The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 7

Not a Revolt.

Why dwell on what follows? Hulin’s foi d’officer should have been kept, but could not. The Swiss stand drawn up; disguised in white canvas smocks; the Invalides without disguise; their arms all piled against the wall. The first rush of victors, in ecstacy that the death-peril is passed, ‘leaps joyfully on their necks;’ but new victors rush, and ever new, also in ecstacy not wholly of joy. As we said, it was a living deluge, plunging headlong; had not the Gardes Francaises, in their cool military way, ‘wheeled round with arms levelled,’ it would have plunged suicidally, by the hundred or the thousand, into the Bastille-ditch.

And so it goes plunging through court and corridor; billowing uncontrollable, firing from windows — on itself: in hot frenzy of triumph, of grief and vengeance for its slain. The poor Invalides will fare ill; one Swiss, running off in his white smock, is driven back, with a death-thrust. Let all prisoners be marched to the Townhall, to be judged! — Alas, already one poor Invalide has his right hand slashed off him; his maimed body dragged to the Place de Greve, and hanged there. This same right hand, it is said, turned back de Launay from the Powder–Magazine, and saved Paris.

De Launay, ‘discovered in gray frock with poppy-coloured riband,’ is for killing himself with the sword of his cane. He shall to the Hotel-de-Ville; Hulin Maillard and others escorting him; Elie marching foremost ‘with the capitulation-paper on his sword’s point.’ Through roarings and cursings; through hustlings, clutchings, and at last through strokes! Your escort is hustled aside, felled down; Hulin sinks exhausted on a heap of stones. Miserable de Launay! He shall never enter the Hotel de Ville: only his ‘bloody hair-queue, held up in a bloody hand;’ that shall enter, for a sign. The bleeding trunk lies on the steps there; the head is off through the streets; ghastly, aloft on a pike.

Rigorous de Launay has died; crying out, “O friends, kill me fast!” Merciful de Losme must die; though Gratitude embraces him, in this fearful hour, and will die for him; it avails not. Brothers, your wrath is cruel! Your Place de Greve is become a Throat of the Tiger; full of mere fierce bellowings, and thirst of blood. One other officer is massacred; one other Invalide is hanged on the Lamp-iron: with difficulty, with generous perseverance, the Gardes Francaises will save the rest. Provost Flesselles stricken long since with the paleness of death, must descend from his seat, ‘to be judged at the Palais Royal:’ — alas, to be shot dead, by an unknown hand, at the turning of the first street! —

O evening sun of July, how, at this hour, thy beams fall slant on reapers amid peaceful woody fields; on old women spinning in cottages; on ships far out in the silent main; on Balls at the Orangerie of Versailles, where high-rouged Dames of the Palace are even now dancing with double-jacketted Hussar–Officers; — and also on this roaring Hell porch of a Hotel-de-Ville! Babel Tower, with the confusion of tongues, were not Bedlam added with the conflagration of thoughts, was no type of it. One forest of distracted steel bristles, endless, in front of an Electoral Committee; points itself, in horrid radii, against this and the other accused breast. It was the Titans warring with Olympus; and they scarcely crediting it, have conquered: prodigy of prodigies; delirious, — as it could not but be. Denunciation, vengeance; blaze of triumph on a dark ground of terror: all outward, all inward things fallen into one general wreck of madness!

Electoral Committee? Had it a thousand throats of brass, it would not suffice. Abbe Lefevre, in the Vaults down below, is black as Vulcan, distributing that ‘five thousand weight of Powder;’ with what perils, these eight-and-forty hours! Last night, a Patriot, in liquor, insisted on sitting to smoke on the edge of one of the Powder-barrels; there smoked he, independent of the world, — till the Abbe ‘purchased his pipe for three francs,’ and pitched it far.

Elie, in the grand Hall, Electoral Committee looking on, sits ‘with drawn sword bent in three places;’ with battered helm, for he was of the Queen’s Regiment, Cavalry; with torn regimentals, face singed and soiled; comparable, some think, to ‘an antique warrior;’ — judging the people; forming a list of Bastille Heroes. O Friends, stain not with blood the greenest laurels ever gained in this world: such is the burden of Elie’s song; could it but be listened to. Courage, Elie! Courage, ye Municipal Electors! A declining sun; the need of victuals, and of telling news, will bring assuagement, dispersion: all earthly things must end.

Along the streets of Paris circulate Seven Bastille Prisoners, borne shoulder-high: seven Heads on pikes; the Keys of the Bastille; and much else. See also the Garde Francaises, in their steadfast military way, marching home to their barracks, with the Invalides and Swiss kindly enclosed in hollow square. It is one year and two months since these same men stood unparticipating, with Brennus d’Agoust at the Palais de Justice, when Fate overtook d’Espremenil; and now they have participated; and will participate. Not Gardes Francaises henceforth, but Centre Grenadiers of the National Guard: men of iron discipline and humour, — not without a kind of thought in them!

Likewise ashlar stones of the Bastille continue thundering through the dusk; its paper-archives shall fly white. Old secrets come to view; and long-buried Despair finds voice. Read this portion of an old Letter: (Dated, a la Bastille, 7 Octobre, 1752; signed Queret–Demery. Bastille Devoilee, in Linguet, Memoires sur la Bastille (Paris, 1821), p. 199.) ‘If for my consolation Monseigneur would grant me for the sake of God and the Most Blessed Trinity, that I could have news of my dear wife; were it only her name on card to shew that she is alive! It were the greatest consolation I could receive; and I should for ever bless the greatness of Monseigneur.’ Poor Prisoner, who namest thyself Queret Demery, and hast no other history, — she is dead, that dear wife of thine, and thou art dead! ’Tis fifty years since thy breaking heart put this question; to be heard now first, and long heard, in the hearts of men.

But so does the July twilight thicken; so must Paris, as sick children, and all distracted creatures do, brawl itself finally into a kind of sleep. Municipal Electors, astonished to find their heads still uppermost, are home: only Moreau de Saint–Mery of tropical birth and heart, of coolest judgment; he, with two others, shall sit permanent at the Townhall. Paris sleeps; gleams upward the illuminated City: patrols go clashing, without common watchword; there go rumours; alarms of war, to the extent of ‘fifteen thousand men marching through the Suburb Saint–Antoine,’ — who never got it marched through. Of the day’s distraction judge by this of the night: Moreau de Saint–Mery, ‘before rising from his seat, gave upwards of three thousand orders.’ (Dusaulx.) What a head; comparable to Friar Bacon’s Brass Head! Within it lies all Paris. Prompt must the answer be, right or wrong; in Paris is no other Authority extant. Seriously, a most cool clear head; — for which also thou O brave Saint–Mery, in many capacities, from august Senator to Merchant’s-Clerk, Book-dealer, Vice–King; in many places, from Virginia to Sardinia, shalt, ever as a brave man, find employment. (Biographie Universelle, para Moreau Saint–Mery (by Fournier–Pescay).)

Besenval has decamped, under cloud of dusk, ‘amid a great affluence of people,’ who did not harm him; he marches, with faint-growing tread, down the left bank of the Seine, all night, — towards infinite space. Resummoned shall Besenval himself be; for trial, for difficult acquittal. His King’s-troops, his Royal Allemand, are gone hence for ever.

The Versailles Ball and lemonade is done; the Orangery is silent except for nightbirds. Over in the Salle des Menus, Vice-president Lafayette, with unsnuffed lights, ‘with some hundred of members, stretched on tables round him,’ sits erect; outwatching the Bear. This day, a second solemn Deputation went to his Majesty; a second, and then a third: with no effect. What will the end of these things be?

In the Court, all is mystery, not without whisperings of terror; though ye dream of lemonade and epaulettes, ye foolish women! His Majesty, kept in happy ignorance, perhaps dreams of double-barrels and the Woods of Meudon. Late at night, the Duke de Liancourt, having official right of entrance, gains access to the Royal Apartments; unfolds, with earnest clearness, in his constitutional way, the Job’s-news. “Mais,” said poor Louis, “c’est une revolte, Why, that is a revolt!” — “Sire,” answered Liancourt, “It is not a revolt, it is a revolution.”

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