The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 5

Lomenie’s Thunderbolts.

Arise, Lomenie–Brienne: here is no case for ‘Letters of Jussion;’ for faltering or compromise. Thou seest the whole loose fluent population of Paris (whatsoever is not solid, and fixed to work) inundating these outer courts, like a loud destructive deluge; the very Basoche of Lawyers’ Clerks talks sedition. The lower classes, in this duel of Authority with Authority, Greek throttling Greek, have ceased to respect the City–Watch: Police-satellites are marked on the back with chalk (the M signifies mouchard, spy); they are hustled, hunted like ferae naturae. Subordinate rural Tribunals send messengers of congratulation, of adherence. Their Fountain of Justice is becoming a Fountain of Revolt. The Provincial Parlements look on, with intent eye, with breathless wishes, while their elder sister of Paris does battle: the whole Twelve are of one blood and temper; the victory of one is that of all.

Ever worse it grows: on the 10th of August, there is ‘Plainte’ emitted touching the ‘prodigalities of Calonne,’ and permission to ‘proceed’ against him. No registering, but instead of it, denouncing: of dilapidation, peculation; and ever the burden of the song, States–General! Have the royal armories no thunderbolt, that thou couldst, O Lomenie, with red right-hand, launch it among these Demosthenic theatrical thunder-barrels, mere resin and noise for most part; — and shatter, and smite them silent? On the night of the 14th of August, Lomenie launches his thunderbolt, or handful of them. Letters named of the Seal (de Cachet), as many as needful, some sixscore and odd, are delivered overnight. And so, next day betimes, the whole Parlement, once more set on wheels, is rolling incessantly towards Troyes in Champagne; ‘escorted,’ says History, ‘with the blessings of all people;’ the very innkeepers and postillions looking gratuitously reverent. (A. Lameth, Histoire de l’Assemblee Constituante (Int. 73).) This is the 15th of August 1787.

What will not people bless; in their extreme need? Seldom had the Parlement of Paris deserved much blessing, or received much. An isolated Body-corporate, which, out of old confusions (while the Sceptre of the Sword was confusedly struggling to become a Sceptre of the Pen), had got itself together, better and worse, as Bodies-corporate do, to satisfy some dim desire of the world, and many clear desires of individuals; and so had grown, in the course of centuries, on concession, on acquirement and usurpation, to be what we see it: a prosperous social Anomaly, deciding Lawsuits, sanctioning or rejecting Laws; and withal disposing of its places and offices by sale for ready money, — which method sleek President Henault, after meditation, will demonstrate to be the indifferent-best. (Abrege Chronologique, p. 975.)

In such a Body, existing by purchase for ready-money, there could not be excess of public spirit; there might well be excess of eagerness to divide the public spoil. Men in helmets have divided that, with swords; men in wigs, with quill and inkhorn, do divide it: and even more hatefully these latter, if more peaceably; for the wig-method is at once irresistibler and baser. By long experience, says Besenval, it has been found useless to sue a Parlementeer at law; no Officer of Justice will serve a writ on one; his wig and gown are his Vulcan’s-panoply, his enchanted cloak-of-darkness.

The Parlement of Paris may count itself an unloved body; mean, not magnanimous, on the political side. Were the King weak, always (as now) has his Parlement barked, cur-like at his heels; with what popular cry there might be. Were he strong, it barked before his face; hunting for him as his alert beagle. An unjust Body; where foul influences have more than once worked shameful perversion of judgment. Does not, in these very days, the blood of murdered Lally cry aloud for vengeance? Baited, circumvented, driven mad like the snared lion, Valour had to sink extinguished under vindictive Chicane. Behold him, that hapless Lally, his wild dark soul looking through his wild dark face; trailed on the ignominious death-hurdle; the voice of his despair choked by a wooden gag! The wild fire-soul that has known only peril and toil; and, for threescore years, has buffeted against Fate’s obstruction and men’s perfidy, like genius and courage amid poltroonery, dishonesty and commonplace; faithfully enduring and endeavouring, — O Parlement of Paris, dost thou reward it with a gibbet and a gag? (9th May, 1766: Biographie Universelle, para Lally.) The dying Lally bequeathed his memory to his boy; a young Lally has arisen, demanding redress in the name of God and man. The Parlement of Paris does its utmost to defend the indefensible, abominable; nay, what is singular, dusky-glowing Aristogiton d’Espremenil is the man chosen to be its spokesman in that.

Such Social Anomaly is it that France now blesses. An unclean Social Anomaly; but in duel against another worse! The exiled Parlement is felt to have ‘covered itself with glory.’ There are quarrels in which even Satan, bringing help, were not unwelcome; even Satan, fighting stiffly, might cover himself with glory, — of a temporary sort.

But what a stir in the outer courts of the Palais, when Paris finds its Parlement trundled off to Troyes in Champagne; and nothing left but a few mute Keepers of records; the Demosthenic thunder become extinct, the martyrs of liberty clean gone! Confused wail and menace rises from the four thousand throats of Procureurs, Basoche–Clerks, Nondescripts, and Anglomaniac Noblesse; ever new idlers crowd to see and hear; Rascality, with increasing numbers and vigour, hunts mouchards. Loud whirlpool rolls through these spaces; the rest of the City, fixed to its work, cannot yet go rolling. Audacious placards are legible, in and about the Palais, the speeches are as good as seditious. Surely the temper of Paris is much changed. On the third day of this business (18th of August), Monsieur and Monseigneur d’Artois, coming in state-carriages, according to use and wont, to have these late obnoxious Arretes and protests ‘expunged’ from the Records, are received in the most marked manner. Monsieur, who is thought to be in opposition, is met with vivats and strewed flowers; Monseigneur, on the other hand, with silence; with murmurs, which rise to hisses and groans; nay, an irreverent Rascality presses towards him in floods, with such hissing vehemence, that the Captain of the Guards has to give order, “Haut les armes (Handle arms)!” — at which thunder-word, indeed, and the flash of the clear iron, the Rascal-flood recoils, through all avenues, fast enough. (Montgaillard, i. 369. Besenval, &c.) New features these. Indeed, as good M. de Malesherbes pertinently remarks, “it is a quite new kind of contest this with the Parlement:” no transitory sputter, as from collision of hard bodies; but more like “the first sparks of what, if not quenched, may become a great conflagration.” (Montgaillard, i. 373.)

This good Malesherbes sees himself now again in the King’s Council, after an absence of ten years: Lomenie would profit if not by the faculties of the man, yet by the name he has. As for the man’s opinion, it is not listened to; — wherefore he will soon withdraw, a second time; back to his books and his trees. In such King’s Council what can a good man profit? Turgot tries it not a second time: Turgot has quitted France and this Earth, some years ago; and now cares for none of these things. Singular enough: Turgot, this same Lomenie, and the Abbe Morellet were once a trio of young friends; fellow-scholars in the Sorbonne. Forty new years have carried them severally thus far.

Meanwhile the Parlement sits daily at Troyes, calling cases; and daily adjourns, no Procureur making his appearance to plead. Troyes is as hospitable as could be looked for: nevertheless one has comparatively a dull life. No crowds now to carry you, shoulder-high, to the immortal gods; scarcely a Patriot or two will drive out so far, and bid you be of firm courage. You are in furnished lodgings, far from home and domestic comfort: little to do, but wander over the unlovely Champagne fields; seeing the grapes ripen; taking counsel about the thousand-times consulted: a prey to tedium; in danger even that Paris may forget you. Messengers come and go: pacific Lomenie is not slack in negotiating, promising; D’Ormesson and the prudent elder Members see no good in strife.

After a dull month, the Parlement, yielding and retaining, makes truce, as all Parlements must. The Stamp-tax is withdrawn: the Subvention Land-tax is also withdrawn; but, in its stead, there is granted, what they call a ‘Prorogation of the Second Twentieth,’ — itself a kind of Land-tax, but not so oppressive to the Influential classes; which lies mainly on the Dumb class. Moreover, secret promises exist (on the part of the Elders), that finances may be raised by Loan. Of the ugly word States–General there shall be no mention.

And so, on the 20th of September, our exiled Parlement returns: D’Espremenil said, ‘it went out covered with glory, but had come back covered with mud (de boue).’ Not so, Aristogiton; or if so, thou surely art the man to clean it.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30