The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 2

The Wakeful.

Sleep who will, cradled in hope and short vision, like Lafayette, ‘who always in the danger done sees the last danger that will threaten him,’ — Time is not sleeping, nor Time’s seedfield.

That sacred Herald’s-College of a new Dynasty; we mean the Sixty and odd Billstickers with their leaden badges, are not sleeping. Daily they, with pastepot and cross-staff, new clothe the walls of Paris in colours of the rainbow: authoritative heraldic, as we say, or indeed almost magical thaumaturgic; for no Placard–Journal that they paste but will convince some soul or souls of man. The Hawkers bawl; and the Balladsingers: great Journalism blows and blusters, through all its throats, forth from Paris towards all corners of France, like an Aeolus’ Cave; keeping alive all manner of fires.

Throats or Journals there are, as men count, (Mercier, iii. 163.) to the number of some hundred and thirty-three. Of various calibre; from your Cheniers, Gorsases, Camilles, down to your Marat, down now to your incipient Hebert of the Pere Duchesne; these blow, with fierce weight of argument or quick light banter, for the Rights of man: Durosoys, Royous, Peltiers, Sulleaus, equally with mixed tactics, inclusive, singular to say, of much profane Parody, (See Hist. Parl. vii. 51.) are blowing for Altar and Throne. As for Marat the People’s-Friend, his voice is as that of the bullfrog, or bittern by the solitary pools; he, unseen of men, croaks harsh thunder, and that alone continually, — of indignation, suspicion, incurable sorrow. The People are sinking towards ruin, near starvation itself: ‘My dear friends,’ cries he, ‘your indigence is not the fruit of vices nor of idleness, you have a right to life, as good as Louis XVI., or the happiest of the century. What man can say he has a right to dine, when you have no bread?’ (Ami du Peuple, No. 306. See other Excerpts in Hist. Parl. viii. 139–149, 428–433; ix. 85–93, &c.) The People sinking on the one hand: on the other hand, nothing but wretched Sieur Motiers, treasonous Riquetti Mirabeaus; traitors, or else shadows, and simulacra of Quacks, to be seen in high places, look where you will! Men that go mincing, grimacing, with plausible speech and brushed raiment; hollow within: Quacks Political; Quacks scientific, Academical; all with a fellow-feeling for each other, and kind of Quack public-spirit! Not great Lavoisier himself, or any of the Forty can escape this rough tongue; which wants not fanatic sincerity, nor, strangest of all, a certain rough caustic sense. And then the ‘three thousand gaming-houses’ that are in Paris; cesspools for the scoundrelism of the world; sinks of iniquity and debauchery, — whereas without good morals Liberty is impossible! There, in these Dens of Satan, which one knows, and perseveringly denounces, do Sieur Motier’s mouchards consort and colleague; battening vampyre-like on a People next-door to starvation. ‘O Peuple!’ cries he oftimes, with heart-rending accent. Treason, delusion, vampyrism, scoundrelism, from Dan to Beersheba! The soul of Marat is sick with the sight: but what remedy? To erect ‘Eight Hundred gibbets,’ in convenient rows, and proceed to hoisting; ‘Riquetti on the first of them!’ Such is the brief recipe of Marat, Friend of the People.

So blow and bluster the Hundred and thirty-three: nor, as would seem, are these sufficient; for there are benighted nooks in France, to which Newspapers do not reach; and every where is ‘such an appetite for news as was never seen in any country.’ Let an expeditious Dampmartin, on furlough, set out to return home from Paris, (Dampmartin, i. 184.) he cannot get along for ‘peasants stopping him on the highway; overwhelming him with questions:’ the Maitre de Poste will not send out the horses till you have well nigh quarrelled with him, but asks always, What news? At Autun, ‘in spite of the rigorous frost’ for it is now January, 1791, nothing will serve but you must gather your wayworn limbs, and thoughts, and ‘speak to the multitudes from a window opening into the market-place.’ It is the shortest method: This, good Christian people, is verily what an August Assembly seemed to me to be doing; this and no other is the news;

‘Now my weary lips I close;

Leave me, leave me to repose.’

The good Dampmartin! — But, on the whole, are not Nations astonishingly true to their National character; which indeed runs in the blood? Nineteen hundred years ago, Julius Caesar, with his quick sure eye, took note how the Gauls waylaid men. ‘It is a habit of theirs,’ says he, ‘to stop travellers, were it even by constraint, and inquire whatsoever each of them may have heard or known about any sort of matter: in their towns, the common people beset the passing trader; demanding to hear from what regions he came, what things he got acquainted with there. Excited by which rumours and hearsays they will decide about the weightiest matters; and necessarily repent next moment that they did it, on such guidance of uncertain reports, and many a traveller answering with mere fictions to please them, and get off.’ (De Bello Gallico, iv. 5.) Nineteen hundred years; and good Dampmartin, wayworn, in winter frost, probably with scant light of stars and fish-oil, still perorates from the Inn-window! This People is no longer called Gaulish; and it has wholly become braccatus, has got breeches, and suffered change enough: certain fierce German Franken came storming over; and, so to speak, vaulted on the back of it; and always after, in their grim tenacious way, have ridden it bridled; for German is, by his very name, Guerre-man, or man that wars and gars. And so the People, as we say, is now called French or Frankish: nevertheless, does not the old Gaulish and Gaelic Celthood, with its vehemence, effervescent promptitude, and what good and ill it had, still vindicate itself little adulterated? —

For the rest, that in such prurient confusion, Clubbism thrives and spreads, need not be said. Already the Mother of Patriotism, sitting in the Jacobins, shines supreme over all; and has paled the poor lunar light of that Monarchic Club near to final extinction. She, we say, shines supreme, girt with sun-light, not yet with infernal lightning; reverenced, not without fear, by Municipal Authorities; counting her Barnaves, Lameths, Petions, of a National Assembly; most gladly of all, her Robespierre. Cordeliers, again, your Hebert, Vincent, Bibliopolist Momoro, groan audibly that a tyrannous Mayor and Sieur Motier harrow them with the sharp tribula of Law, intent apparently to suppress them by tribulation. How the Jacobin Mother–Society, as hinted formerly, sheds forth Cordeliers on this hand, and then Feuillans on that; the Cordeliers on this hand, and then Feuillans on that; the Cordeliers ‘an elixir or double-distillation of Jacobin Patriotism;’ the other a wide-spread weak dilution thereof; how she will re-absorb the former into her Mother-bosom, and stormfully dissipate the latter into Nonentity: how she breeds and brings forth Three Hundred Daughter–Societies; her rearing of them, her correspondence, her endeavourings and continual travail: how, under an old figure, Jacobinism shoots forth organic filaments to the utmost corners of confused dissolved France; organising it anew:— this properly is the grand fact of the Time.

To passionate Constitutionalism, still more to Royalism, which see all their own Clubs fail and die, Clubbism will naturally grow to seem the root of all evil. Nevertheless Clubbism is not death, but rather new organisation, and life out of death: destructive, indeed, of the remnants of the Old; but to the New important, indispensable. That man can co-operate and hold communion with man, herein lies his miraculous strength. In hut or hamlet, Patriotism mourns not now like voice in the desert: it can walk to the nearest Town; and there, in the Daughter–Society, make its ejaculation into an articulate oration, into an action, guided forward by the Mother of Patriotism herself. All Clubs of Constitutionalists, and such like, fail, one after another, as shallow fountains: Jacobinism alone has gone down to the deep subterranean lake of waters; and may, unless filled in, flow there, copious, continual, like an Artesian well. Till the Great Deep have drained itself up: and all be flooded and submerged, and Noah’s Deluge out-deluged!

On the other hand, Claude Fauchet, preparing mankind for a Golden Age now apparently just at hand, has opened his Cercle Social, with clerks, corresponding boards, and so forth; in the precincts of the Palais Royal. It is Te–Deum Fauchet; the same who preached on Franklin’s Death, in that huge Medicean rotunda of the Halle aux bleds. He here, this winter, by Printing-press and melodious Colloquy, spreads bruit of himself to the utmost City-barriers. ‘Ten thousand persons’ of respectability attend there; and listen to this ‘Procureur–General de la Verite, Attorney–General of Truth,’ so has he dubbed himself; to his sage Condorcet, or other eloquent coadjutor. Eloquent Attorney–General! He blows out from him, better or worse, what crude or ripe thing he holds: not without result to himself; for it leads to a Bishoprick, though only a Constitutional one. Fauchet approves himself a glib-tongued, strong-lunged, whole-hearted human individual: much flowing matter there is, and really of the better sort, about Right, Nature, Benevolence, Progress; which flowing matter, whether ‘it is pantheistic,’ or is pot-theistic, only the greener mind, in these days, need read. Busy Brissot was long ago of purpose to establish precisely some such regenerative Social Circle: nay he had tried it, in ‘Newman-street Oxford-street,’ of the Fog Babylon; and failed, — as some say, surreptitiously pocketing the cash. Fauchet, not Brissot, was fated to be the happy man; whereat, however, generous Brissot will with sincere heart sing a timber-toned Nunc Domine. (See Brissot, Patriote–Francais Newspaper; Fauchet, Bouche-de-Fer, &c. (excerpted in Hist. Parl. viii., ix., et seqq.).) But ‘ten thousand persons of respectability:’ what a bulk have many things in proportion to their magnitude! This Cercle Social, for which Brissot chants in sincere timber-tones such Nunc Domine, what is it? Unfortunately wind and shadow. The main reality one finds in it now, is perhaps this: that an ‘Attorney–General of Truth’ did once take shape of a body, as Son of Adam, on our Earth, though but for months or moments; and ten thousand persons of respectability attended, ere yet Chaos and Nox had reabsorbed him.

Hundred and thirty-three Paris Journals; regenerative Social Circle; oratory, in Mother and Daughter Societies, from the balconies of Inns, by chimney-nook, at dinner-table, — polemical, ending many times in duel! Add ever, like a constant growling accompaniment of bass Discord: scarcity of work, scarcity of food. The winter is hard and cold; ragged Bakers’-queues, like a black tattered flag-of-distress, wave out ever and anon. It is the third of our Hunger-years this new year of a glorious Revolution. The rich man when invited to dinner, in such distress-seasons, feels bound in politeness to carry his own bread in his pocket: how the poor dine? And your glorious Revolution has done it, cries one. And our glorious Revolution is subtilety, by black traitors worthy of the Lamp-iron, perverted to do it, cries another! Who will paint the huge whirlpool wherein France, all shivered into wild incoherence, whirls? The jarring that went on under every French roof, in every French heart; the diseased things that were spoken, done, the sum-total whereof is the French Revolution, tongue of man cannot tell. Nor the laws of action that work unseen in the depths of that huge blind Incoherence! With amazement, not with measurement, men look on the Immeasurable; not knowing its laws; seeing, with all different degrees of knowledge, what new phases, and results of event, its laws bring forth. France is as a monstrous Galvanic Mass, wherein all sorts of far stranger than chemical galvanic or electric forces and substances are at work; electrifying one another, positive and negative; filling with electricity your Leyden-jars, — Twenty-five millions in number! As the jars get full, there will, from time to time, be, on slight hint, an explosion.

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