-one, he worked out a solution to one of the craft’s most difficult problems in mechanics: the contrivance of a radically simplified escapement, the device that transfers the energy of a watch’s spring to the network of interlocking wheels that make up its movement. The naïve young watchmaker made the mistake of showing his device to an older colleague, who promptly published a description of it as his own invention. The younger Caron complained to the Academy of Sciences, won public vindication and recognition thereby, and from that notoriety was able to establish himself as a personage of consequence at the court of Louis XV, even becoming music teacher to the king’s daughters. Thus launched into the social whirl, Beaumarchais went on to a series of other activities and enterprises over the next fifteen years, increasing his fortune and prestige, while marrying and acquiring the title that enabled him to call himself Caron de Beaumarchais. In those years, he continued to encounter envy and injustice and continued to fight against those evils with courage and energy, at the same time learning valuable lessons about the human heart.
Those lessons came to fruition when Beaumarchais began his career as a playwright in 1767,...
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