The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 2

In the Salle de Manege.

To believing Patriots, however, it is now clear, that the Constitution will march, marcher, — had it once legs to stand on. Quick, then, ye Patriots, bestir yourselves, and make it; shape legs for it! In the Archeveche, or Archbishop’s Palace, his Grace himself having fled; and afterwards in the Riding-hall, named Manege, close on the Tuileries: there does a National Assembly apply itself to the miraculous work. Successfully, had there been any heaven-scaling Prometheus among them; not successfully since there was none! There, in noisy debate, for the sessions are occasionally ‘scandalous,’ and as many as three speakers have been seen in the Tribune at once, — let us continue to fancy it wearing the slow months.

Tough, dogmatic, long of wind is Abbe Maury; Ciceronian pathetic is Cazales. Keen-trenchant, on the other side, glitters a young Barnave; abhorrent of sophistry; sheering, like keen Damascus sabre, all sophistry asunder, — reckless what else he sheer with it. Simple seemest thou, O solid Dutch-built Petion; if solid, surely dull. Nor lifegiving in that tone of thine, livelier polemical Rabaut. With ineffable serenity sniffs great Sieyes, aloft, alone; his Constitution ye may babble over, ye may mar, but can by no possibility mend: is not Polity a science he has exhausted? Cool, slow, two military Lameths are visible, with their quality sneer, or demi-sneer; they shall gallantly refund their Mother’s Pension, when the Red Book is produced; gallantly be wounded in duels. A Marquis Toulongeon, whose Pen we yet thank, sits there; in stoical meditative humour, oftenest silent, accepts what destiny will send. Thouret and Parlementary Duport produce mountains of Reformed Law; liberal, Anglomaniac, available and unavailable. Mortals rise and fall. Shall goose Gobel, for example, — or Go(with an umlaut)bel, for he is of Strasburg German breed, be a Constitutional Archbishop?

Alone of all men there, Mirabeau may begin to discern clearly whither all this is tending. Patriotism, accordingly, regrets that his zeal seems to be getting cool. In that famed Pentecost–Night of the Fourth of August, when new Faith rose suddenly into miraculous fire, and old Feudality was burnt up, men remarked that Mirabeau took no hand in it; that, in fact, he luckily happened to be absent. But did he not defend the Veto, nay Veto Absolu; and tell vehement Barnave that six hundred irresponsible senators would make of all tyrannies the insupportablest? Again, how anxious was he that the King’s Ministers should have seat and voice in the National Assembly; — doubtless with an eye to being Minister himself! Whereupon the National Assembly decides, what is very momentous, that no Deputy shall be Minister; he, in his haughty stormful manner, advising us to make it, ‘no Deputy called Mirabeau.’ (Moniteur, Nos. 65, 86 (29th September, 7th November, 1789).) A man of perhaps inveterate Feudalisms; of stratagems; too often visible leanings towards the Royalist side: a man suspect; whom Patriotism will unmask! Thus, in these June days, when the question Who shall have right to declare war? comes on, you hear hoarse Hawkers sound dolefully through the streets, “Grand Treason of Count Mirabeau, price only one sou;" — because he pleads that it shall be not the Assembly but the King! Pleads; nay prevails: for in spite of the hoarse Hawkers, and an endless Populace raised by them to the pitch even of ‘Lanterne,’ he mounts the Tribune next day; grim-resolute; murmuring aside to his friends that speak of danger: “I know it: I must come hence either in triumph, or else torn in fragments;” and it was in triumph that he came.

A man of stout heart; whose popularity is not of the populace, ‘pas populaciere;’ whom no clamour of unwashed mobs without doors, or of washed mobs within, can scarce from his way! Dumont remembers hearing him deliver a Report on Marseilles; ‘every word was interrupted on the part of the Cote Droit by abusive epithets; calumniator, liar, assassin, scoundrel (scelerat): Mirabeau pauses a moment, and, in a honeyed tone, addressing the most furious, says: “I wait, Messieurs, till these amenities be exhausted.”’ (Dumont, Souvenirs, p. 278.) A man enigmatic, difficult to unmask! For example, whence comes his money? Can the profit of a Newspaper, sorely eaten into by Dame Le Jay; can this, and the eighteen francs a-day your National Deputy has, be supposed equal to this expenditure? House in the Chaussee d’Antin; Country-house at Argenteuil; splendours, sumptuosities, orgies; — living as if he had a mint! All saloons barred against Adventurer Mirabeau, are flung wide open to King Mirabeau, the cynosure of Europe, whom female France flutters to behold, — though the Man Mirabeau is one and the same. As for money, one may conjecture that Royalism furnishes it; which if Royalism do, will not the same be welcome, as money always is to him?

‘Sold,’ whatever Patriotism thinks, he cannot readily be: the spiritual fire which is in that man; which shining through such confusions is nevertheless Conviction, and makes him strong, and without which he had no strength, — is not buyable nor saleable; in such transference of barter, it would vanish and not be. Perhaps ‘paid and not sold, paye pas vendu:’ as poor Rivarol, in the unhappier converse way, calls himself ‘sold and not paid!’ A man travelling, comet-like, in splendour and nebulosity, his wild way; whom telescopic Patriotism may long watch, but, without higher mathematics, will not make out. A questionable most blameable man; yet to us the far notablest of all. With rich munificence, as we often say, in a most blinkard, bespectacled, logic-chopping generation, Nature has gifted this man with an eye. Welcome is his word, there where he speaks and works; and growing ever welcomer; for it alone goes to the heart of the business: logical cobwebbery shrinks itself together; and thou seest a thing, how it is, how is may be worked with.

Unhappily our National Assembly has much to do: a France to regenerate; and France is short of so many requisites; short even of cash! These same Finances give trouble enough; no choking of the Deficit; which gapes ever, Give, give! To appease the Deficit we venture on a hazardous step, sale of the Clergy’s Lands and superfluous Edifices; most hazardous. Nay, given the sale, who is to buy them, ready-money having fled? Wherefore, on the 19th day of December, a paper-money of ‘Assignats,’ of Bonds secured, or assigned, on that Clerico–National Property, and unquestionable at least in payment of that, — is decreed: the first of a long series of like financial performances, which shall astonish mankind. So that now, while old rags last, there shall be no lack of circulating medium; whether of commodities to circulate thereon is another question. But, after all, does not this Assignat business speak volumes for modern science? Bankruptcy, we may say, was come, as the end of all Delusions needs must come: yet how gently, in softening diffusion, in mild succession, was it hereby made to fall; — like no all-destroying avalanche; like gentle showers of a powdery impalpable snow, shower after shower, till all was indeed buried, and yet little was destroyed that could not be replaced, be dispensed with! To such length has modern machinery reached. Bankruptcy, we said, was great; but indeed Money itself is a standing miracle.

On the whole, it is a matter of endless difficulty, that of the Clergy. Clerical property may be made the Nation’s, and the Clergy hired servants of the State; but if so, is it not an altered Church? Adjustment enough, of the most confused sort, has become unavoidable. Old landmarks, in any sense, avail not in a new France. Nay literally, the very Ground is new divided; your old party-coloured Provinces become new uniform Departments, Eighty-three in number; — whereby, as in some sudden shifting of the Earth’s axis, no mortal knows his new latitude at once. The Twelve old Parlements too, what is to be done with them? The old Parlements are declared to be all ‘in permanent vacation,’ — till once the new equal-justice, of Departmental Courts, National Appeal–Court, of elective Justices, Justices of Peace, and other Thouret-and-Duport apparatus be got ready. They have to sit there, these old Parlements, uneasily waiting; as it were, with the rope round their neck; crying as they can, Is there none to deliver us? But happily the answer being, None, none, they are a manageable class, these Parlements. They can be bullied, even into silence; the Paris Parliament, wiser than most, has never whimpered. They will and must sit there; in such vacation as is fit; their Chamber of Vacation distributes in the interim what little justice is going. With the rope round their neck, their destiny may be succinct! On the 13th of November 1790, Mayor Bailly shall walk to the Palais de Justice, few even heeding him; and with municipal seal-stamp and a little hot wax, seal up the Parlementary Paper-rooms, — and the dread Parlement of Paris pass away, into Chaos, gently as does a Dream! So shall the Parlements perish, succinctly; and innumerable eyes be dry.

Not so the Clergy. For granting even that Religion were dead; that it had died, half-centuries ago, with unutterable Dubois; or emigrated lately, to Alsace, with Necklace–Cardinal Rohan; or that it now walked as goblin revenant with Bishop Talleyrand of Autun; yet does not the Shadow of Religion, the Cant of Religion, still linger? The Clergy have means and material: means, of number, organization, social weight; a material, at lowest, of public ignorance, known to be the mother of devotion. Nay, withal, is it incredible that there might, in simple hearts, latent here and there like gold grains in the mud-beach, still dwell some real Faith in God, of so singular and tenacious a sort that even a Maury or a Talleyrand, could still be the symbol for it? — Enough, and Clergy has strength, the Clergy has craft and indignation. It is a most fatal business this of the Clergy. A weltering hydra-coil, which the National Assembly has stirred up about its ears; hissing, stinging; which cannot be appeased, alive; which cannot be trampled dead! Fatal, from first to last! Scarcely after fifteen months’ debating, can a Civil Constitution of the Clergy be so much as got to paper; and then for getting it into reality? Alas, such Civil Constitution is but an agreement to disagree. It divides France from end to end, with a new split, infinitely complicating all the other splits; — Catholicism, what of it there is left, with the Cant of Catholicism, raging on the one side, and sceptic Heathenism on the other; both, by contradiction, waxing fanatic. What endless jarring, of Refractory hated Priests, and Constitutional despised ones; of tender consciences, like the King’s, and consciences hot-seared, like certain of his People’s: the whole to end in Feasts of Reason and a War of La Vendee! So deep-seated is Religion in the heart of man, and holds of all infinite passions. If the dead echo of it still did so much, what could not the living voice of it once do?

Finance and Constitution, Law and Gospel: this surely were work enough; yet this is not all. In fact, the Ministry, and Necker himself whom a brass inscription ‘fastened by the people over his door-lintel’ testifies to be the ‘Ministre adore,’ are dwindling into clearer and clearer nullity. Execution or legislation, arrangement or detail, from their nerveless fingers all drops undone; all lights at last on the toiled shoulders of an august Representative Body. Heavy-laden National Assembly! It has to hear of innumerable fresh revolts, Brigand expeditions; of Chateaus in the West, especially of Charter-chests, Chartiers, set on fire; for there too the overloaded Ass frightfully recalcitrates. Of Cities in the South full of heats and jealousies; which will end in crossed sabres, Marseilles against Toulon, and Carpentras beleaguered by Avignon; — such Royalist collision in a career of Freedom; nay Patriot collision, which a mere difference of velocity will bring about! Of a Jourdan Coup-tete, who has skulked thitherward, from the claws of the Chatelet; and will raise whole scoundrel-regiments.

Also it has to hear of Royalist Camp of Jales: Jales mountain-girdled Plain, amid the rocks of the Cevennes; whence Royalism, as is feared and hoped, may dash down like a mountain deluge, and submerge France! A singular thing this camp of Jales; existing mostly on paper. For the Soldiers at Jales, being peasants or National Guards, were in heart sworn Sansculottes; and all that the Royalist Captains could do was, with false words, to keep them, or rather keep the report of them, drawn up there, visible to all imaginations, for a terror and a sign, — if peradventure France might be reconquered by theatrical machinery, by the picture of a Royalist Army done to the life! (Dampmartin, Evenemens, i. 208.) Not till the third summer was this portent, burning out by fits and then fading, got finally extinguished; was the old Castle of Jales, no Camp being visible to the bodily eye, got blown asunder by some National Guards.

Also it has to hear not only of Brissot and his Friends of the Blacks, but by and by of a whole St. Domingo blazing skyward; blazing in literal fire, and in far worse metaphorical; beaconing the nightly main. Also of the shipping interest, and the landed-interest, and all manner of interests, reduced to distress. Of Industry every where manacled, bewildered; and only Rebellion thriving. Of sub-officers, soldiers and sailors in mutiny by land and water. Of soldiers, at Nanci, as we shall see, needing to be cannonaded by a brave Bouille. Of sailors, nay the very galley-slaves, at Brest, needing also to be cannonaded; but with no Bouille to do it. For indeed, to say it in a word, in those days there was no King in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (See Deux Amis, iii. c. 14; iv. c. 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 14. Expedition des Volontaires de Brest sur Lannion; Les Lyonnais Sauveurs des Dauphinois; Massacre au Mans; Troubles du Maine (Pamphlets and Excerpts, in Hist. Parl. iii. 251; iv. 162–168), &c.)

Such things has an august National Assembly to hear of, as it goes on regenerating France. Sad and stern: but what remedy? Get the Constitution ready; and all men will swear to it: for do not ‘Addresses of adhesion’ arrive by the cartload? In this manner, by Heaven’s blessing, and a Constitution got ready, shall the bottomless fire-gulf be vaulted in, with rag-paper; and Order will wed Freedom, and live with her there, — till it grow too hot for them. O Cote Gauche, worthy are ye, as the adhesive Addresses generally say, to ‘fix the regards of the Universe;’ the regards of this one poor Planet, at lowest! —

Nay, it must be owned, the Cote Droit makes a still madder figure. An irrational generation; irrational, imbecile, and with the vehement obstinacy characteristic of that; a generation which will not learn. Falling Bastilles, Insurrections of Women, thousands of smoking Manorhouses, a country bristling with no crop but that of Sansculottic steel: these were tolerably didactic lessons; but them they have not taught. There are still men, of whom it was of old written, Bray them in a mortar! Or, in milder language, They have wedded their delusions: fire nor steel, nor any sharpness of Experience, shall sever the bond; till death do us part! Of such may the Heavens have mercy; for the Earth, with her rigorous Necessity, will have none.

Admit, at the same time, that it was most natural. Man lives by Hope: Pandora when her box of gods’-gifts flew all out, and became gods’-curses, still retained Hope. How shall an irrational mortal, when his high-place is never so evidently pulled down, and he, being irrational, is left resourceless, — part with the belief that it will be rebuilt? It would make all so straight again; it seems so unspeakably desirable; so reasonable, — would you but look at it aright! For, must not the thing which was continue to be; or else the solid World dissolve? Yes, persist, O infatuated Sansculottes of France! Revolt against constituted Authorities; hunt out your rightful Seigneurs, who at bottom so loved you, and readily shed their blood for you, — in country’s battles as at Rossbach and elsewhere; and, even in preserving game, were preserving you, could ye but have understood it: hunt them out, as if they were wild wolves; set fire to their Chateaus and Chartiers as to wolf-dens; and what then? Why, then turn every man his hand against his fellow! In confusion, famine, desolation, regret the days that are gone; rueful recall them, recall us with them. To repentant prayers we will not be deaf.

So, with dimmer or clearer consciousness, must the Right Side reason and act. An inevitable position perhaps; but a most false one for them. Evil, be thou our good: this henceforth must virtually be their prayer. The fiercer the effervescence grows, the sooner will it pass; for after all it is but some mad effervescence; the World is solid, and cannot dissolve.

For the rest, if they have any positive industry, it is that of plots, and backstairs conclaves. Plots which cannot be executed; which are mostly theoretic on their part; — for which nevertheless this and the other practical Sieur Augeard, Sieur Maillebois, Sieur Bonne Savardin, gets into trouble, gets imprisoned, and escapes with difficulty. Nay there is a poor practical Chevalier Favras who, not without some passing reflex on Monsieur himself, gets hanged for them, amid loud uproar of the world. Poor Favras, he keeps dictating his last will at the ‘Hotel-de-Ville, through the whole remainder of the day,’ a weary February day; offers to reveal secrets, if they will save him; handsomely declines since they will not; then dies, in the flare of torchlight, with politest composure; remarking, rather than exclaiming, with outspread hands: “People, I die innocent; pray for me.” (See Deux Amis, iv. c. 14, 7; Hist. Parl. vi. 384.) Poor Favras; — type of so much that has prowled indefatigable over France, in days now ending; and, in freer field, might have earned instead of prowling, — to thee it is no theory!

In the Senate-house again, the attitude of the Right Side is that of calm unbelief. Let an august National Assembly make a Fourth-of-August Abolition of Feudality; declare the Clergy State-servants who shall have wages; vote Suspensive Vetos, new Law–Courts; vote or decree what contested thing it will; have it responded to from the four corners of France, nay get King’s Sanction, and what other Acceptance were conceivable, — the Right Side, as we find, persists, with imperturbablest tenacity, in considering, and ever and anon shews that it still considers, all these so-called Decrees as mere temporary whims, which indeed stand on paper, but in practice and fact are not, and cannot be. Figure the brass head of an Abbe Maury flooding forth Jesuitic eloquence in this strain; dusky d’Espremenil, Barrel Mirabeau (probably in liquor), and enough of others, cheering him from the Right; and, for example, with what visage a seagreen Robespierre eyes him from the Left. And how Sieyes ineffably sniffs on him, or does not deign to sniff; and how the Galleries groan in spirit, or bark rabid on him: so that to escape the Lanterne, on stepping forth, he needs presence of mind, and a pair of pistols in his girdle! For he is one of the toughest of men.

Here indeed becomes notable one great difference between our two kinds of civil war; between the modern lingual or Parliamentary-logical kind, and the ancient, or manual kind, in the steel battle-field; — much to the disadvantage of the former. In the manual kind, where you front your foe with drawn weapon, one right stroke is final; for, physically speaking, when the brains are out the man does honestly die, and trouble you no more. But how different when it is with arguments you fight! Here no victory yet definable can be considered as final. Beat him down, with Parliamentary invective, till sense be fled; cut him in two, hanging one half in this dilemma-horn, the other on that; blow the brains or thinking-faculty quite out of him for the time: it skills not; he rallies and revives on the morrow; to-morrow he repairs his golden fires! The think that will logically extinguish him is perhaps still a desideratum in Constitutional civilisation. For how, till a man know, in some measure, at what point he becomes logically defunct, can Parliamentary Business be carried on, and Talk cease or slake?

Doubtless it was some feeling of this difficulty; and the clear insight how little such knowledge yet existed in the French Nation, new in the Constitutional career, and how defunct Aristocrats would continue to walk for unlimited periods, as Partridge the Alamanack-maker did, — that had sunk into the deep mind of People’s-friend Marat, an eminently practical mind; and had grown there, in that richest putrescent soil, into the most original plan of action ever submitted to a People. Not yet has it grown; but it has germinated, it is growing; rooting itself into Tartarus, branching towards Heaven: the second season hence, we shall see it risen out of the bottomless Darkness, full-grown, into disastrous Twilight, — a Hemlock-tree, great as the world; on or under whose boughs all the People’s-friends of the world may lodge. ‘Two hundred and sixty thousand Aristocrat heads:’ that is the precisest calculation, though one would not stand on a few hundreds; yet we never rise as high as the round three hundred thousand. Shudder at it, O People; but it is as true as that ye yourselves, and your People’s-friend, are alive. These prating Senators of yours hover ineffectual on the barren letter, and will never save the Revolution. A Cassandra–Marat cannot do it, with his single shrunk arm; but with a few determined men it were possible. “Give me,” said the People’s-friend, in his cold way, when young Barbaroux, once his pupil in a course of what was called Optics, went to see him, “Give me two hundred Naples Bravoes, armed each with a good dirk, and a muff on his left arm by way of shield: with them I will traverse France, and accomplish the Revolution.” (Memoires de Barbaroux (Paris, 1822), p. 57.) Nay, be brave, young Barbaroux; for thou seest, there is no jesting in those rheumy eyes; in that soot-bleared figure, most earnest of created things; neither indeed is there madness, of the strait-waistcoat sort.

Such produce shall the Time ripen in cavernous Marat, the man forbid; living in Paris cellars, lone as fanatic Anchorite in his Thebaid; say, as far-seen Simon on his Pillar, — taking peculiar views therefrom. Patriots may smile; and, using him as bandog now to be muzzled, now to be let bark, name him, as Desmoulins does, ‘Maximum of Patriotism’ and ‘Cassandra–Marat:’ but were it not singular if this dirk-and-muff plan of his (with superficial modifications) proved to be precisely the plan adopted?

After this manner, in these circumstances, do august Senators regenerate France. Nay, they are, in very deed, believed to be regenerating it; on account of which great fact, main fact of their history, the wearied eye can never be permitted wholly to ignore them.

But looking away now from these precincts of the Tuileries, where Constitutional Royalty, let Lafayette water it as he will, languishes too like a cut branch; and august Senators are perhaps at bottom only perfecting their ‘theory of defective verbs,’ — how does the young Reality, young Sansculottism thrive? The attentive observer can answer: It thrives bravely; putting forth new buds; expanding the old buds into leaves, into boughs. Is not French Existence, as before, most prurient, all loosened, most nutrient for it? Sansculottism has the property of growing by what other things die of: by agitation, contention, disarrangement; nay in a word, by what is the symbol and fruit of all these: Hunger.

In such a France as this, Hunger, as we have remarked, can hardly fail. The Provinces, the Southern Cities feel it in their turn; and what it brings: Exasperation, preternatural Suspicion. In Paris some halcyon days of abundance followed the Menadic Insurrection, with its Versailles grain-carts, and recovered Restorer of Liberty; but they could not continue. The month is still October when famishing Saint–Antoine, in a moment of passion, seizes a poor Baker, innocent ‘Francois the Baker;’ (21st October, 1789 (Moniteur, No. 76).) and hangs him, in Constantinople wise; — but even this, singular as it my seem, does not cheapen bread! Too clear it is, no Royal bounty, no Municipal dexterity can adequately feed a Bastille-destroying Paris. Wherefore, on view of the hanged Baker, Constitutionalism in sorrow and anger demands ‘Loi Martiale,’ a kind of Riot Act; — and indeed gets it, most readily, almost before the sun goes down.

This is that famed Martial law, with its Red Flag, its ‘Drapeau Rouge:’ in virtue of which Mayor Bailly, or any Mayor, has but henceforth to hang out that new Oriflamme of his; then to read or mumble something about the King’s peace; and, after certain pauses, serve any undispersing Assemblage with musket-shot, or whatever shot will disperse it. A decisive Law; and most just on one proviso: that all Patrollotism be of God, and all mob-assembling be of the Devil; — otherwise not so just. Mayor Bailly be unwilling to use it! Hang not out that new Oriflamme, flame not of gold but of the want of gold! The thrice-blessed Revolution is done, thou thinkest? If so it will be well with thee.

But now let no mortal say henceforth that an august National Assembly wants riot: all it ever wanted was riot enough to balance Court-plotting; all it now wants, of Heaven or of Earth, is to get its theory of defective verbs perfected.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/carlyle/thomas/french_revolution/v2.1.2.html

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