Personal Memoirs of the Patriots
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.
FROM UNPUBLISHED SOURCES.
ALPHONSE DE LAMARTINE,
Author of "Travels in the Holy Land," &c.
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IN THREE VOLUMES. VOL. I.
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TRANSLATED BY H. T. RYDE.
LONDON: HENRY G. BOHN, YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN. 1856. LONDON PRINTED BY SPOTTISWOODE AND CO. NEW-STREET SQUARE
Transcriber's Note: You may notice some inconsistencies in accentation. These have been left as they are in the original.
We have not thought it necessary to preface this recital by any introduction of the preceding epochs of the Revolution.
We have not re-produced, with the minute elaboration of an annalist, the numerous parliamentary and military details of all the events of these forty months. Two or three times we have, in order to group men and circumstances in masses, made unimportant anachronisms.
We have written after having scrupulously investigated facts and characters: we do not ask to be credited on our mere word only. Although we have not encumbered our work with notes, quotations, and documentary testimony, we have not made one assertion unauthorised by authentic memoirs, by unpublished manuscripts, by autograph letters, which the families of the most conspicuous persons have confided to our care, or by oral and well confirmed statements gathered from the lips of the last survivors of this great epoch.
If some errors in fact or judgment have, notwithstanding, escaped us, we shall be ready to acknowledge them, and repair them in sequent editions, when the proofs have been transmitted to us. We shall not reply one by one to such denials and contradictions as this book may give rise to; it might be a tedious and unprofitable paper-war in the newspapers. But we will make notes of every observation, and reply en masse, by our proofs and tests, after a certain lapse of time. We seek the truth only, and should blush to make our work a calumny of the dead.
As to the title of this book, we have only assumed it, as being unable to find any other which can so well define this recital, which has none of the pretensions of history, and therefore should not affect its gravity. It is an intermediate labour between history and memoirs. Events do not herein occupy so much space as men and ideas. It is full of private details, and details are the physiognomy of characters, and by them they engrave themselves on the imagination.
Great writers have already written the records of this memorable epoch, and others still to follow will write them also. It would be an injustice to compare us with them. They have produced, or will produce, the history of an age. We have produced nothing more than a "study" of a group of men and a few months of the Revolution.
Paris, March 1. 1847.
Introduction. Mirabeau. Marries. Enters the National Assembly. His Master Mind. His Death and Character. Glance at the Revolution. The New Idea. Revolution defined. Revolutions the Results of Printing. Bossuet's Warnings. Rousseau. Fenelon. Voltaire. The Philosophers of France. Louis XVI. The King's Ministers. The Queen. Her Conduct and Plans. The National Assembly. Maury. Cazales. Barnave and the Lameths. Rival Champions. Robespierre. His Personal Appearance. Revolutionary Leaders. State of the Kingdom. Jacobin Club. Effects of the Clubs. Club of the Cordeliers. La Fayette. His Popularity. Characters of the Leaders. What the Revolution might have been 1
State of the Assembly. Discussions. The Periodical Press. The King and his Brothers. He meditates Escape. Various Plans of Flight. The King's embarrassed Position. Marquis de Bouille. The King and Mirabeau. Preparations for the King's Escape. Fatal Alterations. Anxiety. Rumours. Count de Fersen. A Faithless Servant suspicious. Mode of Escape. Dangers of the Route. The Passport. Hopes of Success. Drouet recognises the King. Narrowly saves his own Life. Varennes. Capture of the Royal Family. Entreaties of the King and Queen. Refusal of the Syndic and his Wife. Conduct of the Soldiers and People. Effect on the Queen. Conduct of the Parisians. Their Rage. La Fayette attacked. Defended by Barnave. Power assumed by La Fayette. La Fayette's Proceedings. The King's Parting Address. Manifesto. Proceedings of the Cordeliers and Jacobins. Robespierre's Address. Its Effect. Danton's Oration. His Audacity and Venality. Address of the Assembly. The King's Arrest known. His Hopes. The Queen's Despair. The Royal Family depart for Paris. De Bouille's unavailing Efforts. Indignation of the Populace. Barnave's noble Interference. Barnave gained over. Drouet's Declaration. The Entrance into Paris. Arrival at the Tuileries. Barnave and Petion's report to the Assembly. La Fayette and the Royal Family. The Queen's Courage. Effects of the Flight. The King should have abdicated 42
The Interregnum. Barnave's Conversion. His Devotion. His Meetings with the Queen. The King's Reply. Fatal Resolution of the "Right." A Party that protests, abdicates. Address of the Cordeliers to the National Assembly. Barnave's great Speech. Irresistible Advance of the Revolution. The Press. Camille Desmoulins. Marat. Brissot. Clamours for a Republic. Desmoulin's Attack on La Fayette. Petitions of the People. Robespierre's Popularity. Popular Meeting in the Champ de Mars. Absence of the Ringleaders. "The Altar of the Country." The Remarkable Signatures. Advance of the National Guard, preceded by the Red Flag. Fearful Massacre. The Day after. The Jacobins take Courage. Schisms in the Clubs. Attempts of Desmoulins and Petion to restore Unity. Malouet's Plan for amending the Constitution. Power of the Assembly. The New Men. Condorcet. Danton. Brissot disowned by Robespierre. Charges made against him. Defended by Manuel. Girondist Leaders 100
Revolutionary Press. High State of Excitement. Removal of Voltaire's Remains to the Pantheon. The Procession. Voltaire's Character. His War against Christianity. His Tact and Courage in opposing the Priesthood. His Devotion. His Deficiencies. Barnave's weakened Position. His momentary Success while addressing the Assembly. Sillery's Defence of the Duc d'Orleans. Robespierre's Alarm. Malouet's Speech in Defence of the Monarchy. Robespierre's Remarks. Constitution presented to the King. His Reply and Acceptance. Rejoicings. Universal Satisfaction. The King in Person dissolves the Assembly 145
Opinions of the Revolution in Europe. Austria—Prussia—Russia—England—Spain. State of Italy—Venice—Genoa—Florence—Piedmont—Savoy—Sweden. Gustavus III. Feelings of the People. Poets and Philosophers. England and its Liberty. America. Holland. Germany. Freemasonry. German School. French Emigration. Female Influence. Louis XIV.'s Letter. Conduct of the Emigrant Princes unsatisfactory to the King. Attempts of the Emigres. The German Sovereigns. Their Conference. The Revolt. The Declaration. The Courts of Europe, The Princes disobey the King. Desire for War in the Assembly. Madame de Staeel. Count Louis de Narbonne. His Ambition. The Hero of Madame de Staeel. M. de Segur's Mission. The Mission frustrated. The Duke of Brunswick 172
The New Assembly. Juvenile Members. First Audience with the King. Decrees of the Assembly. Vergniaud's Policy. Offensive Decree repealed. Rage of the Clubs. Indifference of the People. The King's Address to the Assembly. Momentary Calm. The Girondists. The Clergy. The King's Religious Alarms. State of Religious Worship. Fauchet's Speech. The Abbe Tourne's Reply. Advantages of Toleration. Dacos. Gensonne. Isnard. Isnard's eloquent Address to the Assembly. His severe Measures. Decree against the Priests. New Policy of Louis XVI. Question of Emigration. Brissot advocates War. His Arguments. Condorcet. Vergniaud. His Character and his Speech against the Emigrants. Isnard's violent Harangue. Decision of the Assembly. Andre Chenier. Camille Desmoulins. State of Parties. Hopes of the Aristocracy. La Fayette's Letter. La Fayette in Retirement. Candidates for Mayor of Paris. Petion and La Fayette. La Fayette's Popularity. Petion elected Mayor 211
Character of Parties. France worked for the Universe. Mechanism of the Constitution. The King's Veto. Defence of the Constitution. No Balance of Power. All Odium falls upon the King. Order, the Life of Monarchy. When a Republic is needful. The Will of the People. Mistake of the Assembly. The King's Position. The Assembly hesitates. Third Course open. The Republicans 257
Madame Roland. Her Infancy. Her Personal Appearance. Early Abilities. Habits. Her Father's House. Future Heloise. Influence of Birth in Society. Her Impression of the Court. Has many Suitors. M. Roland. His Career. Their Marriage. Mode of Life. La Platiere. Country Life. Madame Roland's Love for Mankind. The Rolands in Paris. Interview with Brissot. Reunion at Roland's. Madame Roland and Robespierre. Her Opinion of him. Her Anxiety for his Safety 272
New Assembly. Roland's Position. De Molleville. M. de Narbonne. Treachery of the Girondists. Narbonne's Policy and Success. His Popularity. Robespierre his sole Opponent. Robespierre's Desire for Peace. His Views. His Rupture with the Girondists. His Speech against War. Louvet's Reply. Brissot's Efforts 296
Committee of the Girondists. Its Report. Gensonne. His Reply. Guadet. Vergniaud's Proclamation. Constitutionalists for War. Narbonne's Report. The Pamphleteers. Unpopularity of the Veto. Outbreak at Avignon. Jourdan. San Domingo. Negro Slavery. Men of Colour. Oge. His Execution. Insurrection of the Blacks at San Domingo. Increase of Disorder. The Abbe Fauchet. His Career. Charges against him. Riot in Caen Cathedral. Insurrection at Mende. National Guard drives out the Troops. Insubordination. Universal Bloodshed. The Swiss Soldiers. Their Revolt pardoned. Chenier's Remonstrance. Dupont de Nemours. Petion's Weakness. Robespierre's Interference. Gouvion. Couthon. Triumph of the Swiss Soldiers 312
Increasing Disturbances. Murder of Simoneau. Duc d'Orleans. His peculiar Position. The Duchesse d'Orleans. Duc disliked at Court. Forms the Palais Royal. Madame de Genlis. Her Talents. The Duke Citizen. Mirabeau's Estimate of the Duke. La Fayette's Interference with the Duc d'Orleans. Plans of the Girondists. Duc d'Orleans made Admiral. His Declaration. Details. Avoided by the King's Friends. Becomes a Jacobin. Vergniaud's great Eloquence. His powerful Appeal. Its Effects 352
The Emperor Leopold. De Lessart's Despatch. His Impeachment. De Narbonne's Dismissal. Death of Leopold. Supposed to be poisoned. His Vices and Virtues. Conspiracy. Assassination. Ankastroem. Death of Gustavus. Joy of the Jacobins. Brissot's Policy. Accusation of M. de Lessart. Roland and the Girondist Ministry 377
Dumouriez's Talent and Aptitude. Education and Acquirements. Favier. Corsica. Paoli. Dumouriez sent to Poland. Stanislaus Policy. Dumouriez at Cherbourg. His Tact; Appearance. Dumouriez and Madame Roland. Roland's Vanity. His Opinion of the King. His Wife's Sagacity. Dumouriez in favour with the King. His Interview with the Queen. His Advice. Bonnet Rouge. Dumouriez and Robespierre. Petion and the Bonnet Rouge. The King's Letter. Treachery of the Girondists. Roland's Letter to the King. Letter of the Girondist Chiefs. Dumouriez's Policy. Danton. Hatred of Robespierre and Brissot. Camille Desmoulins. Brissot's Attack on Robespierre. Guadet. Robespierre's Defence 396
Quarrel between Girondists and Jacobins. Violence of the Journals. Marat's atrocious Writings. Duke of Brunswick. Mirabeau's Opinion of him. Dumouriez's Plan. The King himself proposes War. Slight Opposition. Condorcet's Manifesto. War declared. State of Belgium. Revolt. German Confederation. French Nobility and Emigres. Comte de Provence. Comte d'Artois. Mallet-Dupan, the King's Confidant 436
Dumouriez's Tactics. Servan's Proposition. Change of Ministry. Dumouriez's Infidelity. Another Change of Ministers. Dumouriez quits Paris. Barbaroux. Madame Roland's Plans for a Republic. Increase of the Girondists. Buzot. Danton: his Origin and Life. Progress. Hostilities in Belgium. Duc de Lauzun. Luckner. State of France 459
King Petion. His Policy. Murder of De Brissac. Another Phase of the Revolution. Santerre, Legendre, Instigators of 20th June. Preparation. Disposition of Lower Orders. The Mobs excited. The Alarm of the King. The Assembling of the People. St. Huruge. Theroigne de Mericourt. Her Fate. The Procession. Roederer's Courage. Huguenin's Declaration. The Mob admitted. Defence at the Tuileries. Movement of the Populace. The Troops faithless. Fury of the Mob. The King's Defenders. Madame Elizabeth. Legendre's Insolence. The Bonnet Rouge. "Vive le Roi." The Dangers of the Queen. Princesse de Lamballe. Queen and Royal Children. Santerre. Deputation to the King. Petion's Duplicity. Retirement of the Rebels. Merlin's brutal Remark. The Marseillaise. Its Origin and Popularity: universally adopted 478
I now undertake to write the history of a small party of men who, cast by Providence into the very centre of the greatest drama of modern times, comprise in themselves the ideas, the passions, the faults, the virtues of their epoch, and whose life and political acts forming, as we may say, the nucleus of the French Revolution, perished by the same blow which crushed the destinies of their country.
This history, full of blood and tears, is full also of instruction for the people. Never, perhaps, were so many tragical events crowded into so short a space of time, never was the mysterious connexion which exists between deeds and their consequences developed with greater rapidity. Never did weaknesses more quickly engender faults,—faults crimes,—crimes punishment. That retributive justice which God has implanted in our very acts, as a conscience more sacred than the fatalism of the ancients, never manifested itself more unequivocally; never was the law of morality illustrated by a more ample testimony, or avenged more mercilessly. Thus the simple recital of these two years is the most luminous commentary of the whole Revolution; and blood, spilled like water, not only shrieks in accents of terror and pity, but gives, indeed, a lesson and an example to mankind. It is in this spirit I would indite this work. The impartiality of history is not that of a mirror, which merely reflects objects, it should be that of a judge who sees, listens, and decides. Annals are not history; in order to deserve that appellation it requires a conviction; for it becomes, in after times, that of the human race.
Recital animated by the imagination, weighed and judged by wisdom,—such is history as the ancients understood it; and of history conceived and produced in such a spirit, I would, under the Divine guidance, leave a fragment to my country.
HISTORY OF THE GIRONDISTS.
Mirabeau had just died. The instinct of the people led them to press around the house of his tribune, as if to demand inspiration even from his coffin; but had Mirabeau been still living, he could no longer have given it; his star had paled its fires before that of the Revolution; hurried to the verge of an unavoidable precipice by the very chariot he himself had set in motion, it was in vain that he clung to the tribune. The last memorial he addressed to the king, which the Iron Chest has surrendered to us, together with the secret of his venality, testify the failure and dejection of his mind. His counsels are versatile, incoherent, and almost childish:—now he will arrest the Revolution with a grain of sand—now he places the salvation of the Monarchy in a proclamation of the crown and a regal ceremony which shall revive the popularity of the king,—.and now he is desirous of buying the acclamations of the tribune, and believes the nation, like him, to be purchasable at a price. The pettiness of his means of safety are in contrast with the vast increase of perils; there is a vagueness in every idea; we see that he is impelled by the very passions he has excited, and that unable any longer to guide or control them, he betrays, whilst he is yet unable to crush, them. The prime agitator is now but the alarmed courtier seeking shelter beneath the throne, and though still stuttering out terrible words in behalf of the nation and liberty, which are in the part set down for him, has already in his soul all the paltriness and the thoughts of vanity which are proper to a court. We pity genius when we behold it struggling with impossibility. Mirabeau was the most potent man of his time; but the greatest individual contending with an enraged element appears but a madman. A fall is only majestic when accompanied by virtue.
Poets say that clouds assume the form of the countries over which they have passed, and moulding themselves upon the valleys, plains, or mountains, acquire their shapes and move with them over the skies. This resembles certain men, whose genius being as it were acquisitive, models itself upon the epoch in which it lives, and assumes all the individuality of the nation to which it belongs. Mirabeau was a man of this class: he did not invent the Revolution, but was its manifestation. But for him it might perhaps have remained in a state of idea and tendency. He was born, and it took in him the form, the passion, the language which make a multitude say when they see a thing—There it is.
He was born a gentleman and of ancient lineage, refugee and established in Provence, but of Italian origin: the progenitors were Tuscan. The family was one of those whom Florence had cast from her bosom in the stormy excesses of her liberty, and for which Dante reproaches his country in such bitter strains for her exiles and persecutions. The blood of Machiavel and the earthquake genius of the Italian republics were characteristics of all the individuals of this race. The proportions of their souls exceed the height of their destiny: vices, passions, virtues are all in excess. The women are all angelic or perverse, the men sublime or depraved, and their language even is as emphatic and lofty as their aspirations. There is in their most familiar correspondence the colour and tone of the heroic tongues of Italy.
The ancestors of Mirabeau speak of their domestic affairs as Plutarch of the quarrels of Marius and Sylla, of Caesar and Pompey. We perceive the great men descending to trifling matters. Mirabeau inspired this domestic majesty and virility in his very cradle. I dwell on these details, which may seem foreign to this history, but explain it. The source of genius is often in ancestry, and the blood of descent is sometimes the prophecy of destiny.
Mirabeau's education was as rough and rude as the hand of his father, who was styled the friend of man, but whose restless spirit and selfish vanity rendered him the persecutor of his wife and the tyrant of all his family. The only virtue he was taught was honour, for by that name in those days they dignified that ceremonious demeanour which was too frequently but the show of probity and the elegance of vice. Entering the army at an early age, he acquired nothing of military habits except a love of licentiousness and play. The hand of his father was constantly extended not to aid him in rising, but to depress him still lower under the consequences of his errors: his youth was passed in the prisons of the state; his passions, becoming envenomed by solitude, and his intellect being rendered more acute by contact with the irons of his dungeon, where his mind lost that modesty which rarely survives the infamy of precocious punishments.
Released from gaol, in order, by his father's command, to attempt to form a marriage beset with difficulties with Mademoiselle De Marignan, a rich heiress of one of the greatest families of Provence, he displayed, like a wrestler, all kinds of stratagems and daring schemes of policy in the small theatre of Aix. Cunning, seduction, courage, he used every resource of his nature to succeed, and he succeeded; but he was hardly married, before fresh persecutions beset him, and the stronghold of Pontarlier gaped to enclose him. A love, which his Lettres a Sophie has rendered immortal, opened its gates and freed him. He carried off Madame de Monier from her aged husband. The lovers, happy for some months, took refuge in Holland; they were seized there, separated and shut up, the one in a convent and the other in the dungeon of Vincennes. Love, which, like fire in the veins of the earth, is always detected in some crevice of man's destiny, lighted up in a single and ardent blaze all Mirabeau's passions. In his vengeance it was outraged love that he appeased; in liberty, it was love which he sought and which delivered him; in study, it was love which still illustrated his path. Entering obscure into his cell, he quitted it a writer, orator, statesman, but perverted—ripe for any thing, even to sell himself, in order to buy fortune and celebrity. The drama of life was conceived in his head, he wanted but the stage, and that time was preparing for him. During the few short years which elapsed for him between his leaving the keep of Vincennes and the tribune of the National Assembly, he employed himself with polemic labours, which would have weighed down another man, but which only kept him in health. The Bank of Saint Charles, the Institutions of Holland, the books on Prussia, the skirmish with Beaumarchais, his style and character, his lengthened pleadings on questions of warfare, the balance of European power, finance, those biting invectives, that war of words with the ministers or men of the hour, resembled the Roman forum in the days of Clodius and Cicero. We discern the men of antiquity in even his most modern controversies. We may fancy that we hear the first roarings of those popular tumults which were so soon to burst forth, and which his voice was destined to control. At the first election of Aix, rejected with contempt by the noblesse, he cast himself into the arms of the people, certain of making the balance incline to the side on which he should cast the weight of his daring and his genius. Marseilles contended with Aix for the great plebeian; his two elections, the discourses he then delivered, the addresses he drew up, the energy he employed, commanded the attention of all France. His sonorous phrases became the proverbs of the Revolution; comparing himself, in his lofty language, to the men of antiquity, he placed himself already in the public estimation in the elevated position he aspired to reach. Men became accustomed to identify him with the names he cited; he made a loud noise in order to prepare minds for great commotions; he announced himself proudly to the nation in that sublime apostrophe in his address to the Marseillais: "When the last of the Gracchi expired, he flung dust towards heaven, and from this dust sprung Marius! Marius, less great for having exterminated the Cimbri than for having prostrated in Rome the aristocracy of the nobility."
From the moment of his entry into the National Assembly he filled it: he was the whole people. His gestures were commands; his movements coups d'etat. He placed himself on a level with the throne, and the nobility felt itself subdued by a power emanating from its own body. The clergy, which is the people, and desires to reconcile the democracy with the church, lends him its influence, in order to destroy the double aristocracy of the nobility and bishops.
All that had been built by antiquity and cemented by ages fell in a few months. Mirabeau alone preserved his presence of mind in the midst of this ruin. His character of tribune ceases, that of the statesman begins, and in this he is even greater than in the other. There, when all else creep and crawl, he acts with firmness, advancing boldly. The Revolution in his brain is no longer a momentary idea—it is a settled plan. The philosophy of the eighteenth century, moderated by the prudence of policy, flows easily, and modelled from his lips. His eloquence, imperative as the law, is now the talent of giving force to reason. His language lights and inspires every thing; and though almost alone at this moment, he has the courage to remain alone. He braves envy, hatred, murmurs, supported by the strong feeling of his superiority. He dismisses with disdain the passions which have hitherto beset him. He will no longer serve them when his cause no longer needs them. He speaks to men now only in the name of his genius. This title is enough to cause obedience to him. His power is based on the assent which truth finds in all minds, and his strength again reverts to him. He contests with all parties, and rises superior to one and all. All hate him because he commands; and all seek him because he can serve or destroy them. He does not give himself up to any one, but negotiates with each: he lays down calmly on the tumultuous element of this assembly, the basis of the reformed constitution: legislation, finance, diplomacy, war, religion, political economy, balances of power, every question he approaches and solves, not as an Utopian, but as a politician. The solution he gives is always the precise mean between the theoretical and the practical. He places reason on a level with manners, and the institutions of the land in consonance with its habits. He desires a throne to support the democracy, liberty in the chambers, and in the will of the nation, one and irresistible in the government. The characteristic of his genius, so well defined, so ill understood, was less audacity than justness. Beneath the grandeur of his expression is always to be found unfailing good sense. His very vices could not repress the clearness, the sincerity of his understanding. At the foot of the tribune he was a man devoid of shame or virtue: in the tribune he was an honest man. Abandoned to private debauchery, bought over by foreign powers, sold to the court in order to satisfy his lavish expenditure, he preserved, amidst all this infamous traffic of his powers, the incorruptibility of his genius. Of all the qualities of a great man of his age, he was only wanting in honesty. The people were not his devotees, but his instruments,—his own glory was the god of his idolatry; his faith was posterity; his conscience existed but in his thought; the fanaticism of his idea was quite human; the chilling materialism of his age had crushed in his heart the expansion, force, and craving for imperishable things. His dying words were "sprinkle me with perfumes, crown me with flowers, that I may thus enter upon eternal sleep." He was especially of his time, and his course bears no impress of infinity. Neither his character, his acts, nor his thoughts have the brand of immortality. If he had believed in God, he might have died a martyr, but he would have left behind him the religion of reason and the reign of democracy. Mirabeau, in a word, was the reason of the people; and that is not yet the faith of humanity!
Grand displays cast a veil of universal mourning over the secret sentiments which his death inspired to all parties. Whilst the various belfries tolled his knell, and minute guns were fired; whilst, in a ceremony that had assembled two hundred thousand spectators, they awarded to a citizen the funeral obsequies of a monarch; whilst the Pantheon, to which they conveyed his remains, seemed scarcely a monument worthy of such ashes,—what was passing in the depths of men's hearts?
The king, who held Mirabeau's eloquence in pay, the queen, with whom he had nocturnal conferences, regretted him, perhaps, as the last means of safety: yet still he inspired them with more terror than confidence; and the humiliation of a crowned head demanding succour from a subject must have felt comforted at the removal of that destroying power which itself fell before the throne did. The court was avenged by death for the affronts which it had undergone. He was to the nobility merely an apostate from his order. The climax of its shame must have been to be one day raised by him who had abased it. The National Assembly had grown weary of his superiority; the Duc d'Orleans felt that a word from this man would unfold and crush his premature aspirations; M. de La Fayette, the hero of the bourgeoisie, must have been in dread of the orator of the people. Between the dictator of the city and the dictator of the tribune there must have been a secret jealousy. Mirabeau, who had never assailed M. de La Fayette in his discourses, had often in conversation allowed words to escape with respect to his rival which print themselves as they fall on a man. Mirabeau the less, and then M. de La Fayette appeared the greater, and it was the same with all the orators of the Assembly. There was no longer any rival, but there were many envious. His eloquence, though popular in its style, was that of a patrician. His democracy was delivered from a lofty position, and comprised none of that covetousness and hate which excite the vilest passions of the human heart, and which see in the good done for the people nothing but an insult to the nobility. His popular sentiments were in some sort but the liberality of his genius. The vast expansiveness of his mighty soul had no resemblance with the paltry impulses of demagogues. In acquiring rights for the people he seemed as though he bestowed them. He was a volunteer of democracy. He recalled by his part, and his bearing, to those democrats behind him, that from the time of the Gracchi to his own, the tribunes who most served the people had sprung from the ranks of the patricians. His talent, unequalled for philosophy of thought, for depth of reflection, and loftiness of expression, was another kind of aristocracy, which could never be pardoned him. Nature placed him in the foremost rank; and death only created a space around him for secondary minds. They all endeavoured to acquire his position, and all endeavoured in vain. The tears they shed upon his coffin were hypocritical. The people only wept in all sincerity, because the people were too strong to be jealous, and they, far from reproaching Mirabeau with his birth, loved in him that nobility as though it were a spoil they had carried off from the aristocracy. Moreover, the nation, disturbed at seeing its institutions crumbling away one by one, and dreading a total destruction, felt instinctively that the genius of a great man was the last stronghold left to them. This genius quenched, it saw only darkness and precipices before the monarchy. The Jacobins alone rejoiced loudly, for it was only he who could outweigh them.
It was on the 6th of April, 1791, that the National Assembly resumed its sittings. Mirabeau's place, left vacant, reminded each gazer of the impossibility of again filling it; consternation was impressed on every countenance in the tribunes, and a profound silence pervaded the meeting. M. de Talleyrand announced to the Assembly a posthumous address of Mirabeau. They would hear him though dead. The weakened echo of his voice seemed to return to his country from the depths of the vaults of the Pantheon. The reading was mournful. Parties were burning to measure their strength free from any counterpoise. Impatience and anxiety were paramount, and the struggle was imminent. The arbitrator who controlled them was no more.
Before we depict the state of these parties, let us throw a rapid glance over the commencement of the Revolution, the progress it had made, and the principal leaders who were about to attempt directing it in the way they desired to see it advance.
It was hardly two years since opinion had opened the breaches against the monarchy, yet it had already accomplished immense results. The weak and vacillating spirit of the government had convoked the Assembly of Notables, whilst public spirit had placed its grasp on power and convoked the States General. The States General being established, the nation had felt its omnipotence, and from this feeling to a legal insurrection there was but a word; that word Mirabeau had uttered. The National Assembly had constituted itself in front of, and higher than, the throne itself. The prodigious popularity of M. Necker was exhausted by concessions, and utterly vanished when he no longer had any of the spoils of monarchy to cast before the people. Minister of a monarch in retirement, his own had been utter defeat. His last step conducted him out of the kingdom. The disarmed king had remained the hostage of the ancient regime in the hands of the nation. The declaration of the rights of man and citizen, the sole metaphysical act of the Revolution to this time, had given it a social and universal signification. This declaration had been much jeered; it certainly contained some errors, and confused in terms the state of nature and the state of society; but it was, notwithstanding, the very essence of the new dogma.
There are objects in nature, the forms of which can only be accurately ascertained when contemplated afar off. Too near, as well as too far off, prevents a correct view. Thus it is with great events. The hand of God is visible in human things, but this hand itself has a shadow which conceals what it accomplishes. All that could then be seen of the French Revolution announced all that was great in this world, the advent of a new idea in human kind, the democratic idea, and afterwards the democratic government.
This idea was an emanation of Christianity. Christianity finding men in serfage and degraded all over the earth, had arisen on the fall of the Roman Empire, like a mighty vengeance, though under the aspect of a resignation. It had proclaimed the three words which 2000 years afterwards was re-echoed by French philosophy—liberty, equality, fraternity—amongst mankind. But it had for a time hidden this idea in the recesses of the Christian heart. As yet too weak to attack civil laws, it had said to the powers—"I leave you still for a short space of time possession of the political world, confining myself to the moral world. Continue if you can to enchain, class, keep in bondage, degrade the people, I am engaged in the emancipation of souls. I shall occupy 2000 years, perchance, in renewing men's minds before I become apparent in human institutions. But the day will come when my doctrines will escape from the temple, and will enter into the councils of the people; on that day the social world will be renewed."
This day had now arrived; it had been prepared by an age of philosophy, sceptical in appearance but in reality replete with belief. The scepticism of the 18th century only affected exterior forms, and the supernatural dogmata of Christianity, whilst it adopted with enthusiasm, morality and the social sense. What Christianity called revelation, philosophy called reason. The words were different, the meaning identical. The emancipation of individuals, of castes, of people, were alike derived from it. Only the ancient world had been enfranchised in the name of Christ, whilst the modern world was freed in the name of the rights which every human creature has received from the hand of God; and from both flowed the enfranchisement of God or nature. The political philosophy of the Revolution could not have invented a word more true, more complete, more divine than Christianity, to reveal itself to Europe, and it had adopted the dogma and the word of fraternity. Only the French Revolution attacked the form of this ruling religion; because it was incrusted in the forms of government, monarchical, theocratic, or aristocratic, which they sought to destroy. It is the explanation of that apparent contradiction of the mind of the 18th century, which borrowed all from Christianity in policy, and denied, whilst it despoiled, it. There was at one and the same time a violent attraction and a violent repulsion in the two doctrines. They recognised whilst they struggled against each other, and yearned to recognise each other even more completely when the contest was terminated by the triumph of liberty.
Three things were then evident to reflecting minds from and after the month of April, 1791; the one, that the march of the revolutionary movement advanced from step to step to the complete restoration of all the rights of suffering humanity—from those of the people by their government, to those of citizens by castes, and of the workman by the citizen; thus it assailed tyranny, privilege, inequality, selfishness, not only on the throne, but in the civil law; in the administration, in the legal distribution of property, in the conditions of industry, labour, family, and in all the relations of man with man, and man with woman: the second,—that this philosophic and social movement of democracy would seek its natural form in a form of government analogous to its principle, and its nature; that is to say, representing the sovereignty of the people; republic with one or two heads: and, finally, that the social and political emancipation would involve in it the intellectual and religious emancipation of the human mind; that the liberty of thought, of speaking and acting, should not pause before the liberty of belief; that the idea of God confined in the sanctuaries, should shine forth pouring into each free conscience the right of liberty itself; that this light, a revelation for some, and reason for others, would spread more and more with truth and justice, which emanate from God to overspread the earth.
Human thought, like God, makes the world in its own image.
Thought was revived by a philosophical age.
It had to transform the social world.
The French Revolution was therefore in its essence a sublime and impassioned spirituality. It had a divine and universal ideal. This is the reason why its passion spread beyond the frontiers of France. Those who limit, mutilate it. It was the accession of three moral sovereignties:—
The sovereignty of right over force;
The sovereignty of intelligence over prejudices;
The sovereignty of people over governments.
Revolution in rights; equality.
Revolution in ideas; reasoning substituted for authority.
Revolution in facts; the reign of the people.
A Gospel of social rights.
A Gospel of duties, a charter of humanity.
France declared itself the apostle of this creed. In this war of ideas France had allies every where, and even on thrones themselves.
There are epochs in the history of the human race, when the decayed branches fall from the tree of humanity; and when institutions grown old and exhausted, sink and leave space for fresh institutions full of sap, which renew the youth and recast the ideas of a people. Antiquity is replete with this transformation, of which we only catch a glimpse in the relics of history. Each decadence of effete ideas carries with it an old world, and gives its name to a new order of civilisation. The East. China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, have seen these ruins and these renewals. The West experienced them when the Druidical theocracy gave way to the gods and government of the Romans. Byzantium, Rome, and the Empire effected them rapidly, and as it were instinctively by themselves when, wearied with, and blushing at, polytheism, they rose at the voice of Constantine against their gods, and swept away, like an angry tempest, those temples, those ideas and forms of worship, to which the people still clung, but which the superior portion of human thought had already abandoned. The Civilisation of Constantine and Charlemagne grew old in its turn, and the beliefs which for eighteen centuries had supported altars and thrones, menaced the religious world, as well as the political world, with a catastrophe which rarely leaves power standing when faith is staggered. Monarchical Europe was the handiwork of catholicism; politics were fashioned after the image of the Church; authority was founded on a mystery. Rights came to it from on high, and power, like faith, was reputed divine. The obedience of the people was consecrated to it, and from that very reason inquiry was a blasphemy, and servitude a virtue. The spirit of philosophy, which had silently revolted against this for three centuries, as a doctrine which the scandals, tyrannies, and crimes of the two powers belied daily, refused any longer to recognise a divine title in those authorities which deny reason and subjugate a people. So long as catholicism had been the sole legal doctrine in Europe, these murmuring revolts of mind had not overset empires. They had been punished by the hands of rulers. Dungeons, punishments, inquisitions, fire, and faggot, had intimidated reason, and preserved erect the two-fold dogma on which the two governments reposed.
But printing, that unceasing outpouring of the human mind, was to the people a second revelation. Employed at first exclusively for the Church, for the propagation of ruling ideas, it had begun to sap them. The dogmata of temporal power, and spiritual power, incessantly assailed by these floods of light, could not be long without being shaken, first in the human mind and afterwards in things, to the very foundations. Guttemberg; without knowing it, was the mechanist of the New World. In creating the communication of ideas, he had assured the independence of reason. Every letter of this alphabet which left his fingers, contained in it, more power than the armies of kings, and the thunders of pontiffs. It was mind which he furnished with language. These two powers were the mistresses of man, as they were hereafter of mankind. The intellectual world was born of a material invention, and it had grown rapidly. The reformed religion was one of its early offspring.
The empire of catholic Christianity had undergone extensive dismemberments. Switzerland, a part of Germany, Holland, England, whole provinces of France, had been drawn away from the centre of religious authority, and passed over to the doctrine of free examination. Divine authority attacked and contested in catholicism, the authority of the throne remained at the mercy of the people. Philosophy, more potent than sedition, approached it more and more near, with less respect, less fear. History had actually written of the weaknesses and crimes of kings. Public writers had dared to comment upon it, and the people to draw conclusions. Social institutions had been weighed by their real value for humanity. Minds the most devoted to power had spoken to sovereigns of duties, and to people of rights. The holy boldness of Christianity had been heard even in the consecrated pulpit, in the presence of Louis XIV. Bossuet, that sacerdotal genius of the ancient synagogue, had mingled his proud adulations to Louis XIV. with some of those austere warnings which console persons for their abasement. Fenelon, that evangelical and tender genius, of the new law, had written his instructions to princes, and his Telemachus, in the palace of the king, and in the cabinet of an heir to the throne. The political philosophy of Christianity, that insurrection of justice in favour of the weak, had glided from the lips of Louis XIV. into the ear of his grandson. Fenelon educated another revolution in the Duke of Burgundy. This the king perceived when too late, and expelled the divine seduction from his palace. But the revolutionary policy was born there; there the people read the pages of the holy archbishop: Versailles was destined to be, thanks to Louis XIV. and Fenelon, at once the palace of despotism and the cradle of the Revolution. Montesquieu had sounded the institutions, and analysed the laws of all people. By classing governments, he had compared them, by comparing he passed judgment on them; and this judgment brought out, in its bold relief, and contrast, on every page, right and force, privilege and equality, tyranny and liberty.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, less ingenious, but more eloquent, had studied politics, not in the laws, but in nature. A free but oppressed and suffering mind, the palpitation of his noble heart had made every heart beat that had been ulcerated by the odious inequality of social conditions. It was the revolt of the ideal against the real. He had been the tribune of nature, the Gracchus of philosophy—he had not produced the history of institutions, only its vision—but that vision descended from heaven and returned thither. There was to be seen the design of God and the excess of his love—but there was not enough seen of the infirmity of men. It was the Utopia of government; but by this Rousseau led further astray. To impel the people to passion there must be some slight illusion mingled with the truth; reality alone was too chilling to fanaticise the human mind; it is only roused to enthusiasm by things something out of nature. What is termed the ideal is the attraction and force of religions, which always aspire higher than they mount; this is how fanaticism is produced, that delirium of virtue. Rousseau was the ideal of politics, as Fenelon was the ideal of Christianity.
Voltaire had the genius of criticism, that power of raillery which withers all it overthrows. He had made human nature laugh at itself, had felled it low in order to raise it, had laid bare before it all errors, prejudices, iniquities, and crimes of ignorance; he had urged it to rebellion against consecrated ideas, not by the ideal but by sheer contempt. Destiny gave him eighty years of existence, that he might slowly decompose the decayed age; he had the time to combat against time, and when he fell he was the conqueror. His disciples filled courts, academies, and saloons; those of Rousseau grew splenetic and visionary amongst the lower orders of society. The one had been the fortunate and elegant advocate of the aristocracy, the other was the secret consoler and beloved avenger of the democracy. His book was the book of all oppressed and tender souls. Unhappy and devotee himself, he had placed God by the side of the people; his doctrines sanctified the mind, whilst they led the heart to rebellion. There was vengeance in his very accent, but there was piety also. Voltaire's followers would have overturned altars, those of Rousseau would have raised them. The one could have done without virtues, and made arrangements with thrones; the other had absolute need of a God, and could only have founded republics.
Their numerous disciples progressed with their missions, and possessed all the organs of public thought. From the seat of geometry to the consecrated pulpit, the philosophy of the 18th century invaded or altered every thing. D'Alembert, Diderot, Raynal, Buffon, Condorcet, Bernardin Saint Pierre, Helvetius, Saint Lambert, La Harpe, were the church of the new era. One sole thought animated these diverse minds—the renovation of human ideas. Arithmetic, science, history, economy, politics, the stage, morals, poetry, all served as the vehicle of modern philosophy; it ran in all the veins of the times; it had enlisted every genius, it spoke every language. Chance or Providence had decided that this period, which elsewhere was almost barren, should be the age of France. From the end of the reign of Louis XIV. to the commencement of the reign of Louis XVI., nature had been prodigal of men to France. This brilliancy continued by so many geniuses of the first order, from Corneille to Voltaire, from Bossuet to Rousseau, from Fenelon to Bernardin Saint Pierre, had accustomed the people to look on this side. The focus of the ideas of the world shed thence its brilliancy. The moral authority of the human mind was no longer at Rome. The stir, light, direction, were from Paris; the European mind was French. There was, and there always will be, in the French genius something more potent than its potency, more luminous than its splendour; and that is its warmth, its penetrating power of communicating the attraction which it has, and which it inspires to Europe.
The genius of the Spain of Charles V. is high and adventurous, that of Germany is profound and severe, that of England skilful and proud, that of France is attractive,—it is in that it has its force. Easily seduced itself, it easily seduces other people. The other great individualities of the world of have only their genius. France for a second genius has its heart, and is prodigal in its thoughts, in its writings, as well as in its national acts. When Providence wills that one desire shall fire the world, it is first kindled in a Frenchman's soul. This communicative quality of the character of this race—this French attraction, as yet unaltered by the ambition of conquest,—was then the precursory mark of the age. It seems that a providential instinct turned all the attraction of Europe towards this point, as if motion and light could only emanate thence. The only real echoing point of the Continent was Paris. There the smallest things made great noise, literature was the vehicle of French influence; there intellectual monarchy had its books, its theatre, its writings even before it had its heroes.
Conquering by its intelligence, its printing-presses were its army.
The parties who divided the country after the death of Mirabeau were thus distributed; out of the Assembly, the Court, and the Jacobins; in the Assembly the right side and the left side, and between these two extreme parties—the one fanatic by its innovations, the other fanatic from its resistance,—there was an intermediate party, consisting of the men of substance and peace belonging to both these parties. Their views moderate, and wavering between revolution and conservatism, desired that the one should conquer without violence, and the other concede without vindictiveness. These were the philosophers of the Revolution,—but it was not the hour for philosophy, it was the hour of victory; the two ideas required champions, not judges; they crushed men in their encounter. Let us enumerate the principal chiefs of the contending parties, and make them known before we bring them into action.
King Louis XVI. was then only thirty-seven years of age; his features resembled those of his race, rendered somewhat heavy by the German blood of his mother, a princess of the house of Saxony. Fine blue eyes, very wide open, and clear rather than dazzling, a round and retreating forehead, a Roman nose, the nostrils flaccid and large, and somewhat destroying the energy of the aquiline profile, a mouth smiling and gracious in expression, lips thick, but well shaped, a fine skin, fresh and high-coloured in tint, though rather loose; of short stature, stout frame, timid carriage, irregular walk, and, when not moving, a restlessness of body in shifting first one foot and then the other without advancing—a habit contracted either from that impatience common to princes compelled to undergo long audiences, or else the outward token of the constant wavering of an undecided mind. In his person there was an expression of bonhommie more vulgar than royal, which at the first glance inspired as much derision as veneration, and on which his enemies seized with contemptuous perversity, in order to show to the people in the features of their ruler the visible and personal sign of those vices they sought to destroy in royalty; in the tout ensemble some resemblance to the imperial physiognomy of the later Caesars at the period of the fall of things and races,—the mildness of Antoninus, with the vast obesity of Vitellius;—this was precisely the man.
This young prince had been educated in complete solitude at the court of Louis XV. The atmosphere which had infected the age had not touched his heir. Whilst Louis XV. had changed his court into a place of ill-fame, his grandson, educated in a corner of the palace of Meudon by pious and enlightened masters, grew up in respect for his rank, in awe of the throne, and in a real love for the people whom he was one day to be called upon to govern. The soul of Fenelon seemed to have traversed two generations of kings in the palace where he had brought up the Duke of Burgundy, in order to inspire the education of his descendant. What was nearest the crowned vice upon the throne was perhaps the most pure of any thing in France. If the age had not been as dissolute as the king, it would have directed his love in that direction. He had reached that point of corruption in which purity appears ridiculous, and modesty was treated with contempt.
Married at twenty years of age to a daughter of Maria Theresa of Austria, the young prince had continued until his accession to the throne in his life of domestic retirement, study, and isolation. Europe was slumbering in a disgraceful peace. War, that exercise of princes, could not thus form him by contact with men and the custom of command. Fields of battle, which are the theatre of great actors of his stamp, had not brought him under the observation of his people. No prestige, except the circumstance of birth, clung to him. His sole popularity was derived from the disgust inspired by his grandfather. He occasionally had the esteem of his people, but never their favour. Upright and well-informed, he called to him sterling honesty and clear intelligence in the person of Turgot. But with the philosophic sentiment of the necessity of reforms, the prince had not the feeling of a reformer; he had neither the genius nor the boldness; nor had his ministers more than himself. They raised all questions without settling any, accumulated storms, without giving them any impulse, and the tempests were doomed to be eventually directed against themselves. From M. de Maurepas to M. Turgot, from M. Turgot to M. de Calonne, from M. de Calonne to M. Necker, from M. Necker to M. de Malesherbes, he floated from an honest man to an intriguant, from a philosopher to a banker, whilst the spirit of system and charlatanism ill supplied the spirit of government. God, who had given many men of notoriety during this reign, had refused it a statesman; all was promise and deception. The court clamoured, impatience seized on the nation, and violent convulsions followed. The Assembly of Notables, States General, National Assembly, had all burst in the hands of royalty; a revolution emanated from his good intentions more fierce and more irritable than if it had been the consequence of his vices. At the time when the king had this revolution before him in the National Assembly, he had not in his councils one man, not only capable of resisting but even of comprehending it. Men really strong prefer in such moments to be rather the popular ministers of the nation than the bucklers of the king.
M. de Montmorin was devoted to the king, but had no credit with the nation. The ministry had neither the initiative nor opposition; the initiative was in the hands of the Jacobins, and the executive power with the mob. The king, without an organ, without privilege, without force, had merely the odious responsibility of anarchy. He was the butt against which all parties directed the hate or rage of the people. He had the privilege of every accusation; whilst from the tribune Mirabeau, Barnave, Petion, Lameth, and Robespierre, eloquently threatened the throne; infamous pamphlets, factious journals painted the king in the colours of a tyrant who was brutalised by wine, who lent himself to every caprice of an abandoned woman, and who conspired in the recesses of his palace with the enemies of the nation. In the sinister feeling of his coming fall, the stoical virtue of this prince sufficed for the calming of his conscience, but was not adequate to his resolutions. On leaving the council of his ministers, where he loyally accomplished the constitutional conditions of his character, he sought, sometimes in the friendship of his devoted servants, sometimes from the very persons of his enemies, admitted by stealth to his confidence, the most important inspirations. Counsels succeeded to counsels, and contradicted one another in the royal ear, as their results contradicted each other in their operations. His enemies suggested concessions, promising him a popularity, which escaped their hands just as they were about to ensure it to him. The court counselled the resistance which it had only in its dreams; the queen the courage she felt in her soul; intriguants, corruption, the timid, flight; and in turns, and almost at the same time, he tried all these expedients: not one was efficacious; the time for useful resolutions had passed,—the crisis was without remedy. It was necessary to choose between life and the throne. In endeavouring to preserve the two, it was written that he should lose both.
When we place ourselves in imagination in the position of Louis XVI., and ask what could have saved him? we reply disheartened—nothing. There are circumstances which enfold all a man's movements in such a snare, that, whatever direction he may take, he falls into the fatality of his faults or his virtues. This was the dilemma of Louis XVI. All the unpopularity of royalty in France, all the faults of preceding administrations, all the vices of kings, all the shame of courts, all the griefs of the people, were as it were accumulated on his head, and marked his innocent brow for the expiation of many ages. Epochs have their sacrifices as well as their religions. When they desire to recast an institution which no longer suits them, they pile upon the individual who personifies this institution all the odium and all the condemnation of the institution itself,—they make of this man a victim whom they sacrifice to the time. Louis XVI. was this innocent sacrifice, overwhelmed with all the iniquities of thrones, and destined to be immolated as a chastisement for royalty. Such was the king.
The queen seemed to be created by nature to contrast with the king, and to attract for ever the interest and pity of ages to one of those state dramas, which are incomplete unless the miseries and misfortunes of a woman mingle in them. Daughter of Maria Theresa, she had commenced her life in the storms of the Austrian monarchy. She was one of the children whom the Empress held by the hand when she presented herself as a supplicant before her faithful Hungarians, and the troops exclaimed, "We will die for our king, Maria Theresa." Her daughter, too, had the heart of a king. On her arrival in France, her beauty had dazzled the whole kingdom,—a beauty then in all its splendour. The two children whom she had given to the throne, far from impairing her good looks, added to the attractions of her person that character of maternal majesty which so well becomes the mother of a nation. The presentiment of her misfortunes, the recollection of the tragic scenes of Versailles, the uneasiness of each day somewhat diminished her youthful freshness. She was tall, slim, and graceful,—a real daughter of Tyrol. Her naturally majestic carriage in no way impaired the grace of her movements; her neck rising elegantly and distinctly from her shoulders gave expression to every attitude. The woman was perceptible beneath the queen, the tenderness of heart was not lost in the elevation of her destiny. Her light brown hair was long and silky, her forehead, high and rather projecting, was united to her temples by those fine curves which give so much delicacy and expression to that seat of thought or the soul in women; her eyes of that clear blue which recall the skies of the North or the waters of the Danube; an aquiline nose, with nostrils open and slightly projecting, where emotions palpitate and courage is evidenced; a large mouth, brilliant teeth, Austrian lips, that is, projecting and well defined; an oval countenance, animated, varying, impassioned, and the ensemble of these features replete with that expression impossible to describe which emanates from the look, the shades, the reflections of the face, which encompasses it with an iris like that of the warm and tinted vapour which bathes objects in full sunlight—the extreme loveliness which the ideal conveys, and which by giving it life increases its attraction. With all these charms, a soul yearning to attach itself, a heart easily moved, but yet earnest in desire to fix itself; a pensive and intelligent smile, with nothing of vacuity in it, nothing of preference or mere acquaintanceship in it, because it felt itself worthy of friendships. Such was Marie-Antoinette as a woman.
It was enough to form the happiness of a man and the ornament of a court: to inspire a wavering monarch, and be the safeguard of a state under trying circumstances, something more is requisite. The genius of government is required, and the queen had it not. Nothing could have prepared her for the regulation of the disordered elements which were about her; misfortune had given her no time for reflection. Hailed with enthusiasm by a perverse court and an ardent nation, she must have believed in the eternity of such sentiments. She was lulled to sleep in the dissipations of the Trianon. She had heard the first threatenings of the tempest without believing in its dangers: she had trusted in the love she inspired, and which she felt in her own heart. The court had become exacting, the nation hostile. The instrument of the intrigues of the court on the heart of the king, she had at first favoured and then opposed all reforms which prevented or delayed the crises that arose. Her policy was but infatuation; her system but the perpetual abandonment of herself to every partisan who promised her the king's safety. The Comte D'Artois, a youthful prince, chivalrous in etiquette, had much influence with her. He relied greatly on the noblesse; made frequent references to his sword. He laughed at the crises: he disdained this war of words, caballed against ministers, and treated passing events with levity. The queen, intoxicated with the adulation of those around her, urged the king to recall the next day what he had conceded on the previous evening. Her hand was felt in all the transactions of the government: her apartments were the focus of a perpetual conspiracy against the government; the nation detected it, and ultimately detested her.
Her name became for the people the phantom of all counter-revolution. We are apt to calumniate what we fear. She was depicted under the features of a Messalina. The most infamous pamphlets were in circulation; the most scandalous anecdotes were credited. She may be accused of tenderness, but never of depravity. Lovely, young, and adored, if her heart did not remain insensible, her innermost feelings, innocent perhaps, never gave just ground for open scandal. History has its modesty, and we will not violate it.
On the days of the 5th and 6th of October the queen perceived (too late) the enmity of the people; her heart must have been full of vengeance. Emigration commenced, and she viewed it favourably. All her friends were at Coblentz; she was believed to be in close connection with them, and this belief was true. Stories of an Austrian committee were busily spread amongst the people. The queen was accused of conspiring for the destruction of the nation, who at every moment demanded her head. A people in revolt must have some one to hate, and they handed over to her the queen. Her name was the theme of their songs of rage. One woman was the enemy of a whole nation, and her pride disdained to undeceive them. She inclosed herself in her resentment and her terror. Imprisoned in the palace of the Tuileries, she could not put her head out of window without provoking an outrage and hearing insult. Every noise in the city made her apprehensive of an insurrection. Her days were melancholy, her nights disturbed: she underwent hourly agony for two years, and that anguish was magnified in her heart by her love for her two children, and her disquietude for the king. Her court was forsaken; she saw none but the shadows of authority; the ministers forced on her by M. de La Fayette, before whom she was compelled to mask her countenance in smiles. Her apartments were watched by spies in the guise of servants. It was necessary to mislead them, in order to have interviews with the few friends who remained to her. Private staircases, dark corridors, were the means by which at night her secret counsellors obtained access to her. These meetings resembled conspiracies; she left them every time with a different train of ideas, which she communicated to the king, whose behaviour thus acquired the incoherence of a woman persecuted and distressed. Measures of resistance, bribing the Assembly, an entire surrender of the constitution, attempts by force, an assumption of royal dignity, repentance, weakness, terror, and flight,—all were discussed, planned, decided on, prepared and abandoned, on the same day. Women, so sublime in their devotion, are seldom capable of the continuous firmness of mind—the imperturbability requisite for a political plan. Their politics are in their heart, their passions trench so closely on their reason. Of all the virtues which a throne requires they have but courage; often heroes, they are never statesmen. The queen was another example of this: she did the king incredible mischief. With a mind infinitely superior, with more soul, more character than he, her superiority only served to inspire him with mischievous counsels. She was at once the charm of his misfortunes and the genius of his destruction; she conducted him step by step to the scaffold, but she ascended it with him.
The right side in the National Assembly consisted of men, the natural opponents of the movement, the nobility and higher clergy. All, however, were not of the same rank nor the same title. Seditions are found amongst the lower rank, revolutions in the higher. Seditions are but the angry workings of the people—revolutions are the ideas of the epoch. Ideas begin in the head of the nation. The French Revolution was a generous thought of the aristocracy. This thought fell into the hands of the people, who framed of it a weapon against the noblesse, the throne, and religion. The philosophy of the saloons became revolt in the streets: nevertheless all the great houses of the kingdom had given apostles to the first dogmata of the Revolution: the States General, the ancient theatre of the importance and triumphs of the higher nobility, had tempted the ambition of their heirs, and they had marched in the van of the reformers. Esprit de corps could not restrain them when the question of uniting with the Tiers Etat had been invoked. The Montmorencies, Noailles, La Rochefoucaulds, Clermont Tonnerres, Lally Tollendals, Virieux, d'Aiguillons, Lauzans, Montesquieus, Lameths, Mirabeaus, the Duc d'Orleans, first prince of the blood, the Count de Provence, brother of the king, king himself afterwards as Louis XVIII., had given an impulse to the boldest innovations. They had each borrowed their momentary popularity from principles easier to enunciate than restrain, and that popularity had nearly forsaken them all. So soon as these theorists of speculative revolution saw that they were carried away in the torrent, they attempted to ascend the stream from whose source they had started; some again surrounded the throne, others had emigrated after the days of the 5th and 6th of October. Others, more firm, remained in their places in the National Assembly; they fought without a hope, but still defended a fallen cause, gloriously resolute to maintain at least a monarchical power, and abandoning to the people, without a struggle, the spoils of the nobility and the church. Amongst these are Cazales, the Abbe Maury, Malouet, and Clermont Tonnerre: they were the distinguished orators of this expiring party.
Clermont Tonnerre and Malouet were rather statesmen than orators; their cautious and reflective language weighed only on the reason; they sought for the mean between liberty and monarchy, and believed they had found it in the system of the Two Houses of English Legislature. The moderes of the two parties listened to them respectfully; like all half parties and half talents, they excited neither hatred nor anger; but events did not listen to them, but thrusting them aside, advanced towards results that were utterly absolute. Maury and Cazales, less philosophic, were the two champions of the right side; different in character, their oratorical powers were much on a par. Maury represented the clergy, of which body he was a member; Cazales, the noblesse, to whom he belonged. The one, Maury, early trained to struggles of polemical theology, had sharpened and polished in the pulpit the eloquence he was to bring into the tribune. Sprung from the lowest ranks of the people, he only belonged to the ancien regime by his garb, and defended religion and the monarchy as two texts, imposed upon him as themes for discourses. His conviction was the part he played; any other appointed character would have suited equally well; yet he sustained with unflinching courage and admirable consistency that which had been "set down for him."
Devoted from his youth to serious studies, endowed with abundant flow of words, striking and vivid in his language, his harangues were perfect treatises on the subjects he discussed. The only rival of Mirabeau, he needed but a cause more natural and more sterling to have become his equal: but sophistry could not deck abuses in colours more specious than those with which Maury invested the ancien regime.
Historical erudition and sacred learning supplied him with ample sources of argument. The boldness of his character and language inspired words which even avenge a defeat, and his fine countenance, his sonorous voice, his commanding gesture, the defiance and good temper with which he braved the tribunes, frequently drew down the applauses of his enemies. The people, who recognised his invincible strength, were amused at his impotent opposition. Maury was to them as one of those gladiators whom they like to see fight, although well knowing that they must perish in the strife. One thing was wanting to the Abbe Maury,—weight to his eloquence; neither his birth, his faith, nor his life inspired respect in those who listened. The actor was visible in the man, the advocate in the cause, the orator and his language were not identified. Strip the Abbe Maury of the habit of his order, and he might have changed sides without a struggle, and have taken his seat amongst the innovators. Such orators grace a party, they never save it.
Cazales was one of those men who are themselves ignorant of their own powers until the hour arrives when circumstances call forth their genius, and assign to them a duty. An obscure officer in the ranks of the army, chance, which cast him into the tribune, revealed the orator. He did not inquire which side he should defend; noble, the noblesse; royalist, the king; a subject, the throne. His position made his creed; he bore in the Assembly the character and qualities of his uniform. Language to him was only another sword, and in all the spirit of chivalry, he devoted it to the cause of Monarchy. Indolent and ill-educated, his natural good sense supplied the place of study. His monarchical faith was by no means fanaticism of the past: it admitted the modifications conceded by the king himself, and which were compatible with the inviolability of the throne and the working of the executive power. From Mirabeau to him the difference of the first principle was not wide apart, only one decried it as an aristocrat, and the other as a democrat. The one flung himself headlong into the midst of the people, the other attached himself to the steps of the throne. The characteristic of Cazales' eloquence was that of a desperate cause. He protested more than he discussed, and opposed to the triumphs of violence on the cote gauche, his ironic defiance, his bursts of bitter indignation, which for the moment acquired admiration, but never led to victory. To him the noblesse owed that it fell with glory; the throne, with majesty: and his eloquence attained something that was heroic.
Behind these two men there was only a party, soured by ill-fortune, discouraged by its isolation from the nation, odious to the people, useless to the throne, feeding on vain illusions, and only preserving of its fallen power the resentment of injuries, and that insolence which was perpetually provoking fresh humiliations. The hopes of this party were entirely sustained by their reliance on the armed intervention of foreign powers. Louis XVI. was in their eyes a prisoner king, whom Europe would come and deliver from his thraldom. With them, patriotism and honour were at Coblentz. Overcome by numbers, without skilful leaders who understood how to gain immortal names by timely retreats; with no strength to contend against the spirit of the age and refusing to move with it, the cote droit could only call for vengeance, its political power was now confined to an imprecation.
The left side lost at one blow its leader and controller; in Mirabeau the national man had ceased to exist, and only the men of party remained, and they were Barnave and the two Lameths. These men humbled, rebuked, before the ascendency of Mirabeau, had attempted, long before his death, to balance the sovereignty of his genius by the exaggeration of their doctrines and harangues. Mirabeau was but the apostle—they would fain have been the faction-leaders of the time. Jealous of his influence, they would have crushed his talents beneath the superiority of their popularity. Mediocrity thinks to equal genius by outraging reason. A diminution of thirty or forty votes had taken place in the left side. This was the work of Barnave and the Lameths. The club of the friends of the constitution become the Jacobin Club, responded to them from without. The popular agitation excited by them was restrained by Mirabeau, who rallied against them the left, the centre, and the intelligent members of the right side. They conspired, they caballed, they fomented divisions in opinion all the more that they had not control in the Assembly.
Mirabeau was dead, and now the field was open to them. The Lameths—courtiers, educated by the kindness of the royal family, overwhelmed by the favours and pensions of the king, had the conspicuous defection of Mirabeau without having the excuse of his wrongs against the monarchy: this defection was one of their titles to popular favour. Clever men, they carried with them into the national cause the conduct of Courts in which they had been brought up: still their love of the Revolution was disinterested and sincere. Their eminent talents did not equal their ambition. Crushed by Mirabeau, they stirred up against him all those whom the shadow of that great man eclipsed in common with themselves. They sought for a rival to oppose to him, and found only men who envied him. Barnave presented himself, and they surrounded him, applauded him, intoxicated him with his self-importance. They persuaded him for a moment that phrases were politics, and that a rhetorician was a statesman.
Mirabeau was great enough not to fear, and just enough not to despise him. Barnave, a young barrister of Dauphine, had made his debut with much effect in the struggles between the parliament and the throne which had agitated his province, and displayed on small theatres the eloquence of men of the bar. Sent at thirty years of age to the States General, with Mounier his patron and master, he had soon quitted Mounier and the monarchical party, and made himself conspicuous amongst the democratic division. A word of sinister import which escaped not from his heart, but from his lips, weighed on his conscience with remorse. "Is then the blood that flows so pure?" he exclaimed at the first murder of the Revolution. This phrase had branded him on the brow with the mark of a ringleader of faction. Barnave was not this, or only as much so as was necessary for the success of his discourses; nothing in him was extreme but the orator: the man was by no means so, neither was he at all cruel. Studious, but without imagination; copious, but without warmth, his intellect was mediocre, his mind honest, his will variable, his heart in the right place. His talent, which they affected to compare with Mirabeau's, was nothing more than a power of skilfully rivetting public attention. His habit of pleading gave him, with its power of extempore speaking, an apparent superiority which vanished before reflection, Mirabeau's enemies had created him a pedestal on their hatred, and magnified his importance to make the comparison closer. When reduced to his actual stature, it was easy to recognise the distance that existed between the man of the nation, and the man of the bar.
Barnave had the misfortune to be the great man of a mediocre party, and the hero of an envious faction: he deserved a better destiny, which he subsequently acquired.
Still deeper in the shade, and behind the chief of the National Assembly, a man almost unknown began to move, agitated by uneasy thoughts which seemed to forbid him to be silent and unmoved; he spoke on all occasions, and attacked all speakers indifferently, including Mirabeau himself. Driven from the tribune, he ascended it next day: overwhelmed with sarcasm, coughed down, disowned by all parties, lost amongst the eminent champions who fixed public attention, he was incessantly beaten, but never dispirited. It might have been said, that an inward and prophetic genius revealed to him the vanity of all talent, and the omnipotence of a firm will and unwearied patience, and that an inward voice said to him, "These men who despise thee are thine: all the changes of this Revolution which now will not deign to look upon thee, will eventually terminate in thee, for thou hast placed thyself in the way like the inevitable excess, in which all impulse ends."
This man was Robespierre.
There are abysses that we dare not sound, and characters we desire not to fathom, for fear of finding in them too great darkness, too much horror; but history, which has the unflinching eye of time, must not be chilled by these terrors, she must understand whilst she undertakes to recount. Maximilien Robespierre was born at Arras, of a poor family, honest and respectable; his father, who died in Germany, was of English origin. This may explain the shade of Puritanism in his character. The bishop of Arras had defrayed the cost of his education. Young Maximilien had distinguished himself on leaving college by a studious life, and austere manners. Literature and the bar shared his time. The philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau had made a profound impression on his understanding; the philosophy, falling upon an active imagination, had not remained a dead letter; it had become in him a leading principle, a faith, a fanaticism. In the strong mind of a sectarian, all conviction becomes a thing apart. Robespierre was the Luther of politics: and in obscurity he brooded over the confused thoughts of a renovation of the social world, and the religious world, as a dream which unavailingly beset his youth, when the Revolution came to offer him what destiny always offers to those who watch her progress, opportunity. He seized on it. He was named deputy of the third estate in the States General. Alone perhaps among all these men who opened at Versailles the first scene of this vast drama, he foresaw the termination; like the soul, whose seat in the human frame philosophers have not discovered, the thought of an entire people sometimes concentrates itself in the individual, the least known in the great mass. We should not despise any, for the finger of Destiny marks in the soul and not upon the brow. Robespierre had nothing: neither birth, nor genius nor exterior which should point him out to men's notice. There was nothing conspicuous about him; his limited talent had only shone at the bar or in provincial academies; a few verbal harangues filled with a tame and almost rustic philosophy, some bits of cold and affected poetry, had vainly displayed his name in the insignificance of the literary productions of the day: he was more than unknown, he was mediocre and contemned. His features presented nothing which could attract attention, when gazing round in a large assembly: there was no sign in visible characters of this power which was all within; he was the last word of the Revolution, but no one could read him.
Robespierre's figure was small, his limbs feeble and angular, his step irresolute, his attitudes affected, his gestures destitute of harmony or grace; his voice, rather shrill, aimed at oratorical inflexions, but only produced fatigue and monotony; his forehead was good, but small and extremely projecting above the temples, as if the mass and embarrassed movement of his thoughts had enlarged it by their efforts; his eyes, much covered by their lids and very sharp at the extremities, were deeply buried in the cavities of their orbits; they gave out a soft blue hue, but it was vague and unfixed, like a steel reflector on which a light glances; his nose straight and small was very wide at the nostrils, which were high and too expanded; his mouth was large, his lips thin and disagreeably contracted at each corner; his chin small and pointed, his complexion yellow and livid, like that of an invalid or a man worn out by vigils and meditations. The habitual expression of this visage was that of superficial serenity on a serious mind, and a smile wavering betwixt sarcasm and condescension. There was softness, but of a sinister character. The prevailing characteristic of this countenance was the prodigious and continual tension of brow, eyes, mouth, and all the facial muscles; in regarding him it was perceptible that the whole of his features, like the labour of his mind, converged incessantly on a single point with such power that there was no waste of will in his temperament, and he appeared to foresee all he desired to accomplish, as though he had already the reality before his eyes. Such then was the man destined to absorb in himself all those men, and make them his victims after he had used them as his instruments. He was of no party, but of all parties which in their turn served his ideal of the Revolution. In this his power consisted, for parties paused but he never did. He placed this ideal as an end to reach in every revolutionary movement, and advanced towards it with those who sought to attain it; then, this goal reached, he placed it still further off, and again marched forward with other men, continually advancing without ever deviating, ever pausing, ever retreating. The Revolution, decimated in its progress, must one day or other inevitably arrive at a last stage, and he desired it should end in himself. He was the entire incorporation of the Revolution,—principles, thoughts, passions, impulses. Thus incorporating himself wholly with it, he compelled it one day to incorporate itself in him—that day was a distant one.
Robespierre, who had often struggled against Mirabeau with Duport, the Lameths, and Barnave, began to separate himself from them as soon as they appeared to predominate in the Assembly. He formed, with Petion and some others of small note, a small band of opposition, radically democratic, who encouraged the Jacobins without, and menaced Barnave and the Lameths whenever they ventured to pause. Petion and Robespierre in the Assembly, Brissot and Danton at the Jacobin Club, formed the nucleus of the new party which was destined to accelerate the movement and speedily to convert it into convulsions and catastrophes.
Petion was a popular Lafayette: popularity was his aim, and he acquired it earlier than Robespierre. A barrister without talent but upright, he had imbibed no more of philosophy than the Social Contract; young, good looking and a patriot, he was destined to become one of those complaisant idols of whom the people make what they please except a man; his credit in the streets and amongst the Jacobins gave him a certain amount of authority in the Assembly, where he was listened to as the significant echo of the will out of doors. Robespierre affected to respect him.
The constitution was completed, the regal power was but a mere name, the king was but the executive of the orders of the national representation, his ministers only responsible hostages in the hands of the Assembly. The vices of this constitution were evident before it was entirely finished. Voted in the rage of parties, it was not a constitution, it was a vengeance of the people against the monarchy, the throne only existing as the substitute of a unique power which was every where instituted, but which no one yet dared to name. The people, parties, trembled lest on removing the throne they should behold an abyss in which the nation would be engulphed: it was thus tacitly agreed to respect its forms, though they daily despoiled and insulted the unfortunate monarch whom they kept chained to it.
Things were at that point where they have no possible termination except in a catastrophe. The army, without discipline, added but another element to the popular ferment: forsaken by its officers, who emigrated in masses, the subalterns seized upon democracy and propagated it in their ranks. Affiliated in every garrison with the Jacobin Club, they received from it their orders, and made of their troops soldiers of anarchy, accomplices of faction. The people to whom they had cast as a prey the feudal rights of the nobility and the tithes of the clergy, feared to have wrested from it what it held with disquietude, and saw in every direction plots which it anticipated by crimes. The sudden burst of liberty, for which it was not prepared, agitated without strengthening it: it evinced all the vices of enfranchised men without having got the virtues of the free man. The whole of France was but one vast sedition: anarchy swayed the state, and in order that it might be, as it were, self-governed, it had created its government in as many clubs as there were large municipalities in the kingdom. The dominant club was that of the Jacobins: this club was the centralisation of anarchy. So soon as a powerful and high passioned will moves a nation, their common impulse brings men together; individuality ceases, and the legal or illegal association organises the public prejudice. Popular societies thus have birth. At the first menaces of the court against the States General, certain Breton deputies had a meeting at Versailles, and formed a society to detect the plots of the court and assure the triumphs of liberty: its founders were Sieyes, Chapelier, Barnave, and Lameth. After the 5th and 6th of October, the Breton Club, transported to Paris in the train of the National Assembly, had there assumed the more forcible name of "Society of the Friends of the Constitution." It held its sittings in the old convent of the Jacobins Saint Honore, not far from the Manege, where the National Assembly sat. The deputies, who had founded it at the beginning for themselves, now opened their doors to journalists, revolutionary writers, and finally to all citizens. The presentation by two of its members, and an open scrutiny as to the moral character of the person proposed, were the sole conditions of admission: the public was admitted to the sittings by inspectors, who examined the admission card. A set of rules, an office, a president, a corresponding committee, secretaries, an order of the day, a tribune, and orators, gave to these meetings all the forms of deliberative assemblies: they were assemblies of the people only without elections and responsibility; feeling alone gave them authority: instead of framing laws they formed opinion.
The sittings took place in the evening, so that the people should not be prevented from attending in consequence of their daily labour: the acts of the National Assembly, the events of the moment, the examination of social questions, frequently accusations against the king, ministers, the cote droit; were the texts of the debates. Of all the passions of the people, there hatred was the most flattered; they made it suspicious in order to subject it. Convinced that all was conspiring against it,—king, queen, court, ministers, authorities, foreign powers,—it threw itself headlong into the arms of its defenders. The most eloquent in its eyes was he who inspired it with most dread—it had a parching thirst for denunciations, and they were lavished on it with prodigal hand. It was thus that Barnave, the Lameths, then Danton, Marat, Brissot, Camille Desmoulins, Petion, Robespierre, had acquired their authority over the people. These names had increased in reputation as the anger of the people grew hotter; they cherished their wrath in order to retain their greatness. The nightly sittings of the Jacobins and the Cordeliers frequently stifled the echo of the sittings of the National Assembly: the minority, beaten at the Manege, came to protest, accuse, threaten at the Jacobins.
Mirabeau himself, accused by Lameth on the subject of the law of emigration, came a few days before his death to listen face to face to the invectives of his denouncer, and had not disdained to justify himself. The clubs were the exterior strength, where the factious of the assembly gave the support of their names in order to intimidate the national representation. The national representation had only the laws; the club had the people, sedition, and even the army.
This expression of public opinion, thus organised into a permanent association at every point in the empire, gave an electric shock which nothing could resist. A motion made in Paris was echoed from club to club to the extremest provinces. The same spark lighted at once the same passion in millions of souls. All the societies corresponded with one another and with the mother society. The impulse was communicated and the response was felt every day. It was the government of factions enfolding in their nets the government of the law; but the law was mute and invisible, whilst faction was erect and eloquent. Let us imagine one of these sittings, at which the citizens, already agitated by the stormy air of the period, took their places at the close of day in one of those naves recently devoted to another worship. Some candles, brought by the affiliated, scarcely lighted up the gloomy place; naked walls, wooden benches, a tribune instead of an altar. Around this tribune some favoured orators pressed in order to speak. A crowd of citizens of all classes, of all costumes, rich, poor, soldiers, workpeople; women, to create excitement, enthusiasm, tenderness, tears whenever they enter; children, whom they raise in their arms as if to make them inspire, with their earliest breath, the feelings of an irritated people: a gloomy silence interrupted by shouts, applause, or hisses, just as the speaker is loved or hated: then inflammatory discourses shaking to the very centre by phrases of magical effect, the passions of this mob new to all the effects of eloquence. The enthusiasm real in some, feigned in others; stirring propositions, patriotic gifts, civic crowns, busts of leading republicans paraded round, symbols of superstition, and aristocracy burnt, songs loudly vociferated by demagogues in chorus at the opening of each sitting. What people, even in a time of tranquillity, could have resisted the pulsations of this fever, whose throbbings were daily renewed from the end of 1790 in every city in the kingdom? It was the rule of fanaticism preceding the reign of terror.
Thus was the Jacobin Club organised.
The club of the Cordeliers, which is sometimes confounded with that of the Jacobins, even surpassed it in turbulence and demagogism. Marat and Danton ruled there.
The moderate constitutional party had also attempted its clubs, but passion is wanting to defensive societies; it is only the offensive that groups in factions; and thus the former expired of themselves until the establishment of the Club of Feuillants. The people drove away with a shower of stones the first meeting of the deputies, at M. De Clermont Tonnerres. Barnave reproached his colleagues in the tribune, and devoted them to public execration with the same voice which had raised and rallied the Friends of the Constitution. Liberty was as yet but a partial arm, which was unblushingly broken in the hands of an opponent.