The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

Journalism.

As for Constitutionalism, with its National Guards, it is doing what it can; and has enough to do: it must, as ever, with one hand wave persuasively, repressing Patriotism; and keep the other clenched to menace Royalty plotters. A most delicate task; requiring tact.

Thus, if People’s-friend Marat has to-day his writ of ‘prise de corps, or seizure of body,’ served on him, and dives out of sight, tomorrow he is left at large; or is even encouraged, as a sort of bandog whose baying may be useful. President Danton, in open Hall, with reverberating voice, declares that, in a case like Marat’s, “force may be resisted by force.” Whereupon the Chatelet serves Danton also with a writ; — which, however, as the whole Cordeliers District responds to it, what Constable will be prompt to execute? Twice more, on new occasions, does the Chatelet launch its writ; and twice more in vain: the body of Danton cannot be seized by Chatelet; he unseized, should he even fly for a season, shall behold the Chatelet itself flung into limbo.

Municipality and Brissot, meanwhile, are far on with their Municipal Constitution. The Sixty Districts shall become Forty-eight Sections; much shall be adjusted, and Paris have its Constitution. A Constitution wholly Elective; as indeed all French Government shall and must be. And yet, one fatal element has been introduced: that of citoyen actif. No man who does not pay the marc d’argent, or yearly tax equal to three days’ labour, shall be other than a passive citizen: not the slightest vote for him; were he acting, all the year round, with sledge hammer, with forest-levelling axe! Unheard of! cry Patriot Journals. Yes truly, my Patriot Friends, if Liberty, the passion and prayer of all men’s souls, means Liberty to send your fifty-thousandth part of a new Tongue-fencer into National Debating-club, then, be the gods witness, ye are hardly entreated. Oh, if in National Palaver (as the Africans name it), such blessedness is verily found, what tyrant would deny it to Son of Adam! Nay, might there not be a Female Parliament too, with ‘screams from the Opposition benches,’ and ‘the honourable Member borne out in hysterics?’ To a Children’s Parliament would I gladly consent; or even lower if ye wished it. Beloved Brothers! Liberty, one might fear, is actually, as the ancient wise men said, of Heaven. On this Earth, where, thinks the enlightened public, did a brave little Dame de Staal (not Necker’s Daughter, but a far shrewder than she) find the nearest approach to Liberty? After mature computation, cool as Dilworth’s, her answer is, In the Bastille. (See De Staal: Memoires (Paris, 1821), i. 169–280.) “Of Heaven?” answer many, asking. Wo that they should ask; for that is the very misery! “Of Heaven” means much; share in the National Palaver it may, or may as probably not mean.

One Sansculottic bough that cannot fail to flourish is Journalism. The voice of the People being the voice of God, shall not such divine voice make itself heard? To the ends of France; and in as many dialects as when the first great Babel was to be built! Some loud as the lion; some small as the sucking dove. Mirabeau himself has his instructive Journal or Journals, with Geneva hodmen working in them; and withal has quarrels enough with Dame le Jay, his Female Bookseller, so ultra-compliant otherwise. (See Dumont: Souvenirs, 6.)

King’s-friend Royou still prints himself. Barrere sheds tears of loyal sensibility in Break of Day Journal, though with declining sale. But why is Freron so hot, democratic; Freron, the King’s-friend’s Nephew? He has it by kind, that heat of his: wasp Freron begot him; Voltaire’s Frelon; who fought stinging, while sting and poison-bag were left, were it only as Reviewer, and over Printed Waste-paper. Constant, illuminative, as the nightly lamplighter, issues the useful Moniteur, for it is now become diurnal: with facts and few commentaries; official, safe in the middle:— its able Editors sunk long since, recoverably or irrecoverably, in deep darkness. Acid Loustalot, with his ‘vigour,’ as of young sloes, shall never ripen, but die untimely: his Prudhomme, however, will not let that Revolutions de Paris die; but edit it himself, with much else, — dull-blustering Printer though he be.

Of Cassandra–Marat we have spoken often; yet the most surprising truth remains to be spoken: that he actually does not want sense; but, with croaking gelid throat, croaks out masses of the truth, on several things. Nay sometimes, one might almost fancy he had a perception of humour, and were laughing a little, far down in his inner man. Camille is wittier than ever, and more outspoken, cynical; yet sunny as ever. A light melodious creature; ‘born,’ as he shall yet say with bitter tears, ‘to write verses;’ light Apollo, so clear, soft-lucent, in this war of the Titans, wherein he shall not conquer!

Folded and hawked Newspapers exist in all countries; but, in such a Journalistic element as this of France, other and stranger sorts are to be anticipated. What says the English reader to a Journal–Affiche, Placard Journal; legible to him that has no halfpenny; in bright prismatic colours, calling the eye from afar? Such, in the coming months, as Patriot Associations, public and private, advance, and can subscribe funds, shall plenteously hang themselves out: leaves, limed leaves, to catch what they can! The very Government shall have its Pasted Journal; Louvet, busy yet with a new ‘charming romance,’ shall write Sentinelles, and post them with effect; nay Bertrand de Moleville, in his extremity, shall still more cunningly try it. (See Bertrand–Moleville: Memoires, ii. 100, &c.) Great is Journalism. Is not every Able Editor a Ruler of the World, being a persuader of it; though self-elected, yet sanctioned, by the sale of his Numbers? Whom indeed the world has the readiest method of deposing, should need be: that of merely doing nothing to him; which ends in starvation!

Nor esteem it small what those Bill-stickers had to do in Paris: above Three Score of them: all with their crosspoles, haversacks, pastepots; nay with leaden badges, for the Municipality licenses them. A Sacred College, properly of World-rulers’ Heralds, though not respected as such, in an Era still incipient and raw. They made the walls of Paris didactic, suasive, with an ever fresh Periodical Literature, wherein he that ran might read: Placard Journals, Placard Lampoons, Municipal Ordinances, Royal Proclamations; the whole other or vulgar Placard-department super-added, — or omitted from contempt! What unutterable things the stone-walls spoke, during these five years! But it is all gone; To-day swallowing Yesterday, and then being in its turn swallowed of To-morrow, even as Speech ever is. Nay what, O thou immortal Man of Letters, is Writing itself but Speech conserved for a time? The Placard Journal conserved it for one day; some Books conserve it for the matter of ten years; nay some for three thousand: but what then? Why, then, the years being all run, it also dies, and the world is rid of it. Oh, were there not a spirit in the word of man, as in man himself, that survived the audible bodied word, and tended either Godward, or else Devilward for evermore, why should he trouble himself much with the truth of it, or the falsehood of it, except for commercial purposes? His immortality indeed, and whether it shall last half a lifetime, or a lifetime and half; is not that a very considerable thing? As mortality, was to the runaway, whom Great Fritz bullied back into the battle with a: “R— wollt ihr ewig leben, Unprintable Off-scouring of Scoundrels, would ye live for ever!”

This is the Communication of Thought: how happy when there is any Thought to communicate! Neither let the simpler old methods be neglected, in their sphere. The Palais–Royal Tent, a tyrannous Patrollotism has removed; but can it remove the lungs of man? Anaxagoras Chaumette we saw mounted on bourne-stones, while Tallien worked sedentary at the subeditorial desk. In any corner of the civilised world, a tub can be inverted, and an articulate-speaking biped mount thereon. Nay, with contrivance, a portable trestle, or folding-stool, can be procured, for love or money; this the peripatetic Orator can take in his hand, and, driven out here, set it up again there; saying mildly, with a Sage Bias, Omnia mea mecum porto.

Such is Journalism, hawked, pasted, spoken. How changed since One old Metra walked this same Tuileries Garden, in gilt cocked hat, with Journal at his nose, or held loose-folded behind his back; and was a notability of Paris, ‘Metra the Newsman;’ (Dulaure, Histoire de Paris, viii. 483; Mercier, Nouveau Paris, &c.) and Louis himself was wont to say: Qu’en dit Metra? Since the first Venetian News-sheet was sold for a gazza, or farthing, and named Gazette! We live in a fertile world.

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