The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 5

Inspector Malseigne.

Of Inspector Malseigne we discern, by direct light, that he is ‘of Herculean stature;’ and infer, with probability, that he is of truculent moustachioed aspect, — for Royalist Officers now leave the upper lip unshaven; that he is of indomitable bull-heart; and also, unfortunately, of thick bull-head.

On Tuesday the 24th of August, 1790, he opens session as Inspecting Commissioner; meets those ‘elected corporals, and soldiers that can write.’ He finds the accounts of Chateau–Vieux to be complex; to require delay and reference: he takes to haranguing, to reprimanding; ends amid audible grumbling. Next morning, he resumes session, not at the Townhall as prudent Municipals counselled, but once more at the barracks. Unfortunately Chateau–Vieux, grumbling all night, will now hear of no delay or reference; from reprimanding on his part, it goes to bullying, — answered with continual cries of “Jugez tout de suite, Judge it at once;” whereupon M. de Malseigne will off in a huff. But lo, Chateau Vieux, swarming all about the barrack-court, has sentries at every gate; M. de Malseigne, demanding egress, cannot get it, though Commandant Denoue backs him; can get only “Jugez tout de suite.” Here is a nodus!

Bull-hearted M. de Malseigne draws his sword; and will force egress. Confused splutter. M. de Malseigne’s sword breaks; he snatches Commandant Denoue’s: the sentry is wounded. M. de Malseigne, whom one is loath to kill, does force egress, — followed by Chateau–Vieux all in disarray; a spectacle to Nanci. M. de Malseigne walks at a sharp pace, yet never runs; wheeling from time to time, with menaces and movements of fence; and so reaches Denoue’s house, unhurt; which house Chateau–Vieux, in an agitated manner, invests, — hindered as yet from entering, by a crowd of officers formed on the staircase. M. de Malseigne retreats by back ways to the Townhall, flustered though undaunted; amid an escort of National Guards. From the Townhall he, on the morrow, emits fresh orders, fresh plans of settlement with Chateau–Vieux; to none of which will Chateau–Vieux listen: whereupon finally he, amid noise enough, emits order that Chateau–Vieux shall march on the morrow morning, and quarter at Sarre Louis. Chateau–Vieux flatly refuses marching; M. de Malseigne ‘takes act,’ due notarial protest, of such refusal, — if happily that may avail him.

This is end of Thursday; and, indeed, of M. de Malseigne’s Inspectorship, which has lasted some fifty hours. To such length, in fifty hours, has he unfortunately brought it. Mestre-de-Camp and Regiment du Roi hang, as it were, fluttering: Chateau–Vieux is clean gone, in what way we see. Over night, an Aide-de-Camp of Lafayette’s, stationed here for such emergency, sends swift emissaries far and wide, to summon National Guards. The slumber of the country is broken by clattering hoofs, by loud fraternal knockings; every where the Constitutional Patriot must clutch his fighting-gear, and take the road for Nanci.

And thus the Herculean Inspector has sat all Thursday, among terror-struck Municipals, a centre of confused noise: all Thursday, Friday, and till Saturday towards noon. Chateau–Vieux, in spite of the notarial protest, will not march a step. As many as four thousand National Guards are dropping or pouring in; uncertain what is expected of them, still more uncertain what will be obtained of them. For all is uncertainty, commotion, and suspicion: there goes a word that Bouille, beginning to bestir himself in the rural Cantonments eastward, is but a Royalist traitor; that Chateau–Vieux and Patriotism are sold to Austria, of which latter M. de Malseigne is probably some agent. Mestre-de-Camp and Roi flutter still more questionably: Chateau–Vieux, far from marching, ‘waves red flags out of two carriages,’ in a passionate manner, along the streets; and next morning answers its Officers: “Pay us, then; and we will march with you to the world’s end!”

Under which circumstances, towards noon on Saturday, M. de Malseigne thinks it were good perhaps to inspect the ramparts, — on horseback. He mounts, accordingly, with escort of three troopers. At the gate of the city, he bids two of them wait for his return; and with the third, a trooper to be depended upon, he — gallops off for Luneville; where lies a certain Carabineer Regiment not yet in a mutinous state! The two left troopers soon get uneasy; discover how it is, and give the alarm. Mestre-de-Camp, to the number of a hundred, saddles in frantic haste, as if sold to Austria; gallops out pellmell in chase of its Inspector. And so they spur, and the Inspector spurs; careering, with noise and jingle, up the valley of the River Meurthe, towards Luneville and the midday sun: through an astonished country; indeed almost their own astonishment.

What a hunt, Actaeon-like; — which Actaeon de Malseigne happily gains! To arms, ye Carabineers of Luneville: to chastise mutinous men, insulting your General Officer, insulting your own quarters; — above all things, fire soon, lest there be parleying and ye refuse to fire! The Carabineers fire soon, exploding upon the first stragglers of Mestre-de-Camp; who shrink at the very flash, and fall back hastily on Nanci, in a state not far from distraction. Panic and fury: sold to Austria without an if; so much per regiment, the very sums can be specified; and traitorous Malseigne is fled! Help, O Heaven; help, thou Earth, — ye unwashed Patriots; ye too are sold like us!

Effervescent Regiment du Roi primes its firelocks, Mestre-de-Camp saddles wholly: Commandant Denoue is seized, is flung in prison with a ‘canvass shirt’ (sarreau de toile) about him; Chateau–Vieux bursts up the magazines; distributes ‘three thousand fusils’ to a Patriot people: Austria shall have a hot bargain. Alas, the unhappy hunting-dogs, as we said, have hunted away their huntsman; and do now run howling and baying, on what trail they know not; nigh rabid!

And so there is tumultuous march of men, through the night; with halt on the heights of Flinval, whence Luneville can be seen all illuminated. Then there is parley, at four in the morning; and reparley; finally there is agreement: the Carabineers give in; Malseigne is surrendered, with apologies on all sides. After weary confused hours, he is even got under way; the Lunevillers all turning out, in the idle Sunday, to see such departure: home-going of mutinous Mestre-de-Camp with its Inspector captive. Mestre-de-Camp accordingly marches; the Lunevillers look. See! at the corner of the first street, our Inspector bounds off again, bull-hearted as he is; amid the slash of sabres, the crackle of musketry; and escapes, full gallop, with only a ball lodged in his buff-jerkin. The Herculean man! And yet it is an escape to no purpose. For the Carabineers, to whom after the hardest Sunday’s ride on record, he has come circling back, ‘stand deliberating by their nocturnal watch-fires;’ deliberating of Austria, of traitors, and the rage of Mestre-de-Camp. So that, on the whole, the next sight we have is that of M. de Malseigne, on the Monday afternoon, faring bull-hearted through the streets of Nanci; in open carriage, a soldier standing over him with drawn sword; amid the ‘furies of the women,’ hedges of National Guards, and confusion of Babel: to the Prison beside Commandant Denoue! That finally is the lodging of Inspector Malseigne. (Deux Amis, v. 206–251; Newspapers and Documents in Hist. Parl. vii. 59–162.)

Surely it is time Bouille were drawing near. The Country all round, alarmed with watchfires, illuminated towns, and marching and rout, has been sleepless these several nights. Nanci, with its uncertain National Guards, with its distributed fusils, mutinous soldiers, black panic and redhot ire, is not a City but a Bedlam.

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