The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 3

Broglie the War–God.

The Court feels indignant that it is conquered; but what then? Another time it will do better. Mercury descended in vain; now has the time come for Mars. — The gods of the Oeil-de-Boeuf have withdrawn into the darkness of their cloudy Ida; and sit there, shaping and forging what may be needful, be it ‘billets of a new National Bank,’ munitions of war, or things forever inscrutable to men.

Accordingly, what means this ‘apparatus of troops’? The National Assembly can get no furtherance for its Committee of Subsistences; can hear only that, at Paris, the Bakers’ shops are besieged; that, in the Provinces, people are living on ‘meal-husks and boiled grass.’ But on all highways there hover dust-clouds, with the march of regiments, with the trailing of cannon: foreign Pandours, of fierce aspect; Salis–Samade, Esterhazy, Royal–Allemand; so many of them foreign, to the number of thirty thousand, — which fear can magnify to fifty: all wending towards Paris and Versailles! Already, on the heights of Montmartre, is a digging and delving; too like a scarping and trenching. The effluence of Paris is arrested Versailles-ward by a barrier of cannon at Sevres Bridge. From the Queen’s Mews, cannon stand pointed on the National Assembly Hall itself. The National Assembly has its very slumbers broken by the tramp of soldiery, swarming and defiling, endless, or seemingly endless, all round those spaces, at dead of night, ‘without drum-music, without audible word of command.’ (A. Lameth, Assemblee Constituante, i. 41.) What means it?

Shall eight, or even shall twelve Deputies, our Mirabeaus, Barnaves at the head of them, be whirled suddenly to the Castle of Ham; the rest ignominiously dispersed to the winds? No National Assembly can make the Constitution with cannon levelled on it from the Queen’s Mews! What means this reticence of the Oeil-de-Boeuf, broken only by nods and shrugs? In the mystery of that cloudy Ida, what is it that they forge and shape? — Such questions must distracted Patriotism keep asking, and receive no answer but an echo.

Enough of themselves! But now, above all, while the hungry food-year, which runs from August to August, is getting older; becoming more and more a famine-year? With ‘meal-husks and boiled grass,’ Brigands may actually collect; and, in crowds, at farm and mansion, howl angrily, Food! Food! It is in vain to send soldiers against them: at sight of soldiers they disperse, they vanish as under ground; then directly reassemble elsewhere for new tumult and plunder. Frightful enough to look upon; but what to hear of, reverberated through Twenty-five Millions of suspicious minds! Brigands and Broglie, open Conflagration, preternatural Rumour are driving mad most hearts in France. What will the issue of these things be?

At Marseilles, many weeks ago, the Townsmen have taken arms; for ‘suppressing of Brigands,’ and other purposes: the military commandant may make of it what he will. Elsewhere, everywhere, could not the like be done? Dubious, on the distracted Patriot imagination, wavers, as a last deliverance, some foreshadow of a National Guard. But conceive, above all, the Wooden Tent in the Palais Royal! A universal hubbub there, as of dissolving worlds: their loudest bellows the mad, mad-making voice of Rumour; their sharpest gazes Suspicion into the pale dim World–Whirlpool; discerning shapes and phantasms; imminent bloodthirsty Regiments camped on the Champ-de-Mars; dispersed National Assembly; redhot cannon-balls (to burn Paris); — the mad War-god and Bellona’s sounding thongs. To the calmest man it is becoming too plain that battle is inevitable.

Inevitable, silently nod Messeigneurs and Broglie: Inevitable and brief! Your National Assembly, stopped short in its Constitutional labours, may fatigue the royal ear with addresses and remonstrances: those cannon of ours stand duly levelled; those troops are here. The King’s Declaration, with its Thirty-five too generous Articles, was spoken, was not listened to; but remains yet unrevoked: he himself shall effect it, seul il fera!

As for Broglie, he has his headquarters at Versailles, all as in a seat of war: clerks writing; significant staff-officers, inclined to taciturnity; plumed aides-de-camp, scouts, orderlies flying or hovering. He himself looks forth, important, impenetrable; listens to Besenval Commandant of Paris, and his warning and earnest counsels (for he has come out repeatedly on purpose), with a silent smile. (Besenval, iii. 398.) The Parisians resist? scornfully cry Messeigneurs. As a meal-mob may! They have sat quiet, these five generations, submitting to all. Their Mercier declared, in these very years, that a Parisian revolt was henceforth ‘impossible.’ (Mercier, Tableau de Paris, vi. 22.) Stand by the royal Declaration, of the Twenty-third of June. The Nobles of France, valorous, chivalrous as of old, will rally round us with one heart; — and as for this which you call Third Estate, and which we call canaille of unwashed Sansculottes, of Patelins, Scribblers, factious Spouters, — brave Broglie, ‘with a whiff of grapeshot (salve de canons), if need be, will give quick account of it. Thus reason they: on their cloudy Ida; hidden from men, — men also hidden from them.

Good is grapeshot, Messeigneurs, on one condition: that the shooter also were made of metal! But unfortunately he is made of flesh; under his buffs and bandoleers your hired shooter has instincts, feelings, even a kind of thought. It is his kindred, bone of his bone, this same canaille that shall be whiffed; he has brothers in it, a father and mother, — living on meal-husks and boiled grass. His very doxy, not yet ‘dead i’ the spital,’ drives him into military heterodoxy; declares that if he shed Patriot blood, he shall be accursed among men. The soldier, who has seen his pay stolen by rapacious Foulons, his blood wasted by Soubises, Pompadours, and the gates of promotion shut inexorably on him if he were not born noble, — is himself not without griefs against you. Your cause is not the soldier’s cause; but, as would seem, your own only, and no other god’s nor man’s.

For example, the world may have heard how, at Bethune lately, when there rose some ‘riot about grains,’ of which sort there are so many, and the soldiers stood drawn out, and the word ‘Fire! was given, — not a trigger stirred; only the butts of all muskets rattled angrily against the ground; and the soldiers stood glooming, with a mixed expression of countenance; — till clutched ‘each under the arm of a patriot householder,’ they were all hurried off, in this manner, to be treated and caressed, and have their pay increased by subscription! (Histoire Parlementaire.)

Neither have the Gardes Francaises, the best regiment of the line, shown any promptitude for street-firing lately. They returned grumbling from Reveillon’s; and have not burnt a single cartridge since; nay, as we saw, not even when bid. A dangerous humour dwells in these Gardes. Notable men too, in their way! Valadi the Pythagorean was, at one time, an officer of theirs. Nay, in the ranks, under the three-cornered felt and cockade, what hard heads may there not be, and reflections going on, — unknown to the public! One head of the hardest we do now discern there: on the shoulders of a certain Sergeant Hoche. Lazare Hoche, that is the name of him; he used to be about the Versailles Royal Stables, nephew of a poor herbwoman; a handy lad; exceedingly addicted to reading. He is now Sergeant Hoche, and can rise no farther: he lays out his pay in rushlights, and cheap editions of books. (Dictionnaire des Hommes Marquans, Londres (Paris), 1800, ii. 198.)

On the whole, the best seems to be: Consign these Gardes Francaises to their Barracks. So Besenval thinks, and orders. Consigned to their barracks, the Gardes Francaises do but form a ‘Secret Association,’ an Engagement not to act against the National Assembly. Debauched by Valadi the Pythagorean; debauched by money and women! cry Besenval and innumerable others. Debauched by what you will, or in need of no debauching, behold them, long files of them, their consignment broken, arrive, headed by their Sergeants, on the 26th day of June, at the Palais Royal! Welcomed with vivats, with presents, and a pledge of patriot liquor; embracing and embraced; declaring in words that the cause of France is their cause! Next day and the following days the like. What is singular too, except this patriot humour, and breaking of their consignment, they behave otherwise with ‘the most rigorous accuracy.’ (Besenval, iii. 394–6.)

They are growing questionable, these Gardes! Eleven ring-leaders of them are put in the Abbaye Prison. It boots not in the least. The imprisoned Eleven have only, ‘by the hand of an individual,’ to drop, towards nightfall, a line in the Cafe de Foy; where Patriotism harangues loudest on its table. ‘Two hundred young persons, soon waxing to four thousand,’ with fit crowbars, roll towards the Abbaye; smite asunder the needful doors; and bear out their Eleven, with other military victims:— to supper in the Palais Royal Garden; to board, and lodging ‘in campbeds, in the Theatre des Varietes;’ other national Prytaneum as yet not being in readiness. Most deliberate! Nay so punctual were these young persons, that finding one military victim to have been imprisoned for real civil crime, they returned him to his cell, with protest.

Why new military force was not called out? New military force was called out. New military force did arrive, full gallop, with drawn sabre: but the people gently ‘laid hold of their bridles;’ the dragoons sheathed their swords; lifted their caps by way of salute, and sat like mere statues of dragoons, — except indeed that a drop of liquor being brought them, they ‘drank to the King and Nation with the greatest cordiality.’ (Histoire Parlementaire, ii. 32.)

And now, ask in return, why Messeigneurs and Broglie the great god of war, on seeing these things, did not pause, and take some other course, any other course? Unhappily, as we said, they could see nothing. Pride, which goes before a fall; wrath, if not reasonable, yet pardonable, most natural, had hardened their hearts and heated their heads; so, with imbecility and violence (ill-matched pair), they rush to seek their hour. All Regiments are not Gardes Francaises, or debauched by Valadi the Pythagorean: let fresh undebauched Regiments come up; let Royal–Allemand, Salais–Samade, Swiss Chateau–Vieux come up, — which can fight, but can hardly speak except in German gutturals; let soldiers march, and highways thunder with artillery-waggons: Majesty has a new Royal Session to hold, — and miracles to work there! The whiff of grapeshot can, if needful, become a blast and tempest.

In which circumstances, before the redhot balls begin raining, may not the Hundred-and-twenty Paris Electors, though their Cahier is long since finished, see good to meet again daily, as an ‘Electoral Club’? They meet first ‘in a Tavern;’ — where ‘the largest wedding-party’ cheerfully give place to them. (Dusaulx, Prise de la Bastille (Collection des Memoires, par Berville et Barriere, Paris, 1821), p. 269.) But latterly they meet in the Hotel-de-Ville, in the Townhall itself. Flesselles, Provost of Merchants, with his Four Echevins (Scabins, Assessors), could not prevent it; such was the force of public opinion. He, with his Echevins, and the Six-and-Twenty Town–Councillors, all appointed from Above, may well sit silent there, in their long gowns; and consider, with awed eye, what prelude this is of convulsion coming from Below, and how themselves shall fare in that!

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