The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 10

Mankind.

Pardonable are human theatricalities; nay perhaps touching, like the passionate utterance of a tongue which with sincerity stammers; of a head which with insincerity babbles, — having gone distracted. Yet, in comparison with unpremeditated outbursts of Nature, such as an Insurrection of Women, how foisonless, unedifying, undelightful; like small ale palled, like an effervescence that has effervesced! Such scenes, coming of forethought, were they world-great, and never so cunningly devised, are at bottom mainly pasteboard and paint. But the others are original; emitted from the great everliving heart of Nature herself: what figure they will assume is unspeakably significant. To us, therefore, let the French National Solemn League, and Federation, be the highest recorded triumph of the Thespian Art; triumphant surely, since the whole Pit, which was of Twenty-five Millions, not only claps hands, but does itself spring on the boards and passionately set to playing there. And being such, be it treated as such: with sincere cursory admiration; with wonder from afar. A whole Nation gone mumming deserves so much; but deserves not that loving minuteness a Menadic Insurrection did. Much more let prior, and as it were, rehearsal scenes of Federation come and go, henceforward, as they list; and, on Plains and under City-walls, innumerable regimental bands blare off into the Inane, without note from us.

One scene, however, the hastiest reader will momentarily pause on: that of Anacharsis Clootz and the Collective sinful Posterity of Adam. — For a Patriot Municipality has now, on the 4th of June, got its plan concocted, and got it sanctioned by National Assembly; a Patriot King assenting; to whom, were he even free to dissent, Federative harangues, overflowing with loyalty, have doubtless a transient sweetness. There shall come Deputed National Guards, so many in the hundred, from each of the Eighty-three Departments of France. Likewise from all Naval and Military King’s Forces, shall Deputed quotas come; such Federation of National with Royal Soldier has, taking place spontaneously, been already seen and sanctioned. For the rest, it is hoped, as many as forty thousand may arrive: expenses to be borne by the Deputing District; of all which let District and Department take thought, and elect fit men, — whom the Paris brethren will fly to meet and welcome.

Now, therefore, judge if our Patriot Artists are busy; taking deep counsel how to make the Scene worthy of a look from the Universe! As many as fifteen thousand men, spade-men, barrow-men, stone-builders, rammers, with their engineers, are at work on the Champ-de-Mars; hollowing it out into a natural Amphitheatre, fit for such solemnity. For one may hope it will be annual and perennial; a ‘Feast of Pikes, Fete des Piques,’ notablest among the high-tides of the year: in any case ought not a Scenic free Nation to have some permanent National Amphitheatre? The Champ-de-Mars is getting hollowed out; and the daily talk and the nightly dream in most Parisian heads is of Federation, and that only. Federate Deputies are already under way. National Assembly, what with its natural work, what with hearing and answering harangues of Federates, of this Federation, will have enough to do! Harangue of ‘American Committee,’ among whom is that faint figure of Paul Jones ‘as with the stars dim-twinkling through it,’ — come to congratulate us on the prospect of such auspicious day. Harangue of Bastille Conquerors, come to ‘renounce’ any special recompense, any peculiar place at the solemnity; — since the Centre Grenadiers rather grumble. Harangue of ‘Tennis–Court Club,’ who enter with far-gleaming Brass-plate, aloft on a pole, and the Tennis–Court Oath engraved thereon; which far gleaming Brass-plate they purpose to affix solemnly in the Versailles original locality, on the 20th of this month, which is the anniversary, as a deathless memorial, for some years: they will then dine, as they come back, in the Bois de Boulogne; (See Deux Amis, v. 122; Hist. Parl. &c.) — cannot, however, do it without apprising the world. To such things does the august National Assembly ever and anon cheerfully listen, suspending its regenerative labours; and with some touch of impromptu eloquence, make friendly reply; — as indeed the wont has long been; for it is a gesticulating, sympathetic People, and has a heart, and wears it on its sleeve.

In which circumstances, it occurred to the mind of Anacharsis Clootz that while so much was embodying itself into Club or Committee, and perorating applauded, there yet remained a greater and greatest; of which, if it also took body and perorated, what might not the effect be: Humankind namely, le Genre Humain itself! In what rapt creative moment the Thought rose in Anacharsis’s soul; all his throes, while he went about giving shape and birth to it; how he was sneered at by cold worldlings; but did sneer again, being a man of polished sarcasm; and moved to and fro persuasive in coffeehouse and soiree, and dived down assiduous-obscure in the great deep of Paris, making his Thought a Fact: of all this the spiritual biographies of that period say nothing. Enough that on the 19th evening of June 1790, the Sun’s slant rays lighted a spectacle such as our foolish little Planet has not often had to show: Anacharsis Clootz entering the august Salle de Manege, with the Human Species at his heels. Swedes, Spaniards, Polacks; Turks, Chaldeans, Greeks, dwellers in Mesopotamia: behold them all; they have come to claim place in the grand Federation, having an undoubted interest in it.

“Our ambassador titles,” said the fervid Clootz, “are not written on parchment, but on the living hearts of all men.” These whiskered Polacks, long-flowing turbaned Ishmaelites, astrological Chaldeans, who stand so mute here, let them plead with you, august Senators, more eloquently than eloquence could. They are the mute representatives of their tongue-tied, befettered, heavy-laden Nations; who from out of that dark bewilderment gaze wistful, amazed, with half-incredulous hope, towards you, and this your bright light of a French Federation: bright particular day-star, the herald of universal day. We claim to stand there, as mute monuments, pathetically adumbrative of much. — From bench and gallery comes ‘repeated applause;’ for what august Senator but is flattered even by the very shadow of Human Species depending on him? From President Sieyes, who presides this remarkable fortnight, in spite of his small voice, there comes eloquent though shrill reply. Anacharsis and the ‘Foreigners Committee’ shall have place at the Federation; on condition of telling their respective Peoples what they see there. In the mean time, we invite them to the ‘honours of the sitting, honneur de la seance.’ A long-flowing Turk, for rejoinder, bows with Eastern solemnity, and utters articulate sounds: but owing to his imperfect knowledge of the French dialect, (Moniteur, &c. (in Hist. Parl. xii. 283).) his words are like spilt water; the thought he had in him remains conjectural to this day.

Anacharsis and Mankind accept the honours of the sitting; and have forthwith, as the old Newspapers still testify, the satisfaction to see several things. First and chief, on the motion of Lameth, Lafayette, Saint–Fargeau and other Patriot Nobles, let the others repugn as they will: all Titles of Nobility, from Duke to Esquire, or lower, are henceforth abolished. Then, in like manner, Livery Servants, or rather the Livery of Servants. Neither, for the future, shall any man or woman, self-styled noble, be ‘incensed,’ — foolishly fumigated with incense, in Church; as the wont has been. In a word, Feudalism being dead these ten months, why should her empty trappings and scutcheons survive? The very Coats-of-arms will require to be obliterated; — and yet Cassandra Marat on this and the other coach-panel notices that they ‘are but painted-over,’ and threaten to peer through again.

So that henceforth de Lafayette is but the Sieur Motier, and Saint–Fargeau is plain Michel Lepelletier; and Mirabeau soon after has to say huffingly, “With your Riquetti you have set Europe at cross-purposes for three days.” For his Counthood is not indifferent to this man; which indeed the admiring People treat him with to the last. But let extreme Patriotism rejoice, and chiefly Anacharsis and Mankind; for now it seems to be taken for granted that one Adam is Father of us all! —

Such was, in historical accuracy, the famed feat of Anacharsis. Thus did the most extensive of Public Bodies find a sort of spokesman. Whereby at least we may judge of one thing: what a humour the once sniffing mocking City of Paris and Baron Clootz had got into; when such exhibition could appear a propriety, next door to a sublimity. It is true, Envy did in after times, pervert this success of Anacharsis; making him, from incidental ‘Speaker of the Foreign–Nations Committee,’ claim to be official permanent ‘Speaker, Orateur, of the Human Species,’ which he only deserved to be; and alleging, calumniously, that his astrological Chaldeans, and the rest, were a mere French tag-rag-and-bobtail disguised for the nonce; and, in short, sneering and fleering at him in her cold barren way; all which, however, he, the man he was, could receive on thick enough panoply, or even rebound therefrom, and also go his way.

Most extensive of Public Bodies, we may call it; and also the most unexpected: for who could have thought to see All Nations in the Tuileries Riding–Hall? But so it is; and truly as strange things may happen when a whole People goes mumming and miming. Hast not thou thyself perchance seen diademed Cleopatra, daughter of the Ptolemies, pleading, almost with bended knee, in unheroic tea-parlour, or dimlit retail-shop, to inflexible gross Burghal Dignitary, for leave to reign and die; being dressed for it, and moneyless, with small children; — while suddenly Constables have shut the Thespian barn, and her Antony pleaded in vain? Such visual spectra flit across this Earth, if the Thespian Stage be rudely interfered with: but much more, when, as was said, Pit jumps on Stage, then is it verily, as in Herr Tieck’s Drama, a Verkehrte Welt, of World Topsyturvied!

Having seen the Human Species itself, to have seen the ‘Dean of the Human Species,’ ceased now to be a miracle. Such ‘Doyen du Genre Humain, Eldest of Men,’ had shewn himself there, in these weeks: Jean Claude Jacob, a born Serf, deputed from his native Jura Mountains to thank the National Assembly for enfranchising them. On his bleached worn face are ploughed the furrowings of one hundred and twenty years. He has heard dim patois-talk, of immortal Grand–Monarch victories; of a burnt Palatinate, as he toiled and moiled to make a little speck of this Earth greener; of Cevennes Dragoonings; of Marlborough going to the war. Four generations have bloomed out, and loved and hated, and rustled off: he was forty-six when Louis Fourteenth died. The Assembly, as one man, spontaneously rose, and did reverence to the Eldest of the World; old Jean is to take seance among them, honourably, with covered head. He gazes feebly there, with his old eyes, on that new wonder-scene; dreamlike to him, and uncertain, wavering amid fragments of old memories and dreams. For Time is all growing unsubstantial, dreamlike; Jean’s eyes and mind are weary, and about to close, — and open on a far other wonder-scene, which shall be real. Patriot Subscription, Royal Pension was got for him, and he returned home glad; but in two months more he left it all, and went on his unknown way. (Deux Amis, iv. iii.)

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