The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

The Procession.

On the first Saturday of May, it is gala at Versailles; and Monday, fourth of the month, is to be a still greater day. The Deputies have mostly got thither, and sought out lodgings; and are now successively, in long well-ushered files, kissing the hand of Majesty in the Chateau. Supreme Usher de Breze does not give the highest satisfaction: we cannot but observe that in ushering Noblesse or Clergy into the anointed Presence, he liberally opens both his folding-doors; and on the other hand, for members of the Third Estate opens only one! However, there is room to enter; Majesty has smiles for all.

The good Louis welcomes his Honourable Members, with smiles of hope. He has prepared for them the Hall of Menus, the largest near him; and often surveyed the workmen as they went on. A spacious Hall: with raised platform for Throne, Court and Blood-royal; space for six hundred Commons Deputies in front; for half as many Clergy on this hand, and half as many Noblesse on that. It has lofty galleries; wherefrom dames of honour, splendent in gaze d’or; foreign Diplomacies, and other gilt-edged white-frilled individuals to the number of two thousand, — may sit and look. Broad passages flow through it; and, outside the inner wall, all round it. There are committee-rooms, guard-rooms, robing-rooms: really a noble Hall; where upholstery, aided by the subject fine-arts, has done its best; and crimson tasseled cloths, and emblematic fleurs-de-lys are not wanting.

The Hall is ready: the very costume, as we said, has been settled; and the Commons are not to wear that hated slouch-hat (chapeau clabaud), but one not quite so slouched (chapeau rabattu). As for their manner of working, when all dressed: for their ‘voting by head or by order’ and the rest, — this, which it were perhaps still time to settle, and in few hours will be no longer time, remains unsettled; hangs dubious in the breast of Twelve Hundred men.

But now finally the Sun, on Monday the 4th of May, has risen; — unconcerned, as if it were no special day. And yet, as his first rays could strike music from the Memnon’s Statue on the Nile, what tones were these, so thrilling, tremulous of preparation and foreboding, which he awoke in every bosom at Versailles! Huge Paris, in all conceivable and inconceivable vehicles, is pouring itself forth; from each Town and Village come subsidiary rills; Versailles is a very sea of men. But above all, from the Church of St. Louis to the Church of Notre–Dame: one vast suspended-billow of Life, — with spray scattered even to the chimney-pots! For on chimney-tops too, as over the roofs, and up thitherwards on every lamp-iron, sign-post, breakneck coign of vantage, sits patriotic Courage; and every window bursts with patriotic Beauty: for the Deputies are gathering at St. Louis Church; to march in procession to Notre–Dame, and hear sermon.

Yes, friends, ye may sit and look: boldly or in thought, all France, and all Europe, may sit and look; for it is a day like few others. Oh, one might weep like Xerxes:— So many serried rows sit perched there; like winged creatures, alighted out of Heaven: all these, and so many more that follow them, shall have wholly fled aloft again, vanishing into the blue Deep; and the memory of this day still be fresh. It is the baptism-day of Democracy; sick Time has given it birth, the numbered months being run. The extreme-unction day of Feudalism! A superannuated System of Society, decrepit with toils (for has it not done much; produced you, and what ye have and know!) — and with thefts and brawls, named glorious-victories; and with profligacies, sensualities, and on the whole with dotage and senility, — is now to die: and so, with death-throes and birth-throes, a new one is to be born. What a work, O Earth and Heavens, what a work! Battles and bloodshed, September Massacres, Bridges of Lodi, retreats of Moscow, Waterloos, Peterloos, Tenpound Franchises, Tarbarrels and Guillotines; — and from this present date, if one might prophesy, some two centuries of it still to fight! Two centuries; hardly less; before Democracy go through its due, most baleful, stages of Quackocracy; and a pestilential World be burnt up, and have begun to grow green and young again.

Rejoice nevertheless, ye Versailles multitudes; to you, from whom all this is hid, and glorious end of it is visible. This day, sentence of death is pronounced on Shams; judgment of resuscitation, were it but far off, is pronounced on Realities. This day it is declared aloud, as with a Doom-trumpet, that a Lie is unbelievable. Believe that, stand by that, if more there be not; and let what thing or things soever will follow it follow. ‘Ye can no other; God be your help!’ So spake a greater than any of you; opening his Chapter of World–History.

Behold, however! The doors of St. Louis Church flung wide; and the Procession of Processions advancing towards Notre–Dame! Shouts rend the air; one shout, at which Grecian birds might drop dead. It is indeed a stately, solemn sight. The Elected of France, and then the Court of France; they are marshalled and march there, all in prescribed place and costume. Our Commons ‘in plain black mantle and white cravat;’ Noblesse, in gold-worked, bright-dyed cloaks of velvet, resplendent, rustling with laces, waving with plumes; the Clergy in rochet, alb, or other best pontificalibus: lastly comes the King himself, and King’s Household, also in their brightest blaze of pomp, — their brightest and final one. Some Fourteen Hundred Men blown together from all winds, on the deepest errand.

Yes, in that silent marching mass there lies Futurity enough. No symbolic Ark, like the old Hebrews, do these men bear: yet with them too is a Covenant; they too preside at a new Era in the History of Men. The whole Future is there, and Destiny dim-brooding over it; in the hearts and unshaped thoughts of these men, it lies illegible, inevitable. Singular to think: they have it in them; yet not they, not mortal, only the Eye above can read it, — as it shall unfold itself, in fire and thunder, of siege, and field-artillery; in the rustling of battle-banners, the tramp of hosts, in the glow of burning cities, the shriek of strangled nations! Such things lie hidden, safe-wrapt in this Fourth day of May; — say rather, had lain in some other unknown day, of which this latter is the public fruit and outcome. As indeed what wonders lie in every Day, — had we the sight, as happily we have not, to decipher it: for is not every meanest Day ‘the conflux of two Eternities!’

Meanwhile, suppose we too, good Reader, should, as now without miracle Muse Clio enables us — take our station also on some coign of vantage; and glance momentarily over this Procession, and this Life-sea; with far other eyes than the rest do, namely with prophetic? We can mount, and stand there, without fear of falling.

As for the Life-sea, or onlooking unnumbered Multitude, it is unfortunately all-too dim. Yet as we gaze fixedly, do not nameless Figures not a few, which shall not always be nameless, disclose themselves; visible or presumable there! Young Baroness de Stael — she evidently looks from a window; among older honourable women. (Madame de Stael, Considerations sur la Revolution Francaise (London, 1818), i. 114–191.) Her father is Minister, and one of the gala personages; to his own eyes the chief one. Young spiritual Amazon, thy rest is not there; nor thy loved Father’s: ‘as Malebranche saw all things in God, so M. Necker sees all things in Necker,’ — a theorem that will not hold.

But where is the brown-locked, light-behaved, fire-hearted Demoiselle Theroigne? Brown eloquent Beauty; who, with thy winged words and glances, shalt thrill rough bosoms, whole steel battalions, and persuade an Austrian Kaiser, — pike and helm lie provided for thee in due season; and, alas, also strait-waistcoat and long lodging in the Salpetriere! Better hadst thou staid in native Luxemburg, and been the mother of some brave man’s children: but it was not thy task, it was not thy lot.

Of the rougher sex how, without tongue, or hundred tongues, of iron, enumerate the notabilities! Has not Marquis Valadi hastily quitted his quaker broadbrim; his Pythagorean Greek in Wapping, and the city of Glasgow? (Founders of the French Republic (London, 1798), para Valadi.) De Morande from his Courrier de l’Europe; Linguet from his Annales, they looked eager through the London fog, and became Ex–Editors, — that they might feed the guillotine, and have their due. Does Louvet (of Faublas) stand a-tiptoe? And Brissot, hight De Warville, friend of the Blacks? He, with Marquis Condorcet, and Claviere the Genevese ‘have created the Moniteur Newspaper,’ or are about creating it. Able Editors must give account of such a day.

Or seest thou with any distinctness, low down probably, not in places of honour, a Stanislas Maillard, riding-tipstaff (huissier a cheval) of the Chatelet; one of the shiftiest of men? A Captain Hulin of Geneva, Captain Elie of the Queen’s Regiment; both with an air of half-pay? Jourdan, with tile-coloured whiskers, not yet with tile-beard; an unjust dealer in mules? He shall be, in a few months, Jourdan the Headsman, and have other work.

Surely also, in some place not of honour, stands or sprawls up querulous, that he too, though short, may see, — one squalidest bleared mortal, redolent of soot and horse-drugs: Jean Paul Marat of Neuchatel! O Marat, Renovator of Human Science, Lecturer on Optics; O thou remarkablest Horseleech, once in D’Artois’ Stables, — as thy bleared soul looks forth, through thy bleared, dull-acrid, wo-stricken face, what sees it in all this? Any faintest light of hope; like dayspring after Nova–Zembla night? Or is it but blue sulphur-light, and spectres; woe, suspicion, revenge without end?

Of Draper Lecointre, how he shut his cloth-shop hard by, and stepped forth, one need hardly speak. Nor of Santerre, the sonorous Brewer from the Faubourg St. Antoine. Two other Figures, and only two, we signalise there. The huge, brawny, Figure; through whose black brows, and rude flattened face (figure ecrasee), there looks a waste energy as of Hercules not yet furibund, — he is an esurient, unprovided Advocate; Danton by name: him mark. Then that other, his slight-built comrade and craft-brother; he with the long curling locks; with the face of dingy blackguardism, wondrously irradiated with genius, as if a naphtha-lamp burnt within it: that Figure is Camille Desmoulins. A fellow of infinite shrewdness, wit, nay humour; one of the sprightliest clearest souls in all these millions. Thou poor Camille, say of thee what they may, it were but falsehood to pretend one did not almost love thee, thou headlong lightly-sparkling man! But the brawny, not yet furibund Figure, we say, is Jacques Danton; a name that shall be ‘tolerably known in the Revolution.’ He is President of the electoral Cordeliers District at Paris, or about to be it; and shall open his lungs of brass.

We dwell no longer on the mixed shouting Multitude: for now, behold, the Commons Deputies are at hand!

Which of these Six Hundred individuals, in plain white cravat, that have come up to regenerate France, might one guess would become their king? For a king or leader they, as all bodies of men, must have: be their work what it may, there is one man there who, by character, faculty, position, is fittest of all to do it; that man, as future not yet elected king, walks there among the rest. He with the thick black locks, will it be? With the hure, as himself calls it, or black boar’s-head, fit to be ‘shaken’ as a senatorial portent? Through whose shaggy beetle-brows, and rough-hewn, seamed, carbuncled face, there look natural ugliness, small-pox, incontinence, bankruptcy, — and burning fire of genius; like comet-fire glaring fuliginous through murkiest confusions? It is Gabriel Honore Riquetti de Mirabeau, the world-compeller; man-ruling Deputy of Aix! According to the Baroness de Stael, he steps proudly along, though looked at askance here, and shakes his black chevelure, or lion’s-mane; as if prophetic of great deeds.

Yes, Reader, that is the Type–Frenchman of this epoch; as Voltaire was of the last. He is French in his aspirations, acquisitions, in his virtues, in his vices; perhaps more French than any other man; — and intrinsically such a mass of manhood too. Mark him well. The National Assembly were all different without that one; nay, he might say with the old Despot: “The National Assembly? I am that.”

Of a southern climate, of wild southern blood: for the Riquettis, or Arighettis, had to fly from Florence and the Guelfs, long centuries ago, and settled in Provence; where from generation to generation they have ever approved themselves a peculiar kindred: irascible, indomitable, sharp-cutting, true, like the steel they wore; of an intensity and activity that sometimes verged towards madness, yet did not reach it. One ancient Riquetti, in mad fulfilment of a mad vow, chains two Mountains together; and the chain, with its ‘iron star of five rays,’ is still to be seen. May not a modern Riquetti unchain so much, and set it drifting, — which also shall be seen?

Destiny has work for that swart burly-headed Mirabeau; Destiny has watched over him, prepared him from afar. Did not his Grandfather, stout Col. d’Argent (Silver–Stock, so they named him), shattered and slashed by seven-and-twenty wounds in one fell day lie sunk together on the Bridge at Casano; while Prince Eugene’s cavalry galloped and regalloped over him, — only the flying sergeant had thrown a camp-kettle over that loved head; and Vendome, dropping his spyglass, moaned out, ‘Mirabeau is dead, then!’ Nevertheless he was not dead: he awoke to breathe, and miraculous surgery; — for Gabriel was yet to be. With his silver stock he kept his scarred head erect, through long years; and wedded; and produced tough Marquis Victor, the Friend of Men. Whereby at last in the appointed year 1749, this long-expected rough-hewn Gabriel Honore did likewise see the light: roughest lion’s-whelp ever littered of that rough breed. How the old lion (for our old Marquis too was lion-like, most unconquerable, kingly-genial, most perverse) gazed wonderingly on his offspring; and determined to train him as no lion had yet been! It is in vain, O Marquis! This cub, though thou slay him and flay him, will not learn to draw in dogcart of Political Economy, and be a Friend of Men; he will not be Thou, must and will be Himself, another than Thou. Divorce lawsuits, ‘whole family save one in prison, and three-score Lettres-de-Cachet’ for thy own sole use, do but astonish the world.

Our Luckless Gabriel, sinned against and sinning, has been in the Isle of Rhe, and heard the Atlantic from his tower; in the Castle of If, and heard the Mediterranean at Marseilles. He has been in the Fortress of Joux; and forty-two months, with hardly clothing to his back, in the Dungeon of Vincennes; — all by Lettre-de-Cachet, from his lion father. He has been in Pontarlier Jails (self-constituted prisoner); was noticed fording estuaries of the sea (at low water), in flight from the face of men. He has pleaded before Aix Parlements (to get back his wife); the public gathering on roofs, to see since they could not hear: “the clatter-teeth (claque-dents)!” snarles singular old Mirabeau; discerning in such admired forensic eloquence nothing but two clattering jaw-bones, and a head vacant, sonorous, of the drum species.

But as for Gabriel Honore, in these strange wayfarings, what has he not seen and tried! From drill-sergeants, to prime-ministers, to foreign and domestic booksellers, all manner of men he has seen. All manner of men he has gained; for at bottom it is a social, loving heart, that wild unconquerable one:— more especially all manner of women. From the Archer’s Daughter at Saintes to that fair young Sophie Madame Monnier, whom he could not but ‘steal,’ and be beheaded for — in effigy! For indeed hardly since the Arabian Prophet lay dead to Ali’s admiration, was there seen such a Love-hero, with the strength of thirty men. In War, again, he has helped to conquer Corsica; fought duels, irregular brawls; horsewhipped calumnious barons. In Literature, he has written on Despotism, on Lettres-de-Cachet; Erotics Sapphic–Werterean, Obscenities, Profanities; Books on the Prussian Monarchy, on Cagliostro, on Calonne, on the Water Companies of Paris:— each book comparable, we will say, to a bituminous alarum-fire; huge, smoky, sudden! The firepan, the kindling, the bitumen were his own; but the lumber, of rags, old wood and nameless combustible rubbish (for all is fuel to him), was gathered from huckster, and ass-panniers, of every description under heaven. Whereby, indeed, hucksters enough have been heard to exclaim: Out upon it, the fire is mine!

Nay, consider it more generally, seldom had man such a talent for borrowing. The idea, the faculty of another man he can make his; the man himself he can make his. “All reflex and echo (tout de reflet et de reverbere)!” snarls old Mirabeau, who can see, but will not. Crabbed old Friend of Men! it is his sociality, his aggregative nature; and will now be the quality of all for him. In that forty-years ‘struggle against despotism,’ he has gained the glorious faculty of self-help, and yet not lost the glorious natural gift of fellowship, of being helped. Rare union! This man can live self-sufficing — yet lives also in the life of other men; can make men love him, work with him: a born king of men!

But consider further how, as the old Marquis still snarls, he has “made away with (hume, swallowed) all Formulas;" — a fact which, if we meditate it, will in these days mean much. This is no man of system, then; he is only a man of instincts and insights. A man nevertheless who will glare fiercely on any object; and see through it, and conquer it: for he has intellect, he has will, force beyond other men. A man not with logic-spectacles; but with an eye! Unhappily without Decalogue, moral Code or Theorem of any fixed sort; yet not without a strong living Soul in him, and Sincerity there: a Reality, not an Artificiality, not a Sham! And so he, having struggled ‘forty years against despotism,’ and ‘made away with all formulas,’ shall now become the spokesman of a Nation bent to do the same. For is it not precisely the struggle of France also to cast off despotism; to make away with her old formulas, — having found them naught, worn out, far from the reality? She will make away with such formulas; — and even go bare, if need be, till she have found new ones.

Towards such work, in such manner, marches he, this singular Riquetti Mirabeau. In fiery rough figure, with black Samson-locks under the slouch-hat, he steps along there. A fiery fuliginous mass, which could not be choked and smothered, but would fill all France with smoke. And now it has got air; it will burn its whole substance, its whole smoke-atmosphere too, and fill all France with flame. Strange lot! Forty years of that smouldering, with foul fire-damp and vapour enough, then victory over that; — and like a burning mountain he blazes heaven-high; and, for twenty-three resplendent months, pours out, in flame and molten fire-torrents, all that is in him, the Pharos and Wonder-sign of an amazed Europe; — and then lies hollow, cold forever! Pass on, thou questionable Gabriel Honore, the greatest of them all: in the whole National Deputies, in the whole Nation, there is none like and none second to thee.

But now if Mirabeau is the greatest, who of these Six Hundred may be the meanest? Shall we say, that anxious, slight, ineffectual-looking man, under thirty, in spectacles; his eyes (were the glasses off) troubled, careful; with upturned face, snuffing dimly the uncertain future-time; complexion of a multiplex atrabiliar colour, the final shade of which may be the pale sea-green. (See De Stael, Considerations (ii. 142); Barbaroux, Memoires, &c.) That greenish-coloured (verdatre) individual is an Advocate of Arras; his name is Maximilien Robespierre. The son of an Advocate; his father founded mason-lodges under Charles Edward, the English Prince or Pretender. Maximilien the first-born was thriftily educated; he had brisk Camille Desmoulins for schoolmate in the College of Louis le Grand, at Paris. But he begged our famed Necklace–Cardinal, Rohan, the patron, to let him depart thence, and resign in favour of a younger brother. The strict-minded Max departed; home to paternal Arras; and even had a Law-case there and pleaded, not unsuccessfully, ‘in favour of the first Franklin thunder-rod.’ With a strict painful mind, an understanding small but clear and ready, he grew in favour with official persons, who could foresee in him an excellent man of business, happily quite free from genius. The Bishop, therefore, taking counsel, appoints him Judge of his diocese; and he faithfully does justice to the people: till behold, one day, a culprit comes whose crime merits hanging; and the strict-minded Max must abdicate, for his conscience will not permit the dooming of any son of Adam to die. A strict-minded, strait-laced man! A man unfit for Revolutions? Whose small soul, transparent wholesome-looking as small ale, could by no chance ferment into virulent alegar, — the mother of ever new alegar; till all France were grown acetous virulent? We shall see.

Between which two extremes of grandest and meanest, so many grand and mean roll on, towards their several destinies, in that Procession! There is Cazales, the learned young soldier; who shall become the eloquent orator of Royalism, and earn the shadow of a name. Experienced Mounier, experienced Malouet; whose Presidential Parlementary experience the stream of things shall soon leave stranded. A Petion has left his gown and briefs at Chartres for a stormier sort of pleading; has not forgotten his violin, being fond of music. His hair is grizzled, though he is still young: convictions, beliefs, placid-unalterable are in that man; not hindmost of them, belief in himself. A Protestant-clerical Rabaut–St.-Etienne, a slender young eloquent and vehement Barnave, will help to regenerate France. There are so many of them young. Till thirty the Spartans did not suffer a man to marry: but how many men here under thirty; coming to produce not one sufficient citizen, but a nation and a world of such! The old to heal up rents; the young to remove rubbish:— which latter, is it not, indeed, the task here?

Dim, formless from this distance, yet authentically there, thou noticest the Deputies from Nantes? To us mere clothes-screens, with slouch-hat and cloak, but bearing in their pocket a Cahier of doleances with this singular clause, and more such in it: ‘That the master wigmakers of Nantes be not troubled with new gild-brethren, the actually existing number of ninety-two being more than sufficient!’ (Histoire Parlementaire, i. 335.) The Rennes people have elected Farmer Gerard, ‘a man of natural sense and rectitude, without any learning.’ He walks there, with solid step; unique, ‘in his rustic farmer-clothes;’ which he will wear always; careless of short-cloaks and costumes. The name Gerard, or ‘Pere Gerard, Father Gerard,’ as they please to call him, will fly far; borne about in endless banter; in Royalist satires, in Republican didactic Almanacks. (Actes des Apotres (by Peltier and others); Almanach du Pere Gerard (by Collot d’Herbois) &c. &c.) As for the man Gerard, being asked once, what he did, after trial of it, candidly think of this Parlementary work, — “I think,” answered he, “that there are a good many scoundrels among us.” so walks Father Gerard; solid in his thick shoes, whithersoever bound.

And worthy Doctor Guillotin, whom we hoped to behold one other time? If not here, the Doctor should be here, and we see him with the eye of prophecy: for indeed the Parisian Deputies are all a little late. Singular Guillotin, respectable practitioner: doomed by a satiric destiny to the strangest immortal glory that ever kept obscure mortal from his resting-place, the bosom of oblivion! Guillotin can improve the ventilation of the Hall; in all cases of medical police and hygiene be a present aid: but, greater far, he can produce his ‘Report on the Penal Code;’ and reveal therein a cunningly devised Beheading Machine, which shall become famous and world-famous. This is the product of Guillotin’s endeavours, gained not without meditation and reading; which product popular gratitude or levity christens by a feminine derivative name, as if it were his daughter: La Guillotine! “With my machine, Messieurs, I whisk off your head (vous fais sauter la tete) in a twinkling, and you have no pain;" — whereat they all laugh. (Moniteur Newspaper, of December 1st, 1789 (in Histoire Parlementaire).) Unfortunate Doctor! For two-and-twenty years he, unguillotined, shall near nothing but guillotine, see nothing but guillotine; then dying, shall through long centuries wander, as it were, a disconsolate ghost, on the wrong side of Styx and Lethe; his name like to outlive Caesar’s.

See Bailly, likewise of Paris, time-honoured Historian of Astronomy Ancient and Modern. Poor Bailly, how thy serenely beautiful Philosophising, with its soft moonshiny clearness and thinness, ends in foul thick confusion — of Presidency, Mayorship, diplomatic Officiality, rabid Triviality, and the throat of everlasting Darkness! Far was it to descend from the heavenly Galaxy to the Drapeau Rouge: beside that fatal dung-heap, on that last hell-day, thou must ‘tremble,’ though only with cold, ‘de froid.’ Speculation is not practice: to be weak is not so miserable; but to be weaker than our task. Wo the day when they mounted thee, a peaceable pedestrian, on that wild Hippogriff of a Democracy; which, spurning the firm earth, nay lashing at the very stars, no yet known Astolpho could have ridden!

In the Commons Deputies there are Merchants, Artists, Men of Letters; three hundred and seventy-four Lawyers; (Bouille, Memoires sur la Revolution Francaise (London, 1797), i. 68.) and at least one Clergyman: the Abbe Sieyes. Him also Paris sends, among its twenty. Behold him, the light thin man; cold, but elastic, wiry; instinct with the pride of Logic; passionless, or with but one passion, that of self-conceit. If indeed that can be called a passion, which, in its independent concentrated greatness, seems to have soared into transcendentalism; and to sit there with a kind of godlike indifference, and look down on passion! He is the man, and wisdom shall die with him. This is the Sieyes who shall be System-builder, Constitution-builder General; and build Constitutions (as many as wanted) skyhigh, — which shall all unfortunately fall before he get the scaffolding away. “La Politique,” said he to Dumont, “Polity is a science I think I have completed (achevee).” (Dumont, Souvenirs sur Mirabeau, p. 64.) What things, O Sieyes, with thy clear assiduous eyes, art thou to see! But were it not curious to know how Sieyes, now in these days (for he is said to be still alive) (A.D. 1834.) looks out on all that Constitution masonry, through the rheumy soberness of extreme age? Might we hope, still with the old irrefragable transcendentalism? The victorious cause pleased the gods, the vanquished one pleased Sieyes (victa Catoni).

Thus, however, amid skyrending vivats, and blessings from every heart, has the Procession of the Commons Deputies rolled by.

Next follow the Noblesse, and next the Clergy; concerning both of whom it might be asked, What they specially have come for? Specially, little as they dream of it, to answer this question, put in a voice of thunder: What are you doing in God’s fair Earth and Task-garden; where whosoever is not working is begging or stealing? Wo, wo to themselves and to all, if they can only answer: Collecting tithes, Preserving game! — Remark, meanwhile, how D’Orleans affects to step before his own Order, and mingle with the Commons. For him are vivats: few for the rest, though all wave in plumed ‘hats of a feudal cut,’ and have sword on thigh; though among them is D’Antraigues, the young Languedocian gentleman, — and indeed many a Peer more or less noteworthy.

There are Liancourt, and La Rochefoucault; the liberal Anglomaniac Dukes. There is a filially pious Lally; a couple of liberal Lameths. Above all, there is a Lafayette; whose name shall be Cromwell–Grandison, and fill the world. Many a ‘formula’ has this Lafayette too made away with; yet not all formulas. He sticks by the Washington-formula; and by that he will stick; — and hang by it, as by sure bower-anchor hangs and swings the tight war-ship, which, after all changes of wildest weather and water, is found still hanging. Happy for him; be it glorious or not! Alone of all Frenchmen he has a theory of the world, and right mind to conform thereto; he can become a hero and perfect character, were it but the hero of one idea. Note further our old Parlementary friend, Crispin–Catiline d’Espremenil. He is returned from the Mediterranean Islands, a redhot royalist, repentant to the finger-ends; — unsettled-looking; whose light, dusky-glowing at best, now flickers foul in the socket; whom the National Assembly will by and by, to save time, ‘regard as in a state of distraction.’ Note lastly that globular Younger Mirabeau; indignant that his elder Brother is among the Commons: it is Viscomte Mirabeau; named oftener Mirabeau Tonneau (Barrel Mirabeau), on account of his rotundity, and the quantities of strong liquor he contains.

There then walks our French Noblesse. All in the old pomp of chivalry: and yet, alas, how changed from the old position; drifted far down from their native latitude, like Arctic icebergs got into the Equatorial sea, and fast thawing there! Once these Chivalry Duces (Dukes, as they are still named) did actually lead the world, — were it only towards battle-spoil, where lay the world’s best wages then: moreover, being the ablest Leaders going, they had their lion’s share, those Duces; which none could grudge them. But now, when so many Looms, improved Ploughshares, Steam–Engines and Bills of Exchange have been invented; and, for battle-brawling itself, men hire Drill–Sergeants at eighteen-pence a-day, — what mean these goldmantled Chivalry Figures, walking there ‘in black-velvet cloaks,’ in high-plumed ‘hats of a feudal cut’? Reeds shaken in the wind!

The Clergy have got up; with Cahiers for abolishing pluralities, enforcing residence of bishops, better payment of tithes. (Hist. Parl. i. 322–27.) The Dignitaries, we can observe, walk stately, apart from the numerous Undignified, — who indeed are properly little other than Commons disguised in Curate-frocks. Here, however, though by strange ways, shall the Precept be fulfilled, and they that are greatest (much to their astonishment) become least. For one example, out of many, mark that plausible Gregoire: one day Cure Gregoire shall be a Bishop, when the now stately are wandering distracted, as Bishops in partibus. With other thought, mark also the Abbe Maury: his broad bold face; mouth accurately primmed; full eyes, that ray out intelligence, falsehood, — the sort of sophistry which is astonished you should find it sophistical. Skilfulest vamper-up of old rotten leather, to make it look like new; always a rising man; he used to tell Mercier, “You will see; I shall be in the Academy before you.” (Mercier, Nouveau Paris.) Likely indeed, thou skilfullest Maury; nay thou shalt have a Cardinal’s Hat, and plush and glory; but alas, also, in the longrun — mere oblivion, like the rest of us; and six feet of earth! What boots it, vamping rotten leather on these terms? Glorious in comparison is the livelihood thy good old Father earns, by making shoes, — one may hope, in a sufficient manner. Maury does not want for audacity. He shall wear pistols, by and by; and at death-cries of “The Lamp-iron;” answer coolly, “Friends, will you see better there?”

But yonder, halting lamely along, thou noticest next Bishop Talleyrand–Perigord, his Reverence of Autun. A sardonic grimness lies in that irreverent Reverence of Autun. He will do and suffer strange things; and will become surely one of the strangest things ever seen, or like to be seen. A man living in falsehood, and on falsehood; yet not what you can call a false man: there is the specialty! It will be an enigma for future ages, one may hope: hitherto such a product of Nature and Art was possible only for this age of ours, — Age of Paper, and of the Burning of Paper. Consider Bishop Talleyrand and Marquis Lafayette as the topmost of their two kinds; and say once more, looking at what they did and what they were, O Tempus ferax rerum!

On the whole, however, has not this unfortunate Clergy also drifted in the Time-stream, far from its native latitude? An anomalous mass of men; of whom the whole world has already a dim understanding that it can understand nothing. They were once a Priesthood, interpreters of Wisdom, revealers of the Holy that is in Man: a true Clerus (or Inheritance of God on Earth): but now? — They pass silently, with such Cahiers as they have been able to redact; and none cries, God bless them.

King Louis with his Court brings up the rear: he cheerful, in this day of hope, is saluted with plaudits; still more Necker his Minister. Not so the Queen; on whom hope shines not steadily any more. Ill-fated Queen! Her hair is already gray with many cares and crosses; her first-born son is dying in these weeks: black falsehood has ineffaceably soiled her name; ineffaceably while this generation lasts. Instead of Vive la Reine, voices insult her with Vive d’Orleans. Of her queenly beauty little remains except its stateliness; not now gracious, but haughty, rigid, silently enduring. With a most mixed feeling, wherein joy has no part, she resigns herself to a day she hoped never to have seen. Poor Marie Antoinette; with thy quick noble instincts; vehement glancings, vision all-too fitful narrow for the work thou hast to do! O there are tears in store for thee; bitterest wailings, soft womanly meltings, though thou hast the heart of an imperial Theresa’s Daughter. Thou doomed one, shut thy eyes on the future! —

And so, in stately Procession, have passed the Elected of France. Some towards honour and quick fire-consummation; most towards dishonour; not a few towards massacre, confusion, emigration, desperation: all towards Eternity! — So many heterogeneities cast together into the fermenting-vat; there, with incalculable action, counteraction, elective affinities, explosive developments, to work out healing for a sick moribund System of Society! Probably the strangest Body of Men, if we consider well, that ever met together on our Planet on such an errand. So thousandfold complex a Society, ready to burst-up from its infinite depths; and these men, its rulers and healers, without life-rule for themselves, — other life-rule than a Gospel according to Jean Jacques! To the wisest of them, what we must call the wisest, man is properly an Accident under the sky. Man is without Duty round him; except it be ‘to make the Constitution.’ He is without Heaven above him, or Hell beneath him; he has no God in the world.

What further or better belief can be said to exist in these Twelve Hundred? Belief in high-plumed hats of a feudal cut; in heraldic scutcheons; in the divine right of Kings, in the divine right of Game-destroyers. Belief, or what is still worse, canting half-belief; or worst of all, mere Macchiavellic pretence-of-belief, — in consecrated dough-wafers, and the godhood of a poor old Italian Man! Nevertheless in that immeasurable Confusion and Corruption, which struggles there so blindly to become less confused and corrupt, there is, as we said, this one salient point of a New Life discernible: the deep fixed Determination to have done with Shams. A determination, which, consciously or unconsciously, is fixed; which waxes ever more fixed, into very madness and fixed-idea; which in such embodiment as lies provided there, shall now unfold itself rapidly: monstrous, stupendous, unspeakable; new for long thousands of years! — How has the Heaven’s light, oftentimes in this Earth, to clothe itself in thunder and electric murkiness; and descend as molten lightning, blasting, if purifying! Nay is it not rather the very murkiness, and atmospheric suffocation, that brings the lightning and the light? The new Evangel, as the old had been, was it to be born in the Destruction of a World?

But how the Deputies assisted at High Mass, and heard sermon, and applauded the preacher, church as it was, when he preached politics; how, next day, with sustained pomp, they are, for the first time, installed in their Salles des Menus (Hall no longer of Amusements), and become a States–General, — readers can fancy for themselves. The King from his estrade, gorgeous as Solomon in all his glory, runs his eye over that majestic Hall; many-plumed, many-glancing; bright-tinted as rainbow, in the galleries and near side spaces, where Beauty sits raining bright influence. Satisfaction, as of one that after long voyaging had got to port, plays over his broad simple face: the innocent King! He rises and speaks, with sonorous tone, a conceivable speech. With which, still more with the succeeding one-hour and two-hour speeches of Garde-des-Sceaux and M. Necker, full of nothing but patriotism, hope, faith, and deficiency of the revenue, — no reader of these pages shall be tried.

We remark only that, as his Majesty, on finishing the speech, put on his plumed hat, and the Noblesse according to custom imitated him, our Tiers–Etat Deputies did mostly, not without a shade of fierceness, in like manner clap-on, and even crush on their slouched hats; and stand there awaiting the issue. (Histoire Parlementaire (i. 356). Mercier, Nouveau Paris, &c.) Thick buzz among them, between majority and minority of Couvrezvous, Decrouvrez-vous (Hats off, Hats on)! To which his Majesty puts end, by taking off his own royal hat again.

The session terminates without further accident or omen than this; with which, significantly enough, France has opened her States–General.

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