The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 3

The Muster.

With famine and a Constitutional theory of defective verbs going on, all other excitement is conceivable. A universal shaking and sifting of French Existence this is: in the course of which, for one thing, what a multitude of low-lying figures are sifted to the top, and set busily to work there!

Dogleech Marat, now for-seen as Simon Stylites, we already know; him and others, raised aloft. The mere sample, these, of what is coming, of what continues coming, upwards from the realm of Night! — Chaumette, by and by Anaxagoras Chaumette, one already descries: mellifluous in street-groups; not now a sea-boy on the high and giddy mast: a mellifluous tribune of the common people, with long curling locks, on bourne-stone of the thoroughfares; able sub-editor too; who shall rise — to the very gallows. Clerk Tallien, he also is become sub-editor; shall become able editor; and more. Bibliopolic Momoro, Typographic Pruhomme see new trades opening. Collot d’Herbois, tearing a passion to rags, pauses on the Thespian boards; listens, with that black bushy head, to the sound of the world’s drama: shall the Mimetic become Real? Did ye hiss him, O men of Lyons? (Buzot, Memoires (Paris, 1823), p. 90.) Better had ye clapped!

Happy now, indeed, for all manner of mimetic, half-original men! Tumid blustering, with more or less of sincerity, which need not be entirely sincere, yet the sincerer the better, is like to go far. Shall we say, the Revolution-element works itself rarer and rarer; so that only lighter and lighter bodies will float in it; till at last the mere blown-bladder is your only swimmer? Limitation of mind, then vehemence, promptitude, audacity, shall all be available; to which add only these two: cunning and good lungs. Good fortune must be presupposed. Accordingly, of all classes the rising one, we observe, is now the Attorney class: witness Bazires, Carriers, Fouquier–Tinvilles, Bazoche–Captain Bourdons: more than enough. Such figures shall Night, from her wonder-bearing bosom, emit; swarm after swarm. Of another deeper and deepest swarm, not yet dawned on the astonished eye; of pilfering Candle-snuffers, Thief-valets, disfrocked Capuchins, and so many Heberts, Henriots, Ronsins, Rossignols, let us, as long as possible, forbear speaking.

Thus, over France, all stirs that has what the Physiologists call irritability in it: how much more all wherein irritability has perfected itself into vitality; into actual vision, and force that can will! All stirs; and if not in Paris, flocks thither. Great and greater waxes President Danton in his Cordeliers Section; his rhetorical tropes are all ‘gigantic:’ energy flashes from his black brows, menaces in his athletic figure, rolls in the sound of his voice ‘reverberating from the domes;’ this man also, like Mirabeau, has a natural eye, and begins to see whither Constitutionalism is tending, though with a wish in it different from Mirabeau’s.

Remark, on the other hand, how General Dumouriez has quitted Normandy and the Cherbourg Breakwater, to come — whither we may guess. It is his second or even third trial at Paris, since this New Era began; but now it is in right earnest, for he has quitted all else. Wiry, elastic unwearied man; whose life was but a battle and a march! No, not a creature of Choiseul’s; “the creature of God and of my sword,” — he fiercely answered in old days. Overfalling Corsican batteries, in the deadly fire-hail; wriggling invincible from under his horse, at Closterkamp of the Netherlands, though tethered with ‘crushed stirrup-iron and nineteen wounds;’ tough, minatory, standing at bay, as forlorn hope, on the skirts of Poland; intriguing, battling in cabinet and field; roaming far out, obscure, as King’s spial, or sitting sealed up, enchanted in Bastille; fencing, pamphleteering, scheming and struggling from the very birth of him, (Dumouriez, Memoires, i. 28, &c.) — the man has come thus far. How repressed, how irrepressible! Like some incarnate spirit in prison, which indeed he was; hewing on granite walls for deliverance; striking fire flashes from them. And now has the general earthquake rent his cavern too? Twenty years younger, what might he not have done! But his hair has a shade of gray: his way of thought is all fixed, military. He can grow no further, and the new world is in such growth. We will name him, on the whole, one of Heaven’s Swiss; without faith; wanting above all things work, work on any side. Work also is appointed him; and he will do it.

Not from over France only are the unrestful flocking towards Paris; but from all sides of Europe. Where the carcase is, thither will the eagles gather. Think how many a Spanish Guzman, Martinico Fournier named ‘Fournier l’Americain,’ Engineer Miranda from the very Andes, were flocking or had flocked! Walloon Pereyra might boast of the strangest parentage: him, they say, Prince Kaunitz the Diplomatist heedlessly dropped;’ like ostrich-egg, to be hatched of Chance — into an ostrich-eater! Jewish or German Freys do business in the great Cesspool of Agio; which Cesspool this Assignat-fiat has quickened, into a Mother of dead dogs. Swiss Claviere could found no Socinian Genevese Colony in Ireland; but he paused, years ago, prophetic before the Minister’s Hotel at Paris; and said, it was borne on his mind that he one day was to be Minister, and laughed. (Dumont, Souvenirs sur Mirabeau, p. 399.) Swiss Pachc, on the other hand, sits sleekheaded, frugal; the wonder of his own alley, and even of neighbouring ones, for humility of mind, and a thought deeper than most men’s: sit there, Tartuffe, till wanted! Ye Italian Dufournys, Flemish Prolys, flit hither all ye bipeds of prey! Come whosesoever head is hot; thou of mind ungoverned, be it chaos as of undevelopment or chaos as of ruin; the man who cannot get known, the man who is too well known; if thou have any vendible faculty, nay if thou have but edacity and loquacity, come! They come; with hot unutterabilities in their heart; as Pilgrims towards a miraculous shrine. Nay how many come as vacant Strollers, aimless, of whom Europe is full merely towards something! For benighted fowls, when you beat their bushes, rush towards any light. Thus Frederick Baron Trenck too is here; mazed, purblind, from the cells of Magdeburg; Minotauric cells, and his Ariadne lost! Singular to say, Trenck, in these years, sells wine; not indeed in bottle, but in wood.

Nor is our England without her missionaries. She has her live-saving Needham; to whom was solemnly presented a ‘civic sword,’ — long since rusted into nothingness. Her Paine: rebellious Staymaker; unkempt; who feels that he, a single Needleman, did by his ‘Common Sense’ Pamphlet, free America; — that he can and will free all this World; perhaps even the other. Price–Stanhope Constitutional Association sends over to congratulate; (Moniteur, 10 Novembre, 7 Decembre, 1789.) welcomed by National Assembly, though they are but a London Club; whom Burke and Toryism eye askance.

On thee too, for country’s sake, O Chevalier John Paul, be a word spent, or misspent! In faded naval uniform, Paul Jones lingers visible here; like a wine-skin from which the wine is all drawn. Like the ghost of himself! Low is his once loud bruit; scarcely audible, save, with extreme tedium in ministerial ante-chambers; in this or the other charitable dining-room, mindful of the past. What changes; culminatings and declinings! Not now, poor Paul, thou lookest wistful over the Solway brine, by the foot of native Criffel, into blue mountainous Cumberland, into blue Infinitude; environed with thrift, with humble friendliness; thyself, young fool, longing to be aloft from it, or even to be away from it. Yes, beyond that sapphire Promontory, which men name St. Bees, which is not sapphire either, but dull sandstone, when one gets close to it, there is a world. Which world thou too shalt taste of! — From yonder White Haven rise his smoke-clouds; ominous though ineffectual. Proud Forth quakes at his bellying sails; had not the wind suddenly shifted. Flamborough reapers, homegoing, pause on the hill-side: for what sulphur-cloud is that that defaces the sleek sea; sulphur-cloud spitting streaks of fire? A sea cockfight it is, and of the hottest; where British Serapis and French–American Bon Homme Richard do lash and throttle each other, in their fashion; and lo the desperate valour has suffocated the deliberate, and Paul Jones too is of the Kings of the Sea!

The Euxine, the Meotian waters felt thee next, and long-skirted Turks, O Paul; and thy fiery soul has wasted itself in thousand contradictions; — to no purpose. For, in far lands, with scarlet Nassau–Siegens, with sinful Imperial Catherines, is not the heart-broken, even as at home with the mean? Poor Paul! hunger and dispiritment track thy sinking footsteps: once or at most twice, in this Revolution-tumult the figure of thee emerges; mute, ghost-like, as ‘with stars dim-twinkling through.’ And then, when the light is gone quite out, a National Legislature grants ‘ceremonial funeral!’ As good had been the natural Presbyterian Kirk-bell, and six feet of Scottish earth, among the dust of thy loved ones. — Such world lay beyond the Promontory of St. Bees. Such is the life of sinful mankind here below.

But of all strangers, far the notablest for us is Baron Jean Baptiste de Clootz; — or, dropping baptisms and feudalisms, World–Citizen Anacharsis Clootz, from Cleves. Him mark, judicious Reader. Thou hast known his Uncle, sharp-sighted thorough-going Cornelius de Pauw, who mercilessly cuts down cherished illusions; and of the finest antique Spartans, will make mere modern cutthroat Mainots. (De Pauw, Recherches sur les Grecs, &c.) The like stuff is in Anacharsis: hot metal; full of scoriae, which should and could have been smelted out, but which will not. He has wandered over this terraqueous Planet; seeking, one may say, the Paradise we lost long ago. He has seen English Burke; has been seen of the Portugal Inquisition; has roamed, and fought, and written; is writing, among other things, ‘Evidences of the Mahometan Religion.’ But now, like his Scythian adoptive godfather, he finds himself in the Paris Athens; surely, at last, the haven of his soul. A dashing man, beloved at Patriotic dinner-tables; with gaiety, nay with humour; headlong, trenchant, of free purse; in suitable costume; though what mortal ever more despised costumes? Under all costumes Anacharsis seeks the man; not Stylites Marat will more freely trample costumes, if they hold no man. This is the faith of Anacharsis: That there is a Paradise discoverable; that all costumes ought to hold men. O Anacharsis, it is a headlong, swift-going faith. Mounted thereon, meseems, thou art bound hastily for the City of Nowhere; and wilt arrive! At best, we may say, arrive in good riding attitude; which indeed is something.

So many new persons, and new things, have come to occupy this France. Her old Speech and Thought, and Activity which springs from those, are all changing; fermenting towards unknown issues. To the dullest peasant, as he sits sluggish, overtoiled, by his evening hearth, one idea has come: that of Chateaus burnt; of Chateaus combustible. How altered all Coffeehouses, in Province or Capital! The Antre de Procope has now other questions than the Three Stagyrite Unities to settle; not theatre-controversies, but a world-controversy: there, in the ancient pigtail mode, or with modern Brutus’ heads, do well-frizzed logicians hold hubbub, and Chaos umpire sits. The ever-enduring Melody of Paris Saloons has got a new ground-tone: ever-enduring; which has been heard, and by the listening Heaven too, since Julian the Apostate’s time and earlier; mad now as formerly.

Ex–Censor Suard, Ex–Censor, for we have freedom of the Press; he may be seen there; impartial, even neutral. Tyrant Grimm rolls large eyes, over a questionable coming Time. Atheist Naigeon, beloved disciple of Diderot, crows, in his small difficult way, heralding glad dawn. (Naigeon: Addresse a l’Assemblee Nationale (Paris, 1790) sur la liberte des opinions.) But, on the other hand, how many Morellets, Marmontels, who had sat all their life hatching Philosophe eggs, cackle now, in a state bordering on distraction, at the brood they have brought out! (See Marmontel, Memoires, passim; Morellet, Memoires, &c.) It was so delightful to have one’s Philosophe Theorem demonstrated, crowned in the saloons: and now an infatuated people will not continue speculative, but have Practice?

There also observe Preceptress Genlis, or Sillery, or Sillery–Genlis, — for our husband is both Count and Marquis, and we have more than one title. Pretentious, frothy; a puritan yet creedless; darkening counsel by words without wisdom! For, it is in that thin element of the Sentimentalist and Distinguished–Female that Sillery–Genlis works; she would gladly be sincere, yet can grow no sincerer than sincere-cant: sincere-cant of many forms, ending in the devotional form. For the present, on a neck still of moderate whiteness, she wears as jewel a miniature Bastille, cut on mere sandstone, but then actual Bastille sandstone. M. le Marquis is one of d’Orleans’s errandmen; in National Assembly, and elsewhere. Madame, for her part, trains up a youthful d’Orleans generation in what superfinest morality one can; gives meanwhile rather enigmatic account of fair Mademoiselle Pamela, the Daughter whom she has adopted. Thus she, in Palais Royal saloon; — whither, we remark, d’Orleans himself, spite of Lafayette, has returned from that English ‘mission’ of his: surely no pleasant mission: for the English would not speak to him; and Saint Hannah More of England, so unlike Saint Sillery–Genlis of France, saw him shunned, in Vauxhall Gardens, like one pest-struck, (Hannah More’s Life and Correspondence, ii. c. 5.) and his red-blue impassive visage waxing hardly a shade bluer.

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