- "You there! Are you the muse to answer my call? The pleading of a poet with the honor of France in my heart! Say the name Jacques-Louis David and see if you don't gag on the sound. Well, I have written a series of poems satirizing the life of that most despicable propagandist."
- ―Chénier to Arno Dorian.[src]
A student of ancient Greece and the classics of the antiquity, Chénier associated with the leading literary and aristocratic circles. He was noticed for his capabilities in poetry and writing, his ambition being to become "the modern Homer".
During the French Revolution, Chénier contributed to the Journal de Paris, in which he denounced the excesses of the revolution and openly criticized the leading Jacobins Maximilien de Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat and Jacques-Louis David in his satirical poems. He held a particular resentment against David, considering him "a despicable propagandist" and satirizing him in the poem Le Jeu de Paume. In 1792, Chénier wrote the Hymne sur les Suisses révoltés du regiment de Châteauvieux. During the September Massacres of that year, he became a target for the angry mobs, forcing him to flee to Paris and take refuge in Normandy for a period of time.
Furious with Chénier's repeated attacks, David called in favors from Robespierre and the Jacobins to end them. The poet's house was taken over and the final verses of Le Jeu de Paume were kept under guard. Chénier contacted the Assassin Arno Dorian and asked him for help in retrieving the verses. The latter was able to recover them, allowing Chénier to finish Le Jeu de Paume.
Arrest and execution
- "I pray you do not recall my brother's writings in the Journal de Paris, coming as they did from an intemperate poet's heart. Rather I beg you, if my own humble skills have been even the smallest of aid to our glorious Revolution, spare my brother. In his writings I see burgeoning of France's greatest poet, a light that will shine for all time."
- ―Marie-Joseph Chénier in a letter to Robespierre, 1794.[src]
In 1794, Chénier was arrested under incorrect suspicions of being an escaped marquis. He was imprisoned in the Luxembourg Palace and later moved to the Prison Saint-Lazare. Sentenced to death, he wrote one of his most famous poems, Le Jeune Captive.
In an attempt to save André, his brother Marie-Joseph Chénier wrote to Robespierre and pleaded that he be spared. Marie-Joseph claimed that his brother's writings in the Journal de Paris came from "an intemperate poet's heart" and that André could become the greatest poet in France. Robespierre disregarded this letter however, and André Chénier was guillotined on 25 July 1794, three days before Robespierre himself was executed in the Thermidorian Reaction.
- Chénier was born in Constantinople's Galata District, the same district that housed the headquarters of the Ottoman Assassins during the Renaissance.