The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

Arrears at Nanci.

We are to remark, however, that of all districts, this of Bouille’s seems the inflammablest. It was always to Bouille and Metz that Royalty would fly: Austria lies near; here more than elsewhere must the disunited People look over the borders, into a dim sea of Foreign Politics and Diplomacies, with hope or apprehension, with mutual exasperation.

It was but in these days that certain Austrian troops, marching peaceably across an angle of this region, seemed an Invasion realised; and there rushed towards Stenai, with musket on shoulder, from all the winds, some thirty thousand National Guards, to inquire what the matter was. (Moniteur, Seance du 9 Aout 1790.) A matter of mere diplomacy it proved; the Austrian Kaiser, in haste to get to Belgium, had bargained for this short cut. The infinite dim movement of European Politics waved a skirt over these spaces, passing on its way; like the passing shadow of a condor; and such a winged flight of thirty thousand, with mixed cackling and crowing, rose in consequence! For, in addition to all, this people, as we said, is much divided: Aristocrats abound; Patriotism has both Aristocrats and Austrians to watch. It is Lorraine, this region; not so illuminated as old France: it remembers ancient Feudalisms; nay, within man’s memory, it had a Court and King of its own, or indeed the splendour of a Court and King, without the burden. Then, contrariwise, the Mother Society, which sits in the Jacobins Church at Paris, has Daughters in the Towns here; shrill-tongued, driven acrid: consider how the memory of good King Stanislaus, and ages of Imperial Feudalism, may comport with this New acrid Evangel, and what a virulence of discord there may be! In all which, the Soldiery, officers on one side, private men on the other, takes part, and now indeed principal part; a Soldiery, moreover, all the hotter here as it lies the denser, the frontier Province requiring more of it.

So stands Lorraine: but the capital City, more especially so. The pleasant City of Nanci, which faded Feudalism loves, where King Stanislaus personally dwelt and shone, has an Aristocrat Municipality, and then also a Daughter Society: it has some forty thousand divided souls of population; and three large Regiments, one of which is Swiss Chateau–Vieux, dear to Patriotism ever since it refused fighting, or was thought to refuse, in the Bastille days. Here unhappily all evil influences seem to meet concentered; here, of all places, may jealousy and heat evolve itself. These many months, accordingly, man has been set against man, Washed against Unwashed; Patriot Soldier against Aristocrat Captain, ever the more bitterly; and a long score of grudges has been running up.

Nameable grudges, and likewise unnameable: for there is a punctual nature in Wrath; and daily, were there but glances of the eye, tones of the voice, and minutest commissions or omissions, it will jot down somewhat, to account, under the head of sundries, which always swells the sum-total. For example, in April last, in those times of preliminary Federation, when National Guards and Soldiers were every where swearing brotherhood, and all France was locally federating, preparing for the grand National Feast of Pikes, it was observed that these Nanci Officers threw cold water on the whole brotherly business; that they first hung back from appearing at the Nanci Federation; then did appear, but in mere redingote and undress, with scarcely a clean shirt on; nay that one of them, as the National Colours flaunted by in that solemn moment, did, without visible necessity, take occasion to spit. (Deux Amis, v. 217.)

Small ‘sundries as per journal,’ but then incessant ones! The Aristocrat Municipality, pretending to be Constitutional, keeps mostly quiet; not so the Daughter Society, the five thousand adult male Patriots of the place, still less the five thousand female: not so the young, whiskered or whiskerless, four-generation Noblesse in epaulettes; the grim Patriot Swiss of Chateau–Vieux, effervescent infantry of Regiment du Roi, hot troopers of Mestre-de-Camp! Walled Nanci, which stands so bright and trim, with its straight streets, spacious squares, and Stanislaus’ Architecture, on the fruitful alluvium of the Meurthe; so bright, amid the yellow cornfields in these Reaper–Months, — is inwardly but a den of discord, anxiety, inflammability, not far from exploding. Let Bouille look to it. If that universal military heat, which we liken to a vast continent of smoking flax, do any where take fire, his beard, here in Lorraine and Nanci, may the most readily of all get singed by it.

Bouille, for his part, is busy enough, but only with the general superintendence; getting his pacified Salm, and all other still tolerable Regiments, marched out of Metz, to southward towns and villages; to rural Cantonments as at Vic, Marsal and thereabout, by the still waters; where is plenty of horse-forage, sequestered parade-ground, and the soldier’s speculative faculty can be stilled by drilling. Salm, as we said, received only half payment of arrears; naturally not without grumbling. Nevertheless that scene of the drawn sword may, after all, have raised Bouille in the mind of Salm; for men and soldiers love intrepidity and swift inflexible decision, even when they suffer by it. As indeed is not this fundamentally the quality of qualities for a man? A quality which by itself is next to nothing, since inferior animals, asses, dogs, even mules have it; yet, in due combination, it is the indispensable basis of all.

Of Nanci and its heats, Bouille, commander of the whole, knows nothing special; understands generally that the troops in that City are perhaps the worst. (Bouille, i. c. 9.) The Officers there have it all, as they have long had it, to themselves; and unhappily seem to manage it ill. ‘Fifty yellow furloughs,’ given out in one batch, do surely betoken difficulties. But what was Patriotism to think of certain light-fencing Fusileers ‘set on,’ or supposed to be set on, ‘to insult the Grenadier-club,’ considerate speculative Grenadiers, and that reading-room of theirs? With shoutings, with hootings; till the speculative Grenadier drew his side-arms too; and there ensued battery and duels! Nay more, are not swashbucklers of the same stamp ‘sent out’ visibly, or sent out presumably, now in the dress of Soldiers to pick quarrels with the Citizens; now, disguised as Citizens, to pick quarrels with the Soldiers? For a certain Roussiere, expert in fence, was taken in the very fact; four Officers (presumably of tender years) hounding him on, who thereupon fled precipitately! Fence-master Roussiere, haled to the guardhouse, had sentence of three months’ imprisonment: but his comrades demanded ‘yellow furlough’ for him of all persons; nay, thereafter they produced him on parade; capped him in paper-helmet inscribed, Iscariot; marched him to the gate of City; and there sternly commanded him to vanish for evermore.

On all which suspicions, accusations and noisy procedure, and on enough of the like continually accumulating, the Officer could not but look with disdainful indignation; perhaps disdainfully express the same in words, and ‘soon after fly over to the Austrians.’

So that when it here as elsewhere comes to the question of Arrears, the humour and procedure is of the bitterest: Regiment Mestre-de-Camp getting, amid loud clamour, some three gold louis a-man, — which have, as usual, to be borrowed from the Municipality; Swiss Chateau–Vieux applying for the like, but getting instead instantaneous courrois, or cat-o’-nine-tails, with subsequent unsufferable hisses from the women and children; Regiment du Roi, sick of hope deferred, at length seizing its military chest, and marching it to quarters, but next day marching it back again, through streets all struck silent:— unordered paradings and clamours, not without strong liquor; objurgation, insubordination; your military ranked Arrangement going all (as the Typographers say of set types, in a similar case) rapidly to pie! (Deux Amis, v. c. 8.) Such is Nanci in these early days of August; the sublime Feast of Pikes not yet a month old.

Constitutional Patriotism, at Paris and elsewhere, may well quake at the news. War–Minister Latour du Pin runs breathless to the National Assembly, with a written message that ‘all is burning, tout brule, tout presse.’ The National Assembly, on spur of the instant, renders such Decret, and ‘order to submit and repent,’ as he requires; if it will avail any thing. On the other hand, Journalism, through all its throats, gives hoarse outcry, condemnatory, elegiac-applausive. The Forty-eight Sections, lift up voices; sonorous Brewer, or call him now Colonel Santerre, is not silent, in the Faubourg Saint–Antoine. For, meanwhile, the Nanci Soldiers have sent a Deputation of Ten, furnished with documents and proofs; who will tell another story than the ‘all-is-burning’ one. Which deputed Ten, before ever they reach the Assembly Hall, assiduous Latour du Pin picks up, and on warrant of Mayor Bailly, claps in prison! Most unconstitutionally; for they had officers’ furloughs. Whereupon Saint–Antoine, in indignant uncertainty of the future, closes its shops. Is Bouille a traitor then, sold to Austria? In that case, these poor private sentinels have revolted mainly out of Patriotism?

New Deputation, Deputation of National Guardsmen now, sets forth from Nanci to enlighten the Assembly. It meets the old deputed Ten returning, quite unexpectedly unhanged; and proceeds thereupon with better prospects; but effects nothing. Deputations, Government Messengers, Orderlies at hand-gallops, Alarms, thousand-voiced Rumours, go vibrating continually; backwards and forwards, — scattering distraction. Not till the last week of August does M. de Malseigne, selected as Inspector, get down to the scene of mutiny; with Authority, with cash, and ‘Decree of the Sixth of August.’ He now shall see these Arrears liquidated, justice done, or at least tumult quashed.

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