The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 1

Patrollotism.

No, Friends, this Revolution is not of the consolidating kind. Do not fires, fevers, sown seeds, chemical mixtures, men, events; all embodiments of Force that work in this miraculous Complex of Forces, named Universe, — go on growing, through their natural phases and developments, each according to its kind; reach their height, reach their visible decline; finally sink under, vanishing, and what we call die? They all grow; there is nothing but what grows, and shoots forth into its special expansion, — once give it leave to spring. Observe too that each grows with a rapidity proportioned, in general, to the madness and unhealthiness there is in it: slow regular growth, though this also ends in death, is what we name health and sanity.

A Sansculottism, which has prostrated Bastilles, which has got pike and musket, and now goes burning Chateaus, passing resolutions and haranguing under roof and sky, may be said to have sprung; and, by law of Nature, must grow. To judge by the madness and diseasedness both of itself, and of the soil and element it is in, one might expect the rapidity and monstrosity would be extreme.

Many things too, especially all diseased things, grow by shoots and fits. The first grand fit and shooting forth of Sansculottism with that of Paris conquering its King; for Bailly’s figure of rhetoric was all-too sad a reality. The King is conquered; going at large on his parole; on condition, say, of absolutely good behaviour, — which, in these circumstances, will unhappily mean no behaviour whatever. A quite untenable position, that of Majesty put on its good behaviour! Alas, is it not natural that whatever lives try to keep itself living? Whereupon his Majesty’s behaviour will soon become exceptionable; and so the Second grand Fit of Sansculottism, that of putting him in durance, cannot be distant.

Necker, in the National Assembly, is making moan, as usual about his Deficit: Barriers and Customhouses burnt; the Tax-gatherer hunted, not hunting; his Majesty’s Exchequer all but empty. The remedy is a Loan of thirty millions; then, on still more enticing terms, a Loan of eighty millions: neither of which Loans, unhappily, will the Stockjobbers venture to lend. The Stockjobber has no country, except his own black pool of Agio.

And yet, in those days, for men that have a country, what a glow of patriotism burns in many a heart; penetrating inwards to the very purse! So early as the 7th of August, a Don Patriotique, ‘a Patriotic Gift of jewels to a considerable extent,’ has been solemnly made by certain Parisian women; and solemnly accepted, with honourable mention. Whom forthwith all the world takes to imitating and emulating. Patriotic Gifts, always with some heroic eloquence, which the President must answer and the Assembly listen to, flow in from far and near: in such number that the honourable mention can only be performed in ‘lists published at stated epochs.’ Each gives what he can: the very cordwainers have behaved munificently; one landed proprietor gives a forest; fashionable society gives its shoebuckles, takes cheerfully to shoe-ties. Unfortunate females give what they ‘have amassed in loving.’ (Histoire Parlementaire, ii. 427.) The smell of all cash, as Vespasian thought, is good.

Beautiful, and yet inadequate! The Clergy must be ‘invited’ to melt their superfluous Church-plate, — in the Royal Mint. Nay finally, a Patriotic Contribution, of the forcible sort, must be determined on, though unwillingly: let the fourth part of your declared yearly revenue, for this once only, be paid down; so shall a National Assembly make the Constitution, undistracted at least by insolvency. Their own wages, as settled on the 17th of August, are but Eighteen Francs a day, each man; but the Public Service must have sinews, must have money. To appease the Deficit; not to ‘combler, or choke the Deficit,’ if you or mortal could! For withal, as Mirabeau was heard saying, “it is the Deficit that saves us.”

Towards the end of August, our National Assembly in its constitutional labours, has got so far as the question of Veto: shall Majesty have a Veto on the National Enactments; or not have a Veto? What speeches were spoken, within doors and without; clear, and also passionate logic; imprecations, comminations; gone happily, for most part, to Limbo! Through the cracked brain, and uncracked lungs of Saint–Huruge, the Palais Royal rebellows with Veto. Journalism is busy, France rings with Veto. ‘I shall never forget,’ says Dumont, ‘my going to Paris, one of these days, with Mirabeau; and the crowd of people we found waiting for his carriage, about Le Jay the Bookseller’s shop. They flung themselves before him; conjuring him with tears in their eyes not to suffer the Veto Absolu. They were in a frenzy: “Monsieur le Comte, you are the people’s father; you must save us; you must defend us against those villains who are bringing back Despotism. If the King get this Veto, what is the use of National Assembly? We are slaves, all is done.”’ (Souvenirs sur Mirabeau, p. 156.) Friends, if the sky fall, there will be catching of larks! Mirabeau, adds Dumont, was eminent on such occasions: he answered vaguely, with a Patrician imperturbability, and bound himself to nothing.

Deputations go to the Hotel-de-Ville; anonymous Letters to Aristocrats in the National Assembly, threatening that fifteen thousand, or sometimes that sixty thousand, ‘will march to illuminate you.’ The Paris Districts are astir; Petitions signing: Saint–Huruge sets forth from the Palais Royal, with an escort of fifteen hundred individuals, to petition in person. Resolute, or seemingly so, is the tall shaggy Marquis, is the Cafe de Foy: but resolute also is Commandant–General Lafayette. The streets are all beset by Patrols: Saint–Huruge is stopped at the Barriere des Bon Hommes; he may bellow like the bulls of Bashan; but absolutely must return. The brethren of the Palais Royal ‘circulate all night,’ and make motions, under the open canopy; all Coffee-houses being shut. Nevertheless Lafayette and the Townhall do prevail: Saint–Huruge is thrown into prison; Veto Absolu adjusts itself into Suspensive Veto, prohibition not forever, but for a term of time; and this doom’s-clamour will grow silent, as the others have done.

So far has Consolidation prospered, though with difficulty; repressing the Nether Sansculottic world; and the Constitution shall be made. With difficulty: amid jubilee and scarcity; Patriotic Gifts, Bakers’-queues; Abbe–Fauchet Harangues, with their Amen of platoon-musketry! Scipio Americanus has deserved thanks from the National Assembly and France. They offer him stipends and emoluments, to a handsome extent; all which stipends and emoluments he, covetous of far other blessedness than mere money, does, in his chivalrous way, without scruple, refuse.

To the Parisian common man, meanwhile, one thing remains inconceivable: that now when the Bastille is down, and French Liberty restored, grain should continue so dear. Our Rights of Man are voted, Feudalism and all Tyranny abolished; yet behold we stand in queue! Is it Aristocrat forestallers; a Court still bent on intrigues? Something is rotten, somewhere.

And yet, alas, what to do? Lafayette, with his Patrols prohibits every thing, even complaint. Saint–Huruge and other heroes of the Veto lie in durance. People’s-Friend Marat was seized; Printers of Patriotic Journals are fettered and forbidden; the very Hawkers cannot cry, till they get license, and leaden badges. Blue National Guards ruthlessly dissipate all groups; scour, with levelled bayonets, the Palais Royal itself. Pass, on your affairs, along the Rue Taranne, the Patrol, presenting his bayonet, cries, To the left! Turn into the Rue Saint–Benoit, he cries, To the right! A judicious Patriot (like Camille Desmoulins, in this instance) is driven, for quietness’s sake, to take the gutter.

O much-suffering People, our glorious Revolution is evaporating in tricolor ceremonies, and complimentary harangues! Of which latter, as Loustalot acridly calculates, ‘upwards of two thousand have been delivered within the last month, at the Townhall alone.’ (Revolutions de Paris Newspaper (cited in Histoire Parlementaire, ii. 357).) And our mouths, unfilled with bread, are to be shut, under penalties? The Caricaturist promulgates his emblematic Tablature: Le Patrouillotisme chassant le Patriotisme, Patriotism driven out by Patrollotism. Ruthless Patrols; long superfine harangues; and scanty ill-baked loaves, more like baked Bath bricks, — which produce an effect on the intestines! Where will this end? In consolidation?

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