The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

In Queue.

If we look now at Paris, one thing is too evident: that the Baker’s shops have got their Queues, or Tails; their long strings of purchasers, arranged in tail, so that the first come be the first served, — were the shop once open! This waiting in tail, not seen since the early days of July, again makes its appearance in August. In time, we shall see it perfected by practice to the rank almost of an art; and the art, or quasi-art, of standing in tail become one of the characteristics of the Parisian People, distinguishing them from all other Peoples whatsoever.

But consider, while work itself is so scarce, how a man must not only realise money; but stand waiting (if his wife is too weak to wait and struggle) for half days in the Tail, till he get it changed for dear bad bread! Controversies, to the length, sometimes of blood and battery, must arise in these exasperated Queues. Or if no controversy, then it is but one accordant Pange Lingua of complaint against the Powers that be. France has begun her long Curriculum of Hungering, instructive and productive beyond Academic Curriculums; which extends over some seven most strenuous years. As Jean Paul says, of his own Life, ‘to a great height shall the business of Hungering go.’

Or consider, in strange contrast, the jubilee Ceremonies; for, in general, the aspect of Paris presents these two features: jubilee ceremonials and scarcity of victual. Processions enough walk in jubilee; of Young Women, decked and dizened, their ribands all tricolor; moving with song and tabor, to the Shrine of Sainte Genevieve, to thank her that the Bastille is down. The Strong Men of the Market, and the Strong Women, fail not with their bouquets and speeches. Abbe Fauchet, famed in such work (for Abbe Lefevre could only distribute powder) blesses tricolor cloth for the National Guard; and makes it a National Tricolor Flag; victorious, or to be victorious, in the cause of civil and religious liberty all over the world. Fauchet, we say, is the man for Te–Deums, and public Consecrations; — to which, as in this instance of the Flag, our National Guard will ‘reply with volleys of musketry,’ Church and Cathedral though it be; (See Hist. Parl. iii. 20; Mercier, Nouveau Paris, &c.) filling Notre Dame with such noisiest fuliginous Amen, significant of several things.

On the whole, we will say our new Mayor Bailly; our new Commander Lafayette, named also ‘Scipio–Americanus,’ have bought their preferment dear. Bailly rides in gilt state-coach, with beefeaters and sumptuosity; Camille Desmoulins, and others, sniffing at him for it: Scipio bestrides the ‘white charger,’ and waves with civic plumes in sight of all France. Neither of them, however, does it for nothing; but, in truth, at an exorbitant rate. At this rate, namely: of feeding Paris, and keeping it from fighting. Out of the City-funds, some seventeen thousand of the utterly destitute are employed digging on Montmartre, at tenpence a day, which buys them, at market price, almost two pounds of bad bread; — they look very yellow, when Lafayette goes to harangue them. The Townhall is in travail, night and day; it must bring forth Bread, a Municipal Constitution, regulations of all kinds, curbs on the Sansculottic Press; above all, Bread, Bread.

Purveyors prowl the country far and wide, with the appetite of lions; detect hidden grain, purchase open grain; by gentle means or forcible, must and will find grain. A most thankless task; and so difficult, so dangerous, — even if a man did gain some trifle by it! On the 19th August, there is food for one day. (See Bailly, Memoires, ii. 137–409.) Complaints there are that the food is spoiled, and produces an effect on the intestines: not corn but plaster-of-Paris! Which effect on the intestines, as well as that ‘smarting in the throat and palate,’ a Townhall Proclamation warns you to disregard, or even to consider as drastic-beneficial. The Mayor of Saint–Denis, so black was his bread, has, by a dyspeptic populace, been hanged on the Lanterne there. National Guards protect the Paris Corn–Market: first ten suffice; then six hundred. (Hist. Parl. ii. 421.) Busy are ye, Bailly, Brissot de Warville, Condorcet, and ye others!

For, as just hinted, there is a Municipal Constitution to be made too. The old Bastille Electors, after some ten days of psalmodying over their glorious victory, began to hear it asked, in a splenetic tone, Who put you there? They accordingly had to give place, not without moanings, and audible growlings on both sides, to a new larger Body, specially elected for that post. Which new Body, augmented, altered, then fixed finally at the number of Three Hundred, with the title of Town Representatives (Representans de la Commune), now sits there; rightly portioned into Committees; assiduous making a Constitution; at all moments when not seeking flour.

And such a Constitution; little short of miraculous: one that shall ‘consolidate the Revolution’! The Revolution is finished, then? Mayor Bailly and all respectable friends of Freedom would fain think so. Your Revolution, like jelly sufficiently boiled, needs only to be poured into shapes, of Constitution, and ‘consolidated’ therein? Could it, indeed, contrive to cool; which last, however, is precisely the doubtful thing, or even the not doubtful!

Unhappy friends of Freedom; consolidating a Revolution! They must sit at work there, their pavilion spread on very Chaos; between two hostile worlds, the Upper Court-world, the Nether Sansculottic one; and, beaten on by both, toil painfully, perilously, — doing, in sad literal earnest, ‘the impossible.’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/carlyle/thomas/french_revolution/v1.6.4.html

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