The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 5

Kings and Emigrants.

Extremely rheumatic Constitutions have been known to march, and keep on their feet, though in a staggering sprawling manner, for long periods, in virtue of one thing only: that the Head were healthy. But this Head of the French Constitution! What King Louis is and cannot help being, Readers already know. A King who cannot take the Constitution, nor reject the Constitution: nor do anything at all, but miserably ask, What shall I do? A King environed with endless confusions; in whose own mind is no germ of order. Haughty implacable remnants of Noblesse struggling with humiliated repentant Barnave–Lameths: struggling in that obscure element of fetchers and carriers, of Half-pay braggarts from the Cafe Valois, of Chambermaids, whisperers, and subaltern officious persons; fierce Patriotism looking on all the while, more and more suspicious, from without: what, in such struggle, can they do? At best, cancel one another, and produce zero. Poor King! Barnave and your Senatorial Jaucourts speak earnestly into this ear; Bertrand–Moleville, and Messengers from Coblentz, speak earnestly into that: the poor Royal head turns to the one side and to the other side; can turn itself fixedly to no side. Let Decency drop a veil over it: sorrier misery was seldom enacted in the world. This one small fact, does it not throw the saddest light on much? The Queen is lamenting to Madam Campan: “What am I to do? When they, these Barnaves, get us advised to any step which the Noblesse do not like, then I am pouted at; nobody comes to my card table; the King’s Couchee is solitary.” (Campan, ii. 177–202.) In such a case of dubiety, what is one to do? Go inevitably to the ground!

The King has accepted this Constitution, knowing beforehand that it will not serve: he studies it, and executes it in the hope mainly that it will be found inexecutable. King’s Ships lie rotting in harbour, their officers gone; the Armies disorganised; robbers scour the highways, which wear down unrepaired; all Public Service lies slack and waste: the Executive makes no effort, or an effort only to throw the blame on the Constitution. Shamming death, ‘faisant le mort!’ What Constitution, use it in this manner, can march? ‘Grow to disgust the Nation’ it will truly, (Bertrand–Moleville, i. c. 4.) — unless you first grow to disgust the Nation! It is Bertrand de Moleville’s plan, and his Majesty’s; the best they can form.

Or if, after all, this best-plan proved too slow; proved a failure? Provident of that too, the Queen, shrouded in deepest mystery, ‘writes all day, in cipher, day after day, to Coblentz;’ Engineer Goguelat, he of the Night of Spurs, whom the Lafayette Amnesty has delivered from Prison, rides and runs. Now and then, on fit occasion, a Royal familiar visit can be paid to that Salle de Manege, an affecting encouraging Royal Speech (sincere, doubt it not, for the moment) can be delivered there, and the Senators all cheer and almost weep; — at the same time Mallet du Pan has visibly ceased editing, and invisibly bears abroad a King’s Autograph, soliciting help from the Foreign Potentates. (Moleville, i. 370.) Unhappy Louis, do this thing or else that other, — if thou couldst!

The thing which the King’s Government did do was to stagger distractedly from contradiction to contradiction; and wedding Fire to Water, envelope itself in hissing, and ashy steam! Danton and needy corruptible Patriots are sopped with presents of cash: they accept the sop: they rise refreshed by it, and travel their own way. (Ibid. i. c. 17.) Nay, the King’s Government did likewise hire Hand-clappers, or claqueurs, persons to applaud. Subterranean Rivarol has Fifteen Hundred men in King’s pay, at the rate of some ten thousand pounds sterling, per month; what he calls ‘a staff of genius:’ Paragraph-writers, Placard–Journalists; ‘two hundred and eighty Applauders, at three shillings a day:’ one of the strangest Staffs ever commanded by man. The muster-rolls and account-books of which still exist. (Montgaillard, iii. 41.) Bertrand–Moleville himself, in a way he thinks very dexterous, contrives to pack the Galleries of the Legislative; gets Sansculottes hired to go thither, and applaud at a signal given, they fancying it was Petion that bid them: a device which was not detected for almost a week. Dexterous enough; as if a man finding the Day fast decline should determine on altering the Clockhands: that is a thing possible for him.

Here too let us note an unexpected apparition of Philippe d’Orleans at Court: his last at the Levee of any King. D’Orleans, sometime in the winter months seemingly, has been appointed to that old first-coveted rank of Admiral, — though only over ships rotting in port. The wished-for comes too late! However, he waits on Bertrand–Moleville to give thanks: nay to state that he would willingly thank his Majesty in person; that, in spite of all the horrible things men have said and sung, he is far from being his Majesty’s enemy; at bottom, how far! Bertrand delivers the message, brings about the royal Interview, which does pass to the satisfaction of his Majesty; d’Orleans seeming clearly repentant, determined to turn over a new leaf. And yet, next Sunday, what do we see? ‘Next Sunday,’ says Bertrand, ‘he came to the King’s Levee; but the Courtiers ignorant of what had passed, the crowd of Royalists who were accustomed to resort thither on that day specially to pay their court, gave him the most humiliating reception. They came pressing round him; managing, as if by mistake, to tread on his toes, to elbow him towards the door, and not let him enter again. He went downstairs to her Majesty’s Apartments, where cover was laid; so soon as he shewed face, sounds rose on all sides, “Messieurs, take care of the dishes,” as if he had carried poison in his pockets. The insults which his presence every where excited forced him to retire without having seen the Royal Family: the crowd followed him to the Queen’s Staircase; in descending, he received a spitting (crachat) on the head, and some others, on his clothes. Rage and spite were seen visibly painted on his face:’ (Bertrand–Moleville, i. 177.) as indeed how could they miss to be? He imputes it all to the King and Queen, who know nothing of it, who are even much grieved at it; and so descends, to his Chaos again. Bertrand was there at the Chateau that day himself, and an eye-witness to these things.

For the rest, Non-jurant Priests, and the repression of them, will distract the King’s conscience; Emigrant Princes and Noblesse will force him to double-dealing: there must be veto on veto; amid the ever-waxing indignation of men. For Patriotism, as we said, looks on from without, more and more suspicious. Waxing tempest, blast after blast, of Patriot indignation, from without; dim inorganic whirl of Intrigues, Fatuities, within! Inorganic, fatuous; from which the eye turns away. De Stael intrigues for her so gallant Narbonne, to get him made War–Minister; and ceases not, having got him made. The King shall fly to Rouen; shall there, with the gallant Narbonne, properly ‘modify the Constitution.’ This is the same brisk Narbonne, who, last year, cut out from their entanglement, by force of dragoons, those poor fugitive Royal Aunts: men say he is at bottom their Brother, or even more, so scandalous is scandal. He drives now, with his de Stael, rapidly to the Armies, to the Frontier Towns; produces rose-coloured Reports, not too credible; perorates, gesticulates; wavers poising himself on the top, for a moment, seen of men; then tumbles, dismissed, washed away by the Time-flood.

Also the fair Princess de Lamballe intrigues, bosom friend of her Majesty: to the angering of Patriotism. Beautiful Unfortunate, why did she ever return from England? Her small silver-voice, what can it profit in that piping of the black World-tornado? Which will whirl her, poor fragile Bird of Paradise, against grim rocks. Lamballe and de Stael intrigue visibly, apart or together: but who shall reckon how many others, and in what infinite ways, invisibly! Is there not what one may call an ‘Austrian Committee,’ sitting invisible in the Tuileries; centre of an invisible Anti–National Spiderweb, which, for we sleep among mysteries, stretches its threads to the ends of the Earth? Journalist Carra has now the clearest certainty of it: to Brissotin Patriotism, and France generally, it is growing more and more probable.

O Reader, hast thou no pity for this Constitution? Rheumatic shooting pains in its members; pressure of hydrocephale and hysteric vapours on its Brain: a Constitution divided against itself; which will never march, hardly even stagger? Why were not Drouet and Procureur Sausse in their beds, that unblessed Varennes Night! Why did they not, in the name of Heaven, let the Korff Berline go whither it listed! Nameless incoherency, incompatibility, perhaps prodigies at which the world still shudders, had been spared.

But now comes the third thing that bodes ill for the marching of this French Constitution: besides the French People, and the French King, there is thirdly — the assembled European world? it has become necessary now to look at that also. Fair France is so luminous: and round and round it, is troublous Cimmerian Night. Calonnes, Breteuils hover dim, far-flown; overnetting Europe with intrigues. From Turin to Vienna; to Berlin, and utmost Petersburg in the frozen North! Great Burke has raised his great voice long ago; eloquently demonstrating that the end of an Epoch is come, to all appearance the end of Civilised Time. Him many answer: Camille Desmoulins, Clootz Speaker of Mankind, Paine the rebellious Needleman, and honourable Gallic Vindicators in that country and in this: but the great Burke remains unanswerable; ‘The Age of Chivalry is gone,’ and could not but go, having now produced the still more indomitable Age of Hunger. Altars enough, of the Dubois–Rohan sort, changing to the Gobel-and-Talleyrand sort, are faring by rapid transmutation to, shall we say, the right Proprietor of them? French Game and French Game–Preservers did alight on the Cliffs of Dover, with cries of distress. Who will say that the end of much is not come? A set of mortals has risen, who believe that Truth is not a printed Speculation, but a practical Fact; that Freedom and Brotherhood are possible in this Earth, supposed always to be Belial’s, which ‘the Supreme Quack’ was to inherit! Who will say that Church, State, Throne, Altar are not in danger; that the sacred Strong-box itself, last Palladium of effete Humanity, may not be blasphemously blown upon, and its padlocks undone?

The poor Constituent Assembly might act with what delicacy and diplomacy it would; declare that it abjured meddling with its neighbours, foreign conquest, and so forth; but from the first this thing was to be predicted: that old Europe and new France could not subsist together. A Glorious Revolution, oversetting State–Prisons and Feudalism; publishing, with outburst of Federative Cannon, in face of all the Earth, that Appearance is not Reality, how shall it subsist amid Governments which, if Appearance is not Reality, are — one knows not what? In death feud, and internecine wrestle and battle, it shall subsist with them; not otherwise.

Rights of Man, printed on Cotton Handkerchiefs, in various dialects of human speech, pass over to the Frankfort Fair. (Toulongeon, i. 256.) What say we, Frankfort Fair? They have crossed Euphrates and the fabulous Hydaspes; wafted themselves beyond the Ural, Altai, Himmalayah: struck off from wood stereotypes, in angular Picture-writing, they are jabbered and jingled of in China and Japan. Where will it stop? Kien–Lung smells mischief; not the remotest Dalai–Lama shall now knead his dough-pills in peace. — Hateful to us; as is the Night! Bestir yourselves, ye Defenders of Order! They do bestir themselves: all Kings and Kinglets, with their spiritual temporal array, are astir; their brows clouded with menace. Diplomatic emissaries fly swift; Conventions, privy Conclaves assemble; and wise wigs wag, taking what counsel they can.

Also, as we said, the Pamphleteer draws pen, on this side and that: zealous fists beat the Pulpit-drum. Not without issue! Did not iron Birmingham, shouting ‘Church and King,’ itself knew not why, burst out, last July, into rage, drunkenness, and fire; and your Priestleys, and the like, dining there on that Bastille day, get the maddest singeing: scandalous to consider! In which same days, as we can remark, high Potentates, Austrian and Prussian, with Emigrants, were faring towards Pilnitz in Saxony; there, on the 27th of August, they, keeping to themselves what further ‘secret Treaty’ there might or might not be, did publish their hopes and their threatenings, their Declaration that it was ‘the common cause of Kings.’

Where a will to quarrel is, there is a way. Our readers remember that Pentecost–Night, Fourth of August 1789, when Feudalism fell in a few hours? The National Assembly, in abolishing Feudalism, promised that ‘compensation’ should be given; and did endeavour to give it. Nevertheless the Austrian Kaiser answers that his German Princes, for their part, cannot be unfeudalised; that they have Possessions in French Alsace, and Feudal Rights secured to them, for which no conceivable compensation will suffice. So this of the Possessioned Princes, ‘Princes Possessiones’ is bandied from Court to Court; covers acres of diplomatic paper at this day: a weariness to the world. Kaunitz argues from Vienna; Delessart responds from Paris, though perhaps not sharply enough. The Kaiser and his Possessioned Princes will too evidently come and take compensation — so much as they can get. Nay might one not partition France, as we have done Poland, and are doing; and so pacify it with a vengeance?

From South to North! For actually it is ‘the common cause of Kings.’ Swedish Gustav, sworn Knight of the Queen of France, will lead Coalised Armies; — had not Ankarstrom treasonously shot him; for, indeed, there were griefs nearer home. (30th March 1792 Annual Register, p. 11). Austria and Prussia speak at Pilnitz; all men intensely listening: Imperial Rescripts have gone out from Turin; there will be secret Convention at Vienna. Catherine of Russia beckons approvingly; will help, were she ready. Spanish Bourbon stirs amid his pillows; from him too, even from him, shall there come help. Lean Pitt, ‘the Minister of Preparatives,’ looks out from his watch-tower in Saint–James’s, in a suspicious manner. Councillors plotting, Calonnes dim-hovering; — alas, Serjeants rub-a-dubbing openly through all manner of German market-towns, collecting ragged valour! (Toulongeon, ii. 100–117.) Look where you will, immeasurable Obscurantism is girdling this fair France; which, again, will not be girdled by it. Europe is in travail; pang after pang; what a shriek was that of Pilnitz! The birth will be: WAR.

Nay the worst feature of the business is this last, still to be named; the Emigrants at Coblentz, so many thousands ranking there, in bitter hate and menace: King’s Brothers, all Princes of the Blood except wicked d’Orleans; your duelling de Castries, your eloquent Cazales; bull-headed Malseignes, a wargod Broglie; Distaff Seigneurs, insulted Officers, all that have ridden across the Rhine-stream; — d’Artois welcoming Abbe Maury with a kiss, and clasping him publicly to his own royal heart! Emigration, flowing over the Frontiers, now in drops, now in streams, in various humours of fear, of petulance, rage and hope, ever since those first Bastille days when d’Artois went, ‘to shame the citizens of Paris,’ — has swollen to the size of a Phenomenon of the world. Coblentz is become a small extra-national Versailles; a Versailles in partibus: briguing, intriguing, favouritism, strumpetocracy itself, they say, goes on there; all the old activities, on a small scale, quickened by hungry Revenge.

Enthusiasm, of loyalty, of hatred and hope, has risen to a high pitch; as, in any Coblentz tavern, you may hear, in speech, and in singing. Maury assists in the interior Council; much is decided on; for one thing, they keep lists of the dates of your emigrating; a month sooner, or a month later determines your greater or your less right to the coming Division of the Spoil. Cazales himself, because he had occasionally spoken with a Constitutional tone, was looked on coldly at first: so pure are our principles. (Montgaillard, iii. 517; Toulongeon, (ubi supra).) And arms are a-hammering at Liege; ‘three thousand horses’ ambling hitherward from the Fairs of Germany: Cavalry enrolling; likewise Foot-soldiers, ‘in blue coat, red waistcoat, and nankeen trousers!’ (See Hist. Parl. xiii. 11–38, 41–61, 358, &c.) They have their secret domestic correspondences, as their open foreign: with disaffected Crypto–Aristocrats, with contumacious Priests, with Austrian Committee in the Tuileries. Deserters are spirited over by assiduous crimps; Royal–Allemand is gone almost wholly. Their route of march, towards France and the Division of the Spoil, is marked out, were the Kaiser once ready. “It is said, they mean to poison the sources; but,” adds Patriotism making Report of it, “they will not poison the source of Liberty,” whereat ‘on applaudit,’ we cannot but applaud. Also they have manufactories of False Assignats; and men that circulate in the interior distributing and disbursing the same; one of these we denounce now to Legislative Patriotism: ‘A man Lebrun by name; about thirty years of age, with blonde hair and in quantity; has,’ only for the time being surely, ‘a black-eye, oeil poche; goes in a wiski with a black horse,’ (Moniteur, Seance du 2 Novembre 1791 (Hist. Parl. xii. 212).) — always keeping his Gig!

Unhappy Emigrants, it was their lot, and the lot of France! They are ignorant of much that they should know: of themselves, of what is around them. A Political Party that knows not when it is beaten, may become one of the fatallist of things, to itself, and to all. Nothing will convince these men that they cannot scatter the French Revolution at the first blast of their war-trumpet; that the French Revolution is other than a blustering Effervescence, of brawlers and spouters, which, at the flash of chivalrous broadswords, at the rustle of gallows-ropes, will burrow itself, in dens the deeper the welcomer. But, alas, what man does know and measure himself, and the things that are round him; — else where were the need of physical fighting at all? Never, till they are cleft asunder, can these heads believe that a Sansculottic arm has any vigour in it: cleft asunder, it will be too late to believe.

One may say, without spleen against his poor erring brothers of any side, that above all other mischiefs, this of the Emigrant Nobles acted fatally on France. Could they have known, could they have understood! In the beginning of 1789, a splendour and a terror still surrounded them: the Conflagration of their Chateaus, kindled by months of obstinacy, went out after the Fourth of August; and might have continued out, had they at all known what to defend, what to relinquish as indefensible. They were still a graduated Hierarchy of Authorities, or the accredited Similitude of such: they sat there, uniting King with Commonalty; transmitting and translating gradually, from degree to degree, the command of the one into the obedience of the other; rendering command and obedience still possible. Had they understood their place, and what to do in it, this French Revolution, which went forth explosively in years and in months, might have spread itself over generations; and not a torture-death but a quiet euthanasia have been provided for many things.

But they were proud and high, these men; they were not wise to consider. They spurned all from them; in disdainful hate, they drew the sword and flung away the scabbard. France has not only no Hierarchy of Authorities, to translate command into obedience; its Hierarchy of Authorities has fled to the enemies of France; calls loudly on the enemies of France to interfere armed, who want but a pretext to do that. Jealous Kings and Kaisers might have looked on long, meditating interference, yet afraid and ashamed to interfere: but now do not the King’s Brothers, and all French Nobles, Dignitaries and Authorities that are free to speak, which the King himself is not, — passionately invite us, in the name of Right and of Might? Ranked at Coblentz, from Fifteen to Twenty thousand stand now brandishing their weapons, with the cry: On, on! Yes, Messieurs, you shall on; — and divide the spoil according to your dates of emigrating.

Of all which things a poor Legislative Assembly, and Patriot France, is informed: by denunciant friend, by triumphant foe. Sulleau’s Pamphlets, of the Rivarol Staff of Genius, circulate; heralding supreme hope. Durosoy’s Placards tapestry the walls; Chant du Coq crows day, pecked at by Tallien’s Ami des Citoyens. King’s-Friend, Royou, Ami du Roi, can name, in exact arithmetical ciphers, the contingents of the various Invading Potentates; in all, Four hundred and nineteen thousand Foreign fighting men, with Fifteen thousand Emigrants. Not to reckon these your daily and hourly desertions, which an Editor must daily record, of whole Companies, and even Regiments, crying Vive le Roi, vive la Reine, and marching over with banners spread: (Ami du Roi Newspaper in Hist. Parl. xiii. 175.) — lies all, and wind; yet to Patriotism not wind; nor, alas, one day, to Royou! Patriotism, therefore, may brawl and babble yet a little while: but its hours are numbered: Europe is coming with Four hundred and nineteen thousand and the Chivalry of France; the gallows, one may hope, will get its own.

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