The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

To fly or not to fly.

The truth is Royalism sees itself verging towards sad extremities; nearer and nearer daily. From over the Rhine it comes asserted that the King in his Tuileries is not free: this the poor King may contradict, with the official mouth, but in his heart feels often to be undeniable. Civil Constitution of the Clergy; Decree of ejectment against Dissidents from it: not even to this latter, though almost his conscience rebels, can he say ‘Nay; but, after two months’ hesitating, signs this also. It was on January 21st,’ of this 1790, that he signed it; to the sorrow of his poor heart yet, on another Twenty-first of January! Whereby come Dissident ejected Priests; unconquerable Martyrs according to some, incurable chicaning Traitors according to others. And so there has arrived what we once foreshadowed: with Religion, or with the Cant and Echo of Religion, all France is rent asunder in a new rupture of continuity; complicating, embittering all the older; — to be cured only, by stern surgery, in La Vendee!

Unhappy Royalty, unhappy Majesty, Hereditary (Representative), Representant Hereditaire, or however they can name him; of whom much is expected, to whom little is given! Blue National Guards encircle that Tuileries; a Lafayette, thin constitutional Pedant; clear, thin, inflexible, as water, turned to thin ice; whom no Queen’s heart can love. National Assembly, its pavilion spread where we know, sits near by, keeping continual hubbub. From without nothing but Nanci Revolts, sack of Castries Hotels, riots and seditions; riots, North and South, at Aix, at Douai, at Befort, Usez, Perpignan, at Nismes, and that incurable Avignon of the Pope’s: a continual crackling and sputtering of riots from the whole face of France; — testifying how electric it grows. Add only the hard winter, the famished strikes of operatives; that continual running-bass of Scarcity, ground-tone and basis of all other Discords!

The plan of Royalty, so far as it can be said to have any fixed plan, is still, as ever, that of flying towards the frontiers. In very truth, the only plan of the smallest promise for it! Fly to Bouille; bristle yourself round with cannon, served by your ‘forty-thousand undebauched Germans:’ summon the National Assembly to follow you, summon what of it is Royalist, Constitutional, gainable by money; dissolve the rest, by grapeshot if need be. Let Jacobinism and Revolt, with one wild wail, fly into Infinite Space; driven by grapeshot. Thunder over France with the cannon’s mouth; commanding, not entreating, that this riot cease. And then to rule afterwards with utmost possible Constitutionality; doing justice, loving mercy; being Shepherd of this indigent People, not Shearer merely, and Shepherd’s-similitude! All this, if ye dare. If ye dare not, then in Heaven’s name go to sleep: other handsome alternative seems none.

Nay, it were perhaps possible; with a man to do it. For if such inexpressible whirlpool of Babylonish confusions (which our Era is) cannot be stilled by man, but only by Time and men, a man may moderate its paroxysms, may balance and sway, and keep himself unswallowed on the top of it, — as several men and Kings in these days do. Much is possible for a man; men will obey a man that kens and cans, and name him reverently their Ken-ning or King. Did not Charlemagne rule? Consider too whether he had smooth times of it; hanging ‘thirty-thousand Saxons over the Weser–Bridge,’ at one dread swoop! So likewise, who knows but, in this same distracted fanatic France, the right man may verily exist? An olive-complexioned taciturn man; for the present, Lieutenant in the Artillery-service, who once sat studying Mathematics at Brienne? The same who walked in the morning to correct proof-sheets at Dole, and enjoyed a frugal breakfast with M. Joly? Such a one is gone, whither also famed General Paoli his friend is gone, in these very days, to see old scenes in native Corsica, and what Democratic good can be done there.

Royalty never executes the evasion-plan, yet never abandons it; living in variable hope; undecisive, till fortune shall decide. In utmost secresy, a brisk Correspondence goes on with Bouille; there is also a plot, which emerges more than once, for carrying the King to Rouen: (See Hist. Parl. vii. 316; Bertrand–Moleville, &c.) plot after plot, emerging and submerging, like ‘ignes fatui in foul weather, which lead no whither. About ‘ten o’clock at night,’ the Hereditary Representative, in partie quarree, with the Queen, with Brother Monsieur, and Madame, sits playing ‘wisk,’ or whist. Usher Campan enters mysteriously, with a message he only half comprehends: How a certain Compte d’Inisdal waits anxious in the outer antechamber; National Colonel, Captain of the watch for this night, is gained over; post-horses ready all the way; party of Noblesse sitting armed, determined; will His Majesty, before midnight, consent to go? Profound silence; Campan waiting with upturned ear. “Did your Majesty hear what Campan said?” asks the Queen. “Yes, I heard,” answers Majesty, and plays on. “’Twas a pretty couplet, that of Campan’s,” hints Monsieur, who at times showed a pleasant wit: Majesty, still unresponsive, plays wisk. “After all, one must say something to Campan,” remarks the Queen. “Tell M. d’Inisdal,” said the King, and the Queen puts an emphasis on it, “that the King cannot consent to be forced away.” — “I see!” said d’Inisdal, whisking round, peaking himself into flame of irritancy: “we have the risk; we are to have all the blame if it fail,” (Campan, ii. 105.) — and vanishes, he and his plot, as will-o’-wisps do. The Queen sat till far in the night, packing jewels: but it came to nothing; in that peaked frame of irritancy the Will-o’-wisp had gone out.

Little hope there is in all this. Alas, with whom to fly? Our loyal Gardes-du-Corps, ever since the Insurrection of Women, are disbanded; gone to their homes; gone, many of them, across the Rhine towards Coblentz and Exiled Princes: brave Miomandre and brave Tardivet, these faithful Two, have received, in nocturnal interview with both Majesties, their viaticum of gold louis, of heartfelt thanks from a Queen’s lips, though unluckily ‘his Majesty stood, back to fire, not speaking;’ (Campan, ii. 109–11.) and do now dine through the Provinces; recounting hairsbreadth escapes, insurrectionary horrors. Great horrors; to be swallowed yet of greater. But on the whole what a falling off from the old splendour of Versailles! Here in this poor Tuileries, a National Brewer–Colonel, sonorous Santerre, parades officially behind her Majesty’s chair. Our high dignitaries, all fled over the Rhine: nothing now to be gained at Court; but hopes, for which life itself must be risked! Obscure busy men frequent the back stairs; with hearsays, wind projects, un fruitful fanfaronades. Young Royalists, at the Theatre de Vaudeville, ‘sing couplets;’ if that could do any thing. Royalists enough, Captains on furlough, burnt-out Seigneurs, may likewise be met with, ‘in the Cafe de Valois, and at Meot the Restaurateur’s.’ There they fan one another into high loyal glow; drink, in such wine as can be procured, confusion to Sansculottism; shew purchased dirks, of an improved structure, made to order; and, greatly daring, dine. (Dampmartin, ii. 129.) It is in these places, in these months, that the epithet Sansculotte first gets applied to indigent Patriotism; in the last age we had Gilbert Sansculotte, the indigent Poet. (Mercier, Nouveau Paris, iii. 204.) Destitute-of-Breeches: a mournful Destitution; which however, if Twenty millions share it, may become more effective than most Possessions!

Meanwhile, amid this vague dim whirl of fanfaronades, wind-projects, poniards made to order, there does disclose itself one punctum-saliens of life and feasibility: the finger of Mirabeau! Mirabeau and the Queen of France have met; have parted with mutual trust! It is strange; secret as the Mysteries; but it is indubitable. Mirabeau took horse, one evening; and rode westward, unattended, — to see Friend Claviere in that country house of his? Before getting to Claviere’s, the much-musing horseman struck aside to a back gate of the Garden of Saint–Cloud: some Duke d’Aremberg, or the like, was there to introduce him; the Queen was not far: on a ‘round knoll, rond point, the highest of the Garden of Saint–Cloud,’ he beheld the Queen’s face; spake with her, alone, under the void canopy of Night. What an interview; fateful secret for us, after all searching; like the colloquies of the gods! (Campan, ii. c. 17.) She called him ‘a Mirabeau:’ elsewhere we read that she ‘was charmed with him,’ the wild submitted Titan; as indeed it is among the honourable tokens of this high ill-fated heart that no mind of any endowment, no Mirabeau, nay no Barnave, no Dumouriez, ever came face to face with her but, in spite of all prepossessions, she was forced to recognise it, to draw nigh to it, with trust. High imperial heart; with the instinctive attraction towards all that had any height! “You know not the Queen,” said Mirabeau once in confidence; “her force of mind is prodigious; she is a man for courage.” (Dumont, p. 211.) — And so, under the void Night, on the crown of that knoll, she has spoken with a Mirabeau: he has kissed loyally the queenly hand, and said with enthusiasm: “Madame, the Monarchy is saved!” — Possible? The Foreign Powers, mysteriously sounded, gave favourable guarded response; (Correspondence Secrete (in Hist. Parl. viii. 169–73).) Bouille is at Metz, and could find forty-thousand sure Germans. With a Mirabeau for head, and a Bouille for hand, something verily is possible, — if Fate intervene not.

But figure under what thousandfold wrappages, and cloaks of darkness, Royalty, meditating these things, must involve itself. There are men with ‘Tickets of Entrance;’ there are chivalrous consultings, mysterious plottings. Consider also whether, involve as it like, plotting Royalty can escape the glance of Patriotism; lynx-eyes, by the ten thousand fixed on it, which see in the dark! Patriotism knows much: know the dirks made to order, and can specify the shops; knows Sieur Motier’s legions of mouchards; the Tickets of Entree, and men in black; and how plan of evasion succeeds plan, — or may be supposed to succeed it. Then conceive the couplets chanted at the Theatre de Vaudeville; or worse, the whispers, significant nods of traitors in moustaches. Conceive, on the other hand, the loud cry of alarm that came through the Hundred-and-Thirty Journals; the Dionysius’-Ear of each of the Forty-eight Sections, wakeful night and day.

Patriotism is patient of much; not patient of all. The Cafe de Procope has sent, visibly along the streets, a Deputation of Patriots, ‘to expostulate with bad Editors,’ by trustful word of mouth: singular to see and hear. The bad Editors promise to amend, but do not. Deputations for change of Ministry were many; Mayor Bailly joining even with Cordelier Danton in such: and they have prevailed. With what profit? Of Quacks, willing or constrained to be Quacks, the race is everlasting: Ministers Duportail and Dutertre will have to manage much as Ministers Latour-du-Pin and Cice did. So welters the confused world.

But now, beaten on for ever by such inextricable contradictory influences and evidences, what is the indigent French Patriot, in these unhappy days, to believe, and walk by? Uncertainty all; except that he is wretched, indigent; that a glorious Revolution, the wonder of the Universe, has hitherto brought neither Bread nor Peace; being marred by traitors, difficult to discover. Traitors that dwell in the dark, invisible there; — or seen for moments, in pallid dubious twilight, stealthily vanishing thither! Preternatural Suspicion once more rules the minds of men.

‘Nobody here,’ writes Carra of the Annales Patriotiques, so early as the first of February, ‘can entertain a doubt of the constant obstinate project these people have on foot to get the King away; or of the perpetual succession of manoeuvres they employ for that.’ Nobody: the watchful Mother of Patriotism deputed two Members to her Daughter at Versailles, to examine how the matter looked there. Well, and there? Patriotic Carra continues: ‘The Report of these two deputies we all heard with our own ears last Saturday. They went with others of Versailles, to inspect the King’s Stables, also the stables of the whilom Gardes du Corps; they found there from seven to eight hundred horses standing always saddled and bridled, ready for the road at a moment’s notice. The same deputies, moreover, saw with their own two eyes several Royal Carriages, which men were even then busy loading with large well-stuffed luggage-bags,’ leather cows, as we call them, ‘vaches de cuir; the Royal Arms on the panels almost entirely effaced.’ Momentous enough! Also, ‘on the same day the whole Marechaussee, or Cavalry Police, did assemble with arms, horses and baggage,’ — and disperse again. They want the King over the marches, that so Emperor Leopold and the German Princes, whose troops are ready, may have a pretext for beginning: ‘this,’ adds Carra, ‘is the word of the riddle: this is the reason why our fugitive Aristocrats are now making levies of men on the frontiers; expecting that, one of these mornings, the Executive Chief Magistrate will be brought over to them, and the civil war commence.’ (Carra’s Newspaper, 1st Feb. 1791 (in Hist. Parl. ix. 39).)

If indeed the Executive Chief Magistrate, bagged, say in one of these leather cows, were once brought safe over to them! But the strangest thing of all is that Patriotism, whether barking at a venture, or guided by some instinct of preternatural sagacity, is actually barking aright this time; at something, not at nothing. Bouille’s Secret Correspondence, since made public, testifies as much.

Nay, it is undeniable, visible to all, that Mesdames the King’s Aunts are taking steps for departure: asking passports of the Ministry, safe-conducts of the Municipality; which Marat warns all men to beware of. They will carry gold with them, ‘these old Beguines;’ nay they will carry the little Dauphin, ‘having nursed a changeling, for some time, to leave in his stead!’ Besides, they are as some light substance flung up, to shew how the wind sits; a kind of proof-kite you fly off to ascertain whether the grand paper-kite, Evasion of the King, may mount!

In these alarming circumstances, Patriotism is not wanting to itself. Municipality deputes to the King; Sections depute to the Municipality; a National Assembly will soon stir. Meanwhile, behold, on the 19th of February 1791, Mesdames, quitting Bellevue and Versailles with all privacy, are off! Towards Rome, seemingly; or one knows not whither. They are not without King’s passports, countersigned; and what is more to the purpose, a serviceable Escort. The Patriotic Mayor or Mayorlet of the Village of Moret tried to detain them; but brisk Louis de Narbonne, of the Escort, dashed off at hand-gallop; returned soon with thirty dragoons, and victoriously cut them out. And so the poor ancient women go their way; to the terror of France and Paris, whose nervous excitability is become extreme. Who else would hinder poor Loque and Graille, now grown so old, and fallen into such unexpected circumstances, when gossip itself turning only on terrors and horrors is no longer pleasant to the mind, and you cannot get so much as an orthodox confessor in peace, — from going what way soever the hope of any solacement might lead them?

They go, poor ancient dames, — whom the heart were hard that does not pity: they go; with palpitations, with unmelodious suppressed screechings; all France, screeching and cackling, in loud unsuppressed terror, behind and on both hands of them: such mutual suspicion is among men. At Arnay le Duc, above halfway to the frontiers, a Patriotic Municipality and Populace again takes courage to stop them: Louis Narbonne must now back to Paris, must consult the National Assembly. National Assembly answers, not without an effort, that Mesdames may go. Whereupon Paris rises worse than ever, screeching half-distracted. Tuileries and precincts are filled with women and men, while the National Assembly debates this question of questions; Lafayette is needed at night for dispersing them, and the streets are to be illuminated. Commandant Berthier, a Berthier before whom are great things unknown, lies for the present under blockade at Bellevue in Versailles. By no tactics could he get Mesdames’ Luggage stirred from the Courts there; frantic Versaillese women came screaming about him; his very troops cut the waggon-traces; he retired to the interior, waiting better times. (Campan, ii. 132.)

Nay, in these same hours, while Mesdames hardly cut out from Moret by the sabre’s edge, are driving rapidly, to foreign parts, and not yet stopped at Arnay, their august nephew poor Monsieur, at Paris has dived deep into his cellars of the Luxembourg for shelter; and according to Montgaillard can hardly be persuaded up again. Screeching multitudes environ that Luxembourg of his: drawn thither by report of his departure: but, at sight and sound of Monsieur, they become crowing multitudes; and escort Madame and him to the Tuileries with vivats. (Montgaillard, ii. 282; Deux Amis, vi. c. 1.) It is a state of nervous excitability such as few Nations know.

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