The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 9

Burial with Bonfire.

Besenval, during these extraordinary operations, of Payment two-fifths in Paper, and change of Prime Minister, had been out on a tour through his District of Command; and indeed, for the last months, peacefully drinking the waters of Contrexeville. Returning now, in the end of August, towards Moulins, and ‘knowing nothing,’ he arrives one evening at Langres; finds the whole Town in a state of uproar (grande rumeur). Doubtless some sedition; a thing too common in these days! He alights nevertheless; inquires of a ‘man tolerably dressed,’ what the matter is? — “How?” answers the man, “you have not heard the news? The Archbishop is thrown out, and M. Necker is recalled; and all is going to go well!” (Besenval, iii. 366.)

Such rumeur and vociferous acclaim has risen round M. Necker, ever from ‘that day when he issued from the Queen’s Apartments,’ a nominated Minister. It was on the 24th of August: ‘the galleries of the Chateau, the courts, the streets of Versailles; in few hours, the Capital; and, as the news flew, all France, resounded with the cry of Vive le Roi! Vive M. Necker! (Weber, i. 342.) In Paris indeed it unfortunately got the length of turbulence.’ Petards, rockets go off, in the Place Dauphine, more than enough. A ‘wicker Figure (Mannequin d’osier),’ in Archbishop’s stole, made emblematically, three-fifths of it satin, two-fifths of it paper, is promenaded, not in silence, to the popular judgment-bar; is doomed; shriven by a mock Abbe de Vermond; then solemnly consumed by fire, at the foot of Henri’s Statue on the Pont Neuf; — with such petarding and huzzaing that Chevalier Dubois and his City-watch see good finally to make a charge (more or less ineffectual); and there wanted not burning of sentry-boxes, forcing of guard-houses, and also ‘dead bodies thrown into the Seine over-night,’ to avoid new effervescence. (Histoire Parlementaire de la Revolution Francaise; ou Journal des Assemblees Nationales depuis 1789 (Paris, 1833 et seqq.), i. 253. Lameth, Assemblee Constituante, i. (Introd.) p. 89.)

Parlements therefore shall return from exile: Plenary Court, Payment two-fifths in Paper have vanished; gone off in smoke, at the foot of Henri’s Statue. States–General (with a Political Millennium) are now certain; nay, it shall be announced, in our fond haste, for January next: and all, as the Langres man said, is ‘going to go.’

To the prophetic glance of Besenval, one other thing is too apparent: that Friend Lamoignon cannot keep his Keepership. Neither he nor War-minister Comte de Brienne! Already old Foulon, with an eye to be war-minister himself, is making underground movements. This is that same Foulon named ame damnee du Parlement; a man grown gray in treachery, in griping, projecting, intriguing and iniquity: who once when it was objected, to some finance-scheme of his, “What will the people do?” — made answer, in the fire of discussion, “The people may eat grass:” hasty words, which fly abroad irrevocable, — and will send back tidings!

Foulon, to the relief of the world, fails on this occasion; and will always fail. Nevertheless it steads not M. de Lamoignon. It steads not the doomed man that he have interviews with the King; and be ‘seen to return radieux,’ emitting rays. Lamoignon is the hated of Parlements: Comte de Brienne is Brother to the Cardinal Archbishop. The 24th of August has been; and the 14th September is not yet, when they two, as their great Principal had done, descend, — made to fall soft, like him.

And now, as if the last burden had been rolled from its heart, and assurance were at length perfect, Paris bursts forth anew into extreme jubilee. The Basoche rejoices aloud, that the foe of Parlements is fallen; Nobility, Gentry, Commonalty have rejoiced; and rejoice. Nay now, with new emphasis, Rascality itself, starting suddenly from its dim depths, will arise and do it, — for down even thither the new Political Evangel, in some rude version or other, has penetrated. It is Monday, the 14th of September 1788: Rascality assembles anew, in great force, in the Place Dauphine; lets off petards, fires blunderbusses, to an incredible extent, without interval, for eighteen hours. There is again a wicker Figure, ‘Mannequin of osier:’ the centre of endless howlings. Also Necker’s Portrait snatched, or purchased, from some Printshop, is borne processionally, aloft on a perch, with huzzas; — an example to be remembered.

But chiefly on the Pont Neuf, where the Great Henri, in bronze, rides sublime; there do the crowds gather. All passengers must stop, till they have bowed to the People’s King, and said audibly: Vive Henri Quatre; au diable Lamoignon! No carriage but must stop; not even that of his Highness d’Orleans. Your coach-doors are opened: Monsieur will please to put forth his head and bow; or even, if refractory, to alight altogether, and kneel: from Madame a wave of her plumes, a smile of her fair face, there where she sits, shall suffice; — and surely a coin or two (to buy fusees) were not unreasonable from the Upper Classes, friends of Liberty? In this manner it proceeds for days; in such rude horse-play, — not without kicks. The City-watch can do nothing; hardly save its own skin: for the last twelve-month, as we have sometimes seen, it has been a kind of pastime to hunt the Watch. Besenval indeed is at hand with soldiers; but they have orders to avoid firing, and are not prompt to stir.

On Monday morning the explosion of petards began: and now it is near midnight of Wednesday; and the ‘wicker Mannequin’ is to be buried, — apparently in the Antique fashion. Long rows of torches, following it, move towards the Hotel Lamoignon; but ‘a servant of mine’ (Besenval’s) has run to give warning, and there are soldiers come. Gloomy Lamoignon is not to die by conflagration, or this night; not yet for a year, and then by gunshot (suicidal or accidental is unknown). (Histoire de la Revolution, par Deux Amis de la Liberte, i. 50.) Foiled Rascality burns its ‘Mannikin of osier,’ under his windows; ‘tears up the sentry-box,’ and rolls off: to try Brienne; to try Dubois Captain of the Watch. Now, however, all is bestirring itself; Gardes Francaises, Invalides, Horse-patrol: the Torch Procession is met with sharp shot, with the thrusting of bayonets, the slashing of sabres. Even Dubois makes a charge, with that Cavalry of his, and the cruelest charge of all: ‘there are a great many killed and wounded.’ Not without clangour, complaint; subsequent criminal trials, and official persons dying of heartbreak! (Histoire de la Revolution, par Deux Amis de la Liberte, i. 58.) So, however, with steel-besom, Rascality is brushed back into its dim depths, and the streets are swept clear.

Not for a century and half had Rascality ventured to step forth in this fashion; not for so long, showed its huge rude lineaments in the light of day. A Wonder and new Thing: as yet gamboling merely, in awkward Brobdingnag sport, not without quaintness; hardly in anger: yet in its huge half-vacant laugh lurks a shade of grimness, — which could unfold itself!

However, the thinkers invited by Lomenie are now far on with their pamphlets: States–General, on one plan or another, will infallibly meet; if not in January, as was once hoped, yet at latest in May. Old Duke de Richelieu, moribund in these autumn days, opens his eyes once more, murmuring, “What would Louis Fourteenth” (whom he remembers) “have said!” — then closes them again, forever, before the evil time.

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