The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 2

O Richard, O my King.

For, alas, neither is the Townhall itself without misgivings. The Nether Sansculottic world has been suppressed hitherto: but then the Upper Court-world! Symptoms there are that the Oeil-de-Boeuf is rallying.

More than once in the Townhall Sanhedrim; often enough, from those outspoken Bakers’-queues, has the wish uttered itself: O that our Restorer of French Liberty were here; that he could see with his own eyes, not with the false eyes of Queens and Cabals, and his really good heart be enlightened! For falsehood still environs him; intriguing Dukes de Guiche, with Bodyguards; scouts of Bouille; a new flight of intriguers, now that the old is flown. What else means this advent of the Regiment de Flandre; entering Versailles, as we hear, on the 23rd of September, with two pieces of cannon? Did not the Versailles National Guard do duty at the Chateau? Had they not Swiss; Hundred Swiss; Gardes-du-Corps, Bodyguards so-called? Nay, it would seem, the number of Bodyguards on duty has, by a manoeuvre, been doubled: the new relieving Battalion of them arrived at its time; but the old relieved one does not depart!

Actually, there runs a whisper through the best informed Upper–Circles, or a nod still more potentous than whispering, of his Majesty’s flying to Metz; of a Bond (to stand by him therein) which has been signed by Noblesse and Clergy, to the incredible amount of thirty, or even of sixty thousand. Lafayette coldly whispers it, and coldly asseverates it, to Count d’Estaing at the Dinner-table; and d’Estaing, one of the bravest men, quakes to the core lest some lackey overhear it; and tumbles thoughtful, without sleep, all night. (Brouillon de Lettre de M. d’Estaing a la Reine in Histoire Parlementaire, iii. 24.) Regiment Flandre, as we said, is clearly arrived. His Majesty, they say, hesitates about sanctioning the Fourth of August; makes observations, of chilling tenor, on the very Rights of Man! Likewise, may not all persons, the Bakers’-queues themselves discern on the streets of Paris, the most astonishing number of Officers on furlough, Crosses of St. Louis, and such like? Some reckon ‘from a thousand to twelve hundred.’ Officers of all uniforms; nay one uniform never before seen by eye: green faced with red! The tricolor cockade is not always visible: but what, in the name of Heaven, may these black cockades, which some wear, foreshadow?

Hunger whets everything, especially Suspicion and Indignation. Realities themselves, in this Paris, have grown unreal: preternatural. Phantasms once more stalk through the brain of hungry France. O ye laggards and dastards, cry shrill voices from the Queues, if ye had the hearts of men, ye would take your pikes and secondhand firelocks, and look into it; not leave your wives and daughters to be starved, murdered, and worse! — Peace, women! The heart of man is bitter and heavy; Patriotism, driven out by Patrollotism, knows not what to resolve on.

The truth is, the Oeil-de-Boeuf has rallied; to a certain unknown extent. A changed Oeil-de-Boeuf; with Versailles National Guards, in their tricolor cockades, doing duty there; a Court all flaring with tricolor! Yet even to a tricolor Court men will rally. Ye loyal hearts, burnt-out Seigneurs, rally round your Queen! With wishes; which will produce hopes; which will produce attempts!

For indeed self-preservation being such a law of Nature, what can a rallied Court do, but attempt and endeavour, or call it plot, — with such wisdom and unwisdom as it has? They will fly, escorted, to Metz, where brave Bouille commands; they will raise the Royal Standard: the Bond-signatures shall become armed men. Were not the King so languid! Their Bond, if at all signed, must be signed without his privity. — Unhappy King, he has but one resolution: not to have a civil war. For the rest, he still hunts, having ceased lockmaking; he still dozes, and digests; is clay in the hands of the potter. Ill will it fare with him, in a world where all is helping itself; where, as has been written, ‘whosoever is not hammer must be stithy;’ and ‘the very hyssop on the wall grows there, in that chink, because the whole Universe could not prevent its growing!’

But as for the coming up of this Regiment de Flandre, may it not be urged that there were Saint–Huruge Petitions, and continual meal-mobs? Undebauched Soldiers, be there plot, or only dim elements of a plot, are always good. Did not the Versailles Municipality (an old Monarchic one, not yet refounded into a Democratic) instantly second the proposal? Nay the very Versailles National Guard, wearied with continual duty at the Chateau, did not object; only Draper Lecointre, who is now Major Lecointre, shook his head. — Yes, Friends, surely it was natural this Regiment de Flandre should be sent for, since it could be got. It was natural that, at sight of military bandoleers, the heart of the rallied Oeil-de-Boeuf should revive; and Maids of Honour, and gentlemen of honour, speak comfortable words to epauletted defenders, and to one another. Natural also, and mere common civility, that the Bodyguards, a Regiment of Gentlemen, should invite their Flandre brethren to a Dinner of welcome! — Such invitation, in the last days of September, is given and accepted.

Dinners are defined as ‘the ultimate act of communion;’ men that can have communion in nothing else, can sympathetically eat together, can still rise into some glow of brotherhood over food and wine. The dinner is fixed on, for Thursday the First of October; and ought to have a fine effect. Further, as such Dinner may be rather extensive, and even the Noncommissioned and the Common man be introduced, to see and to hear, could not His Majesty’s Opera Apartment, which has lain quite silent ever since Kaiser Joseph was here, be obtained for the purpose? — The Hall of the Opera is granted; the Salon d’Hercule shall be drawingroom. Not only the Officers of Flandre, but of the Swiss, of the Hundred Swiss, nay of the Versailles National Guard, such of them as have any loyalty, shall feast: it will be a Repast like few.

And now suppose this Repast, the solid part of it, transacted; and the first bottle over. Suppose the customary loyal toasts drunk; the King’s health, the Queen’s with deafening vivats; — that of the Nation ‘omitted,’ or even ‘rejected.’ Suppose champagne flowing; with pot-valorous speech, with instrumental music; empty feathered heads growing ever the noisier, in their own emptiness, in each other’s noise! Her Majesty, who looks unusually sad to-night (his Majesty sitting dulled with the day’s hunting), is told that the sight of it would cheer her. Behold! She enters there, issuing from her State-rooms, like the Moon from the clouds, this fairest unhappy Queen of Hearts; royal Husband by her side, young Dauphin in her arms! She descends from the Boxes, amid splendour and acclaim; walks queen-like, round the Tables; gracefully escorted, gracefully nodding; her looks full of sorrow, yet of gratitude and daring, with the hope of France on her mother-bosom! And now, the band striking up, O Richard, O mon Roi, l’univers t’abandonne (O Richard, O my King, and world is all forsaking thee) — could man do other than rise to height of pity, of loyal valour? Could featherheaded young ensigns do other than, by white Bourbon Cockades, handed them from fair fingers; by waving of swords, drawn to pledge the Queen’s health; by trampling of National Cockades; by scaling the Boxes, whence intrusive murmurs may come; by vociferation, tripudiation, sound, fury and distraction, within doors and without, — testify what tempest-tost state of vacuity they are in? Till champagne and tripudiation do their work; and all lie silent, horizontal; passively slumbering, with meed-of-battle dreams! —

A natural Repast, in ordinary times, a harmless one: now fatal, as that of Thyestes; as that of Job’s Sons, when a strong wind smote the four corners of their banquet-house! Poor ill-advised Marie–Antoinette; with a woman’s vehemence, not with a sovereign’s foresight! It was so natural, yet so unwise. Next day, in public speech of ceremony, her Majesty declares herself ‘delighted with the Thursday.’

The heart of the Oeil-de-Boeuf glows into hope; into daring, which is premature. Rallied Maids of Honour, waited on by Abbes, sew ‘white cockades;’ distribute them, with words, with glances, to epauletted youths; who in return, may kiss, not without fervour, the fair sewing fingers. Captains of horse and foot go swashing with ‘enormous white cockades;’ nay one Versailles National Captain had mounted the like, so witching were the words and glances; and laid aside his tricolor! Well may Major Lecointre shake his head with a look of severity; and speak audible resentful words. But now a swashbuckler, with enormous white cockade, overhearing the Major, invites him insolently, once and then again elsewhere, to recant; and failing that, to duel. Which latter feat Major Lecointre declares that he will not perform, not at least by any known laws of fence; that he nevertheless will, according to mere law of Nature, by dirk and blade, ‘exterminate’ any ‘vile gladiator,’ who may insult him or the Nation; — whereupon (for the Major is actually drawing his implement) ‘they are parted,’ and no weasands slit. (Moniteur (in Histoire Parlementaire, iii. 59); Deux Amis (iii. 128–141); Campan (ii. 70–85), &c. &c.)

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