The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 5

Usher Maillard.

In flames, truly, — were it not that Usher Maillard, swift of foot, shifty of head, has returned!

Maillard, of his own motion, for Gouvion or the rest would not even sanction him, — snatches a drum; descends the Porch-stairs, ran-tan, beating sharp, with loud rolls, his Rogues’-march: To Versailles! Allons; a Versailles! As men beat on kettle or warmingpan, when angry she-bees, or say, flying desperate wasps, are to be hived; and the desperate insects hear it, and cluster round it, — simply as round a guidance, where there was none: so now these Menads round shifty Maillard, Riding–Usher of the Chatelet. The axe pauses uplifted; Abbe Lefevre is left half-hanged; from the belfry downwards all vomits itself. What rub-a-dub is that? Stanislas Maillard, Bastille-hero, will lead us to Versailles? Joy to thee, Maillard; blessed art thou above Riding–Ushers! Away then, away!

The seized cannon are yoked with seized cart-horses: brown-locked Demoiselle Theroigne, with pike and helmet, sits there as gunneress, ‘with haughty eye and serene fair countenance;’ comparable, some think, to the Maid of Orleans, or even recalling ‘the idea of Pallas Athene.’ (Deux Amis, iii. 157.) Maillard (for his drum still rolls) is, by heaven-rending acclamation, admitted General. Maillard hastens the languid march. Maillard, beating rhythmic, with sharp ran-tan, all along the Quais, leads forward, with difficulty his Menadic host. Such a host — marched not in silence! The bargeman pauses on the River; all wagoners and coachdrivers fly; men peer from windows, — not women, lest they be pressed. Sight of sights: Bacchantes, in these ultimate Formalized Ages! Bronze Henri looks on, from his Pont–Neuf; the Monarchic Louvre, Medicean Tuileries see a day not theretofore seen.

And now Maillard has his Menads in the Champs Elysees (Fields Tartarean rather); and the Hotel-de-Ville has suffered comparatively nothing. Broken doors; an Abbe Lefevre, who shall never more distribute powder; three sacks of money, most part of which (for Sansculottism, though famishing, is not without honour) shall be returned: (Hist. Parl. iii. 310.) this is all the damage. Great Maillard! A small nucleus of Order is round his drum; but his outskirts fluctuate like the mad Ocean: for Rascality male and female is flowing in on him, from the four winds; guidance there is none but in his single head and two drumsticks.

O Maillard, when, since War first was, had General of Force such a task before him, as thou this day? Walter the Penniless still touches the feeling heart: but then Walter had sanction; had space to turn in; and also his Crusaders were of the male sex. Thou, this day, disowned of Heaven and Earth, art General of Menads. Their inarticulate frenzy thou must on the spur of the instant, render into articulate words, into actions that are not frantic. Fail in it, this way or that! Pragmatical Officiality, with its penalties and law-books, waits before thee; Menads storm behind. If such hewed off the melodious head of Orpheus, and hurled it into the Peneus waters, what may they not make of thee, — thee rhythmic merely, with no music but a sheepskin drum! — Maillard did not fail. Remarkable Maillard, if fame were not an accident, and History a distillation of Rumour, how remarkable wert thou!

On the Elysian Fields, there is pause and fluctuation; but, for Maillard, no return. He persuades his Menads, clamorous for arms and the Arsenal, that no arms are in the Arsenal; that an unarmed attitude, and petition to a National Assembly, will be the best: he hastily nominates or sanctions generalesses, captains of tens and fifties; — and so, in loosest-flowing order, to the rhythm of some ‘eight drums’ (having laid aside his own), with the Bastille Volunteers bringing up his rear, once more takes the road.

Chaillot, which will promptly yield baked loaves, is not plundered; nor are the Sevres Potteries broken. The old arches of Sevres Bridge echo under Menadic feet; Seine River gushes on with his perpetual murmur; and Paris flings after us the boom of tocsin and alarm-drum, — inaudible, for the present, amid shrill-sounding hosts, and the splash of rainy weather. To Meudon, to Saint Cloud, on both hands, the report of them is gone abroad; and hearths, this evening, will have a topic. The press of women still continues, for it is the cause of all Eve’s Daughters, mothers that are, or that hope to be. No carriage-lady, were it with never such hysterics, but must dismount, in the mud roads, in her silk shoes, and walk. (Deux Amis, iii. 159.) In this manner, amid wild October weather, they a wild unwinged stork-flight, through the astonished country, wend their way. Travellers of all sorts they stop; especially travellers or couriers from Paris. Deputy Lechapelier, in his elegant vesture, from his elegant vehicle, looks forth amazed through his spectacles; apprehensive for life; — states eagerly that he is Patriot–Deputy Lechapelier, and even Old–President Lechapelier, who presided on the Night of Pentecost, and is original member of the Breton Club. Thereupon ‘rises huge shout of Vive Lechapelier, and several armed persons spring up behind and before to escort him.’ (Ibid. iii. 177; Dictionnaire des Hommes Marquans, ii. 379.)

Nevertheless, news, despatches from Lafayette, or vague noise of rumour, have pierced through, by side roads. In the National Assembly, while all is busy discussing the order of the day; regretting that there should be Anti-national Repasts in Opera–Halls; that his Majesty should still hesitate about accepting the Rights of Man, and hang conditions and peradventures on them, — Mirabeau steps up to the President, experienced Mounier as it chanced to be; and articulates, in bass under-tone: “Mounier, Paris marche sur nous (Paris is marching on us).” — “May be (Je n’en sais rien)!” — “Believe it or disbelieve it, that is not my concern; but Paris, I say, is marching on us. Fall suddenly unwell; go over to the Chateau; tell them this. There is not a moment to lose.” — “Paris marching on us?” responds Mounier, with an atrabiliar accent, “Well, so much the better! We shall the sooner be a Republic.” Mirabeau quits him, as one quits an experienced President getting blindfold into deep waters; and the order of the day continues as before.

Yes, Paris is marching on us; and more than the women of Paris! Scarcely was Maillard gone, when M. de Gouvion’s message to all the Districts, and such tocsin and drumming of the generale, began to take effect. Armed National Guards from every District; especially the Grenadiers of the Centre, who are our old Gardes Francaises, arrive, in quick sequence, on the Place de Greve. An ‘immense people’ is there; Saint–Antoine, with pike and rusty firelock, is all crowding thither, be it welcome or unwelcome. The Centre Grenadiers are received with cheering: “it is not cheers that we want,” answer they gloomily; “the nation has been insulted; to arms, and come with us for orders!” Ha, sits the wind so? Patriotism and Patrollotism are now one!

The Three Hundred have assembled; ‘all the Committees are in activity;’ Lafayette is dictating despatches for Versailles, when a Deputation of the Centre Grenadiers introduces itself to him. The Deputation makes military obeisance; and thus speaks, not without a kind of thought in it: “Mon General, we are deputed by the Six Companies of Grenadiers. We do not think you a traitor, but we think the Government betrays you; it is time that this end. We cannot turn our bayonets against women crying to us for bread. The people are miserable, the source of the mischief is at Versailles: we must go seek the King, and bring him to Paris. We must exterminate (exterminer) the Regiment de Flandre and the Gardes-du-Corps, who have dared to trample on the National Cockade. If the King be too weak to wear his crown, let him lay it down. You will crown his Son, you will name a Council of Regency; and all will go better.” (Deux Amis, iii. 161.) Reproachful astonishment paints itself on the face of Lafayette; speaks itself from his eloquent chivalrous lips: in vain. “My General, we would shed the last drop of our blood for you; but the root of the mischief is at Versailles; we must go and bring the King to Paris; all the people wish it, tout le peuple le veut.”

My General descends to the outer staircase; and harangues: once more in vain. “To Versailles! To Versailles!” Mayor Bailly, sent for through floods of Sansculottism, attempts academic oratory from his gilt state-coach; realizes nothing but infinite hoarse cries of: “Bread! To Versailles!” — and gladly shrinks within doors. Lafayette mounts the white charger; and again harangues and reharangues: with eloquence, with firmness, indignant demonstration; with all things but persuasion. “To Versailles! To Versailles!” So lasts it, hour after hour; for the space of half a day.

The great Scipio Americanus can do nothing; not so much as escape. “Morbleu, mon General,” cry the Grenadiers serrying their ranks as the white charger makes a motion that way, “You will not leave us, you will abide with us!” A perilous juncture: Mayor Bailly and the Municipals sit quaking within doors; My General is prisoner without: the Place de Greve, with its thirty thousand Regulars, its whole irregular Saint–Antoine and Saint–Marceau, is one minatory mass of clear or rusty steel; all hearts set, with a moody fixedness, on one object. Moody, fixed are all hearts: tranquil is no heart, — if it be not that of the white charger, who paws there, with arched neck, composedly champing his bit; as if no world, with its Dynasties and Eras, were now rushing down. The drizzly day tends westward; the cry is still: “To Versailles!”

Nay now, borne from afar, come quite sinister cries; hoarse, reverberating in longdrawn hollow murmurs, with syllables too like those of Lanterne! Or else, irregular Sansculottism may be marching off, of itself; with pikes, nay with cannon. The inflexible Scipio does at length, by aide-de-camp, ask of the Municipals: Whether or not he may go? A Letter is handed out to him, over armed heads; sixty thousand faces flash fixedly on his, there is stillness and no bosom breathes, till he have read. By Heaven, he grows suddenly pale! Do the Municipals permit? ‘Permit and even order,’ — since he can no other. Clangour of approval rends the welkin. To your ranks, then; let us march!

It is, as we compute, towards three in the afternoon. Indignant National Guards may dine for once from their haversack: dined or undined, they march with one heart. Paris flings up her windows, claps hands, as the Avengers, with their shrilling drums and shalms tramp by; she will then sit pensive, apprehensive, and pass rather a sleepless night. (Deux Amis, iii. 165.) On the white charger, Lafayette, in the slowest possible manner, going and coming, and eloquently haranguing among the ranks, rolls onward with his thirty thousand. Saint–Antoine, with pike and cannon, has preceded him; a mixed multitude, of all and of no arms, hovers on his flanks and skirts; the country once more pauses agape: Paris marche sur nous.

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