The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 5

The Fourth Estate.

Pamphleteering opens its abysmal throat wider and wider: never to close more. Our Philosophes, indeed, rather withdraw; after the manner of Marmontel, ‘retiring in disgust the first day.’ Abbe Raynal, grown gray and quiet in his Marseilles domicile, is little content with this work; the last literary act of the man will again be an act of rebellion: an indignant Letter to the Constituent Assembly; answered by ‘the order of the day.’ Thus also Philosophe Morellet puckers discontented brows; being indeed threatened in his benefices by that Fourth of August: it is clearly going too far. How astonishing that those ‘haggard figures in woollen jupes’ would not rest as satisfied with Speculation, and victorious Analysis, as we!

Alas, yes: Speculation, Philosophism, once the ornament and wealth of the saloon, will now coin itself into mere Practical Propositions, and circulate on street and highway, universally; with results! A Fourth Estate, of Able Editors, springs up; increases and multiplies; irrepressible, incalculable. New Printers, new Journals, and ever new (so prurient is the world), let our Three Hundred curb and consolidate as they can! Loustalot, under the wing of Prudhomme dull-blustering Printer, edits weekly his Revolutions de Paris; in an acrid, emphatic manner. Acrid, corrosive, as the spirit of sloes and copperas, is Marat, Friend of the People; struck already with the fact that the National Assembly, so full of Aristocrats, ‘can do nothing,’ except dissolve itself, and make way for a better; that the Townhall Representatives are little other than babblers and imbeciles, if not even knaves. Poor is this man; squalid, and dwells in garrets; a man unlovely to the sense, outward and inward; a man forbid; — and is becoming fanatical, possessed with fixed-idea. Cruel lusus of Nature! Did Nature, O poor Marat, as in cruel sport, knead thee out of her leavings, and miscellaneous waste clay; and fling thee forth stepdamelike, a Distraction into this distracted Eighteenth Century? Work is appointed thee there; which thou shalt do. The Three Hundred have summoned and will again summon Marat: but always he croaks forth answer sufficient; always he will defy them, or elude them; and endure no gag.

Carra, ‘Ex-secretary of a decapitated Hospodar,’ and then of a Necklace–Cardinal; likewise pamphleteer, Adventurer in many scenes and lands, — draws nigh to Mercier, of the Tableau de Paris; and, with foam on his lips, proposes an Annales Patriotiques. The Moniteur goes its prosperous way; Barrere ‘weeps,’ on Paper as yet loyal; Rivarol, Royou are not idle. Deep calls to deep: your Domine Salvum Fac Regem shall awaken Pange Lingua; with an Ami-du-Peuple there is a King’s-Friend Newspaper, Ami-du-Roi. Camille Desmoulins has appointed himself Procureur–General de la Lanterne, Attorney–General of the Lamp-iron; and pleads, not with atrocity, under an atrocious title; editing weekly his brilliant Revolutions of Paris and Brabant. Brilliant, we say: for if, in that thick murk of Journalism, with its dull blustering, with its fixed or loose fury, any ray of genius greet thee, be sure it is Camille’s. The thing that Camille teaches he, with his light finger, adorns: brightness plays, gentle, unexpected, amid horrible confusions; often is the word of Camille worth reading, when no other’s is. Questionable Camille, how thou glitterest with a fallen, rebellious, yet still semi-celestial light; as is the star-light on the brow of Lucifer! Son of the Morning, into what times and what lands, art thou fallen!

But in all things is good; — though not good for ‘consolidating Revolutions.’ Thousand wagon-loads of this Pamphleteering and Newspaper matter, lie rotting slowly in the Public Libraries of our Europe. Snatched from the great gulf, like oysters by bibliomaniac pearl-divers, there must they first rot, then what was pearl, in Camille or others, may be seen as such, and continue as such.

Nor has public speaking declined, though Lafayette and his Patrols look sour on it. Loud always is the Palais Royal, loudest the Cafe de Foy; such a miscellany of Citizens and Citizenesses circulating there. ‘Now and then,’ according to Camille, ‘some Citizens employ the liberty of the press for a private purpose; so that this or the other Patriot finds himself short of his watch or pocket-handkerchief!’ But, for the rest, in Camille’s opinion, nothing can be a livelier image of the Roman Forum. ‘A Patriot proposes his motion; if it finds any supporters, they make him mount on a chair, and speak. If he is applauded, he prospers and redacts; if he is hissed, he goes his ways.’ Thus they, circulating and perorating. Tall shaggy Marquis Saint–Huruge, a man that has had losses, and has deserved them, is seen eminent, and also heard. ‘Bellowing’ is the character of his voice, like that of a Bull of Bashan; voice which drowns all voices, which causes frequently the hearts of men to leap. Cracked or half-cracked is this tall Marquis’s head; uncracked are his lungs; the cracked and the uncracked shall alike avail him.

Consider further that each of the Forty-eight Districts has its own Committee; speaking and motioning continually; aiding in the search for grain, in the search for a Constitution; checking and spurring the poor Three Hundred of the Townhall. That Danton, with a ‘voice reverberating from the domes,’ is President of the Cordeliers District; which has already become a Goshen of Patriotism. That apart from the ‘seventeen thousand utterly necessitous, digging on Montmartre,’ most of whom, indeed, have got passes, and been dismissed into Space ‘with four shillings,’ — there is a strike, or union, of Domestics out of place; who assemble for public speaking: next, a strike of Tailors, for even they will strike and speak; further, a strike of Journeymen Cordwainers; a strike of Apothecaries: so dear is bread. (Histoire Parlementaire, ii. 359, 417, 423.) All these, having struck, must speak; generally under the open canopy; and pass resolutions; — Lafayette and his Patrols watching them suspiciously from the distance.

Unhappy mortals: such tugging and lugging, and throttling of one another, to divide, in some not intolerable way, the joint Felicity of man in this Earth; when the whole lot to be divided is such a ‘feast of shells!’ — Diligent are the Three Hundred; none equals Scipio Americanus in dealing with mobs. But surely all these things bode ill for the consolidating of a Revolution.

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