The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 6

To Versailles.

For, indeed, about this same moment, Maillard has halted his draggled Menads on the last hill-top; and now Versailles, and the Chateau of Versailles, and far and wide the inheritance of Royalty opens to the wondering eye. From far on the right, over Marly and Saint–Germains-en-Laye; round towards Rambouillet, on the left: beautiful all; softly embosomed; as if in sadness, in the dim moist weather! And near before us is Versailles, New and Old; with that broad frondent Avenue de Versailles between, — stately-frondent, broad, three hundred feet as men reckon, with four Rows of Elms; and then the Chateau de Versailles, ending in royal Parks and Pleasances, gleaming lakelets, arbours, Labyrinths, the Menagerie, and Great and Little Trianon. High-towered dwellings, leafy pleasant places; where the gods of this lower world abide: whence, nevertheless, black Care cannot be excluded; whither Menadic Hunger is even now advancing, armed with pike-thyrsi!

Yes, yonder, Mesdames, where our straight frondent Avenue, joined, as you note, by Two frondent brother Avenues from this hand and from that, spreads out into Place Royale and Palace Forecourt; yonder is the Salle des Menus. Yonder an august Assembly sits regenerating France. Forecourt, Grand Court, Court of Marble, Court narrowing into Court you may discern next, or fancy: on the extreme verge of which that glass-dome, visibly glittering like a star of hope, is the — Oeil-de-Boeuf! Yonder, or nowhere in the world, is bread baked for us. But, O Mesdames, were not one thing good: That our cannons, with Demoiselle Theroigne and all show of war, be put to the rear? Submission beseems petitioners of a National Assembly; we are strangers in Versailles, — whence, too audibly, there comes even now sound as of tocsin and generale! Also to put on, if possible, a cheerful countenance, hiding our sorrows; and even to sing? Sorrow, pitied of the Heavens, is hateful, suspicious to the Earth. — So counsels shifty Maillard; haranguing his Menads, on the heights near Versailles. (See Hist. Parl. iii. 70–117; Deux Amis, iii. 166–177, &c.)

Cunning Maillard’s dispositions are obeyed. The draggled Insurrectionists advance up the Avenue, ‘in three columns, among the four Elm-rows; ‘singing Henri Quatre,’ with what melody they can; and shouting Vive le Roi. Versailles, though the Elm-rows are dripping wet, crowds from both sides, with: “Vivent nos Parisiennes, Our Paris ones for ever!”

Prickers, scouts have been out towards Paris, as the rumour deepened: whereby his Majesty, gone to shoot in the Woods of Meudon, has been happily discovered, and got home; and the generale and tocsin set a-sounding. The Bodyguards are already drawn up in front of the Palace Grates; and look down the Avenue de Versailles; sulky, in wet buckskins. Flandre too is there, repentant of the Opera–Repast. Also Dragoons dismounted are there. Finally Major Lecointre, and what he can gather of the Versailles National Guard; though, it is to be observed, our Colonel, that same sleepless Count d’Estaing, giving neither order nor ammunition, has vanished most improperly; one supposes, into the Oeil-de-Boeuf. Red-coated Swiss stand within the Grates, under arms. There likewise, in their inner room, ‘all the Ministers,’ Saint–Priest, Lamentation Pompignan and the rest, are assembled with M. Necker: they sit with him there; blank, expecting what the hour will bring.

President Mounier, though he answered Mirabeau with a tant mieux, and affected to slight the matter, had his own forebodings. Surely, for these four weary hours, he has reclined not on roses! The order of the day is getting forward: a Deputation to his Majesty seems proper, that it might please him to grant ‘Acceptance pure and simple’ to those Constitution–Articles of ours; the ‘mixed qualified Acceptance,’ with its peradventures, is satisfactory to neither gods nor men.

So much is clear. And yet there is more, which no man speaks, which all men now vaguely understand. Disquietude, absence of mind is on every face; Members whisper, uneasily come and go: the order of the day is evidently not the day’s want. Till at length, from the outer gates, is heard a rustling and justling, shrill uproar and squabbling, muffled by walls; which testifies that the hour is come! Rushing and crushing one hears now; then enter Usher Maillard, with a Deputation of Fifteen muddy dripping Women, — having by incredible industry, and aid of all the macers, persuaded the rest to wait out of doors. National Assembly shall now, therefore, look its august task directly in the face: regenerative Constitutionalism has an unregenerate Sansculottism bodily in front of it; crying, “Bread! Bread!”

Shifty Maillard, translating frenzy into articulation; repressive with the one hand, expostulative with the other, does his best; and really, though not bred to public speaking, manages rather well:— In the present dreadful rarity of grains, a Deputation of Female Citizens has, as the august Assembly can discern, come out from Paris to petition. Plots of Aristocrats are too evident in the matter; for example, one miller has been bribed ‘by a banknote of 200 livres’ not to grind, — name unknown to the Usher, but fact provable, at least indubitable. Further, it seems, the National Cockade has been trampled on; also there are Black Cockades, or were. All which things will not an august National Assembly, the hope of France, take into its wise immediate consideration?

And Menadic Hunger, impressible, crying “Black Cockades,” crying “Bread, Bread,” adds, after such fashion: “Will it not? — Yes, Messieurs, if a Deputation to his Majesty, for the ‘Acceptance pure and simple,’ seemed proper, — how much more now, for ‘the afflicting situation of Paris;’ for the calming of this effervescence!” President Mounier, with a speedy Deputation, among whom we notice the respectable figure of Doctor Guillotin, gets himself forthwith on march. Vice–President shall continue the order of the day; Usher Maillard shall stay by him to repress the women. It is four o’clock, of the miserablest afternoon, when Mounier steps out.

O experienced Mounier, what an afternoon; the last of thy political existence! Better had it been to ‘fall suddenly unwell,’ while it was yet time. For, behold, the Esplanade, over all its spacious expanse, is covered with groups of squalid dripping Women; of lankhaired male Rascality, armed with axes, rusty pikes, old muskets, ironshod clubs (baton ferres, which end in knives or sword-blades, a kind of extempore billhook); — looking nothing but hungry revolt. The rain pours: Gardes-du-Corps go caracoling through the groups ‘amid hisses;’ irritating and agitating what is but dispersed here to reunite there.

Innumerable squalid women beleaguer the President and Deputation; insist on going with him: has not his Majesty himself, looking from the window, sent out to ask, What we wanted? “Bread and speech with the King (Du pain, et parler au Roi),” that was the answer. Twelve women are clamorously added to the Deputation; and march with it, across the Esplanade; through dissipated groups, caracoling Bodyguards, and the pouring rain.

President Mounier, unexpectedly augmented by Twelve Women, copiously escorted by Hunger and Rascality, is himself mistaken for a group: himself and his Women are dispersed by caracolers; rally again with difficulty, among the mud. (Mounier, Expose Justificatif (cited in Deux Amis, iii. 185).) Finally the Grates are opened: the Deputation gets access, with the Twelve Women too in it; of which latter, Five shall even see the face of his Majesty. Let wet Menadism, in the best spirits it can expect their return.

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