The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 7

Internecine.

What a France, through these winter months of the year 1787! The very Oeil-de-Boeuf is doleful, uncertain; with a general feeling among the Suppressed, that it were better to be in Turkey. The Wolf-hounds are suppressed, the Bear-hounds, Duke de Coigny, Duke de Polignac: in the Trianon little-heaven, her Majesty, one evening, takes Besenval’s arm; asks his candid opinion. The intrepid Besenval, — having, as he hopes, nothing of the sycophant in him, — plainly signifies that, with a Parlement in rebellion, and an Oeil-de-Boeuf in suppression, the King’s Crown is in danger; — whereupon, singular to say, her Majesty, as if hurt, changed the subject, et ne me parla plus de rien! (Besenval, iii. 264.)

To whom, indeed, can this poor Queen speak? In need of wise counsel, if ever mortal was; yet beset here only by the hubbub of chaos! Her dwelling-place is so bright to the eye, and confusion and black care darkens it all. Sorrows of the Sovereign, sorrows of the woman, think-coming sorrows environ her more and more. Lamotte, the Necklace–Countess, has in these late months escaped, perhaps been suffered to escape, from the Salpetriere. Vain was the hope that Paris might thereby forget her; and this ever-widening-lie, and heap of lies, subside. The Lamotte, with a V (for Voleuse, Thief) branded on both shoulders, has got to England; and will therefrom emit lie on lie; defiling the highest queenly name: mere distracted lies; (Memoires justificatifs de la Comtesse de Lamotte (London, 1788). Vie de Jeanne de St. Remi, Comtesse de Lamotte, &c. &c. See Diamond Necklace (ut supra).) which, in its present humour, France will greedily believe.

For the rest, it is too clear our Successive Loan is not filling. As indeed, in such circumstances, a Loan registered by expunging of Protests was not the likeliest to fill. Denunciation of Lettres-de-Cachet, of Despotism generally, abates not: the Twelve Parlements are busy; the Twelve hundred Placarders, Balladsingers, Pamphleteers. Paris is what, in figurative speech, they call ‘flooded with pamphlets (regorge de brochures);’ flooded and eddying again. Hot deluge, — from so many Patriot ready-writers, all at the fervid or boiling point; each ready-writer, now in the hour of eruption, going like an Iceland Geyser! Against which what can a judicious friend Morellet do; a Rivarol, an unruly Linguet (well paid for it), — spouting cold!

Now also, at length, does come discussion of the Protestant Edict: but only for new embroilment; in pamphlet and counter-pamphlet, increasing the madness of men. Not even Orthodoxy, bedrid as she seemed, but will have a hand in this confusion. She, once again in the shape of Abbe Lenfant, ‘whom Prelates drive to visit and congratulate,’ — raises audible sound from her pulpit-drum. (Lacretelle, iii. 343. Montgaillard, &c.) Or mark how D’Espremenil, who has his own confused way in all things, produces at the right moment in Parlementary harangue, a pocket Crucifix, with the apostrophe: “Will ye crucify him afresh?” Him, O D’Espremenil, without scruple; — considering what poor stuff, of ivory and filigree, he is made of!

To all which add only that poor Brienne has fallen sick; so hard was the tear and wear of his sinful youth, so violent, incessant is this agitation of his foolish old age. Baited, bayed at through so many throats, his Grace, growing consumptive, inflammatory (with humeur de dartre), lies reduced to milk diet; in exasperation, almost in desperation; with ‘repose,’ precisely the impossible recipe, prescribed as the indispensable. (Besenval, iii. 317.)

On the whole, what can a poor Government do, but once more recoil ineffectual? The King’s Treasury is running towards the lees; and Paris ‘eddies with a flood of pamphlets.’ At all rates, let the latter subside a little! D’Orleans gets back to Raincy, which is nearer Paris and the fair frail Buffon; finally to Paris itself: neither are Freteau and Sabatier banished forever. The Protestant Edict is registered; to the joy of Boissy d’Anglas and good Malesherbes: Successive Loan, all protests expunged or else withdrawn, remains open, — the rather as few or none come to fill it. States–General, for which the Parlement has clamoured, and now the whole Nation clamours, will follow ‘in five years,’ — if indeed not sooner. O Parlement of Paris, what a clamour was that! “Messieurs,” said old d’Ormesson, “you will get States–General, and you will repent it.” Like the Horse in the Fable, who, to be avenged of his enemy, applied to the Man. The Man mounted; did swift execution on the enemy; but, unhappily, would not dismount! Instead of five years, let three years pass, and this clamorous Parlement shall have both seen its enemy hurled prostrate, and been itself ridden to foundering (say rather, jugulated for hide and shoes), and lie dead in the ditch.

Under such omens, however, we have reached the spring of 1788. By no path can the King’s Government find passage for itself, but is everywhere shamefully flung back. Beleaguered by Twelve rebellious Parlements, which are grown to be the organs of an angry Nation, it can advance nowhither; can accomplish nothing, obtain nothing, not so much as money to subsist on; but must sit there, seemingly, to be eaten up of Deficit.

The measure of the Iniquity, then, of the Falsehood which has been gathering through long centuries, is nearly full? At least, that of the misery is! For the hovels of the Twenty-five Millions, the misery, permeating upwards and forwards, as its law is, has got so far, — to the very Oeil-de-Boeuf of Versailles. Man’s hand, in this blind pain, is set against man: not only the low against the higher, but the higher against each other; Provincial Noblesse is bitter against Court Noblesse; Robe against Sword; Rochet against Pen. But against the King’s Government who is not bitter? Not even Besenval, in these days. To it all men and bodies of men are become as enemies; it is the centre whereon infinite contentions unite and clash. What new universal vertiginous movement is this; of Institution, social Arrangements, individual Minds, which once worked cooperative; now rolling and grinding in distracted collision? Inevitable: it is the breaking-up of a World–Solecism, worn out at last, down even to bankruptcy of money! And so this poor Versailles Court, as the chief or central Solecism, finds all the other Solecisms arrayed against it. Most natural! For your human Solecism, be it Person or Combination of Persons, is ever, by law of Nature, uneasy; if verging towards bankruptcy, it is even miserable:— and when would the meanest Solecism consent to blame or amend itself, while there remained another to amend?

These threatening signs do not terrify Lomenie, much less teach him. Lomenie, though of light nature, is not without courage, of a sort. Nay, have we not read of lightest creatures, trained Canary-birds, that could fly cheerfully with lighted matches, and fire cannon; fire whole powder-magazines? To sit and die of deficit is no part of Lomenie’s plan. The evil is considerable; but can he not remove it, can he not attack it? At lowest, he can attack the symptom of it: these rebellious Parlements he can attack, and perhaps remove. Much is dim to Lomenie, but two things are clear: that such Parlementary duel with Royalty is growing perilous, nay internecine; above all, that money must be had. Take thought, brave Lomenie; thou Garde-des-Sceaux Lamoignon, who hast ideas! So often defeated, balked cruelly when the golden fruit seemed within clutch, rally for one other struggle. To tame the Parlement, to fill the King’s coffers: these are now life-and-death questions.

Parlements have been tamed, more than once. Set to perch ‘on the peaks of rocks in accessible except by litters,’ a Parlement grows reasonable. O Maupeou, thou bold man, had we left thy work where it was! — But apart from exile, or other violent methods, is there not one method, whereby all things are tamed, even lions? The method of hunger! What if the Parlement’s supplies were cut off; namely its Lawsuits!

Minor Courts, for the trying of innumerable minor causes, might be instituted: these we could call Grand Bailliages. Whereon the Parlement, shortened of its prey, would look with yellow despair; but the Public, fond of cheap justice, with favour and hope. Then for Finance, for registering of Edicts, why not, from our own Oeil-de-Boeuf Dignitaries, our Princes, Dukes, Marshals, make a thing we could call Plenary Court; and there, so to speak, do our registering ourselves? St. Louis had his Plenary Court, of Great Barons; (Montgaillard, i. 405.) most useful to him: our Great Barons are still here (at least the Name of them is still here); our necessity is greater than his.

Such is the Lomenie–Lamoignon device; welcome to the King’s Council, as a light-beam in great darkness. The device seems feasible, it is eminently needful: be it once well executed, great deliverance is wrought. Silent, then, and steady; now or never! — the World shall see one other Historical Scene; and so singular a man as Lomenie de Brienne still the Stage-manager there.

Behold, accordingly, a Home–Secretary Breteuil ‘beautifying Paris,’ in the peaceablest manner, in this hopeful spring weather of 1788; the old hovels and hutches disappearing from our Bridges: as if for the State too there were halcyon weather, and nothing to do but beautify. Parlement seems to sit acknowledged victor. Brienne says nothing of Finance; or even says, and prints, that it is all well. How is this; such halcyon quiet; though the Successive Loan did not fill? In a victorious Parlement, Counsellor Goeslard de Monsabert even denounces that ‘levying of the Second Twentieth on strict valuation;’ and gets decree that the valuation shall not be strict, — not on the privileged classes. Nevertheless Brienne endures it, launches no Lettre-de-Cachet against it. How is this?

Smiling is such vernal weather; but treacherous, sudden! For one thing, we hear it whispered, ‘the Intendants of Provinces ‘have all got order to be at their posts on a certain day.’ Still more singular, what incessant Printing is this that goes on at the King’s Chateau, under lock and key? Sentries occupy all gates and windows; the Printers come not out; they sleep in their workrooms; their very food is handed in to them! (Weber, i. 276.) A victorious Parlement smells new danger. D’Espremenil has ordered horses to Versailles; prowls round that guarded Printing–Office; prying, snuffing, if so be the sagacity and ingenuity of man may penetrate it.

To a shower of gold most things are penetrable. D’Espremenil descends on the lap of a Printer’s Danae, in the shape of ‘five hundred louis d’or:’ the Danae’s Husband smuggles a ball of clay to her; which she delivers to the golden Counsellor of Parlement. Kneaded within it, their stick printed proof-sheets; — by Heaven! the royal Edict of that same self-registering Plenary Court; of those Grand Bailliages that shall cut short our Lawsuits! It is to be promulgated over all France on one and the same day.

This, then, is what the Intendants were bid wait for at their posts: this is what the Court sat hatching, as its accursed cockatrice-egg; and would not stir, though provoked, till the brood were out! Hie with it, D’Espremenil, home to Paris; convoke instantaneous Sessions; let the Parlement, and the Earth, and the Heavens know it.

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