The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 10

The Grand Entries.

The dull dawn of a new morning, drizzly and chill, had but broken over Versailles, when it pleased Destiny that a Bodyguard should look out of window, on the right wing of the Chateau, to see what prospect there was in Heaven and in Earth. Rascality male and female is prowling in view of him. His fasting stomach is, with good cause, sour; he perhaps cannot forbear a passing malison on them; least of all can he forbear answering such.

Ill words breed worse: till the worst word came; and then the ill deed. Did the maledicent Bodyguard, getting (as was too inevitable) better malediction than he gave, load his musketoon, and threaten to fire; and actually fire? Were wise who wist! It stands asserted; to us not credibly. Be this as it may, menaced Rascality, in whinnying scorn, is shaking at all Grates: the fastening of one (some write, it was a chain merely) gives way; Rascality is in the Grand Court, whinnying louder still.

The maledicent Bodyguard, more Bodyguards than he do now give fire; a man’s arm is shattered. Lecointre will depose (Deposition de Lecointre in Hist. Parl. iii. 111–115.) that ‘the Sieur Cardaine, a National Guard without arms, was stabbed.’ But see, sure enough, poor Jerome l’Heritier, an unarmed National Guard he too, ‘cabinet-maker, a saddler’s son, of Paris,’ with the down of youthhood still on his chin, — he reels death-stricken; rushes to the pavement, scattering it with his blood and brains! — Allelew! Wilder than Irish wakes, rises the howl: of pity; of infinite revenge. In few moments, the Grate of the inner and inmost Court, which they name Court of Marble, this too is forced, or surprised, and burst open: the Court of Marble too is overflowed: up the Grand Staircase, up all stairs and entrances rushes the living Deluge! Deshuttes and Varigny, the two sentry Bodyguards, are trodden down, are massacred with a hundred pikes. Women snatch their cutlasses, or any weapon, and storm-in Menadic:— other women lift the corpse of shot Jerome; lay it down on the Marble steps; there shall the livid face and smashed head, dumb for ever, speak.

Wo now to all Bodyguards, mercy is none for them! Miomandre de Sainte–Marie pleads with soft words, on the Grand Staircase, ‘descending four steps:’ — to the roaring tornado. His comrades snatch him up, by the skirts and belts; literally, from the jaws of Destruction; and slam-to their Door. This also will stand few instants; the panels shivering in, like potsherds. Barricading serves not: fly fast, ye Bodyguards; rabid Insurrection, like the hellhound Chase, uproaring at your heels!

The terrorstruck Bodyguards fly, bolting and barricading; it follows. Whitherward? Through hall on hall: wo, now! towards the Queen’s Suite of Rooms, in the furtherest room of which the Queen is now asleep. Five sentinels rush through that long Suite; they are in the Anteroom knocking loud: “Save the Queen!” Trembling women fall at their feet with tears; are answered: “Yes, we will die; save ye the Queen!”

Tremble not, women, but haste: for, lo, another voice shouts far through the outermost door, “Save the Queen!” and the door shut. It is brave Miomandre’s voice that shouts this second warning. He has stormed across imminent death to do it; fronts imminent death, having done it. Brave Tardivet du Repaire, bent on the same desperate service, was borne down with pikes; his comrades hardly snatched him in again alive. Miomandre and Tardivet: let the names of these two Bodyguards, as the names of brave men should, live long.

Trembling Maids of Honour, one of whom from afar caught glimpse of Miomandre as well as heard him, hastily wrap the Queen; not in robes of State. She flies for her life, across the Oeil-de-Boeuf; against the main door of which too Insurrection batters. She is in the King’s Apartment, in the King’s arms; she clasps her children amid a faithful few. The Imperial-hearted bursts into mother’s tears: “O my friends, save me and my children, O mes amis, sauvez moi et mes enfans!” The battering of Insurrectionary axes clangs audible across the Oeil-de-Boeuf. What an hour!

Yes, Friends: a hideous fearful hour; shameful alike to Governed and Governor; wherein Governed and Governor ignominiously testify that their relation is at an end. Rage, which had brewed itself in twenty thousand hearts, for the last four-and-twenty hours, has taken fire: Jerome’s brained corpse lies there as live-coal. It is, as we said, the infinite Element bursting in: wild-surging through all corridors and conduits.

Meanwhile, the poor Bodyguards have got hunted mostly into the Oeil-de-Boeuf. They may die there, at the King’s threshhold; they can do little to defend it. They are heaping tabourets (stools of honour), benches and all moveables, against the door; at which the axe of Insurrection thunders. — But did brave Miomandre perish, then, at the Queen’s door? No, he was fractured, slashed, lacerated, left for dead; he has nevertheless crawled hither; and shall live, honoured of loyal France. Remark also, in flat contradiction to much which has been said and sung, that Insurrection did not burst that door he had defended; but hurried elsewhither, seeking new bodyguards. (Campan, ii. 75–87.)

Poor Bodyguards, with their Thyestes’ Opera–Repast! Well for them, that Insurrection has only pikes and axes; no right sieging tools! It shakes and thunders. Must they all perish miserably, and Royalty with them? Deshuttes and Varigny, massacred at the first inbreak, have been beheaded in the Marble Court: a sacrifice to Jerome’s manes: Jourdan with the tile-beard did that duty willingly; and asked, If there were no more? Another captive they are leading round the corpse, with howl-chauntings: may not Jourdan again tuck up his sleeves?

And louder and louder rages Insurrection within, plundering if it cannot kill; louder and louder it thunders at the Oeil-de-Boeuf: what can now hinder its bursting in? — On a sudden it ceases; the battering has ceased! Wild rushing: the cries grow fainter: there is silence, or the tramp of regular steps; then a friendly knocking: “We are the Centre Grenadiers, old Gardes Francaises: Open to us, Messieurs of the Garde-du-Corps; we have not forgotten how you saved us at Fontenoy!” (Toulongeon, i. 144.) The door is opened; enter Captain Gondran and the Centre Grenadiers: there are military embracings; there is sudden deliverance from death into life.

Strange Sons of Adam! It was to ‘exterminate’ these Gardes-du-Corps that the Centre Grenadiers left home: and now they have rushed to save them from extermination. The memory of common peril, of old help, melts the rough heart; bosom is clasped to bosom, not in war. The King shews himself, one moment, through the door of his Apartment, with: “Do not hurt my Guards!” — “Soyons freres, Let us be brothers!” cries Captain Gondran; and again dashes off, with levelled bayonets, to sweep the Palace clear.

Now too Lafayette, suddenly roused, not from sleep (for his eyes had not yet closed), arrives; with passionate popular eloquence, with prompt military word of command. National Guards, suddenly roused, by sound of trumpet and alarm-drum, are all arriving. The death-melly ceases: the first sky-lambent blaze of Insurrection is got damped down; it burns now, if unextinguished, yet flameless, as charred coals do, and not inextinguishable. The King’s Apartments are safe. Ministers, Officials, and even some loyal National deputies are assembling round their Majesties. The consternation will, with sobs and confusion, settle down gradually, into plan and counsel, better or worse.

But glance now, for a moment, from the royal windows! A roaring sea of human heads, inundating both Courts; billowing against all passages: Menadic women; infuriated men, mad with revenge, with love of mischief, love of plunder! Rascality has slipped its muzzle; and now bays, three-throated, like the Dog of Erebus. Fourteen Bodyguards are wounded; two massacred, and as we saw, beheaded; Jourdan asking, “Was it worth while to come so far for two?” Hapless Deshuttes and Varigny! Their fate surely was sad. Whirled down so suddenly to the abyss; as men are, suddenly, by the wide thunder of the Mountain Avalanche, awakened not by them, awakened far off by others! When the Chateau Clock last struck, they two were pacing languid, with poised musketoon; anxious mainly that the next hour would strike. It has struck; to them inaudible. Their trunks lie mangled: their heads parade, ‘on pikes twelve feet long,’ through the streets of Versailles; and shall, about noon reach the Barriers of Paris, — a too ghastly contradiction to the large comfortable Placards that have been posted there!

The other captive Bodyguard is still circling the corpse of Jerome, amid Indian war-whooping; bloody Tilebeard, with tucked sleeves, brandishing his bloody axe; when Gondran and the Grenadiers come in sight. “Comrades, will you see a man massacred in cold blood?” — “Off, butchers!” answer they; and the poor Bodyguard is free. Busy runs Gondran, busy run Guards and Captains; scouring at all corridors; dispersing Rascality and Robbery; sweeping the Palace clear. The mangled carnage is removed; Jerome’s body to the Townhall, for inquest: the fire of Insurrection gets damped, more and more, into measurable, manageable heat.

Transcendent things of all sorts, as in the general outburst of multitudinous Passion, are huddled together; the ludicrous, nay the ridiculous, with the horrible. Far over the billowy sea of heads, may be seen Rascality, caprioling on horses from the Royal Stud. The Spoilers these; for Patriotism is always infected so, with a proportion of mere thieves and scoundrels. Gondran snatched their prey from them in the Chateau; whereupon they hurried to the Stables, and took horse there. But the generous Diomedes’ steeds, according to Weber, disdained such scoundrel-burden; and, flinging up their royal heels, did soon project most of it, in parabolic curves, to a distance, amid peals of laughter: and were caught. Mounted National Guards secured the rest.

Now too is witnessed the touching last-flicker of Etiquette; which sinks not here, in the Cimmerian World-wreckage, without a sign, as the house-cricket might still chirp in the pealing of a Trump of Doom. “Monsieur,” said some Master of Ceremonies (one hopes it might be de Breze), as Lafayette, in these fearful moments, was rushing towards the inner Royal Apartments, “Monsieur, le Roi vous accorde les grandes entrees, Monsieur, the King grants you the Grand Entries,” — not finding it convenient to refuse them! (Toulongeon, 1 App. 120.)

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