The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 2

Easter at Paris.

For above a year, ever since March 1790, it would seem, there has hovered a project of Flight before the royal mind; and ever and anon has been condensing itself into something like a purpose; but this or the other difficulty always vaporised it again. It seems so full of risks, perhaps of civil war itself; above all, it cannot be done without effort. Somnolent laziness will not serve: to fly, if not in a leather vache, one must verily stir himself. Better to adopt that Constitution of theirs; execute it so as to shew all men that it is inexecutable? Better or not so good; surely it is easier. To all difficulties you need only say, There is a lion in the path, behold your Constitution will not act! For a somnolent person it requires no effort to counterfeit death, — as Dame de Stael and Friends of Liberty can see the King’s Government long doing, faisant le mort.

Nay now, when desire whetted by difficulty has brought the matter to a head, and the royal mind no longer halts between two, what can come of it? Grant that poor Louis were safe with Bouille, what on the whole could he look for there? Exasperated Tickets of Entry answer, Much, all. But cold Reason answers, Little almost nothing. Is not loyalty a law of Nature? ask the Tickets of Entry. Is not love of your King, and even death for him, the glory of all Frenchmen, — except these few Democrats? Let Democrat Constitution-builders see what they will do without their Keystone; and France rend its hair, having lost the Hereditary Representative!

Thus will King Louis fly; one sees not reasonably towards what. As a maltreated Boy, shall we say, who, having a Stepmother, rushes sulky into the wide world; and will wring the paternal heart? — Poor Louis escapes from known unsupportable evils, to an unknown mixture of good and evil, coloured by Hope. He goes, as Rabelais did when dying, to seek a great May-be: je vais chercher un grand Peut-etre! As not only the sulky Boy but the wise grown Man is obliged to do, so often, in emergencies.

For the rest, there is still no lack of stimulants, and stepdame maltreatments, to keep one’s resolution at the due pitch. Factious disturbance ceases not: as indeed how can they, unless authoritatively conjured, in a Revolt which is by nature bottomless? If the ceasing of faction be the price of the King’s somnolence, he may awake when he will, and take wing.

Remark, in any case, what somersets and contortions a dead Catholicism is making, — skilfully galvanised: hideous, and even piteous, to behold! Jurant and Dissident, with their shaved crowns, argue frothing everywhere; or are ceasing to argue, and stripping for battle. In Paris was scourging while need continued: contrariwise, in the Morbihan of Brittany, without scourging, armed Peasants are up, roused by pulpit-drum, they know not why. General Dumouriez, who has got missioned thitherward, finds all in sour heat of darkness; finds also that explanation and conciliation will still do much. (Deux Amis, v. 410–21; Dumouriez, ii. c. 5.)

But again, consider this: that his Holiness, Pius Sixth, has seen good to excommunicate Bishop Talleyrand! Surely, we will say then, considering it, there is no living or dead Church in the Earth that has not the indubitablest right to excommunicate Talleyrand. Pope Pius has right and might, in his way. But truly so likewise has Father Adam, ci-devant Marquis Saint–Huruge, in his way. Behold, therefore, on the Fourth of May, in the Palais–Royal, a mixed loud-sounding multitude; in the middle of whom, Father Adam, bull-voiced Saint–Huruge, in white hat, towers visible and audible. With him, it is said, walks Journalist Gorsas, walk many others of the washed sort; for no authority will interfere. Pius Sixth, with his plush and tiara, and power of the Keys, they bear aloft: of natural size, — made of lath and combustible gum. Royou, the King’s Friend, is borne too in effigy; with a pile of Newspaper King’s-Friends, condemned numbers of the Ami-du-Roi; fit fuel of the sacrifice. Speeches are spoken; a judgment is held, a doom proclaimed, audible in bull-voice, towards the four winds. And thus, amid great shouting, the holocaust is consummated, under the summer sky; and our lath-and-gum Holiness, with the attendant victims, mounts up in flame, and sinks down in ashes; a decomposed Pope: and right or might, among all the parties, has better or worse accomplished itself, as it could. (Hist. Parl. x. 99–102.) But, on the whole, reckoning from Martin Luther in the Marketplace of Wittenberg to Marquis Saint–Huruge in this Palais–Royal of Paris, what a journey have we gone; into what strange territories has it carried us! No Authority can now interfere. Nay Religion herself, mourning for such things, may after all ask, What have I to do with them?

In such extraordinary manner does dead Catholicism somerset and caper, skilfully galvanised. For, does the reader inquire into the subject-matter of controversy in this case; what the difference between Orthodoxy or My-doxy and Heterodoxy or Thy-doxy might here be? My-doxy is that an august National Assembly can equalize the extent of Bishopricks; that an equalized Bishop, his Creed and Formularies being left quite as they were, can swear Fidelity to King, Law and Nation, and so become a Constitutional Bishop. Thy-doxy, if thou be Dissident, is that he cannot; but that he must become an accursed thing. Human ill-nature needs but some Homoiousian iota, or even the pretence of one; and will flow copiously through the eye of a needle: thus always must mortals go jargoning and fuming,

And, like the ancient Stoics in their porches

With fierce dispute maintain their churches.

This Auto-da-fe of Saint–Huruge’s was on the Fourth of May, 1791. Royalty sees it; but says nothing.

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