The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 9

The Lanterne.

The Fall of the Bastille may be said to have shaken all France to the deepest foundations of its existence. The rumour of these wonders flies every where: with the natural speed of Rumour; with an effect thought to be preternatural, produced by plots. Did d’Orleans or Laclos, nay did Mirabeau (not overburdened with money at this time) send riding Couriers out from Paris; to gallop ‘on all radii,’ or highways, towards all points of France? It is a miracle, which no penetrating man will call in question. (Toulongeon, (i. 95); Weber, &c. &c.)

Already in most Towns, Electoral Committees were met; to regret Necker, in harangue and resolution. In many a Town, as Rennes, Caen, Lyons, an ebullient people was already regretting him in brickbats and musketry. But now, at every Town’s-end in France, there do arrive, in these days of terror, — ‘men,’ as men will arrive; nay, ‘men on horseback,’ since Rumour oftenest travels riding. These men declare, with alarmed countenance, The BRIGANDS to be coming, to be just at hand; and do then — ride on, about their further business, be what it might! Whereupon the whole population of such Town, defensively flies to arms. Petition is soon thereafter forwarded to National Assembly; in such peril and terror of peril, leave to organise yourself cannot be withheld: the armed population becomes everywhere an enrolled National Guard. Thus rides Rumour, careering along all radii, from Paris outwards, to such purpose: in few days, some say in not many hours, all France to the utmost borders bristles with bayonets. Singular, but undeniable, — miraculous or not! — But thus may any chemical liquid; though cooled to the freezing-point, or far lower, still continue liquid; and then, on the slightest stroke or shake, it at once rushes wholly into ice. Thus has France, for long months and even years, been chemically dealt with; brought below zero; and now, shaken by the Fall of a Bastille, it instantaneously congeals: into one crystallised mass, of sharp-cutting steel! Guai a chi la tocca; ‘Ware who touches it!

In Paris, an Electoral Committee, with a new Mayor and General, is urgent with belligerent workmen to resume their handicrafts. Strong Dames of the Market (Dames de la Halle) deliver congratulatory harangues; present ‘bouquets to the Shrine of Sainte Genevieve.’ Unenrolled men deposit their arms, — not so readily as could be wished; and receive ‘nine francs.’ With Te Deums, Royal Visits, and sanctioned Revolution, there is halcyon weather; weather even of preternatural brightness; the hurricane being overblown.

Nevertheless, as is natural, the waves still run high, hollow rocks retaining their murmur. We are but at the 22nd of the month, hardly above a week since the Bastille fell, when it suddenly appears that old Foulon is alive; nay, that he is here, in early morning, in the streets of Paris; the extortioner, the plotter, who would make the people eat grass, and was a liar from the beginning! — It is even so. The deceptive ‘sumptuous funeral’ (of some domestic that died); the hiding-place at Vitry towards Fontainbleau, have not availed that wretched old man. Some living domestic or dependant, for none loves Foulon, has betrayed him to the Village. Merciless boors of Vitry unearth him; pounce on him, like hell-hounds: Westward, old Infamy; to Paris, to be judged at the Hotel-de-Ville! His old head, which seventy-four years have bleached, is bare; they have tied an emblematic bundle of grass on his back; a garland of nettles and thistles is round his neck: in this manner; led with ropes; goaded on with curses and menaces, must he, with his old limbs, sprawl forward; the pitiablest, most unpitied of all old men.

Sooty Saint–Antoine, and every street, mustering its crowds as he passes, — the Place de Greve, the Hall of the Hotel-de-Ville will scarcely hold his escort and him. Foulon must not only be judged righteously; but judged there where he stands, without any delay. Appoint seven judges, ye Municipals, or seventy-and-seven; name them yourselves, or we will name them: but judge him! (Histoire Parlementaire, ii. 146–9.) Electoral rhetoric, eloquence of Mayor Bailly, is wasted explaining the beauty of the Law’s delay. Delay, and still delay! Behold, O Mayor of the People, the morning has worn itself into noon; and he is still unjudged! — Lafayette, pressingly sent for, arrives; gives voice: This Foulon, a known man, is guilty almost beyond doubt; but may he not have accomplices? Ought not the truth to be cunningly pumped out of him, — in the Abbaye Prison? It is a new light! Sansculottism claps hands; — at which hand-clapping, Foulon (in his fainness, as his Destiny would have it) also claps. “See! they understand one another!” cries dark Sansculottism, blazing into fury of suspicion. — “Friends,” said ‘a person in good clothes,’ stepping forward, “what is the use of judging this man? Has he not been judged these thirty years?” With wild yells, Sansculottism clutches him, in its hundred hands: he is whirled across the Place de Greve, to the ‘Lanterne,’ Lamp-iron which there is at the corner of the Rue de la Vannerie; pleading bitterly for life, — to the deaf winds. Only with the third rope (for two ropes broke, and the quavering voice still pleaded), can he be so much as got hanged! His Body is dragged through the streets; his Head goes aloft on a pike, the mouth filled with grass: amid sounds as of Tophet, from a grass-eating people. (Deux Amis de la Liberte, ii. 60–6.)

Surely if Revenge is a ‘kind of Justice,’ it is a ‘wild’ kind! O mad Sansculottism hast thou risen, in thy mad darkness, in thy soot and rags; unexpectedly, like an Enceladus, living-buried, from under his Trinacria? They that would make grass be eaten do now eat grass, in this manner? After long dumb-groaning generations, has the turn suddenly become thine? — To such abysmal overturns, and frightful instantaneous inversions of the centre-of-gravity, are human Solecisms all liable, if they but knew it; the more liable, the falser (and topheavier) they are! —

To add to the horror of Mayor Bailly and his Municipals, word comes that Berthier has also been arrested; that he is on his way hither from Compiegne. Berthier, Intendant (say, Tax-levier) of Paris; sycophant and tyrant; forestaller of Corn; contriver of Camps against the people; — accused of many things: is he not Foulon’s son-in-law; and, in that one point, guilty of all? In these hours too, when Sansculottism has its blood up! The shuddering Municipals send one of their number to escort him, with mounted National Guards.

At the fall of day, the wretched Berthier, still wearing a face of courage, arrives at the Barrier; in an open carriage; with the Municipal beside him; five hundred horsemen with drawn sabres; unarmed footmen enough, not without noise! Placards go brandished round him; bearing legibly his indictment, as Sansculottism, with unlegal brevity, ‘in huge letters,’ draws it up. (‘Il a vole le Roi et la France (He robbed the King and France).’ ‘He devoured the substance of the People.’ ‘He was the slave of the rich, and the tyrant of the poor.’ ‘He drank the blood of the widow and orphan.’ ‘He betrayed his country.’ See Deux Amis, ii. 67–73.) Paris is come forth to meet him: with hand-clappings, with windows flung up; with dances, triumph-songs, as of the Furies! Lastly the Head of Foulon: this also meets him on a pike. Well might his ‘look become glazed,’ and sense fail him, at such sight! — Nevertheless, be the man’s conscience what it may, his nerves are of iron. At the Hotel-de-Ville, he will answer nothing. He says, he obeyed superior order; they have his papers; they may judge and determine: as for himself, not having closed an eye these two nights, he demands, before all things, to have sleep. Leaden sleep, thou miserable Berthier! Guards rise with him, in motion towards the Abbaye. At the very door of the Hotel-de-Ville, they are clutched; flung asunder, as by a vortex of mad arms; Berthier whirls towards the Lanterne. He snatches a musket; fells and strikes, defending himself like a mad lion; is borne down, trampled, hanged, mangled: his Head too, and even his Heart, flies over the City on a pike.

Horrible, in Lands that had known equal justice! Not so unnatural in Lands that had never known it. Le sang qui coule est-il donc si pure? asks Barnave; intimating that the Gallows, though by irregular methods, has its own. — Thou thyself, O Reader, when thou turnest that corner of the Rue de la Vannerie, and discernest still that same grim Bracket of old Iron, wilt not want for reflections. ‘Over a grocer’s shop,’ or otherwise; with ‘a bust of Louis XIV. in the niche under it,’ or now no longer in the niche, — it still sticks there: still holding out an ineffectual light, of fish-oil; and has seen worlds wrecked, and says nothing.

But to the eye of enlightened Patriotism, what a thunder-cloud was this; suddenly shaping itself in the radiance of the halcyon weather! Cloud of Erebus blackness: betokening latent electricity without limit. Mayor Bailly, General Lafayette throw up their commissions, in an indignant manner; — need to be flattered back again. The cloud disappears, as thunder-clouds do. The halcyon weather returns, though of a grayer complexion; of a character more and more evidently not supernatural.

Thus, in any case, with what rubs soever, shall the Bastille be abolished from our Earth; and with it, Feudalism, Despotism; and, one hopes, Scoundrelism generally, and all hard usage of man by his brother man. Alas, the Scoundrelism and hard usage are not so easy of abolition! But as for the Bastille, it sinks day after day, and month after month; its ashlars and boulders tumbling down continually, by express order of our Municipals. Crowds of the curious roam through its caverns; gaze on the skeletons found walled up, on the oubliettes, iron cages, monstrous stone-blocks with padlock chains. One day we discern Mirabeau there; along with the Genevese Dumont. (Dumont, Souvenirs sur Mirabeau, p. 305.) Workers and onlookers make reverent way for him; fling verses, flowers on his path, Bastille-papers and curiosities into his carriage, with vivats.

Able Editors compile Books from the Bastille Archives; from what of them remain unburnt. The Key of that Robber–Den shall cross the Atlantic; shall lie on Washington’s hall-table. The great Clock ticks now in a private patriotic Clockmaker’s apartment; no longer measuring hours of mere heaviness. Vanished is the Bastille, what we call vanished: the body, or sandstones, of it hanging, in benign metamorphosis, for centuries to come, over the Seine waters, as Pont Louis Seize; (Dulaure: Histoire de Paris, viii. 434.) the soul of it living, perhaps still longer, in the memories of men.

So far, ye august Senators, with your Tennis–Court Oaths, your inertia and impetus, your sagacity and pertinacity, have ye brought us. “And yet think, Messieurs,” as the Petitioner justly urged, “you who were our saviours, did yourselves need saviours,” — the brave Bastillers, namely; workmen of Paris; many of them in straightened pecuniary circumstances! (Moniteur: Seance du Samedi 18 Juillet 1789 in Histoire Parlementaire, ii. 137.) Subscriptions are opened; Lists are formed, more accurate than Elie’s; harangues are delivered. A Body of Bastille Heroes, tolerably complete, did get together; — comparable to the Argonauts; hoping to endure like them. But in little more than a year, the whirlpool of things threw them asunder again, and they sank. So many highest superlatives achieved by man are followed by new higher; and dwindle into comparatives and positives! The Siege of the Bastille, weighed with which, in the Historical balance, most other sieges, including that of Troy Town, are gossamer, cost, as we find, in killed and mortally wounded, on the part of the Besiegers, some Eighty-three persons: on the part of the Besieged, after all that straw-burning, fire-pumping, and deluge of musketry, One poor solitary invalid, shot stone-dead (roide-mort) on the battlements; (Dusaulx: Prise de la Bastille, p. 447, &c.) The Bastille Fortress, like the City of Jericho, was overturned by miraculous sound.

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