The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 6

Je le jure.

With these signs of the times, is it not surprising that the dominant feeling all over France was still continually Hope? O blessed Hope, sole boon of man; whereby, on his strait prison walls, are painted beautiful far-stretching landscapes; and into the night of very Death is shed holiest dawn! Thou art to all an indefeasible possession in this God’s-world: to the wise a sacred Constantine’s-banner, written on the eternal skies; under which they shall conquer, for the battle itself is victory: to the foolish some secular mirage, or shadow of still waters, painted on the parched Earth; whereby at least their dusty pilgrimage, if devious, becomes cheerfuller, becomes possible.

In the death-tumults of a sinking Society, French Hope sees only the birth-struggles of a new unspeakably better Society; and sings, with full assurance of faith, her brisk Melody, which some inspired fiddler has in these very days composed for her, — the world-famous ca-ira. Yes; ‘that will go:’ and then there will come —? All men hope: even Marat hopes — that Patriotism will take muff and dirk. King Louis is not without hope: in the chapter of chances; in a flight to some Bouille; in getting popularized at Paris. But what a hoping People he had, judge by the fact, and series of facts, now to be noted.

Poor Louis, meaning the best, with little insight and even less determination of his own, has to follow, in that dim wayfaring of his, such signal as may be given him; by backstairs Royalism, by official or backstairs Constitutionalism, whichever for the month may have convinced the royal mind. If flight to Bouille, and (horrible to think!) a drawing of the civil sword do hang as theory, portentous in the background, much nearer is this fact of these Twelve Hundred Kings, who sit in the Salle de Manege. Kings uncontrollable by him, not yet irreverent to him. Could kind management of these but prosper, how much better were it than armed Emigrants, Turin-intrigues, and the help of Austria! Nay, are the two hopes inconsistent? Rides in the suburbs, we have found, cost little; yet they always brought vivats. (See Bertrand–Moleville, i. 241, &c.) Still cheaper is a soft word; such as has many times turned away wrath. In these rapid days, while France is all getting divided into Departments, Clergy about to be remodelled, Popular Societies rising, and Feudalism and so much ever is ready to be hurled into the melting-pot, — might one not try?

On the 4th of February, accordingly, M. le President reads to his National Assembly a short autograph, announcing that his Majesty will step over, quite in an unceremonious way, probably about noon. Think, therefore, Messieurs, what it may mean; especially, how ye will get the Hall decorated a little. The Secretaries’ Bureau can be shifted down from the platform; on the President’s chair be slipped this cover of velvet, ‘of a violet colour sprigged with gold fleur-de-lys;’ — for indeed M. le President has had previous notice underhand, and taken counsel with Doctor Guillotin. Then some fraction of ‘velvet carpet,’ of like texture and colour, cannot that be spread in front of the chair, where the Secretaries usually sit? So has judicious Guillotin advised: and the effect is found satisfactory. Moreover, as it is probable that his Majesty, in spite of the fleur-de-lys-velvet, will stand and not sit at all, the President himself, in the interim, presides standing. And so, while some honourable Member is discussing, say, the division of a Department, Ushers announce: “His Majesty!” In person, with small suite, enter Majesty: the honourable Member stops short; the Assembly starts to its feet; the Twelve Hundred Kings ‘almost all,’ and the Galleries no less, do welcome the Restorer of French Liberty with loyal shouts. His Majesty’s Speech, in diluted conventional phraseology, expresses this mainly: That he, most of all Frenchmen, rejoices to see France getting regenerated; is sure, at the same time, that they will deal gently with her in the process, and not regenerate her roughly. Such was his Majesty’s Speech: the feat he performed was coming to speak it, and going back again.

Surely, except to a very hoping People, there was not much here to build upon. Yet what did they not build! The fact that the King has spoken, that he has voluntarily come to speak, how inexpressibly encouraging! Did not the glance of his royal countenance, like concentrated sunbeams, kindle all hearts in an august Assembly; nay thereby in an inflammable enthusiastic France? To move ‘Deputation of thanks’ can be the happy lot of but one man; to go in such Deputation the lot of not many. The Deputed have gone, and returned with what highest-flown compliment they could; whom also the Queen met, Dauphin in hand. And still do not our hearts burn with insatiable gratitude; and to one other man a still higher blessedness suggests itself: To move that we all renew the National Oath.

Happiest honourable Member, with his word so in season as word seldom was; magic Fugleman of a whole National Assembly, which sat there bursting to do somewhat; Fugleman of a whole onlooking France! The President swears; declares that every one shall swear, in distinct je le jure. Nay the very Gallery sends him down a written slip signed, with their Oath on it; and as the Assembly now casts an eye that way, the Gallery all stands up and swears again. And then out of doors, consider at the Hotel-de-Ville how Bailly, the great Tennis–Court swearer, again swears, towards nightful, with all the Municipals, and Heads of Districts assembled there. And ‘M. Danton suggests that the public would like to partake:’ whereupon Bailly, with escort of Twelve, steps forth to the great outer staircase; sways the ebullient multitude with stretched hand: takes their oath, with a thunder of ‘rolling drums,’ with shouts that rend the welkin. And on all streets the glad people, with moisture and fire in their eyes, ‘spontaneously formed groups, and swore one another,’ (Newspapers in Hist. Parl. iv. 445.) — and the whole City was illuminated. This was the Fourth of February 1790: a day to be marked white in Constitutional annals.

Nor is the illumination for a night only, but partially or totally it lasts a series of nights. For each District, the Electors of each District, will swear specially; and always as the District swears; it illuminates itself. Behold them, District after District, in some open square, where the Non–Electing People can all see and join: with their uplifted right hands, and je le jure: with rolling drums, with embracings, and that infinite hurrah of the enfranchised, — which any tyrant that there may be can consider! Faithful to the King, to the Law, to the Constitution which the National Assembly shall make.

Fancy, for example, the Professors of Universities parading the streets with their young France, and swearing, in an enthusiastic manner, not without tumult. By a larger exercise of fancy, expand duly this little word: The like was repeated in every Town and District of France! Nay one Patriot Mother, in Lagnon of Brittany, assembles her ten children; and, with her own aged hand, swears them all herself, the highsouled venerable woman. Of all which, moreover, a National Assembly must be eloquently apprised. Such three weeks of swearing! Saw the sun ever such a swearing people? Have they been bit by a swearing tarantula? No: but they are men and Frenchmen; they have Hope; and, singular to say, they have Faith, were it only in the Gospel according to Jean Jacques. O my Brothers! would to Heaven it were even as ye think and have sworn! But there are Lovers’ Oaths, which, had they been true as love itself, cannot be kept; not to speak of Dicers’ Oaths, also a known sort.

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