The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 8

Lomenie’s Death-throes.

On the morrow, which is the 3rd of May, 1788, an astonished Parlement sits convoked; listens speechless to the speech of D’Espremenil, unfolding the infinite misdeed. Deed of treachery; of unhallowed darkness, such as Despotism loves! Denounce it, O Parlement of Paris; awaken France and the Universe; roll what thunder-barrels of forensic eloquence thou hast: with thee too it is verily Now or never!

The Parlement is not wanting, at such juncture. In the hour of his extreme jeopardy, the lion first incites himself by roaring, by lashing his sides. So here the Parlement of Paris. On the motion of D’Espremenil, a most patriotic Oath, of the One-and-all sort, is sworn, with united throat; — an excellent new-idea, which, in these coming years, shall not remain unimitated. Next comes indomitable Declaration, almost of the rights of man, at least of the rights of Parlement; Invocation to the friends of French Freedom, in this and in subsequent time. All which, or the essence of all which, is brought to paper; in a tone wherein something of plaintiveness blends with, and tempers, heroic valour. And thus, having sounded the storm-bell, — which Paris hears, which all France will hear; and hurled such defiance in the teeth of Lomenie and Despotism, the Parlement retires as from a tolerable first day’s work.

But how Lomenie felt to see his cockatrice-egg (so essential to the salvation of France) broken in this premature manner, let readers fancy! Indignant he clutches at his thunderbolts (de Cachet, of the Seal); and launches two of them: a bolt for D’Espremenil; a bolt for that busy Goeslard, whose service in the Second Twentieth and ‘strict valuation’ is not forgotten. Such bolts clutched promptly overnight, and launched with the early new morning, shall strike agitated Paris if not into requiescence, yet into wholesome astonishment.

Ministerial thunderbolts may be launched; but if they do not hit? D’Espremenil and Goeslard, warned, both of them, as is thought, by the singing of some friendly bird, elude the Lomenie Tipstaves; escape disguised through skywindows, over roofs, to their own Palais de Justice: the thunderbolts have missed. Paris (for the buzz flies abroad) is struck into astonishment not wholesome. The two martyrs of Liberty doff their disguises; don their long gowns; behold, in the space of an hour, by aid of ushers and swift runners, the Parlement, with its Counsellors, Presidents, even Peers, sits anew assembled. The assembled Parlement declares that these its two martyrs cannot be given up, to any sublunary authority; moreover that the ‘session is permanent,’ admitting of no adjournment, till pursuit of them has been relinquished.

And so, with forensic eloquence, denunciation and protest, with couriers going and returning, the Parlement, in this state of continual explosion that shall cease neither night nor day, waits the issue. Awakened Paris once more inundates those outer courts; boils, in floods wilder than ever, through all avenues. Dissonant hubbub there is; jargon as of Babel, in the hour when they were first smitten (as here) with mutual unintelligibilty, and the people had not yet dispersed!

Paris City goes through its diurnal epochs, of working and slumbering; and now, for the second time, most European and African mortals are asleep. But here, in this Whirlpool of Words, sleep falls not; the Night spreads her coverlid of Darkness over it in vain. Within is the sound of mere martyr invincibility; tempered with the due tone of plaintiveness. Without is the infinite expectant hum, — growing drowsier a little. So has it lasted for six-and-thirty hours.

But hark, through the dead of midnight, what tramp is this? Tramp as of armed men, foot and horse; Gardes Francaises, Gardes Suisses: marching hither; in silent regularity; in the flare of torchlight! There are Sappers, too, with axes and crowbars: apparently, if the doors open not, they will be forced! — It is Captain D’Agoust, missioned from Versailles. D’Agoust, a man of known firmness; — who once forced Prince Conde himself, by mere incessant looking at him, to give satisfaction and fight; (Weber, i. 283.) he now, with axes and torches is advancing on the very sanctuary of Justice. Sacrilegious; yet what help? The man is a soldier; looks merely at his orders; impassive, moves forward like an inanimate engine.

The doors open on summons, there need no axes; door after door. And now the innermost door opens; discloses the long-gowned Senators of France: a hundred and sixty-seven by tale, seventeen of them Peers; sitting there, majestic, ‘in permanent session.’ Were not the men military, and of cast-iron, this sight, this silence reechoing the clank of his own boots, might stagger him! For the hundred and sixty-seven receive him in perfect silence; which some liken to that of the Roman Senate overfallen by Brennus; some to that of a nest of coiners surprised by officers of the Police. (Besenval, iii. 355.) Messieurs, said D’Agoust, De par le Roi! Express order has charged D’Agoust with the sad duty of arresting two individuals: M. Duval d’Espremenil and M. Goeslard de Monsabert. Which respectable individuals, as he has not the honour of knowing them, are hereby invited, in the King’s name, to surrender themselves. — Profound silence! Buzz, which grows a murmur: “We are all D’Espremenils!” ventures a voice; which other voices repeat. The President inquires, Whether he will employ violence? Captain D’Agoust, honoured with his Majesty’s commission, has to execute his Majesty’s order; would so gladly do it without violence, will in any case do it; grants an august Senate space to deliberate which method they prefer. And thereupon D’Agoust, with grave military courtesy, has withdrawn for the moment.

What boots it, august Senators? All avenues are closed with fixed bayonets. Your Courier gallops to Versailles, through the dewy Night; but also gallops back again, with tidings that the order is authentic, that it is irrevocable. The outer courts simmer with idle population; but D’Agoust’s grenadier-ranks stand there as immovable floodgates: there will be no revolting to deliver you. “Messieurs!” thus spoke D’Espremenil, “when the victorious Gauls entered Rome, which they had carried by assault, the Roman Senators, clothed in their purple, sat there, in their curule chairs, with a proud and tranquil countenance, awaiting slavery or death. Such too is the lofty spectacle, which you, in this hour, offer to the universe (a l’univers), after having generously” — with much more of the like, as can still be read. (Toulongeon, i. App. 20.)

In vain, O D’Espremenil! Here is this cast-iron Captain D’Agoust, with his cast-iron military air, come back. Despotism, constraint, destruction sit waving in his plumes. D’Espremenil must fall silent; heroically give himself up, lest worst befall. Him Goeslard heroically imitates. With spoken and speechless emotion, they fling themselves into the arms of their Parlementary brethren, for a last embrace: and so amid plaudits and plaints, from a hundred and sixty-five throats; amid wavings, sobbings, a whole forest-sigh of Parlementary pathos, — they are led through winding passages, to the rear-gate; where, in the gray of the morning, two Coaches with Exempts stand waiting. There must the victims mount; bayonets menacing behind. D’Espremenil’s stern question to the populace, ‘Whether they have courage?’ is answered by silence. They mount, and roll; and neither the rising of the May sun (it is the 6th morning), nor its setting shall lighten their heart: but they fare forward continually; D’Espremenil towards the utmost Isles of Sainte Marguerite, or Hieres (supposed by some, if that is any comfort, to be Calypso’s Island); Goeslard towards the land-fortress of Pierre-en-Cize, extant then, near the City of Lyons.

Captain D’Agoust may now therefore look forward to Majorship, to Commandantship of the Tuilleries; (Montgaillard, i. 404.) — and withal vanish from History; where nevertheless he has been fated to do a notable thing. For not only are D’Espremenil and Goeslard safe whirling southward, but the Parlement itself has straightway to march out: to that also his inexorable order reaches. Gathering up their long skirts, they file out, the whole Hundred and Sixty-five of them, through two rows of unsympathetic grenadiers: a spectacle to gods and men. The people revolt not; they only wonder and grumble: also, we remark, these unsympathetic grenadiers are Gardes Francaises, — who, one day, will sympathise! In a word, the Palais de Justice is swept clear, the doors of it are locked; and D’Agoust returns to Versailles with the key in his pocket, — having, as was said, merited preferment.

As for this Parlement of Paris, now turned out to the street, we will without reluctance leave it there. The Beds of Justice it had to undergo, in the coming fortnight, at Versailles, in registering, or rather refusing to register, those new-hatched Edicts; and how it assembled in taverns and tap-rooms there, for the purpose of Protesting, (Weber, i. 299–303.) or hovered disconsolate, with outspread skirts, not knowing where to assemble; and was reduced to lodge Protest ‘with a Notary;’ and in the end, to sit still (in a state of forced ‘vacation’), and do nothing; all this, natural now, as the burying of the dead after battle, shall not concern us. The Parlement of Paris has as good as performed its part; doing and misdoing, so far, but hardly further, could it stir the world.

Lomenie has removed the evil then? Not at all: not so much as the symptom of the evil; scarcely the twelfth part of the symptom, and exasperated the other eleven! The Intendants of Provinces, the Military Commandants are at their posts, on the appointed 8th of May: but in no Parlement, if not in the single one of Douai, can these new Edicts get registered. Not peaceable signing with ink; but browbeating, bloodshedding, appeal to primary club-law! Against these Bailliages, against this Plenary Court, exasperated Themis everywhere shows face of battle; the Provincial Noblesse are of her party, and whoever hates Lomenie and the evil time; with her attorneys and Tipstaves, she enlists and operates down even to the populace. At Rennes in Brittany, where the historical Bertrand de Moleville is Intendant, it has passed from fatal continual duelling, between the military and gentry, to street-fighting; to stone-volleys and musket-shot: and still the Edicts remained unregistered. The afflicted Bretons send remonstrance to Lomenie, by a Deputation of Twelve; whom, however, Lomenie, having heard them, shuts up in the Bastille. A second larger deputation he meets, by his scouts, on the road, and persuades or frightens back. But now a third largest Deputation is indignantly sent by many roads: refused audience on arriving, it meets to take council; invites Lafayette and all Patriot Bretons in Paris to assist; agitates itself; becomes the Breton Club, first germ of — the Jacobins’ Society. (A. F. de Bertrand–Moleville, Memoires Particuliers (Paris, 1816), I. ch. i. Marmontel, Memoires, iv. 27.)

So many as eight Parlements get exiled: (Montgaillard, i. 308.) others might need that remedy, but it is one not always easy of appliance. At Grenoble, for instance, where a Mounier, a Barnave have not been idle, the Parlement had due order (by Lettres-de-Cachet) to depart, and exile itself: but on the morrow, instead of coaches getting yoked, the alarm-bell bursts forth, ominous; and peals and booms all day: crowds of mountaineers rush down, with axes, even with firelocks, — whom (most ominous of all!) the soldiery shows no eagerness to deal with. ‘Axe over head,’ the poor General has to sign capitulation; to engage that the Lettres-de-Cachet shall remain unexecuted, and a beloved Parlement stay where it is. Besancon, Dijon, Rouen, Bourdeaux, are not what they should be! At Pau in Bearn, where the old Commandant had failed, the new one (a Grammont, native to them) is met by a Procession of townsmen with the Cradle of Henri Quatre, the Palladium of their Town; is conjured as he venerates this old Tortoise-shell, in which the great Henri was rocked, not to trample on Bearnese liberty; is informed, withal, that his Majesty’s cannon are all safe — in the keeping of his Majesty’s faithful Burghers of Pau, and do now lie pointed on the walls there; ready for action! (Besenval, iii. 348.)

At this rate, your Grand Bailliages are like to have a stormy infancy. As for the Plenary Court, it has literally expired in the birth. The very Courtiers looked shy at it; old Marshal Broglie declined the honour of sitting therein. Assaulted by a universal storm of mingled ridicule and execration, (La Cour Pleniere, heroi-tragi-comedie en trois actes et en prose; jouee le 14 Juillet 1788, par une societe d’amateurs dans un Chateau aux environs de Versailles; par M. l’Abbe de Vermond, Lecteur de la Reine: A Baville (Lamoignon’s Country-house), et se trouve a Paris, chez la Veuve Liberte, a l’enseigne de la Revolution, 1788. — La Passion, la Mort et la Resurrection du Peuple: Imprime a Jerusalem, &c. &c. — See Montgaillard, i. 407.) this poor Plenary Court met once, and never any second time. Distracted country! Contention hisses up, with forked hydra-tongues, wheresoever poor Lomenie sets his foot. ‘Let a Commandant, a Commissioner of the King,’ says Weber, ‘enter one of these Parlements to have an Edict registered, the whole Tribunal will disappear, and leave the Commandant alone with the Clerk and First President. The Edict registered and the Commandant gone, the whole Tribunal hastens back, to declare such registration null. The highways are covered with Grand Deputations of Parlements, proceeding to Versailles, to have their registers expunged by the King’s hand; or returning home, to cover a new page with a new resolution still more audacious.’ (Weber, i. 275.)

Such is the France of this year 1788. Not now a Golden or Paper Age of Hope; with its horse-racings, balloon-flyings, and finer sensibilities of the heart: ah, gone is that; its golden effulgence paled, bedarkened in this singular manner, — brewing towards preternatural weather! For, as in that wreck-storm of Paul et Virginie and Saint–Pierre, — ‘One huge motionless cloud’ (say, of Sorrow and Indignation) ‘girdles our whole horizon; streams up, hairy, copper-edged, over a sky of the colour of lead.’ Motionless itself; but ‘small clouds’ (as exiled Parlements and suchlike), ‘parting from it, fly over the zenith, with the velocity of birds:’ — till at last, with one loud howl, the whole Four Winds be dashed together, and all the world exclaim, There is the tornado! Tout le monde s’ecria, Voila l’ouragan!

For the rest, in such circumstances, the Successive Loan, very naturally, remains unfilled; neither, indeed, can that impost of the Second Twentieth, at least not on ‘strict valuation,’ be levied to good purpose: ‘Lenders,’ says Weber, in his hysterical vehement manner, ‘are afraid of ruin; tax-gatherers of hanging.’ The very Clergy turn away their face: convoked in Extraordinary Assembly, they afford no gratuitous gift (don gratuit), — if it be not that of advice; here too instead of cash is clamour for States–General. (Lameth, Assemb. Const. (Introd.) p. 87.)

O Lomenie–Brienne, with thy poor flimsy mind all bewildered, and now ‘three actual cauteries’ on thy worn-out body; who art like to die of inflamation, provocation, milk-diet, dartres vives and maladie — (best untranslated); (Montgaillard, i. 424.) and presidest over a France with innumerable actual cauteries, which also is dying of inflammation and the rest! Was it wise to quit the bosky verdures of Brienne, and thy new ashlar Chateau there, and what it held, for this? Soft were those shades and lawns; sweet the hymns of Poetasters, the blandishments of high-rouged Graces: (See Memoires de Morellet.) and always this and the other Philosophe Morellet (nothing deeming himself or thee a questionable Sham–Priest) could be so happy in making happy:— and also (hadst thou known it), in the Military School hard by there sat, studying mathematics, a dusky-complexioned taciturn Boy, under the name of: NAPOLEON BONAPARTE! — With fifty years of effort, and one final dead-lift struggle, thou hast made an exchange! Thou hast got thy robe of office, — as Hercules had his Nessus’-shirt.

On the 13th of July of this 1788, there fell, on the very edge of harvest, the most frightful hailstorm; scattering into wild waste the Fruits of the Year; which had otherwise suffered grievously by drought. For sixty leagues round Paris especially, the ruin was almost total. (Marmontel, iv. 30.) To so many other evils, then, there is to be added, that of dearth, perhaps of famine.

Some days before this hailstorm, on the 5th of July; and still more decisively some days after it, on the 8th of August, — Lomenie announces that the States–General are actually to meet in the following month of May. Till after which period, this of the Plenary Court, and the rest, shall remain postponed. Further, as in Lomenie there is no plan of forming or holding these most desirable States–General, ‘thinkers are invited’ to furnish him with one, — through the medium of discussion by the public press!

What could a poor Minister do? There are still ten months of respite reserved: a sinking pilot will fling out all things, his very biscuit-bags, lead, log, compass and quadrant, before flinging out himself. It is on this principle, of sinking, and the incipient delirium of despair, that we explain likewise the almost miraculous ‘invitation to thinkers.’ Invitation to Chaos to be so kind as build, out of its tumultuous drift-wood, an Ark of Escape for him! In these cases, not invitation but command has usually proved serviceable. — The Queen stood, that evening, pensive, in a window, with her face turned towards the Garden. The Chef de Gobelet had followed her with an obsequious cup of coffee; and then retired till it were sipped. Her Majesty beckoned Dame Campan to approach: “Grand Dieu!” murmured she, with the cup in her hand, “what a piece of news will be made public to-day! The King grants States–General.” Then raising her eyes to Heaven (if Campan were not mistaken), she added: “’Tis a first beat of the drum, of ill-omen for France. This Noblesse will ruin us.” (Campan, iii. 104, 111.)

During all that hatching of the Plenary Court, while Lamoignon looked so mysterious, Besenval had kept asking him one question: Whether they had cash? To which as Lamoignon always answered (on the faith of Lomenie) that the cash was safe, judicious Besenval rejoined that then all was safe. Nevertheless, the melancholy fact is, that the royal coffers are almost getting literally void of coin. Indeed, apart from all other things this ‘invitation to thinkers,’ and the great change now at hand are enough to ‘arrest the circulation of capital,’ and forward only that of pamphlets. A few thousand gold louis are now all of money or money’s worth that remains in the King’s Treasury. With another movement as of desperation, Lomenie invites Necker to come and be Controller of Finances! Necker has other work in view than controlling Finances for Lomenie: with a dry refusal he stands taciturn; awaiting his time.

What shall a desperate Prime Minister do? He has grasped at the strongbox of the King’s Theatre: some Lottery had been set on foot for those sufferers by the hailstorm; in his extreme necessity, Lomenie lays hands even on this. (Besenval, iii. 360.) To make provision for the passing day, on any terms, will soon be impossible. — On the 16th of August, poor Weber heard, at Paris and Versailles, hawkers, ‘with a hoarse stifled tone of voice (voix etouffee, sourde)’ drawling and snuffling, through the streets, an Edict concerning Payments (such was the soft title Rivarol had contrived for it): all payments at the Royal Treasury shall be made henceforth, three-fifths in Cash, and the remaining two-fifths — in Paper bearing interest! Poor Weber almost swooned at the sound of these cracked voices, with their bodeful raven-note; and will never forget the effect it had on him. (Weber, i. 339.)

But the effect on Paris, on the world generally? From the dens of Stock-brokerage, from the heights of Political Economy, of Neckerism and Philosophism; from all articulate and inarticulate throats, rise hootings and howlings, such as ear had not yet heard. Sedition itself may be imminent! Monseigneur d’Artois, moved by Duchess Polignac, feels called to wait upon her Majesty; and explain frankly what crisis matters stand in. ‘The Queen wept;’ Brienne himself wept; — for it is now visible and palpable that he must go.

Remains only that the Court, to whom his manners and garrulities were always agreeable, shall make his fall soft. The grasping old man has already got his Archbishopship of Toulouse exchanged for the richer one of Sens: and now, in this hour of pity, he shall have the Coadjutorship for his nephew (hardly yet of due age); a Dameship of the Palace for his niece; a Regiment for her husband; for himself a red Cardinal’s-hat, a Coupe de Bois (cutting from the royal forests), and on the whole ‘from five to six hundred thousand livres of revenue:’ (Weber, i. 341.) finally, his Brother, the Comte de Brienne, shall still continue War-minister. Buckled-round with such bolsters and huge featherbeds of Promotion, let him now fall as soft as he can!

And so Lomenie departs: rich if Court-titles and Money-bonds can enrich him; but if these cannot, perhaps the poorest of all extant men. ‘Hissed at by the people of Versailles,’ he drives forth to Jardi; southward to Brienne, — for recovery of health. Then to Nice, to Italy; but shall return; shall glide to and fro, tremulous, faint-twinkling, fallen on awful times: till the Guillotine — snuff out his weak existence? Alas, worse: for it is blown out, or choked out, foully, pitiably, on the way to the Guillotine! In his Palace of Sens, rude Jacobin Bailiffs made him drink with them from his own wine-cellars, feast with them from his own larder; and on the morrow morning, the miserable old man lies dead. This is the end of Prime Minister, Cardinal Archbishop Lomenie de Brienne. Flimsier mortal was seldom fated to do as weighty a mischief; to have a life as despicable-envied, an exit as frightful. Fired, as the phrase is, with ambition: blown, like a kindled rag, the sport of winds, not this way, not that way, but of all ways, straight towards such a powder-mine, — which he kindled! Let us pity the hapless Lomenie; and forgive him; and, as soon as possible, forget him.

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