The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 3

Avignon.

But quitting generalities, what strange Fact is this, in the far South–West, towards which the eyes of all men do now, in the end of October, bend themselves? A tragical combustion, long smoking and smouldering unluminous, has now burst into flame there.

Hot is that Southern Provencal blood: alas, collisions, as was once said, must occur in a career of Freedom; different directions will produce such; nay different velocities in the same direction will! To much that went on there History, busied elsewhere, would not specially give heed: to troubles of Uzez, troubles of Nismes, Protestant and Catholic, Patriot and Aristocrat; to troubles of Marseilles, Montpelier, Arles; to Aristocrat Camp of Jales, that wondrous real-imaginary Entity, now fading pale-dim, then always again glowing forth deep-hued (in the Imagination mainly); — ominous magical, ‘an Aristocrat picture of war done naturally!’ All this was a tragical deadly combustion, with plot and riot, tumult by night and by day; but a dark combustion, not luminous, not noticed; which now, however, one cannot help noticing.

Above all places, the unluminous combustion in Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin was fierce. Papal Avignon, with its Castle rising sheer over the Rhone-stream; beautifullest Town, with its purple vines and gold-orange groves: why must foolish old rhyming Rene, the last Sovereign of Provence, bequeath it to the Pope and Gold Tiara, not rather to Louis Eleventh with the Leaden Virgin in his hatband? For good and for evil! Popes, Anti-popes, with their pomp, have dwelt in that Castle of Avignon rising sheer over the Rhone-stream: there Laura de Sade went to hear mass; her Petrarch twanging and singing by the Fountain of Vaucluse hard by, surely in a most melancholy manner. This was in the old days.

And now in these new days, such issues do come from a squirt of the pen by some foolish rhyming Rene, after centuries, this is what we have: Jourdan Coupe-tete, leading to siege and warfare an Army, from three to fifteen thousand strong, called the Brigands of Avignon; which title they themselves accept, with the addition of an epithet, ‘The brave Brigands of Avignon!’ It is even so. Jourdan the Headsman fled hither from that Chatelet Inquest, from that Insurrection of Women; and began dealing in madder; but the scene was rife in other than dye-stuffs; so Jourdan shut his madder shop, and has risen, for he was the man to do it. The tile-beard of Jourdan is shaven off; his fat visage has got coppered and studded with black carbuncles; the Silenus trunk is swollen with drink and high living: he wears blue National uniform with epaulettes, ‘an enormous sabre, two horse-pistols crossed in his belt, and other two smaller, sticking from his pockets;’ styles himself General, and is the tyrant of men. (Dampmartin, Evenemens, i. 267.) Consider this one fact, O Reader; and what sort of facts must have preceded it, must accompany it! Such things come of old Rene; and of the question which has risen, Whether Avignon cannot now cease wholly to be Papal and become French and free?

For some twenty-five months the confusion has lasted. Say three months of arguing; then seven of raging; then finally some fifteen months now of fighting, and even of hanging. For already in February 1790, the Papal Aristocrats had set up four gibbets, for a sign; but the People rose in June, in retributive frenzy; and, forcing the public Hangman to act, hanged four Aristocrats, on each Papal gibbet a Papal Haman. Then were Avignon Emigrations, Papal Aristocrats emigrating over the Rhone River; demission of Papal Consul, flight, victory: re-entrance of Papal Legate, truce, and new onslaught; and the various turns of war. Petitions there were to National Assembly; Congresses of Townships; three-score and odd Townships voting for French Reunion, and the blessings of Liberty; while some twelve of the smaller, manipulated by Aristocrats, gave vote the other way: with shrieks and discord! Township against Township, Town against Town: Carpentras, long jealous of Avignon, is now turned out in open war with it; — and Jourdan Coupe-tete, your first General being killed in mutiny, closes his dye-shop; and does there visibly, with siege-artillery, above all with bluster and tumult, with the ‘brave Brigands of Avignon,’ beleaguer the rival Town, for two months, in the face of the world!

Feats were done, doubt it not, far-famed in Parish History; but to Universal History unknown. Gibbets we see rise, on the one side and on the other; and wretched carcasses swinging there, a dozen in the row; wretched Mayor of Vaison buried before dead. (Barbaroux, Memoires, p. 26.) The fruitful seedfield, lie unreaped, the vineyards trampled down; there is red cruelty, madness of universal choler and gall. Havoc and anarchy everywhere; a combustion most fierce, but unlucent, not to be noticed here! — Finally, as we saw, on the 14th of September last, the National Constituent Assembly, having sent Commissioners and heard them; (Lescene Desmaisons: Compte rendu a l’Assemblee Nationale, 10 Septembre 1791 (Choix des Rapports, vii. 273–93).) having heard Petitions, held Debates, month after month ever since August 1789; and on the whole ‘spent thirty sittings’ on this matter, did solemnly decree that Avignon and the Comtat were incorporated with France, and His Holiness the Pope should have what indemnity was reasonable.

And so hereby all is amnestied and finished? Alas, when madness of choler has gone through the blood of men, and gibbets have swung on this side and on that, what will a parchment Decree and Lafayette Amnesty do? Oblivious Lethe flows not above ground! Papal Aristocrats and Patriot Brigands are still an eye-sorrow to each other; suspected, suspicious, in what they do and forbear. The august Constituent Assembly is gone but a fortnight, when, on Sunday the Sixteenth morning of October 1791, the unquenched combustion suddenly becomes luminous! For Anti-constitutional Placards are up, and the Statue of the Virgin is said to have shed tears, and grown red. (Proces-verbal de la Commune d’Avignon, &c. in Hist. Parl. xii. 419–23.) Wherefore, on that morning, Patriot l’Escuyer, one of our ‘six leading Patriots,’ having taken counsel with his brethren and General Jourdan, determines on going to Church, in company with a friend or two: not to hear mass, which he values little; but to meet all the Papalists there in a body, nay to meet that same weeping Virgin, for it is the Cordeliers Church; and give them a word of admonition. Adventurous errand; which has the fatallest issue! What L’Escuyer’s word of admonition might be no History records; but the answer to it was a shrieking howl from the Aristocrat Papal worshippers, many of them women. A thousand-voiced shriek and menace; which as L’Escuyer did not fly, became a thousand-handed hustle and jostle; a thousand-footed kick, with tumblings and tramplings, with the pricking of semstresses stilettos, scissors, and female pointed instruments. Horrible to behold; the ancient Dead, and Petrarchan Laura, sleeping round it there; (Ugo Foscolo, Essay on Petrarch, p. 35.) high Altar and burning tapers looking down on it; the Virgin quite tearless, and of the natural stone-colour! — L’Escuyer’s friend or two rush off, like Job’s Messengers, for Jourdan and the National Force. But heavy Jourdan will seize the Town–Gates first; does not run treble-fast, as he might: on arriving at the Cordeliers Church, the Church is silent, vacant; L’Escuyer, all alone, lies there, swimming in his blood, at the foot of the high Altar; pricked with scissors; trodden, massacred; — gives one dumb sob, and gasps out his miserable life for evermore.

Sight to stir the heart of any man; much more of many men, self-styled Brigands of Avignon! The corpse of L’Escuyer, stretched on a bier, the ghastly head girt with laurel, is borne through the streets; with many-voiced unmelodious Nenia; funeral-wail still deeper than it is loud! The copper-face of Jourdan, of bereft Patriotism, has grown black. Patriot Municipality despatches official Narrative and tidings to Paris; orders numerous or innumerable arrestments for inquest and perquisition. Aristocrats male and female are haled to the Castle; lie crowded in subterranean dungeons there, bemoaned by the hoarse rushing of the Rhone; cut out from help.

So lie they; waiting inquest and perquisition. Alas! with a Jourdan Headsman for Generalissimo, with his copper-face grown black, and armed Brigand Patriots chanting their Nenia, the inquest is likely to be brief. On the next day and the next, let Municipality consent or not, a Brigand Court–Martial establishes itself in the subterranean stories of the Castle of Avignon; Brigand Executioners, with naked sabre, waiting at the door, for a Brigand verdict. Short judgment, no appeal! There is Brigand wrath and vengeance; not unrefreshed by brandy. Close by is the Dungeon of the Glaciere, or Ice–Tower: there may be deeds done —? For which language has no name! — Darkness and the shadow of horrid cruelty envelopes these Castle Dungeons, that Glaciere Tower: clear only that many have entered, that few have returned. Jourdan and the Brigands, supreme now over Municipals, over all Authorities Patriot or Papal, reign in Avignon, waited on by Terror and Silence.

The result of all which is that, on the 15th of November 1791, we behold Friend Dampmartin, and subalterns beneath him, and General Choisi above him, with Infantry and Cavalry, and proper cannon-carriages rattling in front, with spread banners, to the sound of fife and drum, wend, in a deliberate formidable manner, towards that sheer Castle Rock, towards those broad Gates of Avignon; three new National–Assembly Commissioners following at safe distance in the rear. (Dampmartin, i. 251–94.) Avignon, summoned in the name of Assembly and Law, flings its Gates wide open; Choisi with the rest, Dampmartin and the Bons Enfans, ‘Good Boys of Baufremont,’ so they name these brave Constitutional Dragoons, known to them of old, — do enter, amid shouts and scattered flowers. To the joy of all honest persons; to the terror only of Jourdan Headsman and the Brigands. Nay next we behold carbuncled swollen Jourdan himself shew copper-face, with sabre and four pistols; affecting to talk high: engaging, meanwhile, to surrender the Castle that instant. So the Choisi Grenadiers enter with him there. They start and stop, passing that Glaciere, snuffing its horrible breath; with wild yell, with cries of “Cut the Butcher down!” — and Jourdan has to whisk himself through secret passages, and instantaneously vanish.

Be the mystery of iniquity laid bare then! A Hundred and Thirty Corpses, of men, nay of women and even children (for the trembling mother, hastily seized, could not leave her infant), lie heaped in that Glaciere; putrid, under putridities: the horror of the world. For three days there is mournful lifting out, and recognition; amid the cries and movements of a passionate Southern people, now kneeling in prayer, now storming in wild pity and rage: lastly there is solemn sepulture, with muffled drums, religious requiem, and all the people’s wail and tears. Their Massacred rest now in holy ground; buried in one grave.

And Jourdan Coupe-tete? Him also we behold again, after a day or two: in flight, through the most romantic Petrarchan hill-country; vehemently spurring his nag; young Ligonnet, a brisk youth of Avignon, with Choisi Dragoons, close in his rear! With such swollen mass of a rider no nag can run to advantage. The tired nag, spur-driven, does take the River Sorgue; but sticks in the middle of it; firm on that chiaro fondo di Sorga; and will proceed no further for spurring! Young Ligonnet dashes up; the Copper-face menaces and bellows, draws pistol, perhaps even snaps it; is nevertheless seized by the collar; is tied firm, ancles under horse’s belly, and ridden back to Avignon, hardly to be saved from massacre on the streets there. (Dampmartin, ubi supra.)

Such is the combustion of Avignon and the South–West, when it becomes luminous! Long loud debate is in the august Legislative, in the Mother–Society as to what now shall be done with it. Amnesty, cry eloquent Vergniaud and all Patriots: let there be mutual pardon and repentance, restoration, pacification, and if so might any how be, an end! Which vote ultimately prevails. So the South–West smoulders and welters again in an ‘Amnesty,’ or Non-remembrance, which alas cannot but remember, no Lethe flowing above ground! Jourdan himself remains unchanged; gets loose again as one not yet gallows-ripe; nay, as we transciently discern from the distance, is ‘carried in triumph through the cities of the South.’ (Deux Amis vii. (Paris, 1797), pp. 59–71.) What things men carry!

With which transient glimpse, of a Copper-faced Portent faring in this manner through the cities of the South, we must quit these regions; — and let them smoulder. They want not their Aristocrats; proud old Nobles, not yet emigrated. Arles has its ‘Chiffonne,’ so, in symbolical cant, they name that Aristocrat Secret–Association; Arles has its pavements piled up, by and by, into Aristocrat barricades. Against which Rebecqui, the hot-clear Patriot, must lead Marseilles with cannon. The Bar of Iron has not yet risen to the top in the Bay of Marseilles; neither have these hot Sons of the Phoceans submitted to be slaves. By clear management and hot instance, Rebecqui dissipates that Chiffonne, without bloodshed; restores the pavement of Arles. He sails in Coast-barks, this Rebecqui, scrutinising suspicious Martello-towers, with the keen eye of Patriotism; marches overland with despatch, singly, or in force; to City after City; dim scouring far and wide; (Barbaroux, p. 21; Hist. Parl. xiii. 421–4.) — argues, and if it must be, fights. For there is much to do; Jales itself is looking suspicious. So that Legislator Fauchet, after debate on it, has to propose Commissioners and a Camp on the Plain of Beaucaire: with or without result.

Of all which, and much else, let us note only this small consequence, that young Barbaroux, Advocate, Town–Clerk of Marseilles, being charged to have these things remedied, arrived at Paris in the month of February 1792. The beautiful and brave: young Spartan, ripe in energy, not ripe in wisdom; over whose black doom there shall flit nevertheless a certain ruddy fervour, streaks of bright Southern tint, not wholly swallowed of Death! Note also that the Rolands of Lyons are again in Paris; for the second and final time. King’s Inspectorship is abrogated at Lyons, as elsewhere: Roland has his retiring-pension to claim, if attainable; has Patriot friends to commune with; at lowest, has a book to publish. That young Barbaroux and the Rolands came together; that elderly Spartan Roland liked, or even loved the young Spartan, and was loved by him, one can fancy: and Madame —? Breathe not, thou poison-breath, Evil-speech! That soul is taintless, clear, as the mirror-sea. And yet if they too did look into each other’s eyes, and each, in silence, in tragical renunciance, did find that the other was all too lovely? Honi soit! She calls him ‘beautiful as Antinous:’ he ‘will speak elsewhere of that astonishing woman.’ — A Madame d’Udon (or some such name, for Dumont does not recollect quite clearly) gives copious Breakfast to the Brissotin Deputies and us Friends of Freedom, at her house in the Place Vendome; with temporary celebrity, with graces and wreathed smiles; not without cost. There, amid wide babble and jingle, our plan of Legislative Debate is settled for the day, and much counselling held. Strict Roland is seen there, but does not go often. (Dumont, Souvenirs, p. 374.)

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