The World's Greatest Books, Vol XII.
Part 3 out of 6
property of the parish, and determined the application of it; they sued,
and were sued, in its name. Not only the lord of the domain no longer
conducted the administration of the small local affairs, but he did not
even superintend it. All the parish officers were under the government
or control of the central power, as we shall show in a subsequent
chapter. Nay, more; the seigneur had almost ceased to act as the
representative of the crown in the parish, or as the channel of
communication between the king and his subjects.
If we quit the parish, and examine the constitution of the larger rural
districts, we shall find the same state of things. Nowhere did the
nobles conduct public business either in their collective or their
individual capacity. This was peculiar to France.
Of all the peculiar rights of the French nobility, the political element
had disappeared; the pecuniary element alone remained, in some instances
_II.---A Shadow of Democracy_
Picture to yourself a French peasant of the eighteenth century. Take him
as he is described in the documents--so passionately enamoured of the
soil that he will spend all his savings to purchase it, and to purchase
it at any price. To complete his purchase he must first pay a tax, not
to the government, but to other landowners of the neighbourhood, as
unconnected as himself with the administration of public affairs, and
hardly more influential than he is. He possesses it at last; his heart
is buried in it with the seeds he sows. This little nook of ground,
which is his own in this vast universe, fills him with pride and
independence. But again these neighbours call him from his furrow, and
compel him to come to work for them without wages. He tries to defend
his young crops from their game; again they prevent him. As he crosses
the river they wait for his passage to levy a toll. He finds them at the
market, where they sell him the right of selling his own produce; and
when, on his return home, he wants to use the remainder of his wheat for
his own sustenance--of that wheat which was planted by his own hands,
and has grown under his eyes--he cannot touch it till he has ground it
at the mill and baked it at the bakehouse of these same men. A portion
of his little property is paid away in quit-rents to them also, and
these dues can neither be extinguished nor redeemed.
The lord, when deprived of his former power, considered himself
liberated from his former obligations; and no local authority, no
council, no provincial or parochial association had taken his place. No
single being was any longer compelled by law to take care of the poor in
the rural districts, and the central government had boldly undertaken to
provide for their wants by its own resources.
Every year the king's council assigned to each province certain funds
derived from the general produce of the taxes, which the intendant
Sometimes the king's council insisted upon compelling individuals to
prosper, whether they would or no. The ordinances constraining artisans
to use certain methods and manufacture certain articles are innumerable;
and, as the intendants had not time to superintend the application of
all these regulations, there were inspectors general of manufactures,
who visited in the provinces to insist on their fulfilment.
So completely had the government already changed its duty as a sovereign
into that of a guardian.
In France municipal freedom outlived the feudal system. Long after the
landlords were no longer the rulers of the country districts, the towns
still retained the right of self-government.
In most instances the government of the towns was vested in two
assemblies. All the great towns were thus governed, and some of the
small ones. The first of these assemblies was composed of municipal
officers, more of less numerous according to the place. These municipal
officers never received any stipend, but they were remunerated by
exemptions from taxation and by privileges.
The second assembly, which was termed the general assembly, elected the
corporation, wherever it was still subject to election, and always
continued to take a part in the principal concerns of the town.
If we turn from the towns to the villages, we meet with different powers
and different forms of government.
In the eighteenth century the number and the name of the parochial
officers varied in the different provinces of France. In most of the
parishes they were, in the eighteenth century, reduced to two
persons--the one named the "collector," the other most commonly named
the "syndic." Generally, these parochial officers were either elected,
or supposed to be so; but they had everywhere become the instruments of
the state rather than the representatives of the community. The
collector levied the _taille_, or common tax, under the direct orders of
the intendant. The syndic, placed under the daily direction of the
sub-delegate of the intendant, represented that personage in all matters
relating to public order or affecting the government. He became the
principal agent of the government in relation to military service, to
the public works of the state, and to the execution of the general laws
of the kingdom.
Down to the revolution the rural parishes of France had preserved in
their government something of that democratic aspect which they had
acquired in the Middle Ages. The democratic assembly of the parish could
express its desires, but it had no more power to execute its will than
the corporate bodies in the towns. It could not speak until its mouth
had been opened, for the meeting could not be held without the express
permission of the intendant, and, to use the expression of those times,
which adapted language to the fact, "_under his good pleasure_."
_III.--The Ruin of the Nobility_
If we carefully examine the state of society in France before the
revolution, we may see that in each province men of various classes,
those, at least, who were placed above the common people grew to
resemble each other more and more, in spite of differences of rank.
Time, which had perpetuated, and, in many respects, aggravated the
privileges interposed between two classes of men, had powerfully
contributed to render them alike in all other respects.
For several centuries the French nobility had grown gradually poorer and
poorer. "Spite of its privileges, the nobility is ruined and wasted day
by day, and the middle classes get possession of the large fortunes,"
wrote a nobleman in a melancholy strain in 1755-Yet the laws by which
the estates of the nobility were protected still remained the same,
nothing appeared to be changed in their economical condition.
Nevertheless, the more they lost their power the poorer they everywhere
became in exactly the same proportion.
The non-noble classes alone seemed to inherit all the wealth which the
nobility had lost; they fattened, as is were, upon its substance. Yet
there were no laws to prevent the middle class from ruining themselves,
or to assist them in acquiring riches; nevertheless, they incessantly
increased their wealth--in many instances they had become as rich, and
often richer, than the nobles. Nay, more, their wealth was of the same
kind, for, though dwelling in the towns, they were often country
landowners, and sometimes they even bought seignorial estates.
Let us now look at the other side of the picture, and we shall see that
these same Frenchmen, who had so many points of resemblance among
themselves, were, nevertheless, more completely isolated from each other
than perhaps the inhabitants of any other country, or than had ever been
the case before in France.
The fact is, that as by degrees the general liberties of the country
were finally destroyed, involving the local liberties in their ruin, the
burgess and the noble ceased to come into contact with public life.
The system of creating new nobles, far from lessening the hatred of the
_roturier_ to the nobleman, increased it beyond measure; it was
envenomed by all the envy with which the new noble was looked upon by
his former equals. For this reason the _tiers etat,_ in all their
complaints, always displayed more irritation against the newly ennobled
than against the old nobility.
In the eighteenth century the French peasantry could no longer be preyed
upon by petty feudal despots. They were seldom the object of violence on
the part of the government; they enjoyed civil liberty, and were owners
of a portion of the soil. But all the other classes of society stood
aloof from this class, and perhaps in no other part of the world had the
peasantry ever lived so entirely alone. The effects of this novel and
singular kind of oppression deserve a very attentive consideration.
This state of things did not exist in an equal degree among any other of
the civilised nations of Europe, and even in France it was comparatively
recent. The peasantry of the fourteenth century were at once oppressed
and more relieved. The aristocracy sometimes tyrannised over them, but
never forsook them.
In the eighteenth century a French village was a community of persons,
all of whom were poor, ignorant, and coarse; its magistrates were as
rude and as contemned as the people; its syndic could not read; its
collector could not record in his own handwriting the accounts on which
the income of his neighbour and himself depended.
Not only had the former lord of the manor lost the right of governing
this community, but he had brought himself to consider it a sort of
degradation to take any part in the government of it. The central power
of the state alone took any care of the matter, and as that power was
very remote, and had as yet nothing to fear from the inhabitants of the
villages, the only care it took of them was to extract revenue.
A further burden was added. The roads began to be repaired by forced
labour only--that is to say, exclusively at the expense of the
peasantry. This expedient for making roads without paying for them was
thought so ingenious that in 1737 a circular of the Comptroller-General
Orry established it throughout France.
Nothing can better demonstrate the melancholy fate of the rural
population; the progress of society, which enriches all the other
classes, drives them to despair, and civilisation itself turns against
that class alone.
The system of forced labour, by becoming a royal right, was gradually
extended to almost all public works. In 1719 I find it was employed to
build barracks. "Parishes are to send their best workmen," said the
ordinance, "and all other works are to give way to this." The same
forced service was used to escort convicts to the galleys and beggars to
the workhouse; it had to cart the baggage of troops as often as they
changed their quarters--a burthen which was very onerous at a time when
each regiment carried heavy baggage after it. Many carts and oxen had to
be collected for the purpose.
_IV.--Reform and Destruction Inevitable_
One further factor, and that the most important, remains to be noted:
the universal discredit into which every form of religious belief had
fallen, at the end of the eighteenth century, and which exercised
without any doubt the greatest influence upon the whole of the French
Revolution; it stamped its character.
Irreligion had produced an enormous public evil. The religious laws
having been abolished at the same time that the civil laws were
overthrown, the minds of men were entirely upset; they no longer knew
either to what to cling or where to stop. And thus arose a hitherto
unknown species of revolutionists, who carried their boldness to a pitch
of madness, who were surprised by no novelty and arrested by no scruple,
and who never hesitated to put any design whatever into execution. Nor
must it be supposed that these new beings have been the isolated and
ephemeral creation of a moment, and destined to pass away as that moment
passed. They have since formed a race of beings which has perpetuated
itself, and spread into all the civilised parts of the world, everywhere
preserving the same physiognomy, the same character.
From the moment when the forces I have described, and the added loss of
religion, matured, I believe that this radical revolution, which was to
confound in common ruin all that was worst and all that was best in the
institutions and condition of France, became inevitable. A people so
ill-prepared to act for themselves could not undertake a universal and
simultaneous reform without a universal destruction.
One last element must be remembered before we conclude. As the common
people of France had not appeared for one single moment on the theatre
of public affairs for upwards of 140 years, no one any longer imagined
that they could ever again resume their position. They appeared
unconscious, and were therefore believed to be deaf. Accordingly, those
who began to take an interest in their condition talked about them in
their presence just as if they had not been there. It seemed as if these
remarks could only be heard by those who were placed above the common
people, and that the only danger to be apprehended was that they might
not be fully understood by the upper classes.
The very men who had most to fear from the fury of the people declaimed
loudly in their presence on the cruel injustice under which the people
had always suffered. They pointed out to each other the monstrous vices
of those institutions which had weighed most heavily upon the lower
orders; they employed all their powers of rhetoric in depicting the
miseries of the people and their ill-paid labour; and thus they
infuriated while they endeavoured to relieve them.
Such was the attitude of the French nation on the eve of the revolution,
but when I consider this nation in itself it strikes me as more
extraordinary than any event in its own annals. Was there ever any
nation on the face of the earth so full of contrasts and so extreme in
all its actions; more swayed by sensations, less by principles; led
therefore always to do either worse or better than was expected of it,
sometimes below the common level of humanity, sometimes greatly above
it--a people so unalterable in its leading instincts that its likeness
may still be recognised in descriptions written two or three thousand
years ago, but at the same time so mutable in its daily thoughts and in
its tastes as to become a spectacle and an amazement to itself, and to
be as much surprised as the rest of the world at the sight of what it
has done--a people beyond all others the child of home and the slave of
habit, when left to itself; but when once torn against its will from the
native hearth and from its daily pursuits, ready to go to the end of the
world and to dare all things.
Such a nation could alone give birth to a revolution so sudden, so
radical, so impetuous in its course, and yet so full of reactions, of
contradictory incidents and of contrary examples. Without the reasons I
have related the French would never have made the revolution; but it
must be confessed that all these reasons united would not have sufficed
to account for such a revolution anywhere else but in France.
* * * * *
History of the French Revolution
Francois Auguste Alexis Mignet was born at Aix, in Provence,
on May 8, 1796, and began life at the Bar. It soon became
apparent that his true vocation was history, and in 1818 he
left his native town for Paris, where he became attached to
the "Courier Francais," in the meantime delivering with
considerable success a series of lectures on modern history at
the Athenee. Mignet may be said to be the first great
specialist to devote himself to the study of particular
periods of French history. His "History of the French
Revolution, from 1789 to 1814," published in 1824, is a
strikingly sane and lucid arrangement of facts that came into
his hands in chaotic masses. Eminently concise, exact, and
clear, it is the first complete account by one other than an
actor in the great drama. Mignet was elected to the French
Academy in 1836, and afterwards published a series of masterly
studies dealing with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
among which are "Antonio Perez and Philip II.," and "The
History of Mary, Queen of Scots," and also biographies of
Franklin and Charles V. He died on March 24, 1884.
_I.--The Last Resort of the Throne_
I am about to take a rapid review of the history of the French
Revolution, which began the era of new societies in Europe, as the
English revolution had begun the era of new governments.
Louis XVI. ascended the throne on May 11, 1774. Finances, whose
deficiencies neither the restorative ministry of Cardinal de Fleury, nor
the bankrupt ministry of the Abbe Terray had been able to make good,
authority disregarded, an imperious public opinion; such were the
difficulties which the new reign inherited from its predecessors. And in
choosing, on his accession to the throne, Maurepas as prime minister,
Louis XVI. eminently contributed to the irresolute character of his
reign. On the death of Maurepas the queen took his place with Louis
XVI., and inherited all his influence over him. Maurepas, mistrusting
court ministers, had always chosen popular ministers; it is true he did
not support them; but if good was not brought about, at least evil did
not increase. After his death, court ministers succeeded the popular
ministers, and by their faults rendered the crisis inevitable which
others had endeavoured to prevent by their reforms. This difference of
choice is very remarkable; this it was which, by the change of men,
brought on the change of the system of administration. _The revolution
dates front this epoch;_ the abandonment of reforms and the return of
disorders hastened its approach and augmented its fury.
After the failure of the queen's minister the States-General had become
the only means of government, and the last resources of the throne. The
king, on August 8, 1788, fixed the opening for May 1, 1789. Necker, the
popular minister of finance, was recalled, and prepared everything for
the election of deputies and the holding of the States.
A religious ceremony preceded their installation. The king, his family,
his ministers, the deputies of the three orders, went in procession from
the Church of Notre Dame to that of St. Louis, to hear the opening mass.
The royal sitting took place the following day in the Salle des Menus.
Galleries, arranged in the form of an amphitheatre, were filled with
spectators. The deputies were summoned, and introduced according to the
order established in 1614. The clergy were conducted to the right, the
nobility to the left, and the commons in front of the throne at the end
of the hall. The deputations from Dauphine, from Crepy-en-Valois, to
which the Duke of Orleans belonged, and from Provence, were received
with loud applause. Necker was also received on his entrance with
Barentin, keeper of the seals, spoke next after the king. His speech
displayed little knowledge of the wishes of the nation, or it sought
openly to combat them. The dissatisfied assembly looked to M. Necker,
from whom it expected different language.
The court, so far from wishing to organise the States-General, sought to
annul them. No efforts were spared to keep the nobility and clergy
separate from and in opposition to the commons; but on May 6, the day
after the opening of the States, the nobility and clergy repaired to
their respective chambers, and constituted themselves. The Third Estate
being, on account of its double representation, the most numerous order,
had the Hall of the States allotted to it, and there awaited the two
other orders; it considered its situation as provisional, its members as
presumptive deputies, and adopted a system of inactivity till the other
orders should unite with it. Then a memorable struggle began, the issue
of which was to decide whether the revolution should be effected or
The commons, having finished the verification of their own powers of
membership on June 17, on the motion of Sieyes, constituted themselves
the National Assembly, and refused to recognise the other two orders
till they submitted, and changed the assembly of the States into an
assembly of the people.
It was decided that the king should go in state to the Assembly, annul
its decrees, command the separation of the orders as constitutive of the
monarchy, and himself fix the reforms to be effected by the
States-General. It was feared that the majority of the clergy would
recognise the Assembly by uniting with it; and to prevent so decided a
step, instead of hastening the royal sittings, they and the government
closed the Hall of the States, in order to suspend the Assembly till the
day of that royal session.
At an appointed hour on June 20 the president of the commons repaired to
the Hall of the States, and finding an armed force in possession, he
protested against this act of despotism. In the meantime the deputies
arrived, and dissatisfaction increased. The most indignant proposed
going to Marly and holding the Assembly under the windows of the king;
one named the Tennis Court; this proposition was well received, and the
deputies repaired thither in procession.
Bailly was at their head; the people followed them with enthusiasm, even
soldiers volunteered to escort them, and there, in a bare hall, the
deputies of the commons, standing with upraised hands, and hearts full
of their sacred mission, swore, with only one exception, not to separate
till they had given France a constitution.
By these two failures the court prefaced the famous sitting of June 23.
At length it took place. A numerous guard surrounded the hall of the
States-General, the door of which was opened to the deputies, but closed
to the public. After a scene of authority, ill-suited to the occasion,
and at variance with his heart, Louis XVI. withdrew, having commanded
the deputies to disperse. The clergy and nobility obeyed. The deputies
of the people, motionless, silent, and indignant, remained seated.
The grand-master of the ceremonies, finding the Assembly did not break
up, came and reminded them of the king's order.
"Go and tell your master," cried Mirabeau, "that we, are here at the
command of the people, and nothing but the bayonet shall drive us
"You are to-day," added Sieyes calmly, "what you were yesterday. Let us
The Assembly, full of resolution and dignity, began the debate
On that day the royal authority was lost. The initiative in law and
moral power passed from the monarch to the Assembly. Those who, by their
counsels, had provoked this resistance did not dare to punish it Necker,
whose dismissal had been decided on that morning, was, in the evening,
entreated by the queen and Louis XVI. to remain in office.
_II.---"A la Bastille!"_
The court might still have repaired its errors, and caused its attacks
to be forgotten. But the advisers of Louis XVI., when they recovered
from the first surprise of defeat, resolved to have recourse to the use
of the bayonet after they had failed in that of authority.
The troops arrived in great numbers; Versailles assumed the aspect of a
camp; the Hall of the States was surrounded by guards, and the citizens
refused admission. Paris was also encompassed by various bodies of the
army ready to besiege or blockade it, as the occasion might require;
when the court, having established troops at Versailles, Sevres, the
Champ de Mars, and St. Denis, thought it able to execute its project. It
began on July 11, by the banishment of Necker, who received while at
dinner a note from the king enjoining him to leave the country
On the following day, Sunday, July 12, about four in the afternoon,
Necker's disgrace and departure became known in Paris. More than ten
thousand persons flocked to the Palais Royal. They took busts of Necker
and the Duke of Orleans, a report also having gone abroad that the
latter would be exiled, and covering them with crape, carried them in
triumph. A detachment of the Royal Allemand came up and attempted to
disperse the mob; but the multitude, continuing its course, reached the
Place Louis XV. Here they were assailed by the dragoons of the Prince de
Lambese. After resisting a few moments they were thrown into confusion;
the bearer of one of the busts and a soldier of one of the French guards
During the evening the people had repaired to the Hotel de Ville, and
requested that the tocsin might be sounded. Some electors assembled at
the Hotel de Ville, and took the authority into their own hands. The
nights of July 12 and 13 were spent in tumult and alarm.
On July 13 the insurrection took in Paris a more regular character. The
provost of the merchants announced the immediate arrival of twelve
thousand guns from the manufactory of Charleville, which would soon be
followed by thirty thousand more.
The next day, July 14, the people that had been unable to obtain arms on
the preceding day came early in the morning to solicit some from the
committee, hurried in a mass to the Hotel des Invalides, which contained
a considerable depot of arms, found 28,000 guns concealed in the
cellars, seized them, took all the sabres, swords, and cannon, and
carried them off in triumph; while the cannon were placed at the
entrance of the Faubourgs, at the palace of the Tuileries, on the quays
and on the bridges, for the defence of the capital against the invasion
of troops, which was expected every moment.
From nine in the morning till two the only rallying word throughout
Paris was "A la Bastille! A la Bastille!" The citizens hastened thither
in bands from all quarters, armed with guns, pikes, and sabres. The
crowd which already surrounded it was considerable; the sentinels of the
fortress were at their posts, and the drawbridges raised as in war. The
populace advanced to cut the chains of the bridge. The garrison
dispersed them with a charge of musketry. They returned, however, to the
attack, and for several hours their efforts were confined to the bridge,
the approach to which was defended by a ceaseless fire from the
The siege had lasted more than four hours when the French guards arrived
with cannon. Their arrival changed the appearance of the combat. The
garrison itself begged the governor to yield.
The gates were opened, the bridge lowered, and the crowd rushed into the
The multitude which was enrolled on July 14 was not yet, in the
following autumn, disbanded. And the people, who were in want of bread,
wished for the king to reside at Paris, in the hope that his presence
would diminish or put a stop to the dearth of provisions. On the pretext
of protecting itself against the movements in Paris, the court summoned
troops to Versailles, doubled the household guards, and sent in
September (1789) for the dragoons and the Flanders regiment.
The officers of the Flanders regiment, received with anxiety in the town
of Versailles, were feted at the chateau, and even admitted to the
queen's card tables. Endeavours were made to secure their devotion, and
on October 1, a banquet was given to them by the king's guards. The king
was announced. He entered attired in a hunting dress, the queen leaning
on his arm and carrying the dauphin. Shouts of affection and devotion
arose on every side. The health of the royal family was drunk with
swords drawn, and when Louis XVI. withdrew the music played "O Richard!
O mon roi! L'univers t'abandonne." The scene now assumed a very
significant character; the march of the Hullans and the profusion of
wine deprived the guests of all reserve. The charge was sounded;
tottering guests climbed the boxes as if mounting to an assault; white
cockades were distributed; the tri-colour cockade, it is said, was
The news of this banquet produced the greatest sensation in Paris. On
the 4th suppressed rumours announced an insurrection; the multitude
already looked towards Versailles. On the 5th the insurrection broke out
in a violent and invincible manner; the entire want of flour was the
signal. A young girl, entering a guardhouse, seized a drum and rushed
through the streets beating it and crying, "Bread! Bread!" She was soon
surrounded by a crowd of women. This mob advanced towards the Hotel de
Ville, increasing as it went. It forced the guard that stood at the
door, and penetrated into the interior, clamouring for bread and arms;
it broke open doors, seized weapons, and marched towards Versailles. The
people soon rose _en masse_, uttering the same demand, till the cry "To
Versailles!" rose on every side. The women started first, headed by
Maillard, one of the volunteers of the Bastille. The populace, the
National Guard, and the French guards requested to follow them.
During this tumult the court was in consternation; the flight of the
king was suggested, and carriages prepared. But, in the meantime, the
rain, fatigue, and the inaction of the household troops lessened the
fury of the multitude, and Lafayette arrived at the head of the Parisian
His presence restored security to the court, and the replies of the king
to the deputation from Paris satisfied the multitude and the army.
About six next morning, however, some men of the lower class, more
enthusiastic than the rest, and awake sooner than they, prowled round
the chateau. Finding a gate open, they informed their companions, and
Lafayette, apprised of the invasion of the royal residence, mounted his
horse and rode hastily to the scene of danger. On the square he met some
of the household troops surrounded by an infuriated mob, who were on the
point of killing them. He threw himself among them, called some French
guards who were near, and having rescued the household troops and
dispersed their assailant, he hurried to the chateau. But the scene was
not over. The crowd assembled again in the marble court under the king's
balcony, loudly called for him, and he appeared. They required his
departure for Paris. He promised to repair thither with his family, and
this promise was received with general applause. The queen was resolved
to accompany him, but the prejudice against her was so strong that the
journey was not without danger. It was necessary to reconcile her with
the multitude. Lafayette proposed to her to accompany him to the
balcony. After some hesitation, she consented. They appeared on it
together, and to communicate by a sign with the tumultuous crowd, to
conquer its animosity and to awaken its enthusiasm, Lafayette
respectfully kissed the queen's hand. The crowd responded with
Thus terminated the scene; the royal family set out for Paris, escorted
by the army, and its guards mixed with it.
The autumn of 1789 and the whole of the year 1790 were passed in the
debate and promulgation of rapid and drastic reforms, by which the
Parliament within eighteen months reduced the monarchy to little more
than a form. Mirabeau, the most popular member, and in a sense the
leader of the Parliament, secretly agreed with the court to save the
monarchy from destruction; but on his sudden death, on April 2, 1791,
the king and queen, in terror at their situation, determined to fly from
Paris. The plan, which was matured during May and June, was to reach the
frontier fortress of Montmedy by way of Chalons, and to take refuge with
the army on the frontier.
The royal family made every preparation for departure; very few persons
were informed of it, and no measures betrayed it. Louis XVI. and the
queen, on the contrary, pursued a line of conduct calculated to silence
suspicion, and on the night of June 20 they issued at the appointed hour
from the chateau, one by one, in disguise, and took the road to Chalons
The success of the first day's journey, the increasing distance from
Paris, rendered the king less reserved and more confident. He had the
imprudence to show himself, was recognised, and arrested at Varennes on
The king was provisionally suspended--a guard set over him, as over the
queen--and commissioners were appointed to question him.
_IV.--Europe Declares War on the Revolution_
While this was passing in the Assembly and in Paris, the emigrants, whom
the flight of Louis XVI. had elated with hope, were thrown into
consternation at his arrest. Monsieur, who had fled at the same time as
his brother, and with better fortune, arrived alone at Brussels with the
powers and title of regent. The emigrants thenceforth relied only on the
assistance of Europe; the officers quitted their colours; 290 members of
the Assembly protested against its decrees; in order to legitimatise
invasion, Bouille wrote a threatening letter, in the inconceivable hope
of intimidating the Assembly, and at the same time to take up himself
the sole responsibility of the flight of Louis XVI.; finally the
emperor, the King of Prussia, and the Count d'Artois met at Pilnitz,
where they made the famous declaration of August 27, 1791, preparatory
to the invasion of France.
On April 20, 1792, Louis XVI. went to the Assembly, attended by all his
ministers. In that sitting war was almost unanimously decided upon. Thus
was undertaken against the chief of confederate powers that war which
was protracted throughout a quarter of a century, which victoriously
established the revolution, and which changed the whole face of Europe.
On July 28, when the allied army of the invaders began to move from
Coblentz, the Duke of Brunswick, its commander-in-chief, published a
manifesto in the name of the emperor and the King of Prussia. He
declared that the allied sovereigns were advancing to put an end to
anarchy in France, to arrest the attacks made on the altar and the
throne. He said that the inhabitants of towns _who dared to stand on the
defensive_ should instantly be punished as rebels, with the rigour of
war, and their houses demolished or burned; and that if the Tuileries
were attacked or insulted, the princes would deliver Paris over to
military execution and total subversion.
This fiery and impolitic manifesto more than anything else hastened the
fall of the throne, and prevented the success of the coalition.
The insurgents fixed the attack on the Tuileries for the morning of
August 10. The vanguard of the Faubourgs, composed of Marseillese and
Breton Federates, had already arrived by the Rue Saint Honore, stationed
themselves in battle array on the Carrousel, and turned their cannon
against the Tuileries, when Louis XVI. left his chamber with his family,
ministers, and the members of the department, and announced to the
persons assembled for the defence of the palace that he was going to the
National Assembly. All motives for resistance ceased with the king's
departure. The means of defence had also been diminished by the
departure of the National Guards who escorted the king. The Swiss
discharged a murderous fire on the assailants, who were dispersed. The
Place du Carrousel was cleared. But the Marseillese and Bretons soon
returned with renewed force; the Swiss were fired on by the cannon, and
surrounded; and the crowd perpetrated in the palace all the excesses of
Royalty had already fallen, and thus on August 10 began the dictatorial
and arbitrary epoch of the revolution.
During three days, from September 2, the prisoners confined in the
Carmes, the Abbaye, the Conciergerie, the Force, etc., were slaughtered
by a band of about three hundred assassins. On the 20th, the in itself
almost insignificant success of Valmy, by checking the invasion,
produced on our troops and upon opinion in France the effect of the most
On the same day the new Parliament, the Convention, began its
deliberations. In its first sitting it abolished royalty, and proclaimed
the republic. And already Robespierre, who played so terrible a part in
our revolution, was beginning to take a prominent position in the
The discussion on the trial of Louis XVI. began on November 13. The
Assembly unanimously decided, on January 20, 1793, that Louis was
guilty; when the appeal was put to the question, 284 voices voted for,
424 against it; 10 declined voting. Then came the terrible question as
to the nature of the punishment. Paris was in a state of the greatest
excitement; deputies were threatened at the very door of the Assembly.
There were 721 voters. The actual majority was 361. The death of the
king was decided by a majority of 26 votes.
He was executed at half-past ten in the morning of January 21, and his
death was the signal for an almost universal war.
This time all the frontiers of France were to be attacked by the
The cabinet of St. James, on learning the death of Louis XVI., dismissed
the Ambassador Chauvelin, whom it had refused to acknowledge since
August 10 and the dethronement of the king. The Convention, finding
England already leagued with the coalition, and consequently all its
promises of neutrality vain and illusive, on February 1, 1793, declared
war against the King of Great Britain and the stadtholder of Holland,
who had been entirely guided by the cabinet of St. James since 1788.
Spain came to a rupture with the republic, after having interceded in
vain for Louis XVI., and made its neutrality the price of the life of
the king. The German Empire entirely adopted the war; Bavaria, Suabia,
and the Elector Palatine joined the hostile circles of the empire.
Naples followed the example of the Holy See, and the only neutral powers
were Venice, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and Turkey.
In order to confront so many enemies, the Convention decreed a levy of
The Austrians assumed the offensive, and at Liege put our army wholly to
Meanwhile, partial disturbances had taken place several times in La
Vendee. The Vendeans beat the gendarmerie at Saint Florens. The troops
of the line and the battalions of the National Guard who advanced
against the insurgents were defeated.
At the same time tidings of new military disasters arrived, one after
the other. Dumouriez ventured a general action at Neerwinden, and lost
it. Belgium was evacuated, Dumouriez had recourse to the guilty project
of defection. He had conference with Colonel Mack, and agreed with the
Austrians to march upon Paris for the purpose of re-establishing the
monarchy, leaving them on the frontiers, and having first given up to
them several fortresses as a guarantee. He proceeded to the execution of
his impractical design. He was really in a very difficult position; the
soldiers were very much attached to him, but they were also devoted to
their country. He had the commissioners of the Convention arrested by
German hussars, and delivered them as hostages to the Austrians. After
this act of revolt he could no longer hesitate. He tried to induce the
army to join him, but was forsaken by it, and then went over to the
Austrian camp with the Duc de Chartres, Colonel Thouvenot, and two
squadrons of Berchiny. The rest of his army went to the camp at Famars,
and joined the troops commanded by Dampierre.
The Convention on learning the arrest of the commissions, established
itself as a permanent assembly, declared Dumouriez a traitor, authorised
any citizen to attack him, set a price on his head, and decreed the
famous Committee of Public Safety.
_V.---The Committee of Public Safety_
Thus was created that terrible power which first destroyed the enemies
of the Mountain, then the Mountain and the commune, and, lastly, itself.
The committee did everything in the name of the Convention, which it
used as an instrument. It nominated and dismissed generals, ministers,
representatives, commissioners, judges, and juries. It assailed
factions; it took the initiative in all measures. Through its
commissioners, armies and generals were dependent upon it, and it ruled
the departments with sovereign sway.
By means of the law touching suspected persons, it disposed of men's
liberties; by the revolutionary tribunal, of men's lives; by levies and
the maximum, of property; by decrees of accusation in the terrified
Convention, of its own members. Lastly, its dictatorship was supported
by the multitude who debated in the clubs, ruled in the revolutionary
committees; whose services it paid by a daily stipend, and whom it fed
with the maximum. The multitude adhered to a system which inflamed its
passions, exaggerated its importance, assigned it the first place, and
appeared to do everything for it.
Two enemies, however, threatened the power of this dictatorial
government. Danton and his faction, whose established popularity gave
him great weight, and who, as victory over the allies seemed more
certain, demanded a cessation of the "Terror," or martial law of the
committee; and the commune, or extreme republican municipal government
The Committee of Public Safety was too strong not to triumph over the
commune, but, at the same time, it had to resist the moderate party,
which demanded the cessation of the revolutionary government and the
dictatorship of the committees. The revolutionary government had only
been created to restrain, the dictatorship to conquer; and as Danton and
his party no longer considered restraint within and further victory
abroad essential, they sought to establish legal order. Early in 1794 it
was time for Danton to defend himself; the proscription, after striking
the commune, threatened him. He was advised to be on his guard and to
take immediate steps. His friends implored him to defend himself.
"I would rather," said he, "be guillotined than be a guillotiner;
besides, my life is not worth the trouble, and I am sick of the world!"
"Well, then, thou shouldst depart."
"Depart!" he repeated, curling his lip disdainfully, "Depart! Can we
carry your country away on the sole of our shoe?"
On Germinal 10, as the revolutionary calendar went (March 31, 1796), he
was informed that his arrest was being discussed in the Committee of
Public Safety. His arrest gave rise to general excitement, to a sombre
anxiety. Danton and the rest of the accused were brought before the
revolutionary tribunal. They displayed an audacity of speech and a
contempt of their judges wholly unusual. They were taken to the
Conciergerie, and thence to the scaffold.
They went to death with the intrepidity usual at that epoch. There were
many troops under arms, and their escort was numerous. The crowd,
generally loud in its applause, was silent. Danton stood erect, and
looked proudly and calmly around. At the foot of the scaffold he
betrayed a momentary emotion. "Oh, my best beloved--my wife!" he cried.
"I shall not see thee again!" Then suddenly interrupting himself: "No
Thus perished the last defender of humanity and moderation; the last who
sought to promote peace among the conquerors of the revolution and pity
for the conquered. For a long time no voice was raised against the
dictatorship of terror. During the four months following the fall of the
Danton party, the committee exercised their authority without opposition
or restraint. Death became the only means of governing, and the republic
was given up to daily and systematic executions.
Robespierre, who was considered the founder of a moral democracy, now
attained the highest degree of elevation and of power. He became the
object of the general flattery of his party; he was the _great man_ of
the republic. At the Jacobins and in the Convention his preservation was
attributed to "the good genius of the republic" and to the _Supreme
Being_, Whose existence he had decreed on Floreal 18, the celebration of
the new religion being fixed for Prairial 20.
But the end of this system drew near. The committees opposed Robespierre
in their own way. They secretly strove to bring about his fall by
accusing him of tyranny.
Naturally sad, suspicious, and timid, he became more melancholy and
mistrustful than ever. He even rose against the committee itself. On
Thermidor 8 (July 25, 1794), he entered the Convention at an early hour.
He ascended the tribunal, and denounced the committee in a most skilful
speech. Not a murmur, not a mark of applause welcomed this declaration
The members of the two committees thus attacked, who had hitherto
remained silent, seeing the Mountain thwarted and the majority
undecided, thought it time to speak. Vadier first opposed Robespierre's
speech and then Robespierre himself. Cambon went further. The committees
had also spent the night in deliberation. In this state of affairs the
sitting of Thermidor 9 (July 27) began.
Robespierre, after attempting to speak several times, while his voice
was drowned by cries of "Down with the tyrant!" and the bell which the
president, Thuriot, continued ringing, now made a last effort to be
heard. "President of assassins," he cried, "for the last time, will you
let me speak?"
Said one of the Mountain: "The blood of Danton chokes you!" His arrest
was demanded, and supported on all sides. It was now half-past five, and
the sitting was suspended till seven. Robespierre was transferred to the
Luxembourg. The commune, after having ordered the gaolers not to receive
him, sent municipal officers with detachments to bring him away.
Robespierre was liberated, and conducted in triumph to the Hotel de
Ville. On arriving, he was received with the greatest enthusiasm. "Long
live Robespierre! Down with the traitors!" resounded on all sides. But
the Convention marched upon the Hotel de Ville.
The conspirators, finding they were lost, sought to escape the violence
of their enemies by committing violence on themselves. Robespierre
shattered his jaw with a pistol shot. He was deposited for some time at
the Committee of Public Safety before he was transferred to the
Conciergerie; and here, stretched on a table, his face disfigured and
bloody, exposed to the looks, the invectives, the curses of all, he
beheld the various parties exulting in his fall, and charging upon him
all the crimes that had been committed.
On Thermidor 10, about five in the evening, he ascended the death-cart,
placed between Henriot and Couthon, mutilated like himself. His head was
enveloped in linen, saturated with blood; his face was livid, his eyes
were almost visionless. An immense crowd thronged round the cart,
manifesting the most boisterous and exulting joy. He ascended the
scaffold last. When his head fell, shouts of applause arose in the air,
and lasted for some minutes.
Thermidor 9 was the first day of the revolution it which those fell who
attacked. This indication alone manifested that the ascendant
revolutionary movement had reached its term. From that day the contrary
movement necessarily began.
From Thermidor 9, 1794, to the summer of 1795, the radical Mountain, in
its turn, underwent the destiny it had imposed on others--for in times
when the passions are called into play parties know not how to come to
terms, and seek only to conquer. From that period the middle class
resumed the management of the revolution, and the experiment of pure
democracy had failed.
* * * * *
History of the French Revolution
Carlyle's "History of the French Revolution" appeared in 1837,
some three years after the author had established himself in
London. Never has the individuality of a historian so
completely permeated his work; it is inconceivable that any
other man should have written a single paragraph, almost a
single sentence, of the history. To Carlyle, the story
presents itself as an upheaval of elemental forces, vast
elemental personalities storming titanically in their midst,
vividly picturesque as a primeval mountain landscape illumined
by the blaze of lightning, in a night of storms, with
momentary glimpses of moon and stars. Although it was
impossible for Carlyle to assimilate all the wealth of
material even then extant, the "History," considered as a
prose epic, has a permanent and unique value. His convictions,
whatever their worth, came, as he himself put it, "flamingly
from the heart." (Carlyle, biography: see vol. ix.)
_I.---The End of an Era_
On May 10, 1774, "with a sound absolutely like thunder," has the
horologe of time struck, and an old era passed away. Is it the healthy
peace or the ominous unhealthy, that rests on France for the next ten
years? Dubarrydom and its D'Aiguillons are gone for ever. There is a
young, still docile, well-intentioned king; a young, beautiful and
bountiful, well-intentioned queen; and with them all France, as it were,
become young. For controller-general, a virtuous, philosophic Turgot.
Philosophism sits joyful in her glittering salons; "the age of
revolutions approaches" (as Jean Jacques wrote), but then of happy,
But with the working people it is not so well, whom we lump together
into a kind of dim, compendious unity, monstrous but dim, far off, as
the _canaille_. Singular how long the rotten will hold together,
provided you do not handle it roughly. Visible in France is no such
thing as a government. But beyond the Atlantic democracy is born; a
sympathetic France rejoices over the rights of man. Rochambeaus,
Lameths, Lafayettes have drawn their swords in this sacred quarrel;
return, to be the missionaries of freedom. But, what to do with the
finances, having no Fortunatus purse?
For there is the palpablest discrepancy between revenue and expenditure.
Are we breaking down, then, into the horrors of national bankruptcy?
Turgot, Necker, and others have failed. What apparition, then, could be
welcomer than that of M. de Calonne? A man of indisputable genius, even
fiscal genius, more or less; of intrinsically rich qualities! For all
straits he has present remedy. Calonne also shall have trial! With a
genius for persuading--before all things for borrowing; after three
years of which, expedient heaped on expedient, the pile topples
Whereupon a new expedient once more astonishes the world, unheard of
these hundred and sixty years--_Convocation of the Notables_. A round
gross of notables, meeting in February, 1787; all privileged persons. A
deficit so enormous! Mismanagement, profusion, is too clear; peculation
itself is hinted at. Calonne flies, storm-driven, over the horizon. To
whom succeeds Lomenie-Brienne, Archbishop of Toulouse--adopting
Calonne's plans, as Calonne had proposed to adopt Turgot's; and the
notables are, as it were, organed out in kind of choral anthem of
thanks, praises, promises.
Lomenie issues conciliatory edicts, fiscal edicts. But if the Parlement
of Paris refuse to register them? As it does, entering complaints
instead. Lomenie launches his thunderbolt, six score _lettres de
cachet;_ the Parlement is trundled off to Troyes, in Champagne, for a
month. Yet two months later, when a royal session is held, to have
edicts registered, there is no registering. Orleans, "Equality" that is
to be, has made the protest, and cut its moorings.
The provincial parlements, moreover, back up the Paris Parlement with
its demand for a States-General. Lomenie hatches a cockatrice egg; but
it is broken in premature manner; the plot discovered and denounced.
Nevertheless, the Parlement is dispersed by D'Agoust with Gardes
Francaises and Gardes Suisses. Still, however, will none of the
provincial parlements register.
Deputations coming from Brittany meet to take counsel, being refused
audience; become the _Breton Club_, first germ of the _Jacobins'
Society_. Lomenie at last announces that the States-General shall meet
in the May of next year (1789). For the holding of which, since there is
no known plan, "thinkers are invited" to furnish one.
Wherewith Lomenie departs; flimsier mortal was seldom fated to do as
weighty a mischief. The archbishop is thrown out, and M. Necker is
recalled. States-General will meet, if not in January, at least in May.
But how to form it? On the model of the last States-General in 1614,
says the Parlement, which means that the _Tiers Etat_ will be of no
account, if the noblesse and the clergy agree. Wherewith terminates the
popularity of the Parlement. As for the "thinkers," it is a sheer
snowing of pamphlets. And Abbe Sieyes has come to Paris to ask three
questions, and answer them: _What is the Third Estate? All. What has it
hitherto been in our form of government? Nothing. What does it want? To
The grand questions are: Shall the States-General sit and vote in three
separate bodies, or in one body, wherein the _Tiers Etat_ shall have
double representation? The notables are again summoned to decide, but
vanish without decision. With those questions still unsettled, the
election begins. And presently the national deputies are in Paris. Also
there is a sputter; drudgery and rascality rising in Saint-Antoine,
finally repressed by Gardes Suisses and grapeshot.
On Monday, May 4, is the baptism day of democracy, the extreme unction
day of feudalism. Behold the procession of processions advancing towards
Notre--our commons, noblesse, clergy, the king himself. Which of these
six hundred individuals in plain white cravat might one guess would
become their king? He with the thick black locks, shaggy beetle-brows
and rough-hewn face? Gabriel Honore Riqueti de Mirabeau, the
world-compeller, the type Frenchman of this epoch, as Voltaire of the
last. And if Mirabeau is the greatest, who of these six hundred may be
the meanest? Shall we say that anxious, slight, ineffectual-looking man,
under thirty, in spectacles; complexion of an atrabiliar shade of pale
sea-green, whose name is Maximilien Robespierre?
Coming into their hall on the morrow, the commons deputies perceive that
they have it to themselves. The noblesse and the clergy are sitting
separately, which the noblesse maintain to be right; no agreement is
possible. After six weeks of inertia the commons deputies, on their own
strength, are getting under way; declare themselves not _Third Estate_,
but _National Assembly_. On June 20, shut out of their hall "for
repairs," the deputies find refuge in the tennis court! take solemn oath
that they will continue to meet till they have made the constitution.
And to these are joined 149 of the clergy. A royal session is held; the
king propounds thirty-five articles, which if the estates do not confirm
he will himself enforce. The commons remain immovable, joined now by the
rest of the clergy and forty-eight noblesse. So triumphs the Third
War-god Broglie is at work, but grapeshot is good on one condition! The
Gardes Francaises, it seems, will not fire; nor they only. Other troops,
then? Rumour declares, and is verified, that Necker, people's minister,
is dismissed. "To arms!" cries Camille Desmoulins, and innumerable
voices yell responsive. Chaos comes. The Electoral Club, however,
declares itself a provisional municipality, sends out parties to keep
order in the streets that night, enroll a militia, with arms collected
where one may. Better to name it _National Guard_! And while the crisis
is going on, Mirabeau is away, sad at heart for the dying, crabbed old
father whom he loved.
Muskets are to be got from the Invalides; 28,000 National Guards are
provided with matchlocks. And now to the Bastile! But to describe this
siege perhaps transcends the talent of mortals. After four hours of
world-bedlam, it surrenders. The Bastile is down. "Why," said poor
Louis, "that is a revolt." "Sire," answered Liancourt, "it is not a
revolt; it is a revolution."
On the morrow, Louis paternally announces to the National Assembly
reconciliation. Amid enthusiasm, President Bailly is proclaimed Maire of
Paris, Lafayette general of the National Guard. And the first emigration
of aristocrat irreconcilables takes place. The revolution is sanctioned.
Nevertheless, see Saint-Antoine, not to be curbed, dragging old Foulon
and Berthier to the lantern, after which the cloud disappears, as
_III.---Menads and Feast of Pikes_
French Revolution means here the open, violent rebellion and victory of
disemprisoned anarchy against corrupt, worn-out authority; till the
frenzy working itself out, the uncontrollable be got harnessed. A
transcendental phenomenon, overstepping all rules and experience, the
crowning phenomenon of our modern time.
The National Assembly takes the name Constituent; with endless debating,
gets the rights of man written down and promulgated. A memorable night
is August 4, when they abolish privilege, immunity, feudalism, root and
branch, perfecting their theory of irregular verbs. Meanwhile,
seventy-two chateaus have flamed aloft in the Maconnais and Beaujolais
alone. Ill stands it now with some of the seigneurs. And, glorious as
the meridian, M. Necker is returning from Bale.
Pamphleteering, moreover, opens its abysmal throat wider and wider,
never to close more. A Fourth Estate of able editors springs up,
increases and multiplies, irrepressible, incalculable.
No, this revolution is not of the consolidating kind. Lafayette
maintains order by his patrols; we hear of white cockades, and, worse
still, black cockades; and grain grows still more scarce. One Monday
morning, maternity awakes to hear children weeping for bread, must forth
into the streets. _Allons_! Let us assemble! To the Hotel de Ville, to
Versailles, to the lantern! All women gather and go; crowds storm all
stairs, force out all women; there is a universal "press of women." Who
will storm the Hotel de Ville, but for shifty usher Maillard, who
snatches a drum, beats his Rogues' March to Versailles! And after them
the National Guard, resolute in spite of _Mon General,_ who, indeed,
must go with them--Saint-Antoine having already gone. Maillard and his
menads demand at Versailles bread; speech with the king for a
deputation. The king speaks words of comfort. Words? But they want
"bread, not so much discoursing!"
Towards midnight comes Lafayette; seems to have saved the situation;
gets to bed about five in the morning. But rascaldom, gathering about
the chateau, breaks in. One of the royal bodyguard fires, whereupon the
deluge pours in, would deal utter destruction but for the coming of the
National Guard. The bodyguard mount the tri-colour. There is no choice
now. The king must from Versailles to Paris, in strange procession;
finally reaches the long-deserted Palace of the Tuileries. It is
Tuesday, October 6, 1789.
And so again, on clear arena under new conditions, with something even
of a new stateliness, we begin a new course of action. Peace of a father
restored to his children? Not only shall Paris be fed, but the king's
hand be seen in that work--_King Louis, restorer of French liberty!_
Alone of men, Mirabeau may begin to discern clearly whither all this is
tending. Patriotism, accordingly, regrets that his zeal seems to be
getting cool. A man stout of heart, enigmatic, difficult to unmask!
Meanwhile, finances give trouble enough. To appease the deficit we
venture on a hazardous step, sale of the clergy's lands; a paper-money
of _assignats_, bonds secured on that property is decreed; and young
Sansculottism thrives bravely, growing by hunger. Great and greater
waxes President Danton in his Cordeliers section. This man also, like
Mirabeau, has a natural _eye_.
And with the whole world forming itself into clubs, there is one club
growing ever stronger, till it becomes immeasurably strong; which,
having leased for itself the hall of the Jacobins' Convent, shall, under
the title of the Jacobins' Club, become memorable to all times and
lands; has become the mother society, with 300 shrill-tongued daughters
in direct correspondence with her, has also already thrown off the
mother club of the Cordeliers and the monarchist Feuillans.
In the midst of which a hopeful France on a sudden renews with
enthusiasm the national oath; of loyalty to the king, the law, the
constitution which the National Assembly shall make; in Paris, repeated
in every town and district of France! Freedom by social contract; such
was verily the gospel of that era.
From which springs a new idea: "Why all France has not one federation
and universal oath of brotherhood once for all?" other places than Paris
having first set example or federation. The place for it, Paris; the
scene to be worthy of it. Fifteen thousand men are at work on the Champs
de Mars, hollowing it out into a national amphitheatre. One may hope it
will be annual and perennial; a feast of pikes, notable among the high
tides of the year!
Workmen being lazy, all Paris turns out to complete the preparations,
her daughters with the rest. From all points of the compass federates
are arriving. On July 13, 1790, 200,000 patriotic men and 100,000
patriotic women sit waiting in the Champs de Mars. The generalissimo
swears in the name of armed France; the National Assembly swears; the
king swears; be the welkin split with vivats! And the feast of pikes
dances itself off and becomes defunct.
_IV.--The End of Mirabeau_
Of journals there are now some 133; among which, Marat, the People's
Friend, unseen, croaks harsh thunder. Clubbism thrives and spreads, the
Mother of Patriotism, sitting in the Jacobins, shining supreme over all.
The pure patriots now, sitting on the extreme tip of the left, count
only some thirty, Mirabeau not among the chosen; a virtuous Petion; an
incorruptible Robespierre; conspicuous, if seldom audible, Philippe
d'Orleans; and Barnave triumvirate.
The plan of royalty, if it have any, is that of flying over the
frontiers; does not abandon the plan, yet never executes it.
Nevertheless, Mirabeau and the Queen of France have met, have parted
with mutual trust. It is strange, secret as the mysterious, but
indisputable. "Madame," he has said, "the monarchy is saved."
Possible--if Fate intervene not. Patriotism suspects the design of
flight; barking this time not at nothing. Suspects also the repairing of
the castle of Vincennes; General Lafayette has to wrestle persuasively
On one royal person only can Mirabeau place dependence--the queen. Had
Mirabeau lived one other year! But man's years are numbered, and the
tale of Mirabeau's is complete. The giant oaken strength of him is
wasted; excess of effort, of excitement of all kinds; labour incessant,
almost beyond credibility. "When I am gone," he has said, "the miseries
I have held back will burst from all sides upon France." On April 2 he
feels that the last of the days has risen for him. His death is Titanic,
as his life has been. On the third evening is solemn public funeral. The
chosen man of France is gone.
The French monarchy now is, in all human probability, lost. Many things
invite to flight; but if the king fly, will there not be aristocrat
Austrian invasion, butchery, replacement of feudalism, wars more than
civil? The king desires to go to St. Cloud, but shall not; patriots will
not let the horses go. But Count Fersen, an alert young Swedish soldier,
has business on hand; has a new coach built, of the kind called Berline;
has made other purchases. On the night of Monday, June 20, certain royal
individuals are in a glass coach; Fersen is the coachman; out by the
Barrier de Clichy, till we find the waiting Berline; then to Bondy,
where is a chaise ready; and deft Fersen bids adieu.
With morning, and discovery, National Assembly adopts an attitude of
sublime calm; Paris also; yet messages are flying. Moreover, at Sainte
Menehould, on the route of the Berline, suspicious patriots are
wondering what certain lounging dragoons mean; while the Berline arrives
not. At last it comes; but Drouet, village postmaster, seeks a likeness;
takes horse in swift pursuit. So rolls on the Berline, and the chase
after it; till it comes to a dead stop in Varennes, where Drouet finds
it--in time to stop departure. Louis, the poor, phlegmatic man, steps
out; all step out. The flight is ended, though not the spurring and
riding of that night of spurs.
_V.---Constitution Will Not March_
In the last nights of September, Paris is dancing and flinging
fireworks; the edifice of the constitution is completed, solemnly
proffered to his majesty, solemnly accepted by him, to the sound of
cannon salvoes. There is to be a new Legislative Assembly, biennial; no
members of the Constituent Assembly to sit therein, or for four years to
be a minister, or hold a court appointment. So they vanish.
Among this new legislative see Condorcet, Brissot; most notable, Carnot.
An effervescent, well intentioned set of senators; too combustible where
continual sparks are flying, ordered to make the constitution march for
which marching three things bode ill--the French people, the French
king, the French noblesse and the European world.
For there are troubles in cities of the south. Avignon, where Jourdan
_coupe-tete_ makes lurid appearance; Perpignan, northern Caen also. With
factions, suspicions, want of bread and sugar, it is verily what they
call _dechire,_ torn asunder, this poor country. And away over seas the
Plain of Cap Francais one huge whirl of smoke and flame; one cause of
the dearth of sugar. What King Louis is and cannot help being, we
And, thirdly, there is the European world. All kings and kinglets are
astir, their brows clouded with menace. Swedish Gustav will lead
coalised armies, Austria and Prussia speak at Pilnitz, lean Pitt looks
out suspicious. Europe is in travail, the birth will be WAR. Worst
feature of all, the emigrants at Coblentz, an extra-national Versailles.
We shall have war, then!
Our revenue is assignats, our army wrecked disobedient, disorganised;
what, then, shall we do? Dumouriez is summoned to Paris, quick, shifty,
insuppressible; while royalist seigneurs cajole, and, as you turn your
legislative thumbscrew, king's veto steps in with magical paralysis. Yet
let not patriotism despair. Have we not a virtuous Petion, Mayor of
Paris, a wholly patriotic municipality? Patriotism, moreover, has her
constitution that can march, the mother-society of the Jacobins; where
may be heard Brissot, Danton, Robespierre, the long-winded,
Hope bursts forth with appointment of a patriot ministry, this also his
majesty will try. Roland, perchance Wife Roland, Dumouriez, and others.
Liberty is never named with another word, Equality. In April poor Louis,
"with tears in his eyes," proposes that the assembly do now decree war.
Let our three generals on the frontier look to it therefore, since Duke
Brunswick has his drill-sergeants busy. We decree a camp of twenty
thousand National Volunteers; the hereditary representative answers
_veto_! Strict Roland, the whole Patriot ministry, finds itself turned
Barbaroux writes to Marseilles for six hundred men who know how to die.
On June 20 a tree of Liberty appears in Saint-Antoine--a procession with
for standard a pair of black breeches---pours down surging upon the
Tuileries, breaks in. The king, the little prince royal, have to don the
cap of liberty. Thus has the age of Chivalry gone, and that of Hunger
come. On the surface only is some slight reaction of sympathy, mistrust
is too strong.
Now from Marseilles are marching the six hundred men who know how to
die, marching to the hymn of the Marseillaise. The country is in danger!
Volunteer fighters gather. Duke Brunswick shakes himself, and issues his
manifesto; and in Paris preternatural suspicion and disquietude. Demand
is for forfeiture, abdication in favour of prince royal, which
Legislature cannot pronounce. Therefore on the night of August 9 the
tocsin sounds; of Insurrection.
On August 18 the grim host is marching, immeasurable, born of the night.
Of the squadrons of order, not one stirs. At the Tuileries the red Swiss
look to their priming. Amid a double rank of National Guards the royal
family "marches" to the assembly. The Swiss stand to their post,
peaceable yet immovable. Three Marseillaise cannon are fired; then the
Swiss also fire. One strangest patriot onlooker thinks that the Swiss,
had they a commander, would beat; the name of him, Napoleon Bonaparte.
Having none----Honour to you, brave men, not martyrs, and yet almost
more. Your work was to die, and ye did it.
Our old patriot ministry is recalled; Roland; Danton Minister of
Justice! Also, in the new municipality, Robespierre is sitting. Louis
and his household are lodged in the Temple. The constitution is over!
Lafayette, whom his soldiers will not follow, rides over the border to
an Austrian prison. Dumouriez is commander-in-chief.
In this month of September 1792 whatsoever is cruel in the panic frenzy
of twenty-five million men, whatsoever is great in the simultaneous
death-defiance of twenty-five million men, stand here in abrupt
contrast; all of black on one side, all of bright on the other. France
crowding to the frontiers to defend itself from foreign despots, to town
halls to defend itself from aristocrats, an insurrectionary improvised
Commune of Paris actual sovereign of France.
There is a new Tribunal of Justice dealing with aristocrats; but the
Prussians have taken Longwi, and La Vendee is in revolt against the
Revolution. Danton gets a decree to search for arms and to imprison
suspects, some four hundred being seized. Prussians have Verdun also,
but Dumouriez, the many-counseled, has found a possible Thermopylae--if
we can secure Argonne; for which one had need to be a lion-fox and have
luck on one's side.
But Paris knows not Argonne, and terror is in her streets, with defiance
and frenzy. From a Sunday night to Thursday are a hundred hours, to be
reckoned with the Bartholomew butchery; prisoners dragged out by sudden
courts of wild justice to be massacred. These are the September
massacres, the victims one thousand and eighty-nine; in the historical
_fantasy_ "between two and three thousand"--nay, six, even twelve. They
have been put to death because "we go to fight the enemy; but we will
not leave robbers behind us to butcher our wives and children."
Horrible! But Brunswick is within a day's journey of us. "We must put
our enemies in fear." Which has plainly been brought about.
Our new National Convention is getting chosen; already we date First
Year of the Republic. And Dumouriez has snatched the Argonne passes;
Brunswick must laboriously skirt around; Dumouriez with recruits who,
once drilled and inured, will one day become a phalanxed mass of
fighters, wheels, always fronting him. On September 20, Brunswick
attacks Valmy, all day cannonading Alsatian Kellerman with French
Sansculottes, who do _not_ fly like poultry; finally retires; a day
precious to France!
On the morrow of our new National Convention first sits; old legislative
ending. Dumouriez, after brief appearance in Paris, returns to attack
Netherlands, winter though it be.
France, then, has hurled back the invaders, and shattered her own
constitution; a tremendous change. The nation has stripped itself of the
old vestures; patriots of the type soon to be called Girondins have the
problem of governing this naked nation. Constitution-making sets to work
again; more practical matters offer many difficulties; for one thing,
lack of grain; for another, what to do with a discrowned Louis
Capet--all things, but most of all fear, pointing one way. Is there not
on record a trial of Charles I.?
Twice our Girondin friends have attacked September massacres,
Robespierre dictatorship; not with success. The question of Louis
receives further stimulus from the discovery of hidden papers. On
December 11, the king's trial has _emerged_, before the Convention;
fifty-seven questions are put to him. Thereafter he withdraws, having
answered--for the most part on the simple basis of _No_. On December 26,
his advocate, Deseze, speaks for him. But there is to be debate.
Dumouriez is back in Paris, consorting with Girondins; suspicious to
patriots. The outcome, on January 15--Guilty. The sentence, by majority
of fifty-three, among them Egalite, once Orleans--Death. Lastly, no
On the morrow, in the Place de la Revolution, he is brought to the
guillotine; beside him, brave Abbe Edgeworth says, "Son of St. Louis,
ascend to Heaven"; the axe clanks down; a king's life is shorn away. At
home, this killing of a king has divided all friends; abroad it has
united all enemies. England declares war; Spain declares war; they all
declare war. "The coalised kings threaten us; we hurl at their feet, as
gage of battle, the head of a king."
_VII.--Reign of Terror_
Five weeks later, indignant French patriots rush to the grocers' shops;
distribute sugar, weighing it out at a just rate of eleven-pence; other
things also; the grocer silently wringing his hands. What does this
mean? Pitt has a hand in it, the gold of Pitt, all men think; whether it
is Marat he has bought, as the Girondins say; or the Girondins, as the
Jacobins say. This battle of Girondins and Mountain let no man ask
history to explicate.
Moreover, Dumouriez is checked; Custine also in the Rhine country is
checked; England and Spain are also taking the field; La Vendee has
flamed out again with its war cry of _God and the King_. Fatherland is
in danger! From our own traitors? "Set up a tribunal for traitors and a
Maximum for grain," says patriot Volunteers. Arrest twenty-two
Girondins!--though not yet. In every township of France sit
revolutionary committees for arrestment of suspects; notable also is the
_Tribunal Revolutionnaire_, and our Supreme Committee of Public Safety,
of nine members. Finally, recalcitrant Dumouriez finds safety in flight
to the Austrian quarters, and thence to England.
Before which flight, the Girondins have broken with Danton, ranged him
against them, and are now at open war with the Mountain. Marat is
attacked, acquitted with triumph. On Friday, May 31, we find a new
insurrectionary general of the National Guard enveloping the Convention,
which in three days, being thus surrounded by friends, ejects under
arrestment thirty-two Girondins. Surely the true reign of Fraternity is
now not far?
The Girondins are struck down, but in the country follows a ferment of
Girondist risings. And on July 9, a fair Charlotte Corday is starting
for Paris from Caen, with letters of introduction from Barbaroux to
Dupernet, whom she sees, concerning family papers. On July 13, she
drives to the residence of Marat, who is sick--a citoyenne who would do
France a service; is admitted, plunges a knife into Marat's heart. So
ends Peoples'-Friend Marat. She submits, stately, to inevitable doom. In
this manner have the beautifulest and the squalidest come into
collision, and extinguished one another.
At Paris is to be a new feast of pikes, over yet a new constitution;
statue of Nature, statue of Liberty, unveiled! _Republic one and
indivisible_--_Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death_! A new calendar
also, with months new-named. But Toulon has thrown itself into the hands
of the English, who will make a new Gibraltar of it! We beleaguer
Toulon; having in our army there remarkable Artillery-Major Napoleon
Bonaparte. Lyons also we beleaguer.
Committee of Public Safety promulgates levy _en masse;_ heroically
daring against foreign foes. Against domestic foes it issues the law of
the suspects--none frightfuller ever ruled in a nation of men. The
guillotine gets always quicker motion. Bailly, Brissot, are in prison.
Trial of the "Widow Capet"; whence Marie Antoinette withdraws to
die--not wanting to herself, the imperial woman! After her, the scaffold
claims the twenty-two Girondins.
Terror is become the order of the day. Arrestment on arrestment follows
quick, continual; "The guillotine goes not ill."
_VIII.--Climax and Reaction_
The suspect may well tremble; how much more the open rebels--the
Girondin cities of the south! The guillotine goes always, yet not fast
enough; you must try fusillading, and perhaps methods still
frightfuller. Marseilles is taken, and under martial law. At Toulon,
veteran Dugommier suffers a young artillery officer whom we know to try
his plan--and Toulon is once more the Republic's. Cannonading gives
place to guillotining and fusillading. At Nantes, the unspeakable horror
of the _noyades_.
Beside which, behold destruction of the Catholic religion; indeed, for
the time being, of religion itself; a new religion promulgated of the
Goddess of Reason, with the first of the Feasts of Reason, ushered in
with carmagnole dance.
Committee of Public Salvation ride this whirlwind; stranger set of
cloud-compellors Earth never saw. Convention commissioners fly to all
points of the territory, powerfuller than king or kaiser; frenzy of
patriotism drives our armies victorious, one nation against the whole
world; crowned by the _Vengeur_, triumphant in death; plunging down
carrying _vive la Republique_ along with her into eternity, in Howe's
victory of the First of June. Alas, alas! a myth, founded, like the
world itself, on _Nothing_!
Of massacring, altar-robbing, Hebertism, is there beginning to be a
sickening? Danton, Camille Desmoulins are weary of it; the Hebertists
themselves are smitten; nineteen of them travel their last road in the
tumbrils. "We should not strike save where it is useful to the
Republic," says Danton; quarrels with Robespierre; Danton, Camille,
others of the friends of mercy are arrested. At the trial, he shivers
the witnesses to ruin thunderously; nevertheless, sentence is passed. On
the scaffold he says, "Danton, no weakness! Thou wilt show my head to
the people--it is worth showing." So passes this Danton; a very man;
fiery-real, from the great fire-bosom of nature herself.
Foul Hebert and the Hebertists, great Danton and the Dantonists, are
gone, swift, ever swifter, goes the axe of Samson; Death pauses not. But
on Prairial 20, the world is in holiday clothes in the Jardin National.
Incorruptible Robespierre, President of the Convention, has decreed the
existence of the Supreme Being; will himself be priest and prophet; in
sky-blue coat and black breeches! Nowise, however, checking the
guillotine, going ever faster.
On July 26, when the Incorruptible addresses the Convention, there is
dissonance. Such mutiny is like fire sputtering in the ship's
powder-room. The Convention then must be purged, with aid of Henriot.
But next day, amid cries of _Tyranny! Dictatorship_! the Convention
decrees that Robespierre "is accused"; with Couthon and St. Just;
decreed "out of law"; Paris, after brief tumult, sides with the
Convention. So on July 28, 1794, the tumbrils go with this motley batch
of outlaws. This is the end of the Reign of Terror. The nation resolves
itself into a committee of mercy.
Thenceforth, writ of accusation and legal proof being decreed necessary,
Fouquier's trade is gone; the prisons deliver up suspects. For here was
the end of the revolution system. The keystone being struck out, the
whole arch-work of Sansculottism began to crack, till the abyss had
swallowed it all.
And still there is no bread, and no constitution; Paris rises once
again, flowing towards the Tuileries; checked in one day with two blank
cannon-shots, by Pichegru, conqueror of Holland. Abbe Sieyes provides
yet another constitution; unpleasing to sundry who will not be
dispersed. To suppress whom, a young artillery officer is named
commandant; who with whiff of grapeshot does very promptly suppress
them; and the thing we specifically call French Revolution is blown into
* * * * *
History of the Girondists
Alphonse Marie Louis de Lamartine, poet, historian, statesman,
was born at Macon, in Burgundy, on October 21, 1790. Early in
the nineteenth century he held a diplomatic appointment at
Naples, and in 1820 succeeded after many difficulties, in
finding a publisher for his first volume of poems, "Nouvelles
Meditations." The merits of the work were at once recognised,
and the young author soon found himself one of the most
popular of the younger generation of French poets. He next
adopted politics, and, with the Revolution of February, became
for a brief time the soul of political life in France. But the
triumph of imperialism and of Napoleon III. drove him into the
background, whereupon he retired from public life, and devoted
his remaining years to literature. He died on March I, 1869.
The publication, in 1847, of his "History of the Girondists,
or Personal Memoirs of the Patriots of the French Revolution,
from Unpublished Sources," was in the nature of a political
event in France. Brilliant in its romantic portraiture, the
work, like many other French histories, served the purposes of
a pamphlet as well as those of a chronicle.
_I.--The War-Seekers of the South_
The French Revolution had pursued its rapid progress for two full years.
Mirabeau, the first democratic leader, was dead. The royal family had
attempted flight and failed. War with Europe threatened and, in the
autumn of 1791, a new parliament was elected and summoned.
At this juncture the germ of a new opinion began to, display itself in
the south, and Bordeaux felt its full influence. The department of the
Gironde had given birth to a new political party in the twelve citizens
who formed its deputies. This department, far removed from the _centre_,
was at no distant period to seize on the empire alike of opinion and of
eloquence. The names (obscure and unknown up to this period) of Ducos,
Gaudet, Lafondladebat, Grangeneuve, Gensonne, Vergniaud, were about to
rise into notice and renown with the storms and the disasters of their
country; they were the men who were destined to give that impulse to the
revolution that had hitherto remained in doubt and indecision, which was
to precipitate it into a republic.
In the new parliament Brissot, the inspirer of the Gironde, the dogmatic
statesman of a party which needed ideas and a leader, ascended the
tribune in the midst of anticipated plaudits which betokened his
importance in the new Assembly. His voice was for war, as the most
efficacious of laws.
It was evident that a party, already formed, took possession of the
tribune, and was about to arrogate to itself the dominion of the
assembly. Brissot was its conspirator, Condorcet its philosopher,
Vergniaud its orator. Vergniaud mounted the tribune, with all the
prestige of his marvellous eloquence. The eager looks of the Assembly,
the silence that prevailed, announced in him one of the great actors of
the revolutionary drama, who only appear on the stage to win themselves
popularity, to intoxicate themselves with applause, and--to die.
Vergniaud, born at Limoges, and an advocate of the Bar of Bordeaux, was
now in his thirty-third year, for the revolutionary movement had seized
on and borne him along with its currents when very young. His dignified,
calm, and unaffected features announced the conviction of his power.
Facility, that agreeable concomitant of genius, had rendered alike
pliable his talents, his character, and even the position he assumed.
At the foot of the tribune he was loved with familiarity; as he ascended
it each man was surprised to find that he inspired him with admiration
and respect; but at the first words that fell from the speaker's lips
they felt the immense distance between the man and the orator. He was an
instrument of enthusiasm, whose value and whose place was in his
Petion was the son of a procureur at Chartres, and a townsman of
Brissot; was brought up in the same way as he, in the same studies, same
philosophy, same hatreds. They were two men of the same mind. The
revolution, which had been the ideal of their youth, had called them on
the scene on the same day, but to play very different parts. Brissot,
the scribe, political adventurer, journalist, was the man of theory;
Petion, the practical man. He had in his countenance, in his character,
and his talents, that solemn mediocrity which is of the multitude, and
charms it; at least he was a sincere man, a virtue which the people
appreciate beyond all others in those who are concerned in public
The nomination of Petion to the office of _maire_ of Paris gave the
Girondists a constant _point d'appui_ in the capital. Paris, as well as
the Assembly, escaped from the king's hands.
A report praised by Brissot in his journal, and by the Girondists in the
Assembly, afforded no longer any pretext for delaying the war. France
felt that her strength was equal to her indignation, and she could be
restrained no longer. The increasing unpopularity of the king augmented
the popular excitement. Twice had he already arrested, by his royal
veto, the energetic measures of the Assembly--the decree against the
_emigres_ and the decree against the priests who had not taken the oath.
These two vetoes, the one dictated by his honour, the other by his
conscience, were two terrible weapons placed in his hand by the
constitution, yet which he could not wield without wounding himself. The
Girondists revenged themselves for this resistance by compelling him to
make war on the princes, who were his brothers, and the emperor, whom
they believed to be his accomplice.
The war thus demanded by the ascendant Girondist party broke out in
April, 1792. Their enemies, the extreme radical party called "Jacobins,"
had opposed the war, and when the campaign opened in disaster the
beginning of their ascendancy and the Girondin decline had appeared.
These disasters were followed by a proclamation from the enemy that the
work of the revolution would be undone, and the town of Paris threatened
with military execution unless the king's power were fully restored. By
way of answer the populace of Paris stormed the royal palace, deposed
the king, and established a Radical government. Under this, a third
parliament, the most revolutionary of all, called the "Convention," was
summoned to carry on the war, the king was imprisoned, and on September
21, 1792, the day on which the invading armies were checked at Valmy, a
republic was declared.
_II.---the Fall of La Gironde_
The proclamation of the republic was hailed with the utmost joy in the
capital, the departments, and the army; to philosophers it was the type
of government found under the ruins of fourteen ages of prejudice and
tyranny; to patriots it was the declaration of war of a whole nation,
proclaimed on the day of the victory of Valmy, against the thrones
united to crush liberty; while to the people it was an intoxicating
Those who most exulted were the Girondists. They met at Madame Roland's
that evening, and celebrated almost religiously the entrance of their
creation into the world; and voluntarily casting the veil of illusion
over the embarrassments of the morrow and the obscurities of the future,
gave themselves up to the greatest enjoyment God has permitted man on
earth--the birth of his idea, the contemplation of his work, and the
embodied possession of his desires.
The republic had at first great military successes, but they were not
long lived. After the execution of the king in January 1793, all Europe
banded together against France, the French armies were crushingly
defeated, their general, Dumouriez, fled to the enemy, and the
Girondins, who had been in power all this while, were fatally weakened.
Moreover, their attempt to save the king had added to their growing
unpopularity when, after Dumouriez's treason in March 1793 Danton
attacked them in the Convention.
The Jacobins comprehended that Danton, at last forced from his long
hesitation, decided for them, and was about to crush their enemies.
Every eye followed him to the tribune.
His loud voice resounded like a tocsin above the murmurs of the
Girondists. "It is they," he said, "who had the baseness to wish to save
the tyrant by an appeal to the people, who have been justly suspected of
desiring a king. It is they only who have manifestly desired to punish
Paris for its heroism by raising the departments against her; it is they
only who have supped clandestinely with Dumouriez when he was at Paris;
yes, it is they only who are the accomplices of this conspiracy."
The Convention oscillated during the struggle between the Girondins and
their Radical opponents with every speech.
Isnard, a Girondin, was named president by a strong majority. His
nomination redoubled the confidence of La Gironde in its force. A man
extravagant in everything, he had in his character the fire of his
language. He was the exaggeration of La Gironde--one of those men whose
ideas rush to their head when the intoxication of success or fear urges
them to rashness, and when they renounce prudence, that safeguard of
The strain between the Girondists, with their parliamentary majority,
and the populace of Paris, who were behind the Radicals, or Jacobins,
increased, until, towards the end of May, the mob rose to march on the
parliament. The alarm-bells rang, and the drums beat to arms in all the
quarters of Paris.
The Girondists, at the sound of the tocsin and the drums, met for the
last time, not to deliberate, but to prepare and fortify themselves
against their death. They supped in an isolated mansion in the Rue de
Clichy, amidst the tolling of bells, the sound of the drums, and the
rattling of the guns and tumbrils. All could have escaped; none would
fly. Petion, so feeble in the face of popularity, was intrepid when he
faced death; Gensonne, accustomed to the sight of war; Buzot, whose
heart beat with the heroic impressions of his unfortunate friend, Madame
Roland, wished them to await their death in their places in the
Convention, and there invoke the vengeance of the departments.
Some hours later the armed mob, Henriot, their general, at their head,
appeared before the parliament. The gates were opened at the sight of
the president, Herault de Sechelles, wearing the tricoloured scarf. The
sentinels presented arms, the crowd gave free passage to the
representatives. They advanced towards the Carrousel. The multitude
which were on this space saluted the deputies. Cries of "Vive la
Convention! Deliver up the twenty-two! Down with the Girondists!"
mingled sedition with respect.
The Convention, unmoved by these shouts, marched in procession towards
the cannon by which Henriot, the commandant-general, in the midst of his
staff, seemed to await them. Herault de Sechelles ordered Henriot to
withdraw this formidable array, and to grant a free passage to the
national representations. Henriot, who felt in himself the omnipotence
of armed insurrection, caused his horse to prance, while receding some
paces, and then said in an imperative tone to the Convention, "You will
not leave this spot until you have delivered up the twenty-two!"
"Seize this rebel!" said Herault de Sechelles, pointing with his finger
to Henriot. The soldiers remained immovable.
"Gunners, to your pieces! Soldiers, to arms!" cried Henriot to the
troops. At these words, repeated by the officers along the line, a
motion of concentration around the guns took place. The Convention
Barbaroux, Lanjuinais, Vergniaud, Mollevault, and Gardien remained,
vainly expecting the armed men who were to secure their persons, but not
seeing them arrive, they retired to their own homes.
There followed the rising of certain parts of the country in favour of
the Girondins and against Paris. It failed. The Girondins were
prisoners, and after this failure of the insurrection the revolutionary
government proceeded to their trial. When their trial was decided on,
this captivity became more strict. They were imprisoned for a few days
in the Carmelite convent in the Rue de Vaugeraud, a monastery converted
into a prison, and rendered sinister by the bloody traces of the
massacres of September.
_III.--The Judges at the Bar_
On October 22, their _acte d'accusation_ was read to them, and their
trial began on the 26th. Never since the Knights Templars had a party
appeared more numerous, more illustrious, or more eloquent. The renown
of the accused, their long possession of power, their present danger,
and that love of vengeance which arises in men's hearts at mighty
reverses of fortune, had collected a crowd in the precincts of the
At ten o'clock the accused were brought in. They were twenty-two; and
this fatal number, inscribed in the earliest lists of the proscription,
on May 31, at eleven o'clock, entered the _salle d'audience,_ between
two files of _gens d'armes,_ and took their places in silence on the
Ducos was the first to take his seat: scarcely twenty-eight years of
age, his black and piercing eyes, the flexibility of his features, and
the elegance of his figure revealed one of those ardent temperaments in
whom everything is light, even heroism.
Mainveille followed him, the youthful deputy of Marseilles, of the same
age as Ducos, and of an equally striking but more masculine beauty than
Barbaroux. Duprat, his countryman and friend, accompanied him to the
tribunal. He was followed by Duchatel, deputy of Deux Sevres, aged
twenty-seven years, who had been carried to the tribunal almost in a
dying state wrapped in blankets, to vote against the death of the
"Tyrant," and who was termed, from this act and this costume, the
"Spectre of Tyranny."
Carra, deputy of Saone and Loire at the Convention, sat next to
Duchatel. His vulgar physiognomy, the stoop of his shoulders, his large
head and disordered attire contrasted with the beauty and stature of
Duchatel Learned, confused, fanatic, declamatory, impetuous alike in
attack or resistance, he had sided with the Gironde to combat the
excesses of the people.
A man of rustic appearance and garb, Duperret, the involuntary victim of
Charlotte Corday, sat next to Carra. He was of noble birth, but
cultivated with his own hands the small estate of his forefathers.
Gensonne followed them: he was a man of five-and-thirty, but the
ripeness of his intellect, and the resolution that dictated his opinions
gave his features that look of energy and decision that belongs to
Next came Lasource, a man of high-flown language and tragical
imagination. His unpowdered and closely-cut hair, his black coat, his
austere demeanour, and grave and ascetic features, recalled the minister
of the Holy Gospel and those Puritans of the time of Cromwell who sought
for God in liberty, and in their trial, martyrdom.
Valaze seemed like a soldier under fire; his conscience told him it was
his duty to die, and he died.
The Abbe Fauchet came immediately after Valaze. He was in his fiftieth
year, but the beauty of his features, the elevation of his stature, and
the freshness of his colour, made him appear much younger. His dress,
from its colour and make, befitted his sacred profession, and his hair
was so cut as to show the tonsure of the priest, so long covered by the
red bonnet of the revolutionist.
Brissot was the last but one.
Last came Vergniaud, the greatest and most illustrious of them all. All
Paris knew, and had beheld him in the tribune, and was now curious to
gaze not only on the orator on a level with his enemies, but the man
reduced to take his place on the bench of the accused. His prestige
still followed him, and he was one of those men from whom everything,
even impossibilities, are expected.
_IV.--The Banquet of Death_
The jury closed the debate on October 30, at eight o'clock in the
evening. All the accused were declared guilty of having conspired
against the unity and indivisibility of the republic, and condemned to
death. One of them, who had made a motion with his hand as though to
tear his garments, slipped from his seat on to the floor. It was Valaze.
"What, Valaze, are you losing your courage?" said Brissot, striving to
"No, I am dying," returned Valaze. And he expired, his hand on the
poignard with which he had pierced his heart.
At this spectacle silence instantly prevailed, and the example of Valaze
made the young Girondists blush for their momentary weakness.
It was eleven o'clock at night. After a moment's pause, occasioned by
the unexpectedness of the sentence and the emotion of the prisoners, the
sitting was closed amidst cries of "Vive la Republique!"
The Girondists, as they quitted their places, cried simultaneously. "We
die innocent! Vive la Republique!"
They were all confined for this their last night on earth in the large
dungeon, the waiting room of death.
The deputy Bailleul, their colleague at the Assembly, proscribed like
them, but who had escaped the proscription, and was concealed in Paris,
had promised to send them from without on the day of their trial a last
repast, triumphant or funeral, according to the sentence. Bailleul,
though invisible, kept his promise through the agency of a friend. The
funeral supper was set out in the large dungeon; the daintiest meats,
the choicest wines, the rarest flowers, and numerous flambeaux decked
the oaken table--prodigality of dying men who have no need to save aught
for the following day.
The repast was prolonged until dawn. Vergniaud, seated at the centre of
the table, presided, with the same calm dignity he had presided at the
Convention on the night of August 10. The others formed groups, with the
exception of Brissot, who sat at the end of the table, eating but
little, and not uttering a word. For a long time nothing in their
features or conversation indicated that this repast was the prelude to
death. They ate and drank with appetite, but sobriety; but when the
table was cleared, and nothing left except the fruit, wine, and flowers,
the conversation became alternately animated, noisy and grave, as the
conversation of careless men, whose thoughts and tongues are freed by
Towards the morning the conversation became more solemn. Brissot spoke
prophetically of the misfortunes of the republic, deprived of her most
virtuous and eloquent citizens. "How much blood will it require to wash
out our own?" cried he. They were silent, and appeared terrified at the
phantom of the future evoked by Brissot.
"My friends," replied Vergniaud, "we have killed the tree by pruning it.
It was too aged. Robespierre cuts it. Will he be more fortunate than
ourselves? No, the soul is too weak to nourish the roots of civic
liberty; this people is too childish to wield its laws without hurting
itself. We were deceived as to the age in which we were born, and in
which we die for the freedom of the world."
A long silence followed this speech of Vergniaud's, and the conversation
turned from earth to heaven.
"What shall we be doing to-morrow at this time?" said Ducos, who always
mingled mirth with the most serious subjects. Each replied according to
Vergniaud reconciled in a few words all the different opinions. "Let us
believe what we will," said he, "but let us die certain of our life and
the price of our death. Let us each sacrifice what we possess, the one
his doubt, the other his faith, all of us our blood, for liberty. When
man offers himself a victim to Heaven, what more can he give?"
When all was ready, and the last lock of hair had fallen on the stones
of the dungeon, the executioners and _gens d'armes_ made the condemned
march in a column to the court of the palace, where five carts,
surrounded by an immense crowd, awaited them. The moment they emerged
from the Conciergerie, the Girondists burst into the "Marseillaise,"
laying stress on these verses, which contained a double meaning:
_Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'etendard sanglant est leve._
From this moment they ceased to think of themselves, in order to think
of the example of the death of republicans they wished to leave the
people. Their voices sank at the end of each verse, only to rise more
sonorous at the first line of the next verse. On their arrival at the
scaffold they all embraced, in token of community in liberty, life, and
death, and then resumed their funeral chant.
All died without weakness. The hymn became feebler at each fall of the
axe; one voice still continued it, that of Vergniaud. Like his
companions, he did not die, but passed in enthusiasm, and his life,
begun by immortal orations, ended in a hymn to the eternity of the
* * * * *
HIPPOLYTE ADOLPHE TAINE
The Modern Regime
The early life of Hippolyte Adolphe Taine is notable for its
successes and its disappointments. Born at Vouziers, in
Ardennes, on April 21, 1838, he passed with great distinction
through the College de Bourbon and the Ecole Normale. Until he
was twenty-five he filled minor positions at Toulon, Nevers,
and Poitiers; and then, hopeless of further promotion, he
abandoned educational work, returned to Paris, and devoted
himself to letters. During 1863-64 he produced his "History of
English Literature," a work which, on account of Taine's
uncompromising determinist views, raised a clerical storm in
France. About 1871 Taine conceived the idea of his great life
work, "Les Origines de la France Contemporaine," in which he
proposed to trace the causes and effects of the revolution of
1789. The first of the series, "The Ancient Regime," appeared
in 1875; the second, "The Revolution," in 1878-81-85; and the
third, "The Modern Regime," in 1890-94. As a study of events
arising out of the greatest drama of modern times the
supremacy of the last-named is unquestioned. It stands apart
as a trenchant analysis of modern France, Taine's conclusions
being that the Revolution, instead of establishing liberty,
destroyed it. Taine died on March 5, 1893.
_I.--The Architect of Modern France_
In trying to explain to ourselves the meaning of an edifice, we must
take into account whatever has opposed or favoured its construction, the
kind and quality of its available materials, the time, the opportunity,
and the demand for it; but, still more important, we must consider the
genius and taste of the architect, especially whether he is the
proprietor, whether he built it to live in himself, and, once installed
in it, whether he took pains to adapt it to his own way of living, to
his own necessities, to his own use.
Such is the social edifice erected by Napoleon Bonaparte, its architect,
proprietor, and principal occupant from 1799 to 1814. It is he who has
made modern France. Never was an individual character so profoundly
stamped on any collective work, so that, to comprehend the work, we must
first study the character of the man.
Contemplate in Guerin's picture the spare body, those narrow shoulders
under the uniform wrinkled by sudden movements, that neck swathed in its
high, twisted cravat, those temples covered by long, smooth, straight
hair, exposing only the mask, the hard features intensified through
strong contrasts of light and shade, the cheeks hollow up to the inner
angle of the eye, the projecting cheek-bones, the massive, protuberant
jaw, the sinuous, mobile lips, pressed together as if attentive; the
large, clear eyes, deeply sunk under the broad arched eyebrows, the
fixed oblique look, as penetrating as a rapier, and the two creases
which extend from the base of the nose to the brow as if in a frown of
suppressed anger and determined will. Add to this the accounts of his
contemporaries who saw or heard the curt accent, or the sharp, abrupt
gesture, the interrogating, imperious, absolute tone of voice, and we
comprehend how, the moment they accosted him, they felt the dominating
hand which seizes them, presses them down, holds them firmly, and never
relaxes its grasp.
Now, in every human society a government is necessary, or, in other
words, an organisation of the power of the community. No other machine
is so useful. But a machine is useful only as it is adapted to its
purpose; otherwise it does not work well, or it works adversely to that
purpose. Hence, in its construction, the prime necessity of calculating
what work it has to do, also the quantity of the materials one has at
During the French Revolution, legislators had never taken this into
consideration; they had constituted things as theorists, and likewise as
optimists, without closely studying them, or else regarding them as they
wished to have them. In the national assemblies, as well as with the
public, the task was deemed easy and ordinary, whereas it was
extraordinary and immense, for the matter in hand consisted in effecting
a social revolution and in carrying on a European war.
What is the service which the public power renders to the public? The
principal one is the protection of the community against the foreigner,
and of private individuals against each other. Evidently, to do this, it
must _in all cases_ be provided with indispensable means, namely,
diplomats, an army, a fleet, arsenals, civil and criminal courts,
prisons, a police, taxation and tax-collectors, a hierarchy of agents
and local supervisors, who, each in his place and attending to his
special duty, will co-operate in securing the desired effect. Evidently,
again, to apply all these instruments, the public power must have,
_according to the case_, this or that form of constitution, this or that
degree of impulse and energy; according to the nature and gravity of
external or internal danger, it is proper that it should be concentrated
or divided, emancipated from control or under control, authoritative or
liberal. No indignation need be cherished beforehand against its
mechanism, whatever this may be. Properly speaking, it is a vast engine
in the human community, like any given industrial machine in a factory,
or any set of organs belonging to the living body.
Unfortunately, in France, at the end of the eighteenth century, a bent
was taken in the organisation of this machine, and a wrong bent. For
three centuries and more the public power had unceasingly violated and
discredited spontaneous bodies. At one time it had mutilated them and
decapitated them. For example, it had suppressed provincial governments
_(etats)_ over three-quarters of the territory in all the electoral
districts; nothing remained of the old province but its name and an
administrative circumscription. At another time, without mutilating the
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