The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

No Sugar.

Such are our inward troubles; seen in the Cities of the South; extant, seen or unseen, in all cities and districts, North as well as South. For in all are Aristocrats, more or less malignant; watched by Patriotism; which again, being of various shades, from light Fayettist–Feuillant down to deep-sombre Jacobin, has to watch itself!

Directories of Departments, what we call County Magistracies, being chosen by Citizens of a too ‘active’ class, are found to pull one way; Municipalities, Town Magistracies, to pull the other way. In all places too are Dissident Priests; whom the Legislative will have to deal with: contumacious individuals, working on that angriest of passions; plotting, enlisting for Coblentz; or suspected of plotting: fuel of a universal unconstitutional heat. What to do with them? They may be conscientious as well as contumacious: gently they should be dealt with, and yet it must be speedily. In unilluminated La Vendee the simple are like to be seduced by them; many a simple peasant, a Cathelineau the wool-dealer wayfaring meditative with his wool-packs, in these hamlets, dubiously shakes his head! Two Assembly Commissioners went thither last Autumn; considerate Gensonne, not yet called to be a Senator; Gallois, an editorial man. These Two, consulting with General Dumouriez, spake and worked, softly, with judgment; they have hushed down the irritation, and produced a soft Report, — for the time.

The General himself doubts not in the least but he can keep peace there; being an able man. He passes these frosty months among the pleasant people of Niort, occupies ‘tolerably handsome apartments in the Castle of Niort,’ and tempers the minds of men. (Dumouriez, ii. 129.) Why is there but one Dumouriez? Elsewhere you find South or North, nothing but untempered obscure jarring; which breaks forth ever and anon into open clangour of riot. Southern Perpignan has its tocsin, by torch light; with rushing and onslaught: Northern Caen not less, by daylight; with Aristocrats ranged in arms at Places of Worship; Departmental compromise proving impossible; breaking into musketry and a Plot discovered! (Hist. Parl. xii. 131, 141; xiii. 114, 417.) Add Hunger too: for Bread, always dear, is getting dearer: not so much as Sugar can be had; for good reasons. Poor Simoneau, Mayor of Etampes, in this Northern region, hanging out his Red Flag in some riot of grains, is trampled to death by a hungry exasperated People. What a trade this of Mayor, in these times! Mayor of Saint–Denis hung at the Lanterne, by Suspicion and Dyspepsia, as we saw long since; Mayor of Vaison, as we saw lately, buried before dead; and now this poor Simoneau, the Tanner, of Etampes, — whom legal Constitutionalism will not forget.

With factions, suspicions, want of bread and sugar, it is verily what they call dechire, torn asunder this poor country: France and all that is French. For, over seas too come bad news. In black Saint–Domingo, before that variegated Glitter in the Champs Elysees was lit for an Accepted Constitution, there had risen, and was burning contemporary with it, quite another variegated Glitter and nocturnal Fulgor, had we known it: of molasses and ardent-spirits; of sugar-boileries, plantations, furniture, cattle and men: skyhigh; the Plain of Cap Francais one huge whirl of smoke and flame!

What a change here, in these two years; since that first ‘Box of Tricolor Cockades’ got through the Custom-house, and atrabiliar Creoles too rejoiced that there was a levelling of Bastilles! Levelling is comfortable, as we often say: levelling, yet only down to oneself. Your pale-white Creoles, have their grievances:— and your yellow Quarteroons? And your dark-yellow Mulattoes? And your Slaves soot-black? Quarteroon Oge, Friend of our Parisian Brissotin Friends of the Blacks, felt, for his share too, that Insurrection was the most sacred of duties. So the tricolor Cockades had fluttered and swashed only some three months on the Creole hat, when Oge’s signal-conflagrations went aloft; with the voice of rage and terror. Repressed, doomed to die, he took black powder or seedgrains in the hollow of his hand, this Oge; sprinkled a film of white ones on the top, and said to his Judges, “Behold they are white;" — then shook his hand, and said “Where are the Whites, Ou sont les Blancs?”

So now, in the Autumn of 1791, looking from the sky-windows of Cap Francais, thick clouds of smoke girdle our horizon, smoke in the day, in the night fire; preceded by fugitive shrieking white women, by Terror and Rumour. Black demonised squadrons are massacring and harrying, with nameless cruelty. They fight and fire ‘from behind thickets and coverts,’ for the Black man loves the Bush; they rush to the attack, thousands strong, with brandished cutlasses and fusils, with caperings, shoutings and vociferation, — which, if the White Volunteer Company stands firm, dwindle into staggerings, into quick gabblement, into panic flight at the first volley, perhaps before it. (Deux Amis, x. 157.) Poor Oge could be broken on the wheel; this fire-whirlwind too can be abated, driven up into the Mountains: but Saint–Domingo is shaken, as Oge’s seedgrains were; shaking, writhing in long horrid death-throes, it is Black without remedy; and remains, as African Haiti, a monition to the world.

O my Parisian Friends, is not this, as well as Regraters and Feuillant Plotters, one cause of the astonishing dearth of Sugar! The Grocer, palpitant, with drooping lip, sees his Sugar taxe; weighed out by Female Patriotism, in instant retail, at the inadequate rate of twenty-five sous, or thirteen pence a pound. “Abstain from it?” yes, ye Patriot Sections, all ye Jacobins, abstain! Louvet and Collot-d’Herbois so advise; resolute to make the sacrifice: though “how shall literary men do without coffee?” Abstain, with an oath; that is the surest! (Debats des Jacobins, &c. Hist. Parl. xiii. 171, 92–98.)

Also, for like reason, must not Brest and the Shipping Interest languish? Poor Brest languishes, sorrowing, not without spleen; denounces an Aristocrat Bertrand–Moleville traitorous Aristocrat Marine–Minister. Do not her Ships and King’s Ships lie rotting piecemeal in harbour; Naval Officers mostly fled, and on furlough too, with pay? Little stirring there; if it be not the Brest Gallies, whip-driven, with their Galley–Slaves, — alas, with some Forty of our hapless Swiss Soldiers of Chateau–Vieux, among others! These Forty Swiss, too mindful of Nanci, do now, in their red wool caps, tug sorrowfully at the oar; looking into the Atlantic brine, which reflects only their own sorrowful shaggy faces; and seem forgotten of Hope.

But, on the whole, may we not say, in fugitive language, that the French Constitution which shall march is very rheumatic, full of shooting internal pains, in joint and muscle; and will not march without difficulty?

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