The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 6

Brigands and Jales.

We shall have War, then; and on what terms! With an Executive ‘pretending,’ really with less and less deceptiveness now, ‘to be dead;’ casting even a wishful eye towards the enemy: on such terms we shall have War.

Public Functionary in vigorous action there is none; if it be not Rivarol with his Staff of Genius and Two hundred and eighty Applauders. The Public Service lies waste: the very tax-gatherer has forgotten his cunning: in this and the other Provincial Board of Management (Directoire de Departmente) it is found advisable to retain what Taxes you can gather, to pay your own inevitable expenditures. Our Revenue is Assignats; emission on emission of Paper-money. And the Army; our Three grand Armies, of Rochambeau, of Luckner, of Lafayette? Lean, disconsolate hover these Three grand Armies, watching the Frontiers there; three Flights of long-necked Cranes in moulting time; — wretched, disobedient, disorganised; who never saw fire; the old Generals and Officers gone across the Rhine. War-minister Narbonne, he of the rose-coloured Reports, solicits recruitments, equipments, money, always money; threatens, since he can get none, — to ‘take his sword,’ which belongs to himself, and go serve his country with that. (Moniteur, Seance du 23 Janvier, 1792; Biographie des Ministres para Narbonne.)

The question of questions is: What shall be done? Shall we, with a desperate defiance which Fortune sometimes favours, draw the sword at once, in the face of this in-rushing world of Emigration and Obscurantism; or wait, and temporise and diplomatise, till, if possible, our resources mature themselves a little? And yet again are our resources growing towards maturity; or growing the other way? Dubious: the ablest Patriots are divided; Brissot and his Brissotins, or Girondins, in the Legislative, cry aloud for the former defiant plan; Robespierre, in the Jacobins, pleads as loud for the latter dilatory one: with responses, even with mutual reprimands; distracting the Mother of Patriotism. Consider also what agitated Breakfasts there may be at Madame d’Udon’s in the Place Vendome! The alarm of all men is great. Help, ye Patriots; and O at least agree; for the hour presses. Frost was not yet gone, when in that ‘tolerably handsome apartment of the Castle of Niort,’ there arrived a Letter: General Dumouriez must to Paris. It is War-minister Narbonne that writes; the General shall give counsel about many things. (Dumouriez, ii. c. 6.) In the month of February 1792, Brissotin friends welcome their Dumouriez Polymetis, — comparable really to an antique Ulysses in modern costume; quick, elastic, shifty, insuppressible, a ‘many-counselled man.’

Let the Reader fancy this fair France with a whole Cimmerian Europe girdling her, rolling in on her; black, to burst in red thunder of War; fair France herself hand-shackled and foot-shackled in the weltering complexities of this Social Clothing, or Constitution, which they have made for her; a France that, in such Constitution, cannot march! And Hunger too; and plotting Aristocrats, and excommunicating Dissident Priests: ‘The man Lebrun by name’ urging his black wiski, visible to the eye: and, still more terrible in his invisibility, Engineer Goguelat, with Queen’s cipher, riding and running!

The excommunicatory Priests give new trouble in the Maine and Loire; La Vendee, nor Cathelineau the wool-dealer, has not ceased grumbling and rumbling. Nay behold Jales itself once more: how often does that real-imaginary Camp of the Fiend require to be extinguished! For near two years now, it has waned faint and again waxed bright, in the bewildered soul of Patriotism: actually, if Patriotism knew it, one of the most surprising products of Nature working with Art. Royalist Seigneurs, under this or the other pretext, assemble the simple people of these Cevennes Mountains; men not unused to revolt, and with heart for fighting, could their poor heads be got persuaded. The Royalist Seigneur harangues; harping mainly on the religious string: “True Priests maltreated, false Priests intruded, Protestants (once dragooned) now triumphing, things sacred given to the dogs;” and so produces, from the pious Mountaineer throat, rough growlings. “Shall we not testify, then, ye brave hearts of the Cevennes; march to the rescue? Holy Religion; duty to God and King?” “Si fait, si fait, Just so, just so,” answer the brave hearts always: “Mais il y a de bien bonnes choses dans la Revolution, But there are many good things in the Revolution too!” — And so the matter, cajole as we may, will only turn on its axis, not stir from the spot, and remains theatrical merely. (Dampmartin, i. 201.)

Nevertheless deepen your cajolery, harp quick and quicker, ye Royalist Seigneurs; with a dead-lift effort you may bring it to that. In the month of June next, this Camp of Jales will step forth as a theatricality suddenly become real; Two thousand strong, and with the boast that it is Seventy thousand: most strange to see; with flags flying, bayonets fixed; with Proclamation, and d’Artois Commission of civil war! Let some Rebecqui, or other the like hot-clear Patriot; let some ‘Lieutenant–Colonel Aubry,’ if Rebecqui is busy elsewhere, raise instantaneous National Guards, and disperse and dissolve it; and blow the Old Castle asunder, (Moniteur, Seance du 15 Juillet 1792.) that so, if possible, we hear of it no more!

In the Months of February and March, it is recorded, the terror, especially of rural France, had risen even to the transcendental pitch: not far from madness. In Town and Hamlet is rumour; of war, massacre: that Austrians, Aristocrats, above all, that The Brigands are close by. Men quit their houses and huts; rush fugitive, shrieking, with wife and child, they know not whither. Such a terror, the eye-witnesses say, never fell on a Nation; nor shall again fall, even in Reigns of Terror expressly so-called. The Countries of the Loire, all the Central and South–East regions, start up distracted, ‘simultaneously as by an electric shock;’ — for indeed grain too gets scarcer and scarcer. ‘The people barricade the entrances of Towns, pile stones in the upper stories, the women prepare boiling water; from moment to moment, expecting the attack. In the Country, the alarm-bell rings incessant: troops of peasants, gathered by it, scour the highways, seeking an imaginary enemy. They are armed mostly with scythes stuck in wood; and, arriving in wild troops at the barricaded Towns, are themselves sometimes taken for Brigands.’ (Newspapers, &c. in Hist. Parl. xiii. 325.)

So rushes old France: old France is rushing down. What the end will be is known to no mortal; that the end is near all mortals may know.

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