Bassville was trained for the priesthood, taught theology in a provincial seminary and then went to Paris. Here in 1784 he published Éléments de mythologie and some poems, which brought him into notice. On the recommendation of the prince of Condé he became tutor to two young Americans travelling in Europe. With them he visited Berlin, made the acquaintance there of Mirabeau, and became a member of the Berlin Royal Academy.
At the outbreak of the Revolution Bassville turned to journalism, becoming or of the Mercure international. Then, through the Girondist minister Lebrun-Tondu, he entered the diplomatic service, went in May, 1792, as secretary of legation to Naples and was shortly afterwards sent, without official status, to Rome.
In Rome Bassville acted as the outspoken revolutionary he was, rather than a conventional diplomat. He ordered the fleur-de-lys on the escutcheon of the French embassy to be replaced by a picture of Liberty painted by a French art student, proclaimed himself protector of the radical Jacobins in Rome, and demanded the expulsion of the French émigrés who had taken refuge there, including the "demoiselles Capet" (i.e. members of the French Royal Family).
Bassville talked at large of the "purple geese of the Capitol" - i.e., the Sacred geese of Juno who were told in Roman Mythology to have saved the ancient City of Rome, a story taken up and given a Republican interpretation by French Revolutionaries. He met the remonstrances of Cardinal Zelada, the Papal Secretary of State, with insults.
His conduct enraged the more conservative elements of the Roman populace, who considered him to have "insulted the Pope". On the January 13, 1793 Bassville, who was driving with his family to the Via del Corso, was dragged from his carriage and lynched, so roughly handled that he died. The affair was magnified in the Convention, being considered "a deliberate murder of the representative of the Republic" by the pope's orders. In 1797 an article of the treaty of Tolentino compelled the Papal government to pay compensation to Bassville's family.
Among his writings is included Mémoires historiques, critiques et politiques sur la Révolution de France (Paris 1790; English trans. London, 1790).