The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

Attitude.

But in Paris, at six in the morning; when some Patriot Deputy, warned by a billet, awoke Lafayette, and they went to the Tuileries? — Imagination may paint, but words cannot, the surprise of Lafayette; or with what bewilderment helpless Gouvion rolled glassy Argus’s eyes, discerning now that his false Chambermaid told true!

However, it is to be recorded that Paris, thanks to an august National Assembly, did, on this seeming doomsday, surpass itself. Never, according to Historian eye-witnesses, was there seen such an ‘imposing attitude.’ (Deux Amis, vi. 67–178; Toulongeon, ii. 1–38; Camille, Prudhomme and Editors in Hist. Parl. x. 240–4.) Sections all ‘in permanence;’ our Townhall, too, having first, about ten o’clock, fired three solemn alarm-cannons: above all, our National Assembly! National Assembly, likewise permanent, decides what is needful; with unanimous consent, for the Cote Droit sits dumb, afraid of the Lanterne. Decides with a calm promptitude, which rises towards the sublime. One must needs vote, for the thing is self-evident, that his Majesty has been abducted, or spirited away, ‘enleve,’ by some person or persons unknown: in which case, what will the Constitution have us do? Let us return to first principles, as we always say; “revenons aux principes.”

By first or by second principles, much is promptly decided: Ministers are sent for, instructed how to continue their functions; Lafayette is examined; and Gouvion, who gives a most helpless account, the best he can. Letters are found written: one Letter, of immense magnitude; all in his Majesty’s hand, and evidently of his Majesty’s own composition; addressed to the National Assembly. It details, with earnestness, with a childlike simplicity, what woes his Majesty has suffered. Woes great and small: A Necker seen applauded, a Majesty not; then insurrection; want of due cash in Civil List; general want of cash, furniture and order; anarchy everywhere; Deficit never yet, in the smallest, ‘choked or comble:’ — wherefore in brief His Majesty has retired towards a Place of Liberty; and, leaving Sanctions, Federation, and what Oaths there may be, to shift for themselves, does now refer — to what, thinks an august Assembly? To that ‘Declaration of the Twenty-third of June,’ with its “Seul il fera, He alone will make his People happy.” As if that were not buried, deep enough, under two irrevocable Twelvemonths, and the wreck and rubbish of a whole Feudal World! This strange autograph Letter the National Assembly decides on printing; on transmitting to the Eighty-three Departments, with exegetic commentary, short but pithy. Commissioners also shall go forth on all sides; the People be exhorted; the Armies be increased; care taken that the Commonweal suffer no damage. — And now, with a sublime air of calmness, nay of indifference, we ‘pass to the order of the day!’

By such sublime calmness, the terror of the People is calmed. These gleaming Pike forests, which bristled fateful in the early sun, disappear again; the far-sounding Street-orators cease, or spout milder. We are to have a civil war; let us have it then. The King is gone; but National Assembly, but France and we remain. The People also takes a great attitude; the People also is calm; motionless as a couchant lion. With but a few broolings, some waggings of the tail; to shew what it will do! Cazales, for instance, was beset by street-groups, and cries of Lanterne; but National Patrols easily delivered him. Likewise all King’s effigies and statues, at least stucco ones, get abolished. Even King’s names; the word Roi fades suddenly out of all shop-signs; the Royal Bengal Tiger itself, on the Boulevards, becomes the National Bengal one, Tigre National. (Walpoliana.)

How great is a calm couchant People! On the morrow, men will say to one another: “We have no King, yet we slept sound enough.” On the morrow, fervent Achille de Chatelet, and Thomas Paine the rebellious Needleman, shall have the walls of Paris profusely plastered with their Placard; announcing that there must be a Republic! (Dumont, c. 16.) — Need we add that Lafayette too, though at first menaced by Pikes, has taken a great attitude, or indeed the greatest of all? Scouts and Aides-de-camp fly forth, vague, in quest and pursuit; young Romoeuf towards Valenciennes, though with small hope.

Thus Paris; sublimely calmed, in its bereavement. But from the Messageries Royales, in all Mail-bags, radiates forth far-darting the electric news: Our Hereditary Representative is flown. Laugh, black Royalists: yet be it in your sleeve only; lest Patriotism notice, and waxing frantic, lower the Lanterne! In Paris alone is a sublime National Assembly with its calmness; truly, other places must take it as they can: with open mouth and eyes; with panic cackling, with wrath, with conjecture. How each one of those dull leathern Diligences, with its leathern bag and ‘The King is fled,’ furrows up smooth France as it goes; through town and hamlet, ruffles the smooth public mind into quivering agitation of death-terror; then lumbers on, as if nothing had happened! Along all highways; towards the utmost borders; till all France is ruffled, — roughened up (metaphorically speaking) into one enormous, desperate-minded, red-guggling Turkey Cock!

For example, it is under cloud of night that the leathern Monster reaches Nantes; deep sunk in sleep. The word spoken rouses all Patriot men: General Dumouriez, enveloped in roquelaures, has to descend from his bedroom; finds the street covered with ‘four or five thousand citizens in their shirts.’ (Dumouriez, Memoires, ii. 109.) Here and there a faint farthing rushlight, hastily kindled; and so many swart-featured haggard faces, with nightcaps pushed back; and the more or less flowing drapery of night-shirt: open-mouthed till the General say his word! And overhead, as always, the Great Bear is turning so quiet round Bootes; steady, indifferent as the leathern Diligence itself. Take comfort, ye men of Nantes: Bootes and the steady Bear are turning; ancient Atlantic still sends his brine, loud-billowing, up your Loire-stream; brandy shall be hot in the stomach: this is not the Last of the Days, but one before the Last. — The fools! If they knew what was doing, in these very instants, also by candle-light, in the far North–East!

Perhaps we may say the most terrified man in Paris or France is — who thinks the Reader? — seagreen Robespierre. Double paleness, with the shadow of gibbets and halters, overcasts the seagreen features: it is too clear to him that there is to be ‘a Saint–Bartholomew of Patriots,’ that in four-and-twenty hours he will not be in life. These horrid anticipations of the soul he is heard uttering at Petion’s; by a notable witness. By Madame Roland, namely; her whom we saw, last year, radiant at the Lyons Federation! These four months, the Rolands have been in Paris; arranging with Assembly Committees the Municipal affairs of Lyons, affairs all sunk in debt; — communing, the while, as was most natural, with the best Patriots to be found here, with our Brissots, Petions, Buzots, Robespierres; who were wont to come to us, says the fair Hostess, four evenings in the week. They, running about, busier than ever this day, would fain have comforted the seagreen man: spake of Achille du Chatelet’s Placard; of a Journal to be called The Republican; of preparing men’s minds for a Republic. “A Republic?” said the Seagreen, with one of his dry husky unsportful laughs, “What is that?” (Madame Roland, ii. 70.) O seagreen Incorruptible, thou shalt see!

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