The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 9

Lafayette.

Towards midnight lights flare on the hill; Lafayette’s lights! The roll of his drums comes up the Avenue de Versailles. With peace, or with war? Patience, friends! With neither. Lafayette is come, but not yet the catastrophe.

He has halted and harangued so often, on the march; spent nine hours on four leagues of road. At Montreuil, close on Versailles, the whole Host had to pause; and, with uplifted right hand, in the murk of Night, to these pouring skies, swear solemnly to respect the King’s Dwelling; to be faithful to King and National Assembly. Rage is driven down out of sight, by the laggard march; the thirst of vengeance slaked in weariness and soaking clothes. Flandre is again drawn out under arms: but Flandre, grown so patriotic, now needs no ‘exterminating.’ The wayworn Batallions halt in the Avenue: they have, for the present, no wish so pressing as that of shelter and rest.

Anxious sits President Mounier; anxious the Chateau. There is a message coming from the Chateau, that M. Mounier would please return thither with a fresh Deputation, swiftly; and so at least unite our two anxieties. Anxious Mounier does of himself send, meanwhile, to apprise the General that his Majesty has been so gracious as to grant us the Acceptance pure and simple. The General, with a small advance column, makes answer in passing; speaks vaguely some smooth words to the National President, — glances, only with the eye, at that so mixtiform National Assembly; then fares forward towards the Chateau. There are with him two Paris Municipals; they were chosen from the Three Hundred for that errand. He gets admittance through the locked and padlocked Grates, through sentries and ushers, to the Royal Halls.

The Court, male and female, crowds on his passage, to read their doom on his face; which exhibits, say Historians, a mixture ‘of sorrow, of fervour and valour,’ singular to behold. (Memoire de M. le Comte de Lally–Tollendal (Janvier 1790), p. 161–165.) The King, with Monsieur, with Ministers and Marshals, is waiting to receive him: He “is come,” in his highflown chivalrous way, “to offer his head for the safety of his Majesty’s.” The two Municipals state the wish of Paris: four things, of quite pacific tenor. First, that the honour of Guarding his sacred person be conferred on patriot National Guards; — say, the Centre Grenadiers, who as Gardes Francaises were wont to have that privilege. Second, that provisions be got, if possible. Third, that the Prisons, all crowded with political delinquents, may have judges sent them. Fourth, that it would please his Majesty to come and live in Paris. To all which four wishes, except the fourth, his Majesty answers readily, Yes; or indeed may almost say that he has already answered it. To the fourth he can answer only, Yes or No; would so gladly answer, Yes and No! — But, in any case, are not their dispositions, thank Heaven, so entirely pacific? There is time for deliberation. The brunt of the danger seems past!

Lafayette and d’Estaing settle the watches; Centre Grenadiers are to take the Guard-room they of old occupied as Gardes Francaises; — for indeed the Gardes du Corps, its late ill-advised occupants, are gone mostly to Rambouillet. That is the order of this night; sufficient for the night is the evil thereof. Whereupon Lafayette and the two Municipals, with highflown chivalry, take their leave.

So brief has the interview been, Mounier and his Deputation were not yet got up. So brief and satisfactory. A stone is rolled from every heart. The fair Palace Dames publicly declare that this Lafayette, detestable though he be, is their saviour for once. Even the ancient vinaigrous Tantes admit it; the King’s Aunts, ancient Graille and Sisterhood, known to us of old. Queen Marie–Antoinette has been heard often say the like. She alone, among all women and all men, wore a face of courage, of lofty calmness and resolve, this day. She alone saw clearly what she meant to do; and Theresa’s Daughter dares do what she means, were all France threatening her: abide where her children are, where her husband is.

Towards three in the morning all things are settled: the watches set, the Centre Grenadiers put into their old Guard-room, and harangued; the Swiss, and few remaining Bodyguards harangued. The wayworn Paris Batallions, consigned to ‘the hospitality of Versailles,’ lie dormant in spare-beds, spare-barracks, coffeehouses, empty churches. A troop of them, on their way to the Church of Saint–Louis, awoke poor Weber, dreaming troublous, in the Rue Sartory. Weber has had his waistcoat-pocket full of balls all day; ‘two hundred balls, and two pears of powder!’ For waistcoats were waistcoats then, and had flaps down to mid-thigh. So many balls he has had all day; but no opportunity of using them: he turns over now, execrating disloyal bandits; swears a prayer or two, and straight to sleep again.

Finally, the National Assembly is harangued; which thereupon, on motion of Mirabeau, discontinues the Penal Code, and dismisses for this night. Menadism, Sansculottism has cowered into guard-houses, barracks of Flandre, to the light of cheerful fire; failing that, to churches, office-houses, sentry-boxes, wheresoever wretchedness can find a lair. The troublous Day has brawled itself to rest: no lives yet lost but that of one warhorse. Insurrectionary Chaos lies slumbering round the Palace, like Ocean round a Diving-bell, — no crevice yet disclosing itself.

Deep sleep has fallen promiscuously on the high and on the low; suspending most things, even wrath and famine. Darkness covers the Earth. But, far on the North-east, Paris flings up her great yellow gleam; far into the wet black Night. For all is illuminated there, as in the old July Nights; the streets deserted, for alarm of war; the Municipals all wakeful; Patrols hailing, with their hoarse Who-goes. There, as we discover, our poor slim Louison Chabray, her poor nerves all fluttered, is arriving about this very hour. There Usher Maillard will arrive, about an hour hence, ‘towards four in the morning.’ They report, successively, to a wakeful Hotel-de-Ville what comfort they can report; which again, with early dawn, large comfortable Placards, shall impart to all men.

Lafayette, in the Hotel de Noailles, not far from the Chateau, having now finished haranguing, sits with his Officers consulting: at five o’clock the unanimous best counsel is, that a man so tost and toiled for twenty-four hours and more, fling himself on a bed, and seek some rest.

Thus, then, has ended the First Act of the Insurrection of Women. How it will turn on the morrow? The morrow, as always, is with the Fates! But his Majesty, one may hope, will consent to come honourably to Paris; at all events, he can visit Paris. Anti-national Bodyguards, here and elsewhere, must take the National Oath; make reparation to the Tricolor; Flandre will swear. There may be much swearing; much public speaking there will infallibly be: and so, with harangues and vows, may the matter in some handsome way, wind itself up.

Or, alas, may it not be all otherwise, unhandsome: the consent not honourable, but extorted, ignominious? Boundless Chaos of Insurrection presses slumbering round the Palace, like Ocean round a Diving-bell; and may penetrate at any crevice. Let but that accumulated insurrectionary mass find entrance! Like the infinite inburst of water; or say rather, of inflammable, self-igniting fluid; for example, ‘turpentine-and-phosphorus oil,’ — fluid known to Spinola Santerre!

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