The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 8

The Return.

So then our grand Royalist Plot, of Flight to Metz, has executed itself. Long hovering in the background, as a dread royal ultimatum, it has rushed forward in its terrors: verily to some purpose. How many Royalist Plots and Projects, one after another, cunningly-devised, that were to explode like powder-mines and thunderclaps; not one solitary Plot of which has issued otherwise! Powder-mine of a Seance Royale on the Twenty-third of June 1789, which exploded as we then said, ‘through the touchhole;’ which next, your wargod Broglie having reloaded it, brought a Bastille about your ears. Then came fervent Opera–Repast, with flourishing of sabres, and O Richard, O my King; which, aided by Hunger, produces Insurrection of Women, and Pallas Athene in the shape of Demoiselle Theroigne. Valour profits not; neither has fortune smiled on Fanfaronade. The Bouille Armament ends as the Broglie one had done. Man after man spends himself in this cause, only to work it quicker ruin; it seems a cause doomed, forsaken of Earth and Heaven.

On the Sixth of October gone a year, King Louis, escorted by Demoiselle Theroigne and some two hundred thousand, made a Royal Progress and Entrance into Paris, such as man had never witnessed: we prophesied him Two more such; and accordingly another of them, after this Flight to Metz, is now coming to pass. Theroigne will not escort here, neither does Mirabeau now ‘sit in one of the accompanying carriages.’ Mirabeau lies dead, in the Pantheon of Great Men. Theroigne lies living, in dark Austrian Prison; having gone to Liege, professionally, and been seized there. Bemurmured now by the hoarse-flowing Danube; the light of her Patriot Supper–Parties gone quite out; so lies Theroigne: she shall speak with the Kaiser face to face, and return. And France lies how! Fleeting Time shears down the great and the little; and in two years alters many things.

But at all events, here, we say, is a second Ignominious Royal Procession, though much altered; to be witnessed also by its hundreds of thousands. Patience, ye Paris Patriots; the Royal Berline is returning. Not till Saturday: for the Royal Berline travels by slow stages; amid such loud-voiced confluent sea of National Guards, sixty thousand as they count; amid such tumult of all people. Three National–Assembly Commissioners, famed Barnave, famed Petion, generally-respectable Latour–Maubourg, have gone to meet it; of whom the two former ride in the Berline itself beside Majesty, day after day. Latour, as a mere respectability, and man of whom all men speak well, can ride in the rear, with Dame Tourzel and the Soubrettes.

So on Saturday evening, about seven o’clock, Paris by hundreds of thousands is again drawn up: not now dancing the tricolor joy-dance of hope; nor as yet dancing in fury-dance of hate and revenge; but in silence, with vague look of conjecture and curiosity mostly scientific. A Sainte–Antoine Placard has given notice this morning that ‘whosoever insults Louis shall be caned, whosoever applauds him shall be hanged.’ Behold then, at last, that wonderful New Berline; encircled by blue National sea with fixed bayonets, which flows slowly, floating it on, through the silent assembled hundreds of thousands. Three yellow Couriers sit atop bound with ropes; Petion, Barnave, their Majesties, with Sister Elizabeth, and the Children of France, are within.

Smile of embarrassment, or cloud of dull sourness, is on the broad phlegmatic face of his Majesty: who keeps declaring to the successive Official-persons, what is evident, “Eh bien, me voila, Well, here you have me;” and what is not evident, “I do assure you I did not mean to pass the frontiers;” and so forth: speeches natural for that poor Royal man; which Decency would veil. Silent is her Majesty, with a look of grief and scorn; natural for that Royal Woman. Thus lumbers and creeps the ignominious Royal Procession, through many streets, amid a silent-gazing people: comparable, Mercier thinks, (Nouveau Paris, iii. 22.) to some Procession de Roi de Bazoche; or say, Procession of King Crispin, with his Dukes of Sutor-mania and royal blazonry of Cordwainery. Except indeed that this is not comic; ah no, it is comico-tragic; with bound Couriers, and a Doom hanging over it; most fantastic, yet most miserably real. Miserablest flebile ludibrium of a Pickleherring Tragedy! It sweeps along there, in most ungorgeous pall, through many streets, in the dusty summer evening; gets itself at length wriggled out of sight; vanishing in the Tuileries Palace — towards its doom, of slow torture, peine forte et dure.

Populace, it is true, seizes the three rope-bound yellow Couriers; will at least massacre them. But our august Assembly, which is sitting at this great moment, sends out Deputation of rescue; and the whole is got huddled up. Barnave, ‘all dusty,’ is already there, in the National Hall; making brief discreet address and report. As indeed, through the whole journey, this Barnave has been most discreet, sympathetic; and has gained the Queen’s trust, whose noble instinct teaches her always who is to be trusted. Very different from heavy Petion; who, if Campan speak truth, ate his luncheon, comfortably filled his wine-glass, in the Royal Berline; flung out his chicken-bones past the nose of Royalty itself; and, on the King’s saying “France cannot be a Republic,” answered “No, it is not ripe yet.” Barnave is henceforth a Queen’s adviser, if advice could profit: and her Majesty astonishes Dame Campan by signifying almost a regard for Barnave: and that, in a day of retribution and Royal triumph, Barnave shall not be executed. (Campan, ii. c. 18.)

On Monday night Royalty went; on Saturday evening it returns: so much, within one short week, has Royalty accomplished for itself. The Pickleherring Tragedy has vanished in the Tuileries Palace, towards ‘pain strong and hard.’ Watched, fettered, and humbled, as Royalty never was. Watched even in its sleeping-apartments and inmost recesses: for it has to sleep with door set ajar, blue National Argus watching, his eye fixed on the Queen’s curtains; nay, on one occasion, as the Queen cannot sleep, he offers to sit by her pillow, and converse a little! (Ibid. ii. 149.)

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/carlyle/thomas/french_revolution/v2.4.8.html

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